Several attempted European explorations of the North Carolina coast occurred between 1524 and 1570, but no permanent settlements were established. It was not until 1580 that the first attempt to colonize North Carolina by English-speaking people took place under a royal charter granted to Sir Walter Raleigh. The first colony established in 1585 ended in failure. The second expedition with 110 settlers arrived near Hatteras in 1587 and went on to Roanoke Island under the leadership of John White. It was there that the first two Indians were baptized, and the first child born to English-speaking parents in the New World was born. Her name was Virginia Dare.
The colonists faced many problems, including a lack of supplies, so John White returned to England for provisions. He was unable to return to the Old World until 1590, when he found only the remnants of the settlement. Although speculations abound, no satisfactory explanation was found for the fate of the “Lost Colony.” Nowadays, in the months from June to August, the drama “The Lost Colony,” performed outdoors at the Waterford Theatre on the site, tells the story, including three ships that “sail” in front of the stage moved by a combination of ropes and human energy.
The intrepid group of explorers with Sir Raleigh sailed to the New World in ships called the “Lion”, the “Tiger” and “Dorothy”, in addition to the “Elizabeth”. Today, you can visit Manteo and explore the “Elizabeth II”, a composite design of 16th-century ships. Touring this three-mast ship, you will feel transported to the 16th century and experience with your imagination the conditions the soldiers, sailors and settlers had to endure during the two and a half-month voyage from England to the New World. Staff dressed as sailors and colonists express the manners, attitudes and speech of the Elizabethan era.
The first permanent English colonists in North Carolina came from the tidewater area of Virginia in 1650 and settled in the Albemarle area. The region around Bath had been inhabited for hundreds of years prior to European settlement. The Secotan tribe was centered in the area, but smallpox decimated the Indian population in the 17th century, and the settlers moved into the region, taking advantage of the rich soil and building a port to promote trade and commerce. Bath was incorporated in 1705, thus being the oldest incorporated town in North Carolina. Bath opened the first public library in the early 1700s, with more than 1000 pamphlets and books from England, started the first shipyard in the state in 1701, and became the first state’s capital in 1744. But in spite of these early progress signs, Bath never prospered and remained unspoiled; even today, Bath has a population of only 200 souls. Legend has it that the villagers rejected the fiery evangelist George Whitfield, a charismatic English revivalist wanting to preach the gospel in the wilds of North Carolina. Whitfield left town, not before uttering a curse on the village, dooming Bath to remain forever a small town, . . . “forgotten by men and nations” . . . It is controversial, as to whether that was a curse or a blessing . . .
Bath’s most notorious resident was the pirate Edward Teach, better known as “Blackbeard.” King George I offered pirates pardon if they surrendered to the throne. Blackbeard took advantage of this leniency, married his 13th or 14th wife, the daughter of a Bath planter, settled in the area and continued to overtly attack North Carolina vessels. The Van der Veer House, built in 1790, is now a museum with great exhibits that reflect the history of Bath and its famous residents.
In 1663, Charles II granted a charter to eight Lord Proprietors for a territory from Albemarle Sound on the north to the St. John’s River in present-day Florida. The territory was to be called “Carolina” in honor of Charles I, and it was extended in 1665. When Carolina divided in 1710, the southern part was called South Carolina and the northern, or older settlement, North Carolina. This was the origin of the nickname the “Old North State.”
Between 1663 and 1729, North Carolina was under the control of the Lords Proprietors and their descendants. In 1729, they sold their interest in North Carolina to the Crown, and North Carolina became a royal colony until 1775. In April of 1776, North Carolina authorized her delegates to the Continental Congress in Halifax to vote for independence. This was the first action by a colony calling for independence. Soon after the adoption of the Halifax Resolves, Virginia followed with her own recommendations, and on July 4, the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was signed.
The first permanent capital of North Carolina was in New Bern. Tryon Palace was constructed between 1767 and 1770 by royal governor William Tryon. This is a magnificent historic site that can be visited today; I would like to describe it more in depth in a future article.
Celia McGuire is a local travel writer and former owner of Global Travel and Tours.