When I was around five years old, my great Uncle Vic and Aunt Sue (my mother’s aunt) moved back from Florida to live in a house next door to ours. Though he was only related to us by marriage, Uncle Vic quickly became a family favorite.
Born in 1908 in Buxton, NC, he was a charming man with a dirty mouth and a century’s worth of stories to tell. My favorite stories were those of his time in the US Coast Guard. As I grew older, I became more interested in my family’s connection with the Coast Guard and more intensely with its predecessor, the United States Life Saving Service.
This organization consisted of men in stations up and down the coastline who would row out into storms in the pitch black of night, among two-story swells, to save people in sinking ships. Uncle Vic’s father, Urias B. Williams, was in the USLSS and even awarded with the Silver Life Saving Medal for rescuing the crew from the German steamer, Brewster. These amazing rescues have largely been forgotten. I made it one of my life’s goals to tell the untold story, in film or television format, of the real life superheroes that made up the United States Life Saving Service.
Even though the USLSS project is still far off in the future, shooting our documentary Finding Croatoan is partially scratching that itch for me.
A few years ago, I started following the work of Hatteras-based author and historian, Scott Dawson. Scott and I made fast friends after I reached out on Facebook and I saw he was filled with a similar passion to tell his family’s story. Scott, like many Hatteras Island natives, is from Croatoan descent — a Native American tribe from the island of Croatoan, or modern-day Hatteras. The locals in Hatteras see the Native American features in their faces; they hear the stories passed down through the generations about their Croatoan grandparents.
Like me, Scott set out to tell an untold story of American history.
Something hit me when David (my co-producer) and I were down in Hatteras filming Scott and his team. We all know about Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, but if we prove that the English colony went to Croatoan (Hatteras), settled and assimilated with the natives, then we have the chance to prove that there wasn’t a mystery after all. This could actually change early American history as we know it. That would be pretty amazing for two country boys from eastern North Carolina.
I didn’t know what I was getting into following Scott. I just knew it was a unique opportunity for a filmmaker and I had to follow my gut. I found myself in a position to really uncover some truth — not just about history, but about people and culture.
I thought about my family growing up on that island 100 years earlier. I thought about if they knew Scott’s family, or even if they were part Croatoan themselves.
This wasn’t the story I set out to tell, but it might be the one I was meant to.
One day, running out to get some food at Conner’s Supermarket in Buxton, I drove past a road sign that caught my eye so much I had to turn around. When I pulled back up to it, I parked on the side of the road and looked at a sign that read “Urias B. Williams Rd.”
I knew right then I was in the right place and on the right journey.
- Rain Bennett, Director