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The Outer Banks of North Carolina: A Brief History

What do the Civil War, Blackbeard the Pirate, a lost colony, and the Wright Brothers all have in common?

They’re all a part of the fascinating history of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Unique in many ways, this series of islands spans nearly 200 miles of the North Carolina coast.

It is made up of Hatteras Island, Ocracoke, Roanoke Island, Bodie Island, and Ile d’Ocracoke.

Early settlers and a mystery

The first inhabitants of the Outer Banks were Native Americans, who were originally friendly to the English settlers who came to their area.

By the 1800’s, though, disease and fighting with the settlers had wiped out the Native American population.

The first English settlers were led by John White, landing at Hatteras Island in 1587. Finding Hatteras unsuitable for their needs, they sailed around the Pamlico Sound and finally settled at Roanoke Island.

This is where an intriguing mystery becomes a part of Outer Banks history.

John White left the settlers at Roanoke and returned to England for supplies.

The Anglo-Spanish War kept him from returning immediately, but when a team did return with supplies they found that the colony was gone.

They mystery of the “Lost Colony” has never been solved.

Blackbeard’s domain

The intrigue of the Outer Banks doesn’t end with the Lost Colony.

Throughout the 1600’s and 1700’s, the islands were home to pirates, including the infamous Blackbeard, who inhabited Ocracoke.

Pirates were attracted to the area due to the inlets and coves that offered them cover, as well as a place to store the gold, silver, and other valuables they stole from intercepted Spanish and British ships.

Piracy died out with the capture of Blackbeard by the British Royal Navy.

The Civil War

One of the first battles of the war was waged when two Union Hatteras Island forts fired upon the Confederates.

The battle resulted in no casualties for the Union and the Confederates were routed in a matter of hours.

Other small skirmishes took place throughout the islands, but the Union never lost control.

Maybe more significant is the refuge the Outer Banks provided for slaves, both free and runaway, during this time period.

The word spread and they eventually set up the “Freedman’s Colony” on Roanoke Island.

It was the largest settlement of runaway slaves located in Confederate territory.

Forerunner of the Coast Guard

Before and after the Civil War, Life Saving Stations were crucial in rescuing lost ships and being a place of respite for sailors who were passing through.

The stations stretched from the Currituck beaches to Ocracoke Island and are considered the beginnings of the modern-day Coast Guard.

The Wright Brothers

Brothers Orville and Wilbur took the first flight from Kill Devil Hills.

It only lasted 12 seconds, but it was enough to earn North Carolina the moniker, “First in Flight.”

The brothers continued honing their invention and there is an impressive monument to them in Kitty Hawk.

No Outer Banks vacation would be complete without a visit to the place flight took off.

The present

The Wright Brothers’ success, along with the first successful radio transmissions, sparked a growth in the area.With the rich history, breathtaking beaches, and stunning lighthouses, the Outer Banks have become one of the most popular vacation destinations in the country.