[ FROM CAPE HENLOPEN, DELAWARE, TO NORFOLK, VIRGINIA ]
FROM CAPE HENLOPEN TO NORFOLK, VIRGINIA
THE PORTAGE TO LOVE CREEK. -- THE DELAWARE WHIPPINGPOST. -- REHOBOTH AND INDIAN RIVER BAYS. -- A PORTAGE TO LITTLE ASSAWAMAN BAY. -- ISLE OF WIGHT BAY. -- WINCHESTER PLANTATION. -- CHINCOTEAGUE. -- WATCHAPREAGUE INLET. -- COBB'S ISLAND. -- CHERRYSTONE. -- ARRIVAL AT NORFOLK. -- THE "LANDMARK'S" ENTERPRISE.
Across the entrance of Delaware Bay, from Cape Henlopen Light to Cape May Light on the southern end of New Jersey, is a distance of twelve statute miles. Saturday night and Sunday were passed in Lewes, which is situated inside of Cape Henlopen, and behind the celebrated stone breakwater which was constructed by the government. This port of refuge is much frequented by coasters, as many as two or three hundred sails collecting here during a severe gale. The government is building a remarkable pier of solid iron spiles, three abreast, which, when completed, will run out seventeen hundred feet into the bay, and reach a depth of twenty-three feet of water. Captain Brown, of the Engineers, was in charge of the work. By the application of a jet of water, forced by an hydraulic pump through a tube down the outside of the spile while it is being screwed into the sand, a puddling of the same is kept up, which relieves the strain upon the screw-flanges, and saves fourteen-fifteenths of the time and labor usually expended by the old method of inserting the screw spile. This invention was a happy thought of Captain Brown.
The government has purchased a piece of land at Lewes for the site of a fort. Some time in the future there will be a railroad terminating on the pier, and coal will be brought directly from the mines to supply the fleets which will gather within the walls of the Breakwater. Here, free from all danger of an ice blockade, this port will become a safe and convenient harbor and coaling station during the winter time for government and other vessels.
At dusk on Sunday evening the collector of the port, Captain Lyons, and his friends, took me in their carriage back to Love Creek, where Mr. Webb insisted upon making me the recipient of his hospitality for the night. A little crowd of women from the vicinity of the swamp were awaiting my arrival to see the canoe. One ancient dame, catching sight of the alcohol-stove which I took from my vest-pocket, clapped her thin hands and enthusiastically exclaimed, "What a nice thing for a sick-room-the best nuss-lamp I ever seed!" Having satisfied the curiosity of these people, and been much amused by their quaint remarks, I was quietly smuggled into Mr. Webb's "best room," where, if my spirit did not make feathery flights, it was not the fault of the downy bed in whose unfathomable depths I now lost myself.
Before leaving Delaware I feel it an imperative duty to the public to refer to one of her time-honored institutions.
Persons unacquainted with the fact will find it difficult to believe that one state of the great American Republic still holds to the practice of lashing men and women, white and black. Delaware -- one of the smallest states of the Union, the citizens of which are proverbially generous and hospitable, a state which has produced a Bayard -- is, to her shame we regret to say, the culprit which sins against the spirit of civilization in this nineteenth century, one hundred years after the fathers of the Republic declared equal rights for all men. In treating of so delicate a subject, I desire to do no one injustice; therefore I will let a native of Delaware speak for his community.
"DOVER, DELAWARE, August 2, 1873.
"EDITOR CAMDEN SPY: According to promise, I now write you a little about Delaware. Persons in your vicinity look upon the 'Little Diamond State' as a mere bog, or marsh, and mud and water they suppose are its chief productions; but, in my opinion, it is one of the finest little states in the Union. Although small, in proportion to the size it produces more grain and fruit than any other state in the country, and they are unexcelled as regards quality and flavor. Crime is kept in awe by that best of institutions, the whipping post and pillory! These are the bugbear of all the northern newspapers, and they can say nothing too harsh or severe against them. The whipping-post in Kent County is situated in the yard of the jail, and is about six feet in height and three feet in circumference; the prisoner is fastened to it by means of bracelets, or arms, on the wrist; and the sheriff executes the sentence of the law by baring the convict to the waist, and on the bare back lashing him twenty, forty, or sixty times, according to the sentence. But the blood does not run in streams from the prisoner's back, nor is he thrown into a barrel of brine, and salt sprinkled over the lashes. On the contrary, I have seen them laugh, and coolly remark that 'it's good exercise, and gives us an appetite.' But there are others who raise the devil's own row with their yells and horrible cries of pain. The whipping is public, and is witnessed each time by large numbers of people who come from miles around to see the culprit disgraced.
"A public whipping occurred not very long ago, and the day was very stormy, yet there were fully three hundred spectators on the ground to witness this wholesome punishment! A person who has been lashed at the whipping-post cannot vote again in this state; thus, most of the criminals who are whipped leave the state in order to regain their citizenship. The newspapers can blow until they are tired about this 'horrible, barbaric, and unchristian punishment,' but if their own states would adopt this form of punishment, they would find crime continually on the decrease. What is imprisonment for a few months or years? It is soon over with; and then they are again let out upon the community, to beg, borrow, and steal. But to be publicly whipped is an everlasting disgrace, and deters men from committing wrong. Women are whipped in the same manner, and they take it very hard; but, to my recollection, there has not been a female prisoner for some time. I did not intend to comment so long upon the whipping-posts in the state of Delaware.
"The pillory next claims our attention. This is a long piece of board that runs through the whipping-post at the top, and has holes [as per engraving] for the neck and arms to rest in a very constrained position. The prisoner is compelled to stand on his toes for an hour with his neck and arms in the holes, and if he sinks from exhaustion, as it sometimes happens, the neck is instantly broken. Josiah Ward, the villain who escaped punishment for the murder of the man Wady in your county, came into Delaware, broke into a shoe-store, succeeded in stealing one pair of shoes, -- was arrested, got sixty lashes at the post, was made to stand in the pillory one hour, is now serving out a term of two years' imprisonment, -- and he never got the shoes! The pillory is certainly a terrible and cruel punishment, and, while I heartily favor the whipping-post, I think this savage punishment should be abolished.
"Since writing the above, I have heard that a colored woman was convicted of murder in the second degree last May, and on Saturday the 17th of that month received sixty lashes on her bare back, and stood in the pillory one hour.
"What do you think of Delaware law, after
what I have written? I have written enough
for the present, so I will close, ever remaining,
Yours very truly,
For twenty years past, Delaware and Maryland farmers have given much attention to peach culture, which has gradually declined in New Jersey and states further north. There are said to be over sixty thousand acres of land on the peninsula planted with peach-trees, which are estimated to be worth fifty dollars per acre, or three million dollars. To harvest this crop requires at least twenty-five thousand men, women, and children. The planting of an acre of peach-trees, and its cultivation to maturity, costs from thirty to forty dollars. The canners take a large portion of the best peaches, which are shipped to foreign as well as to domestic markets.
The low lands and river-shores of the peninsula exhale malaria which attacks the inhabitants in a mild form of ague. During the spring, summer, and early fall months, a prudent man will not expose himself to the air until after the sun has risen and dispelled the mists of morning. The same caution should be observed all through the low regions of the south, both as to morning and evening exercise. Chills and fever are the bane of the southern and middle states, as this disease affects the health and elastic vigor of the constitution, and also produces great mental depression. Yet those who suffer, even on every alternate day, from chills, seem to accept the malaria as nothing of much importance; though it is a well-known fact that this form of intermittent fever so reduces the strength, that the system is unable to cope with other and more dangerous diseases for which it paves the way.
Upon a little creek, tributary to St. Martin's River, and near its confluence with the Isle of Wight Bay, a long day's pull from the swamp of Love Creek, was the old plantation home of a friend of my boyhood, Mr. Taylor, who about this time was looking out for the arrival of the paper canoe. It was a question whether I could descend Love Creek three miles, cross Rehoboth and Indian River sounds, ascend White's Creek, make a portage to Little Assawaman Bay, thread the thoroughfare west of Fenwick's Island Light, cross the Isle of Wight Bay, ascend and cross St. Martin's River to Turval's Creek, and reach the home of my friend, all in one day. But I determined to attempt the task. Mr. Webb roused his family at an early hour, and I rowed down Love Creek and crossed the shallow waters of Rehoboth Bay in the early part of the day.
From Cape Henlopen, following the general contour of the coast, to Cape Charles at the northern entrance of Chesapeake Bay, is a distance of one hundred and thirty-six miles; from Cape Charles across the mouth of Chesapeake Bay to Cape Henry is thirteen miles; from Henlopen south, the state of Delaware occupies about twenty miles of the coast; the eastern shore of Maryland holds between thirty and forty miles, while the eastern shore of Virginia, represented by the counties of Accomac and Northampton, covers the peninsula to Cape Charles.
Commencing at Rehoboth Bay, a small boat may follow the interior waters to the Chesapeake Bay. The watercourses of this coast are protected from the rough waves of the ocean by long, narrow, sandy islands, known as beaches, between which the tides enter. These passages from the sea to the interior waters are called inlets, and most of them are navigable for coasting vessels of light draught. These inlets are so influenced by the action of storms, and their shores and locations are so changed by them, that the cattle may graze to-day in tranquil happiness where only a generation ago the old skipper navigated his craft. During June of the year 1821 a fierce gale opened Sandy Point Inlet with a foot depth of water, but it closed in 1831. Green Point Inlet was cut through the beach during a gale in 1837, and was closed up seven years later. Old Sinepuxent Inlet, which was forced open by the sea more than sixty years ago, closed in 1831. These three inlets were within a space of three miles, and were all north of Chincoteague village. Green Run Inlet, which had a depth of about six feet of water for nearly ten years, also closed after shifting half a mile to the south of its original location. The tendency of inlets on this coast is to shift to the southward, as do the inlets on the coast of New Jersey.
Oystermen, fishermen, and farmers live along the upland, and in some cases on the island beaches. From these bays, timber, firewood, grain, and oysters are shipped to northern ports. The people are everywhere kind and hospitable to strangers. A mild climate, cheap and easily worked soils, wild-fowl shooting, fine oysters and fishing privileges, offer inducements to Northerners and Europeans to settle in this country; the mild form of ague which exists in most of its localities being the only objection. While debating this point with a native, he attacked my argument by saying:
"Law sakes! don't folks die of something, any way? If you don't have fever 'n' ague round Massachusetts, you've got an awful lot of things we hain't got here -- a tarnashun sight wuss ones, too; sich as cumsempsun, brown-critters, mental spinageetis, lung-disease, and all sorts of brownkill disorders. Besides, you have such awful cold winters that a farmer has to stay holed four months out of the year, while we folks in the south can work most of the time out of doors. I'll be dog-goned if I hadn't ruther live here in poverty than die up north a-rolling in riches. Now, stranger, as to what you said about sickness, why we aren't no circumstance to you fellows up north. Why, your hull country is chuckfull of pizenous remedies. When I was a-coasting along Yankeedom and went ashore, I found all the rocks along the road were jist kivered with quack-medicine notices, and all the farmers hired out the outsides of their barns to advertise doctor's stuff on."
In no portion of America do the people seem to feel the burden of earning a livelihood more lightly. They get a great deal of social enjoyment out of life at very little cost, and place much less value on the "mighty dollar" than do their brother farmers of the northern section of the states. The interesting inquiry of "Who was his father?" commences at Philadelphia, and its importance intensifies as you travel southward. Old family associations have great weight among all classes.
It was six miles from the mouth of Love Creek across the little sound to Burton's marshy island at the entrance of Indian River Sound. Indian River supplies its bay with much of its fresh water, and the small inlet in the beach of the same name with the salt water of the ocean. Large flocks of geese and ducks were seen upon the quiet waters of the sound. Pursuing my southward course across Indian River Sound three miles, I entered a small creek with a wide mouth, which flows north from the cedar swamp, known as White's Creek, which I ascended until the stream became so narrow that it seemed almost lost in the wilderness, when suddenly an opening in the forest showed me a clearing with the little buildings of a farm scattered around. It was the home of a Methodist exhorter, Mr. Silas J. Betts. I told him how anxious I was to make a quick portage to the nearest southern water, Little Assawaman Bay, not much more than three miles distant by road.
After calmly examining my boat, he said: "It is now half-past eleven o'clock. Wife has dinner about ready. I'll hurry her up a little, and while she is putting it on the table we will get the cart ready." The cart was soon loaded with pine needles as a bed for the canoe. We lashed her into a firm position with cords, and went in to dinner.
In a short time after, we were rattling over a level, wooded country diversified here and there by a little farm. The shallow bay, the east side of which was separated from the ocean by sandy hills, was bounded by marshes. We drove close to the water and put the Maria Theresa once more into her true element. A friendly shake of the hand as I paid the conscientious man his charge of one dollar for his services, with many thanks for his hospitality, for which he would accept nothing -- and the canoe was off, threading the narrow and very shallow channel-way of this grassy-bottomed bay.
The tall tower of Fenwick's Island Light, located on the boundary line of Delaware and Maryland, was now my landmark. It rises out of the low land that forms a barrier against which the sea breaks. The people on the coast pronounce Fenwick "Phoenix." Phoenix Island, they say, was once a part of the mainland, but a woman, wishing to keep her cattle from straying, gave a man a shirt for digging a narrow ditch between Little and Great Assawaman bays. The tide ebbed and flowed so strongly through this new channel-way that it was worn to more than a hundred feet in width, and has at high tide a depth in places of from ten to fifteen feet of water. The opening of this new thoroughfare so diminished the flow of water through the Little Assawaman Inlet to the sea, that it became closed. The water was almost fresh here, as the nearest inlet which admits salt water at high tide is at Chincoteague Island, some fifty miles distant.
Passing to the west of the light-house through this passage, I thought of what a woman could do, and almost expected to hear from the rippling waters the "Song of the Shirt," which would have been in this case a much more cheerful one than Hood's. I now entered Great Assawaman Bay, the waters of which lay like a mirror before me; and nearly five miles away, to the southwestern end, the tall forests of the Isle of Wight loomed up against the setting sun. Ducks rose in flocks from the quiet waters as my canoe glided into their close vicinity. If I could have taken less cargo, I should have carried a light gun; but this being impossible, a pocket revolver was my only fire-arm: so the ducks and other wild-fowl along my route had reason to hold the paper canoe in grateful remembrance.
Upon reaching the shores of the Isle of Wight I entered the mouth of St. Martin's River, which is, at its confluence with Isle of Wight Bay, more than two miles wide. I did not then possess the fine Coast Chart No.28, or the General Chart of the Coast, No.4, with the topography of the land clearly delineated, and showing every man's farm-buildings, fields, landings, &c., so plainly located as to make it easy for even a novice to navigate these bays. Now, being chartless so far as these waters were concerned, I peered about in the deepening twilight for my friend's plantation buildings, which I knew were not far off; but the gloomy forests of pine upon the upland opened not the desired vista I so longed to find.
Crossing the wide river, I came upon a long point of salt-marsh, which I hoped might be Keyser's Point, for I knew that to the west of this point I should find Turval's Creek. While rowing along the marsh I came upon two duck-shooters in their punt, but so enveloped were they in the mist that it was impossible to do more than define their forms. I, however, ventured a question as to my locality, when, to my utter astonishment, there came back to me in clear accents my own name. Never before had it sounded so sweet to my ears. It was the voice of my friend, who with a companion was occupied in removing from the water the flock of decoys which they had been guarding since sunrise. Joyful was the unexpected meeting.
We rowed around Keyser's Point, and up Turval's Creek, a couple of miles to the plantation landing. There, upon the old estate in the little family burial-ground, slept, "each in his narrow cell," the children of four generations. Our conversation before the blazing wood-fire that night related to the ground travelled over during the day, a course of about thirty-five miles. Mr. Taylor's father mentioned that a friend, during one week in the previous September, had taken upon his hook, while fishing from the marshes of Rehoboth Bay, five hundred rock-fish, some of which weighed twenty pounds. The oysters in Rehoboth and Indian River bays had died out, probably from the decrease in the amount of salt water now entering them. A delightful week was spent with my friends at Winchester Plantation, when the falling of the mercury warned me to hurry southward.
On Wednesday, November 25, I descended the plantation creek and rowed out of St. Martin's River into the Bay. My course southward led me past "the Hommack," an Indian mound of oyster-shells, which rises about seven feet above the marsh on the west side of the entrance to Sinepuxent bay, and where the mainland approaches to within eight hundred feet of the beach. This point, which divides the Isle of Wight Bay from Sinepuxent, is the terminus of the Wicomico and Pocomoke Railroad, which has been extended from Berlin eastwardly seven miles. A short ferry conveys the passengers across the water to a narrow island beach, which is considered by Bayard Taylor, the author, the finest beach he has ever visited. This new watering-place is called Ocean City; and my friend, B. Jones Taylor, was treasurer of the company which was engaged in making the much-desired improvements. The shallow bays in the vicinity of Ocean City offer safe and pleasant sailing-grounds. The summer fishing consists chiefly of white perch, striped bass, sheep's-head, weak-fish, and drum. In the fall, bluefish are caught. All of these, with oysters, soft crabs, and diamond-backed terrapin, offer tempting dishes to the epicure. This recently isolated shore is now within direct railroad communication with Philadelphia and New York, and can be reached in nine hours from the former, and in twelve hours from the latter city.
From the Hommack to South Point is included the length of Sinepuxent Bay, according to Coast Survey authority. From South Point to below the middle of Chincoteague Island the bay is put down as "Assateague," though the oystermen do not call it by that name. The celebrated oyster-beds of the people of Chincoteague commence about twenty miles south of the Hornmack. There are two kinds of oysters shipped from Chincoteague Inlet to New York and other markets. One is the long native plant the other, that transplanted from Chesapeake Bay: this bivalve is rounded in form, and the most prized of the two. The average width of Sinepuxent was only a mile. When I turned westwardly around South Point, and entered Assateague Bay, the watery expanse widened, between the marshes on the west and the sandy-beach island on the east, to over four miles.
The debouchure of Newport Creek is to the west of South Point. The marshes here are very wide. I ascended it in the afternoon to visit Dr. F. J. Purnell, whose attempts to introduce the pinnated grouse and California partridges on his plantation had attracted the attention of Mr. Charles Hallock, editor of "Forest and Stream"; and I had promised him, if possible, to investigate the matter. This South Point of Sinepuxent Neck is a place of historical interest, it being now asserted that it is the burial place of Edward Whalley, the regicide.
Early in 1875, Mr. Robert P. Robins found in a bundle of old family documents a paper containing interesting statements written by his great-great-grandfather, Thomas Robins, 3d, of South Point, Worcester County, Maryland, and dated July 8, 1769. We gather from this reliable source that Edward Whalley left Connecticut and arrived in Virginia in 1618, and was there met by a portion of his family. From Virginia he travelled to the "province of Maryland, and settled first at ye mouth of ye Pokemoke River; and finding yt too publick a place he came to Sinepuxent, a neck of land open to ye Atlantic Ocean, where Colonel Stephen was surveying and bought a tract of land from him and called it Genezar; it contained two thousand two hundred acres, south end of Sinepuxent; and made a settlement on ye southern extremity, and called it South Point; to ye which place he brought his family about 1687, in ye name of Edward Middleton. His own name he made not publick until after this date, after ye revolution in England, (in ye year of our Lord 1688,) when he let his name be seen in publick papers, and had ye lands patented in his own name."
The writer of the above quotation was the great-grandson of Edward Whalley (alias Edward Middleton), the celebrated regicide.
Four miles from South Point I struck the marshes which skirted Dr. Purnell's large plantation, and pushing the canoe up a narrow branch of the creek, I waded through the partially submerged herbage to the firm ground, where the doctor was awaiting me. His house was close at hand, within the hospitable walls of which I passed the night. Dr. Purnell has an estate of one thousand five hundred acres, lying along the banks of Newport Creek. Since the civil war it has been worked by tenants. Much of it is woodland and salt-marshes. Five years before my visit, a Philadelphian sent the doctor a few pairs of prairie-chickens, and a covey of both the valley and the mountain partridge. I am now using popular terms. The grouse were from a western state; the partridges had been obtained from California. The partridges were kept caged for several weeks and were then set at liberty. They soon disappeared in the woods, with the exception of a single pair, which returned daily to the kitchen-door of a farm tenant to obtain food. These two birds nested in the garden close to the house, and reared a fine brood of young; but the whole covey wandered away, and were afterwards heard from but once. They had crossed to the opposite side of Newport Creek, and were probably shot by gunners.
The prairie-chickens adapted themselves to their new home in a satisfactory manner, and became very tame. Their nests, well filled with eggs, were found along the rail-fences of the fields in the close vicinity of the marshes, for which level tracts they seemed to have strong attachment. They multiplied rapidly, and visited the cattle-pens and barn-yards of the plantation.
The Maryland legislature passed a law to protect all grouse introduced into the state; but a new danger threatened these unfortunate birds. A crew of New Jersey terrapin-hunters entered Chincoteague Inlet, and searched the ditches and little creeks of the salt-marshes for the "diamondbacks." While thus engaged, the gentle grouse, feeding quietly in the vicinity, attracted their attention, and they at once bagged most of them. A tenant on the estate informed me that he had seen eighteen birds in a cornfield a few days before -- the remnant of the stock.
The Ruffled Grouse (Bonasa umbellas), so abundant in New Jersey, is not a resident of the peninsula. Dr. Purnell's first experiment with the Pinnated Grouse (Cupidonia cupido) has encouraged others to bring the ruffled grouse to the eastern shore of Maryland. That unapproachable songster of the south, the American Mocking-bird (Mimus polyglottus), is becoming scarce in this region, from the inroads made by bird-catchers who ship the young to northern cities. This delightful chorister is only an accidental visitor in the New England states. Indeed as far south as Ocean County, New Jersey, I saw but one of these birds, in a residence of nine years on my cranberry plantations; though I have heard that their nests are occasionally found about Cape May, at the extreme southern end of New Jersey.
My time being limited, I could enjoy the doctor's hospitality for but one night. The next morning the whole family, with tenants both black and white, assisted me to embark. By dusk I had crossed the division line of two states, and had entered Virginia near the head of Chincoteague Island, a locality of peculiar interest to the student of American character. The ebb-tide had left but little water around the rough pier abreast of the town, and heaps of oyster-shells rose from the mud flats and threatened the safety of my canoe. I looked up through the darkness to the light pier-head above me, and called for assistance. Two men leaned over to inquire, "What's the row now, stranger? " To which I replied, "I wish to land a light boat on your pier; and as it is made of paper, it should be carefully handled." For a moment the oystermen observed a silence, and then, without one word of explanation, disappeared. I heard their heavy boots tramping up the quay towards the tavern. Soon a low murmur arose on the night air, then hoarse shouts, and there came thundering down the wharf an army of men and boys. "Pass her up, stranger!" they cried. "Here, give us your bow and starn painters, and jest step overboard yourself, and we'll hist her up." Some of the motley crew caught me by the shoulders, others "histed away," and the canoe and its captain were laid roughly upon the ground.
There was a rush to feel of the paper shell. Many were convinced that there was no humbug about it; so, with a great shout, some of the men tossed it upon their shoulders, while the rest seized upon the miscellaneous cargo, and a rush was made for the hotel, leaving me to follow at discretion and alone. The procession burst open the doors of the tavern, and poured through the entrance to a court-yard, where they laid the boat upon a long table under a shed, and thought they had earned "drinks." This was the spontaneous way in which the Chincoteague people welcomed me. "If you don't drink, stranger, up your way, what on airth keeps your buddies and soulds together?" queried a tall oysterman. A lady had kindly presented me with a peck of fine apples that very morning; so, in lieu of "drinks," I distributed the fruit among them. They joked and questioned me, and all were merry save one bilious-looking individual, not dressed, like the others, in an oysterman's garb, but wearing, to use a term of the place, "store clothes."
After the crowd had settled in the bar-room, at cards, &c., this doubting Thomas remained beside the boat, carefully examining her. Soon he was scraping her hull below the gunwale, where the muddy water of the bay had left a thin coat of sediment which was now dry. The man's countenance lighted up as he pulled the bartender aside and said, "Look ahere; I tell you that boat looked as if she was made to carry on a deck of a vessel, and to be a-shoved off into the water at night jest abreast of a town to make fools of folks, and git them to believe that that fellow had a-rowed all the way ahere? Now see, here is dust, dry dust on her hull. She ahain't ben in the water mor'n ten minutes, I sware," It required but a moment's investigation of my Chincoteague audience to discover that the dust was mud from the tide, and the doubter brought down the ridicule of his more discriminating neighbors upon him, and slunk away amid their jeers.
Of all this community of watermen but one could be found that night who had threaded the interior watercourses as far as Cape Charles, and he was the youngest of the lot. Taking out my note-book, I jotted down his amusing directions. "Look out for Cat Creek below Four Mouths," he said; "you'll catch it round there." "Yes," broke in several voices, "Cat Creek's an awful place unless you run through on a full ebb-tide. Oyster boats always has a time a-shoving through Cat Creek," &c.
After the council with my Chincoteague friends had ended, the route to be travelled the next day was in my mental vision "as clear as mud." The inhabitants of this island are not all oystermen, for many find occupation and profit in raising ponies upon the beach of Assateague, where the wild, coarse grass furnishes them a livelihood. These hardy little animals are called "Marsh Tackies," and are found at intervals along the beaches down to the sea-islands of the Carolinas. They hold at Chincoteague an annual fair, to which all the "pony-penners," as they are called, bring their surplus animals to sell. The average price is about ninety dollars for a good beast, though some have sold for two hundred and fifty dollars. All these horses are sold in a semi-wild and unbroken state.
The following morning Mr. J. L. Caulk, ex-collector of the oyster port, and about fifty persons, escorted me to the landing, and sent me away with a hearty "Good luck to ye."
It was three miles and three quarters to the southern end of the island, which has an inlet from the ocean upon each side of that end -- the northern one being Assateague, the southern one Chincoteague Inlet. Fortunately, I crossed the latter in smooth water to Ballast Narrows in the marshes, and soon reached Four Mouths, where I found five mouths of thoroughfares, and became perplexed, for had not the pilots of Chincoteague called this interesting display of mouths "Four Mouths"? I clung to the authority of local knowledge, however, and was soon in a labyrinth of creeks which ended in the marshes near the beach.
Returning over the course, I once more faced the four, or five mouths rather, and taking a new departure by entering the next mouth to the one I had so unsatisfactorily explored, soon entered Rogue's Bay, across which could be seen the entrance to Cat Creek, where I was to experience the difficulties predicted by my Chincoteague friends. Cat Creek furnished at half tide sufficient water for my canoe, and not the slightest difficulty was experienced in getting through it. The oystermen had in their minds their own sloop-rigged oyster-boats when they discoursed to me about the hard passage of Cat Creek. They had not considered the fact that my craft drew only five inches of water.
Cat Creek took me quite down to the beach, where, through an inlet, the dark-blue ocean, sparkling in its white caps, came pleasantly into view. Another inlet was to be crossed, and again I was favored with smooth water. This was Assawaman Inlet, which divided the beach into two islands -- Wallops on the north, and Assawaman on the south.
It seemed a singular fact that the two Assawaman bays are forty-five miles to the north of an inlet of the same name. In following the creeks through the marshes between Assawaman Island and the mainland, I crossed another shoal bay, and another inlet opened in the beach, through which the ocean was again seen. This last was Gargathy Inlet. Before reaching it, as night was coming on, I turned up a thoroughfare and rowed some distance to the mainland, where I found lodgings with a hospitable farmer, Mr. Martin R. Kelly. At daybreak I crossed Gargathy Inlet.
It was now Saturday, November 28; and being encouraged by the successful crossing of the inlets in my tiny craft, I pushed on to try the less inviting one at the end of Matomkin Island. Fine weather favored me, and I pushed across the strong tide that swept through this inlet without shipping a sea. Assawaman and Gargathy are constantly shifting their channels. At times there will be six feet of water, and again they will shoal to two feet. Matomkin, also, is not to be relied on. Every northeaster will shift a buoy placed in the channels of these three inlets, so they are not buoyed.
Watchapreague Inlet, to the south of the three last named, is less changeable in character, and is also a much more dangerous inlet to cross in rough weather. From Matoinkin Inlet the interior thoroughfares were followed inside of Cedar Island, when darkness forced me to seek shelter with Captain William F. Burton, whose comfortable home was on the shore of the mainland, about five miles from Watchapreague Inlet. Here I was kindly invited to spend Sunday. Captain Burton told me much of interest, and among other things mentioned the fact that during one August, a few years before my visit, a large lobster was taken on a fish-hook in Watchapreague Inlet, and that a smaller one was captured in the same manner during the summer of 1874.
Monday was a gusty day. My canoe scraped its keel upon the shoals as I dodged the broken oyster reefs, called here "oyster rocks," while on the passage down to Watchapreague Inlet. The tide was very low, but the water deepened as the beach was approached. A northeaster was blowing freshly, and I was looking for a lee under the beach, when suddenly the canoe shot around a sandy point, and was tugging for life in the rough waters of the inlet. The tide was running in from the sea with the force of a rapid, and the short, quick puffs of wind tossed the waves wildly. It was useless to attempt to turn the canoe back to the beach in such rough water, but, intent on keeping the boat above the caps, I gave her all the momentum that muscular power could exert, as she was headed for the southern point of the beach, across the dangerous inlet.
Though it was only half a mile across, the passage of Watchapreague taxed me severely. Waves washed over my canoe, but the gallant little craft after each rebuff rose like a bird to the surface of the water, answering the slightest touch of my oar better than the best-trained steed. After entering the south-side swash, the wind struck me on the back, and seas came tumbling over and around the boat, fairly forcing me on to the beach. As we flew along, the tumultuous waters made my head swim; so, to prevent mental confusion, I kept my eyes only upon the oars, which, strange to say, never betrayed me into a false stroke.
As a heavy blast beat down the raging sea for a moment, I looked over my shoulder and beheld the low, sandy dunes of the southern shore of the inlet close at hand, and with a severe jolt the canoe grounded high on the strand. I leaped out and drew my precious craft away from the tide, breathing a prayer of thankfulness for my escape from danger, and mentally vowing that the canoe should cross all other treacherous inlets in a fisherman's sloop. I went into camp in a hollow of the beach, where the sand-hills protected me from the piercing wind. All that afternoon I watched from my burrow in the ground the raging of the elements, and towards evening was pleased to note a general subsidence of wind and sea.
The canoe was again put into the water and the thoroughfare followed southward for a mile or two, when the short day ended, leaving me beside a marshy island, which was fringed with an oyster-bed of sharp-beaked bivalves. Stepping overboard in the mud and water, the oars and paddle were laid upon the shell reef to protect the canoe, which was dragged on to the marsh. It grew colder as the wind died out. The marsh was wet, and no fire-wood could be found. The canvas cover was removed, the cargo was piled up on a platform of oars and shells to secure it from the next tide, and then I slowly and laboriously packed myself away in the narrow shell for the night. The canvas deck-cover was buttoned in its place, a rubber blanket covered the cockpit, and I tried to sleep and dream that I was not a sardine, nor securely confined in some inhospitable vault. It was impossible to turn over without unbuttoning one side of the deck-cover and going through contortions that would have done credit to a first-class acrobat. For the first time in my life I found it necessary to get out of bed in order to turn over in it.
At midnight, mallards (Anas boschas) came close to the marsh. The soft whagh of the drake, which is not in this species blessed with the loud quack of the female bird, sufficiently established the identity of the duck. Then muskrats, and the oyster-eating coon, came round, no doubt scenting my provisions. Brisk raps from my knuckles on the inside shell of the canoe astonished these animals and aroused their curiosity, for they annoyed me until daybreak.
When I emerged from my narrow bed, the frosty air struck my cheeks, and the cold, wet marsh chilled my feet. It was the delay at Watchapreague Inlet that had lodged me on this inhospitable marsh; so, trying to exercise my poor stock of patience, I completed my toilet, shaking in my wet shoes. The icy water, into which I stepped ankle-deep in order to launch my canoe, reminded me that this wintry morning was in fact the first day of December, and that stormy Hatteras, south of which was to be found a milder climate, was still a long way off.
The brisk row along Paramore's Island (called Palmer's by the natives) to the wide, bay-like entrance of Little Machipongo Inlet, restored warmth to my benumbed limbs. This wide doorway of the ocean permitted me to cross its west portal in peace, for the day was calm. From Little to Great Machipongo Inlet the beach is called Hog Island. The inside thoroughfare is bounded on the west by Rogue's Island, out of the flats of which rose a solitary house. At the southern end of Hog Island there is a small store on a creek, and near the beach a light-house, while a little inland is located, within a forest of pines, a small settlement.
At noon, Great Machipongo Inlet was crossed without danger, and Cobb's Island was skirted several miles to Sand Shoal Inlet, near which the hotel of the three Cobb brothers rose cheerfully out of the dreary waste of sands and marshes. The father of the present proprietors came to this island more than thirty years ago, and took possession of this domain, which had been thrown up by the action of the ocean's waves. He refused an offer of one hundred thousand dollars for the island. The locality is one of the best on this coast for wild-fowl shooting. Sand Shoal Inlet, at the southern end of Cobb's Island, has a depth of twelve feet of water on its bar at low tide.
In company with the regular row-boat ferry I crossed, the next day, the broad bay to the mainland eight miles distant, where the canoe was put upon a cart and taken across the peninsula five miles to Cherrystone, the only point near Cape Charles at which a Norfolk steamer stopped for passengers. It was fully forty miles across Chesapeake Bay from Cherrystone Landing to Norfolk, and it was imperative to make the portage from this place instead of from Cape Charles, which, though more than fifteen miles further south, and nearer to my starting-point on the other side, did not possess facilities for transportation. The slow one-horse conveyance arrived at Cherrystone half an hour after the steamer N. P. Banks had left the landing, though I heard that the kind-hearted captain, being told I was coming, waited and whistled for me till his patience was exhausted.
The only house at the head of the pier was owned by Mr. J. P. Powers, and fortunately offered hotel accommodations. Here I remained until the next trip of the boat, December 4. Arriving in Norfolk at dusk of the same day, I stored my canoe in the warehouse of the Old Dominion Steamship Company, and quietly retired to a hotel which promised an early meal in the morning, congratulating myself the while that I had avoided the usual show of curiosity tendered to canoeists at city piers, and above all had escaped the inevitable reporter. Alas! my thankfulness came too soon; for when about to retire, my name was called, and a veritable reporter from the Norfolk Landmark cut off my retreat.
"Only a few words," he pleadingly whispered. "I've been hunting for you all over the city since seven o'clock, and it is near midnight now."
He gently took my arm and politely furnished me with a chair. Then placing his own directly before me, he insinuatingly worked upon me until he derived a knowledge of the log of the Paper Canoe, when leaning back in his chair he leisurely surveyed me and exclaimed:
"Mr. Bishop, you are a man of snap. We like men of snap; we admire men of snap; in fact, I may say we cotton to men of snap, and I am proud to make your acquaintance. Now if you will stop over a day we will have the whole city out to see your boat."
This kind offer I firmly refused, and we were about to part, when he said in a softly rebuking manner:
"You thought, Mr. Bishop, you would give us the slip -- did you not? I assure you that would be quite impossible. Eternal Vigilance is our motto. No, you could not escape us. Good evening, sir, and the 'Landmark's' welcome to you."
Six hours later, as I entered the restaurant of the hotel with my eyes half open, a newsboy bawled out in the darkness: "'Ere's the Landmark.' Full account of the Paper Canoe," &c. And before the sun was up I had read a column and a half of "The Arrival of the Solitary Voyager in Norfolk." So much for the zeal of Mr. Perkins of the "Landmark," a worthy example of American newspaper enterprise. Dreading further attentions, I now prepared to beat a hasty retreat from the city.