Carolina - The Virginian Settlers

The first Europeans to settle in Carolana came from Virginia

As early as 1632, the Virginians considered parts of what is now North Carolina to be their "Southern Plantation." As the James Town settlement finally started growing, the population soon wanted more land. However, the Great Dismal Swamp made it seem that anything south of James Town was not worth pursuing. Soon, intrepid explorers discovered that the Great Dismal Swamp did not go on forever and there were actually "wonderful lands" within a few days' trek south of James Town. Click Here to see Virginia's claimed "Southern Plantation."

Most historians, professional and amateur, agree that the "first European settler" known to have taken up residence in the new colony of Carolina was Nathaniel Batts (c.1620-1679), from Nansemond County, Virginia.

According to some folks, Batts arrived and settled along the southwest side of the Pasquotank River, having purchased land from the Yeopim Indians living there. Some claim he arrived and settled at this location in 1650. Some say it was 1653, while others claim it was 1657. Most accept that Batts perhaps "bought" his tract of land as early as 1650 - perhaps a little later - but, he did not settle on it immediately, more likely he was a part-time "trader" with the Indians and his permanent home was in Nansemond County, Virginia. But as of 1657, Batts was pretty much living at his Pasquotank River home.

Nathanial Batts was probably one of the group employed in 1653 and 1654 by Francis Yeardley, prominent planter of Lynnhaven, Virginia to establish a fur trade with the Indians to the southward and to explore that region in detail.

In 1655, Yeardley sent Robert Bodnam, a carpenter, to the south to build a house 20 ft square (containing two rooms and a chimney) for Batts to live in while he traded with the Indians. The house was erected beside Salmon Creek (then Fletts Creek) at the western end of the Albemarle (then Roanoke) Sound. This trading post appears on the Nicholas Comberford map of 1657, entitled "The South Part of Virginia," with the legend 'Batts House' indicated on the map.

He married on May 25, 1656 to Mary Woodhouse, a widow with some property; they lived in Lower Norfolk County on the Woodhouse plantation, Roede, which eventually came to be called Batts Quarters. Even before this marriage he was in financial difficulty as seen in the marriage agreement, he was "indebted to some men in VA," and promised not to use his wife's property to satisfy any of his debts. The following year, the Virginia General Court gave him as his reward for the discovery of an inlet protection from all his creditors within this county for one year and a day. Batts was frequently involved in litigation over the non-payment of his debts and other matters. Despite his financial problems, he acquired nine hundred acres of land in Nansemond County from Samuel Stephens and later sold the land to Colonel Thomas Francis.

Along with his important interest in Virginia, Batts continued to be heavily involved in Carolina. On September 24, 1660 he purchased from Kiscutanewh, king of the Yeopim Indians, all the land on the west bank of the Pasquotank River from its mouth to the head of New Begin Creek. This transaction, which survives in the records of Lower Norfolk County, Virginia is the oldest known surviving North Carolina land deed. Batts also held land in Chowan Precinct on which he lived for a time (the Salmon Creek area). His best known holding was Heriots Island at the mouth of Yeopim River at the Albemarle Sound, which by 1672 was called Batts Island and by the 1690s as Batts Grave.

In 1672, George Fox, founder of the Quaker sect, visited Carolina, met Batts, and visited him at his Chowan plantation. Fox reported that Batts "had been a rude, desperate man" but that he attended some of Fox's meetings and seemed interested in healing by means of prayer. Fox says that Batts "had been Governor of Roanoke" and refers to him as "the Old Governor." No other sources support this claim.

Pasquotank County takes great pride in knowing that the first land grant in North Carolina occurred there when Kiscutanaweh, chief of the Yeopim Indians deeded to Nathaniel Batts “all ye land on ye southwest side of Pascotank River from ye mouth of ye sd river to ye head of New Begin Creeke.” What falls between the cracks many times, however, is that the land at that time was considered to be part of Norfolk County, Virginia, and the deed was actually recorded there. Therefore, the first recorded land grant in North Carolina actually belongs to George Durant.

Only little is known of George Durant. However, the story of Durant and the tract of land that would come to be known as Durant’s Neck in present-day southern Perquimans County is a very interesting story.

Shortly after his marriage in January of 1658 in Northumberland County, Virginia to Ann Marwood, Durant decided he wanted to make a home away from his Nansemond County residence. Where Durant was living at the time is not known. Possibilities include Northumberland County, Westmoreland County, or Nansemond County. It is known that at this time, he joined with at least six other gentlemen including John Battle, Thomas Relfe, Roger Williams, Thomas Jarvis, John Harvey, and John Jenkins to explore the Albemarle area, at the time a Virginia frontier called Roanoke. Many of these men bought land which Durant was witness to, including the one dated September 24, 1660 to Nathaniel Batts. It is possible that Durant was employed by Batts. Richard Batts, Nathaniel Batts brother, was a sea captain, and it is known that Durant was a mariner.

It is known that land was purchased from Cisketando, a Yeopim Indian chief on August 4, 1661. Shortly after, Durant purchased more land from the Yeopim. This deed is now recorded in the Perquimans County records, making it the oldest deed in North Carolina. The area that Durant settled, now known as Durant’s Neck, proved to be a good location for him. Located in present Perquimans County on a tract of land jutting into the Albemarle Sound, the soil proved to be good for growing corn and wheat. In addition, cattle and swine were prosperous, as were the numerous forest animals. Unfortunately, Durant would have many problems with this tract of land.

One year after Durant settled his land, Virginia Governor William Berkeley informed all settlers that if they obtained land from the Indians, they must now obtain grants from Virginia. Under these rules, Berkely granted George Catchmaid of Northumberland County, Virginia the same land that Durant was living upon. Durant, feeling the land was rightfully his, refused to move.

It did not take long for the two men to temporarily settle their differences. They both agreed that Durant could settle the western side of the point, Catchmaid the east. Catchmaid also promised to have the land patented in Durant’s name. Unfortunately for Durant, Catchmaid died before the patent was obtained. To complicate matters for Durant, Catchmaid’s widow, remarried a wealthy Quaker, Timothy Biggs, with whom he did not get along. Biggs, ignoring the gentlemanly agreement made between Durant and Catchmaid, pursued the title. Not until 1697, almost three years after Durant’s death was a suit won by Durant’s son giving them legal title to the land they had been living for thirty-five years.

James Town, Virginia was the first permanent English settlement in the New World in 1607. The first twenty to thirty years were very difficult and the Virginians barely survived many winters and many Indian attacks. After they "discovered" tobacco and learned how to grow and cultivate it effectively (1614) they were soon "exporting" plenty to England and making a profit. By 1639, James Town exported 750 tons of tobacco. Tobacco was now the entire English colonies' chief export.

With prosperity came more immigrants, primarily from England and Wales, but also some French Huguenots and Germans/Swiss. During the English Civil War (1642-1649), Virginia became a haven for "Cavaliers," the supporters of King Charles I, who was ultimately deposed and beheaded by the opposition who came to power, under the rule of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell was backed by the Puritans, also called "Roundheads," who wanted to transform England into a "purer form" of Protestantism than what had been in place with the Church of England (Anglican).

Soon after Cromwell's power was consolidated in England, the Puritans soon went after Virginia. In 1651, the Puritans removed Virginia Governor William Berkeley from office and replaced him with one of their choosing, Richard Bennett. Most of the Virginians were outraged by this and many immediately sought newer lands, and of course, the first place to look was to the "Southern Plantation" of Carolina. However, Carolina was not yet a reality - Sir Robert Heath was granted Carolana in 1629, but he did virtually nothing with it. He turned it over to Henry Frederick Howard, Lord Maltrevers, who made several attempts, but nothing came of his failed efforts but more frustration.

So, where did that leave the irritated Virginians in 1651? Only the choice to settle into Carolina "illegally." Many did. There are no complete records of the period from 1651 to 1663, when Carolina became a "legal" settling place, but it is estimated that "hundreds" of unhappy Virginian "Cavaliers" made their way to the "Southern Plantation," with most of the Virginia government completely unaware, or at least unconcerned. The Nathaniel Batts and George Durant "stories" above are just typical of the unknown number who made their way into Carolina during the "illegal" period.

By 1660, Cromwell and the Puritans were out of power and the English royalty was restored with the coronation of King Charles II, the son of Charles I. Many influential persons in Virginia and in Barbados and Bermuda (the other two primarily "Cavalier" enclaves) helped Charles II while he was in exile, and now they came looking for "pay-backs," which he could not refuse. In 1663, Carolina was granted to eight Lords Proprietors, and in 1665, the Lords Proprietors "asked" for a second charter - to increase the boundaries of Carolina to now include more of what was previously considered to be Virginia (plus, more to the south, but that's another story). King Charles II approved the modified grant.

In 1665, many who once considered themselves to be Virginians were now Carolinians. The numbers were most likely only a couple of hundred, but could have been upwards of five hundred or so. Not a large quantity, but at least the "new colony" now had a population, whereas prior to the 1665 Charter it had less than one hundred. And, they were all "Virginians." (Not including the Native Americans, a separate section in this website.)

From 1665 to 1700, Virginia was exploding with new immigrants looking for land to plant tobacco, among other things. The western frontier of Virginia expanded considerably, thanks to the many "explorers" who brought back wonderful news about their own colony, as well as wonderful news about their sister colony, Carolina. The greatest majority who arrived in James Town between 1665 and 1698, and after 1698, in Williamsburg, did ultimately settle and live in Virginia. A minority chose to go south into Carolina, but it was a steady trickle, to say the least.

One can safely assert that "more than 95%" of the Virginians who uprooted themselves and permanently moved into Carolina settled in the Albemarle region of northeastern Carolina. Very few had any interest in the "southern end of Carolina" - Charles Town - because it was being settled mostly by those from Barbados, a different culture. Surely, some of the Virginians did make it to the Charles Town region, but not many.

The Virginians who became Carolinians essentially brought all of their "Virginia baggage" along with them. Most were Anglicans (Church of England) with little tolerance of "dissenters" - those who were not particularly fond of the Church of England, but certainly a growing minority, in the colonies and in England. The dissenters were of the other Protestant sects that were already growing in numbers throughout Europe, as well as in the British Isles. Originally, the term "dissenter" included the Puritans who were among the first to oppose the Church of England, but over time they seem to have grown into a "category" of their own and most often are not included.

Dissenters typically included Presbyterians, Quakers, Baptists, Congregationalists, Unitarians, and after 1795, Methodists (too late for this discussion) in Carolina. Their unpopularity with Anglicans stemmed from their radical ideas and a continuing fear that, once empowered, they might disestablish the church. They rejected the church's thirty-nine Articles of Faith, rejected the Act of Uniformity (1662) and the Test Act (1673), both of which limited in their civil and political rights.

As northeastern Carolina began to evolve away from its Virginia roots, the dissenters became more vocal and more emboldened in asserting their "rights" within the colony. This happened as well in the southern region around Charles Town, but was an independent evolution, perhaps somewhat tied to what was transpiring in the Albemarle region since "news" did manage to travel back and forth between the two groups.

Since there were so many "waterways" along the northeastern Carolina coast, the geography of this area was not well-suited for a "plantation" style culture, as flourished in and around Charles Town. There were a few large plantations in North Carolina, but most settlers eked out a living on fairly small plots of land along the many waterways - just to be able to get around. Cutting and building roads was not high on the North Carolinians' priority list. Pathways and old Indian trails suited them just fine.

These settlers simply wanted their own "little piece of heaven" and for everyone to just leave them alone. Farms were widely spread out all over the region, with families sticking close to each other, among friends they had known for generations. With very little "hostilities" between the new settlers and the Native Americans, there was none of the usual reasons to "clump into towns." There simply was no need and no great desire. In fact, the first town of North Carolina was not even established until 1705 - Bath - forty-two years after the colony was founded.

Sometime around 1691, the names "North Carolina" and "South Carolina" began to be used within the colony as well as in England and the other American colonies. Most of this "world" keenly understood that "North Carolina" was the outgrowth of the Viginian "Cavaliers," whereas "South Carolina" was the result of primarily the Barbadian influence. The two Carolinas were truly that different, not only in geography, but in culture and history, albeit a short history.

"The Split" of Carolana into North Carolina and South Carolina was a slow transition, starting as early as 1691, becoming an effective reality around 1711 or 1712, and an official reality in 1729, when the Lords Proprietors were dismissed (and bought out by the Crown). During these 30 plus years, each region began to assert its own identity, slowly shedding the vestiges of the "Virginian" or "Barbadian" influences and adopting their own uniqueness as well as their own cultures.


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