The First Charles Town - 1665

In 1663, soon after William Hilton, Jr. and his exploration along the coast of Carolina in 1662, some New England adventurers entered Cape Fear River, purchased a tract of land from the Indians on Old Town Creek, about half way between Wilmington and Brunswick, and planted a settlement there in what is present-day Brunswick County.

At that time, the Virginians looked upon them as rivals, for the latter claimed a right to the soil, having settled prior to the grant to the eight (8) Lords Proprietors of Carolina. Difficulties arose. A compromise was proposed, but the New Englanders were already dissatisfied with their location.

The colony did not prosper; the Indians lifted the hatchet against them, and in less than three months the settlement was abandoned. A little more than one year later, in 1664, several planters from Barbados purchased of the Indians a tract of land, thirty-two miles square, near the earlier abandoned settlement.

They asked of the Lords Proprietors a confirmation of their purchase, and a separate charter of government. All was not granted, yet liberal concessions were made. Sir John Yeamans, the son of a cavalier, and then a Barbados planter, was, at the solicitation of the purchasers, appointed their governor.

His jurisdiction was from Cape Fear to the San Matheo (the territory now included in South Carolina and Georgia), and was called Clarendon County. The same year, the Barbados people laid the foundation of a town on the south bank of the Cape Fear River. It was named Charles Town, the first in Carolina.

William Hilton, Jr. was again sent to explore the region, this time by men from the British colony of Barbados. He entered the Cape Fear in October 1663 and left in December, evidently just before the New Englanders arrived.

John Vassall of Barbados financed and led the first permanent settlers to the lower Cape Fear, landing in May of 1664, and by November had established Charles Town, twenty miles upstream on the west bank of the Charles River (Clarendon River at that time, later named the Cape Fear River). Vassall had not reached a satisfactory agreement with the Lords Proprietors. Instead they signed an agreement in January of 1665 with William Yeamans of Port Royal.

Sir John Yeamans, William's father, was appointed "governor of our Country of Clarendon neare southerly ..." In October, Sir John Yeamans stopped at Charles Town on his way to Port Royal and found the colonists in desperate need of supplies. He sent a ship to Virginia to relieve this need, but it was wrecked on the return trip.

Sir John left in December and never returned. War with the Indians and the indifference of the Lords Proprietors led to the migration of settlers out of the Cape Fear area and by the end of 1667 the site was deserted.

Further settlement was not attempted for fifty years because of the closing of the Carolina land office by the Lords Proprietors, the hostility of the Cape Fear Indians, and the ever-presence of pirates.

In 1715, the Cape Fear Indians numbered approximately 206 people in five towns along the river. Following the defeat of major tribes in North Carolina, the Cape Fear Indians fled south.

By 1720, most of the notorious pirates had been captured, including Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet, who with his ship had been taken in the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

What most historians do not point out is the fact that in August 1667 there was a major hurricane that hit the entire East Coast. It severely damaged all the structures of the first Charles Town, and this was the "straw that broke the camel's back" - the settlers had had enough, so they loaded up and left - most returning to Barbados, some going to the Albemarle region, and some going on to Virginia - all walking first to the Albemarle region, since it was the closest inhabited area - Charles Town, SC didn't get started for another three years.

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