Portsmouth Homecoming
Pastor Richard Bryant baptizes Luke Anson Gallaher, with parents Rebecca and Aaron, and Luke’s brother, Emmett. Photo: P. Vankevich

By Peter Vankevich

As visitors walked through Portsmouth village, the main attraction of this event that revives this old island village once every two years was two christenings with holy water brought from the Jordan River from the Holy Lands.

The church was filled to capacity April 30 as Pastor Ivey Belch of Ocracoke’s Assembly Church of God baptized Bryson Silas Reitz, born Jan. 9, 2015.  He is a son of Laura and Lee Reitz, who is a descendant of the Portsmouth Island Dixon family dating back to Sylvanus Dixon, who died in 1813. The Reitz family lives in Goldsboro. 

In a second ceremony, Pastor Richard Bryant, of the Ocracoke United Methodist Church baptized Luke Anson Gallaher, born Sept. 11, 2015, to parents Aaron and Rebecca Gallaher of Ocracoke.

These were the first christenings in several years at a Friends of Portsmouth Island Homecoming, which began these events in 1992.

“It’s truly wonderful to be able to perform a baptism in such a historical church,” said Pastor Bryant about the christening.

Welcome homecoming IMG_6899
Portsmouth building welcomes visitors. Photo: P. Vankevich

Ocracoke islander, Chester Lynn, with long family ties to Portsmouth and a founding member of the Friends of Portsmouth, provided the baptismal holy water he procured several years ago on a trip to Israel.

“This homecoming was fun and wonderful with plenty of food,” he said.

This year’s theme was “The Families of Portsmouth,” and coincided with both the 50th Anniversary of Cape Lookout National Seashore and the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service.

A descendants’ tent gave the approximately 450 visitors a chance to look at old photos, scrapbooks, family trees, and chat with the descendants who spoke proudly of their ancestors.

Nine boats were used to shuttle visitors from Ocracoke, and others ventured over in their own boats or drove up the beach from farther south. The weather held to be a nice cool spring day and almost mosquito-free.

Teri Carter, who has attended every homecoming since 1996, was again present with several members of her extended family. They are descendants of several former residents, including Rose Abbott and Henry Pigott (1896-1971), the last male resident of the island, was a second cousin.

Ceremony attendees
More than 400 attendees visit Portsmouth Island April 30.

The post office was reopened, and Melissa Garrish Sharber was on assignment from Ocracoke’s post office. She processed approximately 300 post cards and envelopes with the Portsmouth Island cancellation stamp.

One of the attendees was Kenneth Burke, a retired minister from Washington, D.C., who was honored last year at the spring Friends membership meeting on Ocracoke. 

“I was so pleased to see so many young people today,” he said.

Burke discovered Portsmouth in April of 1957 when he and some school mates from the University of Richmond ventured to Portsmouth on the mail boat

Rosanne Penley, president of Friends of Portsmouth Island. Photo by P. Vankevich
Rosanne Penley, president of Friends of Portsmouth Island. Photo by P. Vankevich

Aleta, and were greeted by villager Tom Bragg. They ended up spending three days there.

He was so captivated by the island and its community that he decided to write his senior thesis titled “The History of Portsmouth, North Carolina From Its Founding in 1753 to Its Evacuation in the Face of Federal Forces in 1861.”

Jim White, editor of “Doctor’s Creek Journal,” the Friends of Portsmouth Island publication, noted how Burke’s thesis is a monumental work about Portsmouth.

No one left hungry as, after the official ceremonies which concluded with the tolling of the church bell, visitors lined up to a huge potluck feast furnished by the many visitors.

For more information on the Friends of Portsmouth Island, including becoming a member click here. They also have a Facebook page.

To read news on Ocracoke, click  here.

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