A Whale of a Story

During the 1700s and 1800s, Beaufort was important in the whaling industry. Shackleford Banks was the center of whaling activities in North Carolina. Here is a little history and a whale story from By the Water’s Edge, by Joel G. Hancock, reprinted from Strengthened by the Storm, in chapter one…

"... The largest and most distinctive of the (pre-1900) downeast communities was Diamond City. It was situated near the east end of Shackleford Banks at “the mouth of the Ditch.” By 1895, it may have had a population of as many as five hundred. Like most of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, it was first settled in the early part of the eighteenth century. The community had its most rapid growth in the 1850's, spurred by a boom in the local whaling industry. New England whaling vessels are known to have visited the area as early as 1726. Local shore-based whaling crews eventually supplanted the Yankee whalers and by 1880, six crews of eighteen men each were working off Diamond City's beaches.

Whaling was seasonal and limited almost entirely to the months of February, March, and April.

To the people of Diamond City and Shackleford Banks, matters of the spirit could be just as real as the more tangible aspects of life. Indicative of such is a story told of William (Billie) Hancock by his grandson and of how a vivid dream on a late spring evening helped to save Diamond City from a summer of privation.

According to the story, the spring whaling season of one year in the 1870's had passed without the sighting of a single whale. Finally, in mid-June, a whale was spotted far off the Beaufort Inlet and Billie Hancock's crew set out to bring it in.

They floated the boat out until they put a lance into the whale. They started shooting it, but the whale was so big that shooting it didn't do any good. The moon was shining bright, so they hung with the whale until after the night had fallen. Then the whale headed out toward Cape Shoals. The line on the whale finally broke and they lost it. Everybody was so worn out that they rowed back to shore very discouraged.

They were so tired when they got home that my grandfather went right to sleep and had a dream. His dream was so real that he got out of bed and went and called two more men from the crew and told them what he had dreamed. He had dreamed that the whale had died and had grounded at Cape Point. After telling the others, he began to run to the Point (approximately six miles) to see for himself if the whale had, in fact, washed ashore. The other crewmen must have accepted what their Captain had told them for they soon followed him to the Point.

Grandfather ran straight along down the beach because there were so many trees back then. He said that when he got to Cape Point the tide was so low and the moon was shining so bright that he could see something out on the reef. He said to himself, “That's got to be that whale! We need it so bad!” So he waded off and soon saw that it was the whale.
Now came the big problem. On high tide the water would get so high that the whale would float off the Point and they would lose it. He thought that if only he had enough rope to run off and tie it to the whale they then would be able to hold onto it even after the tide came in. Fortunately, his crew had followed him and together they were able to save the whale from drifting off . . . I don't remember what they got for the bones, but they got forty barrels of oil and they made $40.00 a share. I was told that after it was all over they came back to
Diamond City and had a big square dance."

Diamond City was just off the coast of Beaufort until the late 1800's when a coastal storm swept away it's large dune and caused residents to build make-shift barges and relocate their houses to Harkers Island, Morehead City and Salter Path. I hope to write more later on this interesting history.