Davis, NC History

Memories of Oyster Creek

by James W. Salter (Born January 22, 1888)

I am thinking back over my life of 85 years, to when I was a kid living up to the head of Oyster Creek, where I was born January 22, 1888. I was born in the house of my grandmother, Sarah (known to everyone as aunt Sallie Salter).

I want to tell you about my grandmother's early life as it was told to me by an old man living at Davis Shore, who passed away many years ago. As he told me about how he lived, it was very hard times. He told me about one Christmas when one of his Dad's old friends ate dinner at their house. They gave him the best that they had—salt fish and potatoes. To begin with, my grandmother lived up the head of Nelson's Bay, just across Highway 70, from where John Weston Smith's fish factory is located. She lived on a 50-acre tract of land, owned by her Dad. It was very good farming land and no doubt she knew all about what "work" was.

Her brother, Tom Lewis, gave her 50 acres of land at the head of Oyster Creek for a wedding present when she married James Salter, and they went there, built a house and started a new life together. They cleared a little farm, about 20 acres, right in the side of a heavy gum swamp. In those days it was all hard work, but it is no secret what God can do for the ones that love him.

My grandmother raised a large family. The children were John, George, James Wallace, Isaiah Stanley, Robert, Kilby and one girl named Mittie. The oldest son, John and his wife Pherbie didn't have any children. George and his wife, Jimmie, had five girls; Mary, Sallie, Hettie, Georgie and Maggie. Hettie was born May 28, 1882, died September 21, 1959. Georgie was born June 12, 1886 and died October 25, 1964. Maggie was born February 6, 1889 and died September 18, 1952.

The third son, James Wallace Salter, and his wife Matilda Ann had three children; Ernest Salter, born March 19, 1883, died July 6, 1974, Nora Salter, who was born May 13, 1884 and died December 12, 1954 and married a Davis, Daisy Salter, born May 12, 1893, and married a Willis.

Isaiah Stanley Salter and wife Eliza Salter (my parents), Isaiah was born June 22, 1850 and died June 4, 1914. Eliza was born August 13, 1860 and died December 18, 1945. They had three children:

1. James (Jim) Salter, born January 22, 1888.
2. William Thomas (Tommy) Salter, born March 31, 1885, died June 23, 1966.
3. Tobe Salter, born May 31, 1890 and died July 17, 1975.

There was a man by the name of Hawkins, that stayed up the Oyster Creek for a long time. He was a soldier, stationed at Fort Macon, and when the Yankees were shelling the fort a short distance up the beach, Hawkins ran away. He had no home, but stayed in the swamp during the daytime, and would come out at night. He dug a ditch in the swamp about one-half mile long, and it is still called "Hawkins Ditch" today. When he left from Oyster Creek, no one knows where he went.

I was only 15 years old when my grandmother died, but I still remember how hard she worked. She had a lot of bees to tend, and she always smoked her clay pipe when she worked with the bees. She could tell when the bees were going to swarm, because they would come out of the hive and hang to the bunch. Sometimes, for a day or so, they would fill the air when they were swarming. Old Mama (that's what I called my grandmother), would come out smoking her pipe, and she would take a fork and beat a tune of some kind, on a tin pan. I never knew what she played, but she would bring the bees down, and they would pitch on a bush right where she wanted them. She would spread a cloth where she wanted the hive to be, then shake the bees off the cloth and they would go right into the hive. Never a bee would sting her.

When Papa killed the hogs in the fall of the year, Old Mama would salt the meat, smoke the hams and the shoulders. Back in those days, up to Oyster Creek was a good place to live. When the weather turned cold in the fall of the year, a big fire was built in the fireplace. After supper, when the day's work was done, we would gather around the fireplace (the kitchen was about 30 feet from the main house). The cotton was put on the floor in front of the fireplace, and when it got warm, the seed were easier to pick out. After the seeds were picked, the cotton was carded into rolls. The wool was carded the same way. I reckon there are a lot of people that never saw a pair of hand cards. I have got my mother's but I never did know what became of Old Mama's.
All of the ditches emptied into one ditch that went to the "run." In the fall of the year, a lot of bears and coons would get into the ditch and come on down to the run. Old Mama would set a net across the ditch to stop the ones that came down at night. We had one big night a year which was June 12, honey-taking time. The people would come from Hunting Quarter, Atlantic, Wit (Sea Level), and Stacy (Piney Point). They came to get hives of honey. Old Mama would sell of all of the old hives that she wanted to.

Back in those days, farming was done the hard way, for corn and cotton was planted by hand, and it was all work and no play. After the crops were all harvested in the fall, it was back to carding, spinning, weaving cloth, and repairing the fence around the farm.

It was a Salter town, Aunt Mittie married a sea captain (William Bell) and they went to Harkers Island, N. C. his home to live. They had two girls, Dora and Claudia. Captain Bell died when the two girls were very small, and Aunt Mittie moved back to her home at the head of Oyster Creek. Both girls died very young, so Aunt Mittie had her husband's body moved from Harkers Island, and buried at Davis Shore with the two girls. Uncle Robert was drowned at sea and Uncle Kilby died at home. Neither of them married.

Now to get back to my grandmother Sallie. My grandfather died, and Sallie was left with seven children to raise. Some of them could help a little with the work. Shortly after grandfather died, a waterspout destroyed my grandmother's house, and she built another one. On her little farm, she raised corn and cotton. She had a lot of fruit trees, especially apple trees and she sold a lot of the apples. She also had honey bees that she could handle, a lot of cattle, cows, horses, sheep, hogs, and chickens. The sheep were raised to get wool to make clothes for her family. She had a loom for weaving cloth, and did the weaving herself. She and her family picked the seed out of the cotton, carded it into rolls, spun it on a spinning wheel into thread, and wove it into cloth to make clothes for her family.

I think she was a grand old lady. She was loved by all who knew her, for she was always helping someone. She had a grist mill, and ground corn for herself and for other people too, for she was very helpful. She had a two-masted boat, which she used to take her cotton to New Bern, NC, the nearest market. Her boat was named "Sidney," but someone didn't like that name, so she changed it to the "Sow-Bug." My grandmother was born in 1805, and died in 1903, at the age of 98 years.

When my uncles grew up and started out on their own, Uncle John built his house right across the run. He had about 10 acres, and bought the Gideon Smith farm. Uncle Jim Wallace Salter had a farm joining my grandmother's farm. Uncle George Salter built his house on the farm next to Uncle Jim Wallace. Millie Davis had her home and farm next to Uncle George. As I remember, they were all life-long friends.

I will try to name the families that lived up the Oyster Creek, that is, besides the Salters. There was Millie Davis, one family of Fishers, one family of Willis, one family of Brinson, and two colored families. There was a little schoolhouse, and Miss Nettie Davis was the teacher. Later she became Alva Davis's wife. Nettie Davis was born at Davis, NC, on August 29, 1871, and died at Sea Level Hospital, Sea Level, NC on April 15, 1959.
Did you ever see a "worn fence?" To build the fence, you don't use fence posts. It is five rails high, staked and ridered, and it was called a good fence. We split the rails for the fence, and Papa would pick out the pine trees that would split good. One day, I was helping him split, and I got tired and thought of what I could do that he would send me to the house, so I went to splitting just outside of the crack. He told me to hit in the crack, but the next lick it was just outside of the crack again. Papa didn't say a word, just left his axe sticking in the log and broke a switch. I knew then that I had made a big mistake.

The Murphy Home

Proctor Davis (a colored man), worked for Old Mama for a long time. He lived in a rush camp on Quinine Point, and if you don't know where that is, I will tell you. It is the northwest point of the ridge on the north of Davis Island. Old Mama helped him to get five acres of land near our place, and he moved there and built another rush camp, and lived in it for a long time.

One Christmas Eve night, during a snow storm, his rush camp burned flat to the ground. The Mozells family moved to Morehead city, so Proctor got their home. The men folks on Davis Shore helped to move the house on Proctor's land. That was his first and last home on this earth, but I believe he went to a better home. Proctor had a large family. He called his wife "Myrtle Bird". They had three sons; Barney, Bill and Eli, and five girls; May, Lucy, Kill, Penny and Bettie. They were colored people, but very honest and nice people.
After a long time, the Salters started moving down to Davis Shore. Uncle George Salter moved first, then Uncle Jim Wallace Salter, and then Uncle John Salter. There was just our family and two colored families left. It was a little dull, but we boys would ride the horses when we weren't working. That was a good pastime. After a while, Mama's brother Captain Jim Salter, from Portsmouth Island, bought Uncle John's place and moved his family to Oyster Creek. Jim Salter and his wife Malissa, had two sons. James (Jim) Salter, born August 11, 1855, died October 17, 1917 , and wife Malissa Salter born May 15, 1857 and died December 13, 1937. The two sons born into this union were:

1. Herbert Salter, born September 18, 1883 and died March 25, 1937.
2. James (Jimmy) Salter, born July 2, 1886, died July 8, 1941.
3. Eva Salter (adopted), born May 1, 1887, died March 14, 1947.

Mr. Warren Gilgo, from Portsmouth Island, and his wife Sophronia, had two girls of their own, and they raised another girl. Mr. James Warren Gilgo was born November 27, 1866 and died December 7, 1953. His wife Sophronia Gilgo was born July 13, 1862 and died August 26, 1942. Their children were:

1. Goldie Gilgo, born June 4, 1889, died September 18, 1972.
2. Ruby Gilgo, born April 1, 1894, died January 25, 1937.
3. Matilda Salter (adopted sister of Eva).

A family of Candy, moved up the Oyster Creek, and they had four girls, but after a few years, they moved back to Beaufort County.

When Uncle Jim Salter and the Gilgo's all moved to Davis Shore, and the colored people moved away, it was very lonely. Papa and Mama didn't want to give up the home place, so we stayed on for a long time, just our one family. In 1905, I bought a piece of land down on Davis shore, and built a home for Papa, Mama, and myself. Brother Tommie was married and lived in a home close by. There were Salters living on both sides of me now, five families in a row. Some of the Salters moved to other communities, but we seem to hang together. The best I can remember, there are only four people living now in 1974, that were born up the Oyster Creek , and they are Ernest Salter, his sister Daisy Salter Willis, Kilby Salter, my brother and myself.

Getting back to the old days, when Old Mama was active, she was always going around the place to see what was going on. She knew how to live off the land, and farming was her life and she knew how to do it. They didn't have much money in those days, in fact they didn't have any. She looked to the Lord for the harvest. About all they had to buy was coffee. They bought the green coffee beans, parched them, and ground them in a little hand mill. It was after I was born before they bought flour—196 pounds in a barrel, for $3.00. We had lightening bread on Sunday morning, with stiff cow's cream, smoked ham and brown gravy. Most of the time it was corn bread with cracklins in it.

After Old Mama died, things didn't seem like they did before. As far back as I can remember, there was never a cuss word spoken in her house. There weren't too many changes in Old Mama's day, but I have seen a lot of changes in my lifetime.

We gave up the place to the bears after Old Mama and Papa left us. Up the creek, in the winter time when it got cold, the fish went into a deep hole. When anyone wanted fresh fish, they would take the net, and haul the deep hole right at the old landing place. They would catch all the fish they wanted, and turn the rest loose. There were always plenty of oysters, too, as well as clams, and scallops. It was really a good place to live.
Old Mama worked hard when she was a young woman, and spent her life farming and raising her family in the right way. She was a true Christian, for she loved the Lord and trusted in Him as her guide. As far back as I can remember, she never said a curse word, for she wasn't raised that way.

After the Gilgo family from Portsmouth and Uncle Jim's family moved up the Oyster Creek, they farmed a little, but the salt tide had ruined most of our land, and we had to look for other things to do, like working in the water. The Gilgo brothers, Warren, George and Tom, built a fish factory on the north side of the creek, just above where the bridge is now. They made fish scrap and oil, but they only ran the place for a few years. Joe Dixon had his fish factory on the south side, just out of the creek. I was just a kid, but I worked with Joe for $10.00 a month and all of the tobacco I wanted.

After Old Mama died, it looked like everything stopped, because she was the head of the house. She was the first out of bed by daylight, and had the days work planned. Yaupon tea was her favorite drink. She would get the kind of yaupon she wanted, chop it on an old oak bench and cure it in a big pot. Old Mama helped people in nay way she could, and there were not many changes in her day, but I have seen a lot of changes in my 86 years. Our family was the last family to move from Oyster Creek, but we stayed a long time after all the rest had moved away. After Mama and Papa died, we gave the place up to the bears, and started working in the water for our living.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me show love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

Once Upon A Time: Stories of Davis, North Carolina by Mabel Murphy Pines, 1979; pp. 69-73. Written by James W. Salter

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