A History of Perquimans Court House, North Carolina

Interestingly, the early records and maps for North Carolina do not point us towards finding where the location of the first Court House for Perquimans County might be. The Colonial Records of the Lords Proprietors' rule (1663-1729) are very incomplete and fragmented, with much to say about "minor disagreements" between litigants, and little to say about the formation of counties, towns, or settlements.

As one of the very earliest four precincts within the larger county of Albemarle, Perquimans County did have its own Court almost since inception. However, due to the turmoil brought on by the early leaders, governors, and Lords Proprietors of the colony, most of the "important" business was carried out at the "Higher Court" levels, i.e., not at the "precinct" level. These "Higher Courts" were called by many names, such as the General Court, which was convened by the governor and his Executive Souncil; the Court of Chancery, which was a court of equity convened by the governor and Deputies/Executive Council, and the Palatine's Court, which handled certain matters related to escheated land, the administration of estates and decendents and was also convened by the governor and Deputies/Executive Council.

Precinct Courts were left to handle the mundane business of governance that the "Higher Courts" did not wish to bother with, such as trying minor civil actions, probating wills, proving landrights, and registering cattle marks. Any time that a "Higher Court" wanted to it could overtake an issue brought to a Precinct Court, and by the 1690s virtually no Precinct business was transacted at the local level but was taken onward to the "Higher Court." Therefore, it is easy to realize that the Precinct Court location would not be of much importance to anyone other than the civil litigant living nearby who wanted to buy or sell a little land or register his/her cattle mark.

According to the North Carolina State Archives, Albemarle County continued in existence until 1724, but this is a stretch - it was effectively no longer in use after 1689 except for describing the broad area in northeastern North Carolina, which continues to this day. In the 1720s, the Lords Proprietors and their appointed governors watched their power in the colony quickly dwindle to almost nothing - until the Crown took official control of the colony in 1729. New local leaders emerged and began to "take the reigns" of managing their districts more effectively, and the Precinct Courts began their ascendance and long evolution to what became the "county model" just prior to the American Revolution.

The first record of an official Court House in Perquimans County is in 1722 - it was located at Phelps Point at the narrows of the Perquimans River that year. It took thirty-six (36) years for this center of county business to actually grow into a reasonably-sized town, and in 1758 it was renamed to Hertford - before that it was simply known as Perquimans Court House. Intriguing that none of the early maps of North Carolina show this - it is not until after Hertford was so named that it began to show up on any maps.

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