The Wahab and Farrow Family Legends of The Outer Banks of North Carolina

The outer banks of North Carolina are barrier islands full of rich history.  You may have heard of, or even been to, Cape Hatteras, Roanoke Island, or Ocracoke.  These islands are known for their pirate history.  During the early 1700’s, pirates used these islands as their stomping grounds. Even though these pirates were a threat to the colonial exports, colonial governors did not crack down on them because they often received kickbacks from the pirates themselves.  In 1718, England decided to wage war against the pirates.  One of the most famous battles from that war was the battle between Blackbeard and Lt. Robert Maynard.  In this battle, Lt. Maynard killed Blackbeard and hung his head from the mast of his boat.

The Wahab family has a rich history on  Ocracoke Island. However, no one is really sure how the Wahab family came to live there.  Of course the Wahab name sounds very Arab, with Wahab being one of Allah’s 99 names. The legends have it that the family is descended from an Arab who was washed ashore after a pirate ship wrecked in a storm.  In an interview with Myra Wahab, Dr. Zogby reported that Mrs. Wahab exclaimed that the name was Arab and that the family was very proud of their Arab heritage. However, other Wahab descendants have used DNA tests to prove that the name is in fact Scott Irish, and trace their name to a version of the Celtic name, “Wauchopes.”

A 2005 National Park Service publication, Ethnohistorical Description of the Eight Villages adjoining Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Interpretive Themes of History and Heritage, addresses the legends about the Outer Banks Arabic heritage:

“Another famous castaway was known as ‘Pharaoh Pharaoh,’ ‘Pharaoh Farrow,’ or simply, ‘that A-rab.’ This man was the founder of the ‘Farrow family’ who emerged from the wreck of the Prince of India in 1737 (MacNeill 1958, 67). Although there is ‘no documented record that the Prince of India ever existed,’ it held as its cargo an archetype of Outer Bank origins: Arabian horses (MacNeill 1958, 65). The horses and ‘two Arabian youths’ are said to have washed ashore on the north end of Ocracoke, giving Bankers their first wild ponies. One of the youths ‘must have been Egyptian,’ as an itinerant clergyman named him ‘Pharaoh.’ This youth was later known as ‘King Pharaoh,’ as he came to own much land and numerous slaves, ‘all of whom had been brought here by storms’ (MacNeill 1958, 67). The other youth, simply known as ‘A-rab,’ ‘A-hab,’ and later ‘Wahab,’ is cited as the founder of the Wahab family of Ocracoke.

The writer of the website writes about the mystery of the Wahab and Farrow family names and the research he did to attempt to determine the origin of the name.  He writes that a member of the Wahab family wrote showed him a letter written by Eugenia Wahab Hill, who died in 1926, that stated: “the first Wahab (so the story goes) was supposed to have been sent from Arabia by the reining monarch to establish Mohammedanism in the country. The boat was wrecked in a storm off Ocracoke, where he was washed ashore on a piece of the wrecked ship.”

Another explanation is that the settlers of the outer banks of North Carolina are actually descendants of the lost colony of Roanoke. Of course, I’ve already discussed this story and the fact that John White reported that 200 Moors were on his ship as slaves.

There seems to be too much coincidences to ignore this story. We know many European pirates had converted to Islam, that the Barbary Coast was famous for its piracy, that many pirates used the North Carolina outer bank islands as stomping grounds, that several legends of Arabs landing on these islands have been told in family traditions, and that names like Wahab and Farrow were used.  The fact of the matter is that little is known about the pirates that dominated that area. It seems unusual, however, that one of the largest superpowers of the time, would not have a least a few Muslims land in the Americas.

  1. What are the names of the islands of the outer banks of North Carolina?
  2. Why were pirates able to use the outer banks of North Carolina as stomping grounds?
  3. Why is it not unlikely that the Wahabs and Farrows could have in fact been Muslims or Arabs?