Harkers Island History

Harkers Island History officially begins in the early 18th century when the name Harkers Island was made “official.”

Harkers Island has been known as Davers Ile and Craney Island, and picked up its current name from Ebenezer Harker who acquired the land in 1730. Ebenezer Harker built a plantation and a boat yard on the island from the proceeds of a lucrative career, first in the whaling trade based in Boston and then as a tax collector for whale oil revenue generated in Beaufort. He owned slaves, sired five children, and split up his holdings among his family members on his death in 1762.

More than a century rolled by without any significant change or development in the area, except maybe a fish oil factory, a small mill, and a Civil War. The first major population influx arrived after a hurricane on the Outer Banks in 1896 displaced a lot of islanders, forcing them to flee to higher ground. Those who were not persuaded to move inland at that time changed their minds after a second big hurricane in 1899 completely demolished everything on Shackleford Banks and in Diamond City. The refugees brought with them whatever planks and shards could be found from their former island homes. Between 1895 and 1900, the population of Harkers Island expanded from 13 extended families to over 1,000 residents, making it one of the largest communities in Carteret County.

Another hurricane reshaped people’s thinking in 1933. That storm carved out a new channel separating Core Banks from Shackleford Banks and gave the local fishing industry more direct access to offshore fishing. U.S. Senator Graham Barden sponsored legislation to dredge the channel and keep it open, and it is now known as Barden Inlet.

Electricity came along in 1939. A new US Marine Corps Air Station built at nearby Cherry Point in 1941 created jobs. World War II turned Harkers Island into a front-line target, when German submarines sank merchant shipping traffic, especially oil tankers, shooting flames into the sky that could be seen from miles away. Telephone service arrived in 1948.

During the 1960s, the government became interested in turning the barrier islands into public park land and, in 1966, President Lyndon Baines Johnson created Cape Lookout National Seashore. Fierce local opposition to the loss of the land — with the usual run of evictions and condemnation proceedings — sparked a series of arson attacks.

Today, the tourism industry generated by the public lands is one major component of the local economy, and commercial fishing is another. Every day the numerous fishing boats of Harkers Island bring in oysters, clams, shrimp, scallops, crabs, spot, croaker, trout, flounder, bluefish and mackerel.