Williston, NC Brief History

Williston: The First Three Hundred Years

Three centuries ago English settlers began to occupy the lands of Carteret County and what is now Williston. It is situated near the middle of Core Sound half way between Harkers Island and Atlantic. The first white man to own Williston acreage was John Jarrott for whom Jarrett Bay is named. John Jarrott received the territory in a land grant from King George I in 1719. John Jarrott Sr. passed its ownership on to his sons Abraham and John Jarrott Jr. who sold it to John D. Williston.

John D. Williston a shoemaker by trade probably came to Carteret County from New Hampshire .After becoming a “freeholder of record” in 1723 he settled near the head of Jarrot’s Bay. He married a Carteret County girl named Mary Martin in 1724. Some records show she was born in Ireland in 1705. Between 1726 and 1750 they had eleven children and because the Williston family was the first to actually homestead it; their last name was given to the community when the post office came almost two centuries later.

John D. Williston received a land grant from King George I for another one hundred and sixty eight acres of Williston land but that was in 1770.

Before the time of machinery or roads life in Williston moved at a snails pace even by colonial standards. Isolated from the main thrust of American development, Williston folks lived a simple life. They were poor in some ways, but they probably didn’t know it. For the original settlers Williston was a sheltered harbor with a temperate climate. The land would grow a wide variety of vegetables and fruit trees. It had vast tracts of virgin forests teeming with wild game. The early people of Williston thrived on oysters, clams , finfish, and fowl they either hunted or raised. Compared to their former homes, Williston was a paradise.

From the very beginning of colonial civilization Williston residents enjoyed political and religious freedom unlike anything in their European heritage. There are no records of crime or criminals. In just a short time Williston became a good place to call home. The children of later generations are said to have commented, “ If it was good enough for Poppa and Momma its good enough for me”. Being “laid back “ became a common local philosophy long before modern times.

Formal schooling in Williston came only late in the nineteenth century. Education was a luxury not needed in everyday life. In that way Williston was much like the rest of colonial America.

The most common early medium of exchange was barter. Money was scarce but for the most part was not needed. Currency or coin was required for only a few items imported from the outside world such as coffee, sugar, cloth, firearms, and a few other metal tools.

Records are few because few were needed for Williston folks until they started dealing with the outside world. Even written deeds were based on meets and bounds determined by stumps and ditches. A few of the early written records that have survived are here to see. The earliest correspondence we have is dated 1843,so you are on a bumpy ride for two hundred years.

For most of its history travel to and from Williston was possible only by boat. Early on the abundance of boat building material, good markets, and local talent caused Williston to be a major center of Carteret County boat production. Elmo Wade who was a master boat carpenter of the twentieth century built sail and powerboats. One of his spritsail skiff models is on display in the Smithsonian Museum.

Down East Community Tour
Core Sound Waterfowl Museum