Ocracoke Island History
First visited by Europeans in the early 16th century, the Outer Banks and Ocracoke Island (earlier Wokokon or Ocreekok, and variants) became increasingly colonized by the English under Sir Walter Raleigh late in that century. In this era there appeared the fabled “banker ponies” whose decendants thrive still on Ocracoke at the “pony pens” on NC 12 north, under the care of Park Service staff.
The late 17th century saw the rise of piracy and smuggling along the Outer Banks, dwindling to a close following the celebrated death of the legendary pirate Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach, off Ocracoke in 1718. The site of this epic battle, a Cove called Teach’s Hole near The Cove B&B, can be visited by strolling thru Springer’s Point Maritime Preserve just down the road. Even today more information is being collected about him in the exploration near Beaufort of his sunken flagship Queen Anne’s Revenge. Drink deeply of widely available lore and memorabilia- the OPS Museum is a good place to start.
Ocracoke’s strategic location led to the development of Pilot Town where our village now stands surrounding Cockle Creek, later deepened and renamed Silver Lake. From here experienced mariners guided ships thru uncertain shoaled waters toward the mainland. Our Lighthouse, a short walk from The Cove and the second oldest continuously operating on the East Coast, was built in 1823 for the princely sum of eleven thousand dollars.
During World War II Ocracoke served as a U.S. Navy advanced amphibious warfare training center. A monument to these “beach jumper” operations is seen on Loop Shack Hill near the airstrip. and a number of the Navy’s concrete “ammo dump” roads are in use on the island to this day.
In our British Cemetery rest four of the crew of HMT Bedfordshire who perished in action against U-boat 558 on May 11, 1942. Each year on the anniversary of this sinking a memorial service is held with representatives of the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy, together with British, Canadian, and at times German navies participating.
Protected by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Recreational Area from the massive development that befell many other beach areas, Ocracoke Island’s 16 mile length and 0.2-3 mile (diagonal) width remains a naturalist’s delight and vacationer’s marvel. Be prepared to enjoy it to it’s fullest.
The commencement of regular ferry service across Hatteras Inlet in the 1950s, together with the paving of NC 12 from the north end marked the beginning of large scale vacationing and increased populace in Ocracoke. Our 2010 census lists some 900 residents, and our highly rated Pre-K thru 12 school has about 150 students.
Further milestones in our recent history include the construction of our 3000 ft. airstrip (which at 5 ft. above sea level can almost serve to calibrate altimeters), ferry service from the mainland via Cedar Island and our county seat at Swan Quarter, neatly coordinated medical services consisting of our Health Center and Emergency Services together with both civilian and military mainland resources and transport, and the internet. All these and more have advanced the island from a pleasing albeit near-spartan existence to- presto (well, perhaps andante) – a place of modern comfort and security.
Why, we even have our very own radio station- WOVV 90.1, Ocracoke’s Village Voice, with our talented local musicians, occasional news, live local sports broadcasts and all.
For additional information on Ocracoke happenings and places, see www.ocracokevillage.com and www.ocracokecurrent.com. Exceptional coverage about beaches, Park Service, Hatteras and Ocracoke, will be found at www.islandfreepress.org. When you’re on the island pick up a copy of The Ocracoke Observer, widely available.