Saturday, June 21, 2014

Looking for Bill Ireland

Doing family history research usually means looking for traces of an ancestor's life in old records, census, land, wills, etc. In this case I have been looking for someone and I really didn't know who he was.

I mentioned Bill Ireland in another story, about the net camp my Grandpa Tink Fulford had near his house. Tink let several fishermen live in it when they needed a place.

Bill Ireland
Bill Ireland was one of them, but has been a mystery as to where he came from, where he went and how he ended up befriended by Tink.

He was old enough to be Tink's father and maybe he was originally a friend of Tink's father and that is why Tink looked out for him.

My research uncovered a distant family connection. He was the fist cousin of the wife of the first cousin several times removed of Tink's mother Sallie Adams Fulford. I doubt that either Sallie or Tink knew of this at the time. He was from the same area of North Carolina as Tink's parents and had been fishing in Cortez since Tink was an infant, so maybe that familiarity had made Tink want to look out for him.

Twice over about 15 years Tink took off on road trips to find Ireland when he needed help and either move him back to Cortez or set him up fishing somewhere else where.

When you consider that Tink rarely drove a car or truck the stories of him taking off to look for Bill Ireland intrigued me. I can remember only one time being in a car with my grandpa driving. He always let his wife Edith drive. On that occasion we were going to St. Petersburg to visit relatives. He got behind the wheel and I was sitting shotgun. When grandma got out to the car she said under her breath "well I never" but got in the back seat without a fuss. She did have to point out the push buttons on the dash for the Dodge's transmission before he could back out of the driveway.

William Dill Ireland was born February 2, 1872 on Portsmouth Island in Carteret County, North Carolina to John Elze and Nancy Jane Simmons Ireland. He died while a patient at the State Hospital in Arcadia, Florida on July 15, 1957.

The first record I found of him in Florida was on the 1910 Census when he was living in Cortez, Florida. He was listed as single and living with several other single fishermen in one of the buildings on the waterfront that were used to store fish nets and provide shelter for single men. The buildings were called net camps but the cotton nets were usually kept outside on wooden frame structures called net spreads, to let them dry out. They didn't keep the nets inside for long or rats would make a home in them and tear them up.
Death Certificate

In 1918 Ireland registered for the WWI draft while in Cortez and listed his closest relative as his brother, David S. Ireland of Gum Neck, Terrell County, NC. He was in Cortez on the 1920 Census but moved away in 1933. He got into a confrontation with Major Hall, another single fisherman who lived in a net camp, over a woman. Ireland shot his rifle towards Hall's net camp. No one was hurt and no charges were filed but Ireland decided to leave.

On the 1935 Florida Census he was living in Sebastian, Florida, on the Atlantic coast. On the 1940 Census he was in Punta Rassa, near Fort Myers in Lee County Florida on the Gulf coast.

This photo, taken in the early 1930s shows the building out over the water that was Ireland's net camp. He built the camp in the late 1920s. I don't know if one of the men in the photo is him but you can see them mending holes in the nets, which was a daily job. Ireland sold the camp to my mother's cousin Grey Fulford in 1933 who moved it to the shore, renovated and lived in it until he died in 1988. It is still there on the waterfront in Cortez.
Ireland's Fish Camp

Sometime around 1939 my mother, who was in high school at the time, made a trip with Tink to find Ireland south of Sebastian, in Fort Pierce, Florida. Tink heard he wasn't doing well over there and wanted to bring him closer to home. They brought Ireland to Cortez in the old truck, and then Tink took him to Punta Rassa and set him up with a job at a friend's Fish house.
Mary Frances, looking for Bill Ireland in Ft. Pierce

In the late 40s Tink heard that Ireland was sick and went down to Punta Rassa and brought him back to Cortez again. He lived in the net camp in front of Tink's house and fished in Cortez until about 1955 when he was too sick to stay alone and went to the hospital.

Both my mother and her cousin Doris Adams Green have fond memories of Ireland. Doris wrote in her book, "Fog's Comin In" that he would make fish hooks for her out of straight pins and gather snails for bait from the net spread pilings, so she could fish on the waterfront. My mother said he was considered part of the family.

My uncle Ralph and my mother's cousin Blue Fulford were younger and didn't know Ireland until he came back to Cortez in the late 1940s. He was just an old man to them at that time and they never knew where he came from or how he ended up in Cortez. Ralph said when Ireland was living in Tink's net camp in front of the family house he would cook most of his own meals on a small propane stove. He often invited Ralph to eat lunch with him and was a pretty good cook.

Marker on grave
Ireland had a small fishing boat, the size of a skiff, with a 9 hp air cooled engine that he fished by himself. He used a gill net, fishing for mullet in The Kitchen near Cortez and Sarasota Bay. Blue ended up with the boat after Ireland died. It was Blue's first boat after fishing with Tink since he was 10. He told the story of catching 3-400 lbs of mullet once in The Kitchen which was all the small boat could hold. When he got back to the dock, Tink was standing there with some visitors. Tink pointed to the fish and said, see that's my nephew Blue, he comes in every morning with a load like that.

As far as I know Bill Ireland never married or had children of his own. By the time he died in 1957 he was the last of his family and was buried in the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Arcadia.

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