Perquimans County, North Carolina

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"Land of Beautiful Women"


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A History of Perquimans County

By October of 1668, Chowan, Currituck, Pasquotank, and Perquimans precincts had been formed in Albemarle County. In 1738, Albemarle County as a unit of government ceased to exist, and all existing precincts were redefined as counties.

For some strange reason (apparently lost to history), the Lords Proprietors decided to rename all four of the original precincts within Albemarle County around the year 1680. Perquimans Precinct was renamed to Berkeley Precinct (not to be confused with the Berkeley County that was established in 1682 in South Carolina). However, the citizens objected and the new name was never really accepted nor used by many other than those in official capacities. By the mid-1680s, the name was changed back to the original name - Perquimans - which has remained ever since.

Click Here to see the approximate boundaries of the short-lived Berkeley Precinct.

Early Settlements in Perquimans County

The land configurations of the Albemarle region made the area attractive and accessible. Laced with small streams, creeks, and deep rivers, the easy access by water into the untamed region offered ports for ocean-going ships able to take the settlers' products directly to Caribbean ports and to the other colonies. Abundance of water also aided the farmers with their crops and for their homes.

The Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, and Little Rivers were linked with the smaller streams making a veritable water highway throughout the area. The source of these rivers was the Great Dismal Swamp, where the color of the water was a deep red, caused by the waters passing through the roots of the cypress trees. The water, however, was perfectly clear, tasted by no means unpleasant, and was quite wholesome. It had a diuretic effect on those who drank it, and prevented agues and fevers, or so it was claimed. Filled with the perils of virgin forests, native Indians, wild animals, insects, snakes, and reptiles, this area south of the Great Dismal Swamp was also more isolated from the English authorities.  

The first permanent English settlers in North Carolina were Virginians who heard glowing reports of fertile bottom lands, abundant timber resources, and an excellent climate. They moved into the Albemarle Sound area about 1650, purchasing land from the local Indian tribes.

In the southern Virginia settlements there was little representation by the state church, and the people lacked the services of ministers. They were hungry for religious leadership and guidance when the first Quaker missionaries arrived in Carolina in 1671. Some Quaker missionaries had reached the Virginia southern plantations as early as 1652.

Quaker Sites in Early Perquimans County

Among the immigrants was Joseph Scott, who in 1684 acquired property in a Quaker community near the Perquimans River. Scott's farm passed through several generations until Abraham Sanders, a Quaker, purchased the farm then known as Vineyard in 1727. Sanders had migrated from Virginia around 1715 and soon married Judith Pricklove, the granddaughter of Quaker leader Samuel Pricklove, one the Albemarle County's earliest inhabitants. On this tract acquired from Scott, Sanders around 1730 built the dwelling now known as the Newbold-White House, one of the oldest standing buildings in North Carolina.

Early Albemarle County had no formal religious life, other than Quaker meetings in private houses in Perquimans Precinct. The Quaker missionary William Edmundson found one Quaker household in 1672, that of Henry Phelps (Phillips), who had moved down from New England in 1665 with his wife. There were more on his return in 1677 and, by 1680, monthly meetings were being held. Since the Quakers were the only church available, they attracted numerous converts, especially in Perquimans and Pasquotank precincts.

Under the encouragement of the Quaker Lord Proprietor and proprietary governor (1694-96) John Archdale, they became the dominant political force in the county - which stimulated the Anglican community to seek passage of the Vestry Act. The Upper Meeting House (later Wells) was built by 1704, Little River Meeting House was erected in 1705, and Lower Meeting House (later Old Neck) appeared by 1706. At the end of the proprietary era, in 1729, Friends maintained Meetings at Wells, Old Neck, Suttons Creek, Yeopim, and Piney Woods. (Piney Woods is still functioning.)

Friends residing west of Little River in Perquimans were attached to the Pasquotank Monthly Meeting. Friends have to receive their Meeting's permission before marrying, so the records from Quaker Meetings provide most of the available early information on marriages in this area.

The Church of England, or Anglican Church, envisioned by the authors of the proprietary charters and the Fundamental Constitutions as the dominant religious institution in a tolerant province, was finally made the established church of the province in 1701 and again in 1703 or 1704. The statutes erected parishes, named vestries, and authorized the imposition of taxes to support the clergy. At the same time, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G.), organized by Thomas Bray and Associates in 1701, began to send missionaries to the province.

In Perquimans Precinct, an Anglican chapel was under construction, but remained unfinished because of the death of Major Samuel Swann, Sr. in 1707; the Anglican Nags Head Chapel, in use by 1736 and probably the result of the efforts of vestryman Albert Albertson, occupied the site of the later New Hope Methodist Church; and the Anglican Yeopim Chapel, constructed on land donated by John And Elizabeth Mathias in 1732, eventually became the site of Bethel Baptist Church.

One of the oldest towns in North Carolina, Hertford was incorporated in 1758, primarily to serve as the county seat and commercial center for Perquimans County. Laid out on Phelps Point at the narrows of the Perquimans River, the town was named in honor of Francis Seymour-Conway, Earl of Hertford. The oldest recorded property deed in North Carolina is in the Perquimans Deed Registry.

The first U.S. Marshal for the district of North Carolina from 1790 to 1794, John Skinner, lived in Hertford. John Harvey, a five-time Speaker of the House of Burgesses, moderator of the provincial congress, 1774-1775, and a leader of the Revolutionary movement, also lived here.

About fifty (50 nineteenth-century structures currently stand on tree-shaded streets downtown. There are dozens of early homes to see on the walking tour of Hertford, such as the: Wood-Winslow House, c. 1823; Thomas Jackson House, c. 1872; and the William Jones House, c. 1815. In 1849, The Church of the Holy Trinity was built. The church's unique structure is a classic example of Gothic Revival. The county's federal-style court house was completed in 1852.

Like many of its neighboring coastal areas, Hertford was a busy lumber town in the early 1900s. The Perquimans River provided a direct link between the railroads, lumber barges, and commercial ships that traversed the Albemarle Sound and the nearby Intracoastal Waterway. Today, agriculture remains the principal industry, with corn, cotton, peanuts, and soybeans as major crops. Clothing manufacturing is the major non-farm industry.

Pasquotank County takes great pride in knowing that the first land grant in North Carolina occurred there in 1660 when Kiscutanaweh, chief of the Yeopim Indians deeded to Nathaniel Batts “all ye land on ye southwest side of Pascotank River from ye mouth of ye sd river to ye head of New Begin Creeke.” What falls between the cracks many times, however, is that the land at that time was considered a part of Norfolk County, Virginia, the deed was actually recorded there. Therefore, the first recorded land grant in North Carolina actually belongs to George Durant.

Very little is known of George Durant. In fact, the only substantial biography is Mattie Erma Parker’s entry of Durant in William S. Powell’s landmark Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. However, the story of Durant and the tract of land that would come to be known as Durant’s Neck in present-day southern Perquimans County is a very interesting story.

Shortly after his marriage in January of 1658 in Northumberland County, Virginia to Ann Marwood, George Durant decided he wanted to make a home away from his Nansemond County residence. Where Durant was living at the time is not known. Possibilities include Northumberland County, Westmoreland County, or Nansemond County. It is known that at this time, he joined with at least six other gentlemen including John Battle, Thomas Relfe, Roger Williams, Thomas Jarvis, John Harvey, and John Jenkins to explore the Albemarle area, at the time a Virginia frontier called Roanoke. Many of these men brought land which Durant was witness to, including the one dated September 24, 1660 to Nathaniel Batts. It is possible that Durant was employed by Batts. Richard Batts, Nathaniel Batts brother, was a sea captain, and it is known that Durant was a mariner.

It is known that land was purchased from Cisketando, a Yeopim Indian chief on August 4, 1661. Shortly after, Durant purchased more land from the Yeopim. This deed is now recorded in the Perquimans County records, making it the oldest deed in North Carolina. The area that Durant settled, now known as Durant’s Neck, proved to be a good location for him. Located in present Perquimans County on a tract of land jutting into the Albemarle Sound, the soil proved to be good for growing corn and wheat. In addition, cattle and swine were prosperous, as were the numerous forest animals. Unfortunately, Durant would have many problems with this tract of land.

One year after Durant settled his land, Virginia Governor William Berkeley informed all settlers that if they obtained land from the Indians, they must now obtain grants from Virginia. Under these rules, Berkely granted George Catchmaid of Northumberland County, Virginia the same land that Durant was living upon. Durant, feeling the land was rightfully his, refused to move. It did not take long for the two men to temporarily settle their differences. They both agreed that Durant could settle the western side of the point, Catchmaid the east. Catchmaid also promised to have the land patented in Durant’s name. Unfortunately for Durant, Catchmaid died before the patent was obtained. To complicate matters for Durant, Catchmaid’s widow, remarried a wealthy Quaker, Timothy Biggs, with whom he did not get along. Biggs, ignoring the gentlemanly agreement made between Durant and Catchmaid, pursued the title. Not until 1697, almost three years after Durant’s death was a suit won by Durant’s son giving them legal title to the land they had been living for thirty-five years.

By Howard Draper, Museum of the Albemarle [with minor edits]

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