IN ANCIENT ALBEMARLE
THE FIRST ALBEMARLE ASSEMBLY-HALL'S CREEK
IN 1663 King Charles II granted to eight noblemen of his court a tract of land reaching from the northern shores of Albemarle Sound to St. John's River in Florida, and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. A small strip extending from the north shore of the Albemarle Sound to the southern boundary of Virginia was not included in this grant, but nevertheless the Lords Proprietors, of whom Governor Berkeley, of Virginia, was one, assumed control over this section ; and in 1663 these noblemen authorized Berkeley to appoint a governor to rule over this territory, whose ownership was a disputed question for several years.
In 1665 the Albemarle region, as it came to be called, comprising the four ancient counties of Currituck, Pasquotank, Perquimans and Chowan, had become very valuable on account of the rich plantations established therein by such men as George Durant, of Perquimans, and Valentine Byrd, of Pasquotank; and the Lords Proprietors, as the owners of the Carolinas were called, begged the king to include the above-named strip of land in their grant. This the king did, ignorant of the vast extent of the territory which he had already bestowed upon the Lords.
William Drummond, whom Berkeley, of Virginia, had appointed to govern this Albemarle country, came into Carolina in 1664, and assumed the reins of government. To assist him in his arduous duties, the Lords authorized Berkeley to appoint six of the most prominent men in the settlement to form what came to be known as the Governor's Council. This body of men, with the Governor, acted for many years as the judicial department of the State, and also corresponded to what is now the Senate Chamber in our legislative department.
That the liberty-loving pioneers in Carolina might feel that they were a self-governing people, every free man in the settlement was to have right of membership in the General Assembly, which was to meet yearly to enact the laws. After the. Governor, Councillors, and the freemen or their deputies had passed the laws, a copy of them was to be sent to the Lords for their consideration. Should they meet with the approval of the Proprietors, they went into effect; if not, they were null and void.
In the fall of 1664, Governor Drummond began organizing the government his new province; and on February 6, 1665, the "Grand Assembly of Albemarle," as these early law-makers styled themselves, met to frame a set of laws for this Albemarle Colony. The place chosen for the meeting of this first legislative body ever assembled in our State, was a little knoll overlooking Hall's Creek in Pasquotank County, about a mile from Nixonton, a small town which was chartered nearly a hundred years later.
No record of the names of these hardy settlers who were present at this Grand Assembly has been handed down to us; but on such an important occasion we may be sure that all the prominent men in the Albemarle region who could attend would make it a point to do so.
George Drummond and his secretary, Thomas Woodward, were surely there; George Durant, Samuel Prieklove, John Harvey, all owners of great plantations in Perquimans, doubtless were on hand. Thomas Relfe, Timothy Biggs, Valentine Byrd, Solomon Poole, all large landowners in Pasquotank, must have been there; Thomas Jarvis, of Currituck, and Thomas Pollock, of Chowan, may have represented their counties. And all — the dignified, reserved Scotch Governor, his haughty secretary, the wealthy, influential planters and the humble farmers and hunters — must have felt the solemnity of the occasion and recognized its importance.
We may imagine the scene: Under the spreading boughs of a lordly oak, this group of men were gathered. Around them the dark forest stretched, the wind murmuring in the pines and fragrant with the aromatic odor of the spicy needles. At a distance a group of red men, silent and immovable, some with bow and arrow in hand, leaning against the trees, others sitting on the ground, gazed with wondering eyes upon the palefaces assembled for their first great pow-wow.
Down at the foot of the knoll the silver waves of the creek rippled softly against the shore; on its waters the sloops of the planters from the settlements nearby; here and there on its bosom, an Indian canoe moored close to its shores.
As to the work accomplished by this first Albemarle Assembly, only one fact is certain, and that is the drawing up by the members of a petition to the Lords Proprietors, begging that these settlers in Carolina should be allowed to hold their lands on the same conditions and terms as the people of Virginia. The Lords graciously consented to this petition, and on the 1st of May, 1668, they issued a paper known to this day as the Deed of Grant, by which land in Albemarle was directed to be granted on the same terms as in Virginia. The deed was duly recorded in Albemarle, and was preserved with scrupulous care.
There is a tradition in the county that the Assembly also took steps for preparing for an Indian war then threatening, which broke out the following year, but was soon suppressed.
Doubtless other laws were enacted, such as were necessary for the settlement, though no record of them is extant. And then, the business that called them together having been transacted, and the wheels of government set in motion, these early law-makers returned home, to manor house and log cabin, to the care of the great plantations, to the plow, and the wild, free life of the hunter and trapper; and a new government had been born.
There seems to be no doubt in the minds of such historians as Colonel Saunders, Captain Ashe, and President D. H. Hill, that the first Albemarle Assembly did convene in the early spring of 1665. As for the day and month, tradition alone is our authority. An old almanac of H. D. Turner's gives the date as February 6th, and in default of any more certain date, this was inscribed upon the tablet which the Sir Walter Raleigh Chapter Daughters of the Revolution have erected at Hall's Creek Church.
As to the statement that the place marked by the tablet was the scene of the meeting of our first assemblymen, tradition again is responsible. But such authorities as Captain Ashe, and various members of the State Historical Commission, accept the tradition as a fact. And all old residents of Nixonton assert that their fathers and grandfathers handed the story down to them.
An extract from a letter from Captain Ashe, author of Ashe's History of North Carolina, to the Regent of the local Chapter Daughters of the Revolution may be of interest here:
"Yesterday I came across in the library at Washington, this entry, made by the late Mrs. Franees Hill, widow of Secretary of the State William Hill: 'I was born in Nixonton March 14, 1789. Nixonton is a small town one mile from Hall's Creek, and on a little rise of ground from the bridge stood the big oak, where the first settlers of our county held their assembly."
Other documents in possession of the Regent of our local Chapter Daughters of the Revolution go to show that the place and date as named on the tablet at Hall's Creek are authentic, and that Pasquotank County may claim with truth the honor of having been the scene of the first meeting of the Grand Assembly of Albemarle.
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© 2009 by Marla Beasley