February 7, 2011.
KNOTT’S ISLAND THEN AND NOW By Pauline Munden
With grateful thanks to Hal Bonney, Jr., Jane M. Brumley for their research
Knott’s Island, a teardrop shaped peninsula two miles in VA and five miles in NC, joined on the west by the Great Marsh which was formerly known as Jones Island and then Mackeys Island. Mackeys Island became the palatial home of Joseph P. Knapp who was a great benefactor of Knott’s Island and after his death, it became a game preserve.
Records show that some of the land on Knott’s Island was purchased from Indians, some by land grants from VA and NC proprietors, some by the "head-rights" system which allowed fifty acres for each paid passage per person from England to VA which fact is recorded in 1662 and 1664 records. There were some who "squatted" on land as desired and others came in to avoid indebtedness as allowed by the state of NC.
It is not known just how this peninsula became known as Knott’s Island. Records show that from 1657 to 1720 the name Knott appears in lower VA records referring to various people by that name including a sea captain who was chased by pirates into this inland sea, through the Currituck Inlet opposite the Island.
For some time, Knott’s Island had been a settlement without a state. There was a period of fifty or more years in which both VA and NC gave land grants and tried to collect taxes. During the period between 1680 and 1688 matters became more acute and people wondered as to the validity of their homesites. Complaints were many and hardships existed because of the forced collections. Citizens appealed for settlement and Charles of England established the top of Currituck Inlet as the beginning of the line. An attempt was made in 1690 and another in 1710 but not until King George II in 1728 appointed William Bird was the line satisfactorily established between VA and NC and that portion affecting Knott’s Island remains as of today.
There is much evidence of Indian life in the area. All varieties of Indian artifacts including arrowheads, axes and grinding stones have found their way into the hands of collectors. Great piles of oyster shells intermingled with the soil land evidence of Indian feasts and gathering. Little is known of their comings or goings, but it is known that for a time they were friendly, but with the grab of more of their land friction developed and in 1711 there was a great massacre in lower VA, known as the Tuscaroro War and this drew Knott’s Island men to a march to meet the foe.
Early settlers worshiped at meetings held in private homes. The old vestry book of the parish of Lynnhaven tells us that the services of the church of England was read in private homes,mentioning that “the Knott’s Island and Blackwater precincts are very remote from Pungo Chapel where services were held once every six weeks and Andrew Peacock of this chapel has for some time past provided benefit and instruction for the benefit of said presints." The first Methodist church was built in 1811. There were two entrances to the church, the one on the left for men and the other on the right for the women. At the front of the church, two squares were reserved, again. The one at the left for the old men and the other to the right for old women. In 1911 a new and beautiful church with a tall steeple was built. This sanctuary stands today and with its intricately patterned ceiling and walls and beautiful stained glass windows it is a Christian landmark. In 1876 a Baptist church was established which is active today. Both churches have full time ministers and educational buildings.
Schools were non-existent in the early days, families bringing live-in teachers to teach theirs and neighboring children in little one-room buildings or in a spare bedroom. Some of us used a big fat bed tick of a massive four poster bed as our desk on which to prop our slates and books. Later local and county taxes were used to build one-room buildings, one for the North-end children and one for the South-end children. By this time the teachers were hired by the county for three months of free school and thereafter those who could pay a small fee could go for a few months more of Pay School. We went through the little Blue-back spelling book and all of the McGuffy readers and geography and physiology books. In 1908 a three room graded school was built and we were taught beyond the seventh grade. Due to political differences the North-end school remained in use for some years more. In 1925 a modern brick building was built and given to the Island people by Joseph P. Knapp. His interest brought a type of education never before available to such an isolated community. Music appreciation, home economics, recreational and competitive games, and a band with all the gorgeous instruments. Health studies and every other type of education that would build better citizens. Capable teachers were chosen from far and near to carry out his ideas, and a home was built for their convenience. This school is now being expanded to take care of a growing population. Our high school students now go by way of the Knott’s Island ferry to high school in the county. But this was not always so for in 1915 and for several years the only high school in the county was at Poplar Branch, some of us boarded in homes there and we had to reach the school by traveling on the old steamers, the Currituck, the Comet and others that plied the inland waterway from Norfolk stopping at Knotts Island, Church’s Island and finally Poplar Branch. Then for a while Creed’s High School in Virginia was nearer and easier to reach, some students boarded in that area and attended that school. In a few years the Marsh Road was improved and the old time Model T Fords could cross to and from. After several years and more road improvements a bus was provided and the students could go and come. New politics again intervened and the students were transferred to Moyock High School, in the county, driving from dawn to dusk. Next the Ferry was built for this transfer of students and this is now the method of transportation.
In the early days the man hunted and fished for the plentiful game that abounded in and around the Island. In the summer there was farming, for the land was rich and productive. Most crops were grown for home use for there was little contact with the outside world. Corn, peas and potatoes were the main crops. The corn was ground in the local windmills, processed into hominy by the women, and fed to the livestock. Fodder was cured and stored for the horses and mules. The hogs were cured for meat, the fish corned, a big iron pot was used to try out the fat for lard and the waste fat was made into soap. Everyone looked forward to the winter Hog killings, when "spares-bones" were shared with the neighbors who helped each other at this time. An event of interest was when a beef was slaughtered and sold or divided among neighbors and how we were thrilled when a pig would be killed and we would have Fresh-meat. This became a special occasion for the Quarterly Meetings when we had dinner on the ground when the churches met together in business and worship.
There is no small plot farming now. Most of the land is cultivated by farmers who own large equipment. No truck farming is done, most crops are corn and stock peas which can be harvested by machinery.
In the middle l800’s the bounty of our wildlife spread far and wide and this brought hunters from the north who established hunting lodges along the inland waters. At this time there was no limit to the kill, and barrels of game were shipped north by steamers and the Railroad at Munden, VA. Hunting from batteries in the deep Sound waters was allowed, again no limit as to the number of ducks or geese taken. Even President Grover Cleveland, an ardent hunter is known to have hunted in the waters off the north end of Knott’s Island in 1894. Many people found employment as guides, guards and lodge keepers during these years. Various hunting clubs still exist, but the men employed are few and the hunting is limited. No one now fishes or hunts for a living, but a few act as guides for sport fishermen and hunting in the few licensed blinds in the island waters.
In the early years the only road we had was through the Great Marsh and this followed a cow path and the men of the Island between the ages of 18 and 50 were required to give one day each month to keeping this road passable. Short lengths of tree limbs called "punchings" were placed crosswise and a ditch was dug on each side of the punchings with now and then a wider place for passing. This became known as the "Corduroy Road" and was in use for many years. Several attempts at building a better road were made through the years and after many frustrations we have the Highway 615 that is direct prom Oceana to the Ferry dock at the south end of Knott’s Island. Since the development of the highway 615 our connections with Virginia are available at any time. Our travel to our county Seat is limited to such times as the ferry has room for us or by way of miles up and through Virginia to Battlefield Blvd, and on South to Currituck or other places in North Carolina. Our population has grown and the jobs available in Norfolk and Virginia Beach draw many of our men and women for employment.
Knott’s Island has no formal government, we do elect a county commissioner and a member of the board of education This time of electing county wide officers brings us to the attention of office seekers, and now and then we are visited by someone who wants our support. This brings to mind the early statement of such a person who tried to assure us that he was not like all others who sought votes saying “Howde-doody-Howde-do- How’s your wife and how are you? Until alter election day - I don’t care how you do.”
Time has shown that politicians after getting their office "do not care how we do" for we continue to be North Carolina’s stepchild.