ECSU student’s love for the ocean supplements history class lessons

Tom CoyneECSU history major Tom Coyne found a way to tie his appreciation for North Carolina history to his love for the ocean.

During the warmest months of the year, he keeps busy working as a charter boat captain assisting yacht owners with the delivery of their prized possessions. During the fall and spring semesters, he is enrolled full time as a history major. The self-described Navy brat learned numerous lessons from his dad, a retired Navy commander. Coyne said his dad wouldn’t let him grow up without learning to live on the water. Over the years, Coyne repeatedly cruised the shoreline of five states: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Since he grew up enjoying ocean adventures outside of Florida, the area holds special memories for him.

Yet, Coyne said North Carolina is rich in historical facts that many new state residents aren’t aware of and locals take for granted.

“Our cultural roots are based in maritime commerce. Most of the information about historically significant sites is now easily accessible in our libraries and museums,” Coyne said.

“We have a large number of channels and inlets that made inner coastal trade possible. Whether it was lumber that was transported through the Dismal Swamp Canal or china and pottery that arrived over a century ago, North Carolina longshoremen received it and made sure it was transported to area merchants.”

He acknowledges state newcomers are often amazed by legends of pirates like Blackbeard who patrolled coastlines from the Caribbean to North Carolina and took over ships loaded with goods and sold the merchandise for easy profit. There are also stories about a host of ships that sank off the coastline.

“North Carolina’s history was rich in trade and natural resources. The state was dependent on the goods arriving by boat during the 17th and 18th century,” Coyne explained. “Many of the boats that sank were casualties of the Civil War, casualties due to the failure of the crew to steer the vessels along our shorelines or boats abandoned after being robbed by pirates,”

For the last year, Coyne has kept busy making dives and recovering some of North Carolina’s other prized pieces---pottery that speckle the shore of the Pasquotank River. He volunteers with the Museum of the Albemarle, assisting the museum in cataloging the different kinds of pottery divers discover. Coyne said patterns on these sunken treasures and the type of clay used are all clues that indicate if the pottery was made by Native Americans who lived in the area, or if the pottery arrived by boat from England or northern Europe.

“This is rewarding and it challenges you to look at life in a different way when you hold something in your hand that is 200 years old. There are young people who are interested in this field (history) who want to be more than guides in a museum,” Coyne said. “People probably think history majors will spend their time sifting through archival papers, but do not imagine that they might actually be diving in search of shipwrecked items 80 feet below the surface.”

He admits his life as a full-time student, charter boat captain and now museum volunteer is quite a balancing act, but it’s an incredible way to supplement the state history lessons he learns in classrooms.