Follow by Email

Monday, December 8, 2014

No. 127 Telford, Gertie and the births of their children ...

Telford & Gertie Willis
Under the watchful eye of Harkers Island’s resident midwife, my great-grandmother, Margaret Willis, whom everyone called “Aunt Marg,” new mothers were encouraged, even expected, to remain in bed with their babies beside them for at least a week, and sometimes longer. Aunt Marg held that a new mother needed at least that much time to recuperate from the stresses and pains of delivery. Further, she claimed that this made it easier and more natural for the newborn baby to adjust to its new world and environment.

Aunt Marg’s only son, my “Uncle Telford,” not only made certain that his wife, Gertie, complied with the regimen prescribed by his mother, he took it one step further. In his mind, if a new baby could bond with its mother by staying close beside her for a week or more, he reasoned that the same also must apply to building a relationship with its father as well.

The home of Telford & Gertie Willis
So, in his house and for each of their six children, as soon as the new baby  was cleaned and readied for its first nursing, and Gertie was revived enough to be returned to her newly made bed and linen, Telford would assume his own place right beside his wife with their new baby snuggled closely between them.  And he stayed there, not just on the day of delivery, but for the entire time that his wife and baby remained in place.

Telford & Gertie, with five of their six children
Visitors to their home, one of the nicest and largest on the Island, who came by to see the new baby and to check on Gertie would find not just the mother and child, but Telford as well, clad in pajamas to match the bedclothes worn by his wife, and sprawled out on the big bed that covered most of the front-facing bedroom that overlooked the road and the landing.

The only difference in his demeanor and that of his wife and child would be that while they remained prone on the bedding, he would jump up to greet every visitor with one of his full-body hugs before returning to his place on the bed.

It was accepted by all that Uncle Telford’s ritual at the birth of his children was entirely appropriate in view of the nurturing attitude he assumed toward each of them from the very moment of their conception. As much as their mother, or any mother for that matter, he was a constant source of attention and affection. Long after he succumbed to a heart attack at only fifty-one years old, he was mentioned as the standard of comparison for both mothers and fathers in caring for their children.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

No. 126 A "Harker" as well as a "Hancock" - with a little "Franklin" on the side ...

A map of eastern NC in the colonial era

Most 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 much of my direct for-bearers that wanderlust was all but spent by the time they landed on the southeast coast of Virginia in the early 1600s. It would take them another two centuries to make their way just two hundred miles south. 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 entirely east-west. 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.

Sibsey in Yorksire County, England - home of the Harkers
But at least one of my forefathers followed a different course when he arrived 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 Yorkshire in the northeastern corner of England. But by the time he was thirty years old he was married and living in Boston, where he his wife, Mary would raise a family of two sons and four daughters. Their third child and second son, 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.

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. The others were named Chadwick, Whitehurst and Pigott and those surnames are still everywhere to be found in eastern Carteret County. 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.

That came to be because in 1730, when he was forty-one years old, he purchased an entire island from George Pollock of nearby Beaufort for £400 and a twenty foot boat. He soon settled there with his wife, a local girl named Elizabeth Brooks, and their 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. Seven generations and five surnames later I arrived on the scene 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 made their homes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What happened to all (most) of my pictures?

Thank you to a reader for the following note that pointed out an issue with the blog. My response and announcement is posted below.


Hi Joel,

Winter arrives early at Sheldon's Woods (17 Nov 2014)
As a Carteret County native and avid reader of your blog, The Education of an Island Boy, I was wondering what has happened to the photos that accompanied the stories? On my computer they only show up now as a circle with a slash. I hope they do return, as it helps give a good depiction of what it was like during that period. 

Thanks again for all your wonderful story telling.

S. R.

Hey S. R.,

Exposed roots of a pine tree on the shore
 at Shell Point
Thanks for the note, and especially for your interest in my blog. I had noticed the same thing a few weeks ago but as of yet had not searched to find the reason. Your question spurred me to action.
From my research it appears that the culprit is that I recently cleaned up some of the old photos that I have edited (and thus stored) using Google's Picasa photo editor. Picasa backs up all of your photos to your cloud (google drive) storage. So, when I went online and cleaned up (moved and/or deleted files) on my google drive, it removed the link that Blogspot (a google product) uses to match the photos with the blog. So as far as Google is concerned, the photos are no longer there.
Of course they are still there, but in another place (and on my local drive), so I will set out to re-attach them in the next few weeks. It may take a while but I'll eventually get it done.
But thank you for noticing and reminding me that some people really do follow and enjoy the blog. I am getting closer to putting it all together, with lots of other narratives, into the book I have planned and intended for most of my adult life.

Joel Hancock 19 Nov 2014

Sunday, October 5, 2014

No. 125 "Who we were, Who we are & Why it still matters?" The Diamond City Reunion August 2014

On August 16-17, 2014 a reunion was held at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center at Harkers Island of the descendants of those who once had lived at Shackleford Banks on and around the community of Diamond City. I was asked to offer some keynote remarks at a Sunday afternoon assembly of all the attendees. My assignment was to conclude the gathering and hopefully, bring into focus the reasoning behind remembering a place that had all but ceased to exist one hundred and fifteen years earlier. Time and circumstances did not allow for me to make the comments that I had prepared as had been planned. Because I had given much thought to what might have been appropriate, I offer my conclusions here and in this format for others who might be or have been interested.

Sunday August 17, 2014 - Diamond City Reunion Gathering

"Who we were, Who we are, Why it matters?"

Prior to setting out to write "Huckleberry Finn" and what was to become, in the opinion of many, the Great American Novel, Mark Twain mentioned some of the thoughts and emotions that came to his memory.

Welcoming sign in Hannibal, MO
"All the summer world was bright and fresh, and sun rose upon a tranquil world, and beamed down like a benediction. The fountains of my great deep are broken up, and I have rained my reminiscences for four and twenty hours.
"The old life has swept before me like a panorama; the old days have trooped by in their old glory, again; the old faces have looked out of the mists of the past; old footsteps have sounded in my listening ears; old hands have clasped mine, old voices have greeted me, and the songs I loved ages and ages ago have come wailing down the centuries!" __ Mark Twain
The truck carrying the Joad Family

These thoughts stand in stark contrast to those spoken by Tom Joad in John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath." As his family looked behind them at the homes and farms they were leaving forever in the dust bowl of Depression era Oklahoma, Tom asked himself,

How can we live without our lives? How will we know it's us without our past?" John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

One of the many horses that still graze on Shackleford Banks
As much as I enjoy and have affection for the places and things we have seen or visited these last two days; the marshes, the dunes and the yaupons, and the horses and the birds that are still there, I am reminded that it was, it still is, the people who once lived there that mattered most - then and now.

Some of you have seen the video montage that was on display in the museum hall this weekend. As I observed the faces of those who stood and watched I noticed their amusement when they saw the old schoolhouse or the wooden bridge. I saw their interest when they noticed old faces that look so much like newer faces we still know. But I have been most aware of their genuine excitement when, if only for eight seconds, they caught a glimpse of a face belonging to someone they loved!

Self is great thing,my Mama used to tell me, and it is in those pictures of our loved ones that we can clearly see ourselves.

Seeing and remembering people of old photos on display
And as we talk about them, show their pictures, tell their stories, its not just them that we are honoring and remembering. Ultimately, it is more for us than for them, because in them we are reminded that we too are important. Even in the face of all that we see and hear and learn about the great and wonderful, and sometimes terrible world that we live in, our ancestors remind us that we really do matter because someday our children and grandchildren will tell stories and show pictures of us. And when they do they will smile and laugh and sometimes maybe even cry - with gladness or sadness, or both?

What binds us to them is not their distinct or amusing accents, or their maritime professions, or even their talents and instincts. What truly binds us is to them is that they loved one another, and a sense that some of that same love still lives in us.

If my grandchildren someday reunite to remember Susan [my wife] and me, along with their parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, it will not be because of my profession or my distinctive accent. It will be because they will remember the love they have felt when they were with us.

In the words of the Apostle Paul in 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians, prophecies shall fail, tongues shall cease, and knowledge shall vanish away, but Christ like love will never fail.

* * *

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:

The original Harkers Island Bridge
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.

Billie Hancock, the fastest man on the Banks
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 that 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?

* * *

Everyone was part of a crowd that meant more than a last name.  You could be part of more than one crowd, depending on your mama and daddy. I was one Charlie Hancock's crowd during the week, but on Sunday I was part of the Bertha Willis's crowd.

In a hundred ways every day I was reminded of who I was and what our crowd had been. Knowing those things made me feel that I was part of something special and something that mattered. It gave me a reason to do my best to avoid bringing shame or pain to the others who shared that name and feeling with me, and who were a part of my crowd.

If I could propose a remedy to the sadness, the neurosis, and the discouragement that appears to be so prevalent in younger generations of the same people who once seemed so contented with their lives, my first suggestion might be to make them part not of a gang that shares nothing but a lack of connections to anything other than themselves and their cravings, but instead a part of a crowd that is defined and even edified by their connections to their own heritage and what they mean to each other, and what others have meant, and still mean to them.

Be careful and dont get hurt my Mama would remind me whenever I left our house. But with my father it was a little different. Remember who you are, he would remind me with more than a little bit of a plea and a caution about the possible consequences whenever I set out for anything away from our family and neighborhood. With all due respect to my mother, my fathers warning was the one that kept, and still keeps, ringing in my mind. Trying to avoid bringing shame on him, on our crowd, was and is something that has constantly reminded me to consider long and hard the consequences of my life decisions - big and small.

The prodigal son of the New Testament reaches an epiphany when he came to himself as he was reminded of what he had left. (New Testament Luke: 15:17)

We all go through a stage when we want to "fly," and sometimes even fly away, but there usually comes a time when we are reminded, either gladly or sadly, of what and where and who we came from. There comes a time when, like the prodigal mentioned by Luke, we come to ourselves.

Most of us hunger for real roots and foundations.  Over the years, when decoy carvers are asked why the started (or started back) practicing the art of carving, they mention their father, their grandfather, or their uncle, and conclude, Im just doing what I saw them do.

The Harkers Island Display at the Museum
It might be said that the grand purpose of this museum (Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, Harkers Island), and of events like the "Diamond City Reunion" that are at the heart of the museums mission, is to remind us that we have roots, solid roots, that have withstood storms equal to any we are facing today.

When the "crowds" left the Banks they assembled in their new found communities as families. Reports of census takers for the next fifty years give the appearance of having been sorted by some key field in the census-takers handbook. Instead they are merely listing the names in the order they found them, one extended family, or more especially one crowd," following directly after another.

This practice was evident not just on the rolls of the ten years census lists. For several generations Promise Landers were first called The Crowd from the Banks, by their Morehead City neighbors. Folks from Salter Path even today are lumped together as that crowd of Salter Pathers. Over the years I have been reminded more than once that I am one of that "crowd from Harkers Island." Standing before you today please know that I have never been ashamed that you are my crowd, and I hope that you and yours will never be anything but proud of our shared heritage - and that those who shaped that heritage, both living and deceased, might always be proud of us.

Most of us cannot live right beside each other like once was the norm, but space doesn't mean the same thing now that it did to my mother, who when she married my father in 1928 and moved to where I grew up [near the mid-point of the Island, Hancock Landing] would sometimes walk out to the road and look towards the West'ard, toward Red Hill, and she would cry with homesickness. It's not the physical space that separates us now. Rather it is the emotional space that we have allowed to creep into our lives and our relationships.

* * *

Charlie Hancock, my grandfather, with some of his older grandsons
My grandfather, Charlie Hancock, moved from the Banks on Christmas day of 1900. Fifty-seven years later he died and was brought to lay in state in his own living room on the shore and facing the Banks he had left more than half a century earlier. My father along with my aunts and uncles took pains to make sure that his grandchildren understood and appreciated my grandfather's legacy.

And so now, fifty-seven years after his passing, and on this special occasion, I offer a goodbye to him that I was too young and immature even to think of on that occasion. Goodbye Ole Pa, Goodbye again. I hope that you can be proud of me and mine and that we are still your crowd. 

All of us gathered here for this reunion have an Ole' Pa and/or an Ole' Ma. And one of the very best ways that we can honor them is in the lives we live here and now today.

* * *

The Old Testament ends with the words from Heaven recorded by the hands of Malachi, an Old Testament prophet.

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. Old Testament Malachi 4:5-6

As I have grown older, and hopefully in understanding and in wisdom, I appreciate better what the Prophet Malachi was trying to say. To feel that we have been removed from the hearts of our fathers or our children would truly be a curse!  And just as profoundly, to be turned once again to our fathers and to our children can truly be a blessing.

And so my friends of the Diamond City crowd. Goodbye and Godspeed. Thanks for being a part of our past, our present, and hopefully of our shared future.