Four Bizarre Legends of the Outer Banks North Carolina’s Strange History - by Devlin Blake
The Outer Banks of North Carolina are a chain of barrier islands off the coast of the Old North State, famous for the beautiful, unspoiled beaches that attract visitors by the tens of thousands every year. The islands are also famous for their rich history, which started in 1587, almost 100 years before Jamestown. This was the site of Black- beard’s death, and the first flight of the Wright Brothers. This, in truth, is only the beginning of the strangeness that permeates the Outer Banks.
The Unsolved Mystery of the Lost Colony In the 1500s, Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne of England. Spain had al- ready been in the New World for almost 100 years, and hence King Philip had a rocky history with England’s queen. Not wanting to be outdone by Philip and eager to secure the British Empire’s place in the world, Elizabeth sought to establish her own colony in the New World. The first settlement was a military group, sent to Roanoke in 1584. This settlement was soon abandoned, as the un- prepared soldiers caught rides on depart- ing vessels back to England. The second wave of soldiers, sent over in 1585, also abandoned their settlement and returned home. In 1587, Elizabeth decided there would be no more military settlements. This time she sent over colonists: 120 men, women, and children who were ready to embrace this new world as their permanent home. The first year was tough on them. Since most were lesser nobles and upper commoners, farming, build- ing houses, and survival in general was a foreign concept to them. It didn’t take long before they ran out of supplies. In 1587, the Governor, John White, opted to return to England to get more supplies. This was a task he did reluctantly since his daughter Eleanor Dare had just given birth to her daughter Virginia, the first English baby born in the new world. Upon his arrival in England, he discovered England and Spain were at war. England refused to let him leave with sup- plies, since they were needed at home. It took another two years before John White was able to return to his colony and family. Bringing with him supplies and soldiers, they returned to the site of the settlement, only to find it was now empty. Though the colonists were gone, most of their personal belongings were still present. White and his men searched for bodies, and found none. The only trace of the lost colonists was the partial word “CRO” carved into a tree. Croatoan was the name of a nearby native tribe. How- ever, White and his men were unable to find any trace of the Croatoan either. To this day, no one knows what happened to the colonists, though a legend that remains in the area says that on clear, moonlit nights, a white doe appears on the Island of Roanoke. Locals believe it’s the spirit of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the new world.
The Appetite of Jockey’s Ridge Jockey’s Ridge is a sand dune believed to be over 5,000 years old. Covering some 426 acres, it is named after the wild horse that used to roam the area. However, neither the age, nor its breadth are the strangest things about Jockey’s Ridge. The ridge moves, and in fact, some lo- cals even say it eats. In and around 1838, a grand hotel was built at Jockey’s Ridge, boasting two stories, 200 rooms, a ballroom, bowling alley, and more. It even had a mule cart to take guests to the beach. Because salt air was considered healthy at the time, people of means from all over the country came to stay in the grand hotel. For almost a decade, it did very well, and not even a fire could destroy it’s charm; even once it was burned to the ground by a fire, an- other hotel, bigger and better than the first, was rebuilt at the same site. The guests never stopped coming. In the late 1850s, something finally arrived to threaten the hotel that no one ever saw coming—the sand of Jockey’s Ridge itself. Gradually, the sand began to encroach on the hotel’s property; at first, it was just a little sand, easily hauled away. As time passed, the sand mounds grew so big that hauling the sand away became impossible. The value of the site plum- meted, and towards the end of the hotel’s life, discounts were offered to anyone will- ing to dig their way in and out of their room. Shovels were provided. Eventually, the hotel vanished under 100 feet of sand. There is no sign of the grand hotel today under the massive dune, but all lo- cals know it’s there, just under the surface. In the 1980s, history repeated itself as an entire golf course was swallowed, and today, a nearby church serves as the latest meal for the insatiable dune.
yard of the Atlantic,” and with good reason. For as long as people have been sail- ing these waters, ships have sank here by the thousands. It’s a combination of the unpredictable weather, and the equally unpredictable sand. Since sand moves (unlike rocks), sailors are never sure whether the passage is safe below the waves of shallow waters, and while sand is far softer than rock, it can rip open a hull just as easily. Founding father Alexander Hamilton had grown up around ships, hence the reason why one of his first acts upon gain- ing influence was to erect a lighthouse at Cape Hatteras. Known at the time as “Hamilton’s Light,” today it’s called the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Following Hamilton’s death in an ill-fated duel with Aaron Burr, it was said that the sea was angry that day, as though it had been looking for revenge. Aaron Burr never went anywhere near Cape Hatteras during his life, though he had a daughter named Theodosia who eventually did. In the 1800s, land pirates inhabited the area and, lacking any ship, they would march carrying lanterns up and down the beach to emulate the bea- con of a lighthouse. As ships drew close, they would often be wrecked on the sand dunes as they steered off course. Such land pirates managed to wreck Theodosia Burr’s ship and stripped it down to the timbers, killing many members of the crew in the process. Horrified, it was said that Theodosia lost her mind, and clung to an elaborate painting of her- self, though she had lost any idea of who or where she was, or what was happen- ing around her. Recognizing her insanity, the land pi- rates took her in. They had no idea who she was, only that she was insane and dearly loved that portrait. Theodosia spent the next few decades being passed from family to family. As one family died or moved out of the area, another family was willing to take her and the portrait in. One night a very old and ill Theodosia waded out into the sea, and was never seen again. The portrait was given to a visiting doctor with connections on the main- land. It was only then that the Outer Banks Mystery Woman was identified as Theodosia Burr. Locals say that what happened to Theodosia, and Aaron’s Burr’s subsequent torment over the “loss” of his daughter, had been the sea’s revenge for what hap- pened to Alexander Hamilton.
Miracle of Saint Andrews by the Sea In 1916, a church, later to be known as St. Andrews by the Sea, was planned and constructed. It was built on the Sound side, a few hundred feet from where the current church is today. With a budget of less than $1000, many locals volunteered with their time, effort, and love. The Outer Banks had attracted people from all over the world, including master craftsmen who relished this opportunity
to show off how skilled they were. The church had an elaborately carved interior that featured beautiful wrought iron, and a doorway of gener- ous dimensions, bulbous on top and tapered to a point resembling Middle East- ern architecture. However, all funds were spent by the time the doorway was built, and with no door to guard it, the church remained in danger from the elements. Not knowing what else to do, the reverend and his congregation prayed for a solution. That night, a Nor’easter of unimaginable force blew in. The reverend feared for his door-less church, and it was uncertain what damages might incur. Four days later once the storm died down, the reverend left his home and headed to- ward the church. He hadn’t gotten very far when he came across, of all things, a door among the wreckage and cargo of damaged ships that covered the path. It didn’t take long to realize that this door was the exact size and shape they needed for their church, and not only did it fit perfectly, it was clear by its condition that it had never been used before. The door remained on the church until the church burned down in the 1960s. Today, the new Saint Andrews by the Sea has pointed window store mind every one of the previous church’s miracle. The Outer Banks is far more than a land with beautiful beaches. It’s also steeped in history...often of a very strange kind. While the stories examined here are among the more popular legends of the Outer Banks, there are untold numbers of tales that involve phantom ships, miracles, and the area’s strange relationship with the sea. Should any place remain so removed from the mainland as these is- lands have been, it would be of little surprise that the place and its people would grow similar traditions and legends, hav- ing remained untouched by the mainland and, to some degree, perhaps even the modern world itself. Devlin Blake is an Outer Banks native and contributing editor and founder of Tales From the Shadow Realm.