Thursday, October 04, 2018

1846 Hurricane

The hurricane of September 7, 1846, struck the Outer Banks most powerfully twenty to fifty miles north of Portsmouth island, but it led to the demise of the village of Portsmouth. Why was that?

The hurricane was a powerful, slow-moving tropical system that brought gale force winds, sudden squalls, and a rushing surf that destroyed almost everything in its path. But Portsmouth village was spared the brunt of the storm. Nevertheless, the results of the hurricane precipitated the slow abandonment of Portsmouth village. By 1971 the last of the residents left the island, leaving behind their church, the post office, the Coast Guard station, and a dozen or more houses. Today, Portsmouth is a ghost town.

I am wondering if any of our readers can explain why this storm led to the death of Portsmouth. If you know, please leave a comment. 

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is an essay by Philip Howard explaining why he decided to stay on the island as Hurricane Florence approached. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous6:46 AM

    I will hazard a guess: It was because the storm shifted inlets and shipping channels through the Outer Banks. Thus, the namesake village "Portsmouth" was no longer viable as such. Best regards. Thanks for the journal.

  2. Anonymous9:47 AM

    The same storm opened a better known as Oregon Inlet.

  3. The way I understand it, Ocracoke Inlet had been shoaling for a while and by 1850 or so, the shipping interests on which Portsmouth Village had been built upon could no longer navigate the inlet without difficulty. It was a perfect setup for about a hundred years prior to that hurricane.

  4. Anonymous3:23 PM

    these 3 readers are correct.

  5. Yes, the steady decline of Portsmouth village began when the 1946 hurricane opened both Oregon Inlet and Hatteras Inlet. Pilots soon began moving there because ship captains learned that the new inlets were more navigable and less treacherous than Ocracoke Inlet. Later, invasion by Union forces, and other hurricanes created problems for Portsmouth. Eventually Ocracoke got paved roads, ferry service, electricity, and telephones. Without these, Portsmouth continued to decline.

  6. Anonymous9:55 AM

    Philip, seems like I read somewhere that a preacher was on horseback, on a sand dune in that 1846 storm and actually was eyewitness to the new inlet(Oregon) being that true or just a OBX legend? Thanks..

    1. I never heard that but if I come across a reference to it I will publish it as a blog post.

  7. I'm confused. Is it 1846 or 1946 storm? Thanks!