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Hatteras, North Carolina
Hatteras, North Carolina
  • Hatteras NC Visitor Guide

Brief History of Hatteras Island


The history of Hatteras Island and Hatteras Village is amazing. I'm not even going to try to pretend that I can begin to put this information into a web page. Instead I'll just hit on a few things to tweak your interest and hopefully encourage you to visit this area and do a little "exploring" on your own.

Speaking of exploring, Hatteras Island was thick with the native live oak trees which made it originally a sort "repair station and rest stop" for the first European explorers. Live oaks produce an extremely hardy waterproof wood which is perfect for making and repairing the hulls of boats. Also the natural shape that the live oak trunk and branches form is an almost perfect V that is needed for the hull of a ship. Early world explorers had smaller scout ships that would come to Hatteras Island and search out the perfect trees for making repairs on those larger expedition ships.

Although you can find a few live oak trees left on the Island, after those early exploration days most of them were cut down and removed from Hatteras by lumbering operations. You can still see parts of an old wooden train trestle that ran the length of the Island on your way through Pea Island.

Live oak tree on Hatteras Island

The First Filling Station?

The earliest Europeans to live on Hatteras were most likely either ship repair people left behind or volunteers that wanted to give a try at living here. If they were left off during the summer or fall, the beautiful beach life gave them no understanding what they were in for. Although the summer and fall is unbelievably balmy and desirable, it tends to betray just how windy and bone chilling cold the winters and early springs can be on Hatteras Island.

Surviving the area meant that the earliest inhabitants needed to also become proficient fishermen. With the help of the friendly Native Americans (Hatteras Indians) these earliest Europeans somehow hung on through the tough times and flourished during the good times and slowly melded into their own unique southern coastal culture. The hardy nature of locals and their ocean going understanding made them perfect candidates for another occupation that was soon going to come into demand.

Dangerous Waters - Hatteras Lifesavers

The shallow waters of nearby Diamond Shoals and other shoals along the Hatteras coast were commonly referred to as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" because of centuries of shipwrecks. A trip to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras is a great way to get an insight into the dangers early Americans faced from the ocean. The lighthouse located near Oregon Inlet was named the Bodie lighthouse. "Bodie" is Old English for "body" which identify the lighthouse for all the many bodies that would wash up in that area. Does that give you an idea of how dangerous it was?

Hatteras Island eventually became the home of several lifesaving stations dedicated to saving seafarer's lives along the coast. I highly recommend a tour of the various stations that are still open on Hatteras Island to share the rich history of these hardy locals.

Pirates Galore

Another group of hardy locals here decided to use their ocean going skills in an entirely different way! Some of the best navigators and seafarers decided to become pirates (aarrg matey!). Edward Teach who made his home in nearby Bath, NC used the waters around Hatteras and Ocracoke to become one of the most famous and feared pirates in history and was known by the name Blackbeard. Spend a little time researching Teach and you will be surprised to find out that he actually worked for the United States government for several years doing his pirating a bit before he began plundering the wrong ships and was then considered a serious problem. If you are interested in hearing a lot more about Blackbeard consider a stop at the NPS shop located near the docks in Ocracoke.

Wars on Hatteras Island!

Although there were no actual major battles fought in Frisco, Hatteras Island is not without having its own history involved in wartime. During the Civil War, the Confederates constructed two forts east of the inlet: Fort Hatteras and Fort Clark. Both these forts were attacked and surrendered to the Federal forces in 1861 and are now just bare beach.

It is also possible that the citizens of Hatteras Island may have been the closest non-military United States participants during World War II. Hatteras Island residents were not allowed to burn any home lights during the evenings because German U-boats that were patrolling just off the island would use the lights from the island to silhouette and torpedo the allied cargo ships. Few people are aware that some German spies were actually apprehended on Hatteras Island and eventually executed. Did you know that there was also a secret radar tower and radio station on the west side of Buxton that was critical to the war effort?

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