From One Island to Another: The Hayman Sweet Potato’s First Stop on the Outer Banks
You may have never heard of the Hayman sweet potato. But once you taste one, you’ll remember it always. This certain white fleshed tuber holds great significance on the Outer Banks: it’s the first place the potato stopped on a long journey from Barbados over 160 years ago, before being distributed up and down the East coast.
John Rollinson, a port collector in Hatteras and a resident of Frisco, recorded the Sally Smith entering the Port of Hatteras on December 19, 1859. The vessel was hailing from Barbados (and headed inland) with 35 tons of ballast, captained by Master Captain Daniel Hayman. A native Outer Banker, Hayman made his home near Kitty Hawk (when he wasn’t making trips between the Banks and the West Indies).
The ship was carrying:
“3 puncheons of molasses, 3 barrels of molasses, 900 oranges, ships stores, part of a puncheon of molasses, 1 barrel of yams, 4 bottles of gin, part of a barrel of sugar.”
The records are inconsistent as to whether the Sally Smith was bound for Edenton or Elizabeth City, however: Sarah Downing’s book (Chronicles of the Outer Banks: Fish Tales and Salty Gales) cites Elizabeth City as a destination, while Ben Dixon MacNeill’s book (The Hatterasman) cites Edenton as the final destination for the cargo. Either way, we know these unique potatoes made their debut on domestic soil first along the Outer Banks, and were grown here locally for many years.
The barrel of yams first recorded by Rollinson became later known as the Hayman Sweet Potato. The Hayman is a lighter skinned, nearly candy-like tasting white potato that turns chartreuse once cooked. It’s reported that as soon as the Hayman potato entered North Carolina, a traveling Methodist minister came into possession of some of Hayman’s tuber import. The News & Observer in 1891 wrote that Dr. W. R. Capehart of Avoca, VA only received 5 of Hayman’s potatoes. He then transported the potatoes to the Eastern Shore, where they were propagated. Today, the Eastern Shore of both Virginia and Maryland is famous for the Hayman tubers, as flocks of locals await their arrival each fall – buying them by the box.
This year, we’re choosing to reinvigorate the history (and the cultivation) of the Hayman sweet potato on Roanoke Island. At our historic site Island Farm, our team interprets the life of the Etheridge Family through a variety of programs, stories, demonstrations, and events.
The journey of the Hayman sweet potato has always struck us as notable: a unique potato variety travels nearly 2,000 miles from Barbados to Hatteras Island under the helmsmanship of an Outer Banks captain, where soon after it permeates farm fields of Outer Bankers (and Eastern Shore Virginians and Marylanders), eventually becoming a standard sweet potato variety reliably produced in North Carolina (and other parts of the east coast) for generations.
In the mid-1800s, Roanoke Island had the highest number of farmers on the entirety of the Outer Banks. At the time, Adam Dough Etheridge (the patriarch of the current day Island Farm) owned 420 acres of land on the north end of the island, 20 of which were tilled and used to grow food. Although Etheridge split his time between land and sea – from farming to fishing and oystering – it’s significant that Etheridge listed his main occupation as “farmer” on the 1850 census. Adam Etheridge regarded his Roanoke Island farmland with great reverence.
Based on ongoing genealogical research of the Etheridge family, the Hayman family, and the journey of this sweet potato along the small communities of the Outer Banks, we believe that Hayman sweet potatoes were grown on the current day Island Farm by Adam Dough Etheridge. One Etheridge descendant recounts his grandmother’s memory of the Hayman potato being grown on the Etheridge (now Island Farm) property when she was young. She was born in 1904.
Another account of the Hayman being grown on Roanoke Island came from The Independent from Elizabeth City reported that in 1919, Joe Tom Daniels of Wanchese grew one Hayman potato nearly three feet in length. Both of Captain Daniel Hayman’s sons lived on Roanoke Island – Mathias Hayman in Wanchese, and Jeff Hayman in Manteo.
And further afar, nearly two decades after the potato landed on the outer Banks, the Hayman was already found in markets in the Albemarle area, Raleigh and Norfolk. An excerpt from the Farmer and Mechanic newspaper in 1877 quotes C.W. Hollowell (of Bayside Plantation, south of Elizabeth City and later owner of the Nags Head Hotel) praising its fecundity and hardiness:
“We consider it quite an acquisition to our potato crop, as we have less trouble in getting the sprouts to live when set out than any other variety we have here. They grow rapidly, mature early, and will afford more food for hogs than any other crop I can plant on the same ground.”
At Island Farm, we’re planning to reconnect our community with this delicious sweet potato that once thrived so wildly on the Outer Banks. In the coming weeks, we’ll be selling the Hayman sweet potato plants that we’ve grown on the Farm this spring – ready to be planted in your garden now!
For more details on where to find our Hayman sweet potatoes in the coming weeks, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, give a call to 252-473-6500, or simply follow us on social media. You can find us on Facebook (@IslandFarmRoanokeIsland) and Instagram (@island__farm).
An instructional video on how to plant Hayman sweet potato slips can be found here: https://youtu.be/AE2gOybMDI4