You are here

8 Feb 2023
Related Items: 
History & Culture

Yellow, red, and green heart with the text "Black History Month: African American History on the Outer Banks."
Februrary is Black History Month, and while we believe it's important to give voice and attention to African American heritage and the Black community all year around, we thought this was a great time to highlight the role that African Americans have played in the history of the Outer Banks and acknowledge the important contributions of the Black community to what has become this thriving, historically-rich part of North Carolina. Keep reading to learn more about the long legacy of Black success on and around the Outer Banks including key historic sites such as The Freedman's Colony, The Pea Island Cookhouse Museum, the Hotel De Afrique on Hatteras Island, and the Historic Jarvisburg Colored School, which recently hosted the one and only Ruby Bridges while she was in town for a book signing of her book I Am Ruby Bridges.

For more information about Black Heritage Sites on the Outer Banks and the cultural heritage of African Americans in Northeast North Carolina, be sure to check out the virtual NC Black Heritage Tour by the African American Experience of Northeast North Carolina.

Currituck County

Historic Jarvisburg Colored School

Located at 7203 Caratoke Highway, Jarvisburg, NC 27947, the Historic Jarvisburg Colored School was founded in 1867 by William B. Hunt, a freed enslaved person who donated the land to open the school. This was the only school for African American students in the county until 1920. It wasn't until 1950 that the county would establish a county-funded school for African American students. The school is now a museum, which opened in 2014, that showcases an upper elementary classroom and offers visitors information about the cultural heritage of African Americans living in rural North Carolina from 1868 to the 1950s. 

The HJCS Museum is open on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10:00 - 3:00 to all visitors. Donations are welcomed and encouraged in lieu of admission fee.

Captain Benjamin J. Bowser Gravesite

While you're visiting the museum next door, take a quick trip over to Corinth Baptist Church for the chance to see the gravemarker of Benjamin J. Bowser who took over as the leader of the African American crew at Station 17, also known as the Pea Island Lifesaving Station, after the death of Captain Richard Etheridge. He was an important member of the crew at the lifesaving station and served as the leader of the station until his death on September 2, 1900. 

Corinth Baptist Church is located at 7300 Caratoke Hwy., Jarvisburg, NC 27947.

Roanoke Island

Richard Etheridge Family Cemetery

 While visiting the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, an essential stop on any Outer Banks vacation, be sure to take some time to see the Richard Ehteridge Family Cemetery right on the aquarium grounds. As you make your way into the acquarium, you'll see a fenced-in gravesite with the headstones of Richard Etheridge and his family. Several historical markers describe the significance of Etheridge's contributions to the Outer Banks, not only as a Civil War veteran but as the leader of The Pea Island Lifesaving Station. The markers and the gravesite don't require aquarium admission and are free to visit.

The NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island is located at 374 Airport Rd., Manteo, NC 27954

James Melvin Gallery

*Image Courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina.

 Inside the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, be sure to check out the James Melvin Gallery, featuring art that depicts Richard Etheridge and the watermen of the Pea Island Lifesaving Station who served alongside him. Melvin is a reknowned local African American artist known for his coastal landscape paintings and his illustrations for Suzanne Tate's children's books, which highlight the wildlife of coastal North Carolina. 

Pea Island African American Life Saving Crew

Freedman's Colony 1862-1867 Monument

Recognized in 2001 as a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site, Roanoke Island was home to a permanent Freedman’s Colony between 1862, when the Union took control of Roanoke Island, and 1867. During that time, upwards of 3,900 freedpeople had made their way to Roanoke Island. The land on the nothern part of the island was set aside as a village for former enslaved people and teachers were brought in to educate the populace while many newly freed people began working as farmers, tradespeople, or as workers for the Union Army.

Take the path through the woods that are part of Fort Raleigh to find a commemorative park along the Croatan Sound and make this important historical monument a stop on your Outer Banks vacation. 

Fort Raleigh is located at 1401 National Park Dr., Manteo, NC 27954.

Island Farm Etheridge Homestead in Manteo

While in Manteo, be sure to stop by Island Farm and visit the Etheridge Homestead. Island Farm is a living history site that focuses on the lives of those who experienced the Civil War, the thrilling adventures of the Lifesaving Service, and the first powered flight by the Wright Brothers all while living a rural, agricultural life here on the Outer Banks. The Etheridges were slaveowners and after the Civil War, one resident, Richard Etheridge, would go on to make history as the first Captain of an all-American unit in U.S. Lifesaving Service. Etheridge was the illegitimate son of John B. Etheridge and was literate. Reenactors at the site also tell the story of Crissy Bowser, or "Aunt Crissy," who lived and worked on Island Farm her entire life, though records are unclear if Crissy was enslaved or free.

Island Farm is located at 1140 N. US Highway 64, Manteo, NC 27954.

The Pea Island Cookhouse Museum in Manteo

The Pea Island Cookhouse Museum commemorates the location where the all-African American unit of the Pea Island Lifesaving Station would have eaten and spent time together after completing multiple harrowing rescues in the Atlantic. The museum opened in 2008 and honors the legacy of Captain Richard Etheridge and the entire crew, including Benjamin Bowser, Lewis Wescott, William Irving, George Prduen, Maxie Berry, Sr., and Herbert Collins. Programs are regularly held throughout the year commemorating the African America heritage of the Outer Banks community.

The Pea Island Cookhouse Museum is located at 622 Sir Walter Raleigh St., Manteo, NC 27954.

The Pea Island Cookhouse Museum

Hatteras Island

Hotel De Afrique

During the Civil War, after Fort Hatteras and Fort Clark surrendered to Union troops, the United States Government took control of Hatteras Island. As soon as the people of Roanoke Island heard that Union forces had control of the area, enslaved African Americans made their way to the island with their families in hopes of liberation. One of the barracks at the fort was transformed into lodgings for these refugee families, making this the first "safe haven" for African Americans in North Carolina during the war. It was given the name "Hotel De'Afrique" by the New York Times and is memorialized as part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Visitors to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum can visit the memorial near the main parking lot discussing the battle at Forts Hatteras and Clark and the creation of the refugee camp.

The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is located at 59200 Museum Dr., Hatteras, NC 27943.

Step Back in Time & Experience the History

Like we said earlier, it's important to recognize the history and successes of the Black community all year round, so keep these sites on hand for your next trip to the Outer Banks and be sure to check out the NC Black Heritage Tour, which encompasses 6 counties, making this a great way to break up the monotony of the drive into town!

And whether you're hoping to come for a short stay getaway or you're excited to introduce the kiddos to some important North Carolina history, we've got the perfect place for you to stay while you're in town. Keep an eye on our specials and deals and book now before your dream Outer Banks beach house fills up for the summer. Give our wonderful Guest Services Team a call today at (866) 884-0267 or take a look at our available rentals to get started planning your next historic adventure to the Outer Banks. And don't forget about our layaway plan, which makes booking your dream vacation easier than ever.

About the Author: Lauren is a mom, author, and travel enthusiast. An Outer Banks native, Lauren has a Masters in History from the University of Nebraska, which she earned after completing an undergraduate degree in History at UNC-Chapel Hill and serving a tour in the Coast Guard. When she isn’t writing for the Seaside Vacations Travel Blog, Lauren can usually be found with a book and cup of tea in hand, planning her next travel adventure.