Jan 062018
 

Today is Epiphany in most parts of the Western Christian world, and is Christmas Day in much of the Eastern Orthodox world, following the Julian calendar (at least, as it was in the 18th century). There is a splendid coincidence in that the move from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar by Great Britain and its colonial holdings in 1752 stripped the year of 11 days, making January 6th in the New Style, correspond to December 25th in the Old Style, making the 12 days of Christmas act as the perfect gap between “New Christmas” and “Old Christmas.” There is an (undocumented) belief, as in the text below, that some isolated British colonists in North America did not get the news of the switch in calendars for some time, and, thus, continued to celebrate Christmas on the Julian date, and then, when they got the news, continued to celebrate Old and New Christmas. Whether this is true or not, there is a continuing tradition of celebrating Old Christmas with the Old Buck ceremony in Rodanthe, on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, on January 6th.

I first learned about Old Buck when I was a first-year graduate student in folklore at the University of North Carolina, but my professor, a native of North Carolina’s piedmont dismissed it as a pale echo of European hobby horse customs that was mostly an excuse for getting drunk, fighting, and shooting off rifles and shotguns. That was 1975, and I expect the Old Buck ceremony that he witnessed was, indeed, just that. In 1978 when I was doing fieldwork in the region of the Outer Banks I was not around for January 6th, so I can’t say if it had evolved at all at that time.  But now it has been restored to respectability. It is not a tourist attraction, and is not generally advertised. Longtime residents of Rodanthe, do not want outsiders involved. Even back in the 1970s they were being inundated by “foreigners” (that is, northerners), who built massive houses on the ocean front that periodically got swept away by storms, and rebuilt. Locals had their homes well away from the ocean on the Pamlico Sound side of the island, where they were (mostly) sheltered from storms. It is in and around these homes that the Old Buck ceremony takes place. This description from the Outer Banks Sentinal gives the general flavor although there are some historical inaccuracies which I will pass over. I’ve added some photos. (http://www.obsentinel.com/features/and-now-it-is-time-for-old-christmas-celebrations/article_fefb40a7-700a-5c3f-811d-04f28034881d.html )

For more than 100 years residents of Rodanthe have celebrated two Christmases: the Christmas that comes with Santa Claus on Dec. 25, and Old Christmas, which is visited by “Old Buck” on Jan. 6. Held at Rodanthe Community Building, festivities begin on the first Saturday after Epiphany with Old Christmas Eve night.

Today, families from the villages of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo gather to celebrate, roast oysters and await the bull of the hour. Tourists are welcome but seldom understand the meaning behind the added holiday.

In the late 70s, Old Christmas had gained the reputation of being a good place to participate in a good old-fashioned drunken brawl.

Towards evening Old Buck, the mythical wild bull, appears. He is a makeshift horned, masked creature, usually with the body of a blanket to cover the wearer. Legend has it that Old Buck impregnated every single cow in Buxton Woods and terrorized local farmers until a hunter finally shot him. His spirit survives in the Rodanthe hummocks and marshes.

Hence, Old Christmas Eve night (Jan. 5) was the time when natives used to say that the cattle came out to pray. It was also the time when the poke bush was reported to have appeared overnight, where none had grown before.

 

Old Christmas, also known as Little Christmas, Epiphany or Twelfth Night, is thought to have its origin in medieval England. Before the Calendar Act of 1751, England celebrated Christmas on the 6th day of January. In some parts of Great Britain, this date is still referred to as Old Christmas Day.

Another explanation for the date is that when the English Crown adopted the Georgian Calendar, shortening the year by eleven days, the Hatteras towns were not told until years later. When they were told, the Bankers simply refused to incorporate the change their calendar.

In Rodanthe in particular – in addition to the calendar timing – there was a practical reason for the celebration. Years ago the town was divided into two settlements – north and south Rodanthe (the Southern settlement became Waves) separated by a mile. It was hard for friends and family to gather on one holiday, so the natives of one settlement visited kin in the other and then on the second Christmas the process was reversed. The end result was that both sections managed to enjoy twice the fun.

One old custom recalled by Nell Wechter in a late 40s edition of the Coastland Times took place on Old Christmas Eve night. It was a custom in which some of the young girls in the community met, cooked a meal and set it on the table. The girls then hid under the table and waited for “ghosts” to appear. Because the waiting produced dead silence, the setting was called a “Dumb Table.” The ghosts themselves were supposed to look like the men the girls would one day marry.

Traditions of Old Christmas past also include beginning the festivities with fifes and drums playing eerie music at the crack of dawn to awaken natives.

Children and adults would put socks or homemade masks on their faces, dress in colorful clothing and run around singing Christmas carols to their neighbors as they awaited the appearance of Old Buck.

And finally, instead of a drunken brawl and dance to polish off the evening, revelers of yore gathered for a much tamer candy boiling punctuated by Christmas carols.

Roast oysters are traditional for supper on Old Christmas in Rodanthe. When I lived in the region they were usually roast over a driftwood fire on the beach. I wish you joy if you can do that. Maybe, however, you’d be more comfortable with Hatteras clam chowder, which I learned to make back in the 1970s. It is much like New England clam chowder, but does not have any cream or milk added. It is a simple dish, but time consuming because of the time it takes to remove the clam shells.

Hatteras Clam Chowder

Ingredients

about 100 littleneck clams, cleaned
2 onions, peeled and diced dice
5 cups peeled and diced potatoes
½ lb streaky, smoked bacon, coarsely chopped
salt and white pepper
chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Instructions

Bring one quart of water, salted to taste, to the boil in a large saucepan. Add the clams, cover, and cook until the clams are open. Use a slotted spoon to remove the clams, discarding any that do not open. Do this step as quickly as possible so as not to overcook the clams.

Strain the cooking broth through a double layer of muslin, clean the pot, and return the broth to the pot.

Pick the clams from the shells and discard the shells.  Set aside the clams.

In a heavy skillet, fry the bacon over medium-high heat until the fat is rendered, and the bacon pieces are cooked but soft.   Remove them with a slotted spoon, and add them to the broth. Add the onions to the hot fat and fry them until they are just soft, but have not taken on color. Add them and the fat to the broth.

Bring the broth back to a simmer and add the potatoes. Cook them to your desired softness. North Carolina cooks like them falling apart, but I prefer them a little firmer. Cook’s choice.

Add back the clams, and let them heat through in the broth.

Serve in deep bowls, garnished with parsley if you want, with oyster crackers (or crusty bread).

Serves 8

Aug 172017
 

The Roanoke Colony, also known as the Lost Colony, was established on this date in 1585 on Roanoke Island in what is now Dare County, North Carolina. It was a late 16th century attempt by Sir Walter Raleigh, under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth I, to establish a permanent English settlement in North America. The colonists disappeared during the Anglo-Spanish War, three years after the last shipment of supplies from England. Their disappearance gave rise to the nickname “The Lost Colony” especially because to this day no one knows what happened to the colonists because there is almost no evidence, archeological or otherwise, to tell the story.  There’s plenty of speculation, though. People like a good mystery.

On March 25, 1584, Queen Elizabeth I granted Raleigh a charter for the colonization of a part of North America. This charter specified that Raleigh needed to establish a colony in North America, or lose his right to colonization. Elizabeth and Raleigh intended the venture to enrich them; the queen’s charter said that Raleigh was supposed to “discover, search, find out, and view such remote heathen and barbarous Lands, Countries, and territories … to have, hold, occupy, and enjoy.” Here “enjoy” means “rob.” The queen’s charter also said that Raleigh was supposed to establish a base from which to send privateers on raids against the treasure fleets of Spain. The purpose of these raids was to send a message to Spain that England was ready for war (given that Felipe II (ex-king of England harbored desires of conquering the country and being crowned king again). The original charter basically told Raleigh to establish a military base to counteract the activities of the Spanish. Raleigh himself never visited North America, although he led expeditions in 1595 and 1617 to South America’s Orinoco River basin in search of the legendary golden city of El Dorado.

On April 27, 1584, Raleigh dispatched an expedition led by Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe to explore the eastern coast of North America. They arrived on Roanoke Island on July 4 and soon established relations with the local Secotans and Croatoans. Barlowe returned to England with two Croatoans named Manteo and Wanchese, who were able to describe the politics and geography of the area to Raleigh. Based on the information given, Raleigh organized a second expedition, to be led by Sir Richard Grenville.

Grenville’s fleet left Plymouth on April 9, 1585, with five main ships: Tiger (Grenville’s), Roebuck, Red Lion, Elizabeth, and Dorothy. A severe storm off the coast of Portugal separated Tiger from the rest of the fleet. The captains had a contingency plan if they were separated, which was to meet up again in Puerto Rico, and Tiger arrived in the “Baye of Muskito” (Guayanilla Bay) on May 11. While waiting for the other ships, Grenville established relations with the resident Spanish while simultaneously engaging in some privateering against them. He also built a fort. Elizabeth arrived soon after the fort’s construction. Grenville eventually tired of waiting for the remaining ships and departed on June 7. The fort was abandoned, and its location remains unknown.

Tiger sailed through Ocracoke Inlet on June 26, but it struck a shoal, ruining most of the food supplies. The expedition succeeded in repairing the ship and, in early July, reunited with Roebuck and Dorothy, which had arrived in the Outer Banks with Red Lion some weeks previously. Red Lion had dropped off its passengers and left for Newfoundland for privateering.

During the initial exploration of the mainland coast and the indigenous settlements, the Europeans blamed the Indians of the village of Aquascogoc of stealing a silver cup. As retaliation, the settlers sacked and burned the village. English writer and courtier Richard Hakluyt’s contemporaneous reports also describe this incident. (Hakluyt’s reports of the first voyage to Roanoke were compiled from accounts by various financial backers, including Sir Walter Raleigh. Hakluyt himself never traveled to the New World.) Despite this incident and a lack of food, Grenville decided to leave Ralph Lane and 107 men to establish a colony at the north end of Roanoke Island, promising to return in April 1586 with more men and fresh supplies. The group disembarked on August 17, 1585, and built a small fort on the island. There are no surviving renderings of the Roanoke fort, but it was likely similar in structure to the one in Guayanilla Bay.

As April 1586 passed, there was no sign of Grenville’s relief fleet. Meanwhile, in June, bad blood resulted from the destruction of the village, and this spurred an attack on the fort by the local Indians, which the colonists were able to repel. Soon after the attack, Sir Francis Drake, on his way home from a successful raid in the Caribbean, stopped at the colony and offered to take the colonists back to England. Several accepted, including metallurgist Joachim Gans. On this return voyage, the Roanoke colonists introduced tobacco, maize, and potatoes to England. The relief fleet arrived shortly after Drake’s departure with the colonists. Finding the colony abandoned, Grenville returned to England with the bulk of his force, leaving behind a small detachment of fifteen men both to maintain an English presence and to protect Raleigh’s claim to Roanoke Island.

In 1587, Raleigh dispatched a new group of 115 colonists to establish a colony on Chesapeake Bay. They were led by John White, an artist and friend of Raleigh who had accompanied the previous expedition to Roanoke, and was appointed governor of the 1587 colony. White and Raleigh named 12 assistants to aid in the settlement. They were ordered to stop at Roanoke to pick up the small contingent left there by Grenville the previous year, but when they arrived on July 22, 1587, they found nothing except a skeleton that may have been the remains of one of the English garrison. When they could find no one, the master pilot Simon Fernandez refused to let the colonists return to the ships, insisting that they establish the new colony on Roanoke.

White re-established relations with the Croatoan and other local indigenous groups, but those with whom Lane had fought previously refused to meet with him. Shortly thereafter, colonist George Howe was killed by an Indian while searching alone for crabs in Albemarle Sound. The colonists persuaded Governor White to return to England to explain the colony’s desperate situation and ask for help. Left behind were about 115 colonists – the remaining men and women who had made the Atlantic crossing plus White’s newly born granddaughter Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the Americas. White sailed for England in late 1587, although crossing the Atlantic at that time of year was a considerable risk. Plans for a relief fleet were delayed first by the captain’s refusal to return during the winter, and then the attack on England of the Spanish Armada and the subsequent Anglo-Spanish War. Every able English ship joined the fight, leaving White without a means to return to Roanoke at the time. In the spring of 1588, White managed to acquire two small vessels and sailed for Roanoke; however, his attempt to return was thwarted when the captains of the ships attempted to capture several Spanish ships on the outward-bound voyage (in order to improve their profits). They themselves were captured and their cargo seized. With nothing left to deliver to the colonists, the ships returned to England.

Because of the continuing war with Spain, White was unable to mount another resupply attempt for an additional three years. He finally gained passage on a privateering expedition organized by John Watts and Walter Raleigh. They agreed to stop off at Roanoke on the way back after raiding the Spanish in the Caribbean. White landed on August 18, 1590, on his granddaughter’s third birthday, but found the settlement deserted. His men could not find any trace of the 90 men, 17 women, and 11 children, nor was there any sign of a struggle or battle.

The only clue was the word “CROATOAN” carved into a post of the fence around the village, and the letters C-R-O carved into a nearby tree. All the houses and fortifications had been dismantled, which meant that their departure had not been hurried. Before he had left the colony, White instructed the colonists that, if anything happened to them, they should carve a Maltese cross on a tree nearby, indicating that their absence had been forced. There was no cross, and White took this to mean that they had moved to Croatoan Island (now known as Hatteras Island), but he was unable to conduct a search. A massive storm was forming and his men refused to go any farther; the next day, they left.

Some attempts in later years were made by both the English and Spanish to determine what had happened to the colony but for one reason or another they were unsuccessful, so the affair remains a mystery to this day. My best (uninformed) guess is that the colonists were driven to desperate measures because of lack of supplies from England combined with their inability to raise European crops and animals in the New World and so threw their lot in with the Indians and assimilated. There has to come a tipping point at some stage when you begin to feel abandoned and, after looking out to sea day after day, give up hope of ever finding relief and, therefore, chart a new course. What little evidence there is points against a raid or massacre.

I know that part of North Carolina, known as the Outer Banks, very well because I lived in the region for a year doing research on fishing communities for my doctoral dissertation. The coastal sections of what are now Virginia (named for Elizabeth, the virgin queen), and the Carolinas (named for Charles I), became prosperous and vital colonies in Stuart times. By the later part of the 20th century when I lived there they catered mostly to the tourist industry, but little shreds of their English colonial history survived. Much of the cooking in the area is standard rural Southern, but some conventional English dishes showed up once in a while.  My landlady, for example, used to make a meat stew with flour and suet dumplings once in a while that was very similar to one my mother used to make. Normally she made corn dumplings, cooked with collards, but sometimes flour and suet called to her. This is not to suggest that the two women had some long lost ancestor from hundreds of years ago, of course, but merely to hint that there are recognizable strands of English culture in Tidewater North Carolina that you don’t find elsewhere in the South.

Hotel Roanoke spoonbread is a cross between cornbread and a soufflé that was reputedly first created on Roanoke but is now popular throughout the Tidewater.

Hotel Roanoke Spoonbread

Ingredients

1 ½ cups water
¼ cup butter, softened
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
5 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Combine the water, butter, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Whisk in the cornmeal and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly until thickened. Remove from the heat.

Add the baking powder, eggs, and milk to the mixture and stir to mix and form a batter.

Pour the batter into a greased cast-iron skillet. Bake for 50 minutes and test for doneness. A skewer pushed into the center should come out clean.

Serve immediately.

Aug 182016
 

vd2

Today is the birthday (1587) of Virginia Dare the first person of English descent born in the British Colonies in the New World. She was born to English parents Ananias Dare and Eleanor White (also spelled Eleanora, Ellinor or Elyonor) and named after the Virginia Colony. What became of Virginia and the other colonists remains a mystery. The fact of her birth is known because John White, Virginia’s grandfather and the governor of the colony, returned to England in 1587 to seek fresh supplies. When White eventually returned three years later, the colonists were gone.

vd4

During the past 400 years, Virginia Dare has become a figure in U.S. folklore, symbolizing different things to different groups of people. She has been featured as a main character in books, poems, songs, comic books, television programs, and films. Her name has been used to sell different types of goods, from vanilla products to wine and spirits. Many places in North Carolina and elsewhere in the Southern United States have been named in her honor. All of this is idle nonsense, of course. Virginia more than likely died as an infant.

vd5

Virginia Dare was born in the Roanoke Colony in what is now North Carolina: “Elenora, daughter to the governor of the city and wife to Ananias Dare, one of the assistants, was delivered of a daughter in Roanoke.” Little is known of the lives of either of her parents. Her mother Eleanor was born in London around 1563, and was married to Ananias Dare (born c. 1560), a London tiler and bricklayer, at St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street in the City of London. Virginia Dare was one of two infants born to the colonists in 1587 and the only female child born to the settlers.

Nothing else is known of Virginia Dare’s presumably short life, as the Roanoke Colony did not endure. Virginia’s grandfather John White sailed for England for fresh supplies at the end of 1587, having established his colony. He was unable to return to Roanoke until August 18, 1590 due to England’s war with Spain and the pressing need for ships to defend against the Spanish Armada—by which time he found that the settlement had been long deserted. The buildings had collapsed and “the houses [were] taken down”.White was unable to find any trace of his daughter or granddaughter, or indeed any of the 80 men, 17 women, and 11 children who made up the Lost Colony.

vd3

Nothing is known for certain of the fate of Virginia Dare or her fellow colonists. Governor White found no sign of a struggle or battle. The only clue to the colonists’ fate was the word “Croatoan” carved into a post of the fort, and the letters “Cro” carved into a nearby tree. All the houses and fortifications had been dismantled, suggesting that their departure had not been hurried. Before he had left the colony, White had instructed them that, if anything happened to them, they should carve a Maltese cross on a tree nearby, indicating that their disappearance had been forced. There was no cross, and White took this to mean that they had moved to Croatoan Island (now known as Hatteras Island), but he was unable to conduct a search.

There are a number of speculations regarding the fate of the colonists, the most widely accepted one being that they sought shelter with local Indians, and either intermarried with the natives or were killed. In 1607, John Smith and other members of the successful Jamestown Colony sought information about the fate of the Roanoke colonists. One report indicated that the survivors had taken refuge with friendly Chesapeake Indians, but Chief Powhatan claimed that his group had attacked and killed most of the colonists. Powhatan showed Smith certain artifacts that he said had belonged to the colonists, including a musket barrel and a brass mortar and pestle. However, no physical evidence exists to support this claim. The Jamestown Colony received reports of some survivors of the Lost Colony and sent out search parties, but none was successful. Eventually they concluded that they were all dead.

William Strachey, a secretary of the Jamestown Colony, wrote in The History of Travel into Virginia Britannia in 1612 that there were reportedly two-storey houses with stone walls at the native settlements of Peccarecanick and Ochanahoen which would suggest that Indians learned how to build them from the Roanoke settlers, since this type of building was not known to Indians of the region. There were also reported sightings of European captives at various Indian settlements during the same time period. Strachey also wrote that four English men, two boys, and one maid had been sighted at the Eno settlement of Ritanoc, under the protection of a chief called Eyanoco. The captives were being forced to beat copper. The captives, he reported, had escaped the attack on the other colonists and fled up the Chaonoke river, the present-day Chowan River in Bertie County, North Carolina.

vd1

It’s purely conjecture on my part but I would assume that lack of food was a critical issue for the colonists. It was in Massachusetts. It’s hard now to put ourselves in the shoes of 16th century English colonists, but we have to remember that for them colonization in new territory was a completely new endeavor in all kinds of ways – not least being the production of crops in a strange land. They obviously brought cultigens such as wheat and barley with them, but lacked the skills to grow them successfully in the New World, and it would have taken them time to adapt to local ways. Besides, most of the local Indian groups were foragers and not farmers. Good Christian (i.e. “civilized”)men and women from England were not likely to take kindly to having to adapt to hunting and gathering to stay alive – and wouldn’t be any good at it anyway. To be successful at foraging you have to have a vast store of knowledge of local plants and animals. Fishing would be all right, though. Some of them must have done that in England.

Coastal North Carolina is teaming with fishing opportunities in the ocean, in the brackish sounds, and in rivers.   I lived on the coast of North Carolina, quite near where the Lost Colony was, for a year and eventually published a book about the people. I did go fishing a great deal both with commercial boats and also for fun with the locals. Catching mullet and roasting it over a driftwood fire deep in the swamps is a fond memory.

vd9

Fish muddle is the generic name in North Carolina for a stew made from catch of the day with vegetables served over grits (or rice). You can think of this recipe as a suggestion rather than dogma. People throw in what they want and the fish or shellfish used vary with the seasons. The point is that it must be very fresh. What makes the stew unusual is the use of eggs, which can be cracked into the soup as it boils and poached, swirled in like an egg-drop soup, or boiled separately, peeled, and then chopped and added at the end.

Fish Muddle

Ingredients

1½ lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1½ lb firm fish fillets, cut into chunks
6 cups fish stock
8 oz bacon, chopped (or salt pork)
1 cup chopped celery
1½ cups chopped carrots
3 cups chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
4 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
2 (28-oz) cans crushed tomatoes
1 lb new potatoes, peeled and quartered
salt and pepper
hot pepper sauce
6 cups freshly cooked grits (or rice)
4 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
fresh parsley, chopped

saltines

Instructions

Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until it is crisp and rendered. If you are using salt pork, render it and brown it thoroughly. Drain the bacon or pork pieces and set aside leaving the fat in the skillet.

Stir in the celery, carrots, onions. Sauté until the vegetables are softened but not browned.

Transfer to a stock pot and add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme and tomatoes and bring to a simmer. You can break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon if you want during the cooking process. Cook for about 15 minutes.

Add the stock, potatoes, and salt to taste. Stir and simmer until the potatoes are soft but not fully cooked.

Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Season with freshly ground black pepper and hot sauce to taste.

Gently stir the fish and shrimp into the stew. Cover the pot, and simmer gently until the fish and shrimp are just cooked. This is where experience comes in. I find that 5 minutes is usually enough. The shrimp can easily get tough.

Spoon the grits (or rice) into serving bowls. Ladle the stew over the grits and garnish with the eggs, bacon, and parsley.

Serve hot with saltines. Southerners like to crumble them on top.

Serves 6

This is a main meal, but you can omit the grits and increase the amount of stock to serve it as a soup.