Sea Level, NC Brief History

"Perilous Journey Ends Safely in 1918"

Reprinted from Carteret County News-Times, December 5, 1974

(Note: Cold weather on the coast brings to mind the big freeze of the winter of 1917-18. It set in a few days after Christmas and continued for almost a week in January. The late Allen Taylor of Sea Level, wrote the following account as told to him by his brother. It was brought to The Mailboat by Sammy Taylor, nephew of Allen Taylor)

. . . They walked back home a distance of about 20 miles, 15 miles of the route being over water they had sailed a few days previous.

My brother, J. E. Taylor, owner of the sharpie "Clem" built in Smyrna, NC, in the winter 1891, and his two companions, Louis Elliott and Edward Salter, all of Sea Level, were dredging oysters at a place known as the Marshes in the lower mouth of Neuse River where it empties into Pamlico Sound.

They had not quite finished their load of oysters to take to the New Bern market when the great freeze set in on Saturday, December 29, 1917 and lasted until January 6, 1918.

They were anchored at Henry Hill's Harbor close by. It snowed all during Saturday night with the thermometer falling fast and by Monday registered 12 degrees above and before nightfall the boat was held firm in an icy grasp.

The men soon began to realize the seriousness of their situation as they sat in their little cabin which would only accommodate four persons in a sitting position. The only way of heating was a two-burner oil stove on which they did their cooking, and melting ice from the water barrel to drink.
The men watched, hoped and waited through the week. The freeze became worse instead of better, ice forming around the boat four or five inches thick. Now food and oil were getting low. They were already on a meager diet, the temperature playing around 10, 12, and 13 degrees above, with no possible relief in sight.

They had to face a very grave decision, stay with the boat and freeze or starve, or take a chance and try to walk home on the ice. The uninhabited land route with its dense growth of marshes and undergrowth all covered with frozen snow and ice seemed almost impossible but was under consideration. The water route had its dangers too -- air holes. This route would take them over water that was 12 to 15 feet deep, which they all knew.

In preparing for this hazardous journey, a note was left in the cabin of the boat, outlining the two routes under consideration. This information would aid searching parties to find their bodies in case they never reached home. They took with them what little food they had left, a fry pan, hatchet, small can of oil, boat hook to test the thickness of the ice, and about 10 yards of rope, one end of which was held by my brother, J.E., the leading man.

The walk was planned in a V-formation as the wild geese fly, the object of the rope held by the leading man was should he find thin ice or an air hole, the two hind men could pull him back to safety. The V-formation was to distribute the weight of the men also.

To prevent slipping, nails were driven through the heels of the men's shoes from the inside protruding outward about one-fourth inch. Everything was done that could be thought of for the safety of the journey.

The men offered prayers to Him who arose and rebuked the wind and said unto the sea, "Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm." -St. Mark 4:39

The three men stepped on the ice that had held their boat in its icy grasp and had kept them prisoners for five long anxious days and nights and headed in the direction of home,

This was Friday, January 4, 1918, 6 o'clock am. The walking time was six-and-one-half hours. They followed the all-water route, crossing both New Stump Bay and Long Bay, at or near their mouth, in some places over 12 to 15 feet deep. Edward Salter is the only one now living (l974) and still lives here at Sea Level.

In concluding this item, I would like to add my brother told me that Pamlico Sound and Neuse River as far as the eye could see was one unbroken sheet of ice. After the freeze broke up and the ice had all disappeared, it was found that great numbers of porpoises died from suffocation as the porpoise, like the whale (fish in form) and air-breathing, they could not penetrate the ice to get air, died and drifted up along the shores of the rivers and sounds.

Reprinted from MAILBOAT, Spring, Vol.1, No. 1

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