[ FROM BOGUE INLET, NORTH CAROLINA, TO BULL'S BAY, SOUTH CAROLINA ]
FROM CAPE HATTERAS TO CAPE FEAR, NORTH CAROLINA.
CAPE HATTERAS LIGHT. -- HABITS OF BIRDS. -- STORM AT HATTERAS INLET -- MILES OF WRECKS. -- THE YACHT JULIA SEARCHING FOR THE PAPER CANOE. -- CHASED BY PORPOISES. -- MARSH TACKIES. -- OCRACOKE INLET. -- A GRAVE-YARD BEING SWALLOWED UP BY THE SEA. -- CORE SOUND. -- THREE WEDDINGS AT HUNTING QUARTERS. -- MOREHEAD CITY. -- NEWBERN. -- SWANSBORO. -- A PEA-NUT PLANTATION. -- THE ROUTE TO CAPE FEAR.
The Gulf Stream, with its river-like current of water flowing northward from the Gulf of Mexico, in its oscillations from east to west frequently approaches to within eighteen or twenty miles of the cape, filling a large area of atmosphere with its warmth, and causing frequent local disturbances. The weather never remains long in a settled state. As most vessels try to make Hatteras Light, to ascertain their true position, &c., and because it juts out so far into the Atlantic, the locality has become the scene of many wrecks, and the beach, from the cape down to Hatteras Inlet, fourteen miles, is strewn with the fragments of vessels.
The coast runs north and south above, and east and west south of the cape. The old light house had been replaced by the finest light-tower I had ever examined, which was completed in 1870. It is one hundred and ninety feet in height, and shows a white, revolving light.
Body Island Light, though forty feet less in elevation, is frequently seen by the Hatteras light-keeper, while the splendid Hatteras Light had been seen but once by Captain Hatzel, of Body Island. One nautical mile south of Hatteras Light is a small beacon light-tower, which is of great service to the coasting-vessels that pass it in following the eighteen-feet curve of the cape two miles from the land inside of Diamond Shoals.
While speaking of light-houses, it may be interesting to naturalists who live far inland to know that while (as they are well aware) thousands of birds are killed annually during their flights by striking against telegraphic wires, many wild-fowls are also destroyed by dashing against the lanterns of the light- towers during the night. While at Body Island Beach, Captain Hatzel remarked to me that, during the first winter after the new light-tower was completed, the snow-geese, which winter on the island, would frequently at night strike the thick glass panes of the chamber, and fall senseless upon the floor of the gallery. The second season they did not in a single instance repeat the mistake, but had seemingly become educated to the character of the danger.
I have seen one lantern damaged to the amount of five hundred dollars, by a goose breaking a pane of glass and striking heavily upon the costly lens which surrounds the lamp. Light-keepers sometimes sit upon the gallery, and, looking along the pathway of light which shoots into the outer darkness over their heads, will see a few dark specks approaching them in this beam of radiance. These specks are birds, confused by the bright rays, and ready to fall an easy prey to the eager keeper, who, quickly levelling his double-barrelled gun, brings it to bear upon the opaque, moving cloud, and with the discharge of the weapon there goes whirling through space to the earth below his next morning's breakfast of wild-fowl.
I found Mr. W. R. Jennett and his first assistant light-keeper, Mr. A. W. Simpson, intelligent gentlemen. The assistant has devoted his time, when off duty, to the study of the habits of food-fishes of the sound, and has furnished the United States Commission of Fisheries with several papers on that interesting subject.
Here also was Mr. George Onslow, of the United States Signal Service, who had completed his work of constructing a telegraph line from Norfolk along the beach southward to this point, its present terminus. With a fine telescope he could frequently identify vessels a few miles from the cape, and telegraph their position to New York. He had lately saved a vessel by telegraphing to Norfolk its dangerous location on Hatteras beach, where it had grounded. By this timely notice a wrecking-steamer had arrived and hauled the schooner off in good condition.
A low range of hills commences at Cape Hatteras, in the rear of the light-house, and extends nearly to Hatteras Inlet. This range is heavily wooded with live-oaks, yellow pines, yaupons, cedars, and bayonet-plants. The fishermen and wreckers live in rudely constructed houses, sheltered by this thicket, which is dense enough to protect them from the strong winds that blow from the ocean and the sound.
I walked twelve miles through this pretty, green retreat, and spent Sunday with Mr. Homer W. Styron, who keeps a small store about two miles from the inlet. He is a self-taught astronomer, and used an ingeniously constructed telescope of his own manufacture for studying the heavens.
I found at the post-office in his store a letter from a yachting party which had left Newbern, North Carolina, to capture the paper canoe and to force upon its captain the hospitality of the people of that city, on the Neuse River, one hundred miles from the cape. Judge I.E. West, the owner of the yacht "Julia," and his friends, had been cruising since the eleventh day of the month from Ocracoke Inlet to Roanoke Island in search of me. Judge West, in his letter, expressed a strong desire to have me take my Christmas dinner with his family. This generous treatment from a stranger was fully appreciated, and I determined to push on to Morehead City, from which place it would be convenient to reach Newbern by rail without changing my established route southward, as I would be compelled to do if the regular water route of the Neuse River from Pamlico Sound were followed.
On this Saturday night, spent at Hatteras Inlet, there broke upon us one of the fiercest tempests I ever witnessed, even in the tropics. My pedestrian tramp down the shore had scarcely ended when it commenced in reality. For miles along the beach thousands of acres of land were soon submerged by the sea and by the torrents of water which fell from the clouds. While for a moment the night was dark as Erebus, again the vivid flash of lightning exposed to view the swaying forests and the gloomy sound. The sea pounded on the beach as if asking for admission to old Pamplico. It seemed to say, I demand a new inlet; and, as though trying to carry out its desire, sent great waves rolling up the shingle and over into the hollows among the hills, washing down the low sand dunes as if they also were in collusion with it to remove this frail barrier, this narrow strip of low land which separated the Atlantic from the wide interior sheet of water.
The phosphorescent sea, covered with its tens of millions of animalcula, each one a miniature light-house, changed in color from inky blackness to silver sheen. Will the ocean take to itself this frail foothold? -- we queried. Will it ingulf us in its insatiable maw, as the whale did Jonah? There was no subsidence, no pause in the storm. It howled, bellowed, and screeched like a legion of demons, so that the crashing of falling trees, and the twisting of the sturdy live oak's toughest limbs, could hardly be heard in the din. Yet during this wild night my storm-hardened companion sat with his pretty wife by the open fireplace, as unmoved as though we were in the shelter of a mountain side, while he calmly discoursed of storms, shipwrecks, and terrible struggles for life that this lonely coast had witnessed, which sent thrills of horror to my heart.
While traversing the beach during the afternoon, as wreck after wreck, the gravestones of departed ships, projected their timbers from the sands, I had made a calculation of the number of vessels which had left their hulls to rot on Hatteras beach since the ships of Sir Walter Raleigh had anchored above the cape, and it resulted in making one continuous line of vessels, wreck touching wreck, along the coast for many, many miles. Hundreds of miles of the Atlantic coast beaches would have been walled in by the wrecks could they have come on to the strand at one time, and all the dwellers along the coast, outside of the towns, would have been placed in independent circumstances by wrecking their cargoes.
During this wild night, while the paper canoe was safely stowed in the rushes of the marsh at the cape, and its owner was enjoying the warmth of the young astronomer's fire at the inlet, less than twenty miles from us, on the dangerous edge of Ocracoke shoals, the searching party of the yacht Julia were in momentary expectation of going to the bottom of the sound. For hours the gallant craft hung to her anchors, which were heavily backed by all the iron ballast that could be attached to the cables. Wave after wave swept over her, and not a man could put his head above the hatches. Then, as she rolled in the sea, her cabin-windows went under, and streams of water were forced through the ports into the confined space which was occupied by the little party. For a time they were in imminent danger, for the vessel dragged anchor to the edge of the shoal, and with a heavy thud the yacht struck on the bottom. All hopes of ever returning to Newbern were lost, when the changing tide swung the boat off into deeper water, where she rode out the storm in safety.
Before morning the wind shifted, and by nine o'clock I retraced my steps to the cape, and on Tuesday rowed down to Hatteras Inlet, which was reached a little past noon. Before attempting to cross this dangerous tidal gate-way of the ocean I hugged the shore close to its edge, and paused to make myself familiar with the sandhills of the opposite side, a mile away, which were to serve as the guiding-beacons in the passage. How often had I, lying awake at night, thought of and dreaded the crossing of this ill-omened inlet! It had given me much mental suffering. Now it was before me. Here on my right was the great sound, on my left the narrow beach island, and out through the portal of the open inlet surged and moaned under a leaden sky that old ocean which now seemed to frown at me, and to say: "Wait, my boy, until the inlet's waves deliver you to me, and I will put you among my other victims for your temerity."
As I gazed across the current I remarked that it did not seem very rough, though a strong ebb was running out to the sea, and if crossed immediately, before the wind arose, there could be no unreasonable risk. My canvas deck-cover was carefully pulled close about my waist, and a rigid inspection of oars and row-locks was made; then, with a desire to reserve my strength for any great demand that might be made upon it a little later, I rowed with a steady stroke out into Hatteras Inlet. There was no help nearer than Styron's, two miles away on the upper shore, while the beach I was approaching on the other side was uninhabited for nearly sixteen miles, to the village at its southern end, near Ocracoke Inlet. Upon entering the swash I thought of the sharks which the Hatteras fishermen had told me frequently seized their oars, snapping the thin blades in pieces, assuring me, at the same time, that mine would prove very attractive, being so white and glimmering in the water, and offering the same glittering fascination as a silver-spoon bait does to a blue-fish. These cheerful suggestions caused a peculiar creeping sensation to come over me, but I tried to quiet myself with the belief that the sharks had followed the blue-fish into deeper water, to escape cold weather.
The canoe crossed the upper ebb, and entered an area where the ebb from the opposite side of the inlet struck the first one. While crossing the union of the two currents, a wind came in at the opening through the beach, and though not a strong one, it created a great agitation of the water. The dangerous experience at Watchapreague Inlet had taught me that when in such a sea one must pull with all his strength, and that the increased momentum would give greater buoyancy to the shell; for while under this treatment she bounced from one irregular wave to another with a climbing action which greatly relieved my anxiety. The danger seemed to be decreasing, and I stole a furtive glance over my shoulder at the low dunes of the beach shore which I was approaching, to see how far into the inlet the tide had dragged me. The white water to leeward warned me of a shoal, and forced me to pull hard for the sound to escape being drawn into the breakers. This danger was hardly passed, when suddenly the waters around me seethed and foamed, and the short waves parted and closed, as great creatures rose from the deep into the air several feet, and then fell heavily into the sea. My tiny shell rocked and pitched about wildly as these animals appeared and disappeared, leaping from the waves all around me, diving under the boat and reappearing on the opposite side. They lashed the current with their strong tails, and snorted or blowed most dismally. For an instant surprise and alarm took such possession of me that not a muscle of my arms obeyed my will, and the canoe commenced to drift in the driving stream towards the open sea. This confusion was only momentary, for as soon as I discovered that my companions were porpoises and only old acquaintances, I determined to avoid them as soon as possible.
With a quick glance at my stern range, a sandhill on the shore of the inlet, and another look over my shoulder for the sand dunes of the other side, I exerted every muscle to reach the beach; but my frisky friends were in no mood to leave me, but continued their fun with increased energy as reinforcements came up from all directions. The faster I rowed the more they multiplied, ploughing the sea in erratic courses. They were from five to seven feet in length, and must have weighed from two hundred to four hundred pounds each. Though their attentions were kindly meant, their brusqueness on such an unsteady footing was unpardonable. I most feared the strong, shooting movements of their tails in the sudden dives under my canoe, for one sportive touch of such a caudality would have rolled me over, and furnished material for a tale the very anticipation of which was unpleasant.
The aquatic gambols of the porpoises lasted but a few minutes after they had called in all their neighbors, and had chased me into three feet depth of water. They then spouted a nasal farewell, which sounded more catarrhal than guitaral, and left me for the more profitable occupation of fishing in the tide-way of the inlet, while I rowed into a shallow cove, out of the ebb, to rest, and to recover from the effects of my fright.
As I pulled along the beach the tide receded so rapidly that the canoe was constantly grounding, and wading became necessary, for I could not get within several feet of the shore. When five miles from Hatteras Inlet I espied an empty grass cabin, which the fishermen used in February while catching shad; and, as a southerly wind was now blowing from the sea, and rain was falling, it offered a night's shelter for the traveller. This Robinson Crusoe looking structure was located upon the low land near the sound, while bleak, sharp-pointed, treeless and grassless sandhills, blown into shape by the winds, arose in the background, and cut off a view of the ocean, which, judging from the low, melancholy moaning coming over the dunes, was in a sad mood.
The canoe was hauled into the bushes and tied securely for fear a deceptive tide might bear it away. The provisions, blankets, &c., were moved into the grass hut, which needed repairing. The holes in the south wall were soon thatched, and a bed easily prepared from the rushes of the marsh. It mattered not that they were wet, for a piece of painted canvas was spread over them, and the inviting couch finished.
As fresh water can usually be obtained on all these low beaches by digging two or three feet into the sand, I looked for a large clam-shell, and my search being rewarded, I was soon engaged in digging a well near the cabin.
Upon looking up from my work a curious sight met my gaze. In some mysterious way every sharp-pointed sand-hill had been covered by a black object, which swayed about and nodded up and down in a strange manner. As I watched the development of this startling phenomenon, the nodding, black objects grew in size until the head, body, and four legs of a horse were clearly cut against the sky. A little later every crest was surmounted by the comical figure of a marsh-tacky. Then a few sheep came out of the hollows among the hills and browsed on the coarse grass near the cabin, as though they felt the loneliness of their situation so far removed from mankind. With the marsh-ponies, the sheep, the wild-fowls of the sound, and the sighing sea for companions, the night passed away.
The bright moonlight roused me at five o'clock in the morning, and I pushed off again in shoal water on an ebb-tide, experiencing much difficulty in dragging the canoe over shallow places until deep water was entered, when the row to Ocracoke became an agreeable one. The landing-place at Ocracoke, not far from the lighthouse, was reached at noon, and the people gathered to see the paper boat, having been notified of my proximity by fishermen.
The women here can pull a pretty good stroke, and frequently assist their husbands in the fisheries. These old dames ridiculed the idea of having a boat so small and light as the canoe. One old lady laid aside her pipe and snuff-paddle (snuff-rubbing is a time-honored institution in the south), and roughly grasping the bow of the craft, lifted it high in the air, then, glancing at the fine model, she lowered it slowly to the ground, exclaiming, "I reckon I wouldn't risk my life acrossing a creek in her."
These people told me that the yacht Julia had stopped there to make inquiries for me, and had departed for Newbern.
It was more than a mile from the landing to Ocracoke Inlet, and a mile and three quarters across it to the beach. A straight course from the landing to the village of Portsmouth, on the lower side of the inlet, was a distance of five miles, and not one of the hardy watermen, who thumped the sides of my boat with their hard fists to ascertain its strength, believed that I could cross the sound to the other village without rolling over. One kind-hearted oysterman offered to carry myself and boat to Portsmouth, but as the day was calm, I rowed away on the five-mile stretch amid doleful prognostications, such as: "That feller will make a coffin for hisself out of that yere gimcrack of an egg-shell. It's all a man's life is wurth to go in her," &c.
While approaching the low Portsmouth shore of the sound, flocks of Canada geese flew within pistol-shot of my head. A man in a dug-out canoe told me that the gunners of the village had reared from the egg a flock of wild geese which now aggregated some seven or eight hundred birds, and that these now flying about were used to decoy their wild relatives.
Near the beach a sandy hill had been the place of sepulture for the inhabitants of other generations, but for years past the tidal current had been cutting the shore away until coffin after coffin with its contents had been washed into the sound. Captain Isaac S. Jennings, of Ocean County, New Jersey, had described this spot to me as follows:
"I landed at Portsmouth and examined this curious burial-ground. Here by the water were the remains of the fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters of the people of the village so near at hand; yet these dismal relics of their ancestors were allowed to be stolen away piecemeal by the encroaching ocean. While I gazed sadly upon the strata of coffins protruding from the banks, shining objects like jewels seemed to be sparkling from between the cracks of their fractured sides; and as I tore away the rotten wood, rows of toads were discovered sitting in solemn council, their bright eyes peering from among the debris of bones and decomposed substances."
Portsmouth Island is nearly eight miles long. Whalebone Inlet is at its lower end, but is too shallow to be of any service to commerce. Hatteras and Ocracoke inlets admit sea-going vessels. It is thirty-eight miles from Whalebone Inlet to Cape Lookout, which projects like a wedge into the sea nearly three miles from the mainland, and there is not another passage through the narrow beach in all that distance that is of any use to the mariner. Following the trend of the coast for eleven miles from the point of Cape Lookout, there is an inlet, but, from the character of its channel and its shallowness, it is not of much value.
Leaving Portsmouth, the canoe entered Core Sound, which grew narrower as the shoals inside of Whalebone Inlet were crossed, partly by rowing and partly by wading on the sand-flats. As night came on, a barren stretch of beach on my left hand was followed until I espied the only house within a distance of sixteen miles along the sea. It was occupied by a coasting skipper, whose fine little schooner was anchored a long distance from the land on account of the shoalness of the water. Dreary sand-hills protected the cottage from the bleak winds of the ocean.
While yet a long distance from the skipper's home, a black object could be seen crawling up the sides of a mound of white sand, and after it reached the apex it remained in one position, while I rowed, and waded, and pulled my canoe towards the shore. When the goal was reached, and the boat was landed high up among the scrub growth, I shouldered my blankets and charts, and plodded through the soft soil towards the dark object, which I now recognized to be a man on a lookout post. He did not move from his position until I reached the hillock, when he suddenly slid down the bank and landed at my feet, with a cheery --
"Well, now, I thought it was you. Sez I to myself, That's him, sure, when I seed you four miles away. Fust thinks I, It's only a log, or a piece of wrak-stuff afloating. Pretty soon up comes your head and shoulders into sight; then sez I, It's a man, sure, but where is his boat? for you see, I couldn't see your boat, it was so low down in the water. Then I reckoned it was a man afloating on a log, but arter a while the boat loomed up too, and I says, I'll be dog-goned if that isn't him. I went up to Newbern, some time ago, in the schooner, and the people there said there was a man coming down the coast a-rowing a paper boat on a bet. The boat weighed only fifty-eight pounds, and the man had a heft of only eighty pounds. When pa and me went up to the city agin, the folks said the man was close on to us, and this time they said the man and his boat together weighed only eighty pounds. Now I should think you weighed more than that yourself, letting alone the boat."
Having assured the young man that I was indeed myself, and that the Newbern people had played upon his credulity, we walked on to the house, where the family of Captain James Mason kindly welcomed me to a glowing wood-fire and hearty supper. Though I had never heard of their existence till I entered Core Sound, the kindness of these people was like that of old friends.
Half a mile below Captain Mason's home, a short time before my visit, a new breach had been made by the ocean through the beach. About twenty years before a similar breach had occurred in the same locality, and was known during its short life as "Pillintary Inlet." The next day I crossed the sound, which is here four miles in width, and coasted along to the oystermen's village of Hunting Quarters, on the mainland. The houses were very small, but the hearts of the poor folks were very large. They came to the water's edge and carried the canoe into the only store in the neighborhood. Its proprietor, Mr. William H. Stewart, insisted upon my sharing his bachelor's quarters in an unfinished room of the storehouse. My young host was hardly out of his teens. In his boyish way he kindly remarked:
"I am here all alone. Father told me, before he died, never to let a stranger pass my door but to make him share my lodgings, humble though they are; and now, any way, you're just in time for the fun, for we are to have three weddings to-night, and all the boys and girls of the neighborhood will be at Hunting Quarters."
I entered a mild protest against joining in the festivities, on the plea of not having received an invitation; at which the handsome youth laughed heartily.
"Invitation!" he exclaimed; "why, no one ever gives out invitations in Hunting Quarters. When there is to be a 'jolliflcation' of any sort, everybody goes to the house without being asked. You see we are all neighbors here. Up at Newbern and at Beaufort, and other great cities, people have their ways, but here all are friends."
So we went to the little house in the piny forest, where two hearts were to be made one. The only room on the first floor was crowded with people. The minister had not arrived, and the crowd was gazing at the young groom and his pretty bride-elect as they sat in two chairs in the middle of the company, with their arms around each other, never speaking a word to any one. The heavy weight of people began to settle the floor, and as two joists gave way I struggled to escape through an open window, thinking we would be precipitated into the cellar below. But the good-natured company took no notice of the snapping timbers, only ejaculating, "She'll soon touch bottom;" and to my inquiries about the inconvenience of being pitched through to the cellar, a rustic youth, with great merriment depicted upon his countenance, replied:
"Sullers, captain, why, there ain't a suller to a buildin' within thirty miles of the Quarters. We never uses sullers hereabouts."
By my side was a young fisherman, who had got home from a cruise, and was overflowing with affection towards every girl present. "O, gals," he would cry, "you don't know how nice I feels to get back to you once more!" Throwing his arms around a bright-eyed girl, who vainly tried to escape him, he said, "O, weary mariner, here is thy rest! No more shall he wander from thee."
This sentimental strain was interrupted by an old lady, who reached her arm over my shoulder to administer a rebuke. "Sam, ye're a fool!" she cried; "ye're beside yourself to-night, and afore this paper-canoe captain, too. Ef I was a gal I'd drap yere society, wid yere familiar ways right in company."
The blow and the admonition fell harmlessly upon the head and the heart of the sailor, who replied, "Aunty, I knows my advantages in Hunting Quarters -- women is plenty, and men is few."
The crowd roared with laughter at this truism, but were quieted by the shout of a boy that the preacher was a-coming; whereupon the reverend gentleman elbowed his way through the guests to the quiet couple, and requested them to stand up. A few hurried words by the clergyman, a few bashful replies from the young people, and the two were made one. The crowd rushed outside of the house, where a general scramble took place among the boys for their girls. Then a procession was formed, headed by the clergyman, which marched along the sandy road to another house in the woods, where the second marriage was to be celebrated.
It was amusing to see the young men dash away from the procession, to run to the village store for candy at twenty-five cents per pound, containing as much terra alba (white clay) as sugar. With well-filled pockets they would run back to the procession and fill the girls' aprons with the sweets, soon repeating the process, and showering upon the fair ones cakes, raisins, nuts, and oranges. The only young man who seemed to find no favor in any woman's eyes invested more capital in sweetmeats than the others; and though every girl in the procession gave him a sharp word or a kick as he passed, yet none refused his candies as he tossed them at the maidens, or stuffed them into the pockets of their dresses.
The second ceremony was performed in about three minutes, and the preacher feeling faint from his long ride through the woods, declared he must have some supper. So, while he was being served, the girls chatted together, the old ladies helped each other to snuff with little wooden paddles, which were left protruding from one corner of their mouths after they had taken "a dip," as they called it. The boys, after learning that the preacher had postponed the third marriage for an hour, with a wild shout scampered off to Stewart's store for more candies. I took advantage of the interim to inquire how it was that the young ladies and gentlemen were upon such terms of pleasant intimacy.
"Well, captain," replied the person interrogated, "you sees we is all growed up together, and brotherly love and sisterly affection is our teaching. The brethren love the sisteren; and they say that love begets love, so the sisteren loves the brethren. It's parfecly nateral. That's the hull story, captain. How is it up your way?"
At last the preacher declared himself satisfied with all he had eaten, and that enough was as good as a feast; so the young people fell into line, and we trudged to the third house, where, with the same dispatch, the third couple were united. Then the fiddler scraped the strings of his instrument, and a double-shuffle dance commenced. The girls stamped and moved their feet about in the same manner as the men. Soon four or five of the young ladies left the dancing-party, and seated themselves in a corner, pouting discontentedly. My companion explained to me that the deserters were a little stuck-up, having made two or three visits on a schooner to the city (Newbern), where they had other ways of dancing, and where the folks didn't think it pretty for a girl to strike her heels upon the floor, &c.
How long they danced I know not, for the prospect of a long row on the morrow sent me to rest in the storehouse, from which I was called by a kind old couple sending for me to take tea with them at half an hour after midnight. Unwilling to wound the sensitive feelings of these hospitable people, I answered the summons in propia persona, and found it was the mother of bride No. 1, to whom I was indebted for the invitation. A well-filled table took up the space in the centre of the room, where a few hours before the timbers creaked beneath the weight of the curious crowd; and there, sitting on one side in the same affectionate manner I have described, were the bride and groom, apparently unmoved by the change of scene, while the bride's mother rocked in her chair, moaning, "O John, if you'd taken the other gal, I might have stood it, but this yere one has been my comfort."
At dawn the canoe was put into Core Sound, and I followed the western shore, cheered by the bright sun of our Saviour's natal day. At noon the mouth of the thoroughfare between Harker's Island and the mainland was unintentionally passed, and I rowed along by the side of the island next Fort Macon, which is inside of the angle made by Cape Lookout.
Finding it impossible to reach Newbern via Morehead City that day, the canoe was beached upon the end of Harker's Island, where I breakfasted at the fashionable hour of two P. M., with men, women, and children around me. My mode of cooking the condensed food and liquid beef; so quickly prepared for the palate, and the remarkable boat of paper, all filled the islanders with wonder. They were at first a little shy, looking upon the apparition -- which seemed in some wonderful way to have dropped upon their beach -- with the light of curiosity in their eyes.
Then, as I explained the many uses to which paper was put, even to the paying off of great national debts, my audience became very friendly, and offered to get me up a Christmas dinner in their cabins among the groves of trees near the strand, if I would tarry with them until night. But time was precious; so, with thanks on my part for their kind offers, we parted, they helping me launch my little boat, and waving a cheerful adieu as I headed the canoe for Beaufort, which was quietly passed in the middle of the afternoon.
Three miles further on, the railroad pier of Morehead City, in Bogue Sound, was reached, and a crowd of people carried the canoe into the hotel. A telegram was soon received from the superintendent of the railroad at Newbern, inviting me to a free ride to the city in the first train of the following morning.
The reader who has followed me since I left the chilly regions of the St. Lawrence must not have his patience taxed by too much detail, lest he should weary of my story and desert my company. Were it not for this fear, it would give me pleasure to tell how a week was passed in Newbern; how the people came even from interior towns to see the paper canoe; how some, doubting my veracity, slyly stuck the blades of their pocket-knives through the thin sides of the canoe, forgetting that it had yet to traverse many dangerous inlets, and that its owner preferred a tight, dry boat to one punctured by knives. Even old men became enthusiastic, and when I was absent from my little craft, an uncontrollable ambition seized them, and they got into the frail shell as it rested upon the floor of a hall, and threatened its destruction. It seemed impossible to make one gentleman of Newbern understand that when the boat was in the water she was resting upon all her bearings, but when out of water only upon a thin strip of wood.
"By George," said this stout gentleman in a whisper to a friend, "I told my wife I would get into that boat if I smashed it."
"And what did the lady say, old fellow?" asked the friend. "O," he replied, '"she said, 'Now don't make a fool of yourself, Fatness, or your ambition may get you into the papers,'" and the speaker fairly shook with laughter.
While at Newbern, Judge West and his brother organized a grand hunt, and the railroad company sent us down the road eighteen miles to a wild district, where deer, coons, and wild-fowl were plentiful, and where we hunted all night for coons and ducks, and all day for deer. Under these genial influences the practical study of geography for the first time seemed dull, and I became aware that, under the efforts of the citizens of Newbern to remind me of the charms of civilized society, I was, as a travelling geographer, fast becoming demoralized.
Could I, after the many pleasures I was daily enjoying, settle down to a steady pull and one meal a day with a lunch of dry crackers; or sleep on the floor of fishermen's cabins, with fleas and other little annoyances attendant thereon? Having realized my position, I tore myself away from my many new friends and retraced my steps to Morehead City, leaving it on Tuesday, January 5th, and rowing down the little sound called Bogue towards Cape Fear.
As night came on I discovered on the shore a grass cabin, which was on the plantation of Dr. Emmett, and had been left tenantless by some fisherman. This served for shelter during the night though the struggles and squealings of a drove of hogs attempting to enter through the rickety door did not contribute much to my repose.
The watercourses now became more intricate, growing narrower as I rowed southward. The open waters of the sound were left behind, and I entered a labyrinth of creeks and small sheets of water, which form a network in the marshes between the sandy beach-islands and the mainland all the way to Cape Fear River. The Core Sound sheet of the United States Coast Survey ended at Cape Lookout, there being no charts of the route to Masonboro. I was therefore now travelling upon local knowledge, which proves usually a very uncertain guide.
In a cold rain the canoe reached the little village of Swansboro, where the chief personage of the place of two hundred inhabitants, Mr. McLain, removed me from my temporary camping-place in an old house near the turpentine distilleries into his own comfortable quarters.
There are twenty mullet fisheries within ten miles of Swansboro, which employ from fifteen to eighteen men each. The pickled and dried roe of this fish is shipped to Wilmington and to Cincinnati. Wild-fowls abound, and the shooting is excellent. The fishermen say flocks of ducks seven miles in length have been seen on the waters of Bogue Sound. Canvas-backs are called "raft-ducks" here, and they sell from twelve to twenty cents each. Wild geese bring forty cents, and brant thirty.
The marsh-ponies feed upon the beaches, in a half wild state, with the deer and cattle, cross the marshes and swim the streams from the mainland to the beaches in the spring, and graze there until winter, when they collect in little herds, and instinctively return to the piny woods of the uplands. Messrs. Weeks and Taylor had shot, while on a four-days' hunt up the White Oak River, twenty deer. Captain H. D. Heady, of Swansboro, informed me that the ducks and geese he killed in one winter supplied him with one hundred pounds of selected feathers. Captain Heady's description of Bogue Inlet was not encouraging for the future prosperity of this coast, and the same may be said of all the inlets between it and Cape Fear.
Rainy weather kept me within doors until Friday, the 7th of January, when I rowed down White Oak River to Bogue Inlet, and turned into the beach thoroughfare, which led me three miles and a half to Bear Inlet. My course now lay through creeks among the marshes to the Stand-Back, near the mainland, where the tides between the two inlets head. Across this shoal spot I traversed tortuous watercourses with mud flats, from which beds of sharp raccoon oysters projected and scraped the keel of my boat.
The sea was now approached from the mainland to Brown's Inlet, where the tide ran like a mill-race, swinging my canoe in great circles as I crossed it to the lower side. Here I took the widest thoroughfare, and left the beach only to retrace my steps to follow one nearer the strand, which conducted me to the end of the natural system of watercourses, where I found a ditch, dug seventy years before, which connected the last system of waters with another series of creeks that emptied their waters into New River Inlet.
Emerging from the marshes, my course led me away from New River Inlet, across open sheets of water to the mainland, where Dr. Ward's cotton plantation occupied a large and cultivated area in the wilderness. It was nearly two miles from his estate down to the inlet. The intervening flats among the island marshes of New River were covered with natural beds of oysters, upon which the canoe scraped as I crossed to the narrow entrance of Stump Sound. Upon rounding a point of land I found, snugly ensconced in a grove, the cot of an oysterman, Captain Risley Lewis, who, after informing me that his was the last habitation to be found in that vicinity, pressed me to be his guest.
The next day proved one of trial to patience and muscle. The narrow watercourses, which like a spider's web penetrate the marshes with numerous small sheets of water, made travelling a most difficult task. At times I was lost, again my canoe was lodged upon oyster-beds in the shallow ponds of water, the mud bottoms of which would not hear my weight if I attempted to get overboard to lighten the little craft.
Alligator Lake, two miles in width, was crossed without seeing an alligator. Saurians are first met with, as the traveller proceeds south, in the vicinity of Alligator Creek and the Neuse River, in the latitude of Pamplico Sound. During the cold weather they hide themselves in the soft, muddy bottoms of creeks and lagoons. All the negroes, and many of the white people of the south, assert, that when captured in his winter bed, this huge reptile's stomach contains the hard knot of a pine-tree; but for what purpose he swallows it they are at a loss to explain.
In twelve miles of tortuous windings there appeared but one sign of human life -- a little cabin on a ridge of upland among the fringe of marshes that bordered on Alligator Lake. It was cheering to a lonely canoeist to see this house, and the clearing around it with the season's crop of corn in stacks dotting the field. All this region is called Stump Sound; but that sheet of water is a well-defined, narrow, lake-like watercourse, which was entered not long after I debouched from Alligator Lake. Stump Inlet having closed up eighteen months before my visit, the sound and its tributaries received tidal water from New Topsail Inlet.
It was a cold and rainy evening when I sought shelter in an old boat-house, at a landing on Topsail Sound, soon after leaving Stump Sound. While preparing for the night's camp, the son of the proprietor of the plantation discovered the, to him, unheard-of spectacle of a paper boat upon the gravelly strand. Filled with curiosity and delight, he dragged me, paddle in hand, through an avenue of trees to a hill upon which a large house was located. This was the boy's home. Leaving me on the broad steps of the veranda, he rushed into the hall, shouting to the family, "Here's a sailor who has come from the north in a PAPER boat."
This piece of intelligence roused the good people to merriment. "Impossible!" "A boat made of paper!" "Nonsense!"
The boy, however, would not be put down. "But it is made of paper, I tell you; for I pinched it and stuck my nails into it," he replied earnestly.
"You are crazy, my boy," some one responded; "a paper boat never could go through these sounds, the coon oysters would cut it in pieces. Now tell us, is the sailor made of paper, like his boat?"
"Indeed, mother, what I tell you is true; and, O, I forgot! here's the sailor on the steps, where I left him." In an instant the whole family were out upon the veranda. Seeing my embarrassment, they tried, like well-bred people, to check their merriment, while I explained to them the way in which the boy had captured me, and proposed at once returning to my camp. To this, however, they would not listen; and the charming wife of the planter extended her hand to me, as she said, "No, sir, you will not go back to the wet landing to camp. This is our home, and though marauding armies during the late war have taken from us our wealth, you must share with us the little we have left." This lady with her two daughters, who inherited her beauty and grace of manner, did all in their power to make me comfortable.
Sunday was the coldest day of the season; but the family, whose hospitality I enjoyed, rode seven miles through the woods, some on horseback, some in the carriage, to the little church in a heavy pine forest. The next day proved stormy, and the driving sleet froze upon the trees and bound their limbs and boughs together with an icy veneer. My host, Mr. McMillan, kindly urged me to tarry. During my stay with him I ascertained that he devoted his attention to raising ground-peas, or peanuts. Along the coast of this part of North Carolina this nut is the chief product, and is raised in immense quantities. The latter state alone raises annually over one hundred thousand bushels; while Virginia and Tennessee produce, some years, a crop of seven hundred thousand bushels.
Wednesday opened with partially clearing weather, and the icy covering of the trees yielded to the softening influences of a southern wind. The family went to the landing to see me off, and the kind ladies stowed many delicacies, made with their own hands, in the bow of the boat. After rowing a half-mile, I took a lingering look at the shore, where those who four days ago were strangers, now waved an adieu as friends. They had been stript of their wealth, though the kind old planter had never raised his hand against the government of his fathers. This family, like thousands of people in the south, had suffered for the rash deeds of others. While the political views of this gentleman differed from those of the stranger from Massachusetts, it formed no barrier to their social intercourse, and did not make him forget to exhibit the warm feelings of hospitality which so largely influence the Southerner. I went to him, as a traveller in search of truth, upon an honest errand. Under such circumstances a Northerner does not require a letter of introduction to nine out of ten of the citizens of the fifteen ex-slave states, which cover an area of eight hundred and eighty thousand square miles, and where fourteen millions of people desire to be permitted to enjoy the same privileges as the Constitution of the United States guarantees to all the states north of Mason and Dixon's line.
From Sloop Landing, on my new friends' plantation, to New Topsail Inlet I had a brisk row of five miles. Vessels drawing eight feet of water can reach this landing from the open sea upon a full tide. The sea was rolling in at this ocean door as my canoe crossed it to the next marsh thoroughfare, which connected it with Old Topsail Inlet, where the same monotonous surroundings of sand-hills and marshes are to be found.
The next tidal opening was Rich Inlet, which had a strong ebb running through it to the sea. From it I threaded the thoroughfares up to the mainland, reaching at dusk the "Emma Nickson Plantation." The creeks were growing more shallow, and near the bulkhead, or middleground, where tides from two inlets met, there was so little water and so many oyster reefs, that, without a chart, the route grew more and more perplexing in character. It was a distance of thirty miles to Cape Fear, and twenty miles to New Inlet, which was one of the mouths of Cape Fear River. From the plantation to New Inlet, the shallow interior sheets of water with their marshes were called Middle, Masonboro, and Myrtle sounds. The canoe could have traversed these waters to the end of Myrtle Sound, which is separated from Cape Fear River by a strip of land only one mile and a half wide, across which a portage can be made to the river. Barren and Masonboro are the only inlets which supply the three little sounds above mentioned with water, after Rich Inlet is passed.
The coast from Cape Fear southward eighty miles, to Georgetown, South Carolina, has several small inlets through the beach, but there are no interior waters parallel with the coast in all that distance, which can be of any service to the canoeist for a coast route. It therefore became necessary for me to follow the next watercourse that could be utilized for reaching Winyah Bay, which is the first entrance to the system of continuous watercourses south of Cape Fear.
The trees of the Nickson Plantation hid the house of the proprietor from view; but upon beaching my canoe, a drove of hogs greeted me with friendly grunts, as if the hospitality of their master infected the drove; and, as it grew dark, they trotted across the field, conducting me up to the very doors of the planter's home, where Captain Mosely, late of the Confederate army, gave me a soldier's hearty welcome.
"The war is over," he said, "and any northern gentleman is welcome to what we have left." Until midnight, this keen-eyed, intelligent officer entertained me with a flow of anecdotes of the war times, his hair-breadth escapes, &c.; the conversation being only interrupted when he paused to pile wood upon the fire, the chimney-place meantime glowing like a furnace. He told me that Captain Maffitt, of the late Confederate navy, lived at Masonboro, on the sound; and that had I called upon him, he could have furnished, as an old officer of the Coast Survey, much valuable geographical information. This pleasant conversation was at last interrupted by the wife of my host, who warned us in her courteous way of the lateness of the hour. With a good-night to my host, and a sad farewell to the sea, I prepared myself for the morrow's journey.