Friends of Cape Lookout National Seashore

Core and Shackleford Banks



The Cape Lookout National Seashore is made up two sets of "barrier" islands or "banks"…Shackleford Banks, which runs East-West is about 9 mile long, and Core Banks, which currently consists of three islands running Northeast-Southwest for about 45 miles. These islands have a unique history.

Eastern North Carolina owes it settlement to a spillover of people from Virginia and South Carolina. Beginning in the 1630's, settlers moved south along the Chowan River to filter into the western edge of the Albemarle Sound. Other settlements were made in a "leapfrog" fashion along river basins further down the Albemarle Sound. In the 1690's, settlers moved from the Chowan area into the Pamlico River basin, founding Bath in 1706. About 1707, French Huguenots (protestants) from the Richmond area in Virginia moved into the Neuse River basin, including the area around what is now Carteret County. In 1710, German and Swiss Palatines (again, protestants) arrived from England and founded New Bern. And, in 1725, settlers moving up the coast from South Carolina spilled over into the lower Cape Fear River basin to start a settlement near the town of Brunswick.

In 1663, Charles II of Great Britain granted the land he named “Carolina” (after himself and his father, since the Latin "Carolus" translates as "Charles"), which included all of today's North and South Carolina, along with part of Georgia, to eight "Lords Proprietors". Among these proprietors was Sir George Carteret and after his death in 1679 his son, with three other proprietors, bought Sir William Berkley's share of Carolina for three hundred pounds. At this time, "Albemarle", the area around the Albemarle Sound and along the Chowan River, was the only section settled by white men, but these settlers were looking for more land, better land, and cheaper land and continued to move slowly southward along the coast. Massachusetts and Pennsylvania had also sent out trading and exploring vessels to the shores of Carolina, and by the year 1650 the people of New England were beginning to migrate southward to Albemarle and areas along the coast.

In 1669, the Proprietors decided to divide Albemarle into four parts named Carteret, Berkley, Shaftesbury and Albemarle—this was a part of the Grand Model of the Proprietors. It did not meet with success as the thinly settled precincts, such as Carteret, objected to the rent on land being paid in silver rather than provisions. Peter Carteret, a relative of Sir George Carteret, was governor of the province at this time and the dissatisfaction increased to such an extent that he abandoned the colony and went back to England in 1673. By 1688 settlers from Albemarle had spread southward along the coast as far as the Cape Fear settlement.

In 1696, Bath County was separated from Albemarle and the area encompassing the future Carteret County was placed in the "Archdale Precinct" of Bath County. Bath County extended from Albemarle Sound down to the undivided limits of the province and when Carteret Precinct was established, it included the entire unsettled region embracing the Cape Fear and down to the South Carolina line. In 1712, "Archdale Precinct" was renamed "Craven Precinct". Carteret "Precinct" was created in 1722 from part of Craven "Precinct" and both remained as divisions of Bath County until Bath was dissolved in 1739 and all "Precincts" became "Counties". In 1779, a portion of Carteret County was annexed to Jones County when it too was formed from Craven County.

In 1710, Swiss Baron Christophe de Graffenried brought a colony of Swiss and German Palantines from England, who settled along the banks of the upper Neuse, founding the town of "New Berne" on land he purchased from the Tuscarora Indians, who had a small settlement known as Chattawka, an Indian word said to mean "where the fish are taken out", at the conflux of the Trent and Neuse rivers. Most of these settlers remained around that vicinity, but some of them, looking for more room and better land, moved over to the Core Sound region.

In 1711, the Tuscarora Indians opened war on the "invading" whites in eastern North Carolina. They destroyed much property and many lives. Among those who lost their lives was John Lawson, the earliest historian of the state. Colonel James Moore, in 1712, ended the First Tuscarora War by marching into Carteret and completely subduing the Indians in a battle near the present day town of Beaufort. However, conflict soon broke out again and the Second Tuscarora War ended in 1713 with the Tuscaroras moving north to settle with the Iroquois Nation in New York state.

The Coree Indians were a tribe that occupied lands on the south side of the Neuse River in Carteret and Craven counties and, according to at least one source, their territory included Ocracoke and the southern outer banks. Early on, they held the Tuscarora Indians to lands north of the Neuse and east of Bay River, but were greatly reduced in a war with the Machapunga tribe before 1696. They joined their old enemies in the first Tuscarora war of 1711-12 and in 1715 the remnants of the Coree and Machapunga tribes were assigned a tract on Lake Mattamuskeet in Hyde County, where they lived in one village. The Coree are not extinct, even though they were declared so in 1737, and, in fact, the tribe petitioned for Federal recognition in 1978 (which was denied).

After the Indian wars were over, settlers came more rapidly into the territory around Core Sound and North River. Most of these settlers came from the New Bern colony, but others came from tidewater Virginia (which was getting crowded by this time), from Albemarle, and even from New England.

October 1713, the town of Beaufort was laid out into lots that were sold to purchasers. In the following February, tracts of land on Bogue Sound were taken up. Also in that same year, a grant of land was issued to John Porter for the sand islands from Drum Inlet to Topsail Inlet...all of what we now call Core and Shackleford Banks. Core Banks, named after the Coree Indians, stretches from Ocracoke Inlet to Cape Lookout, while Shackleford Banks, named after John Shackleford, extends from Cape Lookout to Beaufort ("Old Topsail") Inlet, a total distance of about 56 miles. Today, the two banks are separated by Barden Inlet.

Barden Inlet was formed by a hurricane on September 15-16, 1933. This is not the first time that an inlet has been at or near this location. Maps dated 1733, 1738, 1770, and 1775 show no inlet in the area, but maps dated 1808, 1833, and 1861 show an inlet at or near present day Barden Inlet. This inlet did not last, however, as maps dated 1865, 1882, and 1896 indicate that the inlet had closed and remained so until 1933. The inlet is named in honor of longtime New Bern Congressman Graham A. Barden, who funded dredging of the inlet in 1938 to improve access from downeast to the ocean.

Thus, during most of the history of this area, there was no inlet, just a shallow "drain" between Core Sound and Cape Lookout Bight that could be easily waded at low tide.

Throughout history, Core Banks has had numerous other inlets that opened suddenly with storms and then gradually shoaled-in and closed or were closed by a later storm. There has always been an inlet at or near Drum Inlet that has divided Core Banks into North Core Banks and South Core Banks. Today there are three, Old Drum Inlet that was re-opened by hurricanes Dennis and Floyd in 1999; New Drum Inlet, opened by the Corps of Engineers in 1971 as Old Drum Inlet shoaled; and a new inlet just south of New Drum Inlet, opened by Hurricane Ophelia in September 2005. There are numerous other now-closed inlets along North Core Banks. One of these, Swash Inlet, once separated the seven miles long tip of North Core Banks to form Portsmouth Island, the location of Portsmouth Village.

The first record in Carteret County relating to what later became known as "Shackleford Banks" was a 1713 deed from Henry Somerset, Duke of Beaufort and one of the Lords Proprietors, to John Porter for a "tract of land containing 7,000 acres; lying on the sand banks between Drum Inlet and Old Topsail Inlet", encompassing today's Shackleford Banks and South Core Banks, including Cape Lookout.

Sometime between 1713-1723, John Porter (never having set foot on the island) sold this 7,000 acres to John Shackleford and Enoch Ward (Shackleford's son-in-law). Then, in 1723, John Shackleford and Ward proceeded to divide this tract of land; Enoch Ward was sold one "moity" or half, "… being from Cape Lookout Bay to Drum Inlet" and John Shackleford one "moity" running from "Old Topsail Inlet to Cape Lookout Bay." Thus, Ward became owner of South Core Banks, while Shackleford owned Shackleford Banks.

Between 1723 and 1805, the land on both banks was passed on to various sons, while small tracts of 50 to 250 acres were sold to others. Thus, by 1825, there was a substantial population on Shackleford and this population increased steadily until 1896-99 when a series of severe storms and hurricanes forced everyone off the islands.

Cape Lookout bight (or "bay"), formed by the hook-shaped sand spit that curves westward from the Cape, has long been recognized as one of the finest harbors on the North Carolina coast. Spanish privateers are thought to have used the bight as a hiding place in the 1740's to stage raids on Beaufort. When Royal Governor Arthur Dobbs visited the cape in 1755, he described it as "the best, altho small, of any harbor from Boston to Georgia." Even today, the bight serves as a popular recreational anchorage and sanctuary for fishing boats during storms.

Except for a British naval raid on Beaufort in 1782, the Revolutionary War had little impact on the Cape Lookout area. With some small assistance from the North Carolina government, a group of French volunteers constructed a fort on Cape Lookout and named it in honor of Enoch Hancock. Fort Hancock was garrisoned for two years, but no trace of the old structure remains today.

New England whalers made an appearance along the coast about 1726, when the first whaling permit was issued, and used Cape Lookout harbor as a base of operations as they attempted to intercept the northbound migration of whales in the early spring. They sometimes spotted the giant creatures from their anchored vessels, launched small boats for the attack, and captured the whales within sight of shore. This was not an especially profitable operation for the large whaling vessels, since the catch was spotty at best, but it set some of the locals to thinking and, before many years, they were trying it themselves, going to sea after the whales in small pilot boats that they could launch from the beach.

The extent of those early shore-based whaling operations at Cape Lookout is not known, though there are indications that one or more crews were whaling there almost continuously over a period of more than 150 years. However, by 1900 the whales seemed to stop coming up the coast past Cape Lookout and there were several years that none at all were sighted. The last whale was killed in 1909.

Since whaling was a seasonal occupation at Cape Lookout, limited almost entirely to the months of February, March and April, the shore-based whalers were engaged also in mullet fishing, and some of them operated porpoise fisheries as well. By 1853, when the original U.S. Coast Survey of Shackleford Banks was made, the whales, mullets, and porpoises had attracted a sizable community. Several buildings were shown on the beach and a large settlement was located in an area designated as "Lookout Woods" a mile or so west of the lighthouse.

By 1870's, there was a veritable city in the "Lookout Woods" on the east end of Shackleford Banks, and a number of the people were employed in a "porpoise" (dolphin) oil processing plant that had been started there by a New Jersey man named Gardiner. The settlement had no name, being referred to simply as "the eastern end" to differentiate it from a smaller community closer to Beaufort Inlet known as Shackleford Banks, or Mullet Shore, or Wade's Shore.

Some of the residents of "Lookout Woods" were of the opinion that a definite name should be adopted. There was, however, disagreement as to what the name should be, and the matter was not resolved until it was brought to the attention of Joe Etheridge, who was superintendent of the lifesaving stations in the area. In 1885, noting that the distinguishing feature of the community was the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, which towered above it to the east, he suggested that a logical name would be "Diamond City" after the daymark pattern on the lighthouse. The suggestion is said to have met with immediate approval and the name Diamond City was quickly adopted.

Almost in the center of the Diamond City was a sand dune estimated to be twelve hundred feet long, four hundred feet wide, and at least forty feet high. For many years the dune offered Diamond City protection from Atlantic storms and provided an elevated location for sighting passing whales.

By 1895, the population of Diamond City approached 500. The residents built a schoolhouse, though it was only used in the summer, usually in July and August. Residents used the schoolhouse as a general meeting center and for religious services, also.

However, great storms in the later part of the 1890's eventually tolled the end for Diamond City and the other smaller communities on Shackleford Banks. In 1896, two storms came over the beach and flooded some homes. People began to talk about leaving and several of them moved to Morehead City, buying lots in an area on the west side of town along Bogue Sound called "the Promise Land." Then, the storm surge of the hurricane of August 17-18,1899 devastated Diamond City. Homes were washed away, fertile land was replaced by salty sand, cattle and other livestock were killed, and graves were uncovered or washed away. This storm marked the end of Diamond City.

Most of the folks on the west end of Shackleford Banks went down to Bogue Banks, to a place called "Gillikin", now known as Salter Path. A few of the Diamond City people moved to lots they bought in the Promise Land in Morehead City and a few others went to Marshallberg. But, two out of three of the families from Diamond City moved to Harkers Island and, by 1902, the population there was four times what it had been only a few years before and Diamond City was left deserted.

Some of the houses were torn down, board by board, and rebuilt at their new location. Others were cut in half, or even moved whole, using a pair of boats joined together by big planks to a form twin-hulled barge.

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