Hotel De’Afrique: The first safe haven for African Americans in North Carolina

HotelDeAfriqueThe capture of the Confederate forts located at Hatteras Inlet on August 29, 1861, provided the first Union victory of the Civil War. Almost immediately fugitive slaves began arriving on Hatteras Island in search of freedom. In a letter to U.S. Secretary of War Cameron, dated September 18, 1861, General John Wool inquired, “tell me what I am to do with the negro slaves that are almost arriving daily at this post [Hatteras]…” [1] Union occupancy and control of the island provided for the beginning of the creation of a haven or colonies for fugitive slaves seeking that freedom. Hotel De’ Afrique goes down in history as the first of such encampments in North Carolina.

Bombardment of Ft. Hatteras
Bombardment of Ft. Hatteras

Confederate troops first arrived on Hatteras Island in June of 1861 and immediately arranged for the construction of several forts on Hatteras Island. These included Forts Hatteras and Clark, located at Hatteras Inlet, and several small shacks or barracks. A topographical map (T-790)[2] by Mechan dated 1860 shows no structures were yet in place. Yet a follow up topographical map (T-1246)[3] by Zardella dated 1872 shows one still standing NNW of Ft. Clark (Hotel De’Afrique). A report by Confederate Col. W.B. Thompson to General Winslow, carried in the London Times, June 1861,[4] stated that the major work at Fort Hatteras was complete.

The building that would later serve as Hotel De’Afrique, along with a desalination shack, were built under Confederate supervision on a spot near Fort Hatteras.  Civil War artist Edwin Graves Champney referred to the “hotel” in his diary[5] as a shanty. It was built adjacent to the desalination shack.  Period sketches showing use or construction of the forts and buildings appeared November 1861 in Leslies’ Illustrated Newspaper.[6] This indicates that the original Hotel De’ Afrique building existed at the time the 20th Indiana was stationed at Fort Hatteras from Sept. 24-November 8, 1861.

Other close-up views of the desalination shack and Hotel De’Afrique appear in the February 15, 1862 edition of Harper’s Weekly.[7]  The fact that the building adjacent to the desalination plant is called Hotel De’Afrique indicates that it was already being used to shelter fugitive slaves, considered contraband of the war, by October, 1861.  This same issue of Harper’s Weekly[8] provides a map of Hatteras showing the location of Hotel De’Afrique. It is apparent in the map that the location of Hotel De Afrique had been moved away from Fort Hatteras to a new location much closer to Fort Clark.  This was probably done to protect the structure from high tides and over wash. It also provided a solution to the “contraband problem.” By removing the contraband from the immediate proximity of Fort Hatteras, they diminished interference with military operations, and since many of them were expert watermen, they provided much needed labor at the landing. Also by relocating the Hotel to the sound side landing near Fort Clark, it provided a buffer from airborne pests. Since the stables were always located on the sound side they tended to attract the biting flies, horse flies and mosquitoes.

A U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers’ map, drawn by Capt. Francis Farquhar in March, 1864,[9] illustrates that multiple buildings (twelve barracks ) were constructed on the sound side near Fort Clark and  labeled “Negro Camp.”  This camp was built between Sept. 1861 and Feb. 1862.  The best estimation is that the “Negro Camp” genesis was somewhere between September 1861 – February 1862. It was completed by March 1864 (as per Farquhuar’s map).

Recreational activity in the camp has been characterized in Champney’s diary.[10] He wrote on April 3,1863:  “Great exhibition this evening. N….. in our barracks fiddling and dancing. They were going it all the evening. Capt. Jackson a smart young darkey whistled very well. Great dancing and shuffling” And The 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War,[11] written by Oliver Christian Bosbyshell, reported that in March of 1862 several men of Company C of the 48th Pennsylvania Regiment got drunk and attacked Hotel De’Afrique, and one of the fugitives died of stab wounds.

By February 1862 Roanoke Island had fallen under Federal control as a result of Burnside’s expeditionary victory. Immediately, fugitives began arriving on Roanoke Island in large numbers. Contraband camps began to spring up. Dr. Patricia Click, in her book, Time Full of Trial, The Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony,[12] wrote that in November of 1863 the Dept. of Negro Affairs was set up, and Horace James was appointed superintendent of the third district, which included Beaufort, New Bern, Roanoke Island and Wilmington.

In March of 1865 the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands was established to retain lands for the use of freedmen in North Carolina.

Hotel De Afrique
Hotel De Afrique

The site or location of Hotel De’Afrique ( Negro Camp consisting of 12 buildings or barracks) was at the southern tip of Hatteras Island  and  has been part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore since its establishment. This area is located to the southwest (sound side) and south of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum parking lot. It is undeveloped and overgrown with brush. This entire area has been washed over with tides of repeated storms and hurricanes since the time of the Civil War.

In summary, the primary sources, including dated maps and period sketches, were used in the narrative to determine the location and the time of the construction of the first single building designated as Hotel De’Afrique. This building was built adjacent to the desalination shack near Fort Hatteras at Hatteras Inlet. This building was constructed by the Confederates upon their arrival at Hatteras Inlet in June of 1861 and was not designated as Hotel De’Afrique until Union forces took control of the island at the end of August 1861. Later, as more contraband arrived, the decision was made to move the location away from the inlet and relocate it behind Fort Clark on the sound side. This new location shows up first in the map of Harper’s Weekly dated February 1862 and several years later is designated as “Negro Camp” on Farquhar’s map dated March 1864[13] which shows the “Negro Camp” (Hotel De’Afrique) had been expanded to consist of 12 barracks.

[1] Maj.-Gen. John E. Wool, The War of the Rebellion, ( Series 1-Vol. 4, Chapter XIII, 614

[2]  Topographical map T-790, Hatteras, N.C. dated 1860

[3] Topographical map T-1246, Hatteras, N.C. dated 1872

[4] Col. W.B. Thompson, Report to General Winslow, (London: London Times, June 1861)

[5] Edwin Graves Champney  (Diary, 1862) 23

[6]Illustration (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, November 1861) 388

[7] Illustration ( (Harper’s Weekly, February 15, 1862) 101

[8] Map  Ibid., 103

[9]  Francis Farquhar, map (U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers, March 1864)

[10] Edwin G. Champney, Diary (North Carolina: Outer Banks History Center, 1862),

[11] Oliver C. Bosbyshell, From New Bern to Fredericksburg: Captain Wren’s Civil War Diary (New York: Berkley Books, 1990), 9.

[12] Patricia C. Click, Time Full of Trial (North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 55.

[13] Francis Farquhar, map (U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers, March 1864)

3 Responses to Hotel De’Afrique: The first safe haven for African Americans in North Carolina

  1. Great little piece on an arcane subject! Well done, maps included. Maybe the battlefield savers might like a nudge in this direction, or someone! Is there an organization that takes care of the site?

  2. Saw the Tar-heel traveler piece. Thanks, I intend to make the trip. It is on my “bucket list”.
    J. Boone

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