Dare County, North Carolina

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Virginia Dare


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A History of Dare County

Wright Brothers Memorial - Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

The town is named for ''Kill Devil,'' a brand of rum found washed ashore during the colonial period. The dune was the site of the Wright Brothers first heavier-than-air flight in 1903, which placed Kill Devil Hills forever in the history books. In the 1930s, workers planted hearty grasses on the dune to prevent it from continually shifting, then constructed the impressive Wright Brothers Memorial which is visible for miles.
Dare County was formed in 1870 from Currituck, Tyrrell, and Hyde counties. It was named in honor of Virginia Dare, the first child born of English parents in America. It is in the eastern section of the state, and is bounded by Pamlico, Croatan and Albemarle Sounds, Hyde, and Tyrrell counties (and on the banks by the Atlantic Ocean) . The present land area is 383.58 square miles and the 2010 population was 33,920. Manteo, named in honor of an Indian Chief, has been the county seat ever since inception. 
Dare County is named for Virginia Dare, the first child of English parentage born in North America. Born August 18, 1587 in the "Cittie of Raleigh" on Roanoke Island to Eleanor and Ananias Dare, the fate of the child and her parents is unknown.

Ocracoke was supposedly named after one of our more unsavory early inhabitants, the infamous Edward Teach, more widely known as Blackbeard. Blackbeard dropped anchor in the inlet to unload his booty and viewing the vast expanse of sand and water, shook his fist and yelled into the calm breeze, "Oh, Crow Cock!"

Ocracoke Light Station - Ocracoke, North Carolina - 2016

The name Hatteras was apparently derived from an area further north along the Outer Banks which was called Hatorask by the early settlers.

The Fort Raleigh Historical Site on Roanoke Island is, of course, named after Sir Walter Raleigh, poet, soldier, statesman and courtier par excellence, whose dream of a colony in the New World was not to be. This particular section of the Outer Banks is often referred to as the Sir Walter Raleigh Coastland. The capital of the great state of North Carolina is named after Sir Walter Raleigh. In Raleigh's time, the whole new land was known as Virginia in honor the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I.

The most popular theory of the name Kitty Hawk is that it derives from the local Indian reference to the time for hunting geese, "Killy Honker" or "Killy Honk".

The name Kill Devil Hills is deep in legend. The town includes the site of man's first flight and is the base of the beautiful Wright Brothers Memorial. There are so many stories dealing with the origin of the name that it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. One of the stories is that in the 1700s, William Byrd of Virginia, apparently no admirer of the Carolinas, wrote that "most of the rum they get in the country comes from New England, and is so bad and unwholesome that it is not improperly called "Kill Devil." Another story is that a ship loaded with this "Kill Devil Rum" was wrecked opposite the hills, hence the name.

Cape Hatteras Light House stands on a spot of eastern North America dreaded by sailors since the 16th century when European ships regularly began sailing or "coasting" the Atlantic seaboard. A warm offshore current, the Gulf Stream, flows north at about 4 knots and veers eastward north to Cape Hatteras. Spanish treasure fleets returning from the mines of Mexico and Central America made good use of this northbound current on their voyages to Spain. Southbound vessels followed an inshore counter-current of colder water, the Virginia Coastal Drift. These might have been two very efficient marine highways, except that at Cape Hatteras the Gulf Stream pinches down on the inshore current and forces Hatteras southbound ships into a narrow passage around Diamond Shoals, the submerged fingers of shifting sand that cut more than 10 miles out from the Cape. More than 500 ships of many nations, trying to find their way around the shoals, have foundered at or near Cape Hatteras, earning for the area the sinister reputation as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic". The absence of natural landmarks along the Carolina Coast added to the navigator's risk, as he was drawn dangerously close to shore to get a bearing.

Cape Hatteras Light Station - Hatteras, North Carolina - 2016

Recognizing the very danger to Atlantic shipping, Congress, in 1794, authorized the construction of a permanent lighthouse at Cape Hatteras. It took almost ten years before a "light was raised" in October of 1803. Built in sandstone, ninety feet high, the tower was a start, but only a start in providing the protection needed in those hazardous waters. A major problem through years was illumination; the the small lamp fueled by sperm whale oil did not penetrate the darkness beyond the shoals. Storms shattered the windows and broke the lamps, putting the lights out for days at a time.

Complaints were numerous and vocal. In 1837, the captain of a coasting vessel reported that "...as usual no light is to be seen from the light house." In 1851, Lieutenant H.K. Davenport, skipper of the mail steamer, Cherokee, complained "Cape Hatteras Light, upon the most dangerous point on our whole coast, is a very poor concern."

Creation of the Lighthouse Board in 1852 made a decided improvement in the conduct of all United States lighthouse operations. Composed of men familiar with the problems involved, the board answered directly to the Secretary of the Treasury and soon acted to correct the deficiencies at Cape Hatteras. Among the first corrections was to raise the tower to more than 150 feet and to install a new lighting device, a first-order fresnel lens. Developed in France by Augustine Fresnel, the lens utilized prime and magnifying glasses to intensify a small oil wick flame into a powerful beacon of many thousands candlepower. The improvements made the Cape Hatteras light one of the most dependable on the coast.

The legend of Nags Head is that in the days of pirates, when tales drifted ashore of the wonderful treasures being plundered at sea, one of the "Bankers," (natives to the Outer Banks) got the inspiration which brought the name Nags Head. A lantern was tied around the neck of an old and gentle horse, and this old nag led slowly up and down the dunes now known as Jockey's Ridge, so that the light shone out to sea. As a ship's captain saw this light, it appeared to be from a ship riding at anchor in a sheltered harbor, but when he tried to make anchorage his ship would go aground, with land pirates then making the crew "walk the plank" before looting and burning the ship.

Bodie Island Light Station - Dare County, North Carolina - 2016

The current Bodie Island Light House is the third that has stood in this vicinity of Bodie Island on the Outer Banks in North Carolina and was built in 1872. It stands 165 feet tall and is located on the Roanoke Sound side of the first island that is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The light house is just south of Nags Head, a few miles before Oregon Inlet. It was renovated from August 2009 to March 2013, and can be climbed by the public. There are 214 steps that spiral to the top. The 170-foot structure is one of only a dozen remaining tall, brick tower light houses in the United States — and one of the few with an original first-order Fresnel lens to cast its light.

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