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Coleraine

Lying in the northeast corner, Colerain was established in 1794. It was named by its founder, John Campbell, for his home in Coleraine, County Londonderry, Ireland. When it was established as a post office in 1818, the final e was dropped. Located one mile from the Chowan River, it has always been a fishing center.

History of Colerain

Bertie County Historical Association - The Chronical.VOL I #2 OCT, 1953 . Used by permission of Harry Thompson

Colerain takes it name from Coleraine, the Irish town which was the home of Colerain’s founder, John Campbell, who settled on the Chowan River and called his home in Bertie “Lazy Hill”.

From the time of his settling in North Carolina, John Campbell took an active part in business and public affairs. From 1754 until 1760 he represented Bertie County in the General Assembly and again served continuously from 1769, until 1775.

Although absent for a period of six years, when the northern counties withdrew from the Assembly because of a dispute over representation, John Campbell was re-elected speaker over Samuel Swann who had been speaker during that time.

He served in four successive provincial congresses--at New Bern in 1774 and 1775, at Hillsborough in 1775 and at Halifax in 1776. Earlier he had served as buyer of supplies for four companies of North Carolina troops sent to New York to fight in the French and Indian War.

He was twice appointed Commissioner of Port Roanoke (at Edenton), 1752 and 1776, was elected judge at Admiralty for Port Roanoke, 1777, and in 1765 had been appointed assistant judge for the Edenton Court.

Colerain was also the home of the Hardy family, which came into the colony prior to 1700. It was from this family that General Douglas MacArthur is descended, through his mother, Mary Pinckney Hardy. She was the daughter of the Methodist minister who left Bertie County and settled in Norfolk, where the old Hardy home in Berkley has just been torn down.

It was Humphrey Hardy’s re-establishment of Colerain as a trading post for the barter of tar, pitch, turpentine, stoves, barrels and other products which gave renewed life to the Colerain settlement after an early fever epidemic had driven away most of its inhabitants. He thus opened the way for the Holleys and Etheridges and others who contributed to the growth and progress of Colerain.

A history of Colerain will be read by Mrs. W E White, who is postmaster at Colerain at The Bertie County Historical Association Meeting. Program chairman is Mrs. L D Perry, Colerain Township Committee Chairman of the Association.
(Thank you to Esther White who did the typing of this for us.)


History of Fishery Industry

by Mrs. W.E. White.
Bertie County 250th Anniversary Edition. Section B, pg 4. September 28, 1972. Used with permission of Harry Thompson

North Carolina since the earliest days of its history has been noted for its excellent fishing. Fish were an important item in the Indians' diet and one can imagine how glad the first white settlers were to have such an abundance of food so readily obtainable. Today, North Carolinians are still fond of fish and fishing and the fishing industry has grown to be important in the state.

The history of fishing in Colerain on the Chowan River goes back to the early 1700's when in 1743 John Campbell, a British Navy Captain, with a desire to try his fortune in the new world, came to Edenton accompanied by relatives and friends. The records say he purchased land in Anson County as well as 600 acres in Chowan County, and 800 acres in Bertie County bordering on the Chowan River.

Campbell chose to settle on the Bertie side of the river and there built his home, "Lazy Hill". Here many of his friends settled with him, and he named it Colerain, in honor of Coleraine, Ireland, where he was born. The village prospered as did John Campbell.

So it was when his daughter, Sarah, married the tutor of the Campbell home, Richard Brownrigg, in 1760, he was able to build there a beautiful home on the Chowan River. This home was called Wingfield after the Wingfield home in Ireland.

John Campbell and Richard Brownrigg are the first men on record who operated a fishery in Colerian. Brownrigg established a big fishery and hisotry says he was the first to fish with a seine for shad, herring and other fish in the Chowan River.

An epidemic of fever killed many of the people in the Colerin settlement. Others, discouraged, moved away. Among those was John Campbell who moved to Halifax County near Weldon. When the Campbell estate was sold, a good shad and herring fishery was listed among the property. It is believed there has been a fishery at Colerain since that time. Listed among the names of owners and operators of fisheries at Colerain have been Holleys, Etheridges, Deans, Beasleys, Wilsons, Mizelles, Perrys, Nixons, and Wynns.

Through the years most of the fishermen have lived on the Cowan County side of the river. Such names as Nixon, Tynch, Basss, Bunch, Harrell, Peele, Lane, Belch and others have for generations been successful fishermen and marketed most of their fish at Colerain.

The herring is a fish of passage and enters the river every spring through the sounds from the ocean. It is hard to understand how such multitudes could enter through the narrow and shallow inlets. Naturalists say that fishes of passage, if not obstructed, seek every spring to return to their native waters. Thus it become necessary to have fish laws for conservation. It is interesting to not that as early as 1771 a bill was passed by the English House of commons to prohibit fishing in the American Colonies after June 25. Due to this foresight, the fishing industry continues strong today.

Through the years there have been three ways of catching fish by net in the Chowan River. The method used by the earliest settlers was by seins. These vary from 2,200 to 2,700 yards in length and are usually 18 feet deep as fished. The hauling rpoes from end to end to reach the shore must be together more than two and one-half miles long. The seine is carried out by two large boats, each managed by 12 men. The net is laid out beginning with the middle of the net straight and nearly parallel with the shore.

The boats go in opposite directions the desired distance, each with one end of the seine and then row to the shore, letting the rope to which the net is attached run out from the boats. The shore ends of the ropes are attached to large capstans, each turned by motor.

The sein is then pulled to the shore and great hordes of fish landed. History says in 1890 one million herring were landed on one haul at a fishery at Bandon Beach in Chowan County owned by Thomas Holly. He was the nephew of Augustus Holley who once owned the land that is now Colerain. Perhpas the best known seine fishing was done at Capehart's Fishery at Avoca. This was a thriving business for many years.

Another method is by gill nets. The name itself suggests the method of capturing the fish. The nets are stretched out in a straight line and fish are caught by their gills. This method is fast disappearing as it is known to hang the largst female fish, often ready to spawn, which then lose their spawn in their struggles even though they may escape. It is said gill nets often destroy the best breeders.

The last and most widely known is the Pound or Dutch net. The word Pound here suggests ways the fish are caught for it is in a pound or trap that fish are led to ensnare themselves. Rows of stakes are driven from the shore out into the river. Sometimes these rows extend a thousand feet or more from the shore. To these stakes, nets with large mesh are attached, around which the fish like to stay. This net is called a lead net as it leads into a pound about 35 feet square. Here the mesh of the net is smaller and still following the net the fish are led into a funnel shaped net or trap. There the fish remain until the coming of the boats, when the trap is dropped and teh fishermen pull up the net and dip the fish into the boat.

The largest fresh water fishery in the world is now located in Colerain [1972]. The fishery began to operate in 1927 under the name of Perry-Belch Fish Company. It was owned by Linne D. Perry, Lonnie A. Perry and Arlie T. Belch. Belch conceived the idea and designed the mechanical part of the plant. After a few years Lonnie A. Perry sold his interest to his partners. In 1945 Arlie T. Belch died. His son, Arlie T. Belch, Jr. and Lennie D. Perry continued to operate the plant until 1953 when the Belch heirs sold their interest to Linnie B. Perry and Leo Lynss. Since then it has been known as the Perry-Wynns Fish Company.

The factory covers a space of 100,000 square feet. It includes two fish scrap houses, two roe houses, two cutting houses, four cold storage houses, offices and processing buildings.

Boats are tied up at a pier at the far end of the fisher extending 300 feet over the water from the shore. Here everyday the first boad load of fish is counted by hand into a measuring bing. The bin is filled three times and an average is taken which usually runs close to seventeen hundred herring.

This number is used for the day to secure the count and the fishermen are paid by the weight. Each fisherman fills one of the four bins on the unloading platform and it is simple to multiply the number by the times he filled the bin that day.

The herring go from the bins by an electrically generated conveyer then to a large revovlving cylinder which washes the fish into an overhead conveyer. This converyor carries teh fish over the cutting tables 1245 feet long which can be manipulated to drop fish wnywhere along the table.

About 50 skilled women stand on each side of the table. With one stroke of their knives the head comes off and opens the stomach, the second stroke scrapes the roe, the last removes the offal, each dropping in a separate place. The fishery is now experimenting with two Baader cutting machines imported from Germany. The machines cut and filet in one operation.

The cleaned fish go on by conveyor to another revolving cylinder which again washes them and finishes removing the scales. They are now ready for the vats which hold 40,000 or more. In these they are covered in salt, brine or vinegar and salt brine for five or six days. After this they are considered cured and are packed in barrels for cold storage. Later, they are packed in Polycel bags and sold.

The herring roe goes to the roe house where it is picked by women, washed and placed in eight or five ouce cans to be pressure cooked. Las year over 8,000 cases of roe were packed.

The offal is taken by a conveyer to the scrap house where it is cooked in huge retorts. This, when dry, makes a rich addition to animal feed and fertilizer. It is bagged and sold as fish scrap.

There is a certain amount of oil which is pressed out of the offal before it goes to the retorts. This oil is barrelled and sold to make paint and soap. During WWII there was a market for the herring scales which have an ingredient used in making pearls, necklaces and floers. This is not done at present.

In the early days the herring and shad were sold to farmers in and aroudn the Roanoke-Chowan section. They purchased them directly on the beaches andhauled them away by horse and cart-loads. Cured herring was one of the main items on the farm menu along with corn bread, sweet potatoes, and bacon. Herring were cheap ans dome families ate them three times a day.

Today a good catch of fish brought in by the row boats consists of 5,000 pounds of perch, 5,000 pounds of cat fish, 500 pounds of shad, 350 pounds of rock and one and on-half million herring.

In previous eyars the fishery contracted to sell about 15 car loads of filleted herring, vinegar cured which were sent to Chicago firms. However, since 1959 the firm has been packing venegar cured fish as a finished product in wine sauce, which contains sugar, spice, onions, pepper, bay leaves and vinegar. These delicious appetizers are sold mainly to the large Scandinavian trade in the Middle West and around Chicago.


Dee Miller
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