Harkers Island , NC Community Leaders

The Big Event of the Day

Charles O. Pitts, Jr.

"...The new mail route is on now and if the tides don't get better Capt. Cleveland will have to use an aeroplane or walk to the Light House wharf."

The Beaufort News
7 JANUARY 1926

Captain Cleveland was Cleveland Davis of Harkers Island. The Light House wharf was at Cape Lookout. He "used" a boat to carry the mail.

The vessel was built by Carl Graham Gaskill of Straits and named for his son. The "Orville G" had carried freight and passengers from down east Carteret County to Beaufort until sold to Mr. Davis and put into service as a mail carrier. Charles and Cleveland Davis and Kelly Willis were to "carry the mails" for years -- by boat. Earl Cranston Davis, Charles' son, was even married on the mailboat!

One of the Depression era murals painted in 1940 and hanging today in the Beaufort Post Office depicts the "Orville G" on its way to Cape Lookout. The stormy sky and turbulent sea of the painting reflect elements that have always dominated Carteret County history -- its settlement, livelihood and intercourse.

Weather and Water. Listen: Nor'easter, hurricane, mullet blow. Tornado, waterspout. Creek, prong, run. Swamp, marsh, slue. Cove, bay, sound.

The county is sited between the Latitudes 76 and 78 degrees West and Longitudes 34 and 35 degrees North. Its boundaries encompass approximately three hundred square miles within which are found barrier islands, inlets, lumps, shoals, marshes, "the Straits" and "the Thorofare." Interdicted by rivers and creeks, the boundary lines of Carteret are the most irregular of any North Carolina county and except for the approximately 25 miles of "straight line" land delineation in the northwest quadrant, those lines are entirely defined by water.

The topography of low-lying land dominated by water and weather resulted in a people dependent upon and sustained from the water. The majority of the populace and their communities were settled on creek, river, bay or "the Sound." And so, as with commerce and social activities, Postal Service was also dependent on water routes and the Post Offices were placed where a "mail boat" could and would deliver.

Carteret County has had fifty-eight separately named Post Offices, the preponderance of them served by boat. The County Seat, Beaufort, when laid out as "Porte of Beaufort," was situated on Taylor's Creek. With access to Bogue Sound and the Beaufort Inlet outlet to the Atlantic, here was a water-dominated settlement that was the location of Carteret's first Post Office (the first records of her Postmaster, John M. Verdin, is dated 7 October 1794.)

From Beaufort the mail was distributed to outlying areas. It has not been so long ago that residents cannot remember the "Aleta" or the "Ida" leaving from the "Post Office Docks" to deliver the mail down east. Before the advent of motorboats, sailing skiffs were used to transport the mail. Thomas "Pat" Parkin's grandfather was such a carrier. If the wind did not blow he "poled," for if the "mail did not get through" he was penalized - his contract required that he pay a fine to the Post Office Department.

Only when the bridge was built to Harkers Island in 1941 did Kelly Willis cease transporting the mail from Beaufort by mailboat. Even then he continued to do so from the Island to the Cape. In 1955 author Carl Goerch traveled from Atlantic to Ocracoke on the mailboat "Dolphin," with Captain Ansley O'Neal. At Portsmouth Henry Pigott, a black resident paid $50/ month by the Postal Department, came out in his skiff to receive the mail: "Miss Salter (the Portsmouth Postmaster) was aboard ... She got into Henry's skiff, along with her suitcase, two crates containing milk, another containing some bread and several smaller packages. Then Henry pushed his skiff away from our craft and started poling back to shore."

As Goerch noted; "The arrival of the mail boat was the big event of the day ..."

Mr. Pitts, author of The Town Fathers of Beaufort: 1723-1988, is writing a Postal History of Carteret County. <189> 1989 by P. & C. Publications. (Used by permission.) All Rights Reserved.

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