Back when state supported movie industry….

On this day in 1921: “The Lost Colony” premieres before Gov. Cameron Morrison and other state leaders in the old Supreme Court building. The five-reel silent movie, among the nation’s first uses of film for educational purposes, is the brainchild of Mabel Evans, superintendent of Dare County schools.

The state-financed, $3,000 budget included hiring Elizabeth Grimball, director of the New York School of the Theatre, to cast and direct the three-week shooting on Roanoke Island.

Four prints of “The Lost Colony” will be shown throughout the state; in areas without electricity, the projector is run by a generator-equipped Model T Ford.

[Much more here about Ms. Grimball and her ambitious efforts in North Carolina.]


A Taste of the Mother Vine

Grape Profits
The independent. (Elizabeth City, N.C.), 27 June 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

The scuppernong grape has a long history in the state of North Carolina. As a cultivar of muscadine, it is noted for large, sweet fruit with tough, bronze skin. The grape is native to North Carolina and was examined by explorers as early as 1524. The grape grows well in hot, humid environments, such as that of the Piedmont and Coastal regions of North Carolina. Scuppernong is a versatile grape and is used in cakes, pies, jelly, cider, and wine.

The scuppernong grape is the official state fruit of North Carolina and the state lays claim to the Mother Vine, a scuppernong vine on the north end of Roanoke Island that some claim dates pre-dates the arrival of Europeans in the 1580s. Newspapers in the mid-19th century often published articles about this revered vine, such as the September 12, 1857 issue of Raleigh’s Semi-weekly Standard.

Lots of head-scratching over future of oyster shells

“If you have any oyster shells lying around, the U.S. Army wants five dumptrucks’ worth. You don’t even have to include the delicious oysters inside. And they’re willing to pay up to $15,000 for them.

“That’s the gist of one of the stranger U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contracts in recent memory. Last week, the Army put out a call for the empty shells — specifically, shells that have been ‘shucked and air dried,’ ready for transportation. There was, intriguingly, no additional detail….

“After I tweeted the bizarre contract on Thursday, Slate’s Matthew Yglesias speculated that the Corps sought to aid an existing project to rebuild the oyster population of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Other guesses include the construction of good luck charms for the Navy; a crustacean-based fragmentation grenade; and, per the New York Times‘ Annie Lowrey, ‘scenic, Cape Cod-style driveways’….

“But it turns out the shells are destined for the southeastern corner of Roanoke Island, N.C. abutting Wanchese Harbor. That’s where the Army Corps of Engineers has a marsh creation and restoration project. There’s no military value to the enterprise; it’s part of the Corps’ longstanding civil works and environmental mission. To complete it, the Army needs 4,000 bushels of oyster shells.”

— From “Army Is Buying 4,000 Bushels of Empty Oyster Shells” by Spencer Ackerman  (July 25, 2012) at Wired

And let’s not forget “oyster-tecture.”


‘Purpose’ notwithstanding, Union policy freed slaves

“In early 1862, George McClellan, then general in chief of the army and a vocal opponent of a war against slavery, gave extremely conservative instructions regarding military emancipation to General Ambrose Burnside as he was about to embark on another joint army-navy operation aimed at capturing Roanoke Island:

” ‘[Say] as little as possible about politics or the negro. Merely state that the true issue for which we are fighting is the preservation of the Union and upholding the laws of the General Government….’

“Upon capturing Roanoke Island in early February, Burnside [denied intending] ‘to liberate your slaves.’ McClellan’s instructions, like Burnside’s proclamations, were technically correct: The ‘purpose’ of the Union invasion was the restoration of the Union, not the liberation of slaves. The policy of the federal government, however, was to emancipate all slaves coming within Union lines…. Occupation forces would not actively interfere with the peaceful operation of slavery among loyal farmers and planters, [or] entice slaves away from their owners, but slaves escaping to Union lines were emancipated and employed as wage laborers.

“Slavery deteriorated rapidly in the occupied parts of North Carolina thanks to the policy instructing Union forces to employ fugitives entering their lines, coupled with the prohibition against military enforcement of the fugitive slave clause.”

— From “Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865” by  James Oakes (2012)


For Manteo and Wanchese, destiny was geography

On this day in 1585: Manteo and Wanchese, the first American tourists to visit Europe, leave England in a ship of colonists bound for North Carolina. The two N.C. Indians were invited to London by explorers commissioned by Sir Walter Raleigh.

Manteo was made Lord of Roanoke while in England, but Wanchese was alienated by the Europeans and will be absorbed back into his tribe.

Manteo and Wanchese become the names of communities on opposite ends of Roanoke Island.


Union troops no match for N.C. mosquitoes

“An expeditionary force of 15,000 [Union troops] landed at Roanoke Island in early 1862 and spent much of the war enforcing a naval blockade from a fort on the coastline. The air at dusk shimmered with Anopheles quadrimaculatus. Between the summer of 1863 and the summer of 1864 the official annual infection rate  for intermittent fevers [malaria] was 233 percent — the average soldier was felled two times or more.”

— From “1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created” by Charles C. Mann (2011)


No wonder he misplaced Sir Walter

“In 1937, Postmaster General James Farley dedicated a new post office in Arlington, Virginia, and managed to place Sir Walter Raleigh in the wrong place at the wrong time and also to locate Roanoke Island in Virginia rather than North Carolina. These lapses received front-page coverage….

“While gently chiding Farley, a New York Times editorial explained that his errors were entirely understandable. ‘As we remember our school books,’ it observed, ‘everything from the vicinity of Florida up to Canada was ‘Virginia’ in the vague and spacious time of Elizabeth. Indeed, if Mr. Farley will look at a map of Virginia in those days, it will remind him tremendously of a map of the Roosevelt states last November.’ ”

— From “Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture” by Michael Kammen (1991)

What wasn’t in a name: Anson’s ill-fated OK Boys

“After OK had been adopted as the name of a club by the Tammany boys in the presidential election of 1840, others happily follow suit….

“During the Civil War, there were OK Boys, at least in North Carolina. An 1867 narrative… by Augustus Woodbury says of the Confederate forces on Roanoke:

” ‘There were infantry and artillery on the island. There were the “Overland Greys,” “Yankee Killers,” “Sons of Liberty,” “Jackson Avengers,” “O.K. Boys” from North Carolina….’ ”

— From “OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word” by Allan Metcalf (2010)

The women of Anson County sent off the O.K. Boys with a gorgeous flag, but it was lost early on to the 21st Massachusetts Infantry and has since fallen into dire condition.