than 65 years ago, before Highway 12 stretched between the seven
villages and Bonner Bridge spanned Oregon Inlet, small, resilient
communities thrived on Hatteras Island. Lacking a reliable road,
direct access to the mainland, and many of the modern conveniences,
life on the island was challenging, yet idyllic in its simplicity.
comments powered by
children, especially, reveled in this time before the road. The
entire island was a safe haven, while its expansive beaches, untamed
wilderness, and unique history provided an endless supply of excitement
Jeanette Gray Finnegan Jr. who grew up in Buxton
before the highway was built, recently began writing a series of
children’s books based upon the island’s history, her childhood
experiences, and family heritage.
“I am writing the books for
my grandsons, Luke and Blake, who live in Florida,” explained
Finnegan. “I wanted them to know where their roots are and what
an important part in history their ancestors played.”
Their family’s lineage and legacy is deeply rooted in Hatteras Island.
family tradition, Finnegan attended high school off the island and,
after studying English and history at East Carolina University, taught
advanced placement government at First Colonial High School in Virginia
Beach for 35 years.
She returned to Hatteras Island
during a brief reprieve from teaching and opened Jiminy Cricket Sub
Shop in Buxton. She permanently relocated to the island in 2000.
is now 74, and “Jaye,” as she is known to friends and family, has many
stories to tell about her childhood. Her mother, Jeanette Gray
Finnegan, by the way, will be 101 in June and still lives in Buxton.
her family’s origins in the area to the early 1700s, Finnegan is a 10th
generation islander who also hails from a long line of lighthouse
keepers. Eight men in her family have held lighthouse keeper
positions along the Eastern Seaboard with some keeping watch over Cape
Over the years, Finnegan’s family has always
maintained an active role within the community: donating land for the
lighthouse, the school, and the Methodist Church, rescuing shipwreck
survivors, helping repair storm damage.
A supportive and loyal
community was an invaluable commodity in the years before the road
because the islanders seldom received outside assistance. They
were self-sufficient, relying solely on hard work, determination, and
ingenuity to survive.
“I’m so very proud of the people that grew
up on the island,” said Finnegan. “I want folks to know that the
people of the island, at the beginning, were strong, willful, talented,
The villagers maintained the sand and pine
straw-laden two-track road that ran through the center of the island
and built wooden bridges across the countless creeks cutting across the
road. They provided roadside assistance, as well, rescuing each
stranded jalopy and truck encountered along their journeys.
man in Hatteras, Finnegan recalled, even constructed a ferry that
carried cars to and from Ocracoke by combining two wooden
Finnegan provided countless stories
demonstrating the vigor and values that permeated the community,
fortifying against failure and inspiring her as both a child and a
“They had a great, great strength of character during that time,” emphasizes Finnegan.
cherishes this period of the island’s history -- an era defined by the
great perseverance and empowerment of the people of the island – and,
fearing it might be lost forever within dwindling memories, wanted to
preserve it for generations to come.
And, sparked by this
desire, “The Adventures of the Lighthouse Kids,” a historically-based,
fantasy-infused series of novels, was born.
The series follows
the lives of the lighthouse keeper’s grandchildren, Ellie and her two
cousins, Luke and Blake, as they explore Hatteras Island during the
1940’s, journey through time, and cultivate their newfound powers.
based Ellie’s character on her own childhood, incorporating her family
history and childhood adventures into the series, which provides added
authenticity to the stories.
“I just have to write about the things I know,” explains Finnegan. “It’s about a time when it was just us.”
provides insight into life on the island when the Buxton woods still
flourished, extensively shading the two-track road towards Frisco, and
the journey to Hatteras required two hours, rather than 15
And vivid descriptions
abound. One of note, which instantly summons the perfect mental
image and an appreciative smile, is the depiction of watching the sandy
road racing by in the salt-corroded holes in the floorboard of the old
The first installment of the series, “The Adventures
of the Lighthouse Kids: The Indians,” provides insight into the
children’s family history, which includes an encounter with Virginia
Dare and their Croatoan Indian ancestors, Manteo and Weroansqua.
the entire series is brimming with detailed historical accounts and
facts -- information acquired through a year of research – the fun and
light-hearted tone persists because of Finnegan’s whimsy and
“I want the book to be fun and to laugh while
reading the stories,” said Finnegan. “I didn’t want to record a
list of facts, so I used time travel to keep the creativity and
imagination flowing through the story.”
Finnegan clearly has a knack for combining history and fantasy.
first book, which was published in November 2013 as an eBook on Amazon,
was well received by online reviewers, friends, and family. It
also received endorsements from several islanders, including Danny
Couch, a local history guru, Gee Gee Rosell, owner of Buxton Village
Books, and Carl Bornfriend, owner of Frisco Native American Museum
& Natural History Center.
The excitement, though, is merely beginning in the first book.
second book, “Legacy, Legend, and Lore,” which will be available on
Amazon early this month, promises to thrill as the Lighthouse Kids
cross paths with dolphins, pirates, and even Poseidon.
entire series will include six books: five written by Finnegan and a
sixth and final novel that focuses on the future endeavors of Sucki, a
Croatoan conjurer introduced in the first book, will be written by Ted
Torok, Finnegan’s husband.
Torok and Finnegan, who own and
manage Dolphin Den Restaurant in Avon, have partnered together in their
new enterprise of self-publishing eBooks. Torok has published two
self-help books through Amazon and handles the majority of publishing
and promotion for Finnegan’s series.
Torok has been a
constant source of encouragement for Finnegan and feels confident in
the Lighthouse Kids’ potential for future success.
the book’s sales have no bearing on Finnegan’s notion of success. She
loves writing the books and hopes only that her target audience -- her
grandchildren -- enjoys them.
“The book isn’t for me, it’s for
this island,” asserts Finnegan. “I’m proud of this island and so
very proud of the people who grew up on the island.”
of its financial success, “The Indians” lights the way into the
island’s treasured history and into the hearts of its readers.