BEAUFORT, N.C. — A historic boat that is literally one-of-a-kind has made a temporary return to the Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center.
Periauger, a historic replica of the long-lost Colonial boat of the same name, was recently brought back to Beaufort for refurbishment. Originally built at the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort’s working watercraft center, Periauger sits there once again as repairs continue on the vessel, the only known boat of its kind.
“The boat itself, in its historic context, was really important to North Carolina,” the museum’s maritime curator, David Bennett, said. “In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was a popular coastal transport, especially in North Carolina’s inner waters.”
Construction on the historic replica began in 2003 under the Periauger Project, a partnership of the museum, the Perquimans County Restoration Association, Perquimans County and East Carolina University’s Program in Maritime Studies to reintroduce the periauger to North Carolina’s waters. The design provided a bit of a challenge, however, since no examples of what at the time was a common style of boat are known to exist.
“A lot of people had these boats,” Bennett said. “But North Carolina’s climate is an inhospitable environment for the long-term survival of wooden boats.”
When approached at the time about the project, Mike Alford, the museum’s former maritime researcher, and boat builder Geoffrey Scofield had already been trying to learn as much as they could about the periauger — using the only sources available: historical records and illustrations.
“There weren’t even a piece of one to look at,” Alford said. “We just wanted to get it on the record. We didn’t have any plan to build one.”
But that chance eventually came along, and their years of research and thinking paid off in the form of the design and plan for the historic build, which was completed in 2004. The boat, which belongs to the Perquimans County Restoration Association, is housed at the 1730 Newbold-White House in Hertford. Housed, that is, when she’s not going in front of the camera. Periauger has been featured in both historic documentaries and on the big screen, most notably in the filming of the 2019 movie “Harriet.” In the film, abolitionist Harriet Tubman rides in Periauger as she leads Union troops on a river raid of South Carolina plantations.
But with time, climate and wear taking a toll on the boat, its owners worked with Bennett on bringing the boat back for the repairs. The museum’s boat builder, Tim White, is doing the work in sections, cutting out one piece of the cypress floor at a time, replacing the damaged portions with new cypress before moving on to the next. It’s a slow process, White explained, working bit-by-bit out of necessity.
“I don’t want to damage the integrity of the floor,” White said.
Public operations are currently suspended at the Watercraft Center. However, while work is being done on Periauger, and weather permitting, the Watercraft Center’s double doors facing Front Street will be open for those who’d like to see the progress.
“It should be there through the end of August, easily,” Bennett said.
For more information, call 252-504-7791 or visit ncmaritimemuseumbeaufort.com.
The North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort reflects coastal life and interprets lighthouses and lifesaving stations, the seafood industry, motorboats, and more. Studies in marine life, science, and ecology are available for all ages. The Beaufort museum is the repository for artifacts from Blackbeard’s wrecked flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, among them cannons, grenades, belt buckles and beads. The Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center teaches boatbuilding for all ages. Public operations are currently suspended while the state is in Phase 2 Safer at Home of the Covid-19 response. For more information about the museum, call 252-504-7740 or visit www.ncmaritimemuseumbeaufort.com.
The North Carolina Maritime Museum system is comprised of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras, the North Carolina Maritime Museum at Beaufort and the North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport. All three museums are part of the Division of State History Museums in the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The system website is www.ncmaritimemuseums.com.
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR) is the state agency with a vision to be the leader in using the state’s natural and cultural resources to build the social, cultural, educational and economic future of North Carolina. NCDNCR’s mission is to improve the quality of life in our state by creating opportunities to experience excellence in the arts, history, libraries and nature in North Carolina by stimulating learning, inspiring creativity, preserving the state’s history, conserving the state’s natural heritage, encouraging recreation and cultural tourism, and promoting economic development.
NCDNCR includes 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, two science museums, three aquariums and Jennette’s Pier, 39 state parks and recreation areas, the N.C. Zoo, the nation’s first state-supported Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, State Preservation Office and the Office of State Archaeology, along with the Division of Land and Water Stewardship. For more information, call 919-807-7300 or visit www.ncdcr.gov.