Bath County, North Carolina


A History of Bath County

Bath County was carved out of Albemarle County in 1696 and, four years later, the Rev. Thomas Bray shipped books from England to St. Thomas Parish with the Reverend Daniel Brett for the first public library in the colony. The parish also established a free school for Indians and blacks.

In 1705, Archdale, Pamtecough, and Wicham precincts were established in Bath County. In 1705, Bath Town became the first town created in the northern colony. In 1712, the early precincts were renamed - Archdale became Craven Precinct; Pamtecough became Beaufort Precinct; and Wickham became Hyde Precinct.

Construction of St. Thomas Church, the oldest existing church in the state, began in 1734.

As colonists from Virginia first moved overland into the Albemarle region, other Englishmen and their African slaves began arriving by sea to establish settlements farther south along the Ashley River. For the remainder of the seventeenth century, and for the first quarter of the eighteenth, the European settlement of North Carolina would take place as it had started-from the north. As land ran short in the original Albemarle County, colonists moved into the region around Pamlico Sound, and population centers developed in both regions. Before long, towns - Edenton, Bath, New Bern, and Beaufort - would dot the Carolina waterways. 

The earliest of the Pamlico centers was Bath Town. Incorporated in 1706, Bath is situated in present-day Beaufort County on the north bank of the Pamlico River. One of the first residents and commissioners of Bath was explorer-naturalist John Lawson. In February of 1701, when Lawson completed his "thousand miles travel" through the Carolinas, he emerged from the backwoods within twenty miles of the town's future location. Lawson may have chosen the site for Bath Town; it is certain that he helped lay out the town before its incorporation.

The county and the town of Bath was named in honor of one of the Lords Proprietor, John Grenville, 1st Earl of Bath.

After 1704, however, North Carolina was again in turmoil, the causes being bad governors and continued attempts to establish the Church of England at the expense of the Dissenters, more than half of whom were Quakers. During this first decade of the eighteenth century, settlers came in increased numbers.

Huguenots came from France and settled at Bath near Pamlico Sound; Germans from the Rhine founded New Bern at the junction of the Trent and Neuse rivers. The white population was now about five thousand; Albemarle settlement had extended many miles into the forest; this involved encroachment on the soil of the native red man - and it brought its troubles.

In the autumn of 1711, a terrible Indian massacre took place in North Carolina. Hundreds of settlers fell victims of the merciless tomahawk. Various tribes, led by a large group of Tuscaroras, engaged in the massacre. But the people rallied, and, receiving aid from South Carolina, they, led by Colonel John Barnwell and later Colonel James Moore, hunted the red men from place to place and in a great battle near the Neuse River destroyed four hundred of their warriors. At length the Tuscaroras, whose ancestors had come from New York, resolved to abandon their southern home and return to the land of their fathers. They removed in 1714 and joined the Iroquois or Five Nations of New York, and that confederation was afterward known as the Six Nations.

Bath County, NC was formed in 1696, taking in the settlements on the Pamlico and Neuse Rivers, some of the settlements south of Albemarle Sound, and later, including those down the coast to the South Carolina line (not surveyed until the 1730s). Bath had been under the jurisdiction of Albemarle County prior to 1696. In 1705, Bath County was divided into 3 precincts: (1) Wickham (became Hyde County in 1712); (2) Pamtecough (became Beaufort County in 1712); and (3) Archdale (became Craven County in 1712). When Bath County was abolished by an Act of the NC General Assembly on March 8, 1738/9, its now seven precincts, Hyde, Beaufort, Craven, Carteret, New Hanover, Bladen, and Onslow, became known as counties in their own rights.

When Bath County was first established in 1696, it was authorized to elect and send two (2) representatives to the House of Burgesses. Each of the four (4) precincts in Albemarle County were authorized to elect and sent five (5) representatives to the House of Burgesses. At first, this was not a big issue for those living in Bath County. But, as the population grew and soon exceeded that of the original Albemarle County and all of its precincts, the citizens of the various precincts in Bath County began to complain loudly that they were not being treated fairly. However, the Lords Proprietors promptly ignored their demands for equal representation. This inequality continued even during the Royal Period, even after many prominent citizens went to London to demand of the Crown to give each county fairer representation. It was not until when North Carolina became its own State that the subject of equal representation was finally addressed and fixed.

What few records exist for Bath County are scattered in the court houses of some of its early precincts, and in the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh. Bath County's earliest recorded deeds, for example, date from 1700 and are included in Beaufort County Deed Book One (1701-1729). However, several early Bath County deeds and other documents, some dated before 1700, may be found in the records of Albemerle County and its precincts. Most of the earliest records of Craven and Hyde Counties have not been preserved. From extant records one may conclude that Bath County's principal seat of government was at the town of Bath (founded 1705) in Beaufort Precinct. Beaufort and Hyde Precincts are known to have also held joint sessions of court, apparently in Beaufort.

Eighteen Bath County wills (1702-1718), mostly for Beaufort and Hyde Precincts, were recorded in Beaufort Precinct and may be found in Beaufort County Deed Book One and are not on record in the will books in the Beaufort County Clerk's Office. Also, ten of the eighteen do not appear in Grimes' "Abstracts of North Carolina Wills 1663-1760" probably because the originals of the ten were never sent to the Secretary of State as required by law. In fact, over sixty more Beaufort County wills, dated 1720 to 1760, were retained in the court house and later copied into the Old Will Book and thus do not appear in Grimes' volume.

Click Here to see the approximate boundaries of Bath County during its existence.
Click Here for an independent website dedicated to preserving the history of Bath County. Link is current as of August 2005 and November 2015.


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