Explore Island Farm, a living history site interpreting daily life on Roanoke Island in the mid-1800s. Living on the bounty of the surrounding waters while working the land to feed their families, islanders were independent and enterprising. The Etheridge family of today’s Island Farm goes back all the way to 1757, working the land and water for crops and fish to trade with communities farther north.
The Etheridge’s were a slave owning family, and one former resident who would make his mark in history was Richard Etheridge. He was born a slave, the illegitimate son of John B. Etheridge, a white man of influence and father of the Adam Dough Etheridge who built the Island Farm mansion house. Richard was favored and well-treated by his father/owner. Unlike most African-Americans in the 1850s, Richard was literate as a young man when even large numbers of whites could not read and write. He also became an expert waterman familiar with the shoal waters around Roanoke Island, skills which would serve him well later in life as America’s first Captain of an all-African American US Lifesaving Station at Pea Island, a precursor to today’s US Coast Guard.
Another compelling story told at Island Farm is that of Crissy Bowser, or “Aunt Crissy”. The census is unclear if she was born a slave or free in 1820, but she served the Etheridge family for most of her life, even building her own home under a 200-year-old oak tree near Island Farm where she lived alone and independent, keeping animals and cooking for the family into the 20th century until her passing in the cabin she’d built with her own hands.
Additional Information: This is the living story of the everyday Outer Bankers, living on Roanoke Island in the mid-1800s. Here, an island family experienced the impacts of the Civil War, performed harrowing rescues as members of the US Life-Saving Service, and assisted the Wright Brothers in their dream of achieving powered flight, all while feeding chickens, fishing the sounds, and growing corn for grinding at the windmill. Adam Etheridge, who built the house that is the heart of Island Farm today, was the fourth generation of Etheridge’s to live on this island. Today, Roanoke Island is home to an eleventh generation. Island Farm remained in the Etheridge family for 200 years until acquired by Outer Banks Conservationists, Inc. with a mission of preserving the history and heritage of their story for future generations.