A History of Camden, North Carolina

Camden County Court House - Camden, North Carolina - 2016

The Camden Court House, a Greek Revival brick structure with a portico of four columns on brick piers, was built in 1847. This court house replaced a wooden structure built in 1782.

In 1792, the seat of Camden County was incorporated as Jonesburgh, known as Plank Bridge as early as 1740, by 1840 the community is known by the name of Camden Court House, which was later shortened to simply Camden. The county and the town was named in honor of Sir Charles Pratt, first Earl of Camden, England, as a token of gratitude because of his vigorous defense of the colonists in their complaints against the mother country.
Camden County was too busy with the American Revolution to build a court house until 1782. In 1790, General Isaac Gregory was appointed by President George Washington to be the first Collector of Customs for the Port of Camden or "Plank Bridge," as it was called at that point in time. This Port of Entry was on Sawyer's Creek in the Camden community and was a port of considerable maritime activity, bringing commercial benefits to the entire community.

Joseph Jones made an attempt to establish a town here called Jonesburgh. Wharves and warehouses dotted the banks of the creek to Murden's Landing on the Pasquotank River. However, due to the shallow creek and ships of heavier tonnage being built, the once flourishing trade vanished. The Port of Entry was moved to Elizabeth City in 1830.

After the American Revolution, Joseph Jones attempted with considerable success of establishing a town at Plank Bridge in the center of the county. This development progressed to the point of laying out the town of Jonesburgh and the location was made a Port of Entry. At the same time a similar expansion was going on at River Bridge in the South Mills area, and for a while this development was referred to as the town of Joppa. But all three were destined to fail; events were already in the making which would finally result in the town of Elizabeth City.

As a result of his business enterprises Joseph Jones amassed a fortune. Among other undertakings he was a merchant and one of his chief interests seems to have centered around exportation and importation of commodities. Before the American Revolution he conducted his trading enterprises chiefly from the developments at Old Trap Bay and Milltown near Shiloh. After the war he concentrated his interests at Plank Bridge near Camden, and at River Bridge in the vicinity of South Mills.

At Plank Bridge his efforts to establish a town met with considerable success for a while. From Murden's landing all the way up Sawyers Creek to the Bridge appeared many wharves and storehouses. Plank Bridge was made a Port of Entry. In his Travel Memoirs the Duc de la Rochefaucauld-Liantour comments upon the activity of the location when he visited there in 1798 with Talleyrand, although it must be confessed he was greatly confused in his geography since he located Plank Bridge as being near Wilmington.

A town was laid out on the north side of the Bridge and named Jonesburgh in honor of the founder. In a deed which Jones made on July 17, 1792, to his daughter Sally and her husband Michael Fennell, the description of “certain Lotts in the Town of Jonesburgh on Sawyers Creek” reads in part as follows:

“Lott No. 34—beginning on the north side of State Street, running north 87° west to Second Street thence running south 3° west to Market Street.”

The project, however, was doomed to failure. The shipwrights were continually building vessels of heavier tonnage so that a greater depth of water was increasingly necessary. The town of Redding, which was to be renamed Elizabeth City, had already been laid out at a site below on the river where deeper water could accommodate the larger craft, and to this location commercial craft were gradually but inevitably attracted. Today not a vestige of the town of Jonesburgh remains, and of the numerous warehouses and wharfs once standing there is visible only an occasional rotting pier in the waters, which have resumed their immemorial dark stillness.

In "Miscellaneous American State Papers," dated in 1802, "Patric" Garvey is listed as Deputy Postmaster for Jonesburgh and he was paid $4.62 for the year.

After the American Revolution, Camden, which meant the Plank Bridge location, was made a Port of Entry for the extreme northeastern district, and because of the seafaring activity attracted hither as a consequence, for a time prospects for the development of an urban settlement seemed favorable. Jonesburgh was the name of the town laid out by Joseph Jones at Plank Ridge on Sawyers Creek.

Dempsey Sawyer Burgess, the first postmaster appointed, was a son of the Revolutionary officer and Congressman, Colonel Dempsey Burgess, and a native of the Shiloh community. He probably was induced to settle in the Jonesburgh community because of his marriage to Margaret Fennell, daughter of Michael and Sally Fennell and grandaughter of Joseph Jones. This was also the home of his maternal uncles, Congressman Lemuel Sawyer and the wealthy and politically powerful Enoch Sawyer, who at the time was Collector of the Port. It is not surprising, therefore, that Burgess was the recipient of a political appointment.

He was fortunate in not having to depend upon his salary for a living, since his pay for the first year was $12.52. Both he and his wife had inherited considerable estates which enabled them to live the pleasant lives of the affluent of their time. Apparently he made no further efforts in the field of politics in which his forbears had been preeminent for generations. His death as a young man, however, permits only speculation as to what he might have accomplished.

Jonesburgh was granted a US Post Office on April 1, 1798, and its first Postmaster was Mr. Josiah Jones. This US Post Office Department officially renamed Jonesburgh to Camden C.H. on April 10, 1826 with Postmaster Mr. Alexander Gordon. In 1892, the US Post Office Department finally dropped the "C.H." It has been in continuous operation ever since.

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