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Re: [genpcncfir] Earliest Pitt County families

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  • Bob Forbes
    Dear Group, I recently finished the book, North Carolina - A History (2nd edition, 1988) by noted NC historian William S. Powell, and it helped answer some
    Message 1 of 15 , Sep 26, 2004
      Dear Group,

      I recently finished the book, "North Carolina - A History" (2nd edition,
      1988) by noted NC historian William S. Powell, and it helped answer some of
      my questions about the earliest European settlements in what is now N.
      Carolina. This is a synopsis of what I learned. I have largely skipped over
      the Lost Colony, which we all know was the earliest attempted English
      settlement in N. Carolina that failed... although it's quite possible some
      of those colonists took up with local Indians in order to survive, and some
      of them may well have left descendants of mixed blood if they did indeed
      survive. We won't answer that question today, so instead I'll start with the
      first land grant that prompted permanent English & European settlements in
      present-day N. Carolina.

      In 1629, Sir Robert Heath received a grant from King Charles I for the
      southern half of North America, called "Carolana." As a result of that
      grant, exploration from Virginia southward grew more frequent, and it was
      soon followed by colonists including Nathaniel Batts (mentioned by Faye
      Hayes in
      an earlier post), who was living in a house in present-day Bertie County by
      1653 and trading with the Indians. The area where Batts lived soon became
      known as Roanoke (to honor the memory of the lost colonists) or Old
      Virginia, to distinguish it from the "newer Virgina" further north, which
      had begun with
      the successful colony of Jamestown. The fact that North Carolina was once
      considered "Old Virginia" to distinguish it from the present-day Virginia is
      an interesting little tidbit you might want to toss at some of your Virginia
      relatives & friends sometime!

      Old Sir Robert Heath never actively managed his grant, so most of the
      settlers who came down from "New Virginia" to claim land around the Chowan
      and Roanoke Rivers actually purchased their land from the Indians and
      recorded the deeds in Virginia, the nearest legal jurisdication. This was a
      risky legal avenue for land ownership, but it was the only option they had
      at the time. For quite a while the oldest deed found of this type was the
      Durant deed of 1662, but as late as the 1980's, some older deeds from
      present-day North Carolina were discovered, dating 1661 and 1660. It's quite
      possible that there were deeds from land now in N. Carolina, but recorded in
      Virginia, dated earlier than that. Even today's historians are quick to
      admit that the details and exact dates of N.Carolina's earliest permanent
      European settlers have been obscured.

      The official record of N. Carolina after Heath's grant skips all the way to
      1663, when the land of Carolina (as it then began to be spelled) was
      re-granted by Charles II to the seven Lords Proprietors. Sir Robert Heath
      had apparently passed away leaving no claim to the land of Carolina under
      the new monarch, who'd just regained his throne with the help of these Lords
      and owed them some big favors. So he granted them a large tract of land
      that extended from the SOUTHERN shore of Albemarle Sound all the way down to
      Florida (then claimed by the Spanish) and "westward to the South Seas,"
      i.e., the Pacific Ocean, which they knew lay somewhere to the west but they
      had no idea how much land was in between. The Lords weren't quite satisfied
      with even this huge tract of land, and they approached the king again to
      stretch the size of the grant a little at both its northern and southern
      borders, so the grant was increased in 1665 to include land up to the
      current NC/Va border on the north, and south all the way to St. Augustine,
      clearly encroaching on Spanish territory. The new Lords were very
      interested in settling the Territory of Carolina, so they provided
      incentives via land grants. As a result settlers started streaming in,
      beginning with the English coming down from Tidewater Virginia, but soon
      including just about anyone else who was hungry for land and opportunity in
      the New World (see the migration paths in the attached link, courtesy of Fay
      Hayes): http://ncnatural.com/maps/ethnic.jpg.

      Much of northeastern NC began to be settled in the mid-to-late 1600's, but
      when did these settlements reach the area now known as Pitt County? It's
      highly likely that the earliest Europeans to venture up the Tar-Pamlico were
      adventurers and Indian traders, mostly single men. No doubt some of them
      took Indian mistresses or wives and perhaps even raised families on the
      frontier. These fellows were by nature a pretty restless lot, and not highly
      educated, so little to nothing was documented and it's doubtful we'll ever
      know anything more about them, UNLESS they took the time to legally acquire
      land (which very few of them did). And in general, we don't know much more
      about the first young couples who came in after them to carve out a
      homestead in the wilderness and raise a family, unless they obtained grants
      and recorded deeds in the newly established counties of Albemarle,
      Clarendon, and Craven. Slowly but surely, more land was granted and deeded
      officially, as courts started being established in the county seats, and
      some towns started forming, such as Edenton, Bath, New Bern, and Brunswick
      Town. Farther south, Charleston was becoming a major city and seaport,
      bringing in many more settlers who ventured up the rivers into all parts of
      North & South Carolina from there.

      So by the early 1700's, European settlers were streaming into Carolina from
      every direction except the west, which was blocked by the mountains and
      still Indian territory. As far as Pitt County goes, the earliest recorded
      deeds were by planters who were pushing upriver from Bath, but who's to say
      that some parts of Pitt County weren't already settled by homesteaders who
      came overland, southward from Virginia? Some of this history remains to be

      Bob Forbes
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