Tales of Knotts Island

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Be aware that the information in these tales is dated and, as expected, may not be as socially, politically, or racially sensitive as current writings.

by Henry Beasley Ansell

from 1907 to 1912


Not long ago, I wondered back to the Island of my birth, paying as usual my almost yearly visit that for the last half century has been my wont to make; and while there I went around alone to observe the changes of the old landmarks that still remain riveted in my memory. I stopped at the spot where I first saw the light, where the roar of the breaking waves of the old Atlantic had often lulled me to sleep.

Everything had changed; the papaw thicket and the big pines of ancient growth were not there; the old Reform Church gone; Jones's wind-mill, which once ground our corn, and the miller's house--gone; the old family grave-yard near where the old mill once stood, wherein all the writer's ancestors lie buried, is still there, but there are few if any marks to denote the spot where any individual lies. I left this sorrowful scene, went back to my old home and to the Chapel Lot near which once stood Cabe Beasley's store. Andrew Ansell, Sr. lives there now in a structure so modern as to wound my memory. (Since the above was written, Andrew Ansell, Sr., has died and his widow and son Alonzo Ansell and family live there, still in a more modern structure).

I passed on to the stores which are on the old time muster ground; on the opposite side once stood the dwelling John Jay Waterfield, Esqr., and his yard was the election ground. That high old dwelling-house, and the two rows of tall poplars, that once stood on this famous place were gone forever.

On this ground in olden times occurred many amusing incidents on election and muster day,--latter came off from six to a dozen times in each year.

I recollect that on these days, all turned out. There was an old darkie--Peter Jones--with a campfire near the house, over which hung two large pots--one was filled with pig meat, the other with chicken or other fowl, and in which were greasy stew pie. The meats in these two big pots were generally furnished by Mrs. Polly Waterfield, the proprietress of the premises, and said Peter was a sharer in the net proceedes. Besides these two big pots of stew pie the dutch oven pone and pies were in plenty. The aroma fuming from these pots about noon on these public days gave an appetizing sensation to all for rods arounds, especially so to those that were steeped somewhat in grog. About noon said Peter began to dish out from these pots from a fo'pence worth up to a fifty cent plate. White Johnny J. Esgr., took little care of domestic animals, said Polly his wife always had on fat fowl as well as pig for these special occasions.

When the day's proceeding was about at an end and Peter had a dram or two on top of his full stomach, he would sing to the tune of "Old Uncle Ned,"

Lay down de shovel and de hoe, ho,
Take down the pots from the poles,
For ole Peter's work has all been done,
Now home to ole Massy Jones.

I left the muster ground and the greasy pots and went northward where once had stood the haunted wash-oak stumps; time had done its work here as it will to us all. On the high bank by the road side of this famous place of haunts stood a large Lodge-house and a neatly kept grave-yard. Not a more suitable place to deposit the dead can seldom be found. If there is any old timer still left who believes in ghosts, take care, lest you hear the groaning and see the horrid phantoms once so prevalent here. The writer would like to be buried on this bank.

Whether you are superstituious or not, when passing this place in the dead of night a piteous and sorrowful melancholy is apt to seize upon you.

I forgot to mention in the proper place, when coming from the aforesaid family grave-yard, the haunted bear-tree stump where one stormy evening where Uncle Macle Mac was challenged by a fodder stack planting itself squarely in the road in his front and kept ahead of him till he took fright and left. This haunted place is on the public road near opposite the house of the present Cabe Ansell, which is off from the road. Other sights were seen here, it was close where Uncle Mac lived.

From the wash-oak stumps, the writer passed half-mile or more farther north, to the ground where the old school house once stood. There was no school house now but in its place fruit trees grew. The Southey Waterfield house was gone and the school-children's play-ground and its bordering woods are a cultivated farm.

Here is the place where many school rules were broken--and,

Where once I joined my school comrades,
In happy boyish games.
But no more can we ever play,
Those stirring games again;
Hark! do I not now, once more hear,
Vivacious Dick in glee?
Now I call and I listen--but
No answer comes to me.

When thus in melancholy mood,
I bid this place adieu,
The game-ground of this old school house,
To get there once I flew;
I found no one there to greet me,
For none were left of those,
Who played with us upon that spot,
Near eighty years ago.

This ground is now a cultured farm,
Where Dick and we once played,
No sporting now as we did then,
No spirits half so gay.
Depression now it seizes me,
A hush surrounds my soul,
When thinking of those old school days,
Near Eighty years ago.

We ne'er can play the same old games;
Nor new ones in their place,
But two are left--both old and gray,
The rest are in their graves.
The old school-house and squeaking door,
The chimney's sissing roar,
Are gone with Briggs' tinkling bell,
These many years ago.

The Island bay still glistens east,
As once, in swinging seen;
When hoisted beside our sweethearts,
In the long grape-vine swing;
There's no pine limbs now at this place
To tie the wing as once,
When Dick and I we swung the beau
About Eighty years ago.

I hear with sorrow Dick is laid
In a cemetery spot,
Into the city of New York,
In which he cast his lot,
This leaves only me and Sally,
Of Brigg's famous school,
He taught upon Knotts Island,
Near Eighty years ago.

Note: Since the above was written, I hear Sally is also dead; it leaves only my lonesome self.

The following lines just expresses the writer's sentiments towards his old friends of Knott's Island, and for them he thanks the author whoever he may be:

There are no friends like old friends
And none so good and true;
We greet them when we meet them
As roses greet the dew;
No other friends are dearer,
Though of kindred mold;
And while we prize the new ones,
We treasure more the old.

There are no friends like old friends,
Where'er we dwell or roam;
In lands beyond the ocean,
Or near the bounds of home;
And when they smile to gladden,
Or sometimes frown to guide,
We fondly wish those old friends
Were always by our side.

There are no friends like old friends,
To help us with the load
That all must bear who journey
O'er life's uneven road;
And when unconquered sorrows
The weary hours invest,
The kindly words of old friends
Are always found the best.

There are no friends like old friends,
To calm our frequent fears,
When shadows fall and deepen
Through life's declining years;
And when our faltering footsteps,
Approach the Great Divide
We'll long to meet the old friends
Who wait on the other side.


Now as I leave the scenes of childhood and come to the end of my remembrances of Knott's Island, my mind is filled with both cheer and melancholy, as if drawing near the end of a difficult yet pleasant journey. In viewing this Island, I see nothing to discourage any of the people that dwell on this small pleasure spot; but, instead, I see abundence of improvement at present and much hope and anticipation for its future welfare.

Should the fish and fowling industries grow less--I hope they may never--let all start the intense farming system, so successfully practiced by the Japanese, and Knott's Island will amply support two to an acre--ten thousand people. Don't let this prediction startle you, such has been done elsewhere. In the future, if conditions demand it, this Island will be made to produce per acre: corn, 75 bushels; wheat, 60; sweetpotatoes, 400, or more; cotton, on high land suitable for this crop, 3 bales; Irish potatoes, 300 bushels and ten tons of pea-hay as a second crop on the same acre. Then, boys, if the fishing and fowling industries do grow less remunerative, you will always find there a bountiful subsistence; and if you have no land, buy five acres from those who have, erect thereon a neat little cottage, take to your bosom the girl of your choice, go to work on the intense farming plan, and within five years you will be living in comfort with a happy family. I say to the young: "Don't leave the Island; you'll miss an earthly Paradise."

I hope there may not be found in these "recollections," anything to mar the good feelings of any one on this Island, for the people there, above all others, have been my friends during my long and wearied life for which my heart beat is gratitude. I have no excuse to offer for the writing of this little volume; written in odd times in my declining days, with no attempt at literary merit or even attractiveness of presentation, it is simply intended to be a plain, quiet talk with my own Island people.

My mind ever leads me to the place where my early life was spent; it ever swings, to and fro, from my own family home to this Island, where all my ancestors for two hundred years back, were bred, born and reared.

As extreme old age grows upon me, I live more and more in the past; in the morning of life everything is expectancy; we look out upon the future; it appears as bright and enchanting as southern, dew-laden fields at early morn in May; it beckons us thither; it leads us we know not where; we follow the enchantment until extreme old age stops us; our warfare in life then closes in upon us; our work is done.


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