Thursday, July 30, 2009

Down East in Carteret County; A World Away

Perhaps no other region of coastal North Carolina remains as untouched and culturally intact as the low marshy area in eastern Carteret County known as ''down east''. The residents of down east have retained their simple lifestyle and even their own way of speaking for nearly 300 years, largely due to the remoteness of the region.

Waterfront communities with evocative names such as Stacy, Straits, Atlantic and Sea Level are nothing more than collections of homes, fishing businesses, small schools, and churches. There are no incorporated towns, and daily life revolves around the ebb and flow of the tide.

The area is home to the famed High Tider accent. The dialect is a remnant of Elizabethan English that was once spoken in colonial Carolina. Combined with a slow southern drawl, the dialect is indigenous to the lowland areas of North and South Carolina. Many linguists have come to the area to record and study this curious manner of speaking, which is in danger of being assimilated as the last of the old timers passes away.

Although there are no definite geographic boundaries to Down East, locals know that it ''officially'' begins on the east side of the North River. From there, a broad marshy peninsula extends northeastward, bounded by the Neuse River and the Pamlico Sound on the north and the Cape Lookout National Seashore on the south and east.

The first settlers of this tidewater region were recipients of royal land grants in the early 1700s, and they made their living from the sea--as their descendants do today. One of the first down east places to be settled was Harker's Island, a narrow east-west island at the southern end of Core Sound. Originally home to a thriving band of Tuscarora Indians, the island is today a symbol of Carteret County's maritime heritage. Once accessible only by boat, the island wasn't connected to the mainland by bridge until 1941.


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