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Portsmouth Island

Have you heard about Portsmouth Island? This is a place that is hard to get to...does not offer basic comforts, has huge mosquitoes, brutal weather and conditions and even with all this...is well loved and visited by many people. Portsmouth was a fishing and shipping village at the north end of the Core Banks on the Outer Banks in North Carolina. The town was established in 1753, and abandoned in 1971. Its remains are now part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore.

There are about a dozen buildings, including some out-buildings, which are maintained as part of the Portsmouth Village Historic District. Several of these are open to the public in the summer...the Salter House/visitor center, the one-room school, the Methodist Church, the Life-Saving Station, and the Post Office/general store.

People do visit the island and even camp out overnight on the beach. But beware...there is no potable water, food or electricity available (that did it for me...I am not going...my idea of roughing it is not having lemon in my iced tea). There is a compost toilet near the Life-Saving Station (not sure what that is and I do not want to really know) and a restroom in the Salter House/Visitors Center.

Every two years there is a popular and increasingly well known "homecoming" on Portsmouth Island. This event dates back to early trips made by those families who left the island prior to the 1960's. It was originally affiliated with the Methodist and Primitive Baptist churches in Cedar Island, NC since that is where many of the Portsmouth Island residents relocated. Although it began as a church and family based event it becoming a more secular celebration of the heritage of the island.

Before and for many years after the Civil War (the war between the states, the war of Northern Aggression...as it is still known in certain parts of the south) quite a bit of the islands population was African American. Henry and Lizzie Pigott had been denied an education by the state of North Carolina. Under segregation, black and white children could not attend the one room schoolhouse on the island together. The state never did build a separate school for the African American children so those who stayed on the island never received a formal education.

African Americans, many of them slaves, were involved in fishing and other seaside trades on Portsmouth including manning and piloting vessels. They even built a small man made island, Shell Castle, out of oyster shells. This was used as a shipping depot

Ocracoke Inlet was a a popular shipping lane during colonial times. Established in 1753, the town of Portsmouth functioned as a lightering** port. Cargo from ships head to the ocean was transferred to shallow-draft vessels capable of traversing Pamlico and Core Sounds.

The population of Portsmouth Island was small...the peak was 685 people in 1860. It was still one of the most important points-of-entry along the Atlantic coast in post-Revolutionary America.