Bertie County (1722)

Written By Jonathan Martin

A large county in the northeastern part of North Carolina, Bertie originated in 1722 when the state legislature decided to separate the county from Chowan. Bertie has a distinct advantage over other counties in the region because of its rich soil sustained by the rivers that flowing along and within its borders. The Chowan and Roanoke Rivers, along with the Cashie River, have bolstered the agricultural economy of Bertie since the first Native Americans inhabited the land. The initial tribe that dwelt in present-day Bertie were the Tuscarora, a tribal branch of the northern Iroquois. In the middle of the seventeenth century, English explorers and hunters traversed the land in search of fur goods, trade opportunities with the Indians, and open land for future settlers. The influx of the white traders and trappers provoked the Tuscarora, eventually leading to the Tuscarora War (1711-1713).

Bertie County is named in honor James and Henry Bertie, two of the first Lord Proprietors of North Carolina.  The county’s first white resident, and possibly the first white resident in what became North Carolina, Nathaniel Batts lived near Salmon Creek in 1655.  In 1653, George Yeardley commissioned Batts to explore the Albermarle Sound region for fertile farm land.  Batts searched the region for a year, and his survey of the land eventually led to a land agreement between Yeardley and Chief Kiscatanewh of the Pasquotank.  Given a large tract of land in present-day Bertie County, Yeardley agreed to build Chief Kiscatanewh an English-style house.  In addition, Yeardley also constructed a house for Batts in 1655, and the small twenty-foot square house served as a dwelling place for Batts during the fur-trading season.  However, Batts moved away from Bertie after being overrun by the Tuscarora in 1667, but the house continued to function as a fur-trading post during the next fifty years.

Bertie’s seat of government, Windsor, was incorporated in 1766, and the town is named after Windsor Castle, a seasonal house occupied by the British monarchy. Other communities and townships in Bertie include Lewiston-Woodville, Indian Woods, Colerain, Aulander, and Roxobel. Indian Woods, a large expanse of land in southwestern section of Bertie, was once a reservation for the tribe that aided the English settlers during the Tuscarora War.  The Northern Tuscarora, led by Chief Blount, inhabited Indian Woods in 1717, but in 1828 the remaining Indians moved away to South Carolina and Virginia; they bequeathed their rights to Indian Woods to Bertie County.

Numerous historic sites and houses still exist in Bertie.  Some of these spots include the Hope Plantation, the King-Bazemore House (1763), Sans Souci Ferry, and the American version of the Windsor Castle (1858). In the early 1800s, David Stone (1770-1818), a Bertie native, U.S. Congressman and N.C. Governor, built the Hope Plantation. Restored in the 1960s, the Hope Plantation exemplifies Jeffersonian architecture which was widely popular during the Federal era. The Windsor Castle (1858), constructed in Bertie County by Patrick H. Winston, was the birthplace for several prominent Winston children: George, Francis, and Robert. George T. Winston served as president of three prominent colleges: the University of North Carolina from 1891 to 1896, North Carolina State University from 1899 to 1908, and the University of Texas. Francis Winston performed several duties to the state as an attorney, judge, and lieutenant governor (1905-1909), and Robert W. Winston worked as an judge and public speaker and authored several biographies.

Bertie County is home to several cultural events, and the county’s many rivers and wetlands distinguish the region from surrounding counties. Some of the festivals held in Bertie include Fun Day in the Park at Windsor, Chicken on the Cashie, and the Sea and Tee Festival. The Cashie and Roanoke Rivers, the Albemarle Sound, Conine Island, and the Roanoke River swamps are all part of Bertie’s natural scenery.

Many noteworthy figures have called Bertie County home. William Blount (1749-1800) was born in Bertie, and he was a well-known political figure during the Revolution period.  Blount served on the Continental Congress, as governor of the Southwest Territory, and as a U.S. Senator from Tennessee.  George H. Throop (1818-1896), a New York citizen, wrote two novels, Nags Head (1850) and Bertie (1851), while residing in Bertie County. The two novels examine the antebellum upper-class of Bertie and provide a glimpse into the plantation life of the North Carolina elite.  Locke Craig (1860-1925), a citizen of Bertie County, served as North Carolina governor from 1913 to 1917. Known as the “Good Roads” governor, Craig created the state’s first highway commission, which brought better roads into Bertie and the rest of North Carolina.