Update: Ward Garrish died December 14 at his home on Ocracoke His obituary can be read here.
By Pat Garber
The story of the Lost Colony, which disappeared more than 400 years ago from the Outer Banks, is a mystery that has tantalized historians and lay people ever since.
An outdoor drama, “The Lost Colony,” has been presented every summer in Manteo since 1937 and draws thousands. Numerous books written have been about the missing colonists.
Theories abound as to what happened to them, but so far none has been proven. Common knowledge is that they settled on what is now known as Roanoke Island, but according to the First Colony Foundation, “physical locations of where they lived, worked, worshipped and perhaps died are unknown.”
Ward Garrish, 87, one of Ocracoke Island’s well-respected old-timers, has a theory of his own, based on years of research.
The youngest son of James Garrish and Ruby Austin Garrish and born at home, he grew up at a time when there was no electricity or running water on Ocracoke. His family used oil lanterns for light, ice brought in on boats for refrigeration, had a wood stove for cooking and cisterns to collect water for drinking and cooking.
His father served in the Coast Guard and later owned The Garrish Brothers store which carried “just about everything,” according to Ward–groceries, oil and gas, paint, bolts of cloth for sewing.
Meal favorites were chicken, fish, pineapple cake and sea turtle, which “we had all the time.”
“I weren’t much on the belly, but I liked the meat,” he said. For breakfast they often had menhaden, a bony fish which they dried in the sun for preservation.
One of his favorite memories is of Joffrey Bryant, the “colored” man who worked in the store.
“Joffrey used to take my daddy’s truck and deliver groceries, and he used to carry me with him,” Ward said. “He taught me to drive when I was around 6. I used to sit on top of a Coca-Cola crate with a board on top so I could reach the steering wheel.”
A young teenager when World War II came to Ocracoke, Ward recalls watching the Navy Base being built and watching the survivors of torpedoed ships being brought into the “Creek” (now Silver Lake Harbor.)
One of the survivors was Artis Bryant, Joffrey’s older brother. Ward and some of the other island boys were allowed to help with the Navy horses.
As he grew up, Ward had his own Banker pony which he rode all over the island. At the age of 13, Ward began working for his uncle, Jesse Garrish, at the Community Store.
From 1947 to 1954, he worked at the Fish House off-loading the fish into bins filled with ice. The bins were then loaded onto “buy boats” which delivered them to other towns.
“There were three fish houses on Ocracoke, and 400 boats might come in,” he said about that time.
After working as a crabber in the 1950s, Ward helped Sam Jones build the Castle and Stanley Wahab build the wing additions to the Island Inn.
He then took a job with the NCDOT, keeping up the roads on Ocracoke, which he held for 30 years.
After Ward married Linda Teeter 1986, he became intrigued with the story of the Raleigh Expedition of 1584 and the fate of the Lost Colony.
Always interested in history, he read Arthur Barlow’s 1584 “Report of Raleigh’s First Exploration of the American Coast,” and studied original and current maps of the area and created a map himself.
According to his calculations, Raleigh’s men would have arrived at Ocracoke Island, come through Old Nye Inlet (which no longer exists) and tied up at Woccocon (now Ocracoke Village).
Based on Barlow’s account, upon entering Pamlico Sound, they would have sailed 16 miles to the end of “Sequotan,” then a village on the mainland, and then six more miles.
This would have put them just south of Buxton on Hatteras Island.
It is here, Ward theorizes, that the colonists actually settled. He speculates that they may have disbursed misleading information pointing to what is now known as Roanoke Island in order to deceive the Spanish, with whom the English were at war.
Ward points to other evidence based on Barlow’s references to the Indian kingships of the time. He believes that some of the colonists merged with the Croatan Indians, whose main town would have been nearby, and others filtered to other places.
Ward knows his theory is debatable, but it adds further food for thought to an intriguing mystery that may never be solved.