Chowan County Courthouse (1767)

Written By Jonathan Martin

In 1712, the North Carolina Colonial Assembly appropriated funds for construction of “a Court House to hold the Assembly in, at the fork of Queen Anne’s Creek, commonly called Matchacamak Creek in Chowan Precinct.” The courthouse was completed in 1718, and it served as the hub of the colonial community.

The original Chowan County Courthouse was built out of wood and after several years, its structure began to depreciate. Joseph Hewes and Jacob Blount, Edenton government officials, called for a new courthouse in the fall of 1766. Finished in 1767, the new courthouse was built on East King Street, and it currently sits in the same place today.

Although the Chowan County Courthouse architect is unknown, historians consider it to be John Hawks, architect of the Tryon Palace, or Gilbert Leigh. The courthouse is an example of classic Georgian architecture. It has a central courtroom with offices and a small yet impressive apse in the back of the courtroom.

During the American Revolution, notables such as Joseph Hewes, James Iredell, and Samuel Johnston practiced law and met in the courthouse.  In the 1770s and 1780s the second floor was used as an assembly room for North Carolina Patriots. The Masons of Unanimity #7, an organization to which George Washington once belonged, met in the building in the late 1770s.

The courthouse remains the oldest government building in continuous use in North Carolina. According to Deborah Joy, “In 1970 the Chowan County Courthouse, the finest of its kind in the South and a key attraction in the modern Historic Edenton State Historic Site, was recognized as a National Historic Landmark” (Encyclopedia, p. 217).