My brother Branch, his wife Ruth, and infant son Branch Jr came to Carolina Beach in 1939 and lived with us for a time at our home on Harper Avenue before acquiring their own abode. Branch loved surf fishing, and he got to do a lot of it that year. While he fished, Ruth often enjoyed walking the beach and picking up pretty or unusual sea shells. The best time for that was after a storm when the beach was littered with all sorts of debris from the sea. After her excursions, Ruth would return to the house and carefully rinse and sort her new treasures.
One day Ruth had a rather unusual object in her collection. It was round and dark and heavy for its size. Obviously, it was man made, but it was so encrusted that no one could be sure what it was. Ruth soaked it, boiled it, scraped it, and scrubbed it over a period of many hours – perhaps even a day or so Finally what was revealed was a hand wrought ring of obvious antiquity.
I have not really studied that ring for more than seventy-eight years, so the way I describe it now is based on a recollection of somewhat dubious reliability. As I remember it, the ring itself appeared to be silver, and a black onyx surmounted it. On the face of the onyx were gold images of a man’s and a woman’s heads. I believe the man was wearing a helmet of the Greek or Carthaginian style. The woman’s dress and hair arrangement was classical. On the side of the ring were gold images of dolphins or other sea creatures. This is the way I remember it, but I may be completely wrong about some of the details. I was only ten at that time.
All of us wondered and speculated about the origins of that ring. Many of us believed that it may have been made in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, but it could have been older. And who was the owner? Possibly it belonged to a buccaneer that roamed the Carolina coast in the early 1700s. Perhaps it was from a blockade runner that ran aground on a sandbar while trying to evade a Union gunship during the Civil War. Many ships met that fate, and at low tide the remains of one such shipwreck are clearly visible on a sandbar just south of the town center of Carolina Beach.
Blockade Runner Modern Greece
Aground Near Fort Fisher in 1862
Branch Fields Sr. wore the ring that Ruth found for many years. Who wears it now? Whoever wears it can certainly give a better description of it than is afforded by my fading memory of something I last saw almost eighty years ago.
Edward Teach (Blackbeard)
Note: A piratical connection to Branch’s ring is unlikely but not impossible. The pirate Blackbeard (Edward Teach) often visited the Carolina coast in the early 1700s, and he was killed in November 1718, in Pamlico Sound near Okracoke. Stede Bonnet, another pirate, was captured on the Cape Fear River a few miles west of what is now Carolina Beach that same year. There was also a female pirate named Anne Bonny who visited the Carolinas. My wife Ann had persons with the surnames Teachey and Boney among her ancestors, and I sometimes teased her that she was the descendant of pirates.