So weâ€™ve been living in North Carolina for
almost a year now and sampled exceeding few of its attractions. Time to correct this shortcoming and head for the Outer Banks! The trip was thanks to my brother-in-law, who
invited us to join an annual get-together he has there each summer with a bunch
of college buddies and their families.
Theyâ€™ve been doing this almost every year since the early 1990â€™s, so
there was obviously some vibe we needed to get in touch with.
Being a rookie, I was
compelled to read a couple books on this succession of islands stretching 175
miles along Americaâ€™s
eastern seaboard. The initial lessons
were geographical and I was enlightened as to how several natural coincidences converged
to create a series of gargantuan sand bars popping significantly above sea
level. After years and years of
rainfall cleansing away the salt, vegetation took root and breathed life into
this unique environment. The rain also
accumulated beneath the sandy surface, providing stores of fresh water for
anyone with enough knowledge or desperation to dig a shallow well.
Several Indian tribes found
this a reasonable place for existence and subsided here until the European
invasion. The first explorer to
encounter the Outer Banks was apparently Verrazano in 1524, who was unable to
spot any land mass beyond the Banks and reported that he must have reached the
fringes of the oriental seas, with China just beyond!
About sixty years later,
under the sponsorship of Sir Walter Raleigh, the first permanent settlement in
North America was attempted on Roanoke Island
in 1587 on the Banks. The ambitious
venture was heralded by a wonderful omen not long after the 110 settlers were
set down --- Virginia Dare became the first European to be born in the New World. The
colonists were left to forge their community with promises of a speedy return
and fresh supplies, but Englandâ€™s
entanglement with the Spanish Armada would delay a return for three years. When John White, the first governor of North Carolina and
Virginia Dareâ€™s grandfather, finally made it back in 1590, the settlement was
found to have been abandoned without a trace. No bodies or clues would ever be uncovered to
hint at the fate of the â€śLost Colonyâ€ť.
This would be the first of many tragedies associated with the Outer
Most of the further tragedies
were associated with the numerous and quickly changing sand bars here, earning
a troublesome nickname â€“ â€śGraveyard of the Atlanticâ€ť. Perils often double as opportunity, especially
for sailors who learned the secrets of navigating around the treacherous Banks. The Outer Banks would become a haven for
pirates in the early 1700â€™s. Intimate
knowledge of local waterways afforded ample protection from pursuit and there
was a ready supple of treasure laden vessels since most ships returning to
Europe capitalized upon favorable currents provided by the Gulf Stream, which runs
along the Banks..
Edward Teach, better known as
Blackbeard, was probably the most infamous of this gang, and another of the
Banks vicious sagas was his bloody death off Ocracoke Island
in 1718. If you get to visit the Outer
Banks, it wonâ€™t take long to appreciate how forcefully the tourism industry
promotes Blackbeardâ€™s tenure here.
The dangers of sailing around
the Outer Banks would retard North Carolinaâ€™s
growth in colonial times, since the mainland was insulated from ready access by
the deep draught ships going back-and-forth from Europe. During the American Revolution, however, this
turned out to be a huge advantage since local knowledge could find ways to get
supplies through. The British navy,
unrivaled in supremacy during this era, effectively blockaded everything from Boston to the Chesapeake Bay,
but were powerless to plug routes through the Banks, hampered by their depth
The final nugget of Outer
Banks history, celebrated on the stateâ€™s license plates and by numerous sites
and other attractions, was the Wright Brothers ushering in of aviation at Kitty Hawk. Since
we lived in Dayton, Ohio
(where the Wright Brothers lived) during the 100th anniversary of
the first flight, I confess continuing amusement that Ohio
license plates proclaim â€śBirthplace of Aviationâ€ť and our new home of North Carolina has license
plates broadcasting â€śFirst in Flightâ€ť.
Everybody wants a piece of the action.
That tidbit aside, the
ingenuity and determination of the Wright Brothers is an inspiring story. Their first visit to Kitty
Hawk was in 1900, and they returned annually until achieving
success in 1903. I encourage you to
learn about this magnificent endeavor as they labored mightily to capitalize
upon lessons learned after the failures during their first three visits to the
There is a much greater
bounty of Outer Banks history, but my goal is only to entice you to find
sources much better than my rambling. On
to our experiences and some pictures to display the beauty.