Diamond City, Stories / Story Tellers

“Moore’s of Carteret County”

Arthur T. Moore

… Shackleford Banks has been, since the memory of man runneth not the contrary, a whaling ground. John Lawson who wrote of “History of North Carolina” which was published in 1709 wrote of whaling on the Sand Banks as Shackleford Banks was known prior to 1714 …

Whaling on the outer banks of North Carolina was a community affair. Most of the whales caught off Shackleford or Bogue Banks were caught in the spring and most of them were Right whales. The name, Right, was given this particular whale family because everything about the whale was right for the whaler; more oil, more baleen, easier to get. When the whale was killed he continued to flat, while most whales would soon sink after they were killed. Because of the buoyancy of the animal, he was easier to tow to the prepared location to cut up and try out the oil, etc.

The men manned the crews that killed the whale and towed him in place. The women prepared the location and helped try out the oil. The children gathered the wood and performed other functions they could do. The returns from a whale would be parceled out by shares. One job would demand so many shares while another would demand so many more. They did the work they knew how to pay off. Less than three whales a season was a poor season. This is how they got most their cash money over the years.

Mr. Tucker R. Littleton, a historical writer of Swansboro, in an article on whaling states that in the “Beaufort Journal” on April 9, 1857, it was reported that Samuel Moore and Absalom Guthrie of Shackleford Banks caught a whale sixty to seventy feet in length and yielding upwards of fifty barrels of oil valued at about $1,000.
At the time of the capture of this whale, Samuel J. Moore was about 50 years of age and Absalom Guthrie was about 40 years of age. Both men captains of whaling crews and knowledgeable about their jobs. Josephus (Seefe) Willis was a 27 year old fisherman, also a captain of a whaling crew. He participated in the capture of about 55 whales over the years. He was the brother of Polly Willis Moore, wife of Auldin Moore.

Each of you no doubt remember stories you have heard the older folks tell of their experiences and stories they hard their mothers and fathers and grandparents tell of their experiences. You should record these stories for your gratification and for posterity.

When someone becomes frightened and moved very quickly in the presence of Papa he would laughingly call them Old Sam Moore. He explained his reason to me once which was as follows:

Old Sam was a member of a whaling crew which was moving in on a whale for the kill when the whale changed his course and with a flip of his tail shattered their boat. The story goes that Old Mr. Sam went from the wreckage of his boat to a companion boat without getting the top of his sox wet.

Another whaling story he enjoyed telling was about one of the old time Moores. This fellow was a very determined and thrifty man. The other menfolk of the community were out of place for some reason when a school of killer whale showed up. The old man could see all of that whale oil swimming around and no help in sight, so the old fellow grabbed his ax and waded out among the killer whales and killed 16 of them with that ax.

Allen Moore of Harkers Island, son of Hedrick Moore, once told me about one Moore who was a member of a whaling crew. They were maneuvering for the kill. Auldin Moore was manning an oar in his boat and as they pulled up alongside of the whale so the harpooner could ram the harpoon home, the whale changed course, raised his head clear of the water and laid it right across the boat, pinning Auldin Moore in his seat. Auldin Moore did not think it was funny at all but later he would laugh and tell about the time he had a whale in his lap. He would say that he could see the sea live as big as a ten quart water bucket running around on the whale …

Everyone had his part to do in the never ending task of making a living. Even the little ones. Alfred and his crew would gather before day to get underway so they would be at the fishing grounds at about daylight. Lon and Harry, two of Alfred’s youngun’s, not yet in their teens, would be along. When the big boat would arrive at a point about where the stone breakwater ends at Cape Lookout, Lon and Harry would get in the skiff which would be anchored there and would remain there with Harry and Lon fishing with a hook and line until the bog boat came back in the afternoon for them. They had better have their quota of fish too.

Back in the days when our parents were young, there were not as many people in the country; not as many making a living out of the water. Boats were powered by oar or sail and nets were hauled by hand. One worked when the weather permitted and caught the fish of the season.

Alfred and Leslie were floundering in the hook of the Cape. The weather was right, the fish were there. Their pine knot light hanging in the metal basket over the bow of the skiff was working just right. Both were unerring in their aim with their gigs. The gig being a sharpened steel rod without the barb on the end. They would gig the flounder, through the head so as not to mess up the eating part of the fish, then run their bare foot under the fish, raising their foot with the gig to hold the fish on it until they reached the fish with their hand. They would them remove the fish and throw it in the boat. This they did about all night having about 800 lbs. of flounder to sell the next day. Only one incident occurred that could have been disastrous, but as it turned out did not amount to much. Both Alfred and Leslie were big men and a big man needs a good foundation on which to stand. In the flurry of gigging and boating some several fish, Leslie saw a pretty good size fish and gigged it, his aim as usual at the flounder’s head. Alfred hollered and when Leslie ran his foot under the flounder to raise it, it was no fish. It was Alfred’s foot. The foot had not been pieced. The shaft had gone between the big toe and the toe next to it …

One reads and hears about the isolated mountaineers deep back in the coves, but they could walk out. The bankers could not walk out. Only the sharpie or row boat could get them to town. Our folks lived on Shackleford from 1800 until about 1900, however, Alfred and Charlotte left there in about 1884. Have you heard the story of how and why they left?

You know Charlotte was one of the Mason girls born in Cape Lookout lighthouse where her father Manson Mason was “Keeper of the Light.” She and Alfred lived on Shackleford. Alfred served as “Captain of the Cape” part of the time. Manson Mason had retired from the “Lighthouse Service” and had moved to Morehead City. Charlotte had prevailed on Alfred to carry her and the two boys, Lon and Harry, to Morehead to visit her father.

Alfred finally agreed and told her to be ready to leave at a certain time. She put several changes of clothing on the boys and on herself and when Alfred said get aboard they did so without any excess baggage visible. On arriving at Morehead and after they were on the dock, she faced toward Shackleford Banks and said, “Goodbye, banks, I never intend to see you again.” When Alfred asked her what she meant, she informed him that she did not intend to go back and that if he wanted to live with her and the boys, he could move to Morehead City. He moved to Morehead, and like the rest of the bankers, when they moved away they dismantled their houses and brought it with them, be brought his house with him. He reassembled this house in Morehead on the lot where Uncle Henry used to live and I was born in that house.

The severe storms, creeping sand dunes, etc. caused a general exodus from Shackleford long about 1897 to about 1900. Some families moved to Harkers Island, some to Marshallberg and Straits, some to Beaufort and some to Morehead City. About 500 families over the few years, moved away from the island. I do not know which family was the last to leave, but as I said before I remember Great Grandma Polly living there. She is buried there, very near where she lived so long. I believe she died at Aunt Sabra’s home at Smyrna in 1909. Alfred moved to Morehead, Tyree and Abram moved to Marshallberg, Hedrick to Harkers Island and Sabra married George Davis and was living at Smyrna.

… About 1960 I talked with Dave Guthrie of Morehead City (father of Rufus and Luther Guthrie) who, at that time, was 89 years old. Uncle Dave, as he is now known, was born and raised at Mullet Pond, Shackleford Banks, the community where our family of Moores lived. His home was in sight of both Samuel J. and Audlin’s homes. When he was a young boy, he new Old Man Sam and his wife Lottie. Of course, they were elderly people at that time. Old Man Sam was well liked, respected and considered a good man, however Lottie was known as “Old Stingy Lottie” and was “mean as a snake.” Lottie was short, stout and dark complexioned and ruled the roost.

Uncle Dave says that Auldin’s house was within about 20 feet of the cemetery where he and Polly are buried, and that Old Man Sam’s house was to the east, across the valley and that Sam’s garden was in the valley.
There should be no doubt about Polly being a good woman, wife and mother. Uncle Dave says she was the best woman who ever lived. She nursed his mother during her fatal illness. He says if you were to visit her house at midnight should would cook you a pan of biscuits if you would let her. Other sources credit her with being a might good woman. Auldin was a rather small, dark, good looking man, which Polly was a tall slender woman.

When I was a little fellow I went to Shackleford Banks with Pappa to a pony penning. Harry Moore, son of Tyre of Marshallberg, broke his leg riding one of the wild ponies. (Harry told me later he did not break a leg, but named the man who did.)

As I remember, we landed from the boat and went up into the woods and came to the house of Great-Grandmother Polly. She was sitting the doorway and was smoking a while clay pipe with a long reed stem. She was wearing the old time bonnet. We went into the house. She was cooking in the fireplace and I noticed her cooking utensils placed in and around the fireplace. I also saw several other clay pipes with long stems leaning against the fireplace.

Abram Davis, son of Sabra Moore Davis, grandson of Auldin and Polly Moore, was telling me some time ago about his living with his grandparents during the summer months. They lived a hard, carefree, happy life according to Abram. Not much money. They did not need much, as they had their gardens in which they grew their vegetables, their chickens, hogs and cows and plenty of seafood, for they gathered such as fish, oysters, scallops, clams, crabs and conchs. Their cash money came from the sale of the fish, etc. and from their shares as members of the whaling crews.

Abram says that when he was about 12 years old, he spent that summer as usual with them. Each morning at about 2:00 am they guessed, according to the moon and starts, as they did not have a watch or clock (Grandfather Auldin would vow laughingly to get a clock on his next trip to Beaufort, but he never did.) they would crawl out of bed, dress and eat breakfast, then run east up the sound side of the banks about 2 miles, get their gear and boat, then cross the banks to the ocean side, weather permitting, launch their boats and begin their days fishing by about sun up. If their catch was large enough and the weather permitted, they carried their catch up to Beaufort thru the inlet. If they could not risk the inlet, they ferried their catch back across the banks and then launched the boat on the sound and went to Beaufort. They also had a signal system with flags to notify the fish dealers of Beaufort of their catches. The dealers would then send a boat to buy their catch.

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