A Documentary On Robert Harrill The Hermit Has
Been Produced and is
Available on Line
The Story "Robert
The Fort Fisher Hermit" by Michael F. Edwards is available
at Books a Million and at most gift shops in the area
around Fort Fisher, North Carolina.
Also by contacting Michael F Edwards,
The Fort Fisher Hermit Society.
Picture courtesy of Michael F.
Edwards and Fred Pickler,
This Web Page Copyright 2002
by G. Lee Hearl
I have been intrigued by the story of Robert Harrill
since I first read about him a few years before he died.. I regret that I
never traveled to North Carolina to meet him.
I am not sure where Robert was born, some say South Carolina while others
say Shelby, NC. Early in his life his mother died and his father remarried
and as a result, the young boy found himself in hostile environs..
Through it all, he managed to graduate from high school which in its self
seems to be quite an accomplishment during that period.. Robert was born
Feb. 2, 1893, Groundhog Day. Many people born during that period never learned
to read and write.
After high school he studied to be a Baptist Minister but apparently his
beliefs concerning evolution caused him to be expelled from the school in
his senior year. No doubt, this caused him some agony, having failed to
succeed in his chosen field at an early age..
He worked at many jobs in and around Shelby, NC, farming, textile mills,
WPA and others but his independent nature seemed to keep him from
succeeding working for others.
When he met and
married Katie Hamrick in 1913 he was still unsettled but continued to work
at various jobs to provide for his family.. He even tried his hand at
selling craft items, traveling in a T-Model "bus" for a while. Apparently
his wife became disillusioned with the life they were living, even after
he built a log cabin in Shelby, NC. and she took the children to live in
It was about that time that Robert was committed to a state hospital and
put under lock and key..
Being a natural craftsman, he fashioned a key from a spoon handle and
along with several other inmates, found freedom!
SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH BEGINS
While locked up in the State Hospital, Robert came across some
writings by Dr. William Taylor who ran a school which taught courses
in Bio-Psycho-Genetics at Spruce Pine, NC. It seemed to be the answer to
some of his problems and he made his way to Spruce Pine to meet Dr.
Taylor.. He was soon involved in a course to obtain a degree in the
field.. The pursuit of this degree continued for many years and the
teachings of Dr. Taylor convinced Robert that he should try to discover
his true self, go back and start all over in his life.. He surmised that
the logical place to start over was near the sea, on a beach he had
discovered years before during a vacation he had spent at Fort Fisher on
the coast of North Carolina.. So, with only a little change in his pocket,
he hitchhiked across the state..
At Fort Fisher he found a place where he could think and meditate about
life and what it was all about.. He could find what he had been searching
for, The Truth!
LIFE AT THE BEACH
Robert found an isolated piece of land at Fort Fisher which had been
abandoned by the government after World War Two and the need for shoreline
defense was no longer needed. He found oysters and other sea food in the
nearby bay and berries in the marshland brush. This was really a new
beginning for him, nature would provide much of his food and a tent would
be all the shelter he would need! Now he was free from harsh bosses of the
textile mills, the teasing he endured by his fellow workers because he was
a small man and all the other distractions of every day life, he could
concentrate on things which really mattered, life and a 'common sense'
approach to it..
Life on the beach wasn't all he thought it might be, his tent soon
disappeared and the hurricanes moving up the coast proved hard to deal
with but he never lost his love for his surroundings. He soon discovered
an old ammunition storage building and moved into it. He met another man
living there also and soon made friends with him. Some of the people
living nearby objected to this strange man who, it appeared, had come
there to stay and soon they were complaining to the authorities about him and
his friend.. He was hauled into court many times but stood his ground and
even brought charges against others when he had been wronged.. Robert Harrill was gaining confidence in himself and soon started imparting his
theories about life to others who would listen.. and listen they did!
It was during this period of the late fifties and sixties that the
"hippie" movement began and it seemed Robert Harrill had found the Truth!
They came by the thousands each year to hear his lectures about "Life" and
"Common Sense" approaches to it.. He unhesitatingly stated his opinions on
all subjects and was interviewed quite often by reporters and writers..
Someone dubbed him the "Fort Fisher Hermit" and the title stuck.. He even
erected a crude sign directing people to his old concrete bunker and
supplied a "seeded" hubcap for their donations.. Robert had found
happiness at last! Because of the publicity given him, his son was able to
locate him and they found the bond that had been missing for many years
and his son visited him many times afterwards.
Robert Harrill enjoyed his simple life and all the "friends" who visited
him for almost seventeen years, but in June of 1972 four youngsters found
him dead in his bunker and the mystery of his death is still to be
resolved.. The Coroner ruled his death as a heart attack, others disagree
and are still searching for the Truth! Robert E. Harrell is buried in a
cemetery near the place where his search for the truth ended and today
hundreds visit his grave and leave flowers and sea shells in memory of the
"Fort Fisher Hermit".... The End..
Note: For the complete story read "Robert Harrill,
The Fort fisher Hermit" by Michael F. Edwards. See information at left
Robert Harrill has been proven by DNA test and Research to be a descendant of the line of Housand Harrill of Bedford Co. Va and Rutherford co. NC. This group of Harrills has been traced back to
Prince William and Fauquier co. VA.. G. Lee Hearl