Friends of Cape Lookout National Seashore

Portsmouth Village

The northerly tip of North Core banks, just across Ocracoke inlet from Ocracoke Island, is called Portsmouth Island and is the site of Portsmouth Village.

In the first half of the 18th century, Ocracoke Inlet was the primary route for bringing in goods from England and shipping the agricultural products of North Carolina. Larger ships stopped at Ocracoke and transferred their loads to shallow draft boats for transport to Bath, New Bern, and Washington. To aid shipping, the North Carolina General Assembly created the village of Portsmouth in 1753 as the state's official "port of entry" and, by 1842, two-third's of the state's exports passed through Portsmouth.

The residents of Portsmouth Village did the work of moving goods to several smaller flatboats and then reloading the larger ships a ways down the water. Over time, a large community sprang up around this business, with a post office, two churches, a school and many homes. In 1860, Portsmouth's population was almost 700.

However, in 1846 Hatteras Inlet opened in a hurricane and was deeper and safer than Ocracoke Inlet. The shipping route shifted to the north, and the Portsmouth villagers had to find other ways to make a living. Later, during the Civil War, many islanders fled to the mainland to avoid advancing Union troops and never came back after the war. Portsmouth Village’s population continued to decline until there were only 16 residents in 1956 and only three left in 1970. In 1971, one of them died and the other two left the island. In 1976, Portsmouth Village was saved when Cape Lookout National Seashore was established and now the village is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Many of the buildings have been restored, and visitors can enter the restored Methodist Church, Coast Guard station, school house and post office. There is a visitor center in the restored Dixon-Salter house, where there are restrooms and exhibits on the island’s history.
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