Historical articles aboout Ocracoke

The Ocracoke boy who grew up as a girl: ‘Vera’ Charles Williams

 The story below is from the Charlotte News Friday Sept 23, 1921,  page 18.

Boy Likes Girl Life The Best
Young Williams Decides to Go Back
to Ocracoke and Simple Life

Norfolk, Va. Sept 23 (1921) – A strange story of a boy raised to manhood as girl without any one but his mother suspecting his real sex comes from the isolated Island of Ocracoke. 

Charles C. Williams, according to accounts, had found after a brief struggle with the world he would prefer life at home as a girl to the struggle and temptations of the city.

When Williams was born his mother was so disappointed that he was not a girl that she called him “Vera” and dressed him as a girl. “Vera” had light hair, was of fair complexion and as “she” grew up developed into a decidedly good-looking “girl.” For the first twenty-one years of his life Williams lived on his island without ever having crossed the waters to the mainland.

Ocracoke supports about 500 persons, more of whom live all their lives on the island, but it is said none of them except Mrs. Williams knew that “Vera” was a boy. Williams himself was perfectly satisfied with his lot until, when he was twenty-one his mother took him, dressed as a young woman, to the mainland.  There, according to the story told, he bought a magazine and from it and his observations of city folk learned that Ocracoke was after all only a little place.

In the magazine was the advertisement of a mail-order house, and when he got home Williams sent to it for an outfit of man’s clothing.  When it arrived, he cut his hair, took the money he had earned by sewing and rowed to the mainland in a small boat. From here he wrote his mother, telling her was he “tired of being a girl.”  In return, Mrs. Williams told him that his real name was Charles.

Baltimore was selected by Williams as a starting place for his life as a man, but after two months of it he is back to Ocracoke, and glad to be there.  During his absence he worked in a restaurant, and while he was there, he says, he saw enough to make him love Ocracoke more than ever, more than enough to make him return to the island and his skirts.

Girls for companions, sewing and the other domestic virtues for occupations and the name of Vera, all these Charles will accept gladly if he can have with them the simple life of Ocracoke’s fisher folk.

Editor’s note: the above story contains some inaccuracies. See Philip Howard’s story below.

 ‘Vera’ Charles Williams: the real story 

By Philip Howard

No one alive knows the full story of native Ocracoke islander, Charles Irvin Williams, born 1898, the son of Tilmon L. Williams and Elizabeth Scarborough Williams.

From the moment of his birth, Charles’ mother considered him a girl, called him Vera and dressed him in feminine clothes.

For 21 years, Vera pursued conventional female activities, grew long curly tresses, attended school as a girl, and presented herself everywhere as female.

No one suspected that she might actually be a male.

Vera’s neighbors, teachers, and siblings all thought she was a girl. Vera learned to cook and sew at her mother’s side, played house with other young girls, and tended to babies in her teenage years.

She entertained suitors, once nearly accepting an offer of engagement.

In 1919, Vera Williams ordered a suit of clothes from a catalog and adopted a new name, borrowed from the cover of the catalog, Charles Williams.

The next morning, with a few dollars in his pocket, his hair cut short, and attired in his new wardrobe, Charles Williams boarded the daily mail boat bound for the mainland.

So complete was his transformation, that fellow passenger, cousin Stacy Howard, did not recognize him.

Charles then traveled to Baltimore where he found employment in a restaurant. For more than a year, Charlie remained in Baltimore. He rented a room in a boarding house and adapted to city life. Before long he was dating young ladies.

But, like so many young men who left home to work far away, Charlie was homesick for his beloved island and the simple joys of his tiny, isolated community.

Unsure how he would be treated at home, however, he hesitated to return. After careful consideration, he finally decided to travel back to Ocracoke to visit his family.

As it turned out, islanders demonstrated their charitable natures and accepted Charlie for the man he had become.

For the next few decades he worked in various cities along the eastern seaboard, both in restaurants and on the water.

Charlie married and fathered two children, Isabelle and Charles.

Charlie returned to Ocracoke frequently. On several occasions he remained on the island for extended periods. In the late 1930s, he rented a small cottage on Howard Street with his wife and small daughter.

They stayed for the summer, and Charlie worked as a cook at the Pamlico Inn. 

Sometime after WWII, Charlie worked as a crew member on a vessel on its way to Norfolk, Virginia, when a storm overtook them. The vessel broke apart, and Charlie drowned.

Editor’s note: there are no photos available of ‘Vera’ Charles Williams. The preceding was used by permission. The full account can be read at the Ocracoke Island Jounal. Click here.