Diamond City, Stories / Story Tellers

Interview With Dorothy Guthrie At Harkers Island, North Carolina

Interviewed by Betty Jo Moore On August 5, 2004

Transcribed by Sharon J. Lewis For the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum


BETTY JO MOORE: Ok, Dorothy, I am going to ask you some questions and I want you to answer just as good as you can, ok?


BM: Please give us your full name and where you live and your age.

DG: My name is Dorothy Willis Guthrie. I am 92 years old.

BM: Where do you live?

DG: I live at Harkers Island, North Carolina.

BM: Ok, where were you born?

DG: I was born at Harkers Island, North Carolina.

BM: Who were your parents?

DG: Joe William Willis and Missouri Guthrie.

BM: And where did they come from?

DG: They came from Diamond City.

BM: What is your family's connection to Diamond City?

DG: We-

BM: That means your parents, uh, did they, both of your parents, did they live at Diamond City or Shackleford?

DG: They both, both my parents lived at Diamond City and they came,...I had a brother, Walter Willis, he was born to Diamond City and he was six years old is when they moved over here to Harkers Island.

BM: Ok, it says, was anyone born on Shackleford, but you just said your brother was born and that was Walter Willis. Do you know what year he was born?

DG: I do not know. I got it in the genealogy records, but I don't know what year. I know this. He was fourteen years old when I was born.

BM: Do you remember anything that your parents told you or what have you heard that they taught others in your family which remains, what did they do for a living? What did your mother and father do over there for a living?

DG: They done, let's see, my father, they earned their living out of the water, like fishing, clamming, oystering, and also helping to kill whales in that day.

BM: What did they eat?

DG: They eat mostly seafood, I imagine. Now my mother, she also, she knit net for people.

BM: What were their houses or their homes made of? How did they make their houses?

DG: Now the way she used to tell me, they were just what you'd call little huts. They had fireplaces and they had iron pots and pans and stuff that they cooked on in that fireplace and they set by the fireplace.

BM: Well where did they get the lumber to build the houses?

DG: They would go, they called it beach racking. When boats and ships would come to shore beat to pieces, they would go get up early of a morning, they and the other ones that lived over there and they would go down the beach "a racking" or they called it for lumber and stuff and that's how some of them got their houses built.

BM: Well didn't that take a long time to build a house if they had to wait for a shipwreck?

DG: It seems like to me it should have and that is also the way they build the caskets, called coffins in those days. When anyone died, they, the men people would build their caskets.

BM: Ah, were there any stores over there?

DG: I've heard her say, she called it "Uncle Cliff's Store". That would be her uncle, Clifford. He was a Hancock and that store done for most everything, except they had a schoolhouse. I've heard her talk about the schoolhouse and her father was a school teacher over there, James Bryan Guthrie, which Heber mentions in the poem.

BM: Well now how long did they go to school, like two or three months or what?

DG: They went, I've heard her say where they had one book, their blue back speller, which I had a chance of seeing that in a museum to Morehead two or three years ago and I got some copies of that book and that's the kind of book they had, the blue back speller, and when they finished reading that book, they had finished. That was enough. They knew as much as the teacher did.

BM: How did they learn how to read and to, ah, did they know how to do math or reading?

DG: It was reading and writing and arithmetic.

BM: Where did the teacher's come from?

DG: Let's see. There was one, there's Arendell John, I know his name was Arendell, she used to tell me the name of this one was Arendell and then her, my mother's father was a teacher, James Bryan Guthrie, who was a teacher also, and I was glad to know that was too.

BM: Uh huh. How about that?

DG: And now his father, my mother's grandfather, James Bryan Guthrie, Sr. came from England when he was ten years old on a, they didn't call it ships; they called it sailing vessels, great old big high sails. I got my picture of one of them. When he was ten years old as a cabin boy, no parents, no kin, no nothing came with him.

BM: Who took him in?

DG: He come, I've learned, he come there to Morehead and some, somebody there in Morehead, I wrote in the genealogy book, adopted him. Some way they got him adopted. And then my, I forgot, the one who married, but anyway that was my mother's grandfather. And James Bryan Guthrie was named after him.

BM: So that's who is in Heber's book? Uh, where did your family go when they left Shackleford?

DG: When they left?

BM: Shackelford or the Banks, where did they go?

DG: They just come here to the island and then you went by skiffs they called it, sail skiffs. That's how they traveled. Here on the island, we had no bridge; we had no connection of anything of getting off the island, only by boat. And I've heard her tell about when anyone got sick, that's when they lived to the Banks. There was a doctor in Marshallberg. You'd have to take that person in a sail skiff and sail to Marshallberg to see the doctor.

BM: Well now, uh, if anybody was like, you know, did the women of the Banks take care of that?

DG: They had a mid wife, that's all they had and that's all they had on the island for years and years and years was just a mid wife.

BM: What year, do you remember what year your family came over here to the island?

DG: No, I don't know. The date might be somewhere but I don't know. I know my mother used to say when they come to the island, there was about twelve families is all that lived on the island and that was Gaskill's down to the east end.

BM: Now when they decided to come across, uh, how did they bring their houses? I've heard them say they used to float them on---

DG: They would take them apart and maybe, uh, the side of the house and put it across two skiffs and that's how they got them here. That is why they settled on the shore side.

BM: Uh, and then where did they, how did they find a piece of land? Did they just go put it wherever they wanted it and then somebody helped them with the house?

DG: No, I think I know where the land, my mother owned it, the land I'm on today. Her brother, Matthew Guthrie, was in the Coast Guard, and he had a little, you know, he could afford to buy a piece of land here on the island. He bought this acre of land. Now Betty Jo, this concerns you crowd. He bought this acre of land. He was stationed to Ocracoke and that's where he married and his family lived to Ocracoke, but they are all passed away now. But he bought this acre of land and he give my mother a fourth of the acre. Her brother and his brother, Jimmy Guthrie, he give the three fourths of the acre of land.

BM: Is that .....

DG: Yes, yes that was.......

BM: So how has your family kept connected to the Banks, which means do you have any dealings with anything that goes on?

DG: No, well used to we'd go over there to enjoy ourselves. That was our recreation. We would go on Sunday afternoons and walk about and swim and things like that. But of course, now, it would be almost dangerous because we go over there and they drink and have parties and all that stuff which used to couldn't have been had when we'd go.

BM: What stories do you remember or do you remember any stories of your mother or your brother or anybody telling you about what they used to do over there for entertainment or do with the children or you know, it couldn't have all been work.

DG: No, they had recreation. They had fun. They had parties. I've heard my mother talk about, like the girls and boys that lived to Diamond City, they would walk on the beach side or either on the sound side to the west end of the Banks, they called it, or if any people from the mainland would come over there to hold meetings, they called them meetings, they would go up there and they would have picnics and things like that you know, and all the Bankers get together and eat and enjoy and have a good time. B

M: Did you ever hear your mother say anything about where her people came from? Or she didn't know?

DG: No, it's just that James Bryan Guthrie and the beginning of him, he come from England in the 1700's, that's the record.

BM: Well now when, the 1700's when he went to the Banks or Shackleford or Diamond City, were there people, a lot of people living there at that time or was there just a few people there?

DG: There was just a few people. It was like my father's side, you see, he was the Rose generation. Joe William Willis and the John C. Willis and the Josephus, that you hear talked about up tilling the plows and all, and my father's father, his brothers, they all settled to Morehead, the Martin Willis and these other ones.

BM: To the Promise Land?

DG: To the Promise Land, because my father called uncle mark and uncle so and so you see. But on Sundays they would take their families and come to the Island to visit their kind that was over here and they would come by sail skiffs.

BM: Wonder how come some of them went to different places. Did they just see the land and decide to go over there or did they.......

DG: I don't know or why did they go by Harkers Island and go to Marshallberg. I don't know why they did.

BM: When they came across, most of the land was not cleared up, was it?

DG: No, it was just a woods island. All of where this house is today was woods, thick woods and that's why the people settled along the shore side, because all they had was boats and they kept their boats in the water, see.

BM: Now when your mother and them came over here, they put the house up and all, were they satisfied to be over here or did they want to go back?

DG: I've heard talk about how bad they wanted to go back; they were dissatisfied.

BM: They had lived there all their life...

DG: All their life, born, I guess they were born there, yeah they were. She used to tell me the midwives name was Aunt Rach, they called her.

BM: I've heard of that name myself.

DG: Her name was Rachel, but they called her Aunt Rach.

BM: Now what did they do, when they moved over here, all the houses were on the shore and so they could get in boats and go, but when you come inland there was no roads. What did they do, the men folk would clear a road to somebody's house and then somebody else would.......

DG: Well you know what, there was no yards and grassy cuts like we had there, there was just paths that went from one house to another. I think about it sometimes, how hot, with no electricity over here.

BM: There wasn't anything over here, was there?

DG: Uh, uh. Not anything. No way to get off like to go to Beaufort shopping if you wanted to, which there wasn't much going on to Beaufort those days either, not like it is today.

BM: Now when they came over here and of course, there were no stores over here. DG: No. BM: There was nothing over here. Where did they get their supplies or groceries or whatever they had to live, where did they come from over here?

DG: I think though, Betty Jo, there was stores here then. I remember there was a John Gaskill store. You know where down way far to the East, where George Rose's house down by the shore side there is John Gaskill's house, the house is really there and Mary Frances, that was his wife's name. Joan has got a house.

BM: Yes, Joan Gaskill has got a house right there.

DG: All up on the roadside. But it was her kin at his house, at their house. The house is still sitting by the shore. Well on this side, he had a store, the John Gaskill had a store and I remember the magnolia tree, it was down there by the side of that store. Well then farther on up also, Cleveland Davis, Charlie Davis had a store.

BM: I've heard mother tell about that.

DG: And that was down where Lillian and Earl's house was. That's the first post office that I remember to that store.

BM: Did your family when they come over here bring any songs with them to their church or you know to their church?

DG: No, no...

BM: Now how about the recipes? What did they cook? And what did they eat? They had little gardens, didn't they and they ate out of the water.

DG: Yes, my mother used to tell me they had gardens over there and they had trees, it wasn't like it is now; it was trees where they lived down by Diamond City. It was a straight beach and you walked from the corner, the western end of the Banks, the mullet pull, right on down. I guess you could go right on to Portsmouth in those days, if you walked the one what they call Barden's Inlet. You go through there, that wasn't' there then.

BM: And the cut wasn't there then so you couldn't....you could walk right on to the lighthouse.

DG: Right on to the lighthouse.

BM: When they come over here, did they still keep on building boats and fishing?

DG: Yeah, yeah I think they did. That's my Willard Money and Chance and Heber, they all can still build boats. Will is working on boats now, Heber too.

BM: What, what values did your mother bring from Shackleford; you know values or traditions, values that she instilled in you. You know, "Be good to your fellow man," or how did they treat each other over there? Did you ever hear her talking about how good people were to each other over there?

DG: Yes, I've heard her tell how good they were to each other and helped each other right on and on. I've never heard her say about a special denomination that they had over there. I've never heard her say that or church. I think that maybe when anybody come....

BM: Did they have a special place for them when they had church or did they not have a church and they had it in a house?

DG: I don't think they had a special church. Now they could've had their meetings, maybe, in the schoolhouse. I've heard her say when they, like ClaudeWheatly, not the young one, but the first Claude Wheatly and the lawyers then from Beaufort, that they would go over there for election time and they would call what they call, they made a speech you see and they'd go to this building and everything was done in this building. They'd make their speeches and all to get people to vote and all, you know things like that.

BM: Did you ever hear your mother say anything...How did the women make the clothes? They didn't have sewing machines like we have. Did they have needle and thread; was it all done by hand? How did they make the clothes?

DG: Well now, I've heard her tell that there was a certain woman and I've forgot who she was, how nice their suits, their clothes was and like we have now; how nice a suit this woman would make for herself, by hand. But, they had a spinning wheel and I've heard her say early of a morning when the dew was on the bushes and you see everything was just paths with nothing cut down like it is nowadays, the women would get up and they always wore big aprons with big pockets. They would go through these paths where the dew and the sheep had gone through that night and the wool had maybe come off the sheep on these bushes and was hanging there and they would pick this wool off these bushes and some, they called carding it, carding this wool.

BM: And that's how they got...

DG: And they would make their own gloves. I've seen my grandmother, a pair of gloves that she made.

BM: Well what did she make them out of?

DG: Out of that wool, some way they would fix that wool and they had knitting needles. Some way they made them themselves.

BM: But, how did they make the men's trousers and didn't they have boots and what did they use for shoes and things?

DG: They, well I don't know about the shoes, they must have bought them somewhere, maybe they made them, I know oil clothes, that they put over their clothes, they used to make them out of white homespun it was called then. It was some kind of linseed oil they would put on these oil clothes to keep them from leaking.

BM: So they didn't have anywhere to bring materials or fabric in, they made their own.

DG: Yeah, like a caskets, when anybody died, the men would make, they called it the coffin. They would go to the woods and cut the tree down or they may have some lumber already, in case. The women would line it with some pieces of cloth they had. No vaults, no nothing, they were just put in the sand. That's why when that storm come, it blowed them all out and away.

BM: Did you know, ah, where did they get the thread and the needle to try to sew a garment together?

DG: I don't know.

BM: Even after they made the fabric?

DG: Yeah, yeah...

BM: They had to have something. She never said what they....

DG: How they got that, I know I've seen my father had what they used to call a sail needle that they sewed their sails with. It was a bit needle and a big thread; big cotton that they done that with. And the thimble thing wasn't like you put on your finger, like we do when we sew; it was a thing they put on their hand.

BM: What did they put on babies, I mean did they just keep them in a shirt maybe somebody had and they had just passed it down?

DG: Probably they did and they always, they didn't dress them like they do now either.

BM: How did they feed the babies, Dorothy?

DG: I think....

BM: Did the babies just breastfeed? Is that what they did?

DG: I believe that's what was done. I know there wasn't no bottles.

BM: Until the baby got old enough it could eat what they ate.

DG: Yeah. And probably that was soaked bread, they called it, in coffee.

BM: And they would give babies the soaked bread.

DG: Yeah, I bet that's what they done. And some of them had cows and they could get the milk from the cow, you see.

BM: Ah, how has your family recorded these memories? That would be, Heber, your son Heber has written all these.....

DG: Yes, I have been talking to Heber all these last 2 or 3 years and I would tell him about these experiences that's going on and he's got a keen mind and so he's got, I guess 4 or 5 months ago, writing poems, and so he come up with this one about C'ae Bankers and this is how he starts off: "If you get a chance to climb the lighthouse, look westward toward the bar, just a narrow strip of land now, but Diamond City was once over there. A place our ancestors once lived, working the waters was their livelihood, weathering the stormy seas of life; C'ae Bankers would survive if anyone could. Sustained by faith, every single day, trusting in the Lord to pull them through, pulling together when hard times came. That's what C'ae Bankers would do. Do you ever wonder just how it might be, to walk in their paths for a day or so, to learn how to sail Old Pa's sharpie or be there when the storms would blow? Could you feel your oars with Josephus? Could you throw a harpoon in a whale; look out yonder at a schooner in distress, moving through the sea under sail? Would you have set out with the Red Oar crew? Would you have the bravery it took to make the rescue of the Chrissie Wright; to find all had froze to death except the cook? Just imagine Christmas Day over there, the wind blowing the sand through the wall, maybe a stocking hanging by the fireplace and some salt fish you caught last fall. Would you walk to the mullet pond, that's what they do on a pretty day; stop there and look at the shallow graves? Where are they now is what they would say. There were many hardships on the banks. If you were taken ill, you only had hope. Everyone depended on each back then, all bound together like small fibers of rope. They never had the luxuries we know. There wasn't any dime store in town. The girls were taught to cook and sew. The boys learned to be fishermen in the sound. There was a little school house there too, built by their own hands it was made. They were taught from the blue back speller, when you finished the book, you made the grade. They would climb the beaches for wood from wrecks and shape it well and as and a drawing knife. Think you could build a boat that way? C'ae Bankers did in their life. They had storms that would come, but the worst was in 1899, when I think about people giving all, C'ae Bankers came to my mind. The houses on that beach had no chance. Storm after storm, the family would go, until hardly anything was worth saving. Why this happened, we just don't know. The few that remained had to give in so they left Diamond City in the veins, making settlements on nearby islands and others went to the Promise Land. I claim them people of Diamond City; it's probably not worth much in gold. But to hear them old timers talk about the Banks is truly the best stories ever told."


DOROTHY GUTHRIE: "I claim them people of Diamond City. It's probably not worth much in gold. But to hear them old timers talk about the Banks is truly the best stories ever told. I'm the fifth generation of the C'ae Bankers. James Bryan Guthrie, Sr. came to this place. Records show he was a cabin boy from England. I would like to meet him one day and see his face. There at the end of twelfth, they placed a marker on the shore and dedicated the ground on Lewis landing as a reminder of C'ae Bankers for evermore." Now this was written by Heber M. Guthrie, 2-25-2004, all rights reserved.

BETTY JO MOORE: This James Bryan, now what was, now who did you say this was? That was Heber's what?

DG: Fifth generation, he said. It was the fifth generation of the C'ae Bankers.

BM: So that was Heber's fifth, so like his great, great, great, great great-grandfather, that's who that was?

DG: Yeah. BM: Ok. And it would have been your third generation. DG: Let's see, ma and then her father, James Bryan Guthrie would have been my grandfather. Then the James Bryan, Sr. would have been my great grandfather. It's the same, he's kin to you.

BM: Oh I know.

DG: He's the same on all things. Ikie, one time wanted me to get that information for him. I think some of his poems was up there.

BM: How do you believe that you can keep this heritage alive, Dorothy?

DG: By keeping it in books and tapes and stuff. The ones that I leave behind, I hope and pray they'll still keep it.

BM: Yeah, I sure do thank you. If there is anything else you want to say in there, you go ahead. Feel free to tell anything you remember.

DG: Have you read the poem he's got about the lighthouse?

BM: Yes.

DG: It's just like the lighthouse talking.

BM: Did the lighthouse look then like it does now?

DG: Now, when I was little, I went up the lighthouse when they used to fish over there some.

BM: But, I am talking about your people that was born to the Banks and then Diamond City, where they named Diamond City from was the lighthouse because of the shape of it, did they....

DG: Yeah, but I think they had a lighthouse before this one.

BM: Oh.

DG: Yeah they did. In that poem, it tells it was shorter, the other one, the first one, it was shorter. This one is made taller.

BM: Did the people just, I mean you know, did the ladies go there to do any work for the lighthouse men?

DG: Now one, you know Mae and Vann Willis? Harold and them, kin to you?

BM: Yes.

DG: Well, they, Vann Willis was the lighthouse keeper. I remember him and Mae and they lived over there and some of their children was borned over there. Lucille, didn't they have a Lucille and what was them other daughters....

BM: I was just wondering, you know if the lighthouse, they had men that lived over there in the lighthouse didn't they?

DG: Yeah.

BM: And they had to have somebody....

DG: They were called the lighthouse keepers. Then there was the Captain, the lighthouse Captain, because I heard, I've heard my father say, the fishermen then had camps or some of them had little, they call it camps on the beach side. They would stay over there a week at a time and they would fish that week. Then they would come home, like on the weekend. But then, you had to go on the outside, there wasn't a drain.

BM: Oh you had to go around to get to the lighthouse?

DG: Yeah. It wrapped around. But somebody, like Tom Barden, always had a sail skiff on this side of the lighthouse. Lighthouse landing, they called it. You just, he'd bring a whole load of men and they'd leave their boats home on weekends and the sail skiff.

BM: I don't know how they made it and how they lived.

DG: You know now in their days, there was a time and a place for everything, Betty Jo. That was the people, that day, that could stand, that could do that kind of work. They could go out there killing whales or whatever. I've heard my mother say how they would spot a whale, they would go up on the hills and then way out in the ocean, they would see this whale spout. They would see, then they'd go through the Banks, no telephone now to call, but telling them "let's go", there was a whale out there. Well they would gather up the men, so many in this dory with the harpoon thing, there were certain ones with a job to do. Each one knew what to do. I've heard my mother tell, then the wives and the mothers and the young'un and everybody would get on this hill and watch them. [LAUGHTER] I've heard her tell about sometimes the mothers would feel that the boat of men got so close to the whale, and some times the whale would turn the boat over.

BM: It is a wonder they all hadn't drowned.

DG: Drowned, yes sir.

BM: That was a rough hard way to live.

DG: Then after they got that whale, they would say if you put that harpoon through the whale's "lides", they called it.

BM: Now what was that?

DG: The "lides" was the lungs. They called it "lides". It was somewhere up under the whale and the whale would die quicker or she would faint and all that time, they was a pulling her to the shore, see. But sometimes the whale would rare, or some to, you see. You know how big a picture of a whale's tail is. But after a while they'd get her to the beach side and she would ebb out, they called it. Then they would go in and cut her up all day and all night. They'd be down there cutting this blubber, they called it. They would send this away and they made money. They would sell this oil and also they had a way of fixing this oil in the conch shells and burn that in the house for their light.

BM: That was their lamp.

DG: That was their lamp.

BM: The conch shells....And in the houses, they probably had one room like a kitchen and then they had a just maybe a bed and, and...

DG: I've heard them talk about they had a floor, a sand floor...

BM: And they would rake or kind of sweep that sand floor? It probably packed down. DG: I want to tell you, they didn't live like people live now, my blessed, bless their hearts.

BM: Um, um, um.

DG: Aren't they poor? And they got sick and they died.

BM: Tough, good people, though.

DG: Yes sir. BM: Well Dorothy, I thank you, my dear. If there is anything else you want to say in there, you go ahead and do it.

DG: [LAUGHTER] I don't play that, you're going to play that so someone can hear it.


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