How Oriental Got It's Name
Oriental was settled in the 1870s by Louis B. Midyette. Legend has it that “Uncle Lou” was sailing from New Bern to his home in Dare County and anchored his sailboat in the protected waters of Oriental to escape a gale. Storytellers claim that Lou went ashore the next morning, climbed a tree and was captured by the beautiful landscape and waterfront created by the many creeks. He returned home to persuade others to join his family in moving to the area.
The United States Post Office Department established a post office here back in 1886. Lou Midyette was named postmaster of what was then known as Smith’s Creek. But Lou’s wife, Rebecca, thought the village needed a better name. She had found the nameplate from the sunken ship “Oriental” on the beaches of the Outer Banks and thought that name was more suitable (other stories say she just saw it in a Manteo home – but either way the name “Oriental” made an impression on her). The village became known as Oriental a few years after the post office was established and was incorporated in 1899.
From the early 1900s Oriental’s economy was supported by lumber, fishing and farming. Fishing remains an important part of the town. Today fishing trawlers still grace the harbor, bringing in a catch of shrimp, crab or perhaps flounder depending on the season.
The last sawmill closed just about the time that sailors began to discover the village – in the early 1960s. Just four sailboats called Oriental home back then – today that number has grown to over 2,700, giving Oriental its reputation as the “Sailing Capital of North Carolina.”
Oriental is still a popular stop for “snowbirds” cruising south for the winter or heading north for the summer. Many residents will tell you that their first visit to Oriental was by water while cruising coastal North Carolina and that they, too, decided to make Oriental their home. The population is about 875, with many newcomers settling in areas surrounding the incorporated village.
About The Steamer Oriental
The sailing steamer Oriental was built in Philadelphia in 1861 and was used as a Federal transport ship in the Civil War. She met her fate in May of 1862 when she was shipwrecked off Bodie Island, 33 miles north of Cape Hatteras. Her passengers and crew were saved.
Today, one of her portholes is on display in Oriental’s History Museum. Unfortunately, the fate of her nameplate is unknown.