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.

Samuel Leffers 1736-1822

Samuel Leffers spent 58 Years in Beaufort as schoolmaster, surveyor, Clerk of Court, merchant and planter. He left his signature for generations to come.

Samuel was born November 7, 1736 in Hempstead, New York. Most family trees believe Samuel to be the son of Leffert Haugewout (1714-1795) and Mary Smith (1712-1742), whose ancesters came from the Netherlands. 

Samuel came to Beaufort in 1764, at age 28, as the “sober and discreet qualified man” recruited to teach at the Beaufort school. He married Sarah Hampton (1739-1808) November 30, 1766 in Straits, Carteret County, NC. Sarah was the daughter of Beaufort cornwainer (shoemaker) Thomas Hampton.
 
In James Winwright's 1744 Will, he made provisions for "the building and finishing of a creditable house for a school & dwelling house...to be erected and built on some part of my land near the White House..." Leffers most likely lived on this property about 1775; what was his "dwelling house" may have been destroyed by fire when the British burned the schoolhouse in 1782.  

Leffers purchased lot 12 New Town (southwest corner of Front and Live Oak streets) September 13, 1775 from town commissioner for 30 shillings proclamation money; a provision in the deed required Leffers build a house within two years or the deed would become null. (deek bk 1, pg 159) On September 12, 1776, Leffers sold this lot including a "singular premises" to Daniel Guthrie for £3 proclamation money. (deed bk I, pg 251):

To all people to whom these Presents shall come Greeting. Know ye that I Samuel Leffers of Carteret County in the province of North Carolina schoolmaster for and in consideration of the sum of three pounds proclamation money to me in hand paid by Daniel Guthrie of the place aforesd. The receipt whereof I do hereby acknowledge. Do hereby grant bargain sell convey and confirm unto the said Daniel Guthrie his heirs and afsigns forever one certain lott or half acre of land situate in Beaufort town in the County aforesd which lot is known and distinguished in the plan of the said town by the No.12. of the New Town, and was granted to me the said Saml Leffers by the Commissioners of the said town by a deed bearing date, the 13th September 1775. it being the original entry. To have and to hold the said lot or half acre of land, together with all and singular the premises, and privileges...in witness hereof I the said Samuel Leffers have hereunto set my hand and seal this twelfth day of September, One thousand seven hundred and seventy six. This deed was registered/proven in the June 1778 court.

What has been designated as the Samuel Leffers Cottage circa 1778 was donated by Leffers' descendants and moved to the Beaufort Restoration Grounds in 1983. 

However, an analysis of the fabric of the house, by the Architectural Research Department of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2012 Field Study in Beaufort, revealed a building date of 1840-1850, some two or three decades after the 1822 death of Samuel Leffers or about 65 years after Leffers built a small house on lot 12 between 1775 and 1776.

Leffers House - 146 Turner Street (2012 Field Study)

The Leffers House is a one-and-a-half story small frame house with a later shed addition. Originally located on the corner of Live Oak and Front Streets, the house was moved to this site on Turner Street in the 1980s and restored and open to the public by the Beaufort Historical Society. The dwelling is said to have been built about 1778 by Samuel Leffers who was a school master in late colonial Beaufort and later became a surveyor, clerk of court, merchant, and planter. He died in 1822 at the age of 86. Unfortunately, this is not the house that Leffers built and lived in. Rather it was built perhaps two to three decades after his death in the late antebellum period.

Originally, the house consisted only of the front portion, which measured a little over 21 feet in width and 17 feet deep with a habitable half-story above stairs. The original plan consisted of a central doorway flanked by two windows on the front fa├žade, which led into a large heated room measuring 13 feet in width and 16 feet in depth. The exterior chimney was located in the center of the gable end (the present brick chimney is a modern replacement). A doorway into a smaller unheated room opens opposite the fireplace. This space is less than seven feet in width. The stair to the half story originally opened in the main room in back corner of this partition wall between the rooms. It was a winder staircase that turned and ran back along partition wall to unheated spaces upstairs.

Sometime in the late nineteenth century, a ten-foot deep shed was constructed across the backside of the house. Originally it was divided into two rooms, the back door of the main house opening into the larger of the two unheated rooms. At that time, the original staircase was reworked so to run in a straight flight from the back shed room to the garret above. The old doorway from the main room in the front was blocked with circular sawn lath and plastered over. All the framing of the shed consists of circular sawn timbers.

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Leffers owned the Hammock property from 1795 to 1811, when he sold 42 acres on Taylor's Creek, including the Hammock House, which he built in 1800, to Henry Marchant Cooke for $1,300; he boarded with Cooke for about a year until he moved to Straits to live with his son Samuel. In 1820 he purchased his own house in Straits.

Below are some interesting snippets from Leffers’ letters to his brother John– written between 1800 and 1821:
……1800 My situation at present is agreeable, my new house [Hammock House] is calculated to my fancy and pleasantly situated; we have a fine prospect of the Sea, in front have a good garden and spring of water and are about 200 yards from the eastern most boundary of Beaufort town. I live retired and amuse myself with my garden, my writing desk, my books and a walk to town as fancy directs……
……Our Vessels which use the West Indies trade having for a long time past accustomed to make good voyages and bring home considerable quantities of cash bring nothing of late from the English Islands but rum……
……the coming storm…The rising wind and falling rain ushered in the morning…… the violence of which progressively increased…… it raged with a violence which I cannot well describe. Fruit trees of every description are either torn up by the roots or left naked……
…… we took a fine sea turtle which was very seasonable, had fine weather to dress a part of it which made us a most delicious repast……
…… The crops of corn are supposed in general to be better than ever was known and every other production of the earth uncommonly good…I have sent Samuel with his uncle Thomas Duncan, to assist in doing my business……
…… I wrote my own Epitaph some years ago (1806), and altho` it may never be engraved on stone you may read it for your amusement as follows:

PRAISES ON TOMBS ARE VAINLY SPENT 
GOOD DEEDS ARE MANS BEST MONUMENT 

…… April-1809 Government have had a Fort [Hampton] erected here, the work has been going on for 6 months past…The winter has been cold and stormy but tolerably healthy- provisions are plenty and cheap- and every housewife is busily employed in clothing her family in homespun and altho` goods are scarce the prices are low and the sale dull……
…… My little family continues as before with the addition of George Dill who lives with us and serves to run errands and do little jobs about house……
……1811 The alarm of war is amongst us and a Battalion of the new raised Militia are to be posted here and at Fort Hampton which is at the Inlet point opposite the Town……
……1814 When I wrote you last I was a boarder in the house that I formerly owned where I continued till about 20 months ago, when as Samuel had taken a house in a pleasant situation on the waters of the Straits, I agreed to live with him……
…… 1815 I am within a few weeks of finishing my 79th year and altho` I am blessed with a good degree of health the infirmities of age are daily reducing my strength and I can perceive my mental powers also are fast declining there fore you need not be at a loss to account for the imperfections of my letter……
……1820 After I recovered from my sickness and found I had still to live I thought it might be most for my comfort to have a home of my own in a retired situation to spend the remainder of my days without being beholden to others. I therefore purchased a house and small farm at the Straits……
…… Aug.1821 I enjoy tranquility of mind and being at peace with the whole world I wish well to all the human race... I have made my will……
……Nov. 1821 I am alternately stronger and weaker at short intervals I can plainly perceive that I (am) gently descending from my present stage of life……

Leffers died a year later on October 7, 1822, about one month short of his 86th birthday. He was buried in Beaufort's Old Burying Ground.

The children Samuel Leffers and Sarah Hampton (1739-1808), as noted in family trees and in Maurice Davis' History of the Hammock  House:
  1. George (1767-1793) married Hannah Gibble about 1791 and was lost at sea. "They had only one son, Samuel II (1792-1875), who studied medicine under Dr. John Poythress, who had a private infirmary in Beaufort before his death in 1813. In 1811, Samuel II married Sarah Brooks of Straits, where he established his practice. Richard (1832-1912), the youngest of their seven children, also became a physician and practiced at Straits for many years." (Davis)
  2. Asa (1769-), "the second child of Samuel and Sarah, also married a girl named Hannah and also died at sea." (Davis)
  3. Susanna (1771-1808) first married Isaac Hellen in 1787, "and secondly a Captain Thomas." (Davis)
  4. Mary Ann (1773-1816) married John Dill in 1793. 
  5. Sarah "Sally" (1776-1850) married Williams Brooks in 1811.