The inhabitants of Kitty Hawk and the tiny villages up and down the islands
off the coast of North Carolina called themselves "bankers." The term had
nothing to do with money; it was a description of where they lived – the "Outerbanks."
Bankers were an uncommonly self-reliant folks, existing far outside the American mainstream. They scraped together a living from fishing, farming, and salvaging materials from the hundreds of wrecked ships that foundered in storms or ran aground in shallow waters. Quite a few bankers were themselves salvaged from these wrecks. Bill Tate's father and uncle had swum ashore from a boat sailing down the coast from Portland, Maine.
The Wrights were quick to grasp the isolation that defined the bankers. Wilbur wrote to his father that while Bill Tate's house was the best in Kitty Hawk, it lacked paint, plaster, carpets, and pictures. But they seemed not to feel particularly poor or lacking. Orville once asked Tom Tate, Bill's nephew, who was the richest man in Kitty Hawk. Tom replied, "Doc Cogswell." How much did he have? "Why, his brother owes him fifteen thousand dollars."
Some scenes of life in the Outerbanks, circa 1900:
Residents of the North Carolina Outerbanks