Albemarle County

A History of Albemarle County - One of the Three Original Counties in Carolina

Colonization of the North American coast might have evolved differently if the English expedition sent to Roanoke Island by Sir Walter Raleigh in the 1580s had established a lasting foothold on the Outer Banks. When that colony was "lost," English attention turned to better harbors farther north, postponing colonization between Chesapeake Bay and Spanish Florida. Since nothing came of King Charles I's grant of "Carolana" to Sir Robert Heath in 1629, King Charles II bestowed the same region on eight (8) of his loyal supporters soon after the English Restoration of 1660.

During the early years of the Lords Proprietorship, Sir John Colleton and George Monck, the Duke of Albemarle, assumed the leadership of the venture, hoping ultimately to profit from Carolina without bearing the actual cost of its settlement. Their plan was to attract experienced colonists from the older settlements into Carolina by the promise of generous land grants and comparably liberal concessions of religious and political rights. It was expected that the colonists themselves would meet the main costs of settlement, and eventually compensate the Lords Proprietors' efforts by the payments of quit-rents

They planned to establish not just one colony but several "colonies," each with its own government consisting of an appointed governor and council and an elected assembly. There was no thought of undertaking the expense of colonizing from England. For a time, the Lords Proprietors' hope for a maximum return on a minimum investment seemed entirely feasible. In 1663, the Lords Proprietors instructed Governor William Berkeley of Virginia, in his capacity as one of the eight Carolina Lords Proprietors, to organize a government for the Virginians settling around Albemarle Sound, which was accomplished in 1664.

Two factors heavily influenced the development of North Carolina. Its stormy coastline, known as the "graveyard of the Atlantic," does not include a natural harbor to promote commerce. The Cape Fear River is the only river of significance that empties into the Atlantic Ocean, and its approaches are endangered by the Frying Pan Shoals. The second factor influencing North Carolina's development was the presence of approximately 35,000 Native Americans at the beginning of the new colony. They taught the European settlers important agricultural techniques such as planting row crops and fertilizing plants. The Europeans also learned the natives' techniques of wilderness war. But the presence of the settlers eventually destroyed the native civilization through disease, forceful removal to reservations, and war.

Along Carolina's northern border, Virginia settlers had begun to drift south in the 1650s and 1660s. The first arrivals settled along Albemarle Sound, and others continued south to the Pamlico and Neuse rivers. Known initially as Albemarle, the portion of Carolina north of Cape Fear had a separate governor designated by the Lords Proprietors and by 1712 was officially known as North Carolina, although many had used North Carolina for decades. A year earlier the powerful Tuscarora Indians had began a war on the European newcomers but were defeated in 1713. Many of the tribe's survivors then moved north to rejoin the Iroquois League. Two years later, the Yamassees and their Creek allies attacked South Carolina; only the refusal of the Cherokees to join in the conflict saved the southern colony from total destruction.

All along the coast, expansion met Indian resistance. More than a century of contact with Spanish explorers and missionaries had spread European diseases among Native Americans. The devastation had already been enormous, obliterating small coastal tribes and continuing to reach farther inland. In the 1690s, Smallpox devastated the Cherokees in southern Appalachia, cutting in half a nation of more than thirty thousand persons. After 1670, English slaving raids compounded Indian loss to disease. As their numbers declined, Piedmont inhabitants elected to fight, beginning with the Iroquoian tribe known as the Tuscaroras.

Prior to 1663, the Albemarle region lay as a geographical and political orphan. Included in the grant of the "Province of Carolana" made by King Charles I in 1629 to Sir Robert Heath, his Attorney General, the colony had languished and, except for small settlements, had lain fallow. Carolina's first Proprietor had discovered that the expense of colonization was too great for one man to bear, and his neglect increased after England was ripped asunder by the violent upheavals of its own civil war (1642-1651).

Despite this negligence and apparent abandonment, the region known as Albemarle was not without its attractions. It was, in the opinion of a London "Well-Willer" in 1649, no less than a veritable Eden, a cornucopia of "the naturall Commodities of the Country, which fall into your hands without labour or toyle, for in the obtaining of them you have a delightful recreation." "The Soyle," he went on to say, "you may trust it with anything," and it would yield no less than two crops a year.

Six years later Francis Yeardley was praising the pleasant climate of a place "unacquainted with our Virginia's nipping frosts," and thereby promising favorable harvests for those who ventured to engage in the production of silk, olives, and wines for the London market. Even as late as 1665, after many of the more exuberant claims of the past had been disproved, the Reverend Alexander Moray wrote from Virginia describing the Albemarle region as "being the hopefullest place in the world."

Fanning out from James Town, the Virginians secured the choice lands along the rivers, for a navigable waterway was a necessity in getting the crops to market. By the late 1650s, a number of adventuresome men had spilled southward into the Albemarle region in the search for fertile soil. No later than 1663, there were two areas of settlement, one "on the easte part of the river Chowan," the other "on the Larboard side entering the same river." 

The Carolina Charter of 1663 endowed the eight (8) new Lords Proprietors with vast and extensive powers, in which lay the seeds of rebellion; yet these perquisites were not unique for grants of this era. The English reaction against republicanism and their willingness to rest awhile on the plateau of monarchism was not to make its way across the Atlantic, and within the next fifteen years a rash of little rebellions were to light up the southern colonies along the Atlantic seaboard.

The Lords Proprietors, granted the virtually autonomous and feudal powers held by the Bishop of the County Palatine of Durham, were in themselves an assembly of small-time monarchs. Within their hands lay the lives, fortunes, and destinies of those who ultimately settled in Carolina. For instance, it was within their powers to divide their grant into such geographical and political subdivisions as they pleased, to design a government and judicial system, collect taxes and other levies, grant lands, pardon offenders against the legal code, and they even had the authority to create a nobility - so long as the titles granted did not parallel those already existing in England. Extensive military jurisdiction lay mostly in defensive measures, but did include the power to suppress a rebellion within their colony.

These aristocratic privileges, however, were tempered with the imposition of certain limitations upon the activities of the Lords Proprietors. The power of legislation was not ultimate with them, for laws could be enacted only with the "advice, assent and approbation of the freemen" of Carolina. In a like manner, it was necessary that these laws be "reasonable, and not repugnant or contrary" to the statutes of England. An additional measure of protection for the inhabitants lay in the extension to them of all the rights of Englishmen. And, possibly to prevent the religious upheaval that had rocked England for more than a quarter of a century, the Lords Proprietors were authorized to grant religious freedom to all those whose theology conformed, or nearly so, to that of the Church of England, and which did not "in any wise disturb the Peace and safety thereof or scandalize or reproach the said Liturgy, formes and Ceremoneyes" of the Anglican establishment.

Within months there were challenges to the claims of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina. Claimants to land under the old Sir Richard Heath grant began to make nuisances of themselves. To counter these allegations, the eight (8) Lords Proprietors submitted a "humble request" to King Charles II, soliciting an extension of the boundaries of their domain. The result was the Charter of 1665, little more than a supplement to the 1663 Charter, but expanding the limits of Carolina two degrees southward and one-half a degree to the northward.

This enlargement definitely placed the Albemarle region within the jurisdiction of the Carolina Lords Proprietors and nullified the claims of the Virginians to that disputed territory.

The Lords Proprietors dreamed grand dreams for their colony of Carolina. But the picture in their minds was that of a small kingdom arising on the shores of the New World, whose inhabitants gave their allegiance to the King of England, but whose fate would be determined by the holders of the Charter. Their first efforts at government seemed to be in the nature of probing attempts, feeling their way towards what they hoped would be a flourishing community under their benevolent rule; a community where happy and contented people produced those rare commodities that would demand good prices in the London market, while the Lords Proprietors relaxed under "Fortune's magnanimous smile."

Perhaps it was because of their varied interests that the Lords Proprietors appeared content to allow the management of the colony to be gradually assumed mostly by Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, assisted by Sir William Berkeley, whose attentions could be focused upon Albemarle from nearby Virginia, as its governor.

To demonstrate to the King that they "slept not with their grant," plans were announced for the establishment of three "Counties." Albemarle County was to include that area "which lyeth on the nort[h] east or starboard side entering the river Chowan." Clarendon County was to extend southward into the Cape Fear River valley, while Craven County was to include the territory south of Cape Romain.

In 1664, Sir John Yeamans led a group of Barbadians into the Cape Fear area, but after three years of suffering the plagues of shipwrecks, internal disorders and Indian troubles, Clarendon County was abandoned. Craven County, eventually to become the colony of South Carolina, was not to experience a serious colonization effort until 1670. So it was that in the beginning Albemarle County served as nucleus of the proprietary colony of Carolina.

Not until 1669 did the grand plans of the Lords Proprietors make themselves evident in the drawing up of that aristocratic document, the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, a strange combination of feudal and liberal ideas. John Locke, philosopher, physician, and confidant of Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, either wrote or collaborated with the Proprietor in drawing up the Fundamental Constitutions. This outline of government was, in the words of its authors, for the purposes of establishing a better government, protecting the interests of the Lords Proprietors, "and that the Government of this Province may be most agreeable to the Monarchy under which we live, ... and that we may avoid erecting a numerous Democracy."

It was, to say the least, a pompous and even cumbersome pattern for government, and seemed designed to obliterate the strides towards self-government made by the English peoples. Under this system, the Lords Proprietors remained the primary source of authority, vested in a Palatine Court with the eldest of the Lords Proprietors designated as Palatine or presiding Proprietor. Each Proprietor was also eventually to maintain his own feudal court in Carolina. Until such time as this plan became effective, each of the Lords Proprietors were represented in the government of the colony through designated "Deputies," each Proprietor retaining the right to name a Deputy to work with the appointed governor and a "Parliament" as the ruling force in Albemarle County.

This throwback to a semi-medieval civilization planned a division of Carolina into counties, siegnories, baronies, precincts, and colonies, with its nobility, based on land tenure bearing titles ranging from Palatine to Landgrave and Cacique. Two-thirds of the land was to be held by the Lords Proprietors and this colonial aristocracy, the remainder to be worked by the lower classes. Great manors, worked by "leet men," were to be the hub of this feudal pattern. Yet the Fundamental Constitutions did maintain such vital human privileges as trial by jury, religious toleration, and the recording of vital statistics in addition to a regular legislature of the people or their representatives.

Albemarle County was no longer an isolated outpost of colonization, but there was little to indicate its people considered themselves in a more favorable position.

While the experiments at Cape Fear and on the Ashley River were in progress, another colony was slowly developing on Albemarle Sound and the Chowan River. Its inhabitants came from Virginia and New England, a few from Bermuda, a few also from various parts of the British Isles. At a later time this colony was strengthened and extended southward to the Pamlico and Neuse rivers by French Protestants, Swiss, and Germans from the Palatinate. But during the period of which we are now speaking its population was English, was chiefly of colonial origin, and numbered only a few hundred.

As occurred elsewhere, especially in the colonies south of the Delaware River, the people of this province established themselves in straggling settlements or detached plantations along the courses of the rivers and sounds. So peaceful was the attitude of the natives during the first generation, that the colonists were not forced to seek protection in compact settlements. They were also kept apart by the deep streams and broad sheets of water which intersected the country from east to west. These streams facilitated travel to and from the coast; but to intercourse and the building of roads along north and south lines, or along east and west lines north of Albemarle Sound, they presented almost as serious obstacles as did the forests themselves. The sandy and treacherous coastline proved a hindrance, as in the days of Raleigh, to settlement from Europe.

When the redoubtable James Blair came to Albemarle County as a missionary, in 1704, he found "mighty inconveniences in travelling there." He stated that the roads were not only "deep and difficult to be found," but that there were seven great rivers in the county, five of which could not be crossed with the aid of horses alone. Over one of the other two the Quakers had established a ferry, but nobody except themselves were permitted to use it. Along the banks of these streams settlers were then scattered for a distance in each case of twenty miles or more, while the land back from the streams was almost wholly unimproved. Blair declared that he would sooner undertake a journey from England to Holland, than to go from the Albemarle settlements to those on the Pamlico; for the only means of transportation across the upper sound which intervened was a small periagua, while beyond lay a wilderness fifty miles broad. These statements are confirmed by the accounts of other missionaries who remained longer in the region than did Blair.

The Lords Proprietors indeed, as we have seen, treated this part of their province with systematic neglect, and after 1670 their efforts were concentrated on the development of the southern part of their dominion. In a letter of theirs written in 1676, we find it stated that the reason of this neglect was the failure of the inhabitants of Albemarle County to settle the region of the Pamlico and Neuse rivers, so that by this means intercourse might have been made possible between the northern and southern parts of the province. The Lords Proprietors stated in 1676 that, because of their failure to do this, they looked upon the settlers of Albemarle County as a people that neither understood their own interests nor regarded those of the Lords Proprietors. They admitted, however, that they had recently learned their mistake, for they had been told that it was not the people, but Governor Peter Carteret and the other appointed officials, who were to blame. When attempts had been made to open communication by land with Ashley River and to settle the Neuse River country, they had been repressed by these officials with great violence. Some who had settled on the south of Albemarle Sound had been ordered to return, though to their great inconvenience.

These statements reveal a lack of observation and a perversity of reasoning which is unusual, even for this group of Lords Proprietors. Had they lived in their colony, as Blair did, they would have perceived the reason why the middle region was not filled with settlers. It could be entered successfully only from the coast, and not from the north or the south. The streams and shoals of Cape Hatteras checked communication by sea, and the forests and broad, deep rivers had a similar influence on land. The failure of the experiment at Cape Fear in 1667 naturally diverted attention for a long time from the coast at that point. All who cared to settle in Carolina were more satisfactorily provided for in other places. Governor Peter Carteret was in office for only a short period; and had the course of settlement tended strongly toward the middle of the colony, we may be sure that the governors would not have had the desire or the power to stay its progress for any long period. At no time did colonists flow into the Carolinas - especially North Carolina - in a vigorous stream, and the current was not strong enough to break through the natural obstacles. Settlements crept slowly back from the coast, and spread out laterally even more slowly. Both the northern and southern colonies of Carolina existed largely in isolation till late in the colonial period. The backwardness of North Carolina is to be accounted for in part by its isolation.

The extent to which the board of Lord Proprietors neglected Albemarle County is indicated by a reference to the idea, which prevailed in that region, that Sir William Berkeley was the only Proprietor. It was for this reason, as we shall see, that Thomas Miller was sent to Virginia to be tried for treason. A rumor was also abroad, which this letter was intended to discredit, that the Lords Proprietors desired to sell Albemarle County. They declared that they intended to keep the province intact, and Albemarle County, particularly because of its nearness to Virginia, they believed was a material aid in the peopling of the rest of Carolina.

Though the forms of a proprietary government were kept up and the eight (8) Lords Proprietors expressed themselves as pleased with some things that were done, yet there was such lack of system and continuity in their control that a great degree of independence was enjoyed by the colonists. The characteristic features of the proprietary system were to a large extent obscured. Aristocratic elements and tendencies were almost wholly lacking. Such was the weakness of the executive and the lack of developed institutions and traditions, that conditions akin to anarchy oftentimes prevailed.

At the outset it was thought that this northern colony might be organized under two governments, one on the south and the other on the north side of the sound. Sir William Berkeley, governor of Virginia and one of the Lords Proprietors, was empowered to appoint a governor and six councillors for each of these settlements. The Lords Proprietors reserved to themselves the appointment of a secretary and surveyors, while the governor and councillors were to appoint all other officers. In the granting of land the officials were to be guided in a general way by the "proposals" of 1663. Understanding that the earlier settlers in the Albemarle region had already purchased large tracts from the Indians, the Lords Proprietors, fearing that these might be kept out of the market, instructed Governor Berkeley, if possible, to induce those who held by Indian title to take out patents from the Lords Proprietors and to be content with the proportions allotted to others. In the fall of 1664, Berkeley appointed William Drummond, a former resident of Virginia, as governor of the entire settlement. For reasons just stated the colony for a considerable time was confined wholly to the northern shore of the Albemarle Sound. An Assembly was held, possibly in 1665, but all of its records have perished. From a later source it is inferred that since the time was near for the payment of quit-rents to begin, this Assembly petitioned the Lords Proprietors that the inhabitants of Albemarle County might hold their lands on the same terms as those under which land was held in Virginia.

Drummond, after a governorship of three years, is supposed to have been removed by Sir William Berkeley. In the autumn of 1667, the Lords Proprietors, acting, it is possible, under the advice of Berkeley, and on suggestions from the colonists, appointed Samuel Stephens as the second governor of Albemarle County. He was given authority to select a council, and, if the Lords Proprietors failed to act, a Secretary and Surveyor-General, all to serve during the pleasure of the board. The instructions issued to Stephens were the Concessions of 1665, though in 1668, these were partially superseded by the provisions of the Great Deed of Grant relating to land.

That an Assembly was held in 1669 is made more probable by the existence of nine acts, which were confirmed by the Lords Proprietors in January of 1670, and which contain references to Landgraves and Caciques and to the Palatine as the head of the proprietary board. None of these provided for the establishment of offices or courts, or in any way changed the government of the colony. In one of them the court of the governor and council is referred to as in existence; this was to be expected, and it was probably the only judicial body in the little group of settlements. Provision was made in the laws for the collection of thirty pounds of tobacco as a part of the costs of every suit at law, and that this should go for the support of the governor and council. The chief object of the laws was the encouraging of settlement by the temporary exemption of newcomers from the payment of taxes and from prosecution in suits originating outside the colony, and by provisions limiting the size of grants to commoners and requiring the speedy improvement of grants.

When the Fundamental Constitutions were sent over with the Charles Town settlers, substantially the same instructions were given to the governor and council of Albemarle County as to those of the southern colony. The ten deputies, five appointed and five elected, now became the Executive Council, while the governor and the five appointed deputies acted as the Palatine's Court. The governor and the Executive Council were empowered to establish such courts as they saw fit, until the "grand modell" could be put into force; they were also authorized, with the consent of an Assembly, to make necessary laws. Albemarle County was divided into four precincts, from each of which five delegates were elected, who with the deputies constituted the General Assembly. We know that a General Assembly was convened in Albemarle County and held in 1672, and another in 1673. The former passed at least fifty-four Acts, all of which are lost. Four Acts of no great importance, passed by the Assembly of 1673, were received by the Lords Proprietors in November of that year. The form of enactment was, "by the Pallatine and the rest of the Lords Proprietors by and with the advice and consent of the Grand Assembly." The name "parliament" was not used.

In 1677, we get the first view of the political and social conditions which existed in the Albemarle County settlements. For this we are indebted to the representations made to the Lords Proprietors and to the home government by the various parties who were concerned in the so-called Culpeper Rebellion. At the time the number of tithables, or working hands between the ages of sixteen and sixty, was about 1,400, of whom one-third were Indians, black slaves, and women. Estimated upon this basis, it is supposed that the total population was between 2,500 and 3,000. About 800,000 pounds of tobacco were annually raised on the plantations of the colony, besides an abundance of cattle and Indian corn. Those were the chief products of a population which was almost wholly agricultural. The tobacco was a valuable article of export, in return for which European goods and materials were obtained. As the nature of the coast prevented large craft from entering, small vessels from New England and Virginia took the tobacco to these colonies, whence it was shipped, in large part at least, direct to the continent, and goods were brought back on the return voyages. New Englanders and many residents of Albemarle County, notably Valentine Bird, the Customs Collector, and George Durant were interested in this illegal trade. Governor Peter Carteret, who was a relative of one of the Lords Proprietors and had been chosen by the Executive Council to succeed the deceased Governor Samuel Stephens, on his return to England was charged by the Lords Proprietors with encouraging the New England trade, while discouraging settlement south of Albemarle sound. John Jenkins, when Carteret left, as Acting Governor continued the same policy, and was said to be under the control of George Durant.

Bacon's rebellion in Virginia had just been suppressed, and with the insurgents in that movement many in Albemarle County had sympathized. It may be supposed that some refugees sought protection there against the vindictive measures of Virginia's Governor William Berkeley, also one of the eight (8) Lords Proprietors. But of greater immediate importance was the arrival, about three years before, of John Culpeper, who, because of his "turbulent and factious carriage," had been forced to leave the Ashley River settlement. Evidence is conclusive that the hold of the Lords Proprietors over Albemarle County was very weak, and that their attempt to establish a nobility was viewed with the utmost aversion. All restraints upon freedom of trade and attempts to draw a revenue from the province in connection with their enforcement were regarded in the same manner. In general the anarchical tendencies of colonial life find perhaps better illustration in the Albemarle County settlements at this time than elsewhere in the British-American colonies. We have a vague report of the forcible displacement of Acting Governor John Jenkins, and then of a counter-movement supported by military force which dissolved the General Assembly, dispersed the Palatine Court, and arbitrarily placed and displaced officers. In this Culpeper shared.

In November of 1676, in order to restore quiet and check illicit trade, Thomas Eastchurch, a relative of Lord Treasurer Clifford and formerly Speaker of the Assembly in Albemarle County, was appointed as its governor. He was instructed to divert the trade of the colony from New England to the mother country. As measures contributory to this he was ordered to establish three port towns and to send to the Lords Proprietors an exact statement of the depth of the water at low tide in the inlets along the Albemarle coast, that they might know when and where ships from across the ocean could best load and unload. At the same time Thomas Miller was appointed Deputy of the Earl of Shaftesbury, Secretary, and Collector of the Royal Customs in Albemarle County. Only a year or two before Miller had been indicted for using foul and seditious language concerning the king, and had been taken to Virginia for trial. There he was acquitted, and went thence to England to report the proceedings to the Lords Proprietors. Owing to the delay of Eastchurch in the West Indies, Miller was sent on in advance with a commission from the new governor to act as President of the Executive Council and commander of the militia. On the strength of this last appointment Miller, as soon as he arrived in the colony, began to exercise the powers of Acting Governor, but retained the rightful title of President of the Executive Council.

Thomas Miller, who supplanted Valentine Bird and John Culpeper as Customs Collectors, seems at the outset to have been quietly received, and to have been for a time successful in the administration of the customs. He and his deputies seized 817 hogsheads of tobacco, and goods illegally imported to the value of £1,242. But, if we are to believe the statements of the Lords Proprietors, he rashly undertook to change the law or practice of elections, to lay heavy fines, and to issue warrants commanding some of the chief men of the colony to be brought before him alive or dead. Reference is also made to the raising of a guard of soldiers, which cost the province twenty thousand pounds of tobacco.

The effect of President Thomas Miller's conduct was to provoke an uprising, which began on the arrival from Europe, in December of 1677, of a Captain Gillam, one of the New England traders, and of George Durant. Miller tried to arrest both these men on charges connected with illegal trading, but was seized and imprisoned by a body of thirty or forty men in Pasquotank Precinct. With him his deputy, Timothy Biggs, and several of the Lords Proprietors' officials were also arrested. Henry Hudson, another deputy, was arrested in the lower precinct. Their papers and all the tobacco and money which had been collected by the prisoners were also taken. Culpeper, Bird, Durant, and Crawford were among the leaders of the uprising. A tumultuous demand was raised by some that the authority of the Lords Proprietors should be thrown off; this, however, the leaders did not expressly favor.

But, assuming powers of government, John Culpeper and his followers illegally called for a General Assembly. Amid tumultuous proceedings at Durant's house a grand jury was impanelled, which under directions from Culpeper found a bill against Thomas Miller and his deputies. They were about to proceed to their trial when a proclamation was brought from Governor Thomas Eastchurch, who had reached Virginia on his way to Albemarle County. The General Assembly was at once adjourned, and steps were taken to prevent Governor Eastchurch from entering the colony. These were successful, and the governor soon died in Virginia. Thomas Miller and his deputies were retained in prison, the insurgents carrying on the government for about one year.

John Culpeper, during a part or all of that time, acted as Collector of Customs. Biggs, and finally Miller, escaped, and carried their case to England. Culpeper and Gillam were both arrested there, in consequence of charges by Miller and Biggs, and full inquiry was made into the case both by the Lords Proprietors and the English government. Culpeper was tried before the King's Bench for treason, but through the influence of the Earl of Shaftesbury he was acquitted. The statement which Shaftesbury made to secure his acquittal was a confession of the failure at the time of an effective proprietary government in Albemarle County. He said that Culpeper was guilty only of riot, treason being then impossible in Albemarle County, for there was no settled government in that colony. The Lords Proprietors, though holding that Thomas Miller had acted without lawful authority, finally agreed to see to it that, if possible, his losses and those of his deputies were made good, and that they were protected against vexatious suits. John Culpeper was ordered to restore the funds he had seized, but whether or not he obeyed we do not know.

Seth Sothel, one of the new Lords Proprietors, was appointed governor in 1681, but, owing to his capture on the outward voyage by pirates, he did not reach Albemarle County until two years later. John Harvey, whom the Lords Proprietors had appointed President of the Executive Council, and after him John Jenkins and Henry Wilkinson, who held appointment for brief terms as Acting Governors, were able meanwhile to carry on the government peacefully. An Act of oblivion was passed, and neither governors nor collectors were disturbed in the performance of their duties. This all means that the Lords Proprietors, such was their weakness and inefficiency, compounded with disorder and riot, that they might retain the nominal hold which they had over the northern half of their province.

Respecting Governor Seth Sothel's administration, which continued from 1683 to 1688, it is impossible to speak with full assurance. Only brief accounts of his character and doings have reached us, and they proceed from his enemies. If the complaints which were made against him were true, he was one of the most corrupt and arbitrary of governors. He was charged with unlawfully imprisoning parties; with detention of them on the false charge that they were pirates; with the unjust seizure of private estates, particularly that of George Durant, which he was said to have converted to his own use without process of law; with the refusal to admit a will to probate, and with the acceptance of bribes. It is said that, when Thomas Pollock proposed to go to England to complain of the injustice which was being done, the governor imprisoned him without showing cause for his act. According to these representations, he used both his judicial and executive powers to their fullest extent for the purpose of plundering the inhabitants of the province. The toleration of such conduct by the colonists for a series of years, if not wholly incredible, may perhaps be accounted for by the fact that Seth Sothel was a new Lord Proprietor and that he did not interfere with illegal trade. But, finally he was seized and preparations made to send him to England for trial. He then begged that his case might be heard by the next General Assembly. The prayer was granted, and that body banished him from the colony for a year and decreed that he should never again hold the governorship. Of Sothel's career in South Carolina, which immediately followed this - at its close, ignoring the command of the Lords Proprietors to return to England and submit to an investigation, he went back to Albemarle County, where he spent the short remainder of his life.

The career of Governor Seth Sothel, whether all the charges against him be true or not, illustrates the degree to which, under the Fundamental Constitutions, a governor might be independent of the Lords Proprietors. Sothel was both one of the Lords Proprietors and a governor. Though an appointee and agent of the board, as soon as he arrived in the province he was more than that. By virtue of a place in the proprietary board, which he had reached solely through purchase, he outranked the deputies more than governors ordinarily would do. He might well afford for a period to ignore their commands. The colonists could not with safety oppose him, as they might one who was solely an appointee. As usual, the other Lords Proprietors did nothing that was effective either to enable him to clear his reputation or to bring him to justice if he was guilty.

During the early period of its existence, Albemarle County was administered by governors and presidents who were independent of those on Ashley River. Not until the appointment of Philip Ludwell in 1691 was the executive power in all the "counties," or really in the two provinces, united as one. For the preceding two years' Ludwell had been governor of Albemarle County, but of his administration there nothing is known. Under Ludwell and his successors, until 1712, the northern settlements were administered by deputy governors, who, with one exception, were the immediate appointees of the governors resident at Charles Town. At the beginning of that period the two parts of the province began to be known respectively as North and South Carolina. Alexander Lillington and Thomas Harvey were the two Deputy Governors under Ludwell and Archdale. On the death of Thomas Harvey in 1699, Henderson Walker was President of the Executive Council. By virtue of that office he became Acting Governor, and continued such till his death in 1704. The appointment of deputies was then resumed, and continued until 1712. Then Colonel Thomas Pollock was elected President, and brought the province to the close of the Tuscarora War. Pollock was again President for a brief time in 1722. But, with that exception, North Carolina had distinct governors of its own ever after 1713.

The governors of South Carolina, even during the years when they appointed deputies for the northern province, paid little or no attention to the affairs of Albemarle County. The Lords Proprietors also continued toward Albemarle County their policy of systematic neglect, save when internal anarchy compelled brief attention. Occasionally, as in earlier times, they left it without government. The appointees were nearly all colonists. The elected Presidents, of course, were such. None, except John Archdale, were connected with the families of the Lords Proprietors. The Lords Proprietors apparently corresponded very little with the governors, and the governors scarcely ever wrote to the Lords Proprietors. None except the usual formal instructions were given them by the Lords Proprietors at the beginning of their term in office.

In Albemarle County, as on the Ashley River, the Executive Council continued to have an elected element until 1691. Ludwell's instructions brought it to an end in both provinces. After 1718, the Deputies were appointed by joint action of the Lords Proprietors, and not by the separate act of each Proprietor. Of the Executive Council in its legislative capacity we have few distinct records in the proprietary period. The extant records of the Executive Council begin in 1712. In its executive capacity the Executive Council advised the governor or president concerning appointments, regulated fees, approved the payment of salaries, ordered the arrest of parties for the non-payment of taxes, ordered out men and supplies for defense, shared in negotiation with the Indians and with neighboring colonies, and laid embargoes on the exportation of corn in times of scarcity. The governor and Executive Council watched over the interests of the province in general, so far as they received any attention. The Executive Council was also very largely occupied with territorial administration. Together with the Secretary and the Receiver General, it administered the territorial affairs of the province. Many references to its activity in this direction appear in the records. Many petitions were presented to it for the regrant of land which had been improved or settled, but had "issues" with the original grant. It declared good all surveys which did not prejudice the rights of the Lords Proprietors. It ordered rent rolls made out. The question of the form in which quit-rents should be paid, repeatedly came before it.

In matters of a quasi-judicial nature the Executive Council granted letters of administration and guardianship, committed minors as apprentices, ordered the arrest of parties who were committing serious offenses against the security or good order of the province. Sometimes punishment was inflicted on such parties at the command of the Executive Council.

The Executive Council, like the General Assembly and the General Court, met at various places within the province, their sessions being held almost exclusively in private homes during the proprietory period. In this respect the contrast between North and South Carolina is very marked. As it was necessary for the members to travel long distances, attendance was burdensome. Prior to 1718, members of the Executive Council appear to have paid their own expenses, but an order was then issued that they should be paid out of the Proprietary revenue.

Gradually the Albemarle settlements, or Albemarle County in its original sense, expanded into a true province. North of the sound four new precincts were formed - Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, and Currituck - most historians claim all were established in 1668, but others say they were created around 1670. After settlement had extended somewhat to the south of Albemarle Sound, the Lords Proprietors directed that the name Albemarle County should be confined to the region north of that body of water. Governor John Archdale was ordered to erect between Albemarle Sound and Cape Fear as many counties as the progress of settlement, encouraged by him, would justify. But not until 1696, when Thomas Harvey was acting as Deputy Governor, did he and his Executive Council erect the settlements south of Albemarle Sound into Bath County. This was divided into three precincts in 1705, while others were later organized, extending as far south as Cape Fear River. The precincts of North Carolina were, in fact, counties in the ordinary and modern sense of the term, and they came later to be so called on March 8, 1738/9, when the over-arching old counties of Albemarle and Bath were also abolished.

With the gradual increase of population and its expansion southward, the Quakers assumed an increasing importance among the dissenting sects in North Carolina. Their appearance in the province dates from the missionary journeys of Edmundson and Fox in 1672. They immediately became most numerous in Perquimans and Pasquotank precincts. It is stated that by 1700 three monthly meetings had been organized in those precincts. The North Carolina yearly meeting began in the same region and about the same time. But later, especially in the early eighteenth century, the Quakers began to settle toward the south and west. There is no evidence that they took interest in political affairs until John Archdale, during his term as governor, began introducing them into the Executive Council and courts, after which they became successful candidates for election to the House of Burgesses. As yet no religious tests or provisions requiring the oath existed in the laws of Carolina, which would exclude Quakers from office. That they would contribute nothing directly to the military strength of the province, was certain, while it was equally certain that they would strengthen the democratic tendencies which it had been theoretically the purpose of the Lords Proprietors to hold in check. Especially would they oppose attempts to secure a church establishment or in any way to limit religious freedom. The capacity of the people for passive resistance to unwelcome measures would also be increased. Among the dissenters in the province, in addition to Quakers, were Presbyterians, Lutherans, French Calvinists, and a very small number of Irish Catholics.

At the time when the political activity of the Quakers was developing, the Anglican Church began to send missionaries into the colony and to perform its religious offices where hitherto they had been totally lacking. During the presidency of Henderson Walker, after considerable effort, the Anglicans secured in 1701 a General Assembly which passed an Act for the establishment of the Anglican Church in North Carolina. It provided for the laying out of parishes, the building of churches, and the support of ministers by a public levy on all tithables. The original Act has not been preserved. Active steps were at once taken for the execution of the measure, long before it was submitted to the Lords Proprietors or received their assent. The dissenters meanwhile were roused to activity by its passage, and prepared to change the majority in the House of Burgesses and secure its repeal. But before they had an opportunity to act, the Lords Proprietors repealed the measure on the ground that the sum of £30, which was designated in the Act as the yearly maintenance of each minister, was too small.

On the death of President Henderson Walker, Sir Nathaniel Johnson, who was governor of both the Carolinas, appointed in 1704 as his Deputy Governor for the northern province Colonel Robert Daniell. He was already a prominent resident of South Carolina and was an ardent churchman. It is certain that he was personally in favor of the extreme Anglican policy which Johnson, acting under instruction from Lord Granville, forced for a time upon South Carolina. Though the contemporary sources of information are very scanty, it has been maintained with a considerable degree of probability that in 1704 the passage of an Act by the North Carolina Assembly was procured, which not only provided again for the establishment of the Anglican Church, but also for a religious test. Martin states that the Act provided for "a fine on any person holding a place of trust who should neglect to qualify himself by taking the oath required by law." The Act itself, like its predecessor of 1701, has been lost, but it has been supposed that it was substantially a copy of the measure which in the same year raised such a storm in South Carolina. In the northern province the commotion which was occasioned by the Act was almost as great.

But the Quakers were directly assailed from another quarter. In the same year (1704) the Act of Parliament of the first of Queen Anne, which imposed a new oath of allegiance, arrived. It made no express exception in the favor of Quaker office holders, neither did it mention the dominions. The Quakers refused to take the oath and were removed by Deputy Governor Robert Daniell from their offices. A provincial law was also passed, that no one should hold a position of trust without taking the required oaths. The Act for the establishment of the Anglican Church, with that requiring the oaths, together occasioned the so-called Cary's Rebellion. While the disturbance lasted we hear much more of the question of oaths than of the church question. But all the dissenters in the province seem to have been profoundly stirred, which would have scarcely been true if the point at issue had merely been that of the oaths.

John Ash, who was sent by the South Carolinians to England to complain of the passage of the Act for the establishment of the church, was compelled to find passage from Virginia, and went thither over land through Albemarle County. Edmund Porter was appointed by the dissenters of Albemarle County to accompany Ash. Porter, with the help of John Archdale, secured from the Lords Proprietors an order addressed to Governor Nathaniel Johnson to remove Daniell from the Deputy Governorship. This he obeyed, and Thomas Cary, who had been collector of quit-rents for the Lords Proprietors, and who is said to have been concerned in civil troubles in South Carolina, was appointed in his place. Cary was a churchman.

The new governor not only tendered the oaths, but caused an Act to be passed which provided that any one who should promote his own election, or sit and act as a member of the House of Burgesses, without duly qualifying himself by taking the oath, should be fined £65. So offended were the Quakers at this that in 1706 they sent John Porter to England, who again, with the aid of John Archdale, induced the Lords Proprietors to suspend Johnson's authority in North Carolina, remove Cary, and empower the Executive Council of the province to choose a president. Porter, on his return in 1707, called together the Quakers, for a number of whom he had procured Deputations from the Lords Proprietors, and, in the absence of Cary and the rest of the councillors, chose William Glover as the new President of the Executive Council. William Glover was a churchman, and, declining to be used as a tool by those who placed him in office, insisted as his predecessors had done that the oath should be taken. Porter now called all the members of the Executive Council together, both those who had recently been superseded and those who had not yet been sworn, declared Glover's election illegal, and chose Cary in his place. Against this, William Glover and Colonel Thomas Pollock protested, and in consequence of it the province at once became divided into hostile factions.

Both William Glover and his rival Thomas Cary now issued writs of election, and it was agreed that the General Assembly to be chosen should decide which was the rightful President. Of the seven precincts - four in Albemarle County and three in Bath County - five chose Cary members. All the members from Bath, and those from Pasquotank and Perquimans precincts in Albemarle, were his adherents. Edward Moseley, a supporter of Cary, was chosen Speaker of the House of Burgesses. On the strength of representations then made by Porter, the House of Burgesses voted that the Lords Proprietors had disallowed both of the laws requiring the oaths, though the Quaker members later went through a form of declaration. Thomas Cary was chosen President by this body, but was not recognized by Glover and his party. In this divided condition, without recognized and legal government, the province remained for two years, 1708 to 1710, and apparently no effort was made by the Lords Proprietors or their representatives in South Carolina to pronounce definitely in favor of either party. Though no hostilities of importance seem to have occurred, some of William Glover's leading supporters retired into Virginia rather than live under what they considered an illegal government and amid conditions so unsettled.

In the summer of 1710, Edward Hyde arrived in North Carolina as the Deputy of Governor Edward Tynte of the southern province. But the sudden death of the latter had made it impossible for Hyde to procure his commission, and therefore he had to refer for proof of his claims to statements in private letters. But these were convincing; William Glover at once retired in his favor; Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia recognized him, and most of the wealthier inhabitants of North Carolina submitted to his government. Thomas Cary did this at first, but later put himself again at the head of a factious opposition. President Edward Hyde called an Executive Council, opened the courts which had been closed during the recent disturbances, and in the summer of 1711 summoned a General Assembly. He was thus organizing what proved in the end to be a legal government, but he was forced to wait nearly a year and a half for his commission as governor from the Lords Proprietors, and did not take the oaths of office until May 1, 1712. The General Assembly, which had been elected under influences favorable to an establishment, passed Acts requiring that the oaths should be administered and lawful government maintained. It also provided for the recovery of the rents and fees which Thomas Cary had collected and of the deeds of land to the Palatines which were in his possession. All of Cary's Acts were declared illegal and void, and he, with Porter, was ordered to be taken into custody.

But Governor Edward Hyde was unable either to execute the laws or to bring the prisoners to trial. Cary soon escaped, declared himself President, and prepared with a brigantine and a force of men to attack Governor Hyde. In this move, which was essentially warlike in its character, Cary probably had the assistance of only a few of the Quakers. The governor and his Executive Council retired to a place of safety and sent an urgent message to Virginia for aid. Governor Spotswood and his council resolved at first to try mediation. Therefore they sent John Clayton with two letters to Cary, the one conciliatory in tone, and the other - to be delivered only in case he should persist in his rebellion - declaring the purpose of the Virginia government to support Governor Hyde. At first Cary expressed his willingness to confer with his opponent and even named a place. But soon after, whether from fear of foul play or not, he changed his mind, and advanced again to attack the governor. Clayton now returned to Virginia bearing a request for armed assistance. Governor Spotswood ordered out the militia of the southern Virginia counties and sent a body of marines from a guardship into North Carolina. But before they reached the Chowan River, Thomas Cary abandoned forcible resistance and with a few of his associates retired into the Tuscarora country, whence they soon passed into Virginia. There they declared their purpose of going to England to justify their conduct before the Lords Proprietors. Governor Alexander Spotswood, as soon as he ascertained by examining them that their only desire was a fair trial, hastened their departure, with such information as he could give about the uprising. Sometime later a preliminary complaint was sent over by Governor Edward Hyde and his Executive Council, who in the meantime had resumed the unobstructed administration of government.

In November of 1711, Thomas Cary was granted two hearings by the Lords Proprietors, and replied in person and in writing to Governor Hyde's accusations. But the board of Proprietors was weaker and more indifferent than it had been at the time of the previous rebellion. The pressure to which it, in connection with all the other colonial Proprietors, was being subjected by Crown and Parliament, reduced the board to impotence in the face of internal disorder. It was content to let disturbances end as they might and with as little offense as possible. Sorrow was expressed that Governor Hyde had been compelled to resort to force to uphold his government. He was instructed to have Cary's accounts with the Lords Proprietors audited; also to make all possible reparation to those who had suffered injury. A full account of the disturbances should be submitted, so that, if the Queen should require an answer, it might be given in satisfactory form. Beyond this no action seems to have been taken.

With the outbreak of the Tuscarora War in 1711, for which the divided state of the province furnished an excellent occasion, civil broils were forgotten in the common effort to save the province from ruin at the hands of the savages. In 1713, soon after the close of the Indian war, Charles Eden was appointed governor, and enjoyed a peaceful and successful administration of eight years. By a General Assembly in 1715 the laws of the province were revised and for the first time systematically arranged and printed. By one of the Acts of that session provision was made for the establishment of the church and for the division of the province into parishes. But, as in the law by which in South Carolina the church secured its permanent establishment, all reference to a religious test was omitted. The Act was allowed to go into effect and, by virtue of it, during the remainder of the colonial period the confession of the minority of the inhabitants of North Carolina became entitled to legal privileges.

During the session of 1715, and for two or three years thereafter, Edward Moseley, supported by certain others who had been sympathizers with Thomas Cary, led an opposition to the governor. Moseley was, in 1715, Speaker of the House of Burgesses. A series of resolutions was secretly passed by that body, censuring the government for impressing inhabitants under pretense that it was for the public service, for alleged ill treatment of the Coree Indians, and for refusing to accept bills of credit in payment of fees and quit-rents. The resolutions were intended for submission to the Lords Proprietors, but, if presented, they called forth no action which was favorable to the objects of the petitioners. When, in the following year, their existence became known to the Executive Council, it by formal vote condemned them, both on account of their contents and because they had been clandestinely passed. In 1718, Moseley, because, in conjunction with Maurice Moore, he had seized the journals of the Executive Council and other public papers from the house of the Deputy Secretary, was heavily fined, deprived of his license as an attorney, put under security for good behavior, and declared incapable of holding office for three years. This severe penalty not only closed the career of Edward Moseley as a leader of opposition, but indicated that the province was emerging from its earlier and anarchical conditions, and government within it was assuming a firmer texture. The peace of proprietary North Carolina was not again seriously disturbed.

The American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century.
Osgood, Herbert L.
New York: Columbia University Press, 1904 [with minor edits]

With the establishment of four new precincts in Albemarle County in 1668 - Chowan, Currituck, Pasquotank, and Perquimans - Albemarle County began to slowly fade into oblivion as a geopolitical entity. In 1689, the Lords Proprietors ordered that the entire Carolina colony be considered as just two distinct political entities - "Ye Lands North and East of Cape Feare," and "Ye Lands South and West of Cape Feare" - and all new governors thereafter would govern these two regions independently.

However, Albemarle County continued in existence until March 8, 1738/9, when it was abolished along with Bath County. All "precincts" within the old Albemarle County and Bath County were now called "counties" in their own rights.

In 1680, for some silly reason, the Lords Proprietors decided to rename the original four precincts of Chowan, Currituck, Pasquotank, and Perquimans. Chowan was renamed as Shaftesbury Precinct, Currituck was renamed as Carteret Precinct, Pasquotank was renamed as Albemarle Precinct, and Perquimans was renamed as Berkeley Precinct. It did not meet with success as the thinly-settled precincts, such as Carteret, objected to the rent on land being paid in silver rather than provisions. Peter Carteret, a relative of Sir George Carteret, was governor of the province at this time and the dissatisfaction increased to such an extent that he abandoned the colony and went back to England in 1673. By 1688, settlers from Albemarle County had spread southward along the coast as far as the Cape Fear settlement.

However thinly settled, the citizens, some who had been in the area since before any names were assigned, objected to the new precinct names. Interesting how people can get used to a name in a short period of time. Therefore, by the mid-1680s, all four were given back their original names, which they retain to this day.

In 1696, Bath County was separated from Albemarle County. Bath County extended from the southern shores of the Albemarle Sound down to the unsurveyed limits of the province and when Carteret County was first established some years later, it included the entire unsettled region embracing the Cape Fear and down to the undefined South Carolina line. The settlements in the region about Carteret were not growing rapidly because of trouble with the Indians.

According to the Depression Era WPA book entitled, "North Carolina - A Guide to the Old North State" within the Federal Writers Project named the American Guide Series, first published in 1939 by the University of North Carolina Press - the very first location for the Albemarle Government was held at Halls Creek, opposite Halls Creek Church, in what is present-day Pasquotank County, about three miles north of Nixonton.

"It convened by order of William Drummond, North Carolina's first Governor; George Catchmaid was speaker. The assembly petitioned the Proprietors to all the North Carolinians to hold their lands under the same conditions as the Virginians. Accession to this request was made in what is known as the Great Deed of Grant (1668). Tradition relates that one of the bylaws of the assembly provided that 'the members should wear shoes, if not stockings' during the session of the body and that they 'must not throw their chicken and other bones under the tree.'"

In 1710, the "seat" of the Albemarle County government was situated along the Little River, in what is today Perquimans County. Precise location is not currently known.

In 1696, Bath County was created out of the southern portion of the existing Albemarle County, and Bath County began at the southern shores of the Albemarle Sound to the southern-most extension of the northern colony, around the Cape Fear region, which was not yet settled.

With the creation of the first four precincts of Albemarle County in 1668 - Chowan, Currituck, Pasquotank, and Perquimans - these precincts had been authorized to elect five (5) representatives to the House of Burgesses held in Albemarle County. When Bath County was erected in 1696, it was only authorized to elect and send two (2) representatives to the House of Burgessess. Since the population was so small, it was not an issue in 1696. However, as the population of Bath County grew and new precincts were erected, starting in 1705, the citizens of Bath County began to feel that they were not treated fairly and began demanding equal representation. However, the Lords Proprietors ignored their demands, and a fairer representation was not accomplished until after the Crown took over North Carolina in 1729.

Click Here to see the approximate boundaries of the original Albemarle County.
Click Here to view/download an Adobe PDF file of the book, entitled "In Ancient Albemarle," by Catherine Albertson, published in 1914.


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