Perquimans, meaning “Land of Beautiful Women,” was named by its earliest inhabitants, the Yeopim Indians, a branch of the family of Algonquians. Perquimans included the land between the Yeopim River and Little River; at its greatest extent, it reached from the Virginia border to the Alligator River. Today, its people occupy 261 square miles of low land between the Albermarle Sound and the Dismal Swamp.
Englishmen began the permanent settlement of this region of North Carolina about 1650. Perquimans county was formed in 1668 as a precinct of the much larger County of Albemarle, and is home to the Newbold White House. Built in 1730, the Newbold-White House is the oldest brick structure in the state.
A portion of Perquimans county was deeded to George Durant in 1661 by Kilcocanen, King of the Yeopim Indians. With the river as the region’s major thoroughfare, the small settlement called Hertford served as the state’s first capital until 1716.
In 1696 the records show that there were in Carolina sixty or seventy scattered families, settled principally along the water front for twenty miles up Little River shore, and around to Perquimans River. The inlet of Roanoke was frequented by small vessels trading to and from the West India Islands, and pirates and run-away slaves resorted to this place from Virginia. (Colonial Records, Vol. I, page 467.)
FROM THE SETTLEMENT OF PERQUIMANS TO THE REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD
At what date the first white man set foot on Perquimans soil, staked a claim and erected his humble abode, no one can say with any degree of certainty. Foote in his notes claims that a band of settlers moved down on the Chowan River shortly after the Indian massacre in 1622. Where they took root he does not vouchsafe. As Chowan River has its headwaters in Virginia, with the Blackwater River as one of its tributaries, the inference may well be drawn that those early settlers followed the water courses, in their journey down to the new country instead of overland migration, as it is a well known fact that the forest and land adjoining the Dismal Swamp was at that time an impenetrable tangle of trees and undergrowth, full of danger for man and beast, with but a few Indian paths, and no man knew where they led. Therefore the immigrants fought shy of the interior, and clung to the river banks, where escape was more easy in case of attack by hostile tribes, fish could be procured for the daily fare, and houses built on high ground.
The settlement spoken of by Foote was most probably in what is now Gates County, and was then Chowan, or still in the unnamed wilderness called Carolina. Orapeak (Corapeak) in Gates County was certainly one of the first, if not the first settlement in Carolina, and the records in Perquimans prove beyond a single doubt that Perquimans County at that time ran all the way to the Virginia line, taking in this old landmark. This line was changed in 1779, and Perquimans shrank to its present boundary.
Roger Green, a clergyman from Virginia, started with a colony to settle on lower Chowan River in 1653. He came vested with power to possess lands in Carolina, but there has always been some doubt about the location of his settlement, and as the name of Green appears on the early records in Perquimans we are led to believe that some of his followers may have drifted over into the bordering county and taken up land there. As the names of his followers are not mentioned there is no authoritative way by which they can be traced, or the locality of their destination be determined. Green no doubt allowed full freedom to his countrymen, and they naturally selected land where it best suited them to “squat.” As no record remains to show where they did take up claims, the Rivers and high lands adjoining afforded the most charming sites for homes, with the waterways as an outlet to market, a place to fish, the land less hard to clear, and last but not least, a better water supply, which was a very strong inducement, considering the health of the colony. This migration preceded the advent of George Durant by eight years, and there can be little doubt in the mind of any one versed in the early history of Albemarle, that many settlers were well established on their own land in Perquimans Precinct before said Durant decided to come to North Carolina. Among these early settlers, no doubt can be enumerated such men as Samuel Pricklove, whose land adjoined the land sold to George Durant by the Indian Chief Kilcoconewen King of Yeopim, on March 1, 1661, and Caleb Calloway, who appears as a witness to said deed. The land of said Samuel Pricklove lay around, or just below where the town of New Hope now stands. This made him a near neighbor of Durant, and they became fast friends. Pricklove was a Quaker, but it did not prevent him from following Durant in the Rebellion of 1677-79, even when his associations strictly forbade one of the sect to take up arms, and other Quakers followed his example, being also a part of the “rabble” that helped to depose acting Governor Thomas Miller. The rebellion caused a great deal of unrest in the colony and the county breathed easier, and sat more at ease when Miller finally took passage for Virginia, and later went home to England. All unwittingly George Durant struck the first note for American Independence, and routed the first unjust tax collector to appear on American soil, when he with his “rabble” drove out Miller, and stopped the unlawful Custom receipts in 1677-79.
So much has been written and said about being first that it has become somewhat a sore subject, especially when it is done without undisputed authority, therefore the writer feels it a real duty to bring before the reading public the fact that in Perquimans precinct, at the mouth of Little River came into being the first authenticated town in Albemarle, called “Little River.” This town was situated on the west side of the mouth of Little River and by act of Assembly became one of the “Ports of Entry” for Albemarle, where “ships shall laid, and unlaid.” Precinct Court was held in this town for forty years, and near this place a “Gran Court House” was built about 1701, where Court was held for only one time on October 14, 1701. The Court House stood on the Sound, and was probably burned between the time of the holding of the October Court, and the date of its next session, as it is not mentioned on any record after that date. The Precinct Courts came to order at the houses of old residents before, and afterwards, the first recorded being at the house of one Harris (Thomas Harris) who was the first Clerk of Perquimans, and later after his death at the house of Thomas White, who had married the widow of Harris, September 4, 1694. In every precinct a court consisted of a Steward (Judge) and four justices, who were inhabitants of said precinct, owning 300 acres of land as a freehold. No man could serve on the jury unless he held a freehold of fifty acres of land in the county, and a grand juryman had to be the possessor of 300 acres, the petty jurymen having 200 acres, a constable 100 acres, and no man was called a freeman who did not acknowledge God. Divers persons in Carolina were possessed of land by reason of grants from Sir William Berkeley.
The deed to George Durant being the oldest recorded in North Carolina, has led the general public to the wrong impression that he brought into Perquimans its first settlers, and planted the first colony, while as a matter of fact many persons were well rooted, even in the neck now called “Durants” before his arrival in the colony. This deed, however, was not recorded on the deed book in Perquimans until 1716, when the then Register of Deeds, John Stepney made a copy of it, calling himself “Register of all Writings for Perquimans Precinct.” Durant, as the deed shows, took up all the land between Perquimans and Little River and immediately began to build,when one George Catchmaid arose and claimed the said land by a prior grant from Sir William Berkeley, thereupon Durant after starting his home in the new land “desisted” and quit building. George Catchmeyed was an Englishman, who at a council “At James Citty Virginia,” September 25, 1663, is styled as Gent, “coming from Treslick England,” and he received a grant from the Virginia government of 1500 acres, “in a Bay of ye River Carolina (Sound) adjoining Captain Jenkins (John) by ye River piquimins, due for transpotation of thirty persons into this Collony.” His land was either increased by purchase or other grants, as the deeds in Perquimans prove he was possessed of 3,333 acres, which descended to his niece, Elizabeth Chandler, of London, he having died in Nansemond County, Virginia, without heirs. His widow married second Timothy Biggs of Perquimans, who set up a counter claim for the land called “Birkswear” which was situated in the lower end of Durants Neck, and later became known as “Stevensons Point.”
At a Council held at St. Mary’s, Maryland, October 17, 1666, the Assembly of the Province of North Carolina “sent hither William Drummond, Esq., Governor thereof and George Catchemeyed Gent Speaker of the Assembly.” George Catchmaid, who lived his last days in Virginia, and was at his death Clerk of Nansemond County in said State.
William Drummond, a sober Scotch gentleman of good repute, was appointed Governor of Albemarle in the fall of 1664, and served until 1676, when he was summarily recalled by Sir William Berkeley, who had him executed in an hour after his arrival, for his sympathy with Bacon in the rebellion. It is a well established fact that Governor Drummond lived in Durant’s Neck, Perquimans County, somewhere near the Sound and Little River, but sad to relate every vestage of the site has disappeared, old residents claiming that the land at that point caved in, and has been engulfed by the greedy waters of the Sound. He was no doubt buried in Virginia, and his wife lies sleeping the last sleep in the graveyard at Jamestown.
To read more from the History of Perquimans County by Ellen Goode Rawlings Winslow click here.
For more information about Perquimans County today click here.