A Little History of Knotts Island

Table of Contents

Preface and Introduction

Chapter 1
Discovery, Exploration, and Settlement

Chapter 2
The Source of a Name

Chapter 3
The Great Dispute

Chapter 4
The History of Currituck Inlet

Chapter 5
Knotts Island Today


by Hal James Bonney, Jr.
University of Richmond, Virginia, 1951

Chapter 4



Mention of Currituck Inlet so frequently in this volume demands that the entrance into the enclosed sea have space for a separate history. Its fame is far wider than that of Knotts Island and just recognition is necessary.

Amadas and Barlowe sought entrance to the inland waters in July of 1584 as they sailed north along the North Carolina' coast. They entered "The first (inlet) that appeared unto us..." and in addition there existed at this time four more inlets as shown on a map well known to every historian as the De Bry map.(1). Named after the publisher, the map names two of the entrances, Hatorask and Trinity Harbor Inlets, and clearly marked the others, one of which lay off Knotts Island - Currituck Inlet. Doubtless the adventurers explored the inlets appearing on the drawing and in view of this, perhaps the author should claim l584 as the date of Knotts Island‘s discovery.

The following year the settlers of Roanoke Island under Ralph Lane definitely explored and used the Currituck entrance in their voyage to the northward.(2).

The years faded as far as existing records portray, and soon the Virginia colony of the London Company was thriving around Jamestown while Carolina was granted to the six lords in 1662. Nine years before the charter was granted "Caratoke" appears once again in history as the route used by the fur trader seeking his lost sloop.(3). The inlet had then been named after the Currituck Inlets between 1585 and 1654.

A map of 1671 clearly marks Carotuck Inlet and Milner's record of 1692 sets the altitude at fifty-seven degrees, twenty minutes and the latitude at thirty-six degrees, twenty-eight minutes.(4)

Location of the inlet was ideal for smuggling as reported on December 7, 1695 concerning Scottish ships trading without payment of duty and on March 5, 1728 by William Byrd's account of a New England sloop trading illegally in Currituck Bay.

The reader must remember that reference to the Inlet at this early date was of Old Currituck Inlet. Lea's "New Map of Carolina, 1695" shows the inlet directly opposite Knotts Island affording strength to the correct location of the break in the sand bank described in the king‘s charter. (6).Virginia's Executive Journals hold an entry of October 9, 1696 citing the ship "Comodore" at anchor off Corotuck when the "Ruth and Mary" was seized in illegal trade.(7). The same journal records the wreck of the "Swift" aground on the south of Corratuck Inlet.(8). An inlet a mile wide in 1728 and formerly more than two miles wide, as reported by Byrd, would naturally be the scene of many shipwrecks, especially with its shoals extending three miles into the Atlantic as a hidden hazard for the regular lane of commerce. One type of settler on the Island was doubtless the shipwreck.

Sea rovers and pirates plagued the merchant ships and instigated fear in the coastal natives who anticipated an attempt to land and secure provisions. The Council of Colonial Virginia to counteract this ordered on May 7, 1700 the chiefs of the militia to appoint in their counties persons to patrol the sea coast as lookouts. One of these "beats" was between "Cape Henry and Carotuck”.

The "Garland" was reported lost on November 29, 1709 and a Spotswood letter or July 27, 1710 noted that three and a half cables had been saved from the ship near Corrottock for which Captain Robinson of the "Deptford" was sent to secure.(10). The privateers were as destructive of shipping as was nature. Their seizure of vessels kept the inhabitants of the capes in continuous alarm with their sudden attacks.(11).

One of the widely read pages of North Carolina is the story or her famous pirates whose boldness excelled the power or the government. Their shelter from capture was the creeks and inlets or the coast frequently resorted to after raids on the sailing vessels many of whom were English, hated more than others for the strict Navigation Acts. James Logan, Secretary of Pennsylvania, estimated 1500 pirates on America‘s eastern coast in 1717.(12).

The greatest objection to these vivid adventures was the lesser custom tills that failed to fill each time a ship fell victim to the vandals. The Carolina colony designated two custom stations, Currituck and Roanoke.(13). Both of these were leading inlets and ideal as collection posts. The coasts of the colony witnessed a bloody sight on November 22, 17l8 as Thatch was cornered at Ocracoke Inlet and slain.(14).


When the federal government, whose seat is in Washington, shows an interest in an inlet, that location has automatically become famous. After the closing of the northern inlets in the state, the salt content of the enclosed sea (Currituck and Albemarle Sounds) was severely decreased to the extent that the citizens petitioned Congress to take action to remedy the situation.(15). Along with the reams of hearings and special reports can be found information affecting Currituck Inlet.

The chief interest or the committee was Oregon Inlet, but there existed other inlets "Naming them from the north they were known as Currituck, New Currituck, Caffeys, and Roanoke."(16). The Old Inlet "is said to have closed shortly alter l728" and the New Currituck Inlet closed "about 1828 Or 1835."(17) A statement of a district engineer on February 10, 1846 says "The second Currituck Inlet closed about 10 or 12 years ago."(18).

The retaining reader may recall William Byrd remarked that North West River never ebbed nor flowed until a new inlet was opened five miles below the old Currituck Inlet in 1713 "When a Violent Storm opened a new Inlet ...."(19).

More interesting to the geologist than to the historian is the realm of mastering the intricates involved in the birth of an inlet. New Currituck Inlet was born when North West River "broke through...during flood."(20). This was 1713. The Corp or Engineers deduced that sound water can break through the sand beach in three ways, viz., flood resulting from heavy rainfall, a heavy northeast storm, and "some obstruction in the shape of a rising of the bottom of the sound which would tend to direct flood waters in the sound."(21). The latter is true of the new inlet since the waters of North West River rushed through a spot in Currituck Sound called the Narrows with little resistance.

With the arrival of the commissioners in 1726 Currituck Inlet reached its fame as those officials stood on its banks and proceed with the instructions of the charter. Soon to completely close, the inlet would be succeeded by the new one which also closed in the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Now ends the complete, known history of an enclosed sea, an island, and an inlet. All appeared briefly on the state of historical events and have long since returned to the unknown.

1. Hawks, op. cit., I, 70, 71.
2. See page 3, supra.
3. Colonial Records of North Carolina, I 18.
4. Hawks, op. cit., II, 52 - 53; Colonial History, I, 385.
5. Ibid., I, 439; Boyd, op. cit., 42 regular history.
6. Charles L. Van Noppen, History of North Carolina, I, 145.
7. Executive Journals of the Council of Virginia, op. cit., I, 354 - 355.
8. Ibid., I, 378.
9. Ibid., II, 378.
10. Ibid., III, 228; Brock, op.cit., I, 3.
11. lbid., I, 11.
12. Ibid., I, 118 from Watson‘s Annals, II, 218.
13. Colonial Records of North Carolina, II, vi.
14. Letters of Spotswood, II, 274
15. Senate Documents, 71 Congress, 1st. session, No. 23, 6.
16. Ibid., Report of the Special Committee on Inlets by the Fisheries Committee Board of North Carolina, 14.
17. Ibid., 15.
18. House of Representatives, 29 Congress, 1st. session, report No. 25, 3.
19. Boyd, op. cit., 40 regular history.
20. Ibid.; Senate Documents, op. cit., 15.
21. Ibid., 14 – 15.

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