In a Shallow Boat

Zachary Faircloth

“This chorus forgets. It elides place and time. It forgets that Spivey is not the originator of a method of aquatic travel in the border country of the eastern Carolinas.”

A. E. Faircloth died on Easter morning 2014. Among the things he left behind was a tidy double-wide on an acre lot in Longs, an unincorporated community in the northeastern corner of South Carolina. The lot fronted a couple of old wooden sheds, behind them a meticulously groomed if wholly plain vegetable garden. Twenty humped rows, hewn into the ground by years of 5:00 a.m. mornings, had been the object of tending and planting and picking that was as reliable as the sun that rose to wake A. E. to tend and plant and pick, most days before going to work with a local concrete mixing crew. When I returned to my grandfather’s home some years after his death, I was surprised to find the grass had grown over what had for all of my life been tilled rows of black soil. I knew that grass would grow in that part of the lot once the field was no longer tilled; I had not figured the humped rows would still be there, imagining instead a clean break into flat earth where a slow, persistent memory had been etched into the ground.

Along with the sheds and the garden, A. E. left a small collection of wooden boats. Two of them were fourteen-foot-long skiffs with V-shaped hulls, marine plywood constructions known locally as Carolina boats, which could carry two or three persons and were usually powered by a small outboard motor. This particular design originated somewhere in Robeson County, North Carolina, hence the name.

The other two were more particular in shape and appearance. Each of them was ten feet long and made of cypress wood, which, opposed to the marine plywood of the Carolina boat, looked like lumber. The boats were both shallow, their gunnels rising only ten inches above a flat bottom, and each came to a pointed bow. From the bow, the boats widened such that their width at the middle neared two and a half feet, narrowing again to a transom at the back about a foot wide. To the transom of each were affixed lengths of threaded metal cord, which would be clamped to a trolling motor at the rear and foot pedals toward the bow. These foot pedals pulled the trolling motor this way or that, steering the boat and leaving the operator’s hands free to operate a fishing reel, a paddle, or a .22 rifle.

It was this model—the one-man cypress strip boat—that my grandfather would paddle when fishing the Waccamaw River. The Waccamaw runs from Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina, southward across the state line and eventually spills into Winyah Bay in Georgetown, South Carolina, on its way to the Atlantic. Along its route, it passes through Conway, the seat of Horry County, but winds mostly through small rural communities, including Longs.

When my grandfather, my father, and I fished together, arrangements dictated that my father be saddled with commandeering a comparatively colossal aluminum jon boat, paddling, and tending to me, the junior fisherman, as I managed to wedge a beetlespin—a small fishing lure made for catching bream—in every clump of cypress boughs up and down the river. My grandfather, meanwhile, glided with ease just ahead of or behind us, one hand precisely whipping a bream-buster (a long, flexible pole with no reel and only a fixed length of line connected to the end) beneath the same boughs that I had either just cast into or would soon cast into, the other controlling a short wooden paddle submerged longways into the water, moving the boat without ever rippling the surface. The practice of paddling this way is called “sculling,” and it is but one of the mechanics learned with time and patience on the small backwaters of swampy, black rivers.

As a child, the embodied form of knowledge that sculling demanded was not apparent to me. It was, simply put, how old men fished: with old bream-busters, baited with crickets fetched from old cricket cages, sitting in ancient wooden boats. If I ever became old, I would fish that way, too. What was not apparent to me then, the river and time would make apparent in their own ways. After my grandfather’s death, I took one of his one-man boats on my own trips to the Waccamaw, loading it into the bed of my father’s truck and driving it to the dirt landing that dumps you into Big Savannah Bluff Lake—a pool that leads at one end to a swamp, the other connecting to a thoroughfare that runs back to the main channel of the Waccamaw. In a subsequent summer, my father suggested that we make a float down a stretch of the Waccamaw that he had floated with his father, starting at Wortham’s Landing and ending where the river intersects sc Highway 9. This time, my brother would come with us, reprising my role from years prior in the jon boat with our father. This left me to take my grandfather’s place in the one-man strip boat, my first extended trip in his vessel.

Transom of A. E. Faircloth's strip boat.

The boat that made its way from my grandfather to me was a particular, local variant of strip boat. Strip boats are made by gluing or stapling narrow strips of lumber—in this case, cypress—into what are usually smaller, recreational vessels. They are suited to small water, rendering them ubiquitous symbols of rural summer recreation on backwater rivers and small lakes. They come in various shapes and sizes equipped to fit different propulsion systems, from outboard motors to electric trolling motors to paddles. The sleekness of fiberglass wood makes them suitable as racing boats, streamlined and weighted for an outboard motor to maximize the craft’s capacity for speed.

My grandfather’s was not a boat made for carousing; carousing was not in his vocabulary by the time I was born. This one was shallow and flat, and it presented itself specifically for the purpose of fishing the narrow bywaters of the upper Waccamaw River. In the eastern border area between North and South Carolina composed of Horry, Marion, Columbus, and Robeson counties, the major river systems are markedly similar to one another. The Lumber, the Little Pee Dee, and the Waccamaw are all blackwater rivers, a technical term meaning that the decaying flora stains the water with tannins, like tea. When the water is low, the upper Waccamaw can become unnavigable by anything larger than a canoe or kayak, and even then, there is the near certainty of having to leave the boat to drag it across an exposed sandy bottom. The advantage of a portable, relatively light craft is obvious, and in the days before the mass availability of plastic kayaks and canoes, the one-man strip boat fulfilled that purpose.

There was a time when, from the lower reaches of the Great Dismal Swamp to the eastern Carolinas, it was not uncommon to see paddlers on the Cape Fear, Waccamaw, Lumber, or Pee Dee rivers, pioneering the handmade wooden vessels into the crooked, serpentine reaches of these waters. That time, by and large, has come and gone. The wooden strip boat has been replaced by all manner of manufactured vessels: the plastic kayak is lighter and cheaper; the mammoth fiberglass bass boat can carry an outboard motor that would sink a one-and-a-half-man boat, not to mention it permits one to walk about freely as if on a floating porch. On the Waccamaw, which reaches close to the subdivided sprawl of North Myrtle Beach, even jet skis are more common, rented from any one of the recreational companies that sprouted from Horry County’s population boom.

* * *

Of the rivers mentioned above, none are officially marked as sites of national heritage or pride. In literature as in history, the foreboding swampland of the rivers’ upper reaches ostensibly limits each river’s footprint to the communities within its watershed. Franklin Burroughs, an author and professor of English originally from Conway, South Carolina, wrote two books that delve into the human ecology of the Waccamaw River, Billy Watson’s Croker Sack and Horry and the Waccamaw—the first a collection of essays moving between Franklin’s youth and young adulthood in Conway and his later life in Maine, the second a recounting of Burroughs’s canoe trip down the whole of the Waccamaw, a trip he makes from Maine as an adult. In his work, Burroughs draws at length on the perceived historical, social, and cultural insularity of the eastern Carolinian border region: “Historically, Horry County, South Carolina, remains unapproachable.”

His survey of Horry County’s historical footprint leads largely to maps marking the territory as impassable or impenetrable, paltry agricultural records that pale against the massive economies of southerly competitors like Georgetown and Charleston counties, and a river that played little role in facilitating any economic production. This is, of course, a particularized history of the region.1

Burroughs continues to note that in the decades between 1960 and 1988, real estate prices skyrocketed, the population grew rapidly, and peri-urban construction ate into the resistant topographies of marsh, swamp, and wetland that had once made such development impossible. Development has continued still. On his trip, for instance, Burroughs does not encounter any Jet Skis on the Waccamaw as one might today. The “huge influx of outsiders and money” that Burroughs identifies as rendering local accents weaker and neglecting local histories has only intensified. In Horry and the Waccamaw, Burroughs writes of the relative underdevelopment of the territory north of Highway 905 that crosses the border into North Carolina: “This part of the county seemed untouched by all the changes that had taken place; it was still a region of small farms, with an occasional church or crossroads store.”2

It is no longer so distinct in this way—if, in fact, it ever was. By the time of Burroughs’s trip, the economic primacy of the river had diminished, but years prior it had served as a primary cargo route facilitating the industrial rise of cities on its southward path, such as Conway and Georgetown. Places like Bucksport shipped timber, while Georgetown County’s textile and steel industries also utilized the river as a route for supplies. The historical development of these places is inextricably tied to the river, disrupting the neat division between the civilized townships to the south and the rural area surrounding its upper reaches. Burroughs himself is enmeshed in this history. As the son of a Conway lawyer, his relationship to the rural regions surrounding the river north of Conway was an archetypical “town and county” arrangement. He described the landscape as flat and sparse, the people there as leaving a “blurred impression of awkward diffidence, [lacking] the fluency and self-possession [he] expected of grownups.” The cultural and social qualities of the area found in Burroughs’s work are not material facts of history so much as relational constructions of center and periphery.3

Since 2000, Horry County’s population has nearly doubled from 197,000 to 354,000, and this growth has heavily affected unincorporated places like Longs, the last community in South Carolina that Burroughs would have passed through before reaching North Carolina. In Longs today, the most readily available references to the river’s local topography are the names of newly constructed subdivisions, such as “Rum Bluff” or “River Haven”—names teeming with their own designs on local authenticity and marketability. Many of these subdivisions are located on or near the river and identify the riverine landscape as central to their marketability, positioned as rural respites, idyllic natural havens. Construction along the river, particularly those projects using fill-and-build practices that take dirt from the watershed to raise the ground level of housing projects, eats away at the swampland’s capacity for water retention. Countering the attempt to develop the river into a compliant site for extractive development, flooding in the wake of Hurricanes Matthew and Florence left many of these homes underwater, an attempt at rural idyll punctured by the ecological fact of a swampy river bottom.4

* * *

There are two notable encounters with handmade wooden boats in Burroughs’s texts on the Waccamaw. In Horry and the Waccamaw, Burroughs puts in at Lake Waccamaw and begins his trip in the narrow, severe path that snakes out of the lake on its way south to the state line. This portion of the river is tight, cornered, and given to obstruction at the slightest climatological provocation, and Burroughs immediately finds himself following behind an aluminum jon boat carrying two children and one Thomas Spivey. Once they meet and Spivey is given time to offload his suspicions, he invites Burroughs to follow him to his river dwelling. When Burroughs notes that the river’s path had been relatively clear, Spivey evidences that he had engineered it to be so with his chainsaw, traveling upriver and strategically clearing obstructions such that small craft could get through but large craft could not: “I done that … and you might notice I left one right there below the lake. Don’t want all them big boys on Lake Waccamaw coming down here.”5

On the bank before reaching Spivey’s house, Burroughs notices a handmade boat carved out of a cypress log. Spivey calls it an “old-timey log boat,” remarking that he had crafted it for his father. Spivey not only dug this boat; he is a full-fledged boatwright, mining the swamps for suitable cypress and digging them into one-man boats around ten feet in length, ten inches in depth, and double-ended with a flat bottom. Burroughs’s description of the boat renders it similar in dimension to the strip boats of the contemporary eastern Carolinian borderland.6

Spivey mentions to Burroughs that he has achieved some renown as a boat maker, pointing to a freshly dug boat that had already been purchased by a doctor from Tennessee for two thousand dollars. By the time Burroughs encounters Spivey, the relative scarcity both of suitable cypress and of this method of log-boat digging have rendered Spivey’s services a rarity for most; Burroughs himself had only encountered such boats in museums and in his father’s stories. The carved-out cypress log boat occupies in the 1990s a remarkably similar position to the cypress strip boat in 2020: scarce, largely out of circulation, but still valuable to those who know them. 

The second encounter with one-man boats is found in Billy Watson’s Croker Sack, in the essay “A Snapping Turtle in June,” a portion of which recounts the titular Billy Watson and his croker sacks. Watson is a local man in Conway, known to Burroughs by way of his summer employment with the Burroughs Timber Company. He describes Watson’s family in these terms:

poachers, moonshiners, people likely to be handy with a straight-razor, who kept six or eight gaunt and vicious hounds, half of them stolen and all of them wormy, chained in the yard, along with a few unfettered chickens and a ragged mule, but who could hardly be called farmers.

Along with some continued description of Watson’s academic career (he had failed the fourth grade for six years straight) and his skill as an employee of the timber company, Burroughs depicts a scene from the Waccamaw on a Saturday morning:

If early on a Saturday morning in the spring you happened to be down by Mishoe’s Fish Market, a little frame building perched by the edge of Kingston Lake, you might see Billy slipping easily along the near bank of the lake, in a ridiculously undersized one-man paddling boat … You’d look around for only one thing, a yellow car with a long antenna, because that might be someone from the state fish and game department, which kept an eye on Mr. Mishoe.

Watson, reassured of the game warden’s absence, approaches the landing carrying two lively croker sacks, filled with all manner of river fish—some of which could be legally sold, some of which, as game fish, could not. This, “his night’s work,” he exchanges for a few dollars at the fish market, after which Burroughs’s memory follows him to a drugstore on Main Street, where Watson plops down with a coffee and a doughnut. Watson’s outward appearance—”a dirty, rough looking man, unlaced boots flapping open at his ankles”—disturbs the civilized peace of a drugstore counter in town, where ladies and gainfully employed men do not expect to consort with men who glide around in tiny wooden boats through the night, filling croker sacks with eels and mudfish to sell for enough cash to buy a doughnut.7

In both Billy Watson and Thomas Spivey, Burroughs presents the small wooden one-man boat in concert with a character of intense regionality and localized particularity. The characters are evidenced by the ways they make their respective livings as persons intertwined with the places in which they live. Burroughs identifies, among other things, a sort of respectful negation of order and progress not borne of malice but quiet rejection. Watson responds to a friend that he didn’t sit around in fourth grade for six years because he was stupid but “just ornery.” Burroughs makes the point that Spivey’s home, intermittently constructed with recycled material and “erratic” woodwork, would rankle the ire of some “middle-class Americans … either against the people who were willing to live there, or the society which reduced them to it,” but says that speaking to the Spiveys themselves is an antidote to such paternalism. They are in and of a place, like the boats they make and paddle.8

Fiberglass crack in back corner of strip boat.

* * *

has brought me into the same niche economy occupied by Spivey and Watson. The local memory on the Waccamaw of the one-man wooden strip boat is sparse, but it’s remarkably strong among those who remember. Occasionally, while paddling Big Savannah Bluff Lake and through the thoroughfares that lead back to the main river, I would come across someone who greatly appreciated the boats. We’d exchange pleasantries, then:

“Who made that boat?”“Is that a Galloway?”“Don’t see many like that anymore. That looks like a Spivey boat.”

The local economy of one-man wooden boats was dominated by recurrent names, many of whom have passed on, few of whom are still in the business of making small paddling cypress boats. These names imbued their work with a level of artistic distinctiveness such that familiar passersby would guess the builder based on the way the gunnels rose toward the front or the setting of the wood at the bow or some other identifiable maker’s mark. Predictably, the names I’d heard on the river—Galloway, Lanier, Spivey, Lumber River—bore little to no internet footprint. The nooks and crannies of defunct woodworking or fishing forums would occasionally feature a user asking after an old boat maker, and the inevitable answer would return that this one had retired or passed on or was otherwise lost to time. My grandfather’s boats had no obvious markings to name a creator, and no one in our family knew who he’d bought the boat from all those years ago. After some asking, I was told the former operator of the Lumber River Strip Boat Company was still living in Nichols, where he focused on his full-time job as owner of Nichols Farm Supply.

Nichols Farm Supply is one of the few remaining operational businesses on the main drag in Nichols, South Carolina. Today, Nichols is perhaps most particular and well known for its propensity to flood; nestled between the Lumber and Little Pee Dee rivers and surrounded by swamps, the town has borne the brunt of this decade’s deluge of “Hundred Year” waters. The 2010 census reported the population of Nichols was 358 persons; official reports after Hurricanes Matthew and Florence, respectively, suggest that up to half of the town’s residents did not return.9

Still, Jimmy Devers, the owner and operator of Nichols Farm Supply, plugs away, noting that soybean farmers need a place to store seed regardless of whether Main Street is bustling. While the back of the building gives way to warehousing space and storage sheds, the building’s front room, home to a few offices now without flooring as a result of the floods of 2016 and 2018—”no sense covering over the concrete again”—most prominently displays a one-and-a-half-man cypress strip boat, a product of the now-defunct Lumber River Strip Boat Company.

This model is a ten-footer, perched longways on a stand and still glistening from the fiberglass in which it was basted in 1987. The boat’s dark stain is achieved by passing a torch over the wood before the liquid fiberglass is set, an aesthetic process tailored to the desire of the builder or buyer. Dark stain aside, this boat resembled my grandfather’s boats exactly. In the 1980s, Devers and his father produced these and other models of strip boats for sale both locally and afar, selling boats to buyers who would carry them as far as New York or Louisiana, where some would unload them by the trailerful to sell to rural anglers taken by their deftness in small waters.

“Most of them had never seen anything like these,” Devers says with a quiet pride. “They all had one-man boats, the guys in Louisiana especially. Pirogues. But there was something about these they liked.” At the height of the company in the 1980s, Devers and his father would travel to boat shows, selling the rights to future boats to interested connoisseurs impressed by the models on display. The Lumber River Strip Boat Company produced hundreds of boats, all constructed without ready-made molds or stands. Devers and his father, often with a team of men they worked with in their agricultural business, designed, constructed, and finished the boats themselves, controlling even the minutest steps in the process. The Lumber River Boat Company produced four models of strip boat, each a different size and shape, each tailored to its purpose: fishing, paddling, carousing, hunting. At the peak of production, Lumber River produced mailer pamphlets describing each available model and contact information.

Walking from the front of the building to the back, past the barrels of seeds and feed that now compose the bulk of Devers’s business, the small building opens up to a broader warehouse. Against the back wall is a large wooden stand consisting of seven levels, twelve feet across and fifteen or so feet deep. Wooden boats of different sizes and shapes are perched on each level. Some of them are former Lumber River productions, sent back to Devers for different repair jobs—cracked fiberglass, a dry-rotted bottom wall. Others, Devers has sought out himself, purchasing to retain and salvage against the deterioration that time affords all derelict, unattended wooden vessels.

The strip boat at the author's family's shed in Longs, South Carolina.

* * *

“There’s just something about wood,” Devers says. “When you’re in a wood boat, you’re not in something foreign or unnatural—a wood boat is from the river. You’re part of the river.” A wooden boat offers the paddler a number of advantages in the small waters of the Pee Dee or Waccamaw, not least among them the fact of a wooden boat’s sonic difference from metal. Most of the fishing on the upper Waccamaw is done on the banks, close in and casting toward and among cypress knees. In the river swamps, an angler will inevitably be forced to move in and through clusters of cypress, and the warm, muffled thud of a cypress-on-cypress collision is far less alarming—and far more pleasant—than the clang of aluminum. For Devers, that metal clang is as ill-fitting on the river as snapping Velcro or a cell phone jingle.

The indelible softness of cypress, the quality that provides for the muffling of sound, also renders cypress boats easily marked or scarred by branches, rocks, or the scrape of a truck bed. 

The boats remember impact. To fortify the outside of the boats, Devers, like most cypress strip boat builders, applies a layer of fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin to the entirety of the boat. This provides an outer layer of protection, ostensibly preserving the boat against time and physical deterioration.

Fiberglass cloth, however, like all things, is not immune to time. With exposure to weather and sunlight, the boat’s shiny, glossy fiberglassing begins to crack and rise, separating from the wood and flaking off in scar-like rivulets. Weather-resistant epoxies now common in such processes were not available at an appropriate price point during the construction of Lumber River’s boats; furthermore, a boat that is regularly paddled will retain moisture and fend off deterioration for decades. For many who own wooden boats, the process of patching, reglassing, or taping problem areas becomes an active participation in the life of the vessel. My grandfather’s boat is periodically marked with duct tape, peeling in spots and cracking in others. The maintenance of the boat becomes a relational one between its owner and the vessel that extends well beyond its crafting, roping another being into the negotiation of the object’s life.

The same process of glassing had been applied to my grandfather’s plywood Carolina boats. It had not been used for some years even before my grandfather’s death, and a few years after his passing, we burnt the boat to make space and get rid of an old, unusable thing. In the ashes of the burn pile lay the fiberglass cloth, indestructible even after decades of wear and tear, sunlight, and a Carolina boat’s funeral pyre. Looking at the cloth, I felt the same feeling I’d felt looking at the site of my grandfather’s garden—a somber acceptance of the passage of time and the knowledge that something someone had so treasured was gone, with no possibility for it to be enjoyed in the way it had been enjoyed in its own time. Efforts at restoration stave off decay for some period, but for all that fiberglass can repel, it cannot stop time.

Raymond Williams’s novel Border Country tells the story of a young man, a university lecturer in London, returning to the Welsh village of his birth after his father suffers a stroke. The story is a novelization of Williams’s struggles over the definition of culture in his more academic writing. What is culture? Who decides? What does time and generational change mean for culture, particularly in terms of the “rural” and those who inherit the weight of that particular cultural signifier?

The protagonist, Matthew, wrestles with these same questions, constantly beset by the fear that he has abandoned whatever was “real” of his life and being by moving to London. In one of the last extended discussions with his father before he passes, Matthew asks his father whether the changes in him since leaving are a symptom of his “growing away from what used to be real.” The father, in response, asks the question: “How many, ever, live just like their fathers? None at all like their grandfathers. If they’re doing the same work, still they’re quite different.”

The cypress strip boat offers an alluring metaphor: it is the unilateral symbol of an old and dying rural culture of a region; it is a marker of something that was once real and is now commodified and overgrown by subdivision and strip mall and “rural development.” It is wood as opposed to plastic, “organic” as opposed to “inorganic,” and offers a sense of locality and regional specificity that manufactured plastic does not offer to anyone or any place on earth. It is a salve for a settler’s unease amid a landscape that bears reminders of displacement, a shaky shibboleth of belonging.

Read this way, the cypress strip boat feels like an answer to some corrosive image of modernity, an increasingly commodified and corporatized new South, but in the light of history it does not hold. Pictured against the log boats made by Spivey around the same time period or the wobbly wooden vessel manned by Billy Watson in Franklin Burroughs’s memories, the Lumber River Boat Company appears as “newfangled gimcrackery,” as Burroughs describes his canoe in the face of Spivey’s foot adze and howel. Absolute heralding of yonder golden age falls flat, yet another voice in an eternal chorus of the good old days.10

This chorus forgets. It elides place and time. It doesn’t recall that Spivey is not the originator of a method of aquatic travel in the border country of the eastern Carolinas. The Waccamaw River derives its namesake from the Waccamaw Indian People, today headquartered in Aynor, South Carolina. Waccamaw communities historically ranged from Lake Waccamaw in North Carolina to Winyah Bay in Georgetown, South Carolina, the entirety of the river’s run. Methods of navigating the river are central to the Waccamaw’s history, and their canoes serve to predate the presentation of the strip boat as an authorial arbiter of locality in the Waccamaw watershed.

These canoes, which today periodically appear on the shores of Lake Waccamaw after flooding from hurricanes like Matthew and Florence, are themselves technological innovations of their time; the carving, the pitch, the hollowed-out burn all structurated to negotiate a particular landscape. The fetish for the authentic turtles all the way down, as it so often does in American landscapes, to origins within local Indigenous practice. Anxious settler-colonial attempts to locate the authentic elide this history, continuity being the enemy of a selective narrative of belonging in a place so marked by displacement.

Objects are imbued with the life of a region—this object is of, from, and for the eastern Carolinas and gestures us toward a history of both Indigeneity and settlerism in that place. The object becomes entangled in an array of negotiations over history, authenticity, and place-making that complicate a singular narrative of belonging in rural southern space. These negotiations are not finished; today, manufactured boats made to mimic the one-man strip boat in form and function are constructed from plastic molds. The insertion of plastic for wood poses a problem for the fashioning of the object as local and authentic, so boat makers locate other methods of articulation. The most commonly found models of these boats today are made by three companies: Eagle Plastics, manufacturer of the Crow Boat; Warrior Manufacturing; and Creek Boats.

Waccamaw River, South Carolina.

* * *

The cypress boats connect me to a familial history, but also to a story of place. Paddling a wooden craft that harbors the marks and scars of both my trips and my grandfather’s, I enter into a negotiation of belonging that ranges from the personal to the historical. The array of relations that govern this encounter exceed the boat itself. It entangles the transformation of landscape found in the construction of subdivisions with pastoral names that call on the river as aesthetic fodder. It includes the subsequent flooding of those subdivisions by the same river. It ensnares generational change and identifications of old and new Souths. It maps anxieties about belonging, settler colonialism, and the fashioning of landscape. It provokes questions about “authentic” southern cultures and their maintenance. 

On my first river float alone in my grandfather’s boat, I attempted to pass under a fallen tree that blocked the river, leaving only a foot or so of clearance between the tree and the water. In doing so, I leaned too far back to one side, the shallow gunnels of the strip boat dipping enough to take on water and partially capsize the boat. I swam to the shore with the boat in one arm and my fishing rod in the other, thinking to myself about how my grandfather never would have done such a thing—that he had an intuitive knowledge of the vessel that I had yet to and perhaps would never acquire. But we are engaged in the same work, albeit differently, for now in the same boat. On a humid, sticky evening on the Waccamaw in August, with the water just right, the surface black and mirrorlike, the object—the wood, the form, its function—disrupts momentarily the linear passage of time, past memories and present participation bringing us together on the river again.

This essay was published in the Inheritance Issue (Fall 2022).

Zachary Faircloth is a PhD student in the department of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His work examines the interplay of race, place, and culture in rural environments of the US South, particularly the swamplands of the Eastern Carolinas. He is from Horry County, South Carolina.
  1. Franklin Burroughs, Horry and the Waccamaw (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992), 3.
  2. Burroughs, Horry and the Waccamaw, 10, 23.
  3. Burroughs, Horry and the Waccamaw, 23.
  4. Population totals calculated using the US Census Bureau Population and Housing Unit Estimates, County Population Totals 2000–2010 and US Census Bureau Population and Housing Unit Estimates, County Population Totals 2010–2020, respectively found via the South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office, See also “Evaluation Estimates,” 2010, US Census Bureau, last modified October 8, 2021,
  5. Burroughs, Horry and the Waccamaw, 35.
  6. Burroughs, Horry and the Waccamaw, 36.
  7. Franklin Burroughs, Billy Watson’s Croker Sack (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998), 16–17, 15–16, 19.
  8. Burroughs, Billy Watson’s Croker Sack, 17; Burroughs, Horry and the Waccamaw, 40.
  9. Stephen Hobbs and Chloe Johnson, “After 2 Major Floods in 3 Years, Half of the Residents of this SC Town Never Came Home,” Post and Courier, October 5, 2019,
  10. Burroughs, Horry and the Waccamaw.