The Curious History of Colington Island

Colington Island – An Early History

The names of the towns, villages, and areas of the Outer Banks are an interesting mix of American Indian names—Manteo, Wanchese, Kitty Hawk, and Hatteras. Some places have names from England—Nags Head. And a smattering of random names were created to satisfy the US Postal Service—Corolla, Duck, Waves.

In this mix, one name stands out. Colington Island, perhaps one quarter the size of Roanoke Island, seems to be the only town named after any of the early British explorers or settlers.

Bordered to the north by Kitty Hawk Bay and to the south and west by Albemarle and Roanoke Sounds, it’s a bit off the beaten path. Colington Road, a twisting two-lane affair that begins just South of the Wright Memorial Bridge, is the only way on and off the island.

It is almost entirely residential, and except for a couple of graveyards of extraordinary antiquity, there is little that marks it as unique or exceptional. Yet this little island has a history all its own, one that could almost qualify it as the other Lost Colony of the Outer Banks.

The name is a language shift that recalls its first British owner—Sir John Colleton, Baronet of England, one of the eight Lords Proprietors who were granted almost all of the lands south of Virginia by Charles II in 1663.

Included in the decree creating the Lords Proprietors was a specific grant for “…which Island hath been called by some Cariyle Island, but now by us named Colleton Island.”

Colleton, who was living in Barbados on a working plantation, immediately set about developing Cariyle Island, now named Colleton Island.

He appointed Captain John Whittie as his agent, and Whittie bought cattle, horses and hogs, and set sail for Outer Banks. His intention was to plant corn and tobacco as cash crops and raise livestock. He also started a vineyard hoping to make wine.

Although no records specific to Whittie’s time on Colington Island have been found, it is apparent that he was unsuccessful, and in 1665 Lord Colleton turned to Peter Carteret to save the project.

Peter Carteret is an interesting figure. Born in 1641, he was the fourth cousin of Sir John Carteret, one of the Lords Proprietors, and was only 24 when he took over the Colleton Plantation project. However, he was already quite well-connected. At the time he took over management of the Colleton Island Plantation, he was already assistant to Governor Samuel Stevens of Albemarle County, the political division that would soon become North Carolina—and a lieutenant colonel in the colony’s militia.

The letters Colleton wrote to Carteret make it clear that there was little confidence in  Whittie, and that the Lord Proprietor was very concerned about the project. In September of 1665, he wrote Carteret advising him that, “…our business in a very bad condition…”

He goes on to place the blame clearly on Carteret’s predecessor. “Capt. Whittie, who made us pay for 100 breeding sows, with pigs, 10 boars, 10 cows with calf and a bull, and a horse and a mare…Which it seems never came there, besides which we paid to the overseer’s friend here, who hath played the knave, and suffered all our business to go to wrack…”

Whittie did write to Carteret confirming much of Colleton’s observations, although he seems to want to exonerate himself…

“I If God bless me well to that country I will call those persons to account that I left entrusted. I have been sufficiently played the knave…,” he wrote.

When Carteret got to the Plantation in the winter of 1665, what he saw confirmed Colleton’s letter. “We arrived in Albemarle the 23d of February…and went to Colleton Island…where I found a 20-foot dwelling house a 10-foot hog house and…wild hogs but Nothing towards a plantation so that I was to make a plantation out of the wilderness we cleared what ground we could…”

From the outset, things did not go well.

“Corn…produced little by reason that we were all Sick all the Summer that we could not tend it and the Servants so weak the fall and Spring that they could do little work.,” he wrote to Colleton.

Improvements were being made.  An 80’ dwelling house for himself and the workers were built; the hog house was expanded and the hogs rounded up. Corn was planted the following year, and rendering of oil from beached whales proved profitable.

However, Colleton Plantation continued to operate at a loss. On August 18, 1667, “…a great storm or rather hurricane that destroyed both corn and tobacco: blew down the roof of the great hog house that I had built the year before carried away the frame & boards of two houses…”

In 1668 drought in July was followed by so much rain in August the crop was destroyed. There were more hurricanes and crop failures and by 1674 Carteret wrote, “…that it hath pleased God of his providence to Inflict Such a General calamity upon the inhabitants of these countries that for Several years they have Not Enjoyed the fruits of their Labors.”

Carteret went on to become Governor of Albemarle County, appointed to the post when Governor Stevens died.

At that time Albemarle County was a poverty-stricken land, on the verge of famine after years of failed crops. After his appointment, Carteret’s notes on Colleton Island become much shorter, and in 1672, at the request of the Albemarle Council, he went to London to discuss directly with the Lords Proprietors and the Crown the concerns of the Albemarle settlers.

The trip was a failure, and there is no record of Peter Carteret ever returning to Albemarle County.

After the failure of the Colleton Plantation, there are no clear accounts of life on Colington Island until 1750 when Thomas Pendleton purchased the island. He died soon after, leaving the land to his daughters.