Return to Dare County

History of Dare Co., NC
Excerpts from Dare County: A History by David Stick © 1970

    Counties are geographical and political subdivisions of the state which have been formed by the General Assembly in order to bring government functions closer to the people.
    Actually the first North Carolina counties were established long before the state was formed.  This was in the early colonial period when it became obvious to the British that the necessary services of government—law enforcement, holding court, recording deeds, and collecting property taxes to pay for those services—could not be handled effectively from a central capital.
    By 1700 there were five North Carolina counties, all in the vicinity of Albemarle Sound.  This number had increased to thirteen counties located along the eastern seaboard by 1740, and to thirty-five extending westward to the mountains by 1775.  At that time Roanoke Island and the northern coast of what is now Dare County were part of Currituck County, the southern coast including Cape Hatteras was part of Hyde County, and the western part, on the mainland, was part of Tyrrell County.
    It was nearly 100 years later, in 1870, that the General Assembly voted to take away these parts of Currituck, Hyde, and Tyrrell to form a new county.  They named it Dare County in memory of Virginia Dare, who was the first child born of English parents (Ananias Dare and Eleanor White) in America.
    Many of the problems faced by the new county resulted from the fact that it consisted of relatively small land areas separated by sounds and inlets.  Thus the four main sections of the new county of Dare—Cape Hatteras and the south banks, Nags Head and the north banks, Roanoke Island, and the mainland—were accessible to each other only by boat.  To compound the transportation difficulties most of the mainland area was a vast swamp without roads or trails, and the four mainland communities of Stumpy Point, Manns Harbor, East Lake and Mashoes were cut off from each other by water.
    For taxing purposes the new county was divided into five townships.  Two of these, Hatteras and Kinnekeet, were located on the south banks of Hatteras Island and two more, Croatan and East Lake, were located on the mainland. The fifth township, Nags Head, consisted of all of Roanoke Island as well as the north banks from Oregon Inlet to the south edge of the community of Kitty Hawk.
    Not long after the establishment of the county in 1870 people living in the communities on the north banks realized that new problems had resulted from the fact that Nags Head and Colington were in Dare County, but that the adjoining banks communities of Kitty Hawk and Duck were still in Currituck.  Consequently, in 1920, the General Assembly took away from Currituck the north banks area of Kitty Hawk Bay to Caffey’s Inlet and added it to Dare.  Subsequently a sixth township, known as Atlantic Township, was formed from this newly acquired area plus Colington Island and what is now the town of Kill Devil Hills.
The present land area is 383.55 square miles and the 1990 population was 22,746. Manteo, named in honor of an Indian Chief, is the county seat.

Permission kindly given by Donna E. Kelly, Administrator Historical Publications Section N.C. Office of Archives and History Department of Cultural Resources, Raleigh, NC.  Be sure to visit their publications site at:

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© 2009  Kay Midgett Sheppard & Marla Beasley