A Cup of Joe

by opsmuseum

Coffee by the Sea Yesterday I drank coffee…too many cups of coffee. As a result I lay in bed last night with my brain wide awake but my body desperately wanting to get some sleep. Luckily, as my brain buzzed and whirred thinking up lists of things to do the next day, it also clicked through bits of little known island history and came up with a story about coffee or “a cup of Joe,” more specifically. I’m sure you’ve heard that term for coffee before, but have you ever stopped to think about what it means or where the term came from? Why is “Joe” a synonym for coffee? I “Googled” “cup of Joe” recently and was very surprised when one of the first items that showed up was a newsletter written by Ocracoke’s own Philip Howard (full disclosure: he’s my father). Ocracoke’s supposed connection with the term is distant but still interesting. The short version of the story is that a young boy named Josephus Daniels, Jr. lived on Ocracoke for about a year between the spring of 1864 and the winter of 1865. During this time, his father traveled between the Confederate and Union occupied zones to conduct business. Not surprisingly, considering the tensions between the two groups, Mr. Daniels, Sr. (a Union sympathizer) was shot and killed by a Confederate sharpshooter while sailing between Washington, NC and Ocracoke . Shortly after that, his widow moved with her sons, including Josephus Daniels, Jr. to Wilson, NC. As Josephus Jr. grew, he augmented the family income with odd jobs including work at a print shop. This led to a 30 year career in the newspaper business. Eventually he even owned his own newspaper and used it to express his political views. He was a strong supporter of Woodrow Wilson’s presidential candidacy, and that loyalty started him on a new career path. In 1913, despite having very little experience with matters of the US Navy, President Wilson appointed Josephus Daniels, Jr. to the post of Secretary of the Navy. He held the post until 1921 and instituted a number of reforms. One of his (arguably) least popular reforms was to ban all alcoholic beverages from Navy installations and ships. Instead of offering spirits to sailors, they were offered coffee which came to be known as “a cup of Joe” in “honor” of Secretary Josephus Daniels, Jr. Even though today we refer to our coffee affectionately as “a cup of Joe,” I’m guessing the term was originally spat out instead of crooned over the way we do today. So, when you are on the island, visit one of our dedicated coffee shops, grab “a cup of Joe,” and toast the Secretary of the Navy whose young life was molded here on Ocracoke Island!

To read the whole story of Josephus Daniels, Jr., visit the Village Craftsmen newsletter written by Philip Howard: (http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news022112.htm). And, while we would love to be convinced that Josephus Daniels, Jr. was the inspiration for “a cup of Joe,” snopes.com says it isn’t so, though they don’t have a definitive explanation of how the term really came to be. So, until there is a final answer, we can claim it as our own!

Ocracoke Coffee Magic Bean Slushy
Ocracoke Coffee Co. on Back Rd. Magic Bean on School Rd. The Slushy Stand on Hwy 12
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