Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina has shown up on maps as far back as the late 1500s. It’s rumored to have been the last headquarters of the pirate Blackbeard,
who died on the island. The wily pirate, after years of terrorizing merchant ships along the Atlantic coast, made his peace with the British crown in 1712 and received a full pardon from the king. Soon thereafter, however, he came out of retirement and resumed preying on ships from the Caribbean to the Virginia capes.
The Ocracoke lighthouse was built in 1823, and is the oldest North Carolina lighthouse still in continuous service. (It is the second oldest lighthouse in the U.S. in continuous service, Boston Light on Little Brewster Island was the first lighthouse built in the United States in 1716.)
When Ocracoke Island was isolated from the mainland and few visitors came by boat,
as many as 1,000 wild ponies roamed its dunes. Where they came from — shipwrecks, early Spanish explorers, or English settlers — is uncertain. Eventually, as more and more people traveled to and from the island, many ponies were rounded up and shipped to the mainland. The remnants of the herd (about two dozen) now live at the Ocracoke Pony Pens, a range 7 miles north of Ocracoke village, where the National Park Service looks after them.