The part played by Occacock Inlet in the Revolutionary War was vital indeed to the armies of General Washington. In spite of repeated suggestions from the royal governors, Dobbs and Tryon, and in spite of the fact that the money had been more than once appropriated, it was not until 1777, when the emergency of the war demanded it, that a fort was finally built on the Portsmouth side of the inlet. By this time shipping through the inlet had become extensive and was of great importance to the thirteem warring colonies, since British cruisers has closed the Cape Feare and Chesapeak Bays, and were keeping a close watch at Beaufort. Merchants of New Bern, Washington, Edenton, and Bath sent vessels abroad with cargoes of tobacco and pork and in return received powder, ammunition, salt, and clothing, which slipped in through Occacock Inlet -- some of which was then shipped across the shallow waters of Pamlico and Ablemarle Sounds to South Quay on the mainland, and then by wagon overland to Washington's army at Valley Forge.
During the early part of the Revolution, the British were unaware of the importance of Occacock Inlet. It seemed too small and insignificant to require a blockade. Moreover the shoals if the inlet were dangerous, and it was practically impossible to get across the bar without the aid of pilots living on Ocracoke or at Portsmouth. These, fortunately, were loyal patriots on the side of the colonies and were therefore of great help in bringing in ships favorable to the American colonies and leaving stranded outside the bar those favorable to the British.
On July 12, 1776, a letter had been received by the Council or Safety from Capt. James Anderson, dates July 12, 1776, Mattamuskeet: "Sir, I have the happiness to inform you that I have fully made up my Company at Occacock, and have prayed ye freedom to draw on you for the sum of two hundred and ninety-five pounds proclamation money which I should be glad you's order paid to Mr. John Jones, it being for a quantity of cloth, etc., for ye use of my Company. I hope to be capable to guarding against all enemies who may offer to oppose us here. In hast, I am, Sir, Your Humble Servant, James Anderson." Another letter written at Tarborough on July 30, 1776 reads: "Gentlemen: Capt. Anderson informs me that cannon are wanting for the Row Galleys now building at South Quay. I am taking the liberty to inform you I have one laying at Bath Town, but whether it is a 12 or 18 pounder, I can't really say. She is not under 12. She is a piece that came out of the same ship as those Capt. Anderson is directed to move from Occacock. If she will answer the purpose, you may please to give me about her. The price I submit to your determination, and am, Gentlemen, Your most Obliging Humble Servant, John Cowper." The erstwhile Royal Governor Martin, though residing in New York City, still claimed to rule in North Carolina, and in writing to Lord Germain said: "The contemptible port of Occacock has become a great channel of supply to the rebels. They have received through it very considerable importation." Apparently in response to this complaint, the British sought to close the channel through the inlet with cruisers, but the blockade was not effective. Many vessels continued to slip in which needed supplies and privateers were constantly sallying forth to prey on British commerce.
It is difficult today for those who know the peaceful somnolence of Ocracoke to picture the events of those Revolutionary days. Stirring stories revealed through a study of the Colonial Records. One is that of the vessel Polly, which, when bound on a voyage from Edenton to Madiera was captured on APril 14 by one John Goodrich, commanding his Majesty's Ship Lily; and of its recapture on the selfsame day by an armed sloop, Fincastle, evidently a privateer under the command of Lt. Wright, who plundered the Polly of her cargo and disarmed the Lily. Three days later both these vessels were captured by a number of armed men in five "whale boats" from Occacok, and both vessels were taken to New Bern.
There is the story of the capture at Occacock Inlet of Robert Aitchison, a loyal subject of the Crown, whose ship Peggy was forced by accident into Occacock by strong gales of wind. Aitchison was arrested and taken to New Bern. In September 1777, we read in a letter from Joseph Leach of New Bern to Governor Caswell: "A few days ago we received an account from the bar that two English ships, one very large, the other mounting ten or twelve guns, were arrived within the bar and had taken many vessels there at Occacock Inlet ready to go out but the chief of them escaped from being taken by running up into the rivers again. Captain Bowling in a schooner bound out for the West Indies had just returned, having had a narrow escape from being taken in as he came over Occacock Bar by two British brigs in the lower road. I begin to be apprehensive of their being troublesome to us this fall and winter."
Soon after this batteries were placed at Lookout Bay and Occacock. The Sturdy Beggar of New Bern and the Penn Farmer, sixteen guns, called to clearthe harbor. One of the row galleys bought from Virginia was maintained at Occacock and the Caswell, commanded by Capt. Willis Williams, with a hundred and forty-five men on board, was stationed at the bar. Hostile activities on both the British and American sides were checked in the inlet only by the final victory of the Americans at Yorktown and the end of the War. During the early war years we find the name of Adam Gaskil as Captain of the militia at Occacock.
Stories complied by:
Calvin J. O'Neal
Alice K. Rondthaler