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MUSEUM OF THE ALBEMARLE

Batts was first Colonial settler of the Albemarle

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By Ben Speller
Columnist

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The first permanent English settlers in North Carolina were Virginians who heard glowing stories of fertile bottom lands, abundant timber resources, and an excellent climate. They moved into the Albemarle Sound area about 1650, acquiring land through the doctrine of discovery and purchasing land from the local Native American tribes.

The Virginia General Assembly granted land along the Chowan and Roanoke rivers to the Rev. Roger Green in 1653. Green of Nansemond County, Virginia, is credited with founding North Carolina’s first settlement in July 1653 on the bank of the Moratuck or Roanoke River and on the south side of the Chowan and tributary streams. He was granted 10,000 acres of land for himself and 100 such persons. By 1657, Nathaniel Batts had a house at the western end of Albemarle Sound on Salmon Creek. By October of 1668, Chowan, Currituck, Pasquotank, and Perquimans precincts had been formed in Albemarle County.

Francis Yeardley, a wealthy Virginia legislator hired Nathaniel Batts, also living in Virginia, to explore the Albemarle Sound region. Batts was a fur trader, explorer, and Indian interpreter. He became the first recorded European to settle permanently in North Carolina in 1655.

He often appears as Captain Nathaniel Batts in the records of Norfolk County, Virginia, where his wife owned land by her prior husband, Henry Woodhouse. The Woodhouse land later became part of North Carolina.

While Batts explored the region, Robert Bodnam, a carpenter, was sent by Yeardley in 1665 to build a house for Nathaniel Batts on the Chowan River between the Roanoke River and Salmon Creek. The small two-room building known as "Batts House" was located at or near the Indian village, Tandaquomuc.

At the trading post, Batts bartered for furs and other staples among the native Indian tribes of the area. The furs were sent to Virginia and then exported to Europe. This was the beginning of mutual commerce between the European Caucasians and native Indian tribes in the Chowan area of the Albemarle.

Along with his land interest in southern Virginia, Batts continued to be heavily involved in Carolina. On September 24, 1660 he purchased from Kiscutanewh, king of the Yeopin Indians, all the land on the west bank of the Pasquotank River from its mouth to the head of New Begin Creek. This transaction, which survives in the records of Lower Norfolk County, Virginia, is the oldest known surviving North Carolina land deed.

Batts also held land in Chowan Precinct on which he lived for a time. His best-known holding was Heriots Island at the mouth of Yeopin River at the Albemarle Sound.

Batts, like many frontier traders, preferred the company of his Native American customers over that of his European neighbors. His choice might also have to do more with business than the cultural aspects of society. Pirates and smugglers abounded on the Carolina sounds in the 17th century; therefore, this was a perfect decision for a leading trader to position his business to take advantage of another trading opportunity.

Batts died and was buried there about 1679. Later generations called the island “Batts Grave.” The island disappeared forever in a 1950s hurricane.

Ben Speller is president of the Friends of the Museum of the Albemarle. He is a member and secretary of the Edenton Historical Commission where he also serves as chairman of the History and Legends Taskforce. He is a retired professor in the North Carolina Central University School of Library and Information Sciences where he served as dean from 1983-2003.

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