Monday, April 02, 2018

1801 Letter

In 1801 Richard Dobbs Spaight (1758–1802) of New Bern, NC, wrote a letter to President Thomas Jefferson which highlighted the importance of Ocracoke Inlet. Spaight was a member of the Continental Congress from 1783 to 1785, a delegate to the federal Constitutional Convention in 1787, and governor of North Carolina from 1792 to 1795. In 1798 he won a special election to fill the congressional seat vacated by the death of his predecessor, Nathan Bryan.


Washington City 4 March 1801.


When Congress first began to fortify the ports & Harbours of the United States in 1794, among others a fort was directed to be erected on Beacon Island near Ocracock bar, to defend that Inlet. An Engineer was sent forward, who laid off the fort and the works were commenced, & carried on untill November following.

From the neglect of the then Secretary of War … nothing was done. In 1796 … the works were discontinued & remained so untill I took my seat in Congress in Decr. 1798….

All the trade of No. Carolina except what is carried on at Wilmington, and a little at Beaufort & Swannsborough, passes over Ocracock bar: and the fort at Beacon Island command both Harbours, or, roads, where the shipping bound either in, or out come too in order to lighten, to enable them to pass the swash. It likewise commands both the passages that lead from the harbours or roads, up into the Country.

I could venture to say to a Certainty that the revenue saved to the United States, in consequence of a fort being built, and a surveyor established there will fully eaqual the Annual expenditure, occasioned by the Establishment, and in my Opinion, will in the course of ten or a Dozen years repay the United States the monies which the works will cost.

I have thus agreeably to your desire thrown my Ideas on this subject in a hasty manner on paper, and I make no doubt but that an Object of such magnitude, will receive due attention from The administration.

With Sentiments of Consideration & Respect I am Sir, Your most Obt. Sevt.



Construction of a fort at Beacon Island was not resumed during Thomas Jefferson’s administration. In 1806 Henry Dearborn (builder of the first lighthouse at Cape Hatteras and the first lighthouse on Shell Castle in Ocracoke Inlet) reported that gunboats would more effectively protect Ocracoke Inlet than a fixed fortification.

You can read the entire letter from Rihard Spaight here:


Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a history of Village Craftsmen (1970 - the Present). You can read the Newsletter here:

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