CHARLIE & THE TERRAPINS

Local boy Charles Ives Hatsell, born in Beaufort in 1878, became an authority on diamondback terrapins. In 1898 Hatsell became an assistant to Henry Van Peters Wilson, professor and chairman of zoology at the University of North Carolina. Hatsell gained full-time employment by the U.S. Fish Commission, as one of the first “apprentice fish culturists.” Hatsell assisted Professor Wilson during the summers of 1898 to 1901. Wilson, in 1902, established a Federal Laboratory at Beaufort and was its first director in 1899 renting the Gibbs House on the eastern end of Beaufort. Shortly afterward a lab was constructed on Piver’s Island.
In A History of the Federal Biological Laboratory at Beaufort, North Carolina, Grave’s annual report of 1905 reported that Hatsell, one of the few permanent employees, lived on Orange Street in Beaufort and was in charge of the equipment for collecting and general field work. Graves wrote, “He is an excellent collector and is thoroughly familiar with the animals of the region and the methods by which they may best be collected. Those carrying on scientific work consulted him concerning the material needed and he either directed how, when and where the collecting should be done or, if necessary, collected and brought the material to the tables.”
In 1910, preparations were made at the lab to enlarge the scope of the terrapin work through construction of a new 10,000-gallon tank and two additional concrete ponds. The concern for operations on a larger scale was the lack of a fish and terrapin culturist who could devote himself unhampered by other duties. In 1913, however, the problem was resolved when “the opportunities for engaging in propagation work were advanced by the addition of the position of fish-culturist.” Of course, it was none other than Charles Hatsell, “who showed a great deal of natural ability in carrying out the cultural experiments with the diamondback terrapins,” who filled this new position.
In 1923, in a Bureau of Fisheries resident agent’s report, R.L. Barney reported his analyses of “unorganized notes” of past investigators, but noted “the systematic observations carried on under their supervision by Charles Hatsell, the terrapin culturist stationed at Beaufort, N.C., since the experimental work was begun.” Barney praised Hatsell and gave him “the large share of credit for the continuity and the accuracy of the observations of the entire experimental terrapin propagation project” as a result of “his exceptionally careful, energetic and faithful work.”
With these excellent commendations from all his associates, Charles Hatsell was made Acting Superintendent of the Beaufort Biological Station in 1921, a post he held until 1925. According to R.E. Coker, Hatsell “had to serve, by special arrangements with the Civil Service Administration, as Director.”
Marie Clawson Franck recalled in The Heritage of Carteret County, that Charlie “rowed to work across Beaufort Channel every day, prior to the building of the bridge, until his retirement, due to failing health. He had personally supervised the raising of 226,000* young terrapins which were released in salt marshes from Maryland to Louisiana. Several shipments were also made to Cuba, Guam and the Pacific Coast.”
Captain Hatsell was the son of Julia Ellen Mace Hatsell and George Andrew Hatsell. He married Marie Ella Clawson, born in 1876, daughter of Mary and Charles Clawson of Clawson’s Grocery.
He retired in 1947, after 45 years of service, and several months later was presented with a citation and bronze plaque from the Department of the Interior for his “long faithful and highly distinguished service.”
*The figure released by Coker(of the U.S. Bio. Lab) in 1951 was 249,313 young terrapins were hatched and distributed up to August 1949. The program was coming to an end when Hatsell retired. There were no more appropriations.