Saturday, November 17, 2007
In 1585, a ship carrying a band of English people who planned to establish a colony sailed through Ocracoke Inlet. It was the first English attempt at colonizing North America, and it ended in failure. Conventional wisdom says what is now known the Lost Colony was set up to the north, on Roanoke Island, but some believe it was really located on Cedar Island in what is now Carteret County.
Ocracoke Inlet was open in those days, while today's Hatteras Inlet and Oregon Inlet didn't yet exist. Ocracoke was not an island then, but the tip of the peninsula that was the Outer Banks. Since the Great Gale of 1846, which cut Hatteras Inlet through the banks, Ocracoke has been an island. It is still accessible only by boat or aircraft.
Ironically, the Great Gale of 1846 also virtually closed Ocracoke Inlet. Until then, Ocracoke was a thriving port. Ships arriving from across the ocean and along the coast stopped here, as did ships sailing away from two of North Carolina's oldest mainland towns, New Bern and Bath. After 1846, Ocracoke went into decline.
Isolated and windswept, the island was home to about 500 residents who continued to speak an archaic brogue that sounded more English than American to those who lived on the mainland. You can still hear that brogue, but it is dying out now, as television, radio, and tourists and new residents from the West and the North bring a newer brand of English to the island.
Today, about 800 people live "permanently" in Ocracoke Village, which is at the southern limit of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The village is located on the south end of Ocracoke Island, which is about 12 miles long and only a few hundred yards wide in many places. Its average elevation is five feet above sea level.
The population swells in the summertime, as tourists come in. The village lives almost entirely off of tourist dollars nowadays. This year, Ocracoke was named the best beach in the United States by a professor in Florida who does such ratings.
Posted by Ken Broadhurst at 5:08 AM