Thursday, April 13, 2017

No. 140 From Tidewater & New England down the Banks to Cape Lookout & Harkers Island




No. 140 From Tidewater & New England down the Banks to Cape Lookout & Harkers Island


The largest part of my almost entirely English ancestry must have had at least some wanderlust in their spirits, or else they might never have agreed to make the long and arduous journey across the Atlantic to find a new life in a what they all viewed as a new world. But for most of my direct forbearers that wanderlust was all but spent by the time they landed on the southeast coast of Virginia in the early 1600s. But that didn't mean they had found a permanent home among the transplanted English aristocracy and noblemen who had turned the Jamestown colony into their personal fiefdom. Like so many others whose labor would later be replaced by imported African slaves, my ancestors were unwilling to continue in servitude, indentured or otherwise, to their planter overlords, and they eventually began to make their way southward.

The routes from Tidewater VA to Cape Lookout NC
But they were in no big hurry as it would take them another two centuries to migrate just two hundred miles. Their route was mostly down the barrier islands that lined the North Carolina Coast to Cape Lookout, a nexus point where the outer banks turn from a north-south direction to one that, at least for a stretch of thirty miles, follows a route that is almost directly east-west. Amid the sand hills and salt marshes of North Carolina's lower Outer Banks they found a freedom, if not a prosperity, that had eluded them as underlings to the Tidewater elite. And once they settled near the base of the lighthouse, the first one having been completed in 1812, most of them never moved again - unless of course you consider it movement to build a small home on another patch of acreage within easy walking distance of the shacks or huts they had grown-up in.

Within a few generations they had lost or forsaken most of their ties to their Tidewater and English roots. There was one obvious exception to their cultural re-genesis, and that was how they clung to what would become an archaic oral dialect that retained vowel pronunciations and other grammatical anomalies long after they had passed out of the more standard American-English vernacular. That peculiarity endures until even now. 

But the descendants of at least one of my forefathers followed a different course when he arrived at least a thousand miles farther north in Massachusetts Bay as part of the first great wave of settlers in Puritan New England. Anthony Harker had been born in 1606 in the town of Sibsey in Lincolnshire near the northeastern corner of England. But by the time he was thirty years old he was married and living in Boston, where he and his wife, Mary would raise a family of two sons and four daughters. Their third child, John Ebenezer, remained in the Boston area and in 1680 married Patience Folger, whose sister Abiah would become the mother of the renowned Benjamin Franklin (my first cousin - nine times removed.) John and Patience were not so fortunate, at least in terms of historical recognition, but their son Ebenezer, born in Boston in 1689, would do something to make the family's name enduring if not famous.

Sibsey in Lincolnshire - where the Harkers came from
As the second of his father's sons, and barred by the rules of primogeniture from inheriting any of his father's estate, he chose to look farther South to find his fortune. Like several other of his neighbors in the Boston area at around the same time, he decided to come to the vicinity of Beaufort, North Carolina where a fledgling shore-based whaling industry had begun to take hold. Some of the others were named Chadwick, Whitehurst, Pigott and Leffers and those surnames are still everywhere to be found in eastern Carteret County. Once settled, Ebenezer quickly showed that he had brought with him the vaunted Yankee ethic of work and industry that eventually afforded him the resources to buy not just a plot or even an estate, but a whole island that would be home to him and his children for generations to come.

How Craney Island became Harkers Island
In 1730, when he was forty-one years old, he purchased the island from George Pollock of nearby Beaufort for £400 and a twenty-foot boat. He soon settled there, building a home on the far northwest corner, and took for his wife a local girl named Elizabeth Brooks with whom he eventually had six children. The island had earlier been known as Craney Island, but from that time on it has been known to residents and visitors alike as Harkers Island, and with no apostrophe as the concluding "s" was intended to denote plurality even more than possession. But Ebenezer and his descendants would spawn far fewer "Y" chromosomes than did those of his friends, such that eventually the lone reminder of him in the place where he settled would be that place's name.

It would be seven generations and five surnames later that I arrived on the scene and on an Island named for my intrepid great grandfather and less than two miles from where he had built his large home. And at the same moment, my parents could look from an upstairs window and get a clear view of the towering lighthouse that overlooked Cape Lookout and the remains of a village where the greater part of my other ancestors had ended up.


That upstairs window faced due southward and adorned a small bungalow that my father had built on land provided for him by his father and my grandfather, the man that almost everyone I knew called Ole' Pa. And it was his place, sitting on the shoreline at the Landing and just two houses away, that was the center-point of our whole world.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

No. 139 "Dead Man's Curve"




"Won't come back from Dead Man's Curve" from “Dead Man’s Curve” by Jan Berry & Carl Dean (Jan & Dean)

At the southwest corner of the Island, and at the very top of Red Hill, the road curves sharply – almost at 90°. Coming onto the Island for the first time or for any driver unfamiliar with the lay of the land, it can be a little difficult to manage the turn, especially after the sun has set for the evening.

There were so many accidents there, at least a couple of them fatal, that the spot eventually became known as “Dead Man’s Curve.” The narrow black-top road is bordered on both sides by the largest oaks found anywhere on the Island, and the yaupon bushes that sat underneath them were very little cushion for cars that failed to make the turn. The oak trees themselves remained firm and whatever hit them, man or machine, stopped immediately on impact.

Aerial view of the turn at Red Hill (Dead Man's Curve)
Weekend nights, when servicemen stationed on the mainland would frequent the Island’s movie theater and stores, was when most of the accidents occurred. It was well after midnight one summer Saturday that one of those happened. What ensued in the aftermath was told to me by a good friend who lived close enough by that he heard both the screeching of tires and the impact that followed.  He, along with his father were there even before a lone NC Highway patrolman arrived to investigate and make his report. He later told to others what he had observed.

After an ambulance had removed the badly injured driver from the wreck and carried him away towards the closest hospital in Morehead City, the trooper retired to his squad car to prepare his preliminary report. In the warm summer air, he was quietly discussing with some of the witnesses what they first had heard and later noticed as they arrived on the scene. It was while engaged in that conversation that onlookers noticed that asleep in the back seat of the officer’s car was someone wearing handcuffs, and apparently inebriated, who had been arrested by the patrolmen just before he had been called to respond to the accident at Red Hill.

As the back-seat passenger began to awake, he grew increasingly restless and uncomfortable, not fully aware of where he was or why he was locked up in the back of a patrol car.

“What is it, where am I, what’s going on?” was all he could say as he looked toward the officer and saw the flashing lights from atop the car reflecting off the surroundings.

Still focused on the incident at hand, the officer paid him scant attention, but eventually did turn in his direction to say simply, “It was a really bad accident.”

Even more confused and curious, the detainee immediately followed up by asking, “Who was it?”
The officer paid even less attention than before and responded simply, “It was some drunk.”

Now, totally alarmed and extremely agitated, the prisoner shouted out, “Oh me! Was I hurt?”




Sunday, February 5, 2017

No. 138 "A Damn Otwayer"

"A D@&# Otwayer!"
Being a Harkers Islander, or more specifically a "real" Harkers Islander makes you part of a fairly exclusive fraternity. It's not that the group is so small; there must be thousands of us who claim club membership both here and in hundreds of other places all over the world by now. It's that the entry requirements are so specific and so rigid. Official membership requires that you actually be born here to parents of whom at least one is a native Islander, or born somewhere else to parents, both of whom are already members of the club. My children would be examples of the former, and the children of servicemen born to two Harkers Island parents anywhere in the world would be examples of the latter.
There may be exceptions to this standard, but I can't think of any examples at the moment. Short of that, no matter how long you have been here or how involved or intertwined with native family and friends you have become, you remain someone "from off," a newcomer, or even a dreaded "dingbatter" or "dit-dot." Like it or not, there's nothing you or anyone else can do about it.

Two cases to illustrate my point: My wife, Susan, has lived here uninterrupted since the summer of 1976. So for more than forty years she has been part of an extended family, raised six children of her own, served on the school advisory council, been active in her church, prepared meals for hundreds of bereaved families, and done countless other acts of quiet service throughout our community. But when recently she was elected to the board of the local museum there were some who complained that she was not a "real Harkers Islander."
Believe it or not, there is an even more telling example of this phenomenon. Recently I was talking to an older man who was born in our sister community of Otway but who has lived on the Island since he married an Island girl and moved here all the way back in 1957. Since then he has been a community leader and an organizer in his church. His children attended the Island school and he has been one of the most successful commercial fishermen the Island has ever known. Be that as it may. He recently told me that after all these years and at a stage in life when he is older than almost every other local fisherman who can still claim that label, he still doesn't feel that he is fully accepted.
This is how he explained it. "If I park my truck too close to somebody else at the harbor, or if my net drifts in front of someone else's net on a set, the first thing I hear is someone pointedly and emphatically reminding me that I am still a 'D@%# Otwayer!'"

Thursday, July 28, 2016

No. 137 "Hugged by your Heritage" Driving to Shell Point

No. 137 "Hugged by your Heritage" Driving to Shell Point

Looking west from Shell Point early in the morning - Core Sound at your back
There are place names on the Island that everyone knows and remembers as if it were genetically implanted; Academy Field, the Sand Hole, Red Hill, and the Bay among them, and each one because the name describes a natural or physical landmark. None of these is more a part of the community consciousness that the place called "Shell Point." Once there and looking to the south there is an unobstructed view of both where the Cape Lookout lighthouse still is, and where Diamond City use to be. It is the easternmost point on the Island and where it gives way to Core Sound, then Core Banks, and finally to the broad expanse of the Atlantic Ocean so that the next inhabited land mass anyone can see - if they could see that far - would be on the western coast of Europe near the Strait of Gibraltar.

Where Harkers Island ends - looking southeast towards the Cape
But most Islanders of my youth were never thinking that far away, and few of them thought about anything east of Shell Point itself. It was almost as if it was on that very spot that the world began anew every day, and just going there was a private way to be part of that renewal. So, starting with the first cars that came to the Island in the "Roaring Twenties" there developed a ritual, sometimes a daily one, of driving to Shell Point, turning at the cul-de-sac circle at its end, and heading back where you came from. That was it; just driving or riding to Shell Point. There was something almost therapeutic about the way the rest of the world and its troubles seemed to come into a more reasonable focus once you were there, and especially once you turned your back to face westward with the serenity and seclusion of Shell Point at your back.

If someone was heading out for no apparent reason, so that you felt to ask where they were going, and they responded with a simple, "Shell Point," you came to understand that response with no further explanation needed. Saying "I'm going to Shell Point" meant that you just wanted to retreat for a while and get your bearings - nothing big and nothing to worry about. You just needed to be "hugged by your heritage" for a few moments before whatever it was that came next. I've tried and done it many times. Somehow it always seemed to work back then. Some say it still does.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

No. 136 "Surrounded by our Past"

No. 136 "Surrounded by our Past"

Ella Dee, Ralph, Mama, Tommy and June 


Much more than for my children and grandchildren, mine was a generation that grew up surrounded by our past. There was no real need to have a celebration, a reunion or even a bulletin board of pictures and charts.  We were surrounded by it and by them, our common past and heritage, everywhere and all the time. It stared us in our faces and we could not ignore it, even if we had wanted to. The only way to "get away from it" was to "run away from it" and very few of us wanted to do either.

It was somewhat like the old baseball games for which the results never were reported or recorded - there was no need to because everybody had been at the game when it was played.

Every day we were confronted with expressions like:

Take this to Ole' Pa's house, find him on Aunt Gracie’s porch, or go play games in “Rennie’s field.”

Somebody is broke down there at the end of “Ferry Dock Road.”

He rode his bike all the way to “Shell Point.”

We were swimming on and off of “Danky’s dock,” and played baseball on “Johnson’s cow pasture.”

We walked and played games on the “Old Road” and pulled tin cans in the middle of the “New Road.”

Every time we went to the Landing we looked across to Bell’s Island, Whale Creek Bay, Wades Shore, Sam Windsors Lump, the Horse Pen, or Whitehurst’s Island. Every time we crossed the bridge we noticed the lump of cedar trees on the very edge of what we called Brown’s Island, or stared in the other direction at the vines of Harkers Point.

But it wasn’t just places or things that had names with a story.

Freezing cold weather was "as cold as when the Chrissie Wright came ashore."

A tall man was “longer than Lonzo Lewis.”

A heavy man was “bigger than Bull Hunter.”

Someone else might be smarter than Charlie Nelson, or could oar faster than Luther Willis, or told more lies than “Lying Willie,” or throw a baseball harder than Moe Willis, or play and sing like the Rose crowd, or loved loon more than Loch, or could run faster than Billie Hancock.

And the ultimate question I was asked when it appeared that I was succumbing to the peer pressure that was just as much an issue then as it is now, was this - “If Jonathan [my nephew but was five years older and my most often role model] jumped off the Lighthouse, would that mean you had to jump off the lighthouse?”

Many, if not most of us were called by two names because everyone was named after someone else. You couldn’t just say that something happened or belonged to Mary. You had to be more specific.

Was it Mary Ann, Mary Francis, Mary Catherine, or even Norman’s Mary, Weldon's Mary, Tommy Lewis's Mary, or Iddy's Mary.  There was also Luther's Mary, who when she was married became William's Mary, and who had a son called Mary's Michael. He lived almost next door to Elsie Mae's Johnny William, who was not be confused with Johnny Lane, Johnny Wayne, Johnny Michael, Johnny Manley ' the son of Johnny Boo, or Johnny Vann - the son of Alena's Johnny.

If mama sent me to get something from Ollie, she had to be more specific - was it Big Ollie or Little Ollie?


Everybody and Everything was a part of something else – something bigger than themselves. It was our "past." And to quote William Faulkner, "The past is not dead; it isn't even past."

No. 136 "Surrounded by our Past"

Ella Dee, Ralph, Mama, Tommy and June 

Much more than for my children and grandchildren, mine was a generation that grew up surrounded by our past. There was no real need to have a celebration, a reunion or even a bulletin board of pictures and charts.  We were surrounded by it and by them, our common past and heritage, everywhere and all the time. It stared us in our faces and we could not ignore it, even if we had wanted to. The only way to "get away from it" was to "run away from it" and very few of us wanted to do either.

It was somewhat like the old baseball games for which the results never were reported or recorded - there was no need to because everybody had been at the game when it was played.

Every day we were confronted with expressions like:

Take this to Ole' Pa's house, find him on Aunt Gracies porch, or go play games in Rennies field.
Somebody is broke down there at the end of Ferry Dock Road.
He rode his bike all the way to Shell Point.
We were swimming on and off of Dankys dock, and played baseball on Johnsons cow pasture.
We walked and played games on the Old Road and pulled tin cans in the middle of the New Road.
Every time we went to the Landing we looked across to Bells Island, Whale Creek Bay, Wades Shore, Sam Windsors Lump, the Horse Pen, or Whitehursts Island. Every time we crossed the bridge we noticed the lump of cedar trees on the very edge of what we called Browns Island, or stared in the other direction at the vines of Harkers Point.

But it wasnt just places or things that had names with a story.

A tall man was longer than Lonzo Lewis.
A heavy man was bigger than Bull Hunter.
Someone else might be smarter than Charlie Nelson, or could oar faster than Luther Willis, or told more lies than Lying Willie, or throw a baseball harder than Moe Willis, or play and sing like the Rose crowd, or loved loon more than Loch, or could run faster than Billie Hancock.
And the ultimate question I was asked when it appeared that I was succumbing to the peer pressure that was just as much an issue then as it is now, was this - If Jonathan [my nephew but was five years older and my most often role model] jumped off the Lighthouse, would that mean you had to jump off the lighthouse?

Many, if not most of us were called by two names because everyone was named after someone else. You couldnt just say that something happened or belonged to Mary. You had to be more specific.

Was it Mary Ann, Mary Francis, Mary Catherine, or even Norman’s Mary, Weldon's Mary, Tommy Lewis's Mary, or Iddy's Mary.  There was also Luther's Mary, who when she was married became William's Mary, and who had a son called Mary's Michael. He lived almost next door to Elsie Mae's Johnny William, who was not be confused with Johnny Lane, Johnny Wayne, Johnny Michael, Johnny Manley ' the son of Johnny Boo, or Johnny Vann - the son of Alena's Johnny.

If mama sent me to get something from Ollie, she had to be more specific - was it Big Ollie or Little Ollie?


Everybody and Everything was a part of something else – something bigger than themselves. It was our "past." And to quote William Faulkner, "The past is not dead; it isn't even past."

Monday, May 2, 2016

No. 135 "I just wanna go home!"


No. 135 "I just wanna go home!"

From The Education of an Island Boy Chapter 1 "Ole Pa's Crowd"
 
Billy Hancock on Diamond City
... Ole Pa (my grandfather, Charlie Hancock) later would bring Billy with him when he moved his family off the Banks after the 1899 storm. His youngest son, my father, was born in 1909 and was too young for having any real memories of his grandfather who died in 1914. But his older brother, my uncle Louie, who was seventeen years older than my father, would tell another story about Billy that was not nearly so happy or gleeful as the ones about his whaling and running.

Rather, Louie would describe, sometimes with a choked voice, of how Billy would stand on the south shore of Harkers Island and look longingly across to the Banks to where he had lived all but the last few years of his life. "Ah Lord," he would exclaim over and over as he waved his hands towards what had been the community of Diamond City and the setting for all of his happy memories. 

One time, Louie would tell, after his grandfather had gotten really old and "feeble-minded," Billy started to walk out into the water and towards the Banks. As Charlie and Louie grabbed hold to restrain him, Billy would plaintively explain to his son and grandson that he just wanted to go home one more time!

"He would cuss us," Louie would recall, "and then beg of us as to why we wouldn't let him just go home. That was all he wanted. He would ask us what he had ever done to us so we wouldn't let him go home just one more time?"

By then Diamond City was just a memory, having been all but washed away by the great August storm of 1899. There quite literally was no home for Billy to go to. Though it was less than five miles away across the Sound, and the yellow hue of its sand hills still could be seen on the horizon, Diamond City was, for Billy, as far away as "Old England" had been to his fore bearers three centuries earlier when they landed in Virginia ...

Sunday, April 3, 2016

No. 5 "That Ball was High" (originally published in text format 2/23/2011)

https://youtu.be/r1Tgba5biIE

"That Ball was High - or - The Pitch that Never Was!" In celebration of the start of baseball season, this is an audio-visual presentation of one of my earlier stories. The photos are mostly long-ago images of Harkers Island, Salter Path, of crowds & places, and baseball teams from the mid-20th century. If you enjoy this, please share it with a friend who might do the same.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

No. 134 Coast Guardsmen tell story of the First (1812) Cape Lookout Lighthouse

Coast Guardsmen tell story of the First Cape Lookout Lighthouse
Joel G. Hancock (1988)


Artist's Rendition of the original (1812) Cape Lookout Lighthouse
The Cape Lookout Lighthouse stands against a pale blue backdrop as one of the most lasting and beautiful maritime landmarks of the southeastern coastline. The distinctive diamonds that adorn its facade are visible for miles in either direction. It has become a symbol for an entire region and its image can be found on hundreds of signs, logos, and in assorted advertising efforts. It is as if it has always been there looking out over Lookout Bight and Diamond Shoals. But it hasn't been. It was built just prior to the Civil War, its lamp first lit on November 1, 1859. It replaced a smaller lighthouse that had been built half a century earlier but that had proved woefully ineffective in protecting sailors and ships from the dangers of Lookout shoals.

Cape Lookout's first lighthouse was built in response to an increased maritime traffic up and down the Atlantic coastline following the successful American revolution. It was located some seventy miles to the south of Cape Hatteras and several hundred feet to the north of the present structure. The older and taller Hatteras light historically has attracted more attention, but the Lookout shoreline has proved equally hazardous to wayward sailors. As early as 1590 it was called the Promontorium Tremendum, or "horrible headland" on the White-Derby map of coastal Carolina.

No one alive today can remember the first lighthouse as it was torn down well before the end of the nineteenth century. It had begun operation in 1812 but never quite fulfilled its purpose of serving as a beacon for ocean-going vessels. The story of that first lighthouse, and much, much more, has been recorded in vivid and meticulous detail by two retired Coast Guardsmen, T. Michael O'Brien and Dennis L. Noble. Their manuscript, entitled Soldiers of Surf and Storm, The Light and Lifesavers of Cape Lookout, North Carolina has never been published but is available at the Rangers Office of the Cape Lookout National Seashore at Harkers Island. Their account of the literal "rise and fall" of the ill-fated first Cape Lookout Lighthouse is particularly intriguing as the story is relatively unknown, even among those who are intimately familiar with its more successful replacement. For the benefit of those with an interest in its story, an edited version of their observations and findings about the original Cape Lookout Lighthouse is included.

. . . The land at Cape Lookout was so low that even in the best weather a ship might be on the shoals before the skipper realized his vessel was dangerously close to land. Still it was not until almost fifteen years after the Congress had accepted title to a jurisdiction over lighthouses and other aids to navigation that an attempt was made to establish a light at Cape Lookout. 

On March 26, 1804, Congress authorized erection of a lighthouse "as soon as land sufficient shall be obtained at a reasonable price for the purpose, and the jurisdiction of the land so to be obtained shall have been ceded to the United States by the State of North Carolina, ... on or near the pitch of Cape Lookout."

Congress appropriated $25,000 to be split with a lighthouse at the mouth of the Mississippi River, for construction. Less than nine months later, on December 17, the State of North Carolina ceded "exclusive jurisdiction of four acres lying near the pitch of Cape Lookout in Carteret county" for the lighthouse. Congress, on March 1, 1805, appropriated an additional $20,000 to complete the two lights.

On November 30, 1810, the Secretary of the Treasury instructed the Collectors of Customs at Boston, New York, and Beaufort to advertise for bids for the Cape Lookout light-house in their respective newspapers. Bids were closed on February 15, 1811 and on March 13, a contract was sent to Benjamin Beal, Jr., Duncan Thaxter, and James Stephenson of Boston. No records are available to indicate exactly when the work was completed but, on June 2, 1812, President James Madison appointed James Fulford as keeper. The structure was completed at a cost of $20,678.54 and had one wooden and one brick tower. Congress must have been slow to pay, for it carried varying balances of the sums appropriated for Cape Lookout and the Mississippi River lights every year until 1820.

Robert Miles, in his 1832 work, The American Pharos, provides this description of the then twenty year old Cape Lookout Light:

“This light stands in latitude 34" 36' longitude 76" 36'. It is stationary and elevated 95 feet above the level of the sea. Its situation is on Cape Lookout, and may be seen from 16 to 18 miles at sea. It is painted with red and white stripes around it. As it is approached it resembles a ship under sail ...”

The light, although clearly seen all night until near the approach of day, cannot then be discerned, owing, it is thought, to a mist which arises above the horizon between the vessel and the lamp. It is judged imprudent to approach the shoals of Lookout in the night nearer than ten fathoms on the west side. Vessels passing the shoals in the night ought rather to trust to the lead than the light. These shoals are the most dangerous on the American coast, and vessels cannot be too cautious in approaching them.

The salary of Cape Lookout's first keeper in 1812 had been $300. By 1867 it had been raised to $600. This was "... small compensation for the dedicated hard work required of keepers ..." For many years, the quality of men who manned these important aids to navigation was in a constant state of flux. Several factors accounted for this; low pay, political appointment and lack of proper training and instruction . . .

Prior to 1851 keepers received little, if any, written instructions outlining their duties. In that year a review board required detailed instructions on every facet of a keeper's responsibilities and insisted that the applicants for keeper's positions be able to read and write. In the jet age, where life can become complex and confusing, the image of life at a light station holds some appeal. We tend to visualize the keeper's existence as one of peaceful meditation and contemplation. In reality, it was an existence of loneliness highlighted by monotony. One early keeper remarked, "The trouble with our life is that we have too much time to think."

The principal duty of the keeper was, naturally, to ensure that the light was lighted "punctually at sunset, and ... kept burning at full intensity until sunrise." If alone, the keeper was required to check the light at least each night and to keep a constant watch over it on stormy nights. The keeper stood watch from midnight to sunrise, cleaning the copper and brass fixtures of the apparatus and all utensils in the lantern and watchroom during his tour of duty. This constant attention to polishing brasswork inspired Longfellow to dash off these lines:

Oh, what is the bane of a lightkeeper's life,
That causes him worry and struggle and strife,
That makes him use cuss words and beat up his wife?
It's brasswork.

The lamp in the tower, reflector and shade,
The tools and accessories pass in parade
As a matter of fact the whole outfit is made
Of brasswork.

I dig, scrub and polish, and work with a might.
And just when I get it all shining and bright,
In comes the fog like a thief in the night,
Goodbye brasswork.

And when I have polished until I am cold,
And when I'm taken aloft to the heavenly fold,
Will my harp and my crown be made of pure gold?
No, brasswork! 

Almost from the beginning Cape Lookout was beset with problems. In a July 10, 1817 letter to the Beaufort Collector of Customs, the Commissioner of Revenue complained that "the Cape Lookout Light-house is so badly attended by the Keeper that no reliance can be placed on it, ... it is entrusted to the care of a Negro girl, and . . . more oil has been wasted . . . than was consumed in the lamps."

The material used to construct the light had apparently been inferior for extensive repairs on the structure were needed in 1820 - a mere eight years after its completion. In addition to all its other problems, the lighthouse was plagued by blowing sand. A series of correspondence beginning in 1811 and continuing until 1829 addressed various solutions to the sand problem. Finally, on March 4, 1840, the purchase of an additional 11 acres, 30 poles of land was authorized to protect the lighthouse and keeper's dwelling from the sand encroachment. On May 30, the land was obtained for $75.00 from Charlotte andElijah Pigott, Sr., William, Anson and James Harris, Repsy and Levi Pigott, Mary and Josiah Willis, Sarah and Levi Bell, Abigail and Ambrose Jones, and the Joseph Fulfords..

On July 1851, Lieutenant David D. Potter, U.S.N., commander of the U.S. mail steamer Georgia, responded "with great pleasure, as our light-houses as at present arranged are so wretched that any seafaring man must desire a change." This young Lieutenant, who, during the Civil War would advance from that rank to rear admiral in a mere two years, seems to have dwelt with great relish upon Cape Lookout's deficiencies:

. . . Cape Lookout Light, elevated a hundred feet above the level of the sea, is a most important one. Blunt's Coast Pilot says that it can be seen sixteen or eighteen miles; which is not the case, as I always pass it at night, then and a half miles off, (shaving the outer shoal) and it is only in very clear weather that it can be discerned. Towards morning, particularly, it is difficult to be seen, owing it is thought to the mist which hangs over the land; but I rather attribute it to neglect on the part of the keeper, in not rubbing off the reflectors during the night. Cape lookout shoal runs off S. by E. 1/2 E. ten miles, and a vessel will only clear the end of it in seven fathoms of water. I have found myself two or three times inside the shoal, looking for the light and have been obliged to haul out without seeing it.

Such criticism was corroborated by Lieutenant H. J. Hartstene, U.S.N., commander of the U.S. mail steamer Illinois, who, on July 18, 1851, wrote "the lights on Hatteras, Lookout, Canaveral, and Cape Florida, if not improved, had better be dispensed with, as the navigator is apt to run ashore looking for them."

The effectiveness of the light apparently was not the only problem. According to one report, it had been several years since the tower was painted, and the paint is nearly all off ... The copper to the lantern deck wants repairing ... it is leaky. Many of the shingles are off the tower, and the plastering inside of the dwelling needs repairing. The keeper is obliged to keep wheeling away the sand from the front side of the house to prevent sand from covering it up. The sand banks are now higher than the tops of the windows; on the sea side (to the kitchen of the dwelling) is ninety yards, it has washed away about one hundred feet last year by abrasion and sea-flows.

In all fairness to the keeper, William Fulford, his light was no worse than anyone else's. In their seven hundred and sixty page report to the Congress, (a board of inquiry) found nothing good to say about any of the lights -- they examined and reported that most keepers were untrained and did not know how to tend the lighting system .

All forty-nine American lighthouses in 1820 used the "Argland lamp" and parabolic reflectors. The Superintendent of the Light-Houses was Stephen Pleasanton, a personal friend of Winslow Lewis, developer of the lighting system. The system and its patent had been sold to the United States for $60,000. Pleasanton was a "dedicated economizer" who pointed with pride to his economic operation of the lighthouses. Unfortunately, thrift at the expense of efficiency can be costly when men's lives are at stake and Pleasanton eventually lost his job.

Perhaps the major downfall of Pleasanton was his steadfast reliance on Lewis' patent system and refusal to adopt the Fresnel system. Augustin Fresnel had developed a system so superior that many of his lenses remain in use even today. A French physicist, Fresnel had been born in 1788, six years after the Argland lamp was invented. He perfected his lens in 1822. Basically, the Fresnel lens is a glass barrel resembling a huge beehive. Its outer surface consists of prisms and bulls eyes. A single lamp sits in the center and emits light bbulls eyes into concentrated beams of parallel rays and intensified by a powerful magnifying glass in the lens' center. This resulted in a significantly brighter light than that provided by Lewis' system of numerous (as many as thirty) lamps and reflectors. In the Fresnel lens, 60 % of the light was rendered useful whereas in the Lewis system, much of the actual light was wasted in directions of no use to the mariner.
eams which are refracted by the prisms and

The disadvantage of the Fresnel lens, at least here in the United States, was that it was initially quite expensive -- $5,000 for a first order lens. For this reason, and because of his reliance on Lewis' advice, (Pleasanton) acted as a stumbling block to any movement to acquire the Fresnel lens except those purchases mandated by Congressional curiosity.

It was not until 1841 that a Fresnel lens was even tried experimentally in the U. S. and it took another decade before Congress mandated their use in all new American lighthouses. Cape Lookout, however, would continue to use its thirteen Argland lamps and thirteen 21-inch parabolic reflectors until the tower was rebuilt. On March 3, 1857, Congress appropriated $45,000 for rebuilding and refitting with a first order lens. The new tower, a red colored brick structure was lit for the first time on November 1, 1859.

The old Lighthouse would continue to stand for several years after it was no longer operational. The keepers quarters are still standing in a photograph of the area taken just before the turn of the century. Getting rid of the old tower was not as easy as one might suppose. In fact, the story of it's "fall" is almost legendary among some of the old people of the area.

For further information or to find a complete copy of the Nobles & O'Brien manuscript, contact the Cape Lookout National Seashore Park, Harkers Island, NC.