Outer Banks Books—History and Nonfiction
With over 400 years of history from the first attempt at a British colony in 1584 until today, the Outer Banks has a lot to write about. There is so much to write about that we can only scratch the service with some of our recommendations.
We think, though, that we have a good representation of Outer Banks authors and the stories they tell bringing the history of this ribbon of sand to life.
We’ve organized this section by author. Although some of the authors only have one book about the Outer Banks, for many writers there are a number of titles available.
David Stick—The Dean of Outer Banks Writers
David Stick passed away in 2009 but he still exerts an outsized influence on the Outer Banks literature. Arguably he put the Outer Banks on the literary map.
His best-known book is Graveyard of the Atlantic. Published in 1954, the book was the first detailed look at shipwrecks along the Outer Banks coast.
Stick, who had a career as a journalist including a stint in the Marines as a correspondent in the South Pacific, is a master stylist. He tells the stories of the wrecks with a brisk, no nonsense style, yet he skillfully gives a sense of the terror and bravery of moment. Meticulously researched, the book is still used as a reference when investigating the history of the coast.
There are two other books that he wrote that are still available.
The Outer Banks of North Carolina, 1584-1958, is a remarkable journey through time, telling what was known about the Lost Colony when the book was published in 1958, to Blackbeard and the Wright Brothers and much more.
His other book to look for, Roanoke Island: The Beginnings of English America, does a deep dive into the history of the Lost Colony. Stick was one of the first authors to take his research all the way back to England to try to string the story together.
To put into perspective how meticulous and how accurate Stick’s writing is, he is regularly cited in scholarly research documents and papers as a reliable source of information. His historic collection of documents formed the basis for the Outer Banks History Museum at Roanoke Island Festival Park.
Kevin Dufus—History in Detail
Where David Stick wrote overviews of history, Kevin Dufus drills down into the detail. He’ll take one subject and explore it in-depth, often finding some surprising facts that were either little known or overlooked.
His book The Last Days of Blackbeard the Pirate debunks a number of myths or half-truths about the pirate and it raises some interesting questions about how deeply involved local authorities were with Blackbeard.
His research has discovered a number of false beliefs about the fate of his crew. He also examines the pirates final battle with Lieutenant of the Royal Navy and whether Blackbeard intended to fight or flee.
Another book from Dufus worth checking out is War Zone offering a detailed examination of the devastation Nazi U-boats wreaked on Allied shipping off the coast of North Carolina in WWII.
What makes the book a particularly compelling read is eyewitness accounts and personal reminiscences he has amassed in the book.
Dufus is a gifted writer that keeps his stories moving along.
Charles Whedbee—Tales of the Outer Banks
Charles Whedbe spent most of his adult life serving as a municipal court judge in Greenville, NC, but whenever he could he spent time on the Outer Banks. He was in love with its people and the stories they told.
Over the years he gathered quite a number of those tales together—some of them true, some of them maybe true, and some of them…well…good stories.
He wrote several of books but his two most popular and the two most likely to still be available are The Flaming Ship of Ocracoke & Other Tales of the Outer Banks and Legends of the Outer Banks and Tar Heel Tidewater.
Whedbe has an easygoing pleasant style—perfect for reading on the beach.
Alton Ballance—Life on Ocracoke
Alton Ballance grew up on Ocracoke and still lives on the island. Because of his connection to the village and the people who live there, his book Ocracokers paints a textured image of life on the island that no other author has been able to capture.
Through interviews, personal recollections, and research, what emerges is the story of how Ocracoke changed from a fishing village living a subsistence existence to a thriving tourist economy. Ballance is careful to not draw any conclusions in his writing, allowing readers to decide for themselves what has been lost and gained.
James Charlet—The Story Behind the Shipwreck Stories
For years James Charlet was the Site Manager for the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station in Rodanthe. Before that he was a history teacher. All of that experience goes into his book, Shipwrecks of the Outer Banks: Dramatic Rescues and Fantastic Wrecks in the Graveyard of the Atlantic.
What sets this book apart from everything else that has been written about rescue effort along the Outer Banks is Charlet’s profound knowledge of what life was like for the Lifesaving Crews and the equipment they used.
When Charlet writes that a Lyle gun was fired, the reader understands what that was and why it was being used. If shipwreck victims are being brought to shore by a breeches buoy, there is a description what a breeches buoy was and how it was used.
There’s a lot of detail in this book offering readers an opportunity to learn about what life was really like on the Outer Banks.
Drew Pullen—the Forgotten Outer Banks War
Generally, the great battles of the Civil War are not associated with the Outer Banks, but this strip of sand saw plenty of action during the War Between the States.
The first Union victories were achieved at Hatteras and Ocracoke and the pressure that was exerted by Union forces in northeastern North Carolina kept Southern forces from being deployed elsewhere.
Pullen, with photography and research on images from Robert Drapala, has assembled an amazing amount of information, some of it overlooked until he unearthed it. In particular, the journals of Edwin Champney, a Union soldier stationed at Hatteras in 1862 and 1863, are fascinating.
Champney wrote well, but his illustrations are particularly interesting.
The book was out of print for some time but has recently been rereleased.
Andrew Lawler—Debunking the Myths
Andrew Lawler’s The Secret Token is a fantastic read.
The book looks in detail at the many theories, beliefs and guesses about what really happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island.
Lawler doesn’t offer any solutions, but what he does, through meticulous and detailed research is debunk just about every theory that has been advanced as being absolutely, positively the answer. He seems to hold particular scorn for the belief that the colonists migrated to the Buxton area, noting that every artifact that had been deemed as proof has been shown to come from a later period.
The book moves along very well, with Lawler’s style crisp and no nonsense, yet underlying everything is a subtle sense of humor.
McCullough—A Pulitzer Prize Winning Author
David McCullough has written about everything from the Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood to biographies of Presidents. It was, in fact, his biographies of Truman and John Adams that won him his two Pulitzer Prizes.
What emerges from the pages of the Wright Brothers is a story about two complex and extraordinary men who were confident of their success.
McCullough goes beyond the typical tale and examines in depth their family relationships and how that effected how they worked with each other and others and how the brothers viewed the world.
McCullough’s study of the Wright Brothers is not as detailed as either of his presidential biographies, but the book is in every sense the work of an award winning author at the top of his game.