Known as "Fish Town" in the early 1700's when Blackbeard frequented the coast, "Beaufort Town" was established as a seaport with the right to collect customs in 1722. During the American Revolution, it was the third largest port in the state.
As in most of eastern North Carolina, early trade centered around lumber products. These were shipped from the rich Newport River area plantations to the West Indies in exchange for glassware, cloth, furniture, coffee and rum.
Historically significant, the "Old Burying Ground" was deeded to the town in 1731. It contains graves of soldiers from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. Captain Otway Burns' grave with the cannon from his privateer, is perhaps one of the best known.
A salt works, which was established by order of the Provincial Congress in 1776 for Revolutionary War use, is located slightly over a mile to the east.
A whaling community, Diamond City, was located on Shackleford Banks, six miles to the southeast by boat, during the 18th & 19th centuries. This perhaps explains the "New England feel" which is blended with traditional southern colonial architecture.
Beaufort continued to prosper into the nineteenth century as a port and as an agricultural, commercial and governmental center. Nearby Fort Macon, a large brick fortress guarded the eastern end of Carteret County. Beaufort became a favorite summer retreat for the well-to-do.
Beaufort was relatively unscarred by the Civil War, due to an early and prolonged occupation by Union forces. Following the war's conclusion, Beaufort again resumed its importance as a summer retreat. Trade was strong for a time; lumber, barrel staves, rum, and molasses were some of Beaufort's exports. However, the port declined as a trade center and commercial fishing became the primary business in the area. Beaufort served as home port for a large fishing fleet and as the site of the processing plants for the menhaden trade.
In the 1970s, Beaufort again became a major summer resort as the town and waterfront were restored.
In 1997, Beaufort was highlighted in national and international news as the wreckage of what is presumed to be Blackbeard's flagship, Queen Anne's Revenge, was discovered in 20 feet of water --2 miles from Beaufort Inlet. Artifact recovery operations were immediately able to identify --and in some cases retrieve-- many pieces, including the ship's bronze bell, cannons, and deck guns. Some of these artifacts are already touring the country or are on exhibit in Beaufort. Be sure to stop by the NC Maritime Museum, it's now one of the most popular attractions in the state.