Photo by Jack Thigpen

By Peter Vankevich

On April 23, descendants of former residents and many others will head to Ocracoke’s southern neighboring island, Portsmouth, for an event to honor the village and its families known as Homecoming. This year the theme is “Portsmouth Rises.”

Activities begin at 9 a.m. and end at 2 p.m. See schedule below.

The Friends of Portsmouth Island, a nonprofit, has sponsored this ceremony every two years since 1992, though the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 event.

Visitors throughout the day will have the opportunity to visit the life-saving station, school, post office and several of the houses.

A christening and hymn singing will take place at the church.

Author Jim White, a Portsmouth descendant, will emcee the program and historian David Quinn, another descendant, will provide a history of the island.

Also on the agenda will be Jeff West, superintendent of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, which manages the village.

He will give an overview of the buildings and the ongoing impact from flooding by Hurricane Dorian and repairs made by the National Park Service and the Friends of Portsmouth Island.

An outdoor covered dish potluck will take place at the conclusion of the ceremony.

The Henry Pigott House shot during a previous Portsmouth Homecoming. This historic house has since been battered by Hurricane Dorian. Photo by Peter Vankevich

Established in 1752, Portsmouth Island was once the biggest port community along the Outer Banks. At its peak in 1860, Portsmouth village had roughly 700 residents, which included 200 enslaved African Americans.

During the Civil War, the village was occupied at various times by both Confederate and Union forces that caused a massive evacuation of the residents. Although many returned, a decline in both the population and the economic importance of the village continued with hurricanes being a major factor.

By the late 1960s, the village had just three residents: Henry Pigott, Marian Gray Babb, and Nora Dixon. Pigott ran the mail boat from Portsmouth to Ocracoke and took care of the last two elderly ladies, until he fell ill in 1970 and died 1971. The women moved away soon after.

This year, ferry service from Ocracoke to Portsmouth will be provided by Portsmouth Island Boat Tours and will cost $25 round-trip per person. To make a reservation, call 252-928-4361.

For more information on Friends of Portsmouth Island and the upcoming event, visit their website.


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