Carteret County


Formed in 1722 out of Craven County, Carteret is the state’s third largest county by area, totaling over 1,300 square miles, of which 62% is water. Established in 1709, the county seat of Beaufort is the third oldest town in North Carolina and was originally known as Fishtown due to the fishing industry’s prominence.

Until the mid-19th century, Carteret was home to two integral shipping ports along the East Coast – Beaufort and Portsmouth. While Beaufort continues to rank on lists of the best small towns, Portsmouth has been abandoned since 1971 when the last two residents left the island. Around 1850, the island’s harsh weather conditions led sea trade to gradually move further up the coast to the Outer Banks. The town of Portsmouth was unable to recover from the economic loss and failed to develop alternative industries and revenue opportunities, leading residents to move inland. The island has been under the custody of the Cape Lookout National Seashore since 1976 and they have been responsible for maintaining and preserving the island ever since. While uninhabited and devoid of basic comforts, the “ghost island” can still be reached by ferry – at least one Differentiator client camps there.

While fishing and agriculture established the county’s economy, tourism has served as Carteret’s top industry since 1920. The county is home to a number of destinations, including Morehead City, Emerald Isle, Atlantic Beach, Indian Beach, and Pine Knoll Shores. The county boasts one of the state’s tallest lighthouses, Cape Lookout Lighthouse, which was originally built in 1804 and later rebuilt in 1859. Additional attractions include the NC Maritime Museum located on Pivers Island, the Old Homes Tour in Beaufort, Emerald Isle’s St. Patrick’s Day Festival, and the NC Seafood Festival, hosted annually in Morehead City and celebrating its 37th year this October.

Carteret also provides a desirable location for maritime studies, with UNC, NCSU, and Duke all hosting programs there. With stations in Carteret, the US Coast Guard, Navy, and Marine Corps maintain a strong presence in the county. Notably, the Marine Corps landing field on the Bogue Sound serves as the primary site on the East Coast for Field Carrier Landing Practice.

Since 1968, the county has been a stronghold for Republicans. In 2022, Ted Budd received 70.4% of the vote (Republicans in head-to-head contests fared 2-3 points better) and in both 2020 and 2016, Trump received 70.3%.


County Seat: Beaufort
Biggest Cities:

Morehead City, Beaufort, Newport, Swansboro, Emerald Isle, Cape Carteret, Atlantic Beach

Media Market: Greenville/New Bern

Elected Officials

County Data