A History of Nixonton, North Carolina

In 1746, the town of Nixonton laid out in Pasquotank County on a site along the Little River originally known as “Windmill Point.” It was incorporated in 1758 as Nixon’s Town, named for Zachariah Nixon, an early settler and prominent Quaker.

Pasquotank County was formed as early as 1668 as a precinct of Albemarle County. Its name is derived from an Indian word pasketanki which meant "where the current of the stream divides or forks." It is in the northeastern section of the state and is bounded by Albemarle Sound and Perquimans, Gates, and Camden counties.

It is not known when the first court house was built, but from 1737 to 1757 the court house was at Brook Field. In 1758, it was moved to Relfe's Point. It remained there until 1762 or probably a little later. From 1765 until 1785, the court house was at Winfield.

In 1784, the General Assembly directed that the court house be moved to Nixonton, and from 1785 to 1800 Nixonton was the County Seat. In 1799, Elizabeth (City) Town was named the county seat and on June 6, 1800, the first court was held there. Elizabeth City was first called Redding, which was established in 1793. Redding was changed to Elizabeth Town in 1794, and Elizabeth Town was changed to Elizabeth City in 1801. It is the current county seat of Pasquotank County.

Journal written by James Currie (1756-1805) during a voyage on the American sloop Betsy from Nixonton, North Carolina to St. Martin's in the Caribbean, September 19 to October 29, 1776. The monotony of the voyage was broken by an unidentified vessel that fired upon and chased Betsy, and by an encounter with the Continental privateer, the Independent. In 1777, Currie returned to Scotland where he studied medicine and later moved to Liverpool.
The establishment of a ferry at the narrows in the 1770s was an important boost to the future site of Elizabeth City. The ferry quickly overshadowed earlier ferries across the Pasquotank River at sites both up and down river from the narrows. Collet's Map (1770) reveals that the road from Norfolk to Nixonton (then the only town in Pasquotank County) passed by the narrows, a path now generally followed by Road Street. A road also ran south from the narrows to Newbegun, a trading community now known as Weeksville.
The tiny port of Nixonton, which became a center of Quaker commerce, was established on the Little River in Pasquotank County during the mid-1740s.
A historical marker near Nixonton marks the spot where the state's first public school was built in 1705. Although the marker proclaims the school to be the state's first public school, it initially served as a private Episcopal school under the direction of Charles Griffin.
The county's first settlement and commercial center was Nixonton, along the Little River. Laid out by at least 1746 and incorporated in 1758, Nixonton remained the county's only incorporated town for almost fifty years and served as the county seat from 1785 to 1799. At that point the county seat moved to Elizabeth City at "The Narrows" of the Pasquotank River, where the river narrows down from the wide outlet to Albemarle Sound to the winding, narrow river that leads out of the Great Dismal Swamp. Elizabeth City itself was founded in 1793, the same year that construction began on the Dismal Swamp Canal, a commercial water passageway leading from the Elizabeth River in Norfolk, Virginia, to Elizabeth City.
Nixonton, Elizabeth City's nearest Pasquotank neighbor, is said to be 55 years older than Elizabeth City. At one time in the history of these two communities, the population of Nixonton was ten times that of Elizabeth City, Nixonton having 600 with Elizabeth City having only 60.

Nixonton, the oldest community in Pasquotank County, is situated on the north bank of the Little River which forms a complete boundary between the counties of Perquimans and Pasquotank. A study of its more then 200 years of history discloses a series of events and happenings of which residents can be proud. One mile north of Nixonton, at Hall's Creek, the first Albemarle Assembly met, on February 6, 1665, under a big oak tree.

From 1705 to 1708, Charles Griffin taught the first school in North Carolina at Symond's Creek, which is about a mile east of Nixonton.

Nixonton was the third county seat of Pasquotank County (1785-1799).

From the Colonial Records of 1758, an interesting account of the chartering of Nixonton reads as follows:

"Whereas it has been represented to the Assembly that in the year of Our Lord 1746, 161.5 acres of land were purchased from Zachariah Nixon for a town and commons - 50 acres of which laid out in one-half-acre lots with convenient streets - that there are now upwards of 20 habitable houses erected thereon and upwards of 70 inhabitants and the same might be improved if it were enacted into a town by lawful authority, Be it therefore enacted by the Council and Assembly and by authority of same that said 161.5 acres of land be and the same is hereby constituted, enacted and established a town and a town commons, and shall be called by the name Nixon's Town. And be it further enacted by the authority of the aforesaid that from and after passing this Act Joseph Robertson, Thomas Nicholson, William Lane, Aaron Morris, and Francis Nixon be and they and everyone of them are hereby constituted directors and trustees for designing, building, carrying on the said town. Provided nevertheless that every grantee of any lot or lots in the said town so conveyed shall within three years next after date of purchase erect, build, and finish on each ot so conveyed, one good habitable house with a brick or stone chimney - house 20 feet long, 15 feet wide, 9 feet pitch in the clear, or proportionate to such dimensions."

There are only three of these old houses now standing. The old Customs House, the first in North Carolina, now owned by the Eugene Scott family; the John Morris place, where the Richard Barclift family lives; and the Halstead House, moved and restored by Miss Mary Yarborough of Raleigh and Misses Minnie and Elizabeth Nash of Elizabeth City.

From old records dated September 20, 1785, it is found that serving directors and trustees of the town of Nixonton made and indenture to Devotion Davis and Benjamin White, two commissioners appointed by Act of Assembly to erect a court house, prison, pillory, and stocks for the county's use, for five pounds paid by the commissioners.

After Nixonton became incorporated into a town, its citizens turned their eyes to education. In 1803, nineteen men were appointed trustees to build a Nixonton Academy. The academy was chartered in 1804. By the middle 1830s, it was abandoned and move to Symond's Creek. It was recently restored by its present owner, Miss Imogene Riddick.

Prior to the Civil War period, Nixonton was a flourishing community, with a court house, jail, four stores, a gin, sawmill, a coach factory, shipyard, three taverns, and two ordinaries (taverns). For many years a lively trade was carried on between Nixonton and the West Indies and England.

Today, Nixonton is a quiet residential community of approximately 25 families.

From Volume 3 of the Yearbook of Pasquotank Historical Society. pub. 1975., with minor edits.

Nixonton was granted a US Post Office on July 1, 1794, and its first Postmaster was Mr. Charles McMorine. On July 1, 1811, this PO was closed, reason unknown. The second incarnation of Nixonton was granted a US Post Office on March 25, 1854, with Postmaster Mr. Reuben F. Averman. On March 11, 1859, this PO was closed, reason unknown. The third incarnation of Nixonton wa granted a US Post Office on June 21, 1880, with Postmaster Mr. William Morris. This PO was permanently closed on September 30, 1903.

© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved