The first residents of Ocracoke Island were a small tribe of Native Americans. They are the Woccocock. The island got its name from a common mispronunciation. Early explorers, colonists and settlers had trouble with the pronunciation. They then simplified it to “Ocracoke” which stuck. Surrounded by rich farm lands, the island’s residents were fishermen and farmers.
The fishing village is located around a small sheltered harbor called Silver Lake. It is at the edge of Ocracoke Village in Hyde County, on the southern region of the Outer Banks. The area is within Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Of the Outer Banks islands, Ocracoke Island is the most remote uninhabited one of them all.
Ocracoke was initially uninhabited. It was used by Hatteras Indians as hunting and fishing grounds. The first documentation of the island is by an Italian explorer, his name was Giovanni da Verrazzano. In 1524, he found the area to be unnavigable due to the shallow inlets. Since he was unable to gain access, he made the assumption that what lay beyond the Outer Banks was China.
In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth entrusted a troop of 300 men to find a base in the New World. The troop, led by Sir Richard Grenville encountered ship trouble in the Ocracoke inlet. They stopped on the island to handle repairs. They explored the island but left it deserted once more.
Ocracoke history shows it as a pirate haven. This contributed to its not being settled until 1750. It was a particular favorite of Edward Teach, a pirate best known as Blackbeard. Blackbeard was killed during a battle with troops from Virginia in 1718.
As population increased so did development on the historic island. By the 19th century, the United States Life-Saving Service was set up. It became a great source of livelihood for locals. At the moment, some features on the island are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The features are the Ocracoke Historic district, Ocracoke Light Station and Fishing Lodge.
This is a non-profit community based society. It focuses on preserving the rich cultural heritage of the historic Ocracoke Island. The society encourages public participation in preservation programs. It also organizes activities through memberships and contributions.
The lighthouse was built to help guide ships through Ocracoke inlet. It is near Silver Lake and has been operational since 1823. It is the oldest operating light station in North Carolina. It is also the second oldest lighthouse that still stands in the state.
Several British ships were sunk by German submarines during World War II. Several of the soldiers’ bodies were washed to shore and were buried in the cemetery on the island. A British flag flies at all times in honor of the British soldiers. The property is taken care of by the United States Coast Guard station on Ocracoke Island. An annual memorial is held at the British cemetery each May.
The fort was built when the American Civil War began. It is in the Ocracoke inlet on Beacon Island, two miles from a historic Ocracoke village. “There were about 500 Confederate troops stationed in the area. In 1861, the Confederates abandoned and destroyed the fort and fled.
The island and fort succumbed to waves from the inlet when a series of hurricanes hit in 1993. The Surface Interval Diving Company identified and restored remains of Fort Ocracoke in 1998.” Wikipedia
Ocracoke Island is highly dependent on tourism to boost its economy. When population is minimal on the island, most businesses close their doors. Businesses wait for summer when tourists flock the island in search of attractions. There are many businesses on the island, including;
· Hotels, campgrounds and weekly rental houses
· Bars and a brewery
· Shops, stores and numerous tourist-based businesses
Locals are actively involved in fishing, both for consumption and sport. In 1987, a fisherman caught a record breaking 13-pound (5.9kg) Spanish mackerel. The fish broke the previous record by almost 20%.
In the winter, the island is mainly dependent on construction. Small businesses and the NC Department of Transportation also work as a source of income.
The island experiences a humid subtropical climate. This means there are cool, windy winters and hot, humid summers. There is a high risk of flooding during hurricanes and storms. This is due to a high precipitation especially in the months of August to September.
The ocean is often perfect for swimming between May and early October. Water temperatures fluctuate because of how close Cape Hatteras is. The cold Labrador Current and warm Gulf Stream meet at Cape Hatteras. It leads to the temperature instability.
There is a 1-hour long ferry ride from Hatteras Village. It follows a fast and scenic course in the calm waters to the west of Hatteras inlet. There are gulls in the water that hover over the ferry and can snatch bread from your hand if the moment calls for it.
Depending on what you want to see on the Outer Banks, there are some options such as;
· Duck Southern Shores
-The town in Dare County. It offers incredible beaches and activities for the whole family.
· Kitty Hawk
-There are trails cutting through the Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve. The pier also offers a great view of the Atlantic Ocean.
· Shell Castle Rock
-It is built on a natural island near Ocracoke inlet. The port of Shell Castle offers great historic knowledge and fascinating stories.
The Historic Ocracoke Island remains remote and there is little evidence of development. Most of the existing businesses are what are deemed vital. It may surprise you to know that there is not even one fast food joint on the island. The streets are mainly sandy. It is a great place to unwind and gain inner peace with nature as a guide.
Be sure to review our complete list of historical sites and other attractions across Eastern North Carolina in our main article here: The Historic Albemarle Trail.