Seth Sothel

Governor of Albemarle 1682 to 1689

Governor of "Ye Lands South and West of Cape Feare" 1690 to 1692

Seth Sothel (also spelled Sothell and Southwell) purchased Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon's interest in the Proprietorship from his son Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, in 1679, so he was now one of the Lords Proprietors. Since he was the first of the Lords Proprietor willing to go to the province, he was appointed the Governorship of both Albemarle County (North Carolina) and later Charles Town (South Carolina) - and turned out to be one of the Colony's biggest tyrants and scaliwags ever seen, at least until modern times.

Following the Culpeper uprising the Lords Proprietors wished to send to the Albermarle settlement a governor who was not partisan of either faction in the late rebellion. Such a man they thought they had in Seth Sothel, who had recently became a Lord Proprietor by the purchase of Clarendon's interest. The Lord Proprietors also anticipated that should they send a Lord Proprietor to govern Albermarle County that his presence would awe the people into order.

But as John Urmstone, a missionary in Albermarle County at the time reported "a Proprietor, were he here would be looked on no better than a ballard-singer".

Nevertheless, in 1679 they commissioned Seth Sothel, governor of Albermarle County.

After leaving England, however, Governor Seth Sothel was captured by Algerian pirates and held for ransom. Pending his release the infant colony was governed first by John Harvey and upon his death by John Jenkins, Harvey having been appointed by the Lords Proprietors and Jenkins selected by the Executive Council. During this period much order was restored and there was little indication of political disturbance.

In late 1682, Seth Sothel, being finally released from captivity, arrived in Carolina to take charge of the government in Albermarle County.

Under the Fundamental Constitutions provided for the Carolina Colony by the English political philosopher, John Locke, each Lord Proprietor had a right to a "seignor" of 12,000 acres in each county. Thus Seth Sothel upon his arrival found himself a landowner of stupendous proportions. He probably took up residence first at his "seignory" in the Pasquotank and though his vast land holdings extended as far as Colleton County in South Carolina, it is doubted if he ever took possession of them.

His administration as governor of Albemarle County was marked by a series of infamous crimes. He has been described as "the dirtiest knave who ever held office in America" and that "during the six years that he misruled the people of North Carolina the dark shades of his character were not relieved by a single ray of virtue."

One historian describing him as a "Most beastly and detestable man" says "he broke up all trade between the colonists and the Indians, that he might monopolize the profits. He seized and confiscated without the shadow of cause, merchant ships and their cargoes. He imprisoned Thomas Pollock of Bal-Gray, Bertie County, for attempting to appeal against his rapacity, and George Durant, having expressed disapprobation of his course, received like treatment and further injury. He stole slaves, cattle, plantations, and even pewter dishes were not exempted from his filthy and rapacious hands. All his sympathies were with villians like himself and no man could be prosecuted who had money to bribe the governor."

Such was the character of Seth Sothel. His name became synonymous with tyranny.

Some who attempted to oppose him were jailed and their estates taken from them. Among the lands Governor Seth Sothel had acquired, legally or otherwise, was a four thousand acre plantation located on Salmon Creek in present Bertie County. This same property was later to bear the name of "Avoca" by which it is known today.

To his Salmon Creek Plantation, Governor Sothel came, about 1685, to take up residence. The locality about Salmon Creek in Bertie County seems to have had an attraction for so many of the prominent political figures of the than infant colony of Carolina. Across the Creek from Governor Sothel at Bal-Gray lived Thomas Pollock, often President of the Council and twice Acting Governor of Albemarle County.

Later, a few miles away, Governor Edward Hyde was to take up residence, as well as Governor Charles Eden and afterwards, Governor Gabriel Johnston. Thus the settlement around Salmon Creek was the hub of so much of the political life of North Carolina's earliest days.

Governor Seth Sothel, after moving to his Salmon Creek plantation continued in the abuse of his office. His administration was still marked by every kind of extortion. The inhabitants of the sparsely populated colony had long grown impatient of this charlatan's miserable behavior. Finally, in 1689, the people rose up against Sothel, seizing his person for the purpose of sending him to England for trial.

It is said that fearing the results of being tried in England he begged the General Assembly to take jurisdiction and administer whatever punishment he deserved. This the local legislature did and after his trial he was declared forever incapable of holding office in Albermarle County and was exiled from the county for a year.

On December 2, 1689, the Lords Proprietors sent a letter to Governor Seth Sothel suspending him from office. Click Here to read that letter.

Seth Sothel then fled to South Carolina where he actually became governor in 1690, but soon met a fate similar to that he had experienced in the northern part of the colony. On November 8, 1691, the Lords Proprietors sent him a letter advising him that his governorship was now cancelled and that Philip Ludwell would soon be in Charles Town as the new governor.

After his banishment we find ex-governor Seth Sothel returning to Albermarle and his home on Salmon Creek where he died in 1692 [one source asserts he died in 1694]. He left no children. His wife had had two previous husbands and on Sothel's death, married again for the fourth time. There is some confusion as to this lady's maiden name. Some genealogists say she was Ann (Anna) Willis of Ipswich, Massachusetts, but Governor Seth Sothel in his will speaks of his father-in-law, Edward Forster.

Anna Willis' husbands before Governor Seth Sothel had been Robert Rascoe of "Roanoke" and James Blount, who came to Carolina from Isle of Wight County, Virginia. Her last husband was Col. John Lear of Nansemond County, Virginia.

Among the items of his will, Governor Seth Sothel left his plantation on Salmon Creek to his friend, Francis Hartley. To his widow, Anna, he left his property in the vicinity of Bath and a life estate in two-thirds of his seignor bounded on Flatty Creek and the Pasquotank River. To his father-in-law, Edward Forster, he gave his plantation at Cuscopenum. To William Duckenfield, William Wilkinson, and Henderson Walker (all members of his Executive Council) he left each five pounds for the purpose of purchasing a good mourning ring. The will is dated January 20, 1689 and probated February 3, 1693.

Robert Rascoe of Roanoke married Anna Willis of Ipswich, Essex County Massachusetts. The actual marriage may have occured in Exeter, Rockingham County New Hampshire (New England Colony) between 1653 and 1660. Robert Rascoe apparently died before 1663 and Anna then married Captain James Blount of Isle of Wright County Virginia and Chowan Province, North Carolina. On June 13, 1663 James Blount was granted letters of administration in rights of his wife Anna on the estate of Robert Rascoe. James Blount died in Chowan County NC in 1685.

After the death of Blount, Anna married Seth Sothel, Provincal Governor of North and South Carolina. In late 1692, Seth Sothel died at his plantation on Salmon Creek in what later became Bertie County, NC. Anna then married her 4th husband, Col. John Lear of Nansemond County Virginia. Anna died sometimes between May 13, 1695 and June 6, 1695. John Lear died in 1696.

After Seth Sothel left his property on Salmon Creek to Francis Hartley, we find that Hartley's widow next came into possession of it. She then married William Duckenfield, hence it then came under the ownership of Duckenfield. In 1702, Duckenfield conveyed the plantation to John Ardene who took out a grant for the said four thousand acres in 1707. The original grant on parchment was still in existence some years ago. John Ardene in his will, probated in 1720, left "that plantation and tract of land called Salmon Creek to kinsman William Duckenfield". The Duckenfield family being Tories at the outbreak of the Revolution, returned to England and never came back to America. As a result their lands were confiscated by the new state of North Carolina.

Later, due to its location at the junction of the Albermarle Sound, Chowan River and Salmon Creek, the plantation was given the name of "Avoca," which from the Latin signified where separate waters came together. In the meantime it had become the home of Cullen Capehart, and until recent years was still owned by his descendants. Due to the enormous hula of "Big Seine" fishing at the close-by fishery, Avoca has been an outstanding landmark in Eastern Carolina for a long number of years, particularly during the eighteen hundreds.

There are numerous petitions and legal documents still in existence relating to the settlement of Governor Sothel's estate. Among the petitions are those pertaining to the non-collection of quit-rents from his lands. One of the longer petitions is of Governor Phillip Ludwell to the General Court asking the collection of quit-rents from the Salmon Creek Plantation. History has never recorded anything favorable concerning Governor Seth Sothel and time has even obliterated the exact location where he is buried, but somewhere along the shores of Bertie County on the Avoca plantation is the grave of that colorful, though tarnished, personality which figured so notoriously in the early narrative of the North Carolina colony.

Respecting Sothel's administration, which continued from 1682 to 1689, it is impossible to speak with full assurance. Only brief accounts of his character and doings have reached us, and they proceed from his enemies. If the complaints which were made against him were true, he was one of the most corrupt and arbitrary of governors.

He was charged with unlawfully imprisoning parties; with detention of them on the false charge that they were pirates; with the unjust seizure of private estates, particularly that of George Durant, which he was said to have converted to his own use without process or color of law; with the refusal to admit a will to probate, and with the acceptance of bribes.

It is said that, when Thomas Pollock proposed to go to England to complain of the injustice which was being done, the governor imprisoned him without showing cause for his act. According to these representations, he used both his judicial and executive powers to their fullest extent for the purpose of plundering the inhabitants of the province.

The toleration of such conduct by the colonists for a series of years, if not wholly incredible, may perhaps be accounted for by the fact that Seth Sothel was one of the Lords Proprietor and that he did not interfere with illegal trade. But finally he was seized and preparations made to send him to England for trial. He then begged that his case might be heard by the next General Assembly.

The prayer was granted, and that body banished him from the colony for a year and decreed that he should never again hold the governorship. Sothel's career in South Carolina immediately follows this section. At its close, ignoring the command of the Lords Proprietors to return to England and submit to an investigation, he went back to Albemarle, where he spent the remainder of his life.

The career of Seth Sothel, whether all the charges against him be true or not, illustrates the degree to which, under the Fundamental Constitutions, a governor might be independent of the Lords Proprietors. Sothel was both Proprietor and Governor. Though an appointee and agent of the board, as soon as he arrived in the province he was more than that.

By virtue of a place in the Proprietary board, which he had reached solely through purchase, he outranked the Deputies more than governors ordinarily would do. He might well afford for a period to ignore their commands. The colonists could not with safety oppose him, as they might one who was solely an appointee. As usual, the Lords Proprietors did nothing that was effective either to enable him to clear his reputation or to bring him to justice if he was guilty.

In 1681, Seth Sothel, a Lord Proprietor and Governor of Albemarle, issued to himself a patent for 12,000 acres of land on the Pamlico. Included in this area was the land along Old Town Creek (now Bath Creek) which included the future site of the town of Bath.
Regarding Seth Sothel's term as Governor of South Carolina (1690-1692), the following has been recorded:

In 1686 came James Colleton as colonial governor. He began his administration with an attempt to establish the Grand Model. The Commons House of Assembly resisted his authority, and the people were embittered against him. The quit-rents came due; payment was refused, and the colony was in a state of rebellion. In order to divert attention from himself, Governor Colleton published a proclamation setting forth the danger of a pretended invasion by the Indians and Spaniards. The militia was called out and the province declared under martial law. It was all in vain. The people were not only exasperated by the arbitrary proceedings of the governor. Tidings came that King James II had been driven from the throne of England by William of Orange.

The people of North Carolina had just performed a similar service for Seth Sothel. Not satisfied with his previous success, he at once repaired to Charles Town and assumed the government of the southern colony on October 6, 1690. To Sothel's other merits were added the qualifications of a first-rate demagogue; he induced the people to acquiesce in his usurpation and to sustain his authority. But his avaricious disposition could not long be held in check.

The Lords Proprietors disclaimed his Acts and after a turbulent rule of two years, he and his government were overthrown. One bright page redeems the record of his administration. In May of 1691, the first general Act of enfranchisement was passed in favor of the Huguenots. On May 12, 1691, the Lords Proprietors sent a long letter to Seth Sothel. Click Here to read that letter.

On November 8, 1691, the Lords Proprietors commissioned Philip Ludwell to be the next Governor of Carolina, and they instructed him to oust Seth Sothel. Ludwell arrived in Charles Town on Saturday, April 9, 1692, and presented his commission to the public on Monday, April 11, 1692. On that same date, he presented the Lords Proprietors' letter telling Seth Sothel that he was no longer governor to the public. Sothel remained in Charles Town for many months and harangued the government of Ludwell as not being a legal government. On August 11, 1692, he was ordered to leave Charles Town at his own expense, and it seems that he simply returned to his home in North Carolina where he died soon thereafter.

At last the Lords Proprietors came to see that the establishment of such a monstrous frame of government, spelled out in the Fundamental Constitutions, over an American colony was impossible. In April of 1693, the Lords Proprietors assembled and voted the boasted model out of existence. It was enacted at the same meeting that since the people of Carolina preferred a simple charter government, their request be granted. The magnificent paper empire of Shaftesbury was swept into oblivion.

In South Carolina, popular government was planted from the beginning, forming a popular Assembly with the arrival of the first immigrants and began to frame laws, selecting William Sayle as their leader and first governor. Sayle did not live long and was succeeded by West then Yeamans, who led the colonists for four years before being charged with filling his own coffers at the expense of the colonists.

Yeamans was succeeded again by John West, who held the post for eight years. Seth Sothel, having been driven from North Carolina, came to South Carolina and usurped the government, beginning his period of plundering the South Carolina settlers. The people soon rose up against him and he was again, forced to flee. Following this, both what would become South Carolina and North Carolina, shared several governors.

Click Here for what little is known about the Executive Council under Governor Seth Sothel in Albemarle, and about the Executive Council under Governor Seth Sothel in Charles Town.
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