The following article is from the Virginian-Pilot, Wednesday, July 12, 1978:

Ocracoke Island – Sheriff Stops Nudity Arrests Awhile

By Doug Gardner, Virginian-Pilot Staff Writer


OCRACOKE- Hyde County Sheriff Charles Cahoon said Tuesday that he is throwing the problem of enforcing the state’s public nudity law back to the National Park Service on Ocracoke Island.

In Washington, a Park Service spokesman said rangers have no statutory authority to arrest anyone for public nudity in a national park and don’t warrant such authority.

Cahoon, whose deputies arrested four people Thursday under the state’s indecent-exposure law, said he planned no more arrests soon. He would not eliminate the possibility of arrests later. “We’re going to slack up some and see what they do,” Cahoon said of the Park Service.

Ocracoke Beach
Ocracoke Beach

Cahoon said he checked with the N.C. attorney general’s office to see if he had the authority to make arrests on federal land. He said he has the power, but thinks the Park Service has the responsibility.

Cahoon said deputies do not patrol the island on a regular basis.

Asked why he ordered deputies to make last week’s arrests, Cahoon said, “It was just my decision.”

Cahoon said he thought the arrests had helped put a damper on nude bathing, a tradition of long-standing on the isolated beaches of Ocracoke Island.

“I don’t think people want to come to court on this,” Cahoon said.

Monday, two Raleigh residents forfeited $50 bond each when they failed to appear in court in Swan Quarter to face charges of indecent exposure. A Maryland man is scheduled to appear in court July 24 on the same charge. He is free on $50 bond.

Duncan Morrow, a public information officer with the National Park Service in Washington, said national headquarters is aware of the arrests on Ocracoke Island. He said nudity in national parks is a problem around the country, but Park Service rangers are powerless to deal with it.

“There is no federal law prohibiting public nudity in the national parks,” Morrow said.

Nude bathers in Cape Cod National Park attracted so many gawkers that the situation created “environmental problems,” Morrow said, with the spectators blocking traffic and trampling fragile sand dunes. As a result, Cape Cod has the only regulations in the national park system prohibiting nudity, he said.

“We have real difficulties with the issue. I don’t know how it’s going to be resolved. Quite frankly, we don’t want to get involved in what is essentially a moral problem,” Morrow said.

“As long as they aren’t interfering with the law-abiding activities of other people, we aren’t inclined to deal with it,” he said.

Morrow said arrest of nudists under state laws are avoided because the cases have not stood up in court.

Morrow said the Park Service will rely on reports from Cape Hatteras National Seashore rangers to keep tabs on the situation.

“At this point it’s just one more case. On principle we’d rather not get involved in this situation. We are not that enthusiastic about breaking new ground,” Morrow said.

Part Supt. Bill Harris and Chief Ranger Larry Roush were not available for comment Tuesday.



The following newspaper clipping (from the May 3, 1942, Times-Herald of Washington, DC) was discovered in a box of papers in the home of Blanche Howard Jolliff (1919-2018) after her death:

Three-century-old Ocracoke Island off North Carolina, once the rendezvous of Pirate Teach, known as “Blackbeard.: has recently been streamlined to include a semi-monthly newspaper and a deputy sheriff to collect taxes. Despite all this, the three-mile-wide island, sandwiched between Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, retains its uniqueness in several respects. It has no jails, no mayor, no paved roads or sidewalks, and the six automobiles skimming along its sand trails carry no license tags.

Cartoon Image
Cartoon Image

The 525 inhabitants (1940 census) of Ocracoke Island live in one of the few places where people can operate automobiles without paying a State gasoline tax or carrying license plates. The reason is that there are no highways on the island — only trails in the sand that make motoring difficult. Tires on these automobiles are only about half inflated, lest they bog down in constantly shifting sands. Roads and sidewalks are impractical and present efforts to anchor the sand by planting grass and erecting “sand fences” are not completely successful.

Reputedly settled by sailors who had been shipwrecked upon its reefs during the 17th century, the island’s customs today are altered rather than changed by the coming of electric power, theatres, hotels, and an airplane-taxi service.

These island descendants of Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and Middle Eastern racial strains are hardy fisher folk. They speak in heavy dialect, live strictly according to democratic processes, have no formal government, no jails, little crime, and no lawyers. If an unwritten code is violated, natives mete out what justice to the offender the circumstances may call for. Homes have no locks and visitors are surprised at the absolute safety of unprotected possessions, with one exception.

NO intoxicating beverages are sold on the island and bootleggers are not tolerated. A new dance hall contains the sign “Positively No Drinking or Fighting in this Hall.”

Ocracoke is steeped in legend. And it carefully preserves the “Old Pirate House” where Blackbeard tarred and caulked his ships, only to meet his fate in 1718 when he was shot for his misdeeds.



Before WWII Silver Lake Harbor was a wide, shallow tidal creek. Older islanders still refer to the harbor by its traditional name, Cockle Creek (or just “the Creek”). Although the Creek was only 3-4 feet deep, it was as wide as it is today. Then, as now, the harbor was connected to the sound by the “Ditch” (the narrow inlet adjacent to the old Coast Guard Station/North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching).

Two narrow streams (or “guts” as islanders called them) flowed from the Creek toward the bald beach. Most likely, the term “gut” dates to at least the 18th century. According to a Virginia Historic Preservation document* a creek on Daingerfield Island, Virginia, “was originally mapped as a ‘gutt,’ a term used for a slow-moving, marshy body of water. The gutt separated the island from the mainland.”

On Ocracoke, the two streams, the Big Gut (or Aunt Winnie’s Gut, so named for Winnie Blount, who lived nearby) and the Little Gut, effectively divided Ocracoke village into two main areas (Down Point, the area that includes Springer’s Point and the lighthouse; and Around Creek, the area that includes Howard Street, the present-day Methodist Church, and the Community Square area).

The Little Gut flowed through the village about where Hwy 12 is now, and the Big Gut was parallel to it, just southwest of the old Odd Fellows Lodge/Island Inn. Both guts were filled in by the Navy in 1942 when they dredged the harbor to accommodate their vessels.

A friendly rivalry developed between Creekers and Pointers that continues to some extent even to this day.

Eventually simple foot bridges were built across the guts in several places.

Bridge over Gut
Bridge over Gut

Although some of the bridges were eventually widened to accommodate horse-drawn carts, most of the bridges were only built for foot traffic, .

Bridge over gut
Bridge over gut

The two guts led to some interesting island stories. The following story was told to me by islander Al Scarborough, about his grandmother and her sister.

Miss Sue (Susan Gaskill Scarborough, 1878-1954) and Miss Lyzee (Eliza Gaskill Thomas, 1866-1946) were sisters. Miss Sue and her husband, Charlie Scarborough, lived “Around Creek” (on the northeast side of Cockle Creek/Silver Lake):

Scarborough House
Scarborough House

Miss Lyzee and her husband, Capt. Bill Thomas, lived “Down Point” (on the southwest side of Cockle Creek/Silver Lake):

Thomas House
Thomas House

Miss Sue and Miss Lysee had a clear view of each other’s houses across the harbor.

Although the foot bridges had been constructed by the time Miss Sue and Miss Lysee were married, the journey by foot (through soft sand and across the rickety bridges) from one side of the harbor to the other side was not taken lightly. When Miss Sue took a notion to visit Miss Lyzee (usually only once or twice a year) she intended it to be a proper visit, and that meant packing her valise for the journey. After walking for more than an hour she wasn’t about to turn right around and return home. She always stayed several days with her sister before walking back to her home on the “Creek” side.