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It is also accessible by four wheel drive vehicles, which cross Core Sound by ferry from Atlantic and use the beach and tracks on North Core Banks.Portsmouth Island lies to the east of North Core Banks, to which it is connected at most states of the tide.
The inhabitants of Portsmouth Village were heavily engaged in fishing and other maritime trades, like piloting and manning vessels, even building a small man-made island, Shell Castle, out of oyster shells for use as a shipping depot. Much of Portsmouth's population was African American descending from the slaves brought to the island.
After the Civil War most African Americans left Portsmouth but some families remained including Pigott family whose descendants were some of the island's last inhabitants: Henry and Lizzie Pigott.
Portsmouth grew to a peak population of 685 in 1860.
Though small, Portsmouth was one of the most important points-of-entry along the Atlantic coast in post-Revolutionary America.
The island homecoming has its origins in the early trips made back to the island by families who left prior to the 1960s and was originally affiliated with the Methodist and Primitive Baptist churches, primarily out of Cedar Island, North Carolina, where many inhabitants of Portsmouth had resettled.
The homecoming began as a church- and family-based event but has become increasingly a secular celebration of Portsmouth's heritage, under the aegis of the National Park Service.
In 1846, two strong hurricanes cut Oregon Inlet and deepened the existing Hatteras Inlet to the northeast, making Ocracoke Inlet a less desirable shipping lane by comparison.
The waters around Portsmouth's harbor also began to shoal up, hastening its decline as a port.
In 1967 Portsmouth Island and village had already been acquired by the National Park Service then incorporated into the new Cape Lookout National Seashore.
Last two elderly residents, Marian Gray Babb and Nora Dixon, left the island in 1971 after the death of Henry Pigott, who although approximately the same age was essentially their caretaker.