Diamond City, NC History

What Mother Told Me of Shackleford

As told by Mrs. Dorothy Hancock Guthrie and recorded by Jan Gillikin

... Women dressed in calico print, probably feed sack dresses, every day. When they would go visiting, which they made time for regularly, they would “straighten themselves” and go to the well to look at their reflection in order to “finish primping.” Long sleeved, long, high-necked dresses with shoes that buttoned on the side and a slat-bonnet was the customary dress of Banks women.

Women watched while their husbands, fathers and son watched for and beached the whales that were so important to their livelihood. Lookouts (with spy glasses, probably brought down with the New England whales who came here to whale) were stationed on the high hill for lookout points where they would signal boat crews. After a whale was sighted, the women would prepare the place where it would be “tried out” in large iron pots with legs to remove oil.

Then they would wait and watch. Poems and stories were told over and over about the great whale kills like the “Mayflower Whale” and “The Little Children’s Whale.” Watching the whale kill was exciting and worrisome for the women. Sometimes men thought the whale was dead, but they were only stunned, and men in dories would be overturned in the surf. Women watching from Shackleford hills would swoon (faint) and cry. Some would even roll down hills in frightful worry for their men. As a thankful celebration to the Lord after a whale kill, man would gather, give three cheers and throw their hats into the air.

Whale oil was used in conch shells with rope wicks for night lighting. Food was cooked on a fireplace in iron pots. Corn bread (ground fresh) was baked in “spiders” (covered iron frying pans with legs and a cover). They would cover the spider in the coals of the fire to bake the bread. Banks folks would pack salt fish and trade for corn, sweet potatoes and other stapes. Corn was ground into meal buy a gristmill located in the Diamond City settlement.

Some families had houses built into the hills called “hodges.” These were one-room camps, sometimes with only a dirt (sand) floors. They would use the protection of the hills to help protect these small dwellings. Houses were “white washed” with lime. Some had picket fences to keep cattle and sheep out of vegetable gardens. Most houses were made of salvaged lumber from ship wrecks. Early morning after storms and high tides were spent “wracking,” or looking up and down the beach for washed up materials. (The word “wracking” is thought to be from “wrecking.”) Nothing was wasted on the Banks.

Fireplaces and chimneys were made from lime and shells crushed together by hand and mixed to form a kind of plaster that would hold the heat of a small house. Lumber was cut from the forest covering Shackleford for boatbuilding, furniture building and caskets. Houses were often moved from place to place with the same materials taken apart and reassembled in a safer location or nearer family.

Sheep paths offered scraps of wool left on branches. Women would gather these small wool pieces and “card” the wool to clean it and make it ready for spinning. These were used for gloves, socks and tams.

Sanctified Bands (groups of religious evangelists) would travel by boat to hold camp meetings, called protracted meetings, that would last for weeks at the time. These traveling preachers claimed no particular denomination, only the Gospel.

School buildings on the Banks served as churches too. The “Blue Back Speller” was the “only” book used. It contained reading, writing and arithmetic. Teachers included Helen Ditmeyer and Mr. Arendell. The school moved to Cape Lookout after so many left Shackleford in the early 1900s.

The cemetery at the east end of Shackleford was called the “John Royal (Rile) Cemetery.” It was washed away in the storm of 1899 when storm tides from ocean and sound met in the middle of Shackleford. Things were never the same after that.

Down East Community Tour
Core Sound Waterfowl Museum