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The History of Currituck
Source: Currituck Times - August 1995
Article written by Barbara Snowden
Currituck has a long and interesting heritage. As Bill Sharpe said in State Magazine: Currituck already was preparing to celebrate its first centennial, while Indians still were scalping Moravians in Forsyth; Daniel Boone was only dreaming of the far west, and North Carolinians were Loyal subjects of King George. Currituck was old and settled before Charlotte had its first building, or before white men knew there was a Smoky Mountain range.
Currituck is a land of Indians, pirates and progress. The Indians gave us our name, "Currituck", which means "Land of the wild goose." The Chowanog, Yeopin, Poteskyte and maybe Tuscorora had a good time feasting on fresh oysters from the sound. Even William Byrd of Virginia admitted the oysters were larger and fatter and as good-tasting as any.
In 1766, the Spanish explorers landed and claimed Currituck Beach for Spain. One of the members of this party probably was the captain of the ship which later brought the Lost Colony over. In the end the land was claimed by the English. In 1654, Francis Yeardley wrote describing what is now northeastern North Carolina: We find a most fertile, gallant, rich soil, flourishing in all the abundance of nature especially in the rich mulberry and vine, a serene air, and temperate clime, and experimentally rich in precious minerals; and lastly I may say parallel with any place for rich land, stately timber of all sorts.
It was this good land that drew settlers. Currituck was settled a short 50 years after Jamestown. Knotts Island was probably the first settled area with settlers coming down from Virginia. By 1663, John Harvey had received 600 acres as a grant. In 1665, Peter Carteret secured a land grand for Powells Point and put up a dwelling house, a quarter house and a hog house.
There are a number of characteristics of Currituck today that can be traced back to its beginning. One of these is the love of land, a respect and a willingness to work to keep it. One man, Sir Robert Heath, was given all of the land south of Virginia at 31-30 degrees North latitude, but because he did nothing with it the land was taken back. In 1668, a vast tract known as Carolina was given to eight men. These Lord Proprietors set up a government with the inhabited part known as the County of Albemarle. In 1668, the county was divided into four precincts--Currituck, Pasquotank, Perquimans and Chowan. In 1677, William Sears was sent to the Provincial Assembly from Currituck, thus starting a long line of involvement in Colonial affairs from Currituck. Included in this line was Thomas Jarvis who was a member of the assembly and Deputy Governor from 1691 to 1694. In the list of Quit Rents from September 29, 1729 to March 1732, the smallest farm was 20 acres owned by Margaret Banet and the largest 2,498 owned by Joseph Saunderson. The average size of a farm in Currituck County was 326 acres but most farms were from 100-250 acres.
Water has played an important part in the life of Currituck if for no other reason than the beauty of it. Currituck was one of the five original ports in North Carolina. The old Currituck Inlet closed in the 1730s but the New Currituck Inlet had opened up. In 1726, the General Assembly appropriated funds to mark the new inlet. In the early 1700s, the port had a very active business. The collector of the Currituck Customs House had a friend of dubious standing by the name of Edward Teach, better known as "Blackbeard". By the time of the Revolution, the Port of Currituck was dwindling into insignificance but as late as 1786, 194 schooners, 43 sloops and five brigs came into the port. Final closure of the banks came in 1828 and changed the sound from salt water to brackish and Currituck into a land-locked area. It is recorded in the colonial records that cows were so used to having water around, they learned to swim from one island to another
. Education and religion have also played an important part in the lives of the people of Currituck. John Bennett, in 1710, provided "that forty shillings be taken out of my whole estate before any decision be made to pay for ye schooling of two poor children to pay their schooling and to remain unto ye world's end." Indian Town Academy, 1761, and Currituck Seminary of Learning, 1789, are more examples of the interest in education. In this line of persons caring for education came Dr. W.T. Griggs and Joseph P. Knapp.
In a religious survey done in 1731, in the Albemarle the majority of people were Quakers and Anta Baptist (now known as Baptist). In Currituck, the first Methodist sermon in North Carolina was preached at the courthouse; the oldest continuing Methodist Church is Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, as supported by the "History of Mt. Zion Church." In 1712, Rev. Rainford of the Society for the Preservation of the Gospel wrote of preaching at Indian Town to vast crowds.
William Byrd in his "Dividing Line Diary," 1728, gives us a good look at life in Currituck. On March 5, 1728, the commissioners met at Currituck Inlet and started placing the boundary between Virginia and Carolina. Much to Virginia's surprise, a "great quantity of land and numbers of families" were place in North Carolina that before had been under Virginia. Mr. Byrd said there was a great rejoicing which he puts down to the people's preference to the indolent and lawless life of the frontier instead of the "civilized government of Virginia." Sounds like great prejudice to me!
William Byrd also said, "The only business here is the raising of hogs, which is managed with the least trouble and affords the diet they are most fond of. The truth of it is the inhabitants of North Carolina devour so much swine's flesh that it fills them full of gross humous...." And today, Currituck is still a leading pork producer.
Also, those of you who have stopped picking corn to read this may be interested to know that in colonial times it's written that "Indian corn is of so great increase that a little pains will subsist a very large family with bread."
And clothes, or the lack of them, is nothing new. Mr. Byrd found a couple living on the beach who for raiment, he depended "mostly upon his length of beard, and she upon her length of hair, part of which she brought decently forward and the rest dangled behind." Remember this when you fuss about the bikini you see today. We have progressed!
Seriousness soon took over in problems with the Royal Government. Four Provincial Congresses were held in North Carolina. Governor Martin refused to call the Provincial Congress to elect delegates to the Continental Congress so an independent Provincial Congress was called at New Bern. This was the first independent Provincial Congress called in the nation. Solomon Perkins, Nathan Poyner and Samuel Jarvis were the representatives from Currituck. At the second meeting, Thomas MacKnight and Francis Williams joined the other three men. Thomas MacKnight was a wealthy shipyard owner, merchant and land owner, but when it came to signing his name to an agreement not to trade with England, he withdrew. 1775 was not a time to have divided loyalties. MacKnight fled to New York, and later to England with Lord Dunsmore after the burning of Norfolk. MacKnight's property was taken and rented out by Isaac Gregory, a Mr. Ferebee and Abner Harrison.
By December 1775, things were looking bad. The British were marching. On the Outer Banks, people were worried about British raids. At this time a large number of people lived on the Banks. When Great Bridge was threatened, a young girl rode across the sound to Perquimans to get help at the Battle of Great Bridge [see this page] . According to legend, Betsy Dowdy rode 50 miles to get help during the night. The Currituck Militia went to the Battle of Great Bridge but the battle only lasted 30 minutes and the militia arrived two days late on December 11, 1775.
When the news of the Declaration of Independence reached Currituck, there was great rejoicing. On day the Doziers, Ferebees, Moncriefs, Snowdens, Lees, Mannings, Brays, Bells, Barnards, Simmons, Etheridges, Cowells, Sears, Ballentines, Baxters, Gregorys, Baums, Ballances, and Brabbles met to raise a flag to the new republic. We don't know which of the many new flags for the republic it was but the remaining 26 feet of the pole is still in Currituck. It is now used as a sill under a house and a will was written stipulating that a house be kept over it at all times. This pole has been long called the "Liberty Pole."
Currituck was active during the Revolutionary War with raids on the beach plus making supplies for the Continental Army. In one record, Currituck was to furnish 36 hats, 149 yards of linen, 72 yards of woolen or double woven cotton, 72 shoes, and 72 stockings. General Skinner wrote that it took two days to review the Currituck Militia. The people asked for a battery at the Currituck Inlet to protect themselves from British plunderings. Veterans of the American Revolution from Currituck include Sam Jarvis, John Nicholson, Dennis Dozier, Hollowell Williams, Taylor Jones, Solomon Perkins, Asabel Simmonds, John Pointer and William and Joseph Ferebee. We know the Jarvis Co., 10th North Carolina Continental troops, were of the line at Valley Forge. As Cornwallis moved, the Currituck and Camden troops were ordered to make a stand at Tulls Creek in November 1780, but Cornwallis moved on to Yorktown and defeat. The people of Currituck have been known for their independence and they helped our nation gain hers. A Currituckian, Samuel Ferebee, was around to accept and ratify the U.S. Constitution for the State of North Carolina.
Currituck has continued to play an active part in the history of the country sending numerous people to serve during the Civil War, including Colonel Henry Shaw, for whom Shawboro was named. After the Civil War Currituck recovered quickly because of her agriculture and duck hunting industry, allowing numerous hunting clubs to be built throughout the county.
She continued to serve during the World Wars, and today is one of the leading counties in North Carolina facing and trying to meet problems with growth and modernization.
From the ideals of Currituck has come a nation and a state. From the land of Currituck has come Tyrrell, Hyde, Carteret and Dare Counties. In 1819, the saying was not Murphy to Manteo, but rather "put one foot upon the shores of Currituck and the other on the mountains of Buncombe." Currituck has a much longer history, but I will leave you to find out about the Mennonites who grew mint and why the county seat was almost moved and the name changed because I do not want to take from you the joy of discovering Currituck's great heritage.
© 2010 Kay Midgett Sheppard