Historic boat returns to  Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center

N.C. Maritime Museum boatbuilder Tim White works on repairs to Periauger, a historic replica of the Colonial era boat. The boat, the only known example of a periauger in existence, is undergoing refurbishment at Beaufort’s Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center, where it was originally built. (Contributed photo)

BEAUFORT — 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.

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.

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