At the suggestion of the Davie County Public Library, the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center has just published online one of my favorite little books from the North Carolina Collection: Douglas Rights’s A Voyage Down the Yadkin – Great Peedee River.
The book describes a journey taken by the author in a rowboat down the Yadkin and Pee Dee Rivers from North Wilkesboro to Georgetown, S.C. The trip began in September 1925 and was completed in 1928 (in several stages — he wasn’t on the river the whole time). The sketches included in the book were originally published in newspapers in Winston-Salem. The lively, conversational tone of the writing combined with the glimpses it gives into a very different North Carolina make for a fascinating read.
As an example of fine prose to be found in these pages, here’s a memorable description of a man in a now long-forgotten profession: ferryman. J.C. Corum manned the ferry near Shoals, N.C., located in Surry County between Mt. Airy and Winston-Salem:
“Mr. Corum is a ferryman to be remembered. He reminded us of that famous boatman Charon who transports troubled souls over the river Styx. It is a delight to see him pole a small wooden boat across the river. It is with him a ceremony stately and solemn. Over six feet in height he stands upright in the board, using a sapling pole twice his length. Without bending the knee or winking an eyelash he sweeps one end of the pole into the water. This impulse shoots the boat ahead on a straight line as if it were driven by motor power. Between sweeps he stands poised as a Grecian statue. A dozen powerful strokes bring him safe to the opposite shore where with countenance still unmoved he casts the stay chain over the moorings.”
Douglas Rights was a Moravian bishop with a lifelong interest in natural history and Native Americans in North Carolina. His book The American Indian in North Carolina (1947) was an important work on the topic and his collection of Native American artifacts, part of which is housed at UNC-Chapel Hill, is a valuable resource for researchers.