The Story Behind the “New” PORTSMOUTH


Portsmouth: The Way It Was will be republished tomorrow, May 20. Why is it being brought back into print? Here’s my foreword to the book by Ellen Fulcher Cloud, which tells the true story of the “ghost village of the Outer Banks.”


Welcome back, Portsmouth.

We’ve missed you.

Portsmouth Island, for those who know of it only as “the ghost village of the Outer Banks”—maintained by the National Park Service, in partnership with the Friends of Portsmouth Island—once was a thriving seaport, with fishermen, boat pilots and Life-Saving Service crew, with a hospital, store, and post office, with a school, church, and cemeteries. It saw deadly hurricanes, shipwrecks, wars, and slavery. But it rejoiced in births, dances and weddings. Children at play. A daily mailboat. The stuff of life.

Then it was gone.

Happily, its story is not. The reissuing of Portsmouth: The Way It Was was not, I must concede, my idea. Gee Gee Roselle, owner of the marvelous little Buxton Village Books on Hatteras Island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, first suggested I write about Portsmouth, to follow my books on Hatteras Island and Ocracoke. I begged off, citing other writing projects, so she quickly proposed that I contact Ellen Fulcher Cloud about bringing back her little gem from two decades earlier. Maybe I could do it on the side.

I knew of Ellen Cloud in the way I knew of other local historians and genealogists, from my research. They are on the front lines of preserving local histories, and Ellen was one of the best. Luckily, when I contacted her in the fall of 2016, she was enthusiastic. She re-secured the book rights, which essentially lay dormant, from another publisher. She mailed her contract.

Then a few weeks later, Ellen passed away.

But her wishes had been made clear. With the help of her daughters, Deidra Cloud Ramsey and Simona Rae Spickett, we got her materials and got to work. My wife, Vicki, scanned photographs to supplement existing scans. Our daughter, Lindsay Zarse, retyped the manuscript. (We also used Lindsay’s growing Beach Glass Books imprint for publishing.) Deidra, along with Rosanne Penley, president of the Friends of Portsmouth Island, helped with details.

The new book rightly hews closely to Ellen’s 1996 original. There has been only minor editing, the re-titling of a chapter, and the consolidation of a short chapter into another. Some supporting documentation—letters, estate records, troop notes—have been moved to appendices.

But volume is different. It includes more pages, 23 more images (above the original 53), more photo reproduction, and a keepsake, hardcover binding.

That’s only fitting. Ellen engaged in yeoman-like research—and in the pre-Internet age, remember. But she may have under-credited herself as a writer. Her covers even eschewed the usual stand-alone author’s name, saying the books had been “Researched and Compiled by Ellen Fulcher Cloud”—likely because she included so many documents. Go through Portsmouth, however, and you’ll find any number of beautifully written passages: on the aftermath of the Civil War, the first day of the new lifesaving station, the severance of Portsmouth’s ties to the outside world, Ellen’s own childhood on the island.

We know Ellen would be happy that both her own work and the story of Portsmouth endure—and proud, we think, of this new edition. And we hope you enjoy returning with her to that thriving land lost to time, Portsmouth Island.

Richmond, Virginia
March 2017

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