Early maps of the area show Nags Head as a promontory of land characterized by high sand dunes visible from miles at sea. Tales of land pirates that lured ships ashore in stormy weather may be the possible origin of the town’s name. Or it may have been carried across the sea by English explorers who were reminded of a similar location of the English coast, a high point on the Scilly Islands, the last sight of old England that the earlier explorers were to see on their voyage to the New World.
We’ll never know the true origin, but legend and lore insists that early 18th century “Bankers,” realizing how profitable piracy was for sea-going scoundrels such as Blackbeard, developed their own unique method as land-based pirates. Horses with lanterns tied to their necks were walked up and down the beach at night. Merchant skippers in the off-shore waters would mistakenly think the lights were of other ships closer to shore. They would then change course and run aground, with the Bankers pillaging their cargoes.
Around 1830, Nags Head became known as a plush resort area and remains so today, with a wealth of activities nearby to please a variety of tastes. Jockey’s Ridge is the last vestige of the giant moving sand dunes that once towered over the beaches and greeted the first explorers. Surrounding Jockey’s Ridge State Park, thousands of vacation homes beckon travelers of a different sort to the wide sandy beaches and relaxed atmosphere of an Outer Banks vacation. Modern-day Bankers no longer need a lantern tied around a horse to lure visitors. With plenty of beaches and world-record fishing, golfing and shopping to nature trails, wildlife refuges, shipwreck remains and historic sites, it’s all here.