Early Names, Boundaries, and Religion

Contributed by John Collins. May 2000.

     Roanoke Island – the site of an initial English visit in 1584, the short-lived military settlement of 1585-6 (removed by Sir Francis Drake following his sacking of St Augustine, Florida, because of fears of a retaliatory Spanish attack), and the first permanent English settlement in North America, the so-called Lost Colony of 1587 – was at that time referred to as being in Virginia (named for Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen). 

     During the reign of her successor, James I, what is now known as Virginia was settled (initially at Jamestown) from 1607-24 under the auspices of the joint stock Virginia Company of London. On May 24, 1624 the Company’s charter was declared vacated, and the colony of Virginia came under control of the crown as the first royal colony in English history. It included most of the area from just north of modern New York city southward to Cape Fear. 

    On October 30, 1629, in the fifth year of his reign, James’ son Charles I granted to his Attorney General, Sir Robert Heath, the territory between 31 and 36 degrees north latitude. This is the region now lying from about 30 miles north of the Florida state line to the southern side of Albemarle Sound. In 1632, with royal approval, Heath assigned his New World interests to Henry Frederick Howard, Lord Maltravers. 

     In 1637, Charles I directed Governor Sir John Harvey of Virginia to assist in the work of settling “Lord Maltravers province of Carolana”. Harvey’s compliance took the form of a patent to Maltravers establishing the County of Norfolk “in the Southern part of the Colony” of Virginia. The reason for the name is that one of the Howard family titles, still used today by the head of the family (who is Earl Marshall of England and an important participant in Coronation ceremonies), is Duke of Norfolk. The Howards are the only Roman Catholic family to have successfully maintained an important position in the English aristocracy. Included in Maltravers’ County of Norfolk was the area from just south of modern Suffolk, Virginia (the actual city, not what was Nansemond County) to about present-day New Bern. 

     Records of actual settlement are scanty, but Sir John Colleton (one of the later proprietors of Carolina) once mentioned a plantation “started by one Mr Mariot, steward to the Duke of Norfolk,” Maltravers’ son. 

     On May 15, 1630 an agreement was drafted for a Carolana settlement, one of the parties to which was George Lord Berkeley. 

     Governor Sir William Berkeley of Virginia sent an expedition against the Indians along the Chowan River in 1646, presumably in preparation for southernward settlement. 

     About 1648 Henry Plumpton of Nansemond County, Virginia, just north of the Chowan region, in co-operation with Thomas Tuke and several others, bought from the Indians “all the Land from the mouth of the Morratuck [Roanoke] River to the mouth of Weyanook Creek”. 

     In 1650 a Virginia merchant, Thomas Bland, was one of a party of eight who explored the Chowan, Meherrin, and Roanoke river valleys. His petition to the Virginia assembly for permission to settle “to the Southward” was approved October 20, 1650. The Assembly instructed him and his associates to “secure themselves in effecting the said Designe with a hundred able men sufficiently furnished with Armes and Munition”. In 1651 he published a promotional tract, “The Discovery of New Brittaine, 1650”. 

     In 1653 the Virginia Assembly made a grant of 10,000 acres, in response to a petition from the Rev. Roger Green, “unto one hundred such persons who shall first seate on Moratuck or Roanoke river and the land lying upon the south side of Choan river and the branches thereof” and “to the said Roger Green, the rights of one thousand acres of land, and choice to take the same where it shall seem most convenient to him, next to those persons who have had a former grant”.  

     In a pamphlet entitled “Virginia’s Cure”, printed in London in 1662, the Rev. Green cited the colony of Virginia as being bound “on the North by the great River Patomak, on the South by the River Chawan”.

     A manuscript map, drawn in 1657 by Nicholas Comberford, is in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich in London. On the neck of land between the mouth of the Roanoke River and Salmon Creek (now in Bertie County) this shows a neatly drawn house with the label “Batts House” identifying it. In his journal for 1672, George Fox, the Quaker missionary who visited the area, mentioned “Nathaniel Batts who had been Governor of Roan-oak”.

     Following the execution of Charles I, England was a Republic for 11 years, 1649-60, until the coronation of Charles II. On March 24, 1663, Charles II revoked his father’s grant of 1629 to Sir Robert Heath and granted the Carolinas to eight English noblemen who had supported the Royalist cause during and after the English Civil War (1642-49). These were the initial Lords Proprietors: Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon (Lord High Chancellor); George Monck, Duke of Albemarle (Master of the King’s Horse and Captain-General of all his forces); William Lord Craven (an old friend of Charles’ father); John Lord Berkeley; Anthony Ashley Cooper (Chancellor of the Exchequer, later made Earl of Shaftesbury); Sir George Carteret (Vice-Chamberlain of the King’s Household, who had entertained Charles in his Jersey home during a part of the time he was in exile); Sir William Berkeley (who, as Governor of Virginia, had induced the colony to adhere to Charles II as sovereign even while he was in exile); and Sir John Colleton (a Barbadian planter, who had maintained the royal cause in Barbados). The first official use of the name Carolina occurs in this Charter. 

     In September 1663 the other proprietors sent a series of instructions to Sir William Berkeley. Carolina affairs were left almost entirely in the hands of Berkeley as the nearest resident Proprietor, and it was more than two years before those remaining in England showed signs of being aware that the Albemarle region, as the former Carolana area was now called, was not within their domain. On June 13, 1665, they received a new charter making their northern boundary approximately the same as the present North Carolina-Virginia state line. 

     The Lords Proprietors concentrated most of their initial efforts on a fruitless attempt (1663-67) to establish Clarendon County in the Cape Fear region. 

     William Drummond was the first Governor appointed for Albemarle County (1664-67). 

     Roanoke Island was owned by Samuel Stephens who, on October 9, 1662, had been appointed “commander of the southern plantation” by the council in Virginia, and was later (1667-69) Governor of Albemarle County. 

     Colleton (now Collington) Island had been granted to Sir John Colleton, and was where Governor (1670-72) Peter Carteret lived after moving to Carolina from his family home on Jersey in the Channel Islands. 

     By October 1668 Chowan, Currituck, Pasquotank, and Perquimans precincts had been formed in Albemarle County. From 1679 for about 6 years, Perquimans was renamed Berkeley Precinct. 

     In 1689 Albemarle County as a unit of government ceased to exist, although the name continued intermittently in use for at least a further 10 years. Government of Carolina “North and East of Cape feare” was established, with Philip Ludwell as Governor (1689-94). In 1691 the Lords Proprietors appointed him governor of all Carolina, headquartered at Charles Town, with a deputy governor for the northern part of the colony – the beginning of the division of the province into North and South Carolina, though not so called at this time. Thomas Jarvis was the first deputy governor. 

     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 Anglican missionary John Blair, writing in 1704, reported that he had baptised a great many children but had not been able to marry anyone because only the magistrates were authorized to marry. He found three church buildings and glebes. 

     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 (SPG), organized by Thomas Bray and Associates in 1701, began to send missionaries to the province. 

     In Perquimans 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. 

     Bath County was formed in 1696 and, four years later, the Rev. Thomas Bray shipped books from England to St Thomas Parish with the Reverend Daniel Brett for the first public library in the colony. The parish also established a free school for Indians and blacks. In 1705 Beaufort, Craven, and Hyde precincts were established in Bath County. In 1705 Bath became the first town created in the colony. Construction of St. Thomas Church, oldest existing church in the state, began in 1734. 

     The parish of St Paul’s was organized in 1701 as the first Anglican parish in the colony under the provisions of the Vestry Act of 1701. A post-in-ground church building was erected the next year on an undetermined plot of land just east of Queen Anne’s Creek on what is now known as Hayes farm; the town of Edenton would not be founded for another eleven years. In 1736 construction was begun of the present St Paul’s on the town lots set aside for church and churchyard (cemetery) before 1722. 


  • Ye Countie of Albemarle in Carolina edited by William S Powell, State Department of Archives & History, 1958.
  • North Carolina Genesis: Seventeenth-Century Albemarle County by Lindley S Butler, Perquimans County Restoration Association, 1989.
  • Perquimans County: A Brief History by Alan D Watson, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources Division of Archives and History, 1987.