History of Currituck

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The Algonkians called the area “Coratank” which means “The Land of the Wild Goose.”


The inhabitants of Currituck County at the time of European settlement were coastal Algonkians. These Algonkians were the southernmost extent of a tribe that inhabited the Atlantic Coast north to Canada. They settled along the sounds, estuaries, major rivers, and tributaries where they could conduct agriculture, fishing, shell fishing, hunting, and gathering close to the village. The Algonkians called the area “Coratank” which means “The Land of the Wild Goose.”

 The governor of colonial North Carolina established Currituck County in 1670 from part of Albemarle County. It was one of the five original ports in North Carolina and one of the first counties. The county built the original courthouse in 1723 and established the town of Currituck Court House in 1755. The county shortened the name of the county seat to Currituck. The government built the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corolla in 1875 on the Outer Banks to provide warning of the coast to ships at sea.

 The first attraction to settlement was the abundant fish and game which gave the county a reputation as a “Sportsmen’s Paradise.” John Mackie purchased Orphan’s Island, on which the refuge is located, in 1761. The island became known as Mackie Island after his purchase and as Mackay Island after his death. In the early twentieth century, wealthy sportsmen established lavish hunting clubs in the county. These included the Swan Island Club in 1870; the Whalehead Club in Corolla in 1922; the Currituck Gunning and Fishing Club in 1923; the Monkey Island Hunt Club in 1931; and Joseph Knapp’s estate on Mackay Island in 1918. Joseph Knapp was a wealthy insurance businessman and philanthropist who contributed to and helped develop the education system in Currituck County. He also founded an organization known as More Game Birds in America, which later became Ducks Unlimited. The Knapp estate was located on land that is now the Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge, where he experimented with wildlife management techniques.

 Currituck National Wildlife Refuge is one of the ten national wildlife refuges in eastern North Carolina.  Those ten national wildlife refuges—Alligator River, Cedar Island, Currituck, Great Dismal Swamp, Mackay Island, Mattamuskeet, Pea Island, Pocosin Lakes, Swanquarter, Roanoke River, and the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia—are all located in the watersheds of the Roanoke, Tar, Neuse, and Cape Fear rivers.