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Frank Vaughan, The Albemarle District of North Carolina, 1895

Following the arrival of the Norfolk-Southern Railroad in 1881, Elizabeth City sustained a tremendous growth. Foremost among their industries was lumber, but soon others also began to thrive from the boom. Because of its proximity to Kitty Hawk and its available service, the Wrights often purchased many of their commercial wares in Elizabeth City. In fact, Bill Tate personally assumed the responsibility for arranging the purchase and transportation of many materials. Furthermore, after Wilburís first travails, movement to and from Kitty Hawk and Elizabeth City became routine. This publication documents some of the historical changes experienced by the Albemarle Region up until 1895.

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The Albemarle District.

It is generally conceded that those who have heretofore undertaken to write the history of the Albemarle District of North Carolina, though in some instances men of intelligence, have but made dismal failures of their work, or, at most, have accomplished but little.

So little indeed has been written of the physical features of the place, so little of the general character and habits of the people-of

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their modes of living-and so little of its great natural resources, of its waters, and its fields and forests, and their wealth, that those who live beyond its borders know but little of it, and have, until recent years, regarded it somewhat as terra incognita - a region inhabited by people but little superior in many respects to the aborigines whose places they occupy.

And yet it may be that the dwellers in this region of peaceful beauty, so neglected by the historian, have themselves much to blame for the loss of opportunities to take their own interests more earnestly in hand, and themselves to let the world know of their country's advantages and resources. Certain it is, whatever the cause may be, the Albemarle section of North Carolina has remained comparatively unknown to the busy world around it until within a very few years past. It is, therefore, not surprising that false and erroneous impressions may exist upon the minds of those who have so recently turned their eyes toward this place, concerning its climate, its healthfulness, its lands, its waters, or of the habits and character of its people, etc.

The task that the writer of this little book has taken upon himself is to describe fairly and truthfully the section of country named, and to answer, as well as he is able, any possible questions about it that might be asked by the stranger, with the view, let it be frankly admitted at the outset, to induce the honest emigrant in search of a new home to come, before investing a dollar in purchase, and see and judge for himself, assuring him that if he shall conclude to take up his abode in our midst he will receive hearty welcome, and be accounted, whatever may be his religion or politics, as one with us and of us.

The Albemarle district of North Carolina includes the entire northeastern portion of the State, and is bounded on the north by Virginia, on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the south and west by Pamlico Sound, Beaufort County and the Roanoke River, and comprises the counties of Currituck, Camden, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Chowan, Gates, Dare, Hyde, Tyrell, Washington, Bertie, Hertford and North Hampton - thirteen counties in all.

Within the outline of the district are the Currituck, Albemarle, Roanoke and Croatan Sounds, and a large part of Pamlico Sound ; also Roanoke, Colleton and Knott's Island, together with a considerable number of smaller islands. Within. it is also much of that long, narrow belt of sand known as the "Banks." Also the Roanoke Cashie, Chowan, Scuppernong, Alligator, Perquimans, Little, North and Pasquotank Rivers, all of which are navigable for vessels of considerable draught for many miles up. They all empty into Albemarle Sound. There are a multitude of creeks also navigable far inland for large vessels. At Ocracoke and Hatteras are "inlets" or passage ways through the sand

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banks, connecting sound and ocean, through which in and out pass large vessels, carrying and bringing freights that make up a considerable item in the' commerce of the land.

The banks stand as a solid breakwater between the sea and the sounds, protecting the mainland of the district from the sweeping floods of ocean, and for their whole length they average scarcely one mile in width. Along these banks at regular intervals of three or four miles are United States Life Saving Stations; here too is a line of Government telegraph extending from Virginia to South Carolina, and several great steepling lighthouses. And many a human life, and many the millions of dollars worth of property these have been the means of saving from the stormy sea. The banks are for the most part but a reef of yellow sand, rising here and there into ridges and hills a hundred feet high, with intervals between the groups of hills of miles of level, elevated but a few feet above the waters, the hills and levels -alike generally treeless and almost entirely destitute of vegetation. The portion of the banks within the Albemarle district to wit, from the Virginia line to Ocracocke Inlet, forms parts of the counties of Dare, Currituck and Hyde. Nagshead, in the county of Dare and directly opposite the village of Manteo, on Roanoke Island, is a noted summer resort, and situated as it is in the midst of a cluster of high sand hills, with ocean on one side and sound on the other, the two but half a mile apart, is one of the most delightful places for summer residence in the State. From the tops of the bald, yellow hills the, scenes on a clear summer evening at the sunsetting are glorious in the extreme. Away in the east reaches the rolling, moaning sea ; in the west the red sun sinking down into the waters of Albemarle, and on the south Roanoke Sound and historic Roanoke Island, green and beautiful, in the midst.

Currituck Sound, thirty miles long anal six to ten miles wide, is altogether in the county of Currituck. Its waters are so shallow that only vessels of small size can navigate it, except through the narrow channel that has been dredged for the passage of vessels that trade through the Albemarle and Chesapeake canal.

This sound is a famous feeding ground in the fall and winter for millions of wild ducks, geese and swan, that are killed in great numbers and shipped to market, this being the chief means of support of many of the inhabitants. Many wealthy men from the North, who have purchased tracts of the surrounding marshlands and erected clubhouses on the banks and elsewhere nearby, spend much of their time there during the sporting season. The attraction for the wild fowl to this place is the, great areas of long succulent grass that grows up so thick as to impede the passage through it even of small canoes.

There are fish, also, in great numbers and of many kinds in this

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sound, but they are generally of entirely different kinds from those in the other sounds. Here are caught chub, bass, perch, etc;, but comparatively few shad or herrings.

Albemarle Sound is forty miles long and ten to twelve. wide. The Roanoke, Cashie and Chowan rivers empty into its head, near Edenton. In Albemarle Sound millions of shad, herring, striped bassís and other fish are caught every year during the months of February, March and April, but in less quantities other kinds of fish are caught all the year round. These fish are packed in ice and shipped to market fresh, except when they are taken in unusual quantities; then many of them are salted and barreled for future sale. On this sound many seines, nets, pounds and weirs are operated, some of the seines being more than a mile long, not counting the mile or two of warp used for hauling them to shore. They are carried out in steam flats and set, and then hauled to shore by steam engines. Hundreds of thousands of herrings and other fish have been landed by them at a single haul. There are many other seines, from a few hundred yards to a half mile or more in length, that are brought to land by horse power. The shad nets are staked far out in the sound in January and February, and are seldom taken up or removed until the shad season is over-about the middle of April. There are three to five hundred miles of these nets set in the sounds every year, and most of the fish that are caught in them are iced and shipped in boxes to market as soon as they are taken. The long rows of these nets radiate from hundreds of points in every direction. They catch only the larger fish-shad, striped bass, etc., but shad chiefly. There are set probably a thousand weirs and pounds in the sounds and rivers every year. Some of these, too, reach far out from the shores and in every direction. The wonder is that a single fish that comes from the sea into the sounds can escape the multitude of traps set for it and reach the sea again ; but many no doubt do, for year after year the business goes on as before, and every year millions upon millions of them are taken, each succeeding year bringing in as immense swarms as the year before: The catch this year (1895) has been immense.

Pamlico and the other sounds also abound in fish, but fewer herrings and shad are caught in them than in the Albemarle. This sound (Pamlico), unlike any of the others, has thousands of acres of its vast bottom literally covered with oysters of excellent quality and flavor. A few years ago--before the State Legislature enacted a law prohibiting "dredging "-a hundred vessels at least, some of them large schooners, p were engaged in the business of dredging these oysters. Tens of thousands of bushels of them were taken and shipped to market.
It has been said, and probably truthfully, that the great sound areas of North Carolina are worth fully as much per acre as the forest and

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farm lands that surround them, and that eventually under proper regulations and restrictions to be enacted by the General Assembly the waters will afford as great revenues as the lands, and this applies alike to Currituck Sound, with its myriads of wild fowl, Albemarle, with its enormous yield of the best kinds of fish, and Pamlico, with its vast areas of oyster beds.

I will not attempt to estimate the quantities or market values of these wonderful sources of wealth-fowl, fish and oysters-not having at hand data sufficiently reliable to enable me to do so fairly, but both the quantity and value are immense, and afford profitable employment to thousands of men, besides supporting their families of thousands more. . And this state of things will probably continue indefinitely, for the wild fowl will no doubt continue to return year after year so long as the grass upon which they feed continues to grow, and, taking into account. The advance of science in the modes of hatching fish and the manner of enlarging and protecting oyster beds, We prospect is that these will increase both in quantity and quality rather than decrease.

What has been said of the several great industries of fowling, fishing, etc., in the waters of Carolina conveys but a hint of the reality, and is only a glimpse at the great truth. To form anything like a correct opinion of the magnitude of the fish business transacted, one must be present at one of the great fisheries and see with his own eyes the landing at one haul of thirty, fifty, sometimes a hundred or more barrels of fish; or visit the freight depot at Elizabeth City of the N. & S.R.R. when fishing is at its best, and see, day after day, train loads of iced fish and terrapin and oysters move away to the markets of the world.

Nor is the business of fishing confined by any means to three months in the year, for it is going on in' a greater or less degree throughout the entire year. Bluefish, striped bass, mullets, mackerel, etc., are caught in quantities in the fail and winter Terrapin, clams and crabs are also taken in quantities and shipped. Multitudes of people derive their chief support from these sources, and to many they return considerable revenue over and above a mere support, and thousands of families who live near the creeks and rivers catch and salt away for the year's use abundant supplies of both herrings and shad.

The dweller in inland countries and places remote from the Atlantic seaboard might, and probably would, regard as the wildest of exaggeration a tale, that would in every respect be true, about the great number of fish and fowl, etc., taken in the rivers and creeks and sounds of the Albemarle country. And when is added to these vast-supplies of fish and fowl the vast quantities of grain and fruits and vegetables that are pro-

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duced by indifferent farming on the fertile lands, and the cheapness of all these if they are to be purchased, it will be difficult to imagine a country more blessed by bountiful nature. No wonder that labor is also cheap, and that real want is a thing almost unknown. Comparatively few of the people, it is true, are wealthy, but none ever starve, and none beg who will work one-half the days of the year.

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Citation: Vaughan, Frank. 1895. The Albemarle District of North Carolina.
Location: North Carolina Collection, Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858 USA
Call Number:NoCar F 259 V38 1998a   Display Catalog Record

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Page Updated 03 September 2004
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