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Village Craftsmen

170 Howard Street 
PO Box 248
Ocracoke Island, NC
252-928-5541
info@villagecraftsmen.com

Ocracoke Newsletter

August 02, 2003

Greetings from Wococon Island!

One of the more common questions visitors to Ocracoke ask is "What is the origin of the name 'Ocracoke?'"

In spite of the legend that has Blackbeard crying out "Oh Crow Cock" on that fateful morning of November 22, 1718, when he engaged Lt. Robert Maynard in his final naval battle, the name "Ocracoke" is undoubtedly of much earlier Native American origin.

The first recorded spelling is "Wococon" on John White's map of 1585.  Although the island was uninhabited at that time, the name seems to derive from the tribe of Woccon Indians who lived in eastern North Carolina and who frequented the Outer Banks seasonally to feast on fish and shellfish that were plentiful in the area.

Roger Payne, in his book, Place Names of the Outer Banks, speculates that Wococon could be a tortured  Anglicization of the Algonquian word "waxihikami" which means "enclosed place, fort, or stockade."

David Stick has another explanation.  When Walter Raleigh's expedition set foot on Ocracoke in 1584, he suggests, they asked the natives they encountered what the name of their country was.  In reply they answered "Wingandacon," which became "Wococon."  In truth, Stick tells us, the actual reply was "You wear good clothes."   

Over the years I knew I had seen a dozen or more different spellings for the present-day Ocracoke Island.  Curious, I decided to compile a list of all the variations I could document. Ultimately I discovered more than fifty distinct names and/or spellings for Ocracoke.

The following chart lists eighteen different spellings (highlighted in bright yellow), as well as a number of duplicates, from a series of early maps and other documents.  The earliest record of the current "Ocracoke" that I could find was on a map dated 1852.  

Date

Name

Document

Author

1585

Wococon

map

John White

1585

Wokokon

map

John White

1590

Wokokon

map

White - De Bry

1606

Wococon

map

Mercator - Hondius

1657

Wococock

map

Nicholaus Comberford

1665

Wococock

survey

T. Woodward

1665

Wococon

survey

T. Woodward

1672

Okok

map

Ogilby

1675

Okok

map

John Speed

1682

Wosoton

map

Joel Gascoyne & Robert Greene

1689

Wossoton

map

John Thorton & Will Fisher

1706

Wocoton

map

Johannes Loots

1709

Ocacok

map

John Lawson

1715

Occacock

an act of the assembly

NC Assembly

1715

Occacoke

map

Henry Mouzon

1717

Occeh

letter

Gov. Spotswood

1718

Occocock

account of capture of Blackbeard

 

1732

Ocacock

document/letter

Capt. Burrington

1733

Ocacock

map

Edward Moseley

1733

Ocreecock

deed

Richard Sanderson

1733

Oakerccok

map

James Wimble

1738

Okerccok

map

James Wimble

1770

Occacock

map

John Collet

1775

Occacoke

map

Henry Mouzon

1795

Occacock

map/description

Jonathan Price

1808

Occacock

map

Price - John Strother

1821

Ocracock

map

Leut. Strong

1833

Ocracock

map

Mac Rae - Brazier

1834

Occacock

map

H.S. Tanner

1852

Ocracoke

map

A.D. Bache

1861

Occacock

map

J.H. Colton

1861

Ocracoke

map

Bachman

In addition to the spellings listed above, I located  the following 34 variations mentioned in various books and pamphlets, although no sources were indicated.  These do not include other names by which Ocracoke was sometimes known, such as Pilot Town, Port Bath, Port Grenvil, and Gordons Ile.  

Woccon Oecceh Woston
Woccocon Okcrecock Oa Cock
Woccocock Okerecock Oakocock
Occacoe Woccock Occacode
Ococock Wococan Ocrecok
Occek Ocacok Ocacoc
Oakacock Ocraacocke Sequotan
Oacock Ocracook Vokoton
Ocock Okerecok Woccock
Okercock Onoconon Wocotan
Ocrecock Wakokon Wosotan
Wocoken

One of the more enduring early spellings was "Occacock."  

Jonathan Price's map of 1795 identifies Ocracoke by this name.  His map is accompanied by a document entitled "A DESCRIPTION OF OCCACOCK INLET; and of its COASTS, ISLANDS, SHOALS, and ANCHORAGES: With the COURSES and DISTANCES to and from the most Remarkable Places, And DIRECTIONS to sail over the BAR and thro' the CHANNELS Adorned with a M A P, taken by actual survey, by Jonathan Price."

1795 Map by Jonathan Price:


Click here for a larger version of the 1795 map.

Price's "Description of Occacock Inlet" is noteworthy for a number of reasons. 

In the third paragraph he states:

"Occacock was heretofore, and still retains the name of, an island.  It is now a peninsula; a heap of sand having gradually filled up the space which divided it from the bank. It continues to have its former appearance from the sea; the green trees, that cover it, strikingly distinguishing it from the sandy bank to which it has been joined.  Its length is three miles, and its breadth two and one half.  Small live oak and cedar grow abundantly over it, and it contains several swamps and rich marshes, which might be cultivated to great advantage; but its inhabitants, depending on another element for their support, suffer the earth to remain in its natural state.  They are all pilots; and their number of head of families is about thirty."

Geologists have speculated that the area of Ocracoke Island which includes the present-day village was originally an island separate from the "banks." much like Roanoke Island is today.  Price's description bears this out, though the early maps are generally not accurate enough to confirm this.  

Nevertheless, even the recent history of Ocracoke bears witness to this possibility.  As late as the 1970's the area between the edge of the village and the airstrip was often underwater, especially during periods of high tide.

Today's visitor to Ocracoke Island is usually amazed to learn that in times past the "bald beach" extended so close to the village.  My father often remarked that islanders shook their heads in disbelief when Thurston Gaskill built his home (now the Thurston House Bed & Breakfast) "on the edge of the beach" in the 1930's.

The following photos, from the 1950's document the fluid nature of this area.

In this aerial view of Ocracoke village you can clearly see the  the tidal flats (in the forefront) with a line of trees separating them from the village (and Silver Lake Harbor).  The flats are covered with tidewater.



This photo of an airplane landing on the newly-constructed NC Highway 12 near the present-day South Point Road (Ocracoke village is in the distance) shows tidewater covering the flats on the right (in front of Loop Shack Hill).  Water lay on the other side of the roadway, as well. 

Some older residents remember hearing tales of fishermen mullet-fishing in this area.  Blanche Styron (born 1922) recalls fishing there as a young girl.

Today the area between the village and the NPS campground is thickly covered with cedars, myrtles, yaupon, and other vegetation.  Only fifty years ago there was hardly a sea oat to be seen there.  It was (and still is) called "The Plains" and had the appearance of a vast wasteland or desert. It is only because of the continuous row of man-made dunes (constructed by the National Park Service in the 1950's) that protect the island from frequent overwash that trees and shrubs are so abundant today.

Immediately after his 1795 description of the island of Ocracoke, Jonathan Price goes on to comment that "this healthy spot is in autumn the resort of many of the inhabitants of the main."  

So tourists have been coming to Ocracoke at least since the late 1700's!  I guess things aren't so different after all.

 

 

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