New in the collection: burlap fertilizer bag

Burlap bag for tobacco fertilizer featuring the words "Golden Eagle Tobacco Fertilizer," an image of an eagle, and a list of the fertilizer ingredients.

Wilmington Fertilizer Co. must have been among the most prominent of the city’s many such manufacturers, but I’ve had little luck nailing down details of its existence. This sign claims 1889 as the company’s birth, and the design of this clock suggests it was still around as late as the 1970s.

Perhaps the area’s best-known fertilizer maker was Navassa Guano Co., whose history is deeply reported here by the inimitable David Cecelski.

I strain to imagine what it was like for laborers who spent their days lifting and unloading 200-pound bags of guano.

New in the collection: Herring labels from Colerain

Bertie Brand Herring label

Perry-Belch Fish Co. was founded in Colerain 1927 and reconstituted as Perry-Wynns Fish Co. in 1952.

According to a summary of company papers at NCSU Libraries, “For decades, it was the largest freshwater herring fishery in the world, packing both herring and herring roe under the Tidewater Brand, the Bertie Brand and Chowan’s Best. It also ran a restaurant, the Sea Gull Cafe, that was open for lunch during the herring season in March and April. During the company’s height, it hired up to 200 seasonal and permanent employees.

“During the 1990s, the number of herring in the Chowan River fell, and employment  shrank to 25 seasonal and 10 full-time. The company also began packing herring, mackerel and mullet caught elsewhere, rather than just those caught locally. In September 2003, Hurricane Isabel destroyed nine of the fishery’s 11 buildings, putting the company out of business.”

— David Cecelski recalls the origins of fishing on the Chowan River.

— A couple of well-worn “good for” tokens — scrip — from Perry-Belch and W.S. Nixon & Co. 

— And from the other coast, a lament for herring’s gastronomical underappreciation.



Freeze of 1857 ranks with meteor shower, Hurricane Hazel

“The diary [of John N. Benners] is an almost daily account of the years 1857 to 1860. I open the old volume to the first page and I am immediately swept up: Jan. 24. 1857. The river still frozen, navigation entirely impeded. A large sea vessel frozen up at Wilkinson’s Point [in what is now Pamlico County]. The weather was so very cold this week no work could be done outdoors….

“The ‘large sea vessel’ was the schooner Isaac W. Hughes. Benners was witnessing the great freeze of ’57, of which there are many accounts, though few so poignantly rendered.

“At Wilkinson Point , the Neuse is opening into the Pamlico Sound and is miles wide. Benner had never seen the river freeze from shore to shore before, and I have not heard of it doing so since.

“The freeze of 1857 became an enduring benchmark in the passage of time on the North Carolina coast, like the great meteor shower of 1833 or Hurricane Hazel in 1954….”

— From “John N. Benners’ Journal: A Saltwater Farmer & His Slaves” by David Cecelski at (Oct. 2, 2017)


A 1925 lynching for which 10 men went to prison

“in 1925 a mob of white men broke into the Martin County jail and removed a young Jewish man named Joseph Needleman, who had been accused of raping a local woman named Effie Griffin.

“They had carried him to the cemetery at the Skewarkey Primitive Baptist Church, where they castrated him and left him for dead.

“Needleman barely survived his wounds. He stumbled into town to find help and somebody rushed him to a hospital in Washington, N.C., for emergency surgery. A grand jury later found him innocent of rape, but another jury convicted 18 of his assailants and sent 10 to prison….”

— From “In Skewarkey Cemetery” by David Cecelski at (Aug. 31) 

Though much less publicized, the Needleman lynching unavoidably echoes the Leo Frank case in Atlanta a decade earlier.


NC has its fingers pried loose from myth of 1898

“According to the historian David S. Cecelski, presenting [Alfred] Waddell as a righteous campaigner for ‘sobriety and peace’ was standard in Wilmington until the 1990s. ‘I grew up in a small town in eastern North Carolina 90 miles from Wilmington,’ Cecelski says. ‘I had a book in my middle-school classroom that listed the 12 greatest North Carolinians ever. It included the Wright brothers, Virginia Dare, and then it included three of the people who were the leaders of the white supremacy campaign.

“ ‘For something like Wilmington in 1898,’ Cecelski continues, ‘it’s hard to describe the level of indoctrination. In the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, they bragged about [the coup]. After that, they backed off but it stayed in the history books and they talked about it as an unfortunate but necessary event.'”In fact, part of how historians have pieced together the real story of the Wilmington massacre is by looking back at newspaper archives — from towns all across North Carolina, not just Wilmington — where similar violence was coordinated that day. ‘They burned down black newspapers all over the state,’ Cecelski says….”
— From “The Lost History of an American Coup D’État” by Adrienne LaFrance and Vann R. Newkirk II in The Atlantic (Aug. 12)

Weekend link dump: Banana trees to bateau poles

— Might those be banana trees in the supposed photo of North Carolina slave children?

— “We thought it was just a stick,” recalls the Draper woman who pulled an iron-tipped, 19th century bateau pole from the Dan River.

— On the wish list of the revived and relocated North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in Kannapolis: a glass elevator from which visitors can view the nearby Dale Earnhardt statue.

— “If the waitress calls me sweetie and the place is full of old people telling stories,” confesses historian and omnivore blogger David Cecelski, “I’m going to say it’s the best place ever, even if I hear can openers in the back.”