(4) Earliest Settlements

The first permanent English settlers in the Albemarle came south in the 1650s from the Virginia Colony centered at Jamestown. Many early settlers came as trappers or traders seeking marketable furs from the natives. Among the first known settlers was Nathaniel Batts, who was employed by a planter in what is now Virginia Beach to establish a fur trade with the Indians in 1653.

In 1663 King Charles II rewarded eight loyal supporters in the recent English Civil War by granting the Carolina Charter and giving them title to all the land between Virginia and Spanish Florida westward to the “South Seas” or the Pacific Ocean. These men, called the Lords Proprietors, were given broad powers to organize their territory into a private province. The province was divided into three large counties, the most northerly being the County of Albemarle, named for George Monck the Duke of Albemarle. Albemarle County was divided into four precincts: Chowan, Currituck, Pasquotank, and Perquimans; each originally extended south of the Albemarle Sound with Chowan, theoretically, also extending westward to the Pacific Ocean.

Life on the Albemarle frontier was hindered by antagonism of the Virginia authorities, who considered the Albemarle region as part of Virginia. There were also numerous attacks by Native Americans intent on protecting their lands, and the continuing transportation limitations due to the inhospitable nature of the colony’s coastline and the Great Dismal Swamp between it and Virginia.

Most early residents lived in widely scattered settlements, almost always near navigable water. One of the most important was the Eden House site on the west side of the Chowan River in Bertie County. The earliest dwelling at Edenhouse was a post-hole structure erected in the late 1660s or 1670s. Though impermanent in construction, the house had an interior accentuated by Biblical-themed Delft tiles on the chimney hood. 

The Proprietary period came to an end in 1729 when the Crown purchased seven of the eight proprietary shares prior to North Carolina becoming a Royal colony. Prior to the actual transfer, a survey was undertaken in 1728 to resolve the disputed North Carolina-Virginia boundary.