Ocracoke Island is an original, filled with lore and local talent to match. On our first visit to the island, we immediately fell head-over-heels for its pristine beaches and old-time island way of life. We knew we had to make a life here. Below is a brief history of our beloved village, with some things we love to do. After you have worked up an appetite enjoying island life, join us for a relaxing meal at Dajio.
Ocracoke is owned by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and maintained by the National Park Service. Offering 16 miles of unspoiled beaches, this beautiful island is the perfect venue for swimming, surfing, surf fishing and boating all year long. World-class shelling, biking, bird watching and kayaking are just a few activities available to “off-season” visitors, who enjoy Ocracoke’s temperate weather courtesy of the Gulf Stream.
Much of the allure of the village of Ocracoke is its remoteness, requiring visitors to arrive by private plane, private boat or one of the state-run ferries from Cedar Island, Swan Quarter, and Hatteras Village. These limited modes of access have helped preserve the prominent Old English-inspired brogue of some of the 800 year-round residents. Located at the southern tip of the island, Ocracoke residents lived in relative isolation until the 1950s, having contact with the mainland only through daily trips by the mail boat. Their livings were made from fishing and hunting and as guides to wealthy mainland families, hunters and fisherman who could afford to summer here. Ocracoke was truly discovered when Highway 12 was paved and scheduled ferry service began in 1957, allowing wider access to tourists.
For a brief period during World War II, the Coast Guard station was transformed into a US Navy base. Beaches were closed, fishing was curtailed, homes and businesses were requisitioned, and the island’s lifestyle was interrupted. The war was witnessed firsthand offshore where “Torpedo Junction” claimed more than 60 ships during the first 6 months of 1942. The British Cemetery on Ocracoke serves as a reminder of this period. It holds the bodies of four young British soldiers who lost their lives when the HMC Bedfordshire was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Ocracoke. Island residents found and buried the bodies on donated land and maintained the graves.
The history of Ocracoke is also rich in pirate lore. It is said that Blackbeard, the infamous pirate who plundered the Carolina coast in the early 1700s, fought his last battle just off the island at Teach’s Hole, where he was beheaded. Legend hints that his vast treasure may still be buried here.
Since 1823, the oldest working lighthouse in North Carolina and one of the oldest on the East Coast has stood tall on Ocracoke, guiding ships along the treacherous “Graveyard of the Atlantic”. Though now a ghost town, Portsmouth Village is maintained by the Cape Lookout Park Service and can be toured as a reminder of the growth both this and Ocracoke Island experienced when the Ocracoke Inlet served as the main waterway.
Located near the ferry docks, the Ocracoke Preservation Museum details the history of the first families of Ocracoke, the island’s place in the Civil and World Wars, and its traditions. Visitors of all ages love observing the famous Banker Ponies that once roamed free on the island and numbered nearly 200. Local volunteers aid the National Park Service in the continued care of their descendants who now reside just off Highway 12.
Come and experience the rich but simple life that Ocracoke has to offer at any time of the year.