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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

No. 105 Harkers Island "Professionals" Part 1 "Charlie Nelson"

Separated from the mainland, and most of its legal and economic institutions, as the Island was in the mid-1900s, there was little need for full-time professionals who hung a shingle to announce their special skills. But there were among us men of special talents who could fill that void on any occasion that might call for an ability, skill or talent beyond those needed in the routines of daily living.

One of those “specialists” who was frequently called on was Charlie Nelson (b. 1894), a self-taught land surveyor. Very early in his life he assumed as his life's work a responsibility to legitimize the Island’s parcels and boundaries, many of which before him were based mostly on oral agreements and hand-shakes. His hand-made drawings on the maps he created were the works of a master, and his artful lettering and numbers had the look of calligraphy.

He was often seen walking up and down the Island, carrying a bundle of his equipment that included a tripod, a compass, notebooks, and a surveyor's chain.

His was not an easy task, and not because of simmering disagreements over where one lot ended and another began. Instead, his main challenge stemmed from the fact that the Island's shoreline runs a few degrees off from what was assumed to be due east and west. The land lines were drawn perpendicular to that same shoreline so that when charted on a grid, they were hardly ever at the right angles that had been assumed.

Even today, many local deed plots have the appearance of trapezoids and parallelograms rather than the shapes of planned rectangles or squares. And most of them still reference an initial survey that displays the name of Charlie Nelson, Esq. In spite of the challenges of the layout and topography involved, the old maps stamped with his seal remain artistic achievements as much as legal documents.

The same handwriting and descriptive skills that served him as a surveyor also led family and friends to call on him for preparing wills, deeds, and other personal legal documents. It was standard practice for any business agreement on the Island to conclude with the statement, "Let's go see Charlie Nelson and make it legal!"

Next: Part 2 "Maxwell Willis"


  1. Charles Thomas Nelson
    Birth Date: 26 Feb 1894
    Death Date: 25 Jun 1971
    Father's Name: Samuel Nelson
    Mother's name: Alice Wade
    Spouse: Letha Nelson
    Marriage Date: 20 Jan 1923
    Marriage Location: Harkers Island

  2. Mark,
    You are correct on the date of birth according to the death certificate. (My wife is the family history specialist around here. I am something awful in transcribing as you might can tell.) Are you related to him in any way?

  3. This is our Uncle Charlie married to "Big Sissy" sister to Grannie AKA Nannie Nelson Willis. He is buried on the same plot as Grannie and Pa in Vergie Mae east entrance 3rd or 4th plot on left. Mama has some of his old writings. He was a special man. One thing you didn't mention hear was his amazing musical talent! His grandsons live in the Nashville area and are famous musicians.

  4. I keep in touch with Gene through his facebook page (and sent him a link to this post). I had forgotten about the connection to Nannie, but I do remember his musical skills. I would submit that in my early youth, no man on the Island was more respected and admired than he.