March 18, 2012. From Brenda Twiford.
The Virginian-Pilot July 17, 2005 by Jeffrey S. Hampton
SEARCH YIELDS NO SIGNS OF KNOTTS ISLAND SHIPWRECK.
Legends of a Revolutionary War blockade runner and a heroic slave
who stood 7 feet tall lured state divers to search the murky waters
around Knotts Island last week in search of a shipwreck.
Local lore and wooden remains spotted by watermen led state archaeologists to search for the Polly east of Knotts Island and near the Virginia line in a small body of water known as Bullet's Hole.
But the wreckage couldn't be found, said Richard Lawrence, director of the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.
"We can't say whether it's there or not," Lawrence said Friday morning. The team found wooden remains but no evidence of a shipwreck. The plan is to return later with a magnetometer, a device that can penetrate dark waters to detect ship remains sitting on the bottom.
Evidence is strong that the Polly is nearby, he said.
The Polly was built by Caleb White, the great-great-great-grandfather of local waterman Fred Waterfield. Stories passed down from the family say the ship was moored near family property.
As inlets to the ocean closed, the ship became useless, Waterfield said. A hurricane tore the ship from its moorings and capsized it in Bullet's Hole, he said.
"My daddy could take you right to it," he said Friday morning.
On Thursday, Waterfield searched farther south and found larger pieces of wood that could be where the wreck is, he said. But by then the team had moved on to search for another wreck also thought to be near Knotts Island, Lawrence said. The team found no remains of the second wreck either and left Currituck on Friday morning.
An article by Thomas Parramore published in American History Illustrated and a story by Charles Harry Whedbee in "Outer Banks Mysteries and Seaside Stories" tell the story of the most noted voyage of the Polly.
In February 1780, White, his brother-in-law Samuel Jasper, and a 7-foot-tall, 300-pound slave named Currituck Jack sailed from the Currituck Sound into the Atlantic Ocean with cargo for Europe.
The ship was captured by a British ship named the Fame. A part of the Fame's crew planned to sail the Polly to New York to turn her over to British authorities.
White, Jasper and Jack were placed in irons aboard the Polly. During the voyage, Jack convinced the British he would help them for his freedom. Once unshackled, he eventually got the opportunity to free White and Jasper, and the three of them overcame the British crew of five.
The British prisoners were turned over to the American Congress, which lauded Jack for his actions and recommended his owner free him. Jack's owner, Henry White, a cousin of Caleb White, did not free Jack. But later, Caleb White arranged to buy Jack and pledged Jack's freedom in his will. Jack finally was freed in 1792, but only after Caleb White had died and Jack had raised $100 to pay the estate.
Jack was remembered in Currituck as a good sailor. He owned his own vessel and bought the freedom of a slave girl who would become his wife. Records show that Jack owned land in the village of Currituck that he left to his wife and two children when he died in 1803, according to Parramore.
Many ships, some 70 to 80 feet long, sailed the inland waterways on the North Carolina coast when inlets were deep enough to allow passage to the ocean, Lawrence said.
So far, shipwreck searches have found only one blockade runner from the Revolutionary War, he said. The remains of the Sacre Coeur de Jesus are on the bottom of the Edenton Bay, he said. It is likely the ship that brought the cannons to the Edenton waterfront, he said.