"Former slaves give thanks by the creek's edge at the sight of the island – "if you can cross the creek to Roanoke Island, you will find "safe haven." - National Underground Railroad. Network to Freedom."
In the plaza outside the Visitor Center of Fort Raleigh's Historic Site stands the monument First Light of Freedom that contains these words.
But it wasn't until the first amphibious landing overtook Roanoke Island that the area became available to these former slaves. During the Civil War, Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside campaigned for southern port blockades. His troops overwhelmed Confederate forts and defenders, and with it, control of the North Carolina Sound.
It's probable that the army hadn't expected to be faced with the many slaves now on the island, sent by their owners to build fortifications. The Federals emancipated the slaves, having labeled them "contraband of war." Runaways started appearing shortly thereafter. The hundreds of slaves arriving on the Island assisted with building, cooking, and cleaning and some became spies, scouts, and guides for the Union.
By May 1863, the Federal government established a formal colony on seized land at the north end of the island. The new residents were provided implements and tools, training, and education to form an independent community amongst groves of cypress, gum, and pine.
Chaplain Horace James recruited missionaries as teachers like Elizabeth James to ease the transition to post-war life with the ex-slaves' first taste of freedom and independence. When the area became part of the Underground Railroad network, members assisted the passage of runaway enslaved workers to the North.