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Portsmouth Island and Village

Having camped on South Core Banks near the lighthouse numerous times in every season without being tormented by mosquitoes, I wasn’t too concerned about the bugs at Portsmouth Island on a nice June day. Besides, if I am in a group of 8 or 10 people enjoying dinner outdoors on a summer evening, I am usually the last person to get bitten.

The mosquitoes on this island can be ferocious and thick as fog. I speak from personal experience.

So my wife and I were totally unprepared for the blitzkrieg that erupted almost the moment we left Rudy Austin’s charter boat (from Ocracoke) and started for Portsmouth Village. Sure, we had several bug sprays containing DEET in various concentrations, but even the strongest would only keep them from biting. Hundreds, (I promise I’m not exaggerating) swarmed us even after we were lathered in DEET. Like the dust cloud that trailed Pig Pen of Peanuts fame, they followed us everywhere we went, trying to fly into our eyes, noses, ears, and mouths, and biting any shred of skin that wasn’t heavily slathered with repellent.

Despite the torment, we did a perfunctory tour of the village and then made our way across the tidal flat to the beach. Finally, thanks to an ocean breeze, we were able to enjoy our lunch relatively unmolested while sitting in the surf.

What did I learn? Next time I go to Portsmouth, I will wear mosquito netting. The people I saw who had netting covering their head, neck and torso, and wearing long pants, were strolling around like it was a day in the park. (Well, actually it was a day in the park.) And nothing I have endured in the outdoors has given me a greater appreciation for the hardships our ancestors endured than our encounter with the mosquitoes of Portsmouth Island. Imagine living here in the 1700s without screens on your windows!!

On the positive side, I have talked with people who have visited the island in March and April who had no problems with the insects. But I would be prepared for insects in every season.

Now you are forewarned.

Bugs or no bugs, Portsmouth is worth more than one visit.

Portsmouth, on North Core Banks, was established by North Carolina’s colonial assembly in 1753 and settled shortly thereafter. At its peak in 1860, the village had 505 permanent residents, of which 117 were slaves.

Over the years, residents earned a living by fishing, transferring freight, lifesaving, and scavenging goods that washed ashore from shipwrecks.

The last permanent residents left the island in 1971, and it came under the ownership of the National Park Service as part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore in 1976.

Today, Portsmouth Village is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is scattered over 250 acres and contains about 20 structures. A mile of tidal flats, sometimes underwater, separates the village from the Atlantic Ocean.

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Summary

Warning: The bugs are ferocious. Always bring repellent and/or mosquito netting.

Location: North Core Banks, Carteret County, just southwest of Ocracoke Island.

Access: Boat only. Best to take a boat from nearby Ocracoke Island. Contact Island Boat Tours at (252) 928-4361 or (252) 928-5431 for reservations. Ferry service to Portsmouth is also available from the town of Atlantic on the mainland. Contact Morris Marina for details.

Size: Historic Portsmouth Village is approximately 250 acres. Portsmouth Island is the northernmost island of the 56 miles long Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Established: Portsmouth Village was established by North Carolina’s Colonial Assembly in 1753. The village’s last permanent residents left in 1971. It came under the ownership of the National Park Service as part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore in 1976.

Interesting Trivia: When he anchored off Core Banks in 1524, Italian explorer Verrazano thought the body of water on the west side of the dunes that we know as Pamlico Sound was the “oriental sea… which is the one… which goes about the extremity of India, China, and Cathay.” For the next 150 years, many European explorers embarked on a fruitless search for “Verrazano’s Sea.” and a short route to the Far East.

For detailed visitor information, please check out the National Park Service’s Portsmouth Village page and Cape Lookout National Seashore home page.

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