William Reed

President and Acting Governor of North Carolina Province 1722 to 1724

William Reed was elected as President of the Executive Council on September 7, 1722 after the death of President Thomas Pollock on August 30, 1722.

On November 7, 1724, an official came to a dwelling in the forks of Arenuse Creek and presented to the dignified resident a summons from Governor George Burrington to answer certain complaints. The reaction of the indignant old man approximated an explosion.

In the first place he imperiously commanded the process server not to address him as Mister but as President; in the second place he bluntly stated that he did not value the governor's orders; and, finally, in pungently crude language he directed the emissary not to leave the governor's order behind him.

The arrogant gentleman was Col. William Reed, President of the Executive Council, who himself had a few months before completed a two-year period as Acting Governor of the Province of North Carolina. Obviously only a simpleton or a person entirely confident of his position would defy the official head of the government in such a brazen manner. Reed continued to be President of the Executive Council until his death four years later; and this fact would seem to be a sufficient comment upon the incident.

William Reed's development as a political and military leader was a gradual process. Sessions of the General Court of Albemarle were held at his house during the years of 1697-98. In all likelihood his military career began during Queen Anne's War (1702-13) when it became necessary to take steps to defend Currituck Precinct from attacks by the crews of French and Spanish privateers belligerently patrolling the coastal areas.

He is known to have sided with President William Glover in the struggle for control of the Assembly between that official and Col. Thomas Cary during the series of events commonly referred to as "Cary's Rebellion." When the latter gained ascendancy, Reed was required to put up a peace bond of five hundred pounds.

That he also participated actively in the campaigns against the Tuscaroras is a quite plausible inference. As has been noted in a previous sketch, Captain John Norton used Reed's sloop to carry ammunition to be used in the final campaigns against the Indians.

During the five-year period beginning with 1710, William Reed is successively referred to as Captain, Major, and Colonel. And he was a member of the Executive Council which in 1715 ordered a detachment of troops to be raised for assistance to South Carolina. During this same year he was named one of the vestrymen of the newly formed Anglican Parish in Currituck.

Upon the death of Governor Charles Eden in 1722, Thomas Pollock, President of the Council, became Acting Governor by virtue of his position.

In September, William Reed was elected President, succeeding the recently-deceased Thomas Pollock, and as Acting Governor was voted the same salary as the governor, pending the arrival of the new appointee. Governor George Burrington took office in 1724 and William Reed continued as President of the Executive Council until his death in 1728.

In his official capacities he displayed a prudence and restraint which seem at variance with characteristics he exhibited sometimes in his more personal affairs. His outstanding qualities were those of resoluteness and courage. His elevation to the Executive Council in 1712, the most desperate period the colony had experienced, was a significant tribute to the boldness and strength which Thomas Pollock and the other leaders sorely needed in an era of panic and dismay.

His sixteen years on the Executive Council is the longest tenure in that body of any colonial leader, with the exception of Thomas Pollock.

Despite his distinguished public career, William Reed at times exhibited traits of surprising pettiness. A man of violent prejudices, he had the knack of arousing intense antagonisms. He was charged, apparently with some justification, of spreading a rumor that Governor George Burrington, whom he disliked, had once been put in jail in England for beating an old woman. A young neighbor who was a witness against him in court was promptly accused by William Reed with misconduct as administrator of an estate.

In 1724, the Pasquotank Precinct commissioners, having decided to erect a courthouse, levied a tax for building purposes. William Reed, as one of the tax collectors, attempted, so it seems, to withhold the funds in order to force acceptance of a site selected by him, instead of the one already decided upon by the commissioners. The commissioners overrode Reed but even though he was wrong in his methods, it seems only fair to observe that he may have been “wiser than his generation.”

With the population increasing rapidly in the upper end of the county, he apparently foresaw that Newbegun Creek would in the near future no longer be the center of population, as well as being inconveniently located for that part now Camden County because of the wideness of the river at Newbegun and the consequent hazards in crossing. Thirty years later when the commissioners decided to move the courthouse to a more convenient location, they selected the same site William Reed had chosen in the first place many years before.

According to an affidavit made by Col. Thomas Swann, William Reed died at his home in the forks of Arenuse Creek “in the night between the 11th and 12th of September,” 1728. The circumstances incident to his death afford such an interesting comparison between transportation facilities in that time with the present as to justify their inclusion.

According to a contemporary report he was “taken speechless.” A courier was immediately sent to summon a physician in Edenton. No doubt the messenger crossed the three intervening rivers, creeks, and swamps with all possible dispatch. Doubtless the physician hastened to attend the distinguished patient. But when he arrived, William Reed was dead and had been buried “the day before the doctor arrived.” Today the round trip can be made in less than two hours without violating any speed laws.

In his violent nature, it would seem, William Reed more nearly reflected the undisciplined and near-lawless temper of the people he attempted to govern than any other early colonial leader. Neglected for more than two centuries, he has in recent years been the subject of some attention from state historians. Under the auspices of the State Department of Archives and History, a marker to designate the site of his last residence was erected nearby on May 23, 1954.

"Three Hundred Years Along the Pasquotank - A Biographical Histoy of Camden County," by Jesse Forbes Pugh, Seeman Printery, Inc., Durham, N. C., 1957 [with minor edits by this Author]

Some years later, at a meeting of the Executive Council in April of 1714, Charles Eden, lately appointed by the Lords Proprietors to succeed Edward Hyde, who had died of Yellow Fever during the trouble with the Tuscaroras, took the oath of office at Captain John Hecklefield's home, and became Governor of North Carolina. Among the members of the Excecutive Council present on this occasion were Colonel Thomas Byrd, Nathan Chevin, and William Reed, all prominent men in Pasquotank, and the two former, leading churchmen of that county, and active members of the vestry of St. John's Parish. Tobias Knight was also there, a wealthy resident of Bath then, though he too had formerly lived in Pasquotank. Knight was later to win notoriety as a friend and colleague of Edward Teach, the pirate known as Blackbeard.
William Reed had two sons - Christian and Joseph Blount.
Click Here for information on the Executive Council under President William Reed.
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