[The Proprietary Albemarle]

[Early History]

After an abortive colonization attempt, beginning with Walter Raleigh's Roanoke Island colonies in 1585 and 1587, North Carolina awaited permanent European settlement until the mid-seventeenth century. Early in the Spring of 1586 Ralph Lane, who had been sent with Sir Richard Grenville by Sir Walter Raleigh to colonize Roanoke Island, set out with fourteen men from that place on an exploring expedition. They were trying to find the golden "Will-of-the-Wisp," and in their wanderings they touched at Chepanock, an Indian village lying on the extremity of a point of land jutting into Albemarle Sound. The explorers' intention was to trade with the Indians for food; however, the natives had fled at the sight of Lane's white-winged ships. Undaunted, the men found that the unattended native weirs were full of fish, so a good meal was obtained. The next morning Lane's party returned to Roanoke, having found no gold, but being the first white men to set foot on Durant's Neck. For the next fifty years, the Native Americans saw no more white men. The Heath Patent of 1629 offered the possibility of peopling the area with English settlers, but neither Sir Robert Heath nor his assignee, Henry Frederick Howard - Lord Maltravers, was able to fulfill colonization plans. In the meantime, hunters, fur trappers, Indian traders and planters from the Virginia colony exhibited an active interest in the land to their south. Tales of the abundance of game and the richness of the soil fueled colonial longings for settlement. In the mid-1650s, a fur trading post was established at the western end of the Albemarle Sound. This operation was sponsored by Francis Yeardley and operated by Nathaniel Batts. Thus began the permanent settlement of North Carolina, due to the expansion of Virginia's southern frontier. The newly settled area retained the name of Roanoke, and was to be considered a part of the Virginia colony.[Picture of Roanoac Indian]

Hunters and traders like Batts were soon followed by those seeking permanent homes, the first of whom was perhaps John Harvey, who had settled "to the Southward" of Virginia by 1658. Another of the earliest residents of Perquimans was George Durant, who came into "this Country with the first seaters...bestowed much Labour and Cost in finding out the said Country..., And then seated a certain tract of land on Roanoke sound upon a point...now in the precinct of Perquimans." Durant's deeds, dated August 1, 1661, and March 4, 1662, and pertaining to land lying between the Albemarle Sound and the Little River - land acquired from Kilcocanen, the chieftain of the local Yeopim Indians - are among the oldest extant land records in North Carolina. Durant was part of an exploratory force, comprised mainly of settlers from Isle of Wight and Nansemond, Virginia. The party left Virginia in 1658, and was composed of John Battle, Dr. Thomas Relfe, Roger Williams, Thomas Jarvis, John Harvey, John Jenkins, George Durant and others intent on settling the wilderness of the Albemarle. The whites quickly dispossessed the Native inhabitants of Perquimans. Pushed off their lands by colonial encroachment, the Yeopim tribe left Perquimans County for reservation land allotted to them in present Camden County.

[Image of Carolina Algonkian Indians]A Virginia Algonkian man of 1620 and a young Carolina Algonkian woman of 1580. People such as these would have been encountered by the first white settlers to Carolina. Most Native Americans were tall and well-formed. Tattooing was popluar with the southern Algonkians, as were shell and bone ornaments. Algonkian villages were well designed, with fields for crops surrounding the settlement. Fish supplemented the Yeopim diet, and these were caught using a sophisticated systems of weirs. The Yeopim, remnants of the powerful Weapemeoc, were the southernmost branch of the Algonquian language group along the Atlantic coast. They were a small tribe, population estimates in 1701 included only six warriors, and were probably a tributary of the powerful Tuscarora, a southern branch of the Iroquois. The Weapemeoc were depicted both in the watercolors of John White, and in Thomas Harriot's 1590 publication A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. They were related to their northern neighbors, the Powhatan Indians.


[Picture of Great Dismal Swamp]Much of the new Carolina land was swampy or marshy in nature. The Albemarle area was bordered on the north by the Great Dismal Swamp. Called the "Green Sea" by Colonel William Byrd in 1728, the swamp consisted of tall, undulating, canebrakes that stretched as far as the eye could see. Bald cypress, tupelo, juniper and Atlantic white cedar occupied more than 600 square miles. The large roots of the cedar trees displayed themselves baldly above the waterline. Moss hung from the tree boughs. The marshy enviroment was home to numerous animals and reptiles, including several poisonous snakes (the copperhead, the water moccasin, and the canebrake rattlesnake). The air hung heavy with the smell of moisture and decay. The first generation of white settlers died at a relatively young age, unaccustomed to the humid climate, the backbreaking work of building new settlements and the replanting of crops. Several hurricanes struck the Albemarle area in the latter part of the seventeenth century and this also created much hardship. Early standards of living were poor. According to the Anglican minister William Gordon, the people of Perquimans County were "destitute of good water, most of that being brackish and muddy; they feed generally upon salt pork, and sometimes upon beef, and their bread of Indian corn..." Having no gristmills, the people were forced to beat their own grain; therefore there was "little difference between the corn in the horse's manger and the bread on their tables." The earliest settlements were totally isolated from colonial trade, and found it hard to obtain finished goods. It quickly became apparent that the future survival of the Albemarle depended greatly upon the development of a transportation network. The most obvious method of transportation was by water. Local rivers, marshes, and creeks all fed into the Albemarle Sound, creating a network of aquatic routes. Accordingly, in the estimation of the Reverend John Urmstone early in the eighteenth century, a large boat and experienced watermen were necessary for traveling in the Albemarle. Water transport in the Albemarle area encompassed a wide variety of boats, among which the canoe, the rowboat, and the piragua were the most popular. Quaker missionary George Fox, during his travels in the Albemarle in 1672, used a canoe and rowboat. Among the estate items of William Bartlett II (died March, 1747) was one small canoe. Larger craft, having to contend with shallow inlets and narrow rivers, consisted of sloops, shallops, ketches and barks. The shallops and sloops were light, two-masted vessels. They were used for trade principally with New England (primarily Rhode Island and Massachusetts) and the West Indies. William Bartlett I of Perquimans produced the hull of a shallop called the Tryall for Zachariah Nixon and Joseph Commander in 1691. Waterways were to provide the Albemarle with connections to New England, Great Britain and Europe - trading partners who became frequent visitors to Carolina. Furs, livestock, Indian corn, tobacco, wheat, tar, pitch, and lumber were shipped from Perquimans to the rest of the world.


Overland travel and transportation proved difficult in the early Albemarle, for the county was not only crisscrossed by a network of watercourses, but also bound on the north by the aforementioned Great Dismal Swamp, which subsumed a goodly portion of Perquimans precinct. Quaker missionaries William Edmundson and George Fox were visibly impressed by the obstacles they encountered in traveling from Virginia to the Albemarle in the 1670s. Edmundson was "sorely foiled in swamps and rivers"; even his guide lost his way. Fox "travelled hard through the Woods, and over many Bogs and Swamps," arriving in Carolina "overwearied" by his efforts. However, as the population of the Albemarle increased and the land along the watercourses was absorbed, inhabitants of the county moved inland, necessitating the construction of roads. The rudiments of a road system began to appear under the auspices of the court in the seventeenth century, and the justices continually expanded the road network. By the mid-eighteenth century, the Perquimans magistrates annually authorized the construction of one new road per year. However, numerous problems impeded court efforts to maintain the roads. The swampy terrain was forbidding. Overseers were negligent in their duty, and often they had too few men under their direction to maintain the highways. Obstreperous individuals like Isaac Wilson, who in 1745 closed a private road thus forcing neighbors to go miles out of their way, added to the woes of the county magistrates. The road system improved slowly. In 1709, the Reverend William Gordon claimed that the roads in the colony were generally bad, and particularly so in Perquimans and Pasquotank. As early as 1679 the Virginia government had prohibited the importation by water of North Carolina tobacco, but not until 1726 did the northern colony ban imports by land - showing that land imports were few and far between in early Carolina. Nevertheless, maps of North Carolina immediately preceding the American Revolution show an intricate highway system in the Albemarle that was supplemented by less important roads and bridle paths.

One of the most important maps of early American cartography was the Virginiae Item et Floridae Americae Provinciarum, nova Descriptio, by Jodocus Hondius. Printed in Amsterdam around 1634, this map concentrated on the southeast region of the present-day United States and was the prototype map of the area for over fifty years. Hondius based his map on first-hand information, so it was the best map of the region at the time. However, besides several other geographical errors, he left out a large stretch of coastline between the Outer Banks and Florida. This map continued to impact the cartography of the region until the middle of the eighteenth century. The territory of the Weapemeoc, from whom the Yeopim Indians descended, is included. Click on the map to see a larger view.[Image of Early American Map]

[Bridges and Ferries]

Complementing the roads were bridges and ferries, by which the colonials crossed their numerous watercourses. The Perquimans court minutes for October, 1699, include a reference to a "grate brig" over the head of Perquimans River, possibly the location at a later date of Newby's Bridge above Belvidere. Bridges were usually authorized and built at the behest of the county court. The justices called upon the overseer and road companies to construct and maintain the bridges, which by law were required to be 12 to 14 feet wide. Legislation in 1756 permitted the county to contract privately for bridge construction by paying the cost from public tax collections. Crossing the wider watercourses required ferriage, although such service materialized slowly. Throughout most of the seventeenth century, private transport was the norm. By 1699 a ferry had been established across the Perquimans River. A reference to this facility may have been made in 1704 by an Anglican minister who reported finding, over one of the "great rivers" in the province, a ferry that was controlled by Quakers "for their own conveniency, and nobody but themselves have the privilege of it..." By the end of the proprietary era however, there were several public ferries in the colony, including one across the Perquimans River. Subsequently the Perquimans precinct (later county) court controlled the county's ferries through the licensing process. A notable advance in transportation in the colony involved the institution of "free ferriage" in selected counties. The legislature sanctioned the action in 1754, requiring the free passage of county residents during public times and directing the magistrates to impose a special tax to compensate the ferrymen for such services.

[Quakers and Other Religious Groups]

The Albemarle was early the locus of a burgeoning Society of Friends, the first organized element of religion in North Carolina. The society was most active in the Perquimans and Pasquotank precincts. When William Edmundson, Quaker missionary, reached Perquimans in the spring of 1672, he found that Henry Phelps and his wife "had been convinced of the Truth in New England" before coming to the Albemarle seven years earlier. From the first meeting of Friends in North Carolina, held at Phelps' house at the behest of Edmundson, and from the ministrations of George Fox, who came to the Albemarle later in 1672, arose a powerful religious force. During a second visit in 1677, Edmundson found "Friends were finely settled, and...left things well amongst them." Among those converted by Edmundson during his first journey, and with whom he later stayed, was Francis Toms, a local magistrate, deputy collector of customs, member of the governor's council, and later a noted Quaker leader. With Jonathan Phelps, Christopher Nicholson, and Ann Willson, Toms helped to spearhead the Quaker movement in the colony. Monthly meetings were held at least as early as 1680. North Carolina's first Yearly Meeting was organized and held at the residence of Toms in 1698. By the first decade of the eighteenth century, Perquimans Friends had erected several meetinghouses for worship. The Upper Meeting House (later Wells) was built by 1704 on land belonging to Toms. Little River Meeting House was erected on the plantation of Joseph Jordan in 1705. Lower Meeting House (later Old Neck) appeared in 1706, the same year in which Caleb Bundy asked approval of the society to construct a meetinghouse near his residence. By the end of the proprietary era in 1729, Friends maintained meetings at Wells, Old Neck, Suttons Creek, Yeopim, and Piney Woods. Although Quakerism spread beyond the Albemarle precincts soon after 1700, the North Carolina Yearly Meeting continued to be held in Perquimans at Old Neck Meeting House. Traveling Quaker missionaries who frequently visited Perquimans County in the eighteenth century reported a thriving community of Friends. Only by the turn of the eighteenth century did opposition to the Quakers materialize. The Church of England, envisioned by the authors of the proprietary charters and the Fundamental Constitutions as the dominant religious institution in a tolerant province, was finally made the established church of the province by legislation enacted in 1701 and again in 1703/4. The statutes erected parishes, named vestries, and authorized the imposition of taxes to support the clergy. Missionaries were sent to the province to propagate the gospel. Among the early itinerants was William Gordon, who found the Quakers in Perquimans "very numerous, extremely ignorant, insufferably proud and ambitious, and consequently ungovernable." Nevertheless, the Quakers evidenced such civility toward Gordon that the minister admitted that he was often entertained at their homes "with much freedom and kindness." He added that many people had embraced Quakerism in reaction to the excesses of the Anglicans, the absence of ministers, and the lack of appropriate printed religious material. Among the eminent Anglicans who resided in Perquimans precinct were Governor Henderson Walker and Major Samuel Swann. Swann was principally responsible for the construction of a praiseworthy little church that remained unfinished by reason of his death in 1707. In addition to Swann's Chapel, the Perquimans Anglicans later enjoyed the benefit of two other churches - Nags Head Chapel and Yeopim Chapel. Nags Head, in use by 1736 and probably the result of the efforts of vestryman Albert Albertson, occupied the site of the later New Hope United Methodist Church. Yeopim Chapel, constructed on land donated by John and Elizabeth Mathias in 1732, eventually became the site of the Bethel Baptist Church. In addition to the Quakers, other dissenters must have plagued the established Anglican Church during the colonial era. Paul Palmer, reputed founder of the General Baptists in North Carolina, resided in Perquimans County before the Revolution. Methodist itinerant Joseph Pilmore preached in 1772 to "a good congregation of people who seem ripe for the Gospel," a comment that revealed more about the religious inclination of the Albemarle inhabitants than about the appeal of Methodism.

[The Seventeenth Century]

By 1665, the Roanoke area was no longer part of Virginia, but had been included in the province of Carolina. Under the Carolina Charter of 1663, King Charles II of England (newly restored to the throne) designated eight "Lords Proprietors" to govern the new colony. The Roanoke area was renamed the County of Albemarle. The Lords Proprietors were British nobles who had an interest in the development of the area, especially the land south of the Albemarle, in what would later become South Carolina. On July 21, 1669, the proprietors adopted the Fundamental Constitutions, by which they hoped to institute orderly settlement and systematic government. Choosing a variant of manorial feudalism designed for gradual imposition upon the Carolinas, the proprietors intended to avoid tumult and confusion in their young province. At the same time, the proprietors desired to secure the paramountcy of their own economic and governmental interests in preference to those of a "numerous Democracy." This version of government did not work well in the Albemarle, which was peopled by individualistic settlers, unwilling to adopt white feudalism in any form. The early settlers, those who had arrived in the Albemarle by the late 1650s, were especially resentful. These families saw the Lords Proprietors as attempting to install a new British aristocracy in Carolina, relegating the original settlers to servitude and permanent poverty. Hostilities began to develop towards the proprietary system and towards those settlers that supported it. This hostility ultimately led to a political division that wracked the province and which pitted the early settlers against immigrants who arrived in the wake of the proprietary grant, or those who represented the interests of the Lords Proprietors. Exacerbating the political division were severe handicaps under which the Albemarle inhabitants labored: the antagonism of Virginia, and even claims of ownership of the Albemarle region by the northern colony; Indian unrest; imperial commercial regulations, including a tariff on exported tobacco; proprietary neglect; general poverty; diseases; geographic isolation; natural disasters, such as the closing of the Currituck Inlet by silt; piracy along the coast; and uncertainty engendered by the Fundamental Constitutions concerning the duly constituted governmental authority in the province. The dissatisfaction produced by those and other factors, but particularly the Plantation Duty Act of 1673 and the question of the legitimacy of the government in the mid-1670s, resulted in civil strife known as Culpeper's Rebellion in 1677. The arrest of George Durant and Zachariah Gilliam by acting governor Thomas Miller in 1677 served as the catalyst for the outbreak of Culpeper's Rebellion. Durant was forcibly released by the rebels, and Miller was incarcerated. The leaders of the rebellion, including John Culpeper for whom the uprising was named, met at Durant's house in late December and held a council meeting early in 1678 at the home of John Jenkins, who probably served as de facto governor during the crisis. Durant and Gilliam were appointed agents to represent the rebel cause before the proprietors in England. For their part, the proprietors minimized the whole affair, and the incident passed without retribution to the supposed rebels.

Following Culpeper's Rebellion, Perquimans Precinct served as the de facto capital of North Carolina until 1716. At that time, the seat of government was moved to Queen Anne's Creek (Edenton) in Chowan Precinct. However, North Carolina continued to exhibit internal dissension well into the eighteenth century. Eventually, the dissention ceased to involve pro- and anti- proprietary factionalinsm and took the form of regional conflict. The decade of the 1690s witnessed the expansion of the colony southward to the Pamlico Sound, resulting in the creation of Bath County in 1696 and three precincts (Hyde, Craven and Beaufort) within the county in 1705. The new southern precincts wanted their share of the colony's political power, formerly controlled by the Albemarle. The ensuing power struggle among the precincts, grounded in regional diffrences and the thwarted aspirations of the new Bath elite, produced Cary's Rebellion in the first decade of the eighteenth century. Thomas Cary emerged as the champion of the Bath interests, and he received the support of the Quaker element of the Albemarle, which by that time was confined almost exclusively to the counties of Perquimans and Pasquotank. By the turn of the century, the Quakers, although they constituted the first organized religious element in the colony, encountered the establishment of the Anglican Church and suffered from efforts to restrict their involvement in politics.

[The Short Tenure of Seth Sothel]

The proprietors later appointed one of their number, Seth Sothel, as governor of Albemarle County in hopes of securing peace in the colony. En route to Carolina, Sothel was captured by Turkish pirates and imprisoned. John Harvey, as president of the council, became acting governor in 1679. After Harvey's death later in the year, John Jenkins resumed the governorship, retaining the position until his death in December, 1681. Sothel, having been ransomed from the pirates, arrived in the colony soon after the death of Jenkins. But the experience had altered his character, changing him from a "discreet sober gentleman" to a despotic ruler. In 1689, following an oppressive tenure of several years during which he allegedly accepted bribes and unlawfully seized property, Sothel was imprisoned and banished from the colony. His downfall resulted from the arrest of George Durant and the confiscationof Durant's estate, called Wicocombe. The experience pointedly demonstrated the continuing conflict between the pre-proprietary settlers and proprietary government, a conflict which did not end until the demise of the proprietary era in 1729 when the crown purchased the Carolinas from the Lords Proprietors, making them into royal colonies.

The end of the seventeenth century saw an increase in native unrest to the westward. The Tuscarora tribe, Iroquoian speakers, resented white expansion into its lands. The Tuscarora War was to drag on into the eighteenth century and finally see that tribe's major exodus to New York State, in order to join the powerful Iroquois Confederation. Albemarle settlers fought the Tuscarora, while continuing to argue about their rights under a proprietary government. Their commitment to independence and freedom were to be tested in the upcoming American Revolution.

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