Wilmington, NC,  Orton Hotel Fire, January, 1949

WILMINGTON HOTEL AND BUSINESS PLACES BURN

 [from The Robesonian, Lumberton, North Carolina]

Wilmington, Jan. 21. — (AP) — Fire roared through a 100-room hotel and destroyed six adjacent stores here early today. Loss was estimated at more than $1,000,000.

MRS. HORACE T. KING of Wilmington, reported that her uncle, J. R. MALLARD of Charlotte, had occupied a room in the hotel and that he was unaccounted for. She said her uncle, about 70 years old, was in Wilmington visiting her father, E. F. MALLARD, 67, who is in a hospital here. Whether the aged man had reached safety and failed to notify his relatives, could not be immediately determined.

Forty guests of the 75-year-old five-story Orton hotel were routed from their beds but nobody was hurt. The four-hour general alarm fire was checked shortly before dawn, but firemen continued pouring streams of water on the smoking remains.

Other destroyed buildings housed the Royal Theater, the GLEN MORE clothing store, PAYNE’S Men’s shop, the SALLY ANN dress shop, the Fashion Center and the Cinderella Bootery.

Patrolmen discovered the fire shortly after midnight in the Cinderella Bootery. The flames spread rapidly. All firefighting apparatus and off-duty firemen and policemen were called in.

Sparks from the wind-fanned conflagration set afire a tug boat in the Cape Fear River and woods across the river from the city. Those fires burned only briefly until extinguished.

Firemen described the fire as one of the worst in the history of this river port.

The 40 guests registered in the hotel had ample time to reach safety, said A. Abrams, owner of the building. Police said no one was injured in the fire, which was brought under control about 4:30 a.m. (EST), but two firemen were overcome by smoke and required hospital treatment.

Abrams said the hotel, of brick construction, was a complete loss. He valued the building at $200,000. The loss was only partly covered by insurance, he said.

Firemen gave no estimate of the damage to the adjacent buildings. Unofficial estimates, however, said the damage to these structures probably would range up to between $700,000 and $800,000.

The hotel, on North Front Street immediately opposite the post office in the heart of the downtown business district, recently had undergone an extensive refurnishing.

Two Marines, who assisted in combating the conflagration, suffered minor burns. They were treated at a Wilmington hospital and discharged.

The Red Cross set up an emergency station with a nurse on duty. Coffee was given to weary firemen and hotel guests.

  

The Ghost of the Orton Hotel

To view a great video that explains all about the ghost of the Orton Hotel done by WWAY go to:

https://www.wwaytv3.com/2017/10/19/cape-fear-history-mysteries-the-orton-hotel-fire/

Or just google “Orton Hotel Fire”

 

Statement by Chris Fonvielle on Confederate Monuments

From Wilmington Star News (August 29, 2018)

 “Our past has been good more often than not, but sometimes it has been bad and ugly. We must not forget any of it.”

It has been my honor and privilege to serve the people of the great State of North Carolina for more than half of my life, first as a professor of American history at East Carolina University in Greenville and then at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, my undergraduate alma mater in my hometown. I recently retired after a 22 year career in UNCW’s Department of History. Go Seahawks! I continue to serve as a member of the North Carolina Historical Commission, to which I was appointed by then-Gov. Pat McCrory in 2014.

In the aftermath of the horrific violence that occurred as a result of the controversy over the equestrian statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, Gov. Roy Cooper petitioned the N.C. Historical Commission to give him the authority to relocate three Confederate statues — an obelisk to the Confederate dead of North Carolina; a statue to Private Henry Lawson Wyatt, the first Tar Heel killed in action during the war; and a memorial to North Carolina women of the Confederacy — from the grounds of the old State Capitol in historic downtown Raleigh to the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site in Johnston County. I was subsequently asked by the Deputy Secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to serve with four other members of the Historical Commission on the newly formed Confederate Monuments Study Committee to seek clarification of the 2015 General Assembly’s Statute 100-2.1, Protection of Monuments, Memorials, and Works of Art, and to make recommendations to the commission concerning the governor’s request.

Ably led by David Ruffin of Raleigh, who chairs both the Historical Commission and the Confederate Monuments Study Committee, the group worked diligently for 11 months, seeking public input, legal advice, and historical precedence from academic historians.

In the end we proposed three resolutions to the commission for consideration. First, that there is a glaring over representation of monuments to the Confederacy on Capitol Square. Second, that the Historical Commission did not possess the authority, in its interpretation of state law, to nullify General Statute 100-2.1. Beyond the somewhat ambiguous legal issue involved, the committee recommended that the Confederate monuments not be relocated or removed. Third, in order to provide greater understanding of North Carolina’s role in the Civil War and Reconstruction, the committee resolved that the state should put up signage in the form of markers or plaques adjacent to the statues and memorials. For example, when were they erected and by whom? Did the politics of race and identity influence the people and organizations that funded the construction of the monuments? What are the debates concerning their representation in the twenty-first century?

To address the egregious imbalance of monuments to only North Carolina Confederates, the committee also advised the General Assembly to act “without delay” to appropriate funding for statues to ethnic minorities in the state during the Civil War era, beginning with one to African Americans. Eventually that effort might become a public/private venture and work to erect memorials to Native Americans and Unionists. The idea is to recognize the contributions of a greater cross section of North Carolinians during the Civil War.

Given the divisive political climate in our state and country today, the resolutions proposed by the Confederate Monuments Study Committee were controversial. Casting an ominous shadow over the proceedings of the Historical Commission in Raleigh on Aug. 22 was the toppling of “Silent Sam,” the statue to students from the University of North Carolina who fought for the Confederacy, by “protesters” less than two days before. Undeterred and unintimidated, the Historical Commission voted 9-1 in support of the committee’s resolutions.

I favored the commission’s decision and was satisfied that the Confederate Monuments Study Committee had offered a fair and reasonable compromise on the highly charged political, racial, and cultural issues. Along with my committee and commission colleagues, I gave long and deliberate thought to the governor’s petition and, admittedly, it has taken a personal toll.

 

Read More About It — Blackbeard

The January program on the Queen Anne’s Revenge recovery was one of our best attended ever.  Clearly there is much interest in Blackbeard and other North Carolina pirates.  If you would like to read more about them, here are a few recommended books.

Blackbeard the Pirate: A Reappraisal of His Life and Times by Robert E Lee. (Blair, 1974) Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, was one of the most notorious pirates ever to plague the Atlantic coast. He was also one of the most colorful pirates of all time, becoming the model for countless blood-and-thunder tales of sea rovers.

 

Blackbeard: America’s Most Notorious Pirate by Angus Konstam. (Wiley, 2007) Interesting and exciting . .  a thoroughly enjoyable chronicle of an interesting life and interesting era.

 

 

Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. By Colin Woodward (Mariner Books, 2008)

 

Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America’s Most Notorious Pirates by Eric Jay Dolin (Liveright, 2018) An entertaining romp across the oceans that shows how piracy is an inseparable element of our past… Mr. Dolin has a keen eye for detail and the exiciting episode. Readers will learn fascinating tidbits of language, habits and cultural assimilation.

 

A History of Fort Fisher “The Battles for the Fort” (Part 2 of 3)

By Sandy Jackson

[Originally published in the July, 1995 – FPHPS Newsletter]

Federal forces began plans for a joint army-navy attack on Fort Fisher during the fall of 1864.

Shortly after the southern forces learned on October 24, 1864, of the impending attack, Confederate general Braxton Bragg assumed command of the defenses of Wilmington. He superseded Gen. W.H.C. Whiting, who remained his second-in-command.

The Confederates assembled 1,430 men at Fort Fisher in preparation for the assault. An additional force of 6,000 veterans from Lee’s army under the command of Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hoke were located 5 miles up the river at Sugar Loaf.

The expected Federal fleet finally arrived off Fort Fisher on the morning of December 20 under the command of Admiral David Porter.  Aboard the fifty-six warships that gathered New Inlet was an army unit of 6,500 infantrymen under the command of Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler.

Click for details

Click for details

The first attempt the Federals made to take the fort began on the night of December 23, when the powder ship Louisiana, with more than 215 tons of powder, was exploded within 200 yards of the fort. It was hoped that the blast from the vessel would create a gap in the earthen defense. After a lengthy delay, however, the ship finally exploded at 1:52 AM. doing no damage.

For two days, December 24 and 25, Fort Fisher came under a heavy bombardment that did little destruction.

During the afternoon on Christmas day, 2,000 troops under General Butler made an unopposed landing at Battery Anderson, 3 miles up the coast. Unable to advance upon the fort because of artillery fire, General Butler withdrew his troops.

On December 27 the Federal vessels sailed north along the coast to Beaufort, North Carolina, having been unsuccessful in their initial effort to capture Fort Fisher.

The Confederates were jubilant at having withstood the land attack of General Butler and the naval bombardment from Admiral Porter’s ships. General Bragg, not expecting a renewed attack from the Union forces, ordered Hoke’s 6,000 troops into Wilmington in preparation for a move against occupied New Bern.

Disappointed with the failure of General Butler to take Fort Fisher, General U. S. Grant replaced Butler with Maj. Gen. Alfred H. Terry and ordered an additional 1,500 troops to ready themselves for a second attack on the fortification within the following weeks.

The Federal fleet, then numbering warships mounting 627 guns, reassembled at Beaufort, and proceeded back to Fort Fisher. On the night of January, 12, 1865, the Federal fleet reappeared off Confederate Point. The following morning, the second attack on Fort Fisher commenced when the five ironclads began bombarding the land defenses. The rest of the fleet, which joined in the bombardment of the fort that continued day and night from the thirteenth to the fifteenth. More than 50,000 shells and roundshot were directed at Fort Fisher during this period-the heaviest shelling of any fort during the war.

Map - Fort Fisher 1865

Click for detail

On January 14 Federal troops again landed above Fort Fisher, in the vicinity of Battery Anderson. There the infantry entrenched from the sea to the river and were supported by light artillery brought ashore. To prevent Gen. Braxton Bragg from arriving from Wilmington to enforce the fort, 4,700 men were placed along the entrenchment.

The remaining 3,300 men under the command of General Terry moved against Fort Fisher. At the pre-arranged hour of 3:00 PM. on January 15, the assault began under a covering fire from the Federal vessels.

In an effort to draw the fire away from General Terry’s troops, 400 marines and 1,600 sailors, landed near the fort the evening before and, armed with pistols and cutlasses, attacked the northeast bastion on the beach side.

The main attack by General Terry and his men came along the river at the end battery. During the ensuing battle, General Whiting was mortally wounded and Colonel Lamb severely wounded. The Confederate survivors of the battle fled to Battery Buchanan in hopes of finding boats as a means of escape.

The assault finally ended at 10 o’clock on the evening of January 15 when the last of the Confederate defenders, finding boats no longer there, could do nothing but surrender. Federal casualties had been costly, with nearly 1,300 men lost, but the expedition had finally been successful.

The “last major stronghold of the confederacy” had fallen. Blockade-runners could no longer enter the safety of the Cape Fear River to unload at Wilmington, and in the following month even the city would be occupied by Union forces.

 

Bibliography

Fort Fisher State Historic Site
1974 “Fort Fisher State Historic Site Master Development Plan”. North Carolina Department of Natural and Economic Resources and North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

Lamb, William Colonel
1896 “Defense of Fort Fisher, North Carolina” In Operation on The Atlantic Coast 1861-1865, Virginia 1862-1864.
Vicksburg: Papers of The Military Historical Society of Massachusetts“, Vol. IX, 1912 Boston: The Military Historical Society of Massachusetts.

Powell, William S.
1968 “The North Carolina Gazetteer“. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Sprunt, James
1992 “Chronicles of The Cape Fear River 1660-1916“. Second edition. Wilmington: Broadfoot Publishing Co. Originally published, Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton Printing Co., 1916.


[Additional resources]

The Wilmington Campaign  (Dr. Chris Fonvielle)
Fort Fisher I: Folly
North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial – Maps

July, 1995 (pdf) – FPHPS Newsletter

Cap’n John Recalls The Past

Picture from Winner Collection, NHCPL.
Carolina Beach Jacyees lobbied hard for the Fort Fisher/Southport Ferry

By:  Jack Loftus
From: Wilmington Star-News

 

When the new Fort Fisher-Southport ferry made its debut recently, one of the passengers was John H. Bowen, 93, one of the last of the old Cape Fear River boat captains.

While making the 45 minute journey from Fort Fisher to Southport, John Bowen vividly recalled his own experiences as a ferry boat captain on the Cape Fear.

Like most good river captains, Bowen was born and raised along the river, and soon it became a way of life.  Bowen was born July 15, 1872, son of a Cape Fear River pilot.  Long before the Wilmington – Brunswick ferry service began, Bowen was a river captain, navigating tugs up and down the Cape Fear and from Wilmington to Baltimore.

When in 1910 New Hanover and Brunswick counties decided to jointly finance and operate a ferry service to connect the two counties across the Cape Fear, John Bowen was named as the first captain of the new ferry called the John Knox.

Bowen vividly remembers ferrying the first passengers across the river aboard the John Knox, as well as some of the men who worked with him on the ferry.  Bill Register and John Brinkley were the engineers, while George Dickie was the other captain.

Talking with Captain Ira Spencer of the new Fort Fisher-Southport ferry, Bowen said that the speed of the new ferry was much faster than that of the old John Knox, but that the John Knox was just as sturdy.  He also mentioned the difficulty he had navigating the John Knox in the strong current of the Cape Fear.  “The current was bad enough,” he recalled, “but the short distance between Wilmington and Brunswick made it even tougher.”

After several years the two counties bought a new ferry, the Menantic – a side wheeler, and steam powered.  Bowen was also the first to navigate this ferry, because he was the only captain in New Hanover County with a steamboat license.

Both ferries docked at the foot of Market Street and soon 20 minute round trip service was established.  “This made things a little hectic,” said Bowen.  “On slack water the ferry could head right for the opposite slip, but on flood tide the ferry had to travel in an arc.  There was not enough water pressure on the rudder of the Menantic to make her come around fast enough, and this was always a problem getting the ferry into the slip on each side.”

Bowen served as captain of the ferry service until the construction of the Cape Fear River bridge and the subsequent ending of the ferry service.

It has been years since the ferries shuttled between Wilmington and Brunswick, but many people from this area still recall them vividly from their childhood.  And if, in comparison to the new Fort Fisher-Southport ferry, the John Knox and the Menantic seem to be things of the past.  Bowen recalled that in their day “these ferries were just as new and convenient as the new one of today.”  Indeed the only ferry service connecting Wilmington and Brunswick before the John Knox and the Menantic was the old hand operated ferries which had been in use off-and-on since 1764.

After the ferry service was discontinued Bowen remained a river captain navigating tugs along the Cape Fear and between Wilmington and Baltimore until after World War I.

“One of the most interesting experiences I can recall after the ferries, was in 1916 when I was bringing a barge down the Chesapeake to Wilmington when I almost ran into a German U boat.  I saw him coming and I just couldn’t believe it,” Bowen mused.

Recalling his days as a river captain, Bowen said that the only drawback was the time he had to spend away from home.  Yet he feels that in a way he would like to be piloting a boat again.  “If my eyes were better, I could be a captain of the new ferry,” Bowen laughed.

John Bowen now lies with his daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Summerlin at 6037 Wrightsville Avenue.

 

History of Surfing in North Carolina

By Nancy Gadzuk

Ben Wunderly, museum curator at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort and co-collaborator with John Hairr on the Surfing NC Project, spoke at the October 15, 2018 meeting of the Federal Point Historical Preservation Society. Ben spoke on the History of Surfing in North Carolina.

While the title slide of Ben’s talk featured a 1966 photographic image, surfing in the state far predated the 1960’s. Ben moved outside North Carolina and traced the earliest recorded awareness of the sport to the late 1700’s. Captain James Cook’s expeditions to the Pacific reported Tahitians riding the waves on a board they described as “the stern of an old canoe.”

By the late 1800’s, awareness of surfing in the Pacific had spread to the East Coast. A “surfing party” was held at the Atlantic Hotel in Morehead City in 1885. A Watauga County man wrote about an excursion he took to Wrightsville Beach in 1894, where “All sorts and sizes were riding the waves during the entire day.”

After the turn of the century, reports of surfing in North Carolina became more widespread. A 1907 postcard from Wrightsville Beach appeared to show surfers in the water, though an ancient precursor to Photoshop may have been used to doctor the photo.

The earliest well-documented surfing activity in North Carolina was Virginia Dare Day in 1928, which featured surfing demonstrations by NC surfing pioneer Willie Kaiama.

By the 1950’s and 1960’s, surfing in North Carolina had spread – even inland to the original Bert’s Surf Shop in Kinston. Given the lack of beaches in Kinston, Bert had to sell clothes and shoes along with surfboards before opening a series of surf shops along the coast.

In 1964, Harold Petty and Lank Lancaster founded East Coast Surfboards in Carolina Beach, shaping their own brand of surfboards. In 1965, the Atlantic Surf Shop opened in Kure Beach, despite the town leaders banning surfing that summer due to complaints from fishermen who blamed the surfers for their bad luck. The Spring Surf Festival was held at Lumina in Wrightsville Beach in 1966.

By 1974, the North Carolina coast was recognized for having the best surfing on the East Coast, and the United States Surfing Championship was held in Buxton, the first time since the competition started that it was held on the East Coast. In 1997, the East Coast Wahine Championship of Surfing was established at Wrightsville Beach.

Due to time constraints, Ben was not able to talk in much detail about more recent history in this presentation. However, the Surfing NC Project included the development of Surfing NC: A Timeline of the History of the Sport of Surfing in North Carolina, a book Ben co-authored with John Hairr.

PDF copies of the book are available for free download from the Maritime Museum website:

https://ncmaritimemuseumbeaufort.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/North-Carolina-Surfing-NC-Timeline-2nd-Edition-HAIRR-WUNDERLY.pdf    [PDF]

What struck me most was the amount of work involved to ferret out the history presented during the evening, and in much greater detail in the book. When our focus is on war or politics or other more institutionalized subjects, there are often good written records to follow.

Surfing, however is more informal, with its proponents generally more interested in finding the next good wave than chronicling their activities in writing. Fortunately, Wunderly and Hairr have done much of that hard work and provided a fascinating history of the sport in North Carolina.

 

Storm of 1899

[Editor’s Notes:  Since most of us are recovering this month from the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, we thought it might be interesting to read about one of the most disastrous storms on record on this coast.]

It was the Caribbean Storm of November 1, 1899, which reached Wilmington in full force Monday night at 10 o’clock.  Telephone connections had been cut off and no details could be secured from Carolina Beach, but the ocean made almost a clean wreck of the cottages.  Mr. Tom McGee, who is in charge of the beach, wrote to Captain John. W. Harper, general manager of the New Hanover Transit Company, that nearly every cottage was washed away.

It is said that in all eighteen cottages were either washed clean away or totally wrecked.  The hotel, Sedgeley Hall Club House, Hanover Seaside Club House, Mr. D. McEachern’s cottage, and Mr. Hans A. Kure’s cottages were about the only houses left standing on the beach.  The railroad track was also washed away in places.  The damage at Carolina Beach is estimated at about $12,000.  Carolina Beach pier sustained very little damage.

New Hanover Transit Co.’s pump house turned over and water tank undermined and tilted.  New Hanover Transit Co.’s pump house turned over and water works destroyed.

The bridges and gangways on the beach are all gone.  The New Hanover Transit Co.’s railroad track from the Kure Cottage No 2, up the beach to Sedgeley Hall Club, totally destroyed and washed over into the sound.  The track from the Curve near Mr. Kure’s club house to the beach is ruined.

Telephone connection had been cut off and as the beach could not be reached, nothing definite could be secured for publication yesterday morning.

The most intense anxiety was felt by the cottage owners, and many of them went to the beach yesterday, expecting, however, to find little to give them hope.  A party went down in a wagonette, others went in buggies, and some went on the steamer Wilmington and reached the beach from the pier by means of a hand-car.  Among those who went down were Major D. O’Connor, and Messrs. J. A. Springer, H. C. McQueen, J. C. Stevenson, D. McEachern; Major Croom, G. W. Linder, J. J. Fowler, A. D. Brown, R. C. Stolter, J. G. L. Gieschen, Dr. Webster, and others.  They returned to the city in the afternoon.

Capt. J. W. Brock, who with his party of fishermen consisting of three other men, were thought to have been lost during the recent storm on Zeke’s Island, arrived in the city yesterday afternoon from Federal Point all safe and sound.

It will be remembered that on Tuesday his trunk was found floating with the tide up the river by J. W. Howard, janitor at the Custom House, and this gave rise to apprehensions for his safety.  The trunk was restored to him upon his arrival yesterday and this with a small boat in which he and party escaped to Federal Point, constituted all his earthly possessions, the waves having demolished his houses on the island and swept all his household goods, fishing tackle and other property up the river, on the occasion of last Tuesday morning’s storm.

On the island were two cottages in which he and companions lived.  The tide began rising at 8 o’clock Monday night, he said, and reached a climax at 4 o’clock Tuesday morning, when the entire island was covered and the breakers were rolling high over their heads.

He and companions managed to hold a boat between them by steadying themselves with a few bushes, which were above water.  They were then standing in water waist deep and remained so until Tuesday afternoon, when they managed to bail the water from the canoe, clear it of sand and by desperate effort reach the land at Federal Point.

Besides houses and household belongings, Capt. Brock lost two fishing shacks, five nets, and a large interest in between twenty and twenty-five barrels salt mullets.  He said it was the roughest experience of his life and he had given up hope at one time of escaping alive.

Capt. Brock says that the jetties built from the island to Federal Point to throw the current in Cape Fear channel are cut in twain in nearly a dozen places.  Zeke’s Island is now a sand bar, not enough soil being left, as a member of the crew expressed it “to raise a row on.”  Formerly vegetation grew upon the land and gardens were cultivated by fishermen.

The other fishermen on the island are reported safe and there is known to have been no loss of life at this point.

 

The above excerpts were taken from an article published in the Wilmington Star News, November 1899.

 

October Meeting – Ben Wunderly, Surfing History in North Carolina

Monday, October 15, 2018   7:30 pm

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, October 15, 2018 at 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Our speaker this month will be Benjamin Wunderly from the North Carolina Maritime Museum at Beaufort. He will be speaking on the history of surfing in North Carolina.

When one thinks about the words history and surfing together, the mind may conjure up images of surfers challenging the big waves off Hawaii, or perhaps even of Samoans or Australians riding a lonely beach in the remote Pacific. Then, when one considers the famous surfing locations along the East Coast of the United States, one might dream up images of Cocoa Beach, Florida or Atlantic City, New Jersey.

One might not be inclined to include North Carolina among such hallowed surfing locales, but that would be a mistake. Although it is impossible to determine who rode the first wave or made the first surfboard at any of these places, we do know that surfing has been taking place in the Old North State for more than a century.

Benjamin Wunderly is originally from southern Virginia. He had his introduction to North Carolina on the Outer Banks. His fascination with the ocean has led him to spend the past 30 years exploring the beaches, sand bars, tidal creeks and waterways of coastal North Carolina from Currituck to Brunswick County.

He takes pride in researching and sharing all things maritime from Tar Heel country. Having spent 20 years working under the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources at educational centers in Dare, Onslow and Carteret Counties, he has learned extensively about the rich history, culture and environment of eastern North Carolina.

Currently, a Museum Curator at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, Wunderly’s latest project has been a collaboration with fellow curator, John Hairr, to uncover the history of the sport of surfing in North Carolina. They have received help from numerous folks along the way, including the Cape Fear region’s own surfing history experts Joseph Funderburg and Peter Fritzler.

Surfing NC – A Timeline of the History of the Sport of Surfing in North Carolina (pdf)
by John Hairr and Ben Wunderly
North Carolina Maritime Museum – Beaufort

 

The Gullah Geechee People

Excerpts from the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor website

THE PEOPLE

The Gullah Geechee people are the descendants of Central and West Africans who came from different ethnic and social groups.

They were enslaved together on the isolated sea and barrier islands that span what is now designated as the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor – a stretch of the U.S. coastline that extends  from Pender County, North Carolina to St. John’s County, Florida and for 30 miles inland.

The result was an intense interaction among Africans from different language groups in settings where enslaved Africans and their descendants formed the majority.

Over time, they developed the Creole Gullah Geechee language as a means of communicating with each other and they were also able to preserve many African practices in their language, arts, crafts and cuisine.

LANGUAGE

Gullah is a unique Creole language spoken along the Sea Islands and adjacent coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia.  The residents in Georgia are typically referred to as “Geechee.” Gullah language began as a simplified form of communication among people of different languages including European slave traders, slave owners and diverse African ethnic groups. The vocabulary and grammatical roots come from European and African languages.

Gullah Geechee language is the only distinctly African Creole language in the United States and has influenced traditional Southern vocabulary and speech patterns.

ARTS, CRAFTS AND MUSIC

 

Enslaved Africans brought a rich heritage of cultural traditions in art, foodways and music.  ​Arts and crafts are the result of products designed by necessity for activities of subsistence and daily living such as making cast nets for fishing,  basket weaving for agriculture and textile arts for clothing and warmth.

The art of making cast nets for fishing has been passed down by enslaved Africans brought to the southeastern shores of the United States.  Gullah Geechee people continue to use the nets to harvest from the Sea Island waterways, but the tradition is labor intensive and artists are dwindling in numbers as younger generations have lost interest.

African textile traditions that included sewing strips of cloth into larger patterns were combined with European quilting methods and a Creole art form emerged. Quilts with bright colors and designs were originally made for necessity. These traditions also allowed women a  time for social interaction.

Sweetgrass baskets, originally designed for rice production and processing and other domestic uses in Africa, were used for agricultural purposes such as planting and harvesting of coastal crops. Made of bulrush, sweetgrass and split oak, the African art of basket making was significant as a traditionally passed down handicraft practiced by both men and women using similar materials from their homeland.  Baskets also gained recognition for the skill of an artist and uniqueness in style. Even in historic times, baskets were sold to non-Gullah Geechee people and were a source of additional income.

African songs are the foundation for what may be referred to as Gullah music. Deeply rooted in music traditions brought to the Americas by enslaved Africans, the music evolved out of the conditions of slavery that characterized their lives.  The influence and evolution of musical forms that arose out of Gullah music can be heard in many musical genres such as spirituals and gospel music,  ragtime, rhythm and blues, soul, hip hop  and jazz.

FOODWAYS

Food has always played an important role in social traditions in many cultures. Gatherings, celebrations, and religious rituals are often accompanied by food.

The Gullah diet consisted of items available locally such as vegetables, fruits, game, seafood, livestock; items  imported from Europe,  items imported from Africa during the slave trade  (okra, rice, yams, peas, hot peppers, peanuts, sesame “benne” seeds, sorghum and watermelon),  and food introduced by  Native Americans such as corn, squash, tomatoes and berries.  Rice became a staple crop for both Gullah and whites in the southeastern coastal regions.

Although a bounty of food types existed, there was not always a bounty of food available for enslaved Gullah people or their descendants. Making use of available food (or rations), making a little go a long way, supplementing with fish and game, leftovers from butchering and communal stews shared with neighbors were African cultural practices.

African cooking methods and seasonings were applied in the Gullah homes and plantation kitchens.  Because plantation cooks were primarily enslaved women, many of the African cooking traditions were employed along with creatively incorporating foods introduced by European, Spanish and American Indian influence, much of the food today referred to as “Southern” comes from the creativity and labor of enslaved African cooks from the plantations.

 SPIRITUAL EXPRESSION

 

Religion and spirituality have a sustaining role in Gullah family and community life. Enslaved Africans were exposed to Christian religious practices in a number of ways and incorporated elements that were meaningful to them into their African rooted system of beliefs.  These values included belief in a God, community above individuality, respect for  elders, kinship bonds and ancestors; respect for nature, and honoring the continuity of life and the afterlife.

Some plantation owners had regular religious services on the plantation and required slaves to attend. Some plantations had separate services for blacks with black preachers. Plantations frequently had a praise house or small structure where slaves could meet for religious services, but these also had significance in maintaining community cohesion, social structure and conflict resolution.

 

President’s Letter – July, 2018

By Elaine Henson

Boardwalk, Part III

By 1940 the Boardwalk was truly the Carolina Beach town center.

Not only were there hotels, eateries, bingo parlors, arcades, bath houses, the pavilion, a movie theater, bowling alley, amusements and other summer businesses, but also, essential services that were open year round. Beach residents shopped for groceries at the boardwalk A & P and spirits at the ABC store.

City Hall was located there along with the police station and the fire department.  At one time, the grammar school was on one side of City Hall separated by a sheet from those who conducted the town’s business.

In this Louis T. Moore photo from the NHCPL collection, the back of the pavilion is on the left with a new fire station and fire truck on the right.  Behind the fire station is City Hall.

But, all that was to change. In the early hours of September 19, 1940, a fire in the pavilion was discovered by CB Police Officer Mosely on his nightly rounds.

The pavilion, near the northern end of the boardwalk and Harper Avenue,  was described in a Wilmington Morning Star article as  “Old, unpainted, dried and fattened for the kill by 30 odd summers in the sun, the structure exploded with uncontrolled furry before police Officer Mosley, who discovered the fire, could turn in an alarm.”  A fierce wind blew the fire in both directions but mainly toward the south. It swept down two blocks of the Boardwalk destroying everything in its path ending at the Bame Hotel.

The Bame was located just south of the present day boardwalk gazebo area on the vacant lot where some of the summer rides are located. So, the fire covered the area between today’s Hampton Inn and Marriott Hotel.

 

This photo from the boardwalk looking west shows some of the devastation caused by the fire.  In the left background is the blue building that faces Cape Fear Boulevard in front of the Gazebo.  Photo from the collection of the late Bob and Fran Doetsch.

Undaunted by their losses, the business owners vowed to rebuild in time for the 1941 summer season and they did.  Having accomplished that, Carolina Beach was billed as “The South’s Miracle Beach” on post cards published after the fire and rebuilt.

 

Next month:  Boardwalk, Part IV