Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks has been inhabited for centuries, long before European settlers arrived. When the English reached the Outer Banks in the 16th century, there were two related tribes already living on Hatteras Island: the Hatterask, who lived on the southern part of the island, and the Kinnakeet, who lived on the northern part.
The English collectively referred to these two groups as the Croatoans, after the central village they both shared. Today, Hatteras Island takes its name from the historic Hatterask tribe. Although the exact definition of the word remains unknown, some scholars believe it means “the people of the shallow water.”
In 1590, the governor of the nearby Roanoke colony returned from England to find that every colonist had mysteriously vanished from their homes. Although their fate is still unknown, he did find the word “croatoan” carved into a nearby tree, indicating that the starving colonists had fled to Hatteras Island to join the Croatoans there.
At the time, many Europeans who took shelter with native people found that they preferred the indigenous lifestyle, so assimilation was not uncommon. Today, there are groups of people who identify themselves as descendants of both the Hatterask tribe and the survivors of the lost Roanoke colony, lending credence to the assimilation theory.
In 1711, the Hatterask tribe took part in the Tuscarora War on the side of the English colonists. By the time the war ended in 1714, the colonists and their allies were victorious but the native people of Hatteras Island had been scattered and many had taken refuge with other tribes. Today, many descendants of the Hatteras people are part of the Lumbee tribe on the mainland.
To learn more about the history of Hatteras Island, check out our bundle of Self-Guided Outer Banks Driving Tours, or you can sign up for Action+ to gain access to over 100 tours for a single yearly price.
Essential Travel Guide: