Perquimans County (1668)

Written By Jonathan Martin

The Yeopim and the Weapemeoc were the original natives of the region, and the Yeopim called the land Perquimans which meant “the land of beautiful women.”  A derivative of the Algonquians and the Tuscarora, the Yeopim were driven away by the English and Welsh settlers. By 1701, there were only six warriors within Perquimans because most had moved to a reservation in present-day Camden County.


The first settlers to present-day Perquimans County were Nathaniel Batts, John Harvey, and George Durant.  All three men were trappers and hunters looking for an outpost for fur trading, and in the 1660s they built homes on the edge of the southern territory between Virginia and North Carolina.  On August 1, 1661, and March 4, 1662, Durant finalized deeds with the chief of the Yeopim.  The agreement allowed Durant land between the Little River and Albemarle Sound, and the records still exist making them the oldest surviving land deeds in North Carolina.  In 1663, George Catchmade, a member of the House of Burgesses, received a grant from Lord Proprietor William Berkeley.  Catchmade organized groups to “settle and seat” the land that Durant had allocated from the Yeopim.  Regardless of the overlap, Perquimans was established as a precinct of Albermarle County in late 1668.


In the stages of the county’s early history a political dispute led to Culpeper’s Rebellion in 1677.  The trappers and their families were the first settlers to the region, but as soon as immigrants operating under Catchmade’s charter arrived, tensions arose.  George Durant and Zachary Gillam were arrested, but John Culpeper organized a group of citizens and freed both of the men. The traitors imprisoned the governor, Thomas Miller, which led to the start of the rebellion.  In early 1678, a new council was elected, and Durant and Gillam became advocates to the English proprietors along with Seth Sothel, who became acting governor of the Albemarle County.  However, Turk pirates captured Sothel during his trip from England to the new Carolina colony.  Although he was eventually released from the pirates, Sothel became an oppressive ruler, and in 1689 Sothel was arrested and sent away from Perquimans.  The rebellion died away after Sothel’s departure, and Durant, along with the new council, remained in charge.


Dissension continued in Perquimans and the surrounding counties when Bath County was created in 1696.  Cary’s Rebellion, named after Thomas Cary a Bath politician and rebellion leader, was the result of an power struggle among the southern precincts because all of them sought equal representation, and because of Cary’s cause to protect the fur trade which was central to Bath’s economy.  Cary was able to win support from the Quakers who influenced the rebellion from its inception to end. Upon the removal of Thomas Cary from the governor position, several skirmishes occurred throughout the Pamlico, Bath, and Perquimans region.  However, after the rebellion Perquimans County began losing its prominence in colonial politics.  Edenton became the seat of government in 1716, and the Quakers lost most of their sway in Perquimans’s politics.


Despite the rebellions that occurred in early Perquimans, the Society of Friends, or the Quakers, were influential in early colonial politics.  George and Edmundson Fox traveled to Carolinas during the 1670s and they established several churches in the state.  While at present-day Hertford at Henry Phelps’s home, the Fox brothers organized the first religious meeting that residents had ever been experienced in the county.  The men loathed the lack of religion and civility among the people they encountered at Hertford, and Edmundson later retraced his steps through Perquimans and met with the governor and other officials in the region.  Most of the politicians converted and became Quakers, and the first church in North Carolina was built shortly after.  The Quakers exhibited their influence throughout Perquimans until the end of the Cary Rebellion in the early 1700s.


Hertford, the seat of government in Perquimans, was established in 1758.  That makes it one of the oldest towns in the state.  Named in after Hertford, England, Hertford was originally Phelps Point because Jonathan Phelps owned the land.  Winfall, Chapanoke, Belvidere, Durants Neck, and Snug Harbor are the other communities and townships within the region.  Several rivers, creeks, and knolls lie within Perquimans; the Albemarle Sound along with the Perquimans, Little, and Yeopim Rivers and the Godwin and Sutton Creeks are the notable tributaries of the region.  The Harvey and Grassy Points are hills within Perquimans.  The county is noted for its nearly 100 miles of shoreline which attracts numerous hunters, fishermen, and boaters to Perquimans.


Several Perquimans historic sites showcase the county’s deep, cultural history.  The Alfred Moore House (ca. 1825), the Thomas Nixon Plantation (1848), and the Piney Woods Friends Meetinghouse (1854) are distinguishable nineteenth century houses in the county.  The Newbold-White House (ca. 1730) is one of the oldest colonial buildings within North Carolina.  Named after its last two owners, Jim W. White and John Newbold, the house served as a meeting place for Quaker congregations and as a center for government council in the colonial era of Perquimans.  The Perquimans County Indian Summer Festival, the Spring Fling and Old-Timers Game, and the Hearth and Harvest Festival are cultural outings held in the region annually.