In our last post, two weeks ago, we addressed “what to expect” if visiting Portsmouth Island. This week we will learn a little about the history of the island.
Portsmouth Island is part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, acquired in the sixties. Cape Lookout itself is part of our Outer Banks, and consists of three barrier islands: North Core Banks, South Core Banks, and Shackleford Banks (where the Shackleford ponies can be found). Portsmouth Island is in Carteret County, and you can see several areas across the water, including Ocracoke and Atlantic, NC.
Core Banks and Core Sound are believed to be named for the Coree Indians, who resided in this area of our state.
The Coree Indians were also known as Coranine, Cores, Connanox, Neuse River Indians, or Commamocksocks.
** “The name Coree may be the singular form of the Carolina Algonquian name Cwareuuoc.” Wikipedia
Although I was unable to find a direct reference to the meaning of this word, I did find this:
“Before the arrival of the white man, the lands adjacent to Cape Lookout, mainly Core Banks, were inhabited by the Coree Indians, who hunted and fished on the banks near the cape, although they mainly resided further inland, in a village named Cwareuuoc, several miles behind Core Banks.”
credit: Coastal North Carolina
At one time, the Coree Indians resided south of the Neuse River. Little is known about this tribe, due to the small numbers (my understanding is that they had only thee villages: most sources did not mention Cwareuuoc). Their survival was primarily based on agriculture and our Atlantic Ocean.
Coranine, believed to be coastal Carteret County.
Narhantes, near New Bern.
Raruta, also believed to be coastal Carteret County.
The first official mention of these Indians was in 1701. During the Tuscarora War (1711-1713) the Corees joined Tuscarora to fight.After the war ended, some transplanted to New York to settle.
The remaining Corees merged with the Tuscarora and the Algonquian Machapunga into a single village on Lake Mattamuskeet of Hyde County in 1715. Others settled into nearby areas such as Indian Beach, Harker’s Island, and Alantic Beach.
The Coranines are associated with the only cannibalism reference of Indians in our state.
For more about this, please see “The American Indian in North Carolina“, written by Douglas Rights, page 56.
Also please note: according to the information on page 259 of this reference, the numbers of the Coree were approximately 1000 at the time of first contact with settlers. However, NCpedia quotes a number of 100 in 1701. Another source, Carolina Native Americans, mentions a war that decimated the population before 1696.
Originally, Portsmouth Village, located at the south end, was what was called a “lightering” port. It is a historic district, and no camping or cabin rentals are available in this area.
Lightering port essentially means that deep draft vessels, unable to access the shallow waters of the sounds, would lay off-shore, and shallow draft boats would take on their cargo to transport across the waters. While speaking with one of the ferry people, I was told that most of the sound only averages around 2-3 feet of water, so you can see why this was necessary.
Portsmouth Village was established in 1753, and at one time, was at a peak population of 685 (1860). After hurricanes contributed to the shoaling of the port waters, and the onslaught of the Civil War, people began to relocate to the mainland, and many never returned. In 1937, the life-saving station was decommissioned, and the small post office official closed in 1959. In 1971, the last two residents, Marian Babb and Nora Dixon, left the island after the passing of their caretaker, Henry Pigott.
Although many may not realize it now, a large amount of the population was African American, having been brought in as slaves. Most of these people also left Portsmouth Island due to the war, but some residents remained. At this time, segregation was wide-spread, and due to the fact that the island did not have a school specifically for the African American population, many never received a formal education.
Below is a variety of village photos, and you can also download photos and an audio tour at this link
Under the Park Service, Portsmouth Island and the village have maintained both the isolation and close relation with nature that many of us crave. The Park Service has cabins that can be rented (please see other post mentioned above for more details on this ), although they are very basic, and most do not even offer a refrigerator. However, if you want to walk for hours in quiet with the ocean, this is the place for you. You can even camp directly on the beach, and the cabin area also offers a shower/bathroom building for those who decide to camp out.
Along with the fishing available, not only on the shore, but also sound-side, you will also see lots of small animal life. The island boasts a strong population of Eastern Cottontails, in particular, and you will see them everywhere, including right in the cabin area.
Birds are also a big attraction on the island. While there, we enjoyed viewing the unusual looking oystercatcher. Following is a few of the other endangered birds you might enjoy:
For sea turtles, the most common on Portsmouth Island is the Loggerhead.
However, chances are you might luck out and see any of the following:
Shell lovers might well decide that Portsmouth Island is the mecca for shelling in NC. You may find, in addition to the usual fare, some of the following:
Scotch Bonnets (our state shell)
Along with the Park Service, there is an active organization, Friends of Portsmouth Island, who help maintain the village and also host a homecoming every two years. You can also find them on Facebook, too
To learn more or visit Portsmouth Island, the following information might be helpful:
please note: to access Portsmouth Island or the village from Ocracoke, your best bet is to use Austin Boat Tours. You can reach them by phone and my understanding is that it’s roughly a fifteen minute boat ride on a skiff that can handle up to fifteen people.
252 928 4361