Just thirteen miles long, four miles wide with sixteen miles of pristine beaches Ocracoke is a sunbather’s paradise, and a historian’s dream. Leaving behind the stories of pirates, smugglers, Native Americans, and wild ponies for the moment the beaches are littered with the skeletal remains of shipwrecks. Which is where my family history begins in the new world, from a shipwrecked ancestor in the 1500’s.
Tiger – 1585, chief pilot Simon Fernando for Sir Richard Grenville’s expedition to the new world. The flagship ran aground, resulting in gear being destroyed by the saltwater. It was eventually repaired and re-launched on it’s expedition to Roanoke Island and what was later to become the Lost Colony.
Nuestra Senora – 1750, A Spanish mercantile vessel wrecked during a fierce storm. It’s cargo – a million pieces-of-eight – was plundered by islanders who were angered by previous Spanish pirating.
Henry – 1819, A sloop traveling from New York to Charleston, S.C., rang aground on the south beach of the island four miles from land in a strong gale. All hands but the captain were lost.
Black Squall, 1861, transporting a circus troupe and animals from Havana to New York, was caught in a storm near Ocracoke and wrecked on the beach. All aboard were lost with the single exception of two beautiful Arabian horses who escaped and made the island their home.
Home, 1837, a paddle wheel steamer with sails known as “Queen of the Seas” on it’s way from New York to Charleston, S.C. ran into hurricane force winds and hit the beach north of Ocracoke village at 10 P.M. It fell apart in the surf, and despite rescue attempts of the 130 on board, 90 men, women and children died.
Aristo, 1899, Christmas Eve, this British schooner-rigged steamship mistook the Ocracoke Lighthouse for the Hatteras Light. The ship carrying cargo of wheat, lumber and cotton ran aground near the north end of the island and the captain ordered the men to lifeboats. The boats capsized and all but nine of the 31 men drowned.
George W. Wells, 1913, the first six-masted sailing ship to cross the Atlantic from Boston to Fernandia, Florida encountered hurricane-force winds near Hatteras Island. The rescue team managed to save all of the 21 people aboard as well as a St Bernard dog.
Carroll A. Deering, 1920, “The Ghost Ship”, traveling from Rio de Janerio to Norfolk the ship ran aground near Hatteras Island. A rescue party went to offer help and found only a hungry gray cat. “Everything aboard was shipshape” relayed James Midgett part of the Hatteras Inlet Lifesaving Station, “There were no signs of disorder or any indications of hasty departure by the men aboard. The table in the mess-room was set with plates, knives, and forks.” A year or so later, the bow washed up on the beach and was buried until 1955 when a hurricane unearthed it and sent up to Hatteras Island.
The last is most poignant for me, because my grandfather stepped onto the Carroll A. Deering all those years ago. He relayed his stories until the day he died, and I as a small girl was an avid listener to them all. While it is dangerous, immensely mysterious and destructive, I love the sea. How could I not spoon fed on such stories but a grandfather I doted on.
Today, I do not live on Ocracoke Island, although I have been there many times to date. It represents family, roots, and a place of natural beauty, peace and quiet for me. One of the places I call home.
Sources: Island Free Press, Ocracoke – Carl Goerch, Graveyard of the Atlantic – David & Frank Stick