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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.