by Hortense Poyner Parkerson


Updated January 16, 2012.


Going home to Swan Island from the mainland of Knotts Island after sundown on a cold winter evening, I remember "Papa," my father, pushing the little skiff in which we sat, with a long pole. With each push our little family moved along silently over the sound, almost touching rafts of ducks and geese gliding along as one body, not appearing to notice our little boat. They covered the water like an old patchwork quilt- dark colored blocks of feathered hues sifting through the semi-darkness.

And I remember the sounds. Unique music the ducks and geese made, an euphony of whistling swan notes blending into what "Papa" called "cathedral music." These feathered fluters did sound heavenly.

Yes, and I remember the sounds of sportsmans’ guns as they shot from the many blinds on points of marsh around Swan Island: "pop! pop! pop! ba - room, ba - room! - boom! boom! boom!" rang out when the wind was blowlng chilling air across the marsh and ducks and geese were "flying."

I remember the busy bustling Swan Island Club when hunting season was in full swing. Wealthy sportsmen from Massachusetts arriving and departing. In itself this was a mammoth task in logistics. Some came via Munden Polnt, were met by launch. Some came via Snowden in Currituck County and some were met at the Merchant and Miner's dock in Norfolk. All arrangements were made in advance by letter to my father (I have many of the letters to him in regard to arrivals and departures.

The big clubhouse, I remember; starting at the cupola from which one could see the Atlantic, the sound, the lighthouse, Knotts Island and marshes - to the underground cistern which held rain water. The clubroom stretched across the front of the clubhouse. A big picture window in the center gave a view to the dock, Johnson’s, Nigger Bay and the Currituck Sound. One end of this room was used for dining. A big overstuffed sofa faced the huge fireplace where a Latin phrase was inscribed on a wooden board. The phrase which I don’t recall was to the effect that of all places this was the most pleasant and enjoyable to those who were fortunate enough to come. I remember visits to this room when sportsmen were there and my father was invited for a "toddy" after a successful hunting day.

I remember John, the Negro butler and hls wife Lizzie, the chief cook. John’s pantry had shelves of white ironstone dishes and shining silver. I watched John clean the lamp chimneys of the many kerosene lamps and fill them from a tin oil can and a funnel. I could smell the coffee as he ground it for use. In memory I can see John’s snaggled front tooth as he smiled and ate leftover broiled ducks returned to the kitchen after a sumptuous dinner in the clubroom.

I remember the "duckhouse" filled to its rafters with ducks, geese and swan (before the ban). They were "hung" before being shipped away or eaten in the clubhouse. In one end was a huge wicker basket for feathers when fowl was picked.

The "storeroom" near an outside door close to the guides’ dining room, was stocked before the season with all supplies needed and were ordered from D.P. Pender in Norfolk. A barrel of winesap apples, all manner of canned goods, gourmet and practical. Oranges, nuts, potatoes and more were ready for use. Liquors, soda water etc., were stored in the butler's pantry.

I remember the guides. Letters to my father from the sportsmen stipulated their choices. They had everything in readiness for the arrival of their "man." Shells, decoys, boats, guns, licenses, retrievers and more. Their success depended upon anticipating every eventuality and being prepared for it. Guides also chopped the wood and built the fires in the stoves that warmed each sportsman‘s room in early morning. As I look back through my father's letters I see some favorite guides: Nervie C., Charlie W., Len A., Remus L., Geo. C., Sam W., Lathe W. - I must add that guides were good "shots" and many times saved the sportsman's poor "shot" by supplementing a better one!

And lastly, I remember the tastes. Roasted Canvas Backs, broiled Teal, fried "shore birds" in wine gravy, And baked ham. Ginger bread, fried perch caught on hook and line, cornbread and fresh corn on the cob - fried soft crabs - these tastes I remember. Long ago at Swan Island Club in the Currituck Sound of North Carolina life was "different" unique.

January 16, 2012. From Junior Historian Assoc. The Beacon October 25, 1987.

SLOW TIMES ON SWAN ISLAND. Between 1912 and 1928, Hortense Parkerson and family were the only year-round residents on Swan Island. Parkerson is writing about her days on the island, where self-sufficiency was the key to getting by. Mary Reid Barrow reports in Beach Journal.