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    Why is the Sign by the Road – The Story Behind the Signs

    August 18, 2021

    We pass highway markers all the time, those footnotes to history that North Carolina has placed along the roads of the state. Some, like the Wright Brothers in Kill Devil Hills by the Wright Brothers Memorial, call out well-known events or people. But many of them highlight some lesser-known people and events and it’s to those highway markers that we turn our attention.

    There are 26 highway markers in Dare County; not quite that many in Currituck County, and a number of them are not on the Outer Banks. But we thought we would start telling the story of three of them.


    Location: US 264 at US 64 south of Mann’s Harbor

    Located on the mainland, the Native American village of Dasemunkepeuc was probably the largest of the villages of the Secoton peoples and served as the equivalent of the capital of the region.

    Dasemunkepeuc Outer Banks road signIts name means  “where there is extended land surface surrounded by water” in the Algonquin language according to the North Carolina Museum of Archeology—an apt name for the area around Manns Harbor.

    Dasemunkepeuc was the home to Pemisapan who came to be known as Wingina. Arthur Barlowe, whose description of the new Roanoke Colony was instrumental in enticing 117 colonists to the New World, described Pemispan as “King” of the whole country.

    It’s unclear what led to the conflict that led to Pemispan’s death. Ralph Lane claimed the Indians had stolen a chalice. If that was the case, his reaction to attack Dasemunkepeuc and lay waste to it seems an overreaction.

    In the battle, Pemsipan was wounded and ran into the woods. One of Lane’s men, Edward Nugent, chased the king into the woods and emerged carrying his head.

    The Secoton peoples, while still mourning the death of their leader, killed Lane’s chief advisor, George Howe. They then abandoned Dasemunkepeuc and refused to help the English colonists in any way, dooming the Lost Colony to failure.

    Freedman’s Colony

    Location: Airport Road in Manteo

    General Ambrose Burnside was a so-so general, but a master politician and skilled lawyer. His army captured Roanoke Island and the rest of the Outer Banks by early 1862 and then faced a dilemma…What to do about the enslaved people he encountered?

    Burnside reasoned that since the Confederacy was in a state of active rebellion, any property seized from Southern owners was contraband of war. Since the slaves were clearly the property of the slave owners, they could be seized as contraband.

    Freedman’s Colony Outer Banks road signWord spread very quickly that if a slave could just get to Roanoke Island, they would be free and they arrived in droves.

    Soon a Freedman’s Colony sprang up on the north end of the island, probably just about where the airport is today.

    The freedmen were supposed to receive rations, clothing and a stipend for the work they did, but the sheer number overwhelmed the system, and clothing and food were in very short supply. Payments were also running almost a year behind. There was also considerable corruption on the part of the administrators.

    Missionaries did come to teach the children and adults basic reading and math skills and a little bit about how government works.

    At one point the Roanoke Island Freedman’s Colony was estimated to have a population of 3000.

    After the Civil War, the Freedman’s Colony quickly dissipated.

    Andrew Cartwright

    Location: NC 345 at US 64/264 southeast of Manteo

    Little is know of the early life of Andrew Cartwright. He was probably born a slave in the Elizabeth City, North Carolina area, although that has not been proven to date.

    What is known is that by the beginning of the Civil War, Cartwright and his wife Anna, were living in New England and Andrew had become a minister in the African Methodist Episcopalian Zion Church (AMEZ).

    Andrew Cartwright Outer Banks Road SignDuring the Civil War, he returned to northeastern North Carolina to minister to the freed slaves of the region

    Following the war, in 1866, he founded the first AMEZ church in the in northeastern North Carolina and the second one in the state. The first AMEZ church was located in New Bern. At the time, Manteo and Roanoke Island were part of Currituck County and the church he founded was in the middle of the “colored population” of the county.

    Becoming increasingly interested in missionary work in Africa, in 1878 he and his wife moved to Brewerville, Liberia and began building the AMEZ presence in the country. He remained in Liberia, passing away in Brewerville in 1903.