Portrait of Winnie Blount. Photo courtesy of Ocracoke Preservation Society

By Connie Leinbach

Among the unusual street names on Ocracoke is one named Winnie Blount Road, which is off Cedar Lane alongside the bank.

Across the way is Bryant Lane, off Lighthouse Road, which is named after the Blounts’ children.

Winnie Bragg Blount and her husband Harkus (Hercules) Blount were former slaves who moved to Ocracoke after the Civil War ended in 1865 while other former slaves who had lived and labored on the island fled.

According to Alton Ballance’s 1989 book “Ocracokers,” the 1790 census, which covered Portsmouth and Ocracoke, listed 31 slaves. The 1800 census, which applied only to Ocracoke, listed 16 slaves; the 1810 census, 39 and the 1820 census, 57.

For more than 100 years, members of the Blount family were the only African Americans to live on Ocracoke.

While Aunt Winnie, as she was called by islanders, worked as a domestic, Harkus came from Blount’s Creek in Beaufort County and worked on the island as a carpenter and boat builder.

Of the couple’s 12 children, only two — Annie Laura and Elsie Jane — lived to adulthood.

In the late 1800s, Jane married Leonard Bryant, who was born in Engelhard and was a coworker at the Doxsee Clam factory, which was located near the entrance to the harbor.

They chose to stay on Ocracoke. They had nine children, including Muzel Bryant, known on the island as Muzie, who was born in 1904 and died at the age of 103 in 2008.

Jane and Leonard purchased a large tract of land from Mary Jane Bragg, the daughter of John Bragg, with whom Aunt Winnie appears to have had a connection.  That tract is now honored with their name, Bryant Lane, off Lighthouse Road.

Aunt Winnie and Harkus built a small frame home on their land, just south of where the Island Inn sits today.

Few details about their lives exist and no photographs of Harkus Blount have survived.

According to Mildred Bryant, Muzie’s sister, as related in “Ocracokers,” Winnie, who lived to the age of 105, cured and sold yaupon leaves, which were used to make tea.

Yaupon leaves prepared by Pat Garber are available in the Ocracoke Preservation Society museum shop, which is scheduled to open March 15.

Today, Ocracoke continues to honor the history of this important island family.

While the Blount homestead may be gone, Winnie Blount Road is named in Aunt Winnie’s honor.

The Winnie Blount road sign. Photo courtesy of Ocracoke Preservation Society.
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