The following story is based on the Wreck Report submitted by Keeper James W. Howard of the US Life-Saving Service about the wreck of the Richard S. Spofford on Thursday, Dec. 27, 1894.

(Quotations from the Wreck Report in the following story are edited for spelling and ease of reading. A full transcript, with original spelling and punctuation, follows the story.)

On December 22, 1894, the three-masted schooner, Richard S. Spofford, set sail from Boston, Massachusetts bound for Darien. Georgia. Four days later, off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Spofford encountered gale force winds and extremely rough seas. The schooner, under the command of R. S. Hawes, was struggling to remain on course as the winds continued to rage. Captain Hawes feared “loosing the mainsail” on an “offshore track” so he reduced sails and hugged the coast. It was a tragic error. In the early morning hours of December 27, the Spofford ran aground on the outer bar about 800 yards off the Ocracoke beach.  Although the Spofford was within sight of the village, she was fourteen miles from the Ocracoke Life-Saving Station at Hatteras Inlet.

Fortunately for Captain Hawes and his crew, Keeper Ferdinand G. Terrell, the newly-appointed keeper of the yet-to-be-manned Portsmouth Island Life-Saving Station, just a few miles across Ocracoke Inlet, had stepped into the station’s cupola at daybreak. He immediately spied the Spofford lying disabled with distress signals flying from the top mast.  In spite of not having a trained and seasoned crew, Keeper Terrell was successful in recruiting six local men to launch the surfboat and proceed toward Ocracoke. They arrived at the village at 11 am, and tried to recruit more volunteers to attempt a rescue. By this time the surf was “very high” and “breaking all over the schooner.”  The unequipped islanders understood the foolhardy nature of such an attempt and refused to participate.

The Spofford was manned by seven sailors in addition to the captain. Fearing that help was not forthcoming, around noon five sailors launched the schooner’s yawl boat and began rowing toward shore. The yawl almost immediately capsized, but “all got to the beach by the assistance of the citizens of the island.”

Keeper James Howard and the Life-Savers at Hatteras Inlet had been alerted that a schooner was in the breakers near the village. Howard immediately mustered his six-man crew, hitched mules to the 1000 pound “beach cart” loaded with the life-saving “apparatus” (including various sizes of hemp line, shovels, Lyle gun, projectiles, sand anchor, traveling block, and wooden crotch), and proceeded to the wreck. When they left the station at 3 pm Keeper Howard reported a “fresh gale from WSW” and a treacherous beach. Howard rode ahead on horseback and encountered Keeper Terrell who had walked about three miles from the wreck in order to meet him.

Meanwhile, the Hatteras Inlet Life-Savers were having a “laborious” time traversing the fourteen miles from the station to the wreck. In gale force winds with the sea washing up on the beach, one of the two mules eventually refused to continue. The crew persevered, pulling and pushing the heavy steel-wheeled beach cart with the aid of one exhausted mule. They did not arrive at the wreck until eight pm. Keeper Howard reported that “the night was so dark and the surf very high, breaking all over the schooner” that “in my judgement it was best to wait for daylight” to attempt the rescue. Howard proceeded to make “a large fire on the beach abreast of the vessel to encourage those on board.”  In a side note in his report, Howard asks to be excused for his “bad writing” because his “eyes are almost blind on account of the smoke from the fire on the beach.”

The sailors on the schooner had lashed themselves to the bowsprit, wrapped in the triangular jib sail, as protection against the frigid waves and howling wind.

At six o’clock the next morning Keeper Howard ordered the rescue operation to begin. The first line fired to the schooner from the bronze Lyle gun dropped across the jib boom, but it blew off before one of the sailors could grab it. The second shot was successful. A sailor used the line to haul aboard the tail block (with whip line) and secure it to one of the masts. Next, the hawser was sent out to the ship by the whip line. The sailor was able to secure the hawser above the tail block. The surfmen on shore were then able to rig and deploy the traveling block and breeches buoy (life ring with canvas pants attached).

Breeches Buoy Fully Rigged

By late morning all sailors on board the vessel had been brought to shore with the exception of the steward who had fallen from the quarter deck the day before and had died during the night. His body was left lashed to the bowsprit.

Deployment of the Breeches Buoy
Deployment of the Breeches Buoy

Keeper Terrell had remained with the crew from Hatteras Inlet throughout the rescue operation before returning to Portsmouth Island. There is no record of where the cold and exhausted sailors were taken, but when rescues were performed far from the Life-Saving Station it was typical for island volunteers to shelter sailors for several days. Keeper Howard and his Life-Savers left the scene of the wreck at 12:30 pm and arrived back at their station at 5 pm. Howard remarked in his report that the journey was “very hard” due to walking fourteen miles pulling the beach cart through a “blizzard” of a snowstorm.

Back at the station, the life-savers’ feet were so badly swollen that the men “could not get on their boots” and beach patrols were suspended that night. In his report, Keeper Howard complained that his team “could not stand the long hardships,” and requested “good horses” which would have facilitated a quicker response.

At 7:20 the next morning Keeper Howard and several of his life-savers left the station with mules pulling a surf boat, and headed back to the wreck to retrieve the body of the sailor who had died. When they arrived at the schooner, they discovered that the “citizens of the island had got him ashore and took him up to the settlement and gave him a decent burial.”

Keeper Howard stopped at his home in the village, and his wife, Zilphia, prepared dinner for him. He fed the mules and left for the station at 1 pm, arriving back at Hatteras Inlet at 5 pm. In his January 5, 1895 report, Keeper Howard remarked that he never saw Capt. Hawes after bringing him ashore, and, contrary to custom, “did not get any letter of thanks.”

An official inquiry, prompted by the death of the steward, reported that “the diligence and devotion of both the keepers and the men under their command throughout the entire occurrence are well attested. It was the first instance of a wreck in the vicinity since the appointment of Keeper Terrell, and his promptness and fertility of resources go far to prove the fitness of his selection. Keeper Howard has rendered long and satisfactory service, which is not sullied by his record in this disaster.”

Copy of handwritten remarks included with the Wreck Report (transcription below photos):

Transcript of remarks included with the Wreck Report (original spelling and grammar retained):

Dec 27 1894 Reported to me By Capt terrel Keeper Portsmouth station That there was three masted schr on Beach near ocracoke island Keeper mustered crew tuck mules apperatus left station 3 PM fresh Gail From WSW with Bad Beach and dist about 14 miles whitch made it laborous arived abrest schr 8 PM the night was so dark and the surf verry high braking all over schr so it was impsable for men to Rig up Geer as they were snug in jib for protection and only three men on board the others left schr about 12 N Before that I was notifide in the yawl Boat was capsize But all Got to Beach By the assistance of the sitteson of the island so in my Judgment that it was Best to wate for day light whitch I did making a large Fire on Beach abrest of vessel to incurage those that was on Board the vessel we all with Keeper of Portsmouth station staid on Beach all night abrest vessel you will have to excuse all bad writing that my eyes are almost bline on account of the smoke from the Fire on Beach about six AM Place apparatus shot gun six ounce cartridge line drop acrose Jib Boom Before the man could Get it it Blew of Got Redy shot 4 ounce cartridge line drop arost vessel long side the man got it Redly Hould of whip Rig up geer sent of Breehes Buoy Brought a shore the two men one Had died that night all was done that could Been done the Keeper of Portsmouth station was with us through all of the preceding left wreck 12 30 PM arived Station 5 PM through Blizard snowstorm whitch mad our Jurny verry hard sum of the men give out Rest chafe Bad feet swolan the next day the men could not Get on ther Boots could not send out in Patrols that night it is to hard for us to take care of mules Because there ought to Bee something done for us we cant stand the long Hard ships our team is not fit for the service if had good Horses in my Judgment that we could got them saved Before night

On Monday of the 30 the men got Better Keeper crew with mules surf Boat left station 7 20 AM for wreck schr to Get the dead Boddy that perish on Board on the night Dec 27 arived at schr found that the cittison of the island had Got him ashore and tuck him up to the settlement and gave him desent Burrel By order of capt of Wreck schr there could not nothing more Bee don leapt of wreck schr gave the schr up to Body of men  to wreck her stop at settlement to Get dinner and feed mules left for station one PM arrived at station 5 PM did not sea capt of Sch after braugh him ashore in breaches buoy Sold material befor [??] did not get any letter of thanks

Date of report

Jan 5 1895

James Howard Keeper



Some time ago I obtained a transcript of an 1890 advertisement on the back of the stationery for the Ocracoke Ponder Hotel (1885-1900). The hotel was located about where the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (the old US Coast Guard Station) is now. The transcript follows the photo of the hotel.

Ponder Hotel, 1899
Ponder Hotel, 1899


On the Atlantic coast bordering on North Carolina and which constitutes her Eastern boundary and immediately facing the Ocean, is one of the most beautiful Islands of this hemisphere. The earliest name we find for it is Ocracoke [see for earlier spellings]. It has always been noted for its health and


which is not surpassed by any Ocean resort, and has no equal, inasmuch as the breeze from the ocean is salt and if perchance the wind should come from the land, it must first be wafted from the bosom of Pamlico Sound, a salt water sheet, whose expanse is only commensurate with its life giving properties.


is easy and all delays are now laid aside, as the newly repaired and excellent steamer Beaufort has been chartered to make tri-weekly trips from Washington [see]. The comfort of the passengers was especially considered in selecting this boat and when by a few hours ride the island is reached, a


of excellent dimensions greets the eye, and the seeker after health and comfort will have all the heart desires The many


offered are various and of a kind to please anyone.


a beautiful sheet of water is immediately in the rear, and offers a sail for the timid who fear the sound or ocean, a bath for those who dread the surf, and fishing for any who prefer to angle for perch rather than trout or blue fish. [This may be the first time the harbor was referred to as Silver Lake, probably a marketing tactic. Traditionally, the harbor was called Cockle Creek (see]


is only a short walk from the hotel, and this can be reached by a tram railway at any and all times, if the walk seems tiresome [for more information see; the tram railway was operated by Baxter Johnson]. In fact no wish of a guest will be denied to insure ease and comfort.


is located at the extreme end of the hotel, so that the bustle and stir incident to a dance or promenade will not disturb the invalid.


will be furnished by a band of reputation and will be at the disposal of the guests.


will be under the supervision of an expert caterer and in addition to our home markets, Norfolk and Baltimore will assist in furnishing the food.


of every kind can be had at all times, the most exciting of which is probably blue fish trolling.


find game in abundance. It is remarked that the curlew and willet shooting surpasses the quail shooting of California. [The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1916 made hunting curlews and willets illegal.]


is directly under the control of Spencer Bros., so well and favorably known as hotelists, to whom all inquiries can be addressed at Washington, N.C.

Already the season is opened at this hotel and everybody will find not only a welcome and every wish gratified, but health, sport and a general good time, and we advise everybody to visit OCRACOKE this season.





Sometime between 1000 and 500 years ago, Native Americans settled in what is now eastern North Carolina, and began frequenting Ocracoke to fish and gather shellfish in the waters of Pamlico Sound, especially near Springer’s Point. In 1607, the English monarchy ignored the original inhabitants, and laid claim to “Virginia” (originally much of the east coast of North America, including what is now North Carolina) with the establishment of the Jamestown colony. 

In the mid-1660s, King Charles II granted the territory of Carolina, including Ocracoke Island, to eight Lords Proprietors, supporters who had remained loyal to the crown during the English Civil War.

In 1719, the Lords Proprietors, none of whom ever set foot on Ocracoke, granted the island to John Lovick, Secretary of the Colony of North Carolina. Within just a few years, Lovick sold “Ye Island of Ocreecock,” consisting of 2,110 acres, to Richard Sanderson, a North Carolina councilman and justice, who utilized the island to graze a considerable “stock of horses, sheep, cattle and hoggs.” At Sanderson’s death in 1733 ownership of the island passed to another Richard Sanderson (the elder Sanderson’s son or nephew) who sold his holding to William Howard, Sr. in 1759. Howard and his family, who were probably already living on the island with a dozen or so other families, none of whom were originally land owners, was the first owner to make his home on the island, and the last of the colonial owners to own the entire island (or what was considered the entire island in 1759).

William Howard paid £105 (equivalent to about $185, or about $7,000 of buying power in 2022) for the 2,110 acres of Ocracoke Island.

Less than two months after he bought Ocracoke, Howard sold ½ of the island (including the Point, today known as Springer’s Point, a heavily wooded point of land on the western edge of Ocracoke village) to his friend, John Williams.

Springer's Point
Springer’s Point

The Outer Banks (including Ocracoke Island) has always been a dynamic, evolving place. As testimony, Ocracoke Inlet is the only Outer Banks inlet that has been continuously open since Europeans began keeping records. Since the 1580s, storms and hurricanes have routinely opened and closed other inlets, and with every storm the islands of the Outer Banks changed size and shape.

In 1795, Jonathan Price, an early cartographer who surveyed Ocracoke Inlet wrote that “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 [about 7.5 square miles, or 4,800 acres].” 

Clearly, Price is using “Occacock” to describe, not the entire island we know today, but a separate, smaller island that includes the present-day village of Ocracoke. As the Outer Banks migrated to the west with rising sea levels, the banks bumped up against this small island, and fused the two, creating what Price referred to as a peninsula attached to the sandy banks. Interestingly, in 1719, “Ye Island of Ocreecock” consisted of only 2,110 acres (just over three square miles). This must have been that separate inside island (including the “Point”), a geological formation distinct from the “sandy banks.” The modern village of Ocracoke comprises about 2,500 acres (just under 4 square miles), while the entire island as we know it today is about 9.6 square miles (over 6,000 acres).

The Point has played a significant role in the history of Ocracoke Island since the early 1700s.  Although many people imagine Ocracoke as originally a traditional fishing village, the reality is much more complex. Trade and commerce brought the first settlers to the island.

In 1715 the North Carolina Colonial Assembly passed an act to settle inlet pilots at Ocracoke. The pilots’ task was to guide ships through Ocracoke Inlet and across the bar in order to bring vessels safely into Pamlico Sound, and across to mainland North Carolina ports, including Bath, Washington, Plymouth, Belhaven, and New Bern. Individuals who knew the waters well were granted licenses or certificates of competency, known as branches. These individuals (there was at least one female pilot, Patsey Caraway) were known as Branch Pilots, and were situated at the Point (originally called Williams’ Point.).

In spite of the act of 1715, there is no record of settlement on the island until the mid-1730s. Presumably, the periodic presence of sea dogs, buccaneers, and pirates, including the notorious Blackbeard, kept law-abiding citizens at bay. Ocracoke, in fact, was one of Blackbeard’s favorite anchorages. In the fall of 1718, he hosted a memorable gathering of buccaneers on the beach, and soon after was killed in a naval battle with the British Royal Navy just offshore of the Point.

With the eventual settlement of pilots at the Point, public land there came to be known as Pilot Town. By the end of the 18th century, much of this public land had eroded away. In 1801 another 6 ½ acres of the Point was set aside to expand Pilot Town. The pilots were permitted to build houses and other structures, but the land was not privately owned. Eventually, storehouses, kitchens, smoke houses, wharves, warehouses, a store, a blacksmith shop, and a windmill, as well as private homes, were constructed on the Point.  

At this time only one public road had been laid out on the island. This sandy path went from the Point to approximately where the Methodist Church is today, and from there continued to Hatteras Inlet. This road was said to have “served the purpose of all the inhabitants” of Ocracoke village.  However, by 1835 the population of Ocracoke had increased to almost 500 people, many of whom were now living on the northeast side of Cockle Creek (today known as Silver Lake Harbor). A new road was laid out, connecting the area of the present-day Methodist Church to the shoreline of Pamlico Sound. This road, the eastern end of which was later dubbed “East Howard Street” (now, just “Howard Street”), became the main thoroughfare through the village. 

Two small tidal streams (the “Big Gut” and the “Little Gut”) flowed from Cockle Creek. They effectively divided the growing village into two sections. “Creekers” lived “around creek”, along the northeast side of the harbor, while “Pointers” lived  “down point,” on the southwest side of the harbor. A friendly rivalry developed, and has persisted even after the two guts were filled in when the Navy dredged the harbor during World War II.

Bridge over the Gut
Bridge over the Gut

By 1840, more than 1,400 sailing vessels were passing through Ocracoke Inlet annually, aided by more than 40 or 50 pilots, most living on the Point. In 1846 a violent hurricane opened both Oregon Inlet and Hatteras Inlet. As it turned out, Hatteras Inlet was now much more navigable than Ocracoke Inlet. Over the next decade or so most of the ships sailing to and from mainland North Carolina opted to use Hatteras Inlet, and piloting became a dying enterprise on Ocracoke. By 1850, the number of pilots working at Ocracoke had declined to 27. In 1860, there were only 13. By 1870 the number was reduced to four, and only one pilot remained in 1880. 

After Hatteras Inlet opened, a few Ocracoke pilots moved to Hatteras, but most young men who remained at Ocracoke shipped out on 2, 3, or 4-masted coastal schooners carrying lumber, shingles, cotton, molasses, rum, and other goods between Nova Scotia, and the West Indies. The census record of 1880 lists 66 mariners based on Ocracoke.  

In 1855, nine years after Hatteras Inlet opened, the Point was sold to Daniel Tolson, who moved into a large house with an observation tower. This house, which may have been built by John Williams or another of the early pilots, was one of the oldest houses on the island, and had been used to look for ships waiting to cross the bar at Ocracoke Inlet. 

House at Springer's Point
House at Springer’s Point

In 1882, three years after Daniel Tolson died, his widow sold the Point and house to E.D. and Clara Springer, of South Creek, NC. Although the Springers enjoyed spending summers on Ocracoke, they never made it their permanent home. The Springers maintained the house as well as they were able, even constructing a new round brick cistern in 1899.

Springers Cistern
Springers Cistern

In 1923 the Springers sold the property, including the house which by then was badly in need of repair, to their son, Wallace Springer. In 1941 Wallace Springer sold the Point to the wealthy and mercurial entrepreneur, Sam Jones. Although Sam embarked on major development projects on Ocracoke in the 1950s (including Berkley Castle, Berkley Manor, the Homeplace, and the Whittlers’ Gathering Place), he never developed Springer’s Point. Sam died in 1977, and was buried on the property alongside his favorite horse, Ikey D.  Daniel Tolson is buried some distance away, surrounded by a tangle of cedars, vines, shrubs, and briars.  

By the mid-1800s, railroads were replacing schooners for transporting goods up and down the east coast. Recognizing that their livelihoods were threatened, many young Ocracoke seafarers moved north looking for work, and many others followed. Several dozen ended up working on dredges and tugboats with the US Army Corps of Engineers in the Philadelphia area. Others who remained on the island enlisted in the United States Life Saving Service, the precursor to the US Coast Guard, which established a station on Ocracoke in 1883. This began a long and meritorious tradition of islanders’ service, especially to mariners shipwrecked along our coast. 

During this time, railroads in eastern North Carolina began partnering with steamship companies to take visitors to the developing tourist destinations in Nags Head. Enterprising businessmen from near Morehead City, North Carolina, recognized Ocracoke’s potential, and built a large Victorian hotel where the old US Coast Guard Station/NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching building stands today. From 1885 until 1900, the Ponder Hotel hosted well-heeled eastern North Carolinians with lavish seafood dinners, parties, and square dances nearly every evening. When the hotel burned down in 1900, elite tourism came to an end. Islanders continued to cater to visitors, but now as guides for hunters and fishermen who stayed in modest rooming houses or in one or two small hotels.  

At about this same time, the New York-based Doxsee Clam Company built a plant on the southwest side of the Ditch (the opening that connects Pamlico Sound to Silver Lake harbor). For several years, island men harvested clams while many of the island women worked opening the clams and processing them. After the Doxsee Clam Company depleted most of the clams in Pamlico Sound and moved to Florida, islanders who remained made their livings as life-savers, hunting and fishing guides, or by selling a few fish or home-grown vegetables to neighbors. 

In 1938, a community electric generator was installed in the building that today houses Kitty Hawk Kites. Ocracokers could now illuminate their homes with incandescent lights and purchase newfangled electric gadgets like washing machines and vacuum cleaners . The generating plant served also as the island’s ice plant. Ice meant fishermen could now easily preserve fish long enough to transport them to markets on the mainland. By replacing masts and sails in their skiffs with engines from old Model T’s it meant they could also transport their fish to markets on the mainland more quickly, more safely, and more conveniently.  

Electricity was just the beginning of major change on the island. During WWII, the Navy built a 600-personnel Base along the shore of the newly dredged harbor. While many island men found wives while working up north, the new pool of Navy and Coast Guard sailors provided husbands for a number of young island ladies left behind. Ocracoke’s concentrated gene pool was much enriched.

Ferries and hard-surface roads followed in the 1950s, along with the creation of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Increased visitation followed a 1969 issue of “National Geographic” magazine that featured an article about Ocracoke with beautiful color photographs. A municipal water system was established in the 1970s. By the latter part of the 20th century, new hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops were opening every year. Modern tourism was off and running, and the population of the island steadily increased.  

At the turn of the 21st century, a number of far-sighted individuals, including Camilla Herlevich, Executive Director and Founder of the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, recognized the cultural, historical, and environmental significance of Springer’s Point. No one had lived on the Point for more than half a century, and stately old live oaks, red cedars, yaupons, birds and other wildlife were flourishing there in one of the last remaining areas in Ocracoke village untouched by modern development.  

In 2002, the North Carolina Coast Land Trust, with help from individuals and organizations, purchased the first 31 acres of Springer’s Point. Another 91 acres was added in 2006, the year Springer’s Point Nature Preserve was officially opened to the public. Today, the Preserve includes more than 130 acres of maritime forest, tidal red cedar forest, salt marsh, wet grasslands and a sound-front beach. The only remaining artifact from the Point’s human inhabitants is the brick cistern built by E. D. Springer in 1899. Just offshore is Teach’s Hole, where the pirate Blackbeard was killed in November, 1718.  

Residents and visitors alike, all value the pristine natural beauty of the forest, the tranquil waters gently lapping at the beach, and the rich cultural significance of Springer’s Point.