At one point a thriving port town, Portsmouth village lost it’s last inhabitants in 1971 when Henry Pigott died, and the last two residents – Elma Dixon and Marian Babb – reluctantly left for the mainland.
Established in 1753, within twenty years the village became one of the largest settlements on the Outer Banks. For nearly a century the shipping trade through Ocracoke inlet saw the growing settlement blossom into a major North Carolina port. That is until the growing shoals, shifting sands, the 1846 hurricane which opened an inlet near Hatteras and the advent of railroad saw the port trade draw to a close.
With the advance of the Union army in 1850, the villagers fled to the mainland until the end of the war. With the conflict over, many chose to remain on the mainland. Fishing became the commerce and means for survival for the returning villagers until isolation, a depressed economy, and the destruction caused by hurricanes took it’s toll on the remaining population.
Subsequently in 1976 the island became a historical treasure, as part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, today you can walk the paths of the village, visit the structures, while listening to whispers on salt filled breezes that speak of past struggles, tragedies, survival and life as resident of a small fishing village.
Portsmouth Island is a rustic vacationer’s paradise. But be warned, there are no businesses, no vacation homes, and no stores; it’s a hard-to-get-to location with no modern amenities for those who like ‘roughing it. For those that prefer more comfort the ferry runs daily – in season – from Ocracoke Harbor.
Sources: Cape Lookout National Seashore, Portsmouth Island, Short Stories & History by Ben B Salter.
Image: Pigott’s House – Village Craftsman
Inky: If you can’t tell by now, I love my home state. Living by the sea, surrounded by so many stories, so much history has always been like paradise for me. I’ve lived elsewhere for years, traveled, worked for long periods of time away from home, but I always found myself drawn back to here. Some of my happiest memories are here, tagging along with my grandfather and great uncle to the family ‘fish house’ just off shore. Watching them work with their gill nets, being given my first gill net needle when I was seven, and helping my grandfather mend nets. Watching old silent movies on a sheet tacked to my great aunt Aliza’s kitchen wall. Watching her comb out her long (to the back of her knees) black hair as she moved back and forth on the porch swing, being taught to quilt in her little sewing house out back, and stealing figs from her huge fig tree behind the sewing house.
Listening to: the air conditioner buzzing in the background and the far off sound of Cherokee Booms.
Doing: Getting ready to go to the local store.