Williston, NC Brief History

Williston History

Little industry remains in Williston today, but the small waterfront community was once home to several fish houses, boat building operations, stores and even its own school, according to Wayne Willis, a community historian. Like most of the down east communities, Williston was self-sufficient. Residents had only limited need to go into the town of Beaufort. And for those who did, boats were the main mode of transportation through history.

In his DVD “Williston: The First 300 Years,” Mr. Willis said English settlers first came to Williston three centuries ago. “The first white man to own Williston acreage was John Jarrott for whom Jarrett Bay is named,” Mr. Willis said. “John Jarrott received the territory in a land grant from King George I in 1719. John Jarrott passed its ownership on to his sons Abraham and John Jarrott Jr. who sold it to John D. Williston.”

Before the time of machinery or roads life in Williston moved at a snails pace, Mr. Willis said.
“Williston folks lived a simple life. They were poor in some ways, but they probably didn’t know it,” he continued. “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.”

The most common medium of exchange was bartering, he said, as money was often scarce. Families helped each other, trading crops for fish or home repairs for canned goods from the family kitchen.
Many will remember Williston as the home of Elmer Willis, affectionately known as the Clam King who welcomed a variety of governors and dignitaries to the sleepy community for his famous clambakes. While the men handled the business, the fish house was filled with women from the community who spent their days shucking clams, cleaning shrimp and grading fish according to size.

While it was strenuous for every member of the family, it was a good, honest life, Mr. Willis said. And life continues much the same today. Roads and bridges may have connected the community to the outside world, and money may change hands for provisions as needed, but life in Williston is as relaxed as it was during its humble beginnings.

By Amanda Dagnino for the Carteret County News-Times

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