Frank Treat Fulcher
Ocracoke Island Native, Sailor, Carver, and Preacher
Frank Treat Fulcher(1878-1971) was one of Ocracoke’s many colorful characters. He went to sea in 1888 (do the math…10 yrs old) to become a quartermaster (second in command) by age 18. In his 20’s he settled down and got married. In his 30’s he became a Methodist minister and worked in various parts of Eastern NC. Carving was a hobby he carried with him throughout most of his life. Characters and ships were his specialties as opposed to more traditional decoy and duck carvings favored by his peers. Copy below is taken from Frank’s autobiography in 1965 via the Village Craftsmen.
The son of WILLIAM HENRY and MARY GASKINS FULCHER. Born January 25, 1878, on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.
My father was a Coast Guard man and my mother was a daughter of a sea captain- JOHN D. GASKINS, so you see it was perfectly natural that Frank Treat should love the “sea”. At ten years of age my mother let me sail with a friend of hers, a Mrs. Rose, who was Captain and cook, her husband was mate, of the schooner EMILINE and I was seaman 3rd-class. We sailed to the various ports of Eastern Carolina and by that time I was seaman 1st-class, or what they would call A.B. (able bodied seaman). Eight dollars per month was my wage and the skipper thought me to be a bargain.
Old man Rose, the mate, fell overboard a time or two and I rescued him each time, so you can see just how my reputation grew. The skipper, Mrs. Rose, taught me the points on the compass, then 32 points, the equal division. I already knew the time by the clock. I just can’t remember when I learned that, Roman numerals and all. And then I shipped as cook on the schooner BESSIE with Captain Till Williams.
We took passengers now and then and on this particular occasion we had two preachers that I had to fix breakfast for. If I broke the yolks of the eggs I knew what I would get from the Captain, who did not “cuss”, but would do worse. So I had the hot grease in the fry pan and was holding the egg down, too, and the old ship rolled and the hot grease hit my fingers and man! Did I cuss a blue streak. I learned that from old man Rose, the mate of the EMILINE. One of the preachers could not stand that “lingo” so he set in on me. He said: “Boy, who brought you up?” And I thought of another boy that I had heard of, and said: “Nobody brought me up; I come up by myself and brought a cow and a calf along with me when I come.”
The other preacher said, “Let that boy alone. He is doing the best he can.” By this time we were out where the sea was rough and the preacher who had jumped on me got sea sick, and then I had to clean the eggs he had had for breakfast from the cabin floor. Then the preacher said: “Boy, forgive me, I’ll never call you down again.”
Frank Treat is now eleven years old
He joined up with a fisherman, Mark Gaskins, and received one-third of the catch. When the run of mullets was good, he would make more than when he was a sailor or cook. Now Captain Mark was a very religious man. He had been blown off across the Gulf Stream in an old schooner loaded with lumber. No one on board knew navigation, and he was the only one who could steer the ship so that the water did not board her amidship. He was at the wheel for forty-eight hours without relief. The angels were flying around his head and he promised the Good Lord if He would save him from the angry sea, that he would be a better man and always serve Him. Now that is the way that Mark got religion. So he was a pious man for a long time, but at last he fell from grace, and went back to a world of “sin”. I just might have been the cause of his fall, I do not know. But he sure could cuss. He could out-cuss anyone that I had ever been around.
There were three boats in our fleet. A Captain J.W. O’Neal and Captain William A. Jackson, so there were two other boys besides me, and after fishing all night and not catching anything we boys decided to go after a loon which was feeding on a sand bar which was not far from the camp. We caught the loon and brought it ashore, put it down, and the old loon whipped the three of us, fair play. It was then we decided to take the loon to the camp and put in on Captain Mark. We reached the Camp and found Captain Mark asleep so we just turned the loon loose and took to the marsh. Now you talk about a time! I have never seen anything in print like that. That “old loon” was not a match for Captain Mark, so the old loon got cussed out and smothered with a bed quilt.
Frank Treat Goes to Sea
I had oystered in a boat that I rented from my uncle, as my own captain, and would make four or five dollars a day after paying a boy to cull for me; but the greatest time in my life was when Captain Dan Tolson came to my Mother to get her to let me go to sea with him. The schooner was the ROBERT F. BRATTON, of Cambridge, Maryland. She was a beautiful ship and I was the cook. My first trip to sea! What a glorious time. We sailed through Core Sound to the Straights, where the mate came on board and he had the same name as my Father, except the Henry.
William Fulcher – Mate
Frank Treat Fulcher – Cook
Before the Captain and Mate went ashore they put a negro sailor scraping the main topmast. He was hoisted aloft, and was scraping away when a fish hawk lit on the truck just above the negro’s head. I had already learned where the captain kept his shotgun, so I made a dash for it. I stood in the companion way and let her go at the fish hawk, which fell on the deck and flopped around and spread blood all over the deck. Well, the Negro was scared when I pulled the trigger of that gun, but not as scared as I was when the Captain came on board and found his beautiful deck spattered with blood. I got cussed out that time for sure, and I spent the rest of the day cleaning up the deck. We were anchored in “Poor Man’s Hole” in Charleston, South Carolina, harbor for two months and never got a load of anything. Then we got a charter to take a load of “Phosphate Rock” to Newbern, North Carolina, and the center board well had dried out and it leaked so that our ship began to sink. We had to get caulkers and shoveled the rock out in the wing and caulked the well.
Bad luck followed this poor man (Captain Dan) and I was sorry for him. We reached Ocracoke without incident, and anchored off the Bar until morning, and when we threw the anchor up, half of it was gone. That meant he must buy a new anchor, and when we reached Newbern, we had to dig the cargo out with pick axes. What a time that was! Frank Treat is now twelve years old and is a salty old seaman. While in Charleston, South Carolina, I met a Captain John Day in a fine little schooner called CARRIE FARSON. He tried to get me away from Captain Dan, but of course he must take me back to my mother, as he had promised to do.
That spring, Captain Day came to Ocracoke, so my mother let me sail with him, and this time I received a man’s wages. The first time Captain Day went around Cape Hatteras, I was with him, and we had a fine time together. This man was different from Captain Dan. Everything he touched turned to money. In other words, he was a success all around. I was with him quite awhile; however, I left him that winter to go to school. My mother wanted me to go to the Marshallberg Academy, where two or three boys were studiously engaged in study of the ministry. I said to her, “That is where they make preachers, and I don’t think I’ll go.”
Some of Frank Treat Fulcher’s carvings featured below, we have these on display in the Museum
So I was off to sea again.
I had a real desire to get off the land, so I shipped in a schooner UNITY R. DYER, a two topmaster. She was a fine old vessel with a finer skipper, Captain John Beverage. I sailed with this captain in another ship, as you will see later, for altogether nearly two years.
We were in several storms. Once we were blown off the coast in a hurricane. It took us fourteen days to sail back. We lost our deck load and we came near sinking from open seams in the deck. That was really the worst time I had ever seen.
Here is another storm. Five sails went out of Ocracoke on October 2nd, 1893, and after hanging around south of Cape Hatteras for two days, we finally made it around the Diamond Shoal. Then it came down on us from east northeast. Well, only one of the fleet reached Cape Henry. That was the LIZZIE S. JAMES. The GERTRUDE BROWNING went back around Hatteras, and the EMMA J. WARRINGTON, and our schooner, the C.C. DAVIDSON, a beautiful three-master of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, George Howard Jr., was the captain, and the schooner APPLEGARTH of Baltimore, Maryland, all went on the beach. Our ship the DAVIDSON went ashore about three miles south of Cape Henry and was a total loss. I was pulled ashore through the breakers on a line. I had been wishing for something like this to happen, so my wish was really granted.
Then with Captain John Beverage again in a larger three-mast schooner, the GEORGE A. HOWE of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was with my good skipper for several months. Finally this fine vessel was hit by a whirlwind and capsized off the New Jersey coast and was a total loss. I was not there!! I escaped several shipwrecks. The IZAAK WALTON fifteen days; HETTIE J. DORMAN thirty days; HENRY NORWELL about three months. So you see that the Good “Lord had his eye upon me” through the prayers of my good mother. Now Ocracoke was too small for me so I took passage in a schooner to New York and sailed out of that port.
I shipped in a Blue Nose downeaster for Rockland, Maine. This I kept up for about two years, and then I joined up in Rockland, Maine, in a New York Barkentine HENRY NORWELL. This was the hardest ship of all. The Captain was the toughest and the most ungodly man I had ever seen. We sailed from Rockland, Maine, to Brunswick, Georgia, and after twenty-one days we put into that port. Now I fared much better than the rest of the crew, because I was a better wheel man and I could steer the ship better, by the wind. I had the advantage because I had been brought up steering a boat. We could not endure this hardship any longer, so we all jumped ship, and this is where I signed up as 2nd mate in the Russian ship, PAULINE bound for Hamburg, Germany. I helped shanghai the crew and when they discovered where they were, there was trouble in the air, but by this time I had become quite a man, so I talked them out of mutiny. Fifty-seven days crossing the Atlantic.
So a new life begins
So my new life begins, as a “pilot” around Ocracoke Inlet, Diamond Shoals, Pamlico Sound and its tributaries. I became an expert in the oyster and fishing business and made a fairly good living. I was Assistant Agent for the NSRR Co. and O.D. Steamship Company at Ocracoke, which was a flourishing summer resort with a hotel of 125 rooms. I quit the agency to run a ferry form the terminal – two miles out in the Pamlico Sound – to their hotel “Ponder” run by George Credles of Hyde County. A very good thing until a hurricane in August 1899, known as the “August Storm” swept the whole building away.
Several years more of progging and now at about thirty-two years old I find myself in the service of the Lord. After this wonderful change in my life, I became Superintendent of the Sunday School, Steward, and local preacher of M.E. Church, South, Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, and in 1908 was given a charge by Bishop A. W. Wilson as pastor of the Pamlico Charge, which paid $500.00 a year.
I went on to Goldsboro, North Carolina, to Carteret Circuit and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Then the First World War broke out, and I volunteered for the overseas submarine service. I took a course in navigation at the University of Pennsylvania, but Kaiser Bill perhaps heard about me getting ready to go and so he quit. So I went into the ministry again. Now while in the North I was affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church. I had always been a Southern Methodist. I had two offers to take work in the South- one by Superintendent Parsons, Methodist Episcopal Church. The other by Presiding Elder Shanburger. I still did not ask what I was to get. Well, I went with Superintendent Parsons of the Methodist Episcopal Church on a $600.00 salary. This took Parmalee, North Carolina, from there to about fifty miles above Winston Salem, North Carolina. At a point called St. Paul’s Church.
My wife did not like either place, because she was Southern Methodist, tooth and toenail. So when our first Quarterly Conference was held, she would have no part of it. The weather was severe, it was below zero. You did not have to use a palm leaf fan at that meeting. My wife fixed dinner – kidney beans and turnover cake cornbread – and placed it on the table. We had no stairway to the parsonage, so she used a ladder, took the children and went up to the loft bed. When our meeting was over, of course, I invited the District Superintendent over. Now, was I embarrassed – no fire and everything frozen. Oh! Oh! What a time I had with the ‘old devil’ there.
A few days passed and I saw an ad in The Virginia Methodist Advocate: “A preacher wanted in Virginia”. That looked good to me. I learned that three of us answered that ad; but I had the good fortune to get the appointment. So that is how and why I am in the Virginia Conference. I was received very graciously by Dr. Phifer, Presiding Elder of the Portsmouth-Newport News District. The place was Whaleyville, Virginia. A lovely place indeed. I was to receive $1450.00 per year. That was quite a hoist – $850.00.
So, I left the Statesville District, and Dr. J.M. Walls, District Superintendent. But before I left, I must secure a release from Dr. Walls. Well, he thought of that zero day, the turnover cornbread, kidney beans and yaupon tea. And he said, “Fulcher, old boy, I’m sorry for you. I wish you could stay with me, but under such humiliating circumstances, I’ll just have to let you go.” So he gave me one of the greatest “To Whom it May Concern” letters that I ever had, and when Dr. Phifer saw that release, Man! Oh! Man! He too gave a welcome that has brought me through all of these years with the Great Virginia Conference, and it all stemmed from kidney beans and turnover cornbread. I left Whaleyville for Cottage Place Church, Portsmouth, Virginia. I’m the first man to stay there four years. I served four years, and then to the Eastern Shore Pocomoke charge for seven years. This is the place where I learned that they did not want a preacher in the first place, so they kept me on. I was there through the depression of 1929-36. My experience as a waterman served me well at this point. I could fish and oyster and boat along with the rest of them (natives.)
From there I went to Burkville, Virginia. It was there that I lost my first wife. So I shopped around until I found just the one who could help both the people and me. She was a church woman, a preacher and singer. I wanted to do all I could for the people whom I served. So here they had two preachers for one salary. And now, with “life’s lengthening shadows” at the age of eighty-seven years, I look back upon my past and can see more clearly how much God had blessed me, through all of these years. I passed my examinations with eleven “Trinity College” boys and then I graduated from the “Candler School of Theology”, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. W. J. Young was the “Dean”. Both of my two ordinations, Deacon and Elder, by BISHOP COLLINS DENNY. The first annual Conference which I attended was held in Norfolk, Virginia. I was given a room at the Lorraine Hotel and $12.50 to buy eats. Mr. Southgate handed to me a $1000 paid-up Life Insurance policy.
I had just begun to realize, “Give and it shall be given unto you” again an hundred fold perhaps. I reared a family of four children, put them through school as far as they would go, and as you have seen above, I went to school myself.
My greatest joy is the thought of being the pastor of Dr. A. Purnell Bailey (who is now our District Superintendent of the Richmond District) for seven years of his young life, and perhaps our lives touched each other for that period of time through the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
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