Family connections on the Carolina coast

Playl's Ponderings


 Having visited the Old Burying Grounds and Capt. Otway Burns’ grave, in Beaufort, North Carolina (That’s Bo-fort. Bew-ford is in South Carolina), and having eaten at the Sanitary Fish Market, in Morehead City, before Katie Grace’s mom reclaimed her from Nahnee and Papa, we drove the length of Bogue Banks. The island is 20- plus miles from Fort Macon, in Atlantic Beach, to Cameron Langston Bridge, which connects Emerald Isle to the mainland at Cherry Point and Cape Carteret. Along the way, we ate lunch in Salter Path at the Crab seafood and hush puppies we found on the Crystal Coast. We learned that our waitress may have been a distant cousin of Sammie’s, and her daddy and granddaddy had played piano at the Baptist church. Impressive!

After crossing  Bogue Inlet, we turned left, passed through Cherry Point and crossed the White Oak River, which separates Cartaret and Onslow Counties.  In Onslow, we were immediately in Swansboro. Otway Burns was born here. So was Sammie’s grandmother. Swannie Rowe was a descendant, through her mother, of Burns, captain of the Snap Dragon, hero of the War of 1812, North Carolina politician, and champion of the folks in Western North Carolina. He never ventured out into the mountains, but in the North Carolina congress he stood up for the people beyond the Piedmont region. In fact,  Burnsville was named in his honor. There’s a statue of him in the town square.

A few years ago, we met Sammie’s distant cousin, Billy Hiott, who lives in the old Rowe house, in Swansboro, and is co-owner of the Swansboro Mercantile. He was kind enough to let us see the old house where Grandma Swannie grew up. We snapped a picture of him, and some of Sammie’s sisters declared it was Mike Bennett, her,, and their nephew. He wasn’t there, this time, but we purchased an embroidered pillow case that came from the Rowe House - probably crafted by another distant relative.

On the way back to Morehead City, we drove through the tiny community of Broad Creek, where - you guessed it - Broad Creek flows into Bogue Sound. Several of Sammie’s distant cousins still live in that community and work as commercial fishermen.

I remember well my first visit to that area. As a young married couple, we spent the night with Aunt Irene and her daughter, Marietta Willis. Marrietta cooked a seafood feast that far exceeded what we ate at the Crab Shack across the Sound.  I ate so much I made myself sick. It was so good.

Although my wife never lived there, she grew up visiting coastal Carolina with her daddy. For her, going back there is like going home. Her parents are buried in the Carolina Piedmont, just east of the mountains; but Pop Johnnie’s father is buried in Greenville, and the grave with the cannon on it in Beaufort is the one we visit and sing the National Anthem and say the pledge to the American flag - true story.

That area is where her roots are. That’s why it feels like home to her. My roots are in Western Kentucky and, hundreds of years earlier, in Colonial Virginia. Where are your roots? 

How about your spiritual roots? Is there someone, or many “someones,”
 who links you to your connection with our Lord? Of course a connection with Him is much more important than the background of those with whom you relate as your spiritual kin, but those who have been an influence in your Christian life are very important. Take time to thank God for those “cousins” or rather brothers and sisters.

And no matter how far away you roam, remember, there’s no place like Home, where the Father is.          

Steve Playl, columnist, college instructor, retired pastor, and chaplain, may be reached at      


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