Roanoke Island Area Historical Inlets: Confusion Created by Historical Hiatus after The Roanoke Voyages & The Lost Colony & before Permanent Settlement

The following is the last segment of a guest blog post series by Roger L. Payne, author of The Outer Banks Gazetteer: The History of Place Names from Carova to Emerald Isle. A book over twenty years in the making, The Outer Banks Gazetteer is a comprehensive reference guide to the region’s place names—over 3,000 entries in all. Click here to view Roger Payne’s entire guest blog series.

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There was a period of over 100 years between the Roanoke Voyages and settlement of the Roanoke Island area, which led to some confusion regarding the names and locations of these inlets. Each inlet reference has a separate entry in The Outer Banks Gazetteer. Port Ferdinando, about two miles north of Oregon Inlet was open from before 1585 to 1798, and from about 1700 to 1798 was known as Gunt Inlet because Port Ferdinando was rarely used and there was a hiatus of about 100 years. Port Lane was two or three miles north of Port Ferdinando and open before 1585 to around 1660 and became Roanoke Inlet or closed. Port Lane’s closed site was also what a few cartographers labeled as Old Roanoke Inlet. Port Lane then probably migrated north and became Roanoke Inlet, or a new inlet opened shortly after Port Lane closed. Trinety Harbor was open pre-1585 to around 1660. This summarizes the situation with inlet names in the Roanoke Island area from 1585 to approximately 1730. The first Roanoke voyage (Amadas and Barlowe 1584) includes no mention of inlet names, referring only to Hatrask an indigenous reference vaguely near what would be Port Ferdinando (Gunt Inlet) by 1585, and was likely just a reference to the area around the unnamed inlet. White published the first map of the Outer Banks (1585), on which no inlets are named. Port Ferdinando and Port Lane are shown correctly but not named. Hatrask is labeled at what is now Pea Island and not near enough to Port Ferdinando to indicate a named inlet. Trinety Harbor is not shown or named. A later version of White’s map (year unknown) appears with Port Ferdinando mysteriously labeled and added at that inlet, and Trinety Harbor added at the appropriate location, though the inlet itself is not shown. DeBry’s 1590 map, based on White’s 1585 map, shows the location of Port Ferdinando but with no name, which seems strange because the inlet had been named since at least 1585. The name Hatrask now appears opposite the inlet named Port Ferdinando, leading some authors to indicate the inlet as Hatrask. Hondius and Mercator (collaborated 1606, 1607, 1610, and 1630) show the locations of Port Ferdinando and Port Lane correctly but unnamed. However, Blaeu late as 1640 uses Hantaraske (sic) for the area south of Port Ferdinando (no longer an island). DeBry, Mercator, and Hondius all show and name Trinety Harbor. Blaeu’s 1640 map is one of the few that depicts and labels each of the inlets correctly. Blaeu’s map also offers a clue as to the probable relationship between closing Port Lane and newly developing Roanoke Inlet. Port Lane is shown at almost the future location of what would become Roanoke Inlet. Ogilby (1672) labels Roanoke Inlet at former Port Lane migrating or newly opened. Gascoyne’s 1682 map indicates Port Ferdinando (Gunt Inlet) is beginning to close, and labels the inlet Old Inlet, while what was once Port Lane had closed or migrated north. The latter is then labeled New Inlet, perhaps indicating a new inlet that would later be named Roanoke Inlet. Trinety Harbor is no longer shown, having closed in 1660. By 1685, Fisher et al, with Moll 1708, show Old Inlet incorrectly (corroborated by map expert Cumming 1969, page 23) at a location opposite Colington Island, prompting others to believe an inlet was here. There is no hard evidence to support that notion. Furthermore, New Inlet is labeled at the approximate location of former Trinety Harbor, which had closed 1660, or at Caffeys Inlet, which did not open until 1770. Occasionally, maps late as 1718 (DeLisle 1718) portray this incorrect information. So, inlets in the Roanoke Island area were Port Ferdinando, open from before 1585 until 1798 and rarely labeled on maps, before becoming Gunt Inlet by around 1700 and closing 1798. Gunt Inlet or Gun Inlet, first appeared on Bowen’s 1747 map, based on 1745 data, itself based on 1733 data, and Roanoke Inlet is depicted correctly. A smaller companion inlet to Port Ferdinando was Port Lane, open from before 1585, and this name was used sparingly until the mid-1600s, when the inlet migrated and became larger (Fisher 1962) or closed, while a new inlet opened slightly north of Port Lane’s location and became known as Roanoke Inlet.

Roger L. Payne is executive secretary emeritus of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.