April 26, 2013.
THE HISTORY OF KNOTTS ISLAND, NORTH CAROLINA
CORNERSTONE OF THE STATE AND THE ENCLOSED SEA
I. DISCOVERY, EXPLORATION, AND SETTLEMENT
A. EUROPE DISCOVERS THE NEW WORLD
Surely the most familiar date known to the American schoolboy is
1492 and well it might be, for an Italian sailing under the flag
of Spain created a vast world in the unknown that would shortly
furnish food for exploration, settlement, and new empire. The
voyages of Christopher Columbus were not the beginning of Europe's
interest in world trade and new lands, however, but it was rather
the "religious" Crusades of the late eleventh century that
revealed the varieties of the East.
The overland routes to the Indies and China became almost obsolete
in 1453 when the Turks captured Constantinople thus severing these
lanes of trade. Other ways must be found, for now trade was
acutely vital to the West motivated no little by the Renaissance.
The latter can never be overemphasized in the part it played on
the stage of world exploration. Men must have the intellectual
desire to improve and Europe's Renaissance was masterful in this
permeation. Before Columbus' venture, trade experienced a number
of stimuli such as the school of Prince Henry the Navigator and
the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope in 1478 by Bartholomew Diaz.
The discovery of America preceded a hundred years of intensive
exploration necessary before permanent settlement could be firmly
rooted. The veil was now split revealing a world strange indeed;
one that would afford many prizes. The East was all but forgotten
as the western world was illuminated with the greedy smiles of
The gun was fired and the contestants raced away to claim a share
of the erratic treasure called America. Spain had a decisive start
through her early exploits in southern North America. Francisco
Pizarro conquered the wealth of Peru during the 1530's while
Hernando Cortes intruded upon Montezuma‘s Mexico. Ponce de Leon
landed in Florida followed in two decades by Hernando de Soto and
western America was opened by Francisco Coronado whose expedition
sought the gold paved “Seven Cities of Cibola." To the Spanish
must be given credit for the first permanent white settlement in
the present United States: St. Augustine, 1565.
While Spain encompassed the south, France was seeking a Northern
route to the Indies and in 1535 Jacques Cartier entered the St
Lawrence River discovering much fish and fur. However, major
efforts in trade, exploring, and settlement were to come with
Samuel de Champlain in 1603.
England, hearing of Columbus' discoveries, was in no hurry to send
forth expensive expeditions, but did establish a firm claim
through the explorations of John Cabot on the North American coast
in 1497 The British Isles were undergoing a great economic change
agriculture to industry and under the mercantile system three main
practices must be perfected. There must be a favorable balance of
specie, a source of raw materials, and a market for the
manufactured wares. It is quite easy to understand England's new
interest, but internal strife and political affairs in Europe
delayed immediate attainment of the goals. The rivalries between
the island kingdom and Spain were biter even unto active force.
Gilbert, Drake, and Hawkins, her Majesty's "Sea Dogs,' plundered
Spanish treasure in the New World and the private war even reached
the point of English raids on Spanish sea towns.
The finale was indeed dramatic, a colorful Armada departed from
Spain in the summer of 1588 taking with it the total hopes of
Philip II. With twice the tonnage of the English, the "invincible"
fleet sailed into the Channel to encounter Lord Howard of
Effingham ably assisted by Francis Drake and Martin Frobisher.
Enjoying the blessing of natures wrath on the Armada, the English
were completely victorious and for the first time in an age she
was free from the fear of Spain. England was now a world power;
the turning point had been cast in the die.(1).
B. DISCOVERY OF THE ENCLOSED SEA
The Virgin Queen believed that to fully succeed as a new
commercial nation England must colonize, therefore Elizabeth gave
to Sir Humphrey Gilbert letters patent for territory in the New
World. In 1583 Gilbert settled on Newfoundland, but this was as
short lived as the life of Sir Humphrey.
A court favorite, Sir Walter Raleigh, became the Queen's next
choice as designer of the contemplated empire. Greater dreams had
no one than he! This poet, historian, and adventurer sent M Philip
Amadas and M. Arthur Barlowe on April 27, 1584 from the Isle with
"...free liberty and license...to discover, search, find out, and
view such remote heathen and barbarous lands... "(2).
Arriving on the coast of present day North Carolina, they found
entrance through an inlet (Trinity Harbor) into an "Enclosed Sea"
in which they found and named Roanoke Island.(3). The two captains
noted that "Besides this Island Roanoke there are many..." varying
in size from two to five miles more or less "Most beautiful and
pleasant to behold .... "(4). The islands mentioned are found in
the enclosed sea (Currituck, Albemarle, and Pamlico Sounds) which
lies between the chain of sand banks and the mainland of North
Carolina one of which is Roanoke Island and another - Knotts
Island.(5). An island by island description is not found in the
records of Amadas and Barlowe, but the islands are referred to as
plentiful in "fruits and other natural increases..." with many
Indian townes and villages located along the mainland.(6).
The adventurers returned to their native land carrying with them
two natives of "Virginia", Manteo and Wanchese, as well as
descriptive tales of the garden spot. Sir Walter was well pleased
and plans for a complete settlement were made.
C. DISCOVERY AND EXPLORATION OF KNOTTS ISLAND
Knotts Island was discovered twenty-two years before the
Newport expedition settled on Jamestwon Island. In 1585 this dot
of land was both discovered and explored by the settlers of
England on Roanoke Island which deduction is based upon due
consideration of the accounts. Naturally the Raleigh colony did
not record "We discovered and explored Knotts Island," for they
did not know it from any of the numerous islands and slices of
land surrounding them.
"An account of the particularities of the imployments of the
Englishmen left in Virginia by Richard Greenwill under the charge
of Ralph Lane General of the same, from the 17. of August l585
until the 18. of June 1586 at which time they departed the
Countrey;..." reveals that the second Raleigh expedition arrived,
as stated, August 17, 1585 to explore and select a location for
permanent settlement.(7). As Amadas and Barlowe they entered
through an inlet and located on Roanoke Island.
Not satisfied with this selection without investigation of other
possibilities, a group in a small craft ventured into the south,
but found no suitable place due to the vastness of the waters.(8).
Their next search affords positive proof that Knotts Island was
discovered at this time. Having exhausted their efforts to the
southward of Roanoke Island, they recorded
To the Northward our furthest discover was to
the Chesepians (Indian tribe; Chespeake Bay)
distant from Roanoke about 130 miles, the passage to it was very
shallow and most dangerous, by reason of the
bredth of the sound, and the little succour (help) that upon
any flawe was ther to be had.(9).
The route proceeded into the north through Currituck Sound since
there was no other way of reaching the Chesapeake other than this.
The author‘s claim is fully supported by Dr. Francis L. Hawks who
says, "Their voyage must have been up Currituck sound; .... "(10).
Once in the Sound they still must reach their goal and to
accomplish this they must have entered the Atlantic Ocean through
Currituck Inlet and by rounding Cape Henry the Bay would be in
sight.(11) There is a claim they left their craft at the head of
Currituck Sound (Back Bay), but this is not probable.(12). It was
a great deal easier in the days of Indian trails only to journey
on the road of the sea than through the unknown wilds. Master
Ralph Lane, the captain, also recorded they marched inland about
fifteen miles which indicates they reached Cape Henry or Virginia
Beach by water and then went inland almost to the present site of
Further proof of this route is strikingly evident in reverse. A
letter from Mr. Francis Yardley living at Linnehaven (on
Chesapeake Bay; Princess Anne County) to John Farrar, Esq.,
Huntingdonshire, England, dated May 8, 1654 reveals that a beaver
trader appeared at his home the past September to seek aid in
recovering a vessel that he believed had drifted to Rhoanoke
Island. He received aid from Yardley as well as guides and soon
they "entered in at Caratoke (Currituck Inlet), ten leagues to the
southward or Cape Henry, and so went to Rhoanoke Island ...."(14).
Another allusion to the route is the testimony on July 14, 1737 of
William Pierce who told of a convict running away from Nansemond
(Virginia) and entering North Carolina via Currituck Inlet.(15).
Certainly without a doubt this was the conventional way; the one
used by Lane's expedition since it was the natural route.
The point to be made is that Knott's Island is located directly
opposite Currituck Inlet and to use the latter passageway would
bring the Raleigh expedition in contact with the Island. Thus did
the small craft of Lane on the trip to the Chesapeake Bay discover
to their left a wooded area of pines and rich land that is the
subject of this paper. Explored? Very probable since the prime
motive or the jaunt was to explore the lands of the enclosed sea
and seek a suitable location for permanent colonization. The
distance between Knotts Island and the sand bank that created the
inlet is a mile a half; quite near the route.
To the precise historian this claim may appear somewhat crude, but
the scant records available of the expedition of Lane to the north
do provide a complete line when deduction is applied. 1585 --
Knotts Island discovered and explored. The month of discovery was
more than likely the last or September considering the time spent
on Roanoke Island and in explorations to the south before the
Earlier proof of discovery is not substantial enough to merit a
claim since the logs are so incomplete. The Spanish explorers
Quexos and Ayllon sailed the North American coast in 1521 and 1526
respectively, but the records are not complete to the point of
designating their exact movements in the Knotts Island area.
Perhaps they did enter one of the many inlets and explore the
" Verrazzano in 1524 rode at anchor for three days off the upper
North Carolina coast, but there is nothing specific. No earthly
annals can reveal their minute proceedings.
It is unfortunate that a detailed account of the intense
searchings does not exist. How helpful it would be to know of
Knotts Island's habitation and endowments at this early age. The
enclosed sea is reported as shallow and dangerous and a concise
description of the Chesepians tells of the fertility of the soil,
the excellent location, the multitude of bears, and the great
woods.(16). Except for location, we can imagine Knotts Island to
be also a virtual garden spot.
One of the most sorrowful and unfortunate mysteries of history was
now enacted upon a stage set in a deep wilderness. The Raleigh
colony on Roanoke Island vanished between 1587 – 1590 leaving
behind them only ruins and the crude wording “Croatoan”. Sir
Walter's dream fell victim to who knows what?(17).
D. THE VIRGINIA COLONY
Knotts Island and the kingdom of the "Enclosed Sea" now returned
to their former state, free from the interference of the white
man, to sleep once again. This retirement of the New World was
short lived, however, with less than two decades elapsing until
the revival of settlement. With the defeat of the Spanish on the
English Channel in July of 1588 came England’s turning point and
all out participation now began.
James II granted charters in 1606 to two stock companies, London
and Plymouth, and with the dawning of May 6, 1607 104 colonists
landed at Cape Henry, offered thanks for a successful voyage, and
proceeded up the James River to establish a settlement on
Jamestown. This would be a permanent occupancy because one man
possessed foresight. Captain John Smith knew that to survive the
perils of the wilds the colony must meet the environment rather
than seek gold.
More colonists arrived, women and slaves were imported, and a
system of government was installed while with the perfection of
tobacco in 1612 by John Rolfe the future of Virginia was assured.
An agrarian society developed enticing many to leave the British
Isles and seek success in the colonial outpost; England's dreams
As the number of inhabitants increased, the government expanded to
meet the needs. The various plantations were formed into eight
shires (counties) in 1634 one of which was Elizabeth City. This
southern shire, as the years rolled by, was itself divided into
The dividing lines between Virginia and Carolina were extremely
indefinite and therefore Knotts Island, due to its location, was
for years considered in Lower Norfolk County and later Princess
Anne County. For this reason the reader can well see this is as
much Virginia history as it is Carolina history. A great deal of
the facts concerning the Island are found in Virginia documents
both public and private.
E. THE CAROLINA COLONY
King Charles II set his seal March 20, 1663 and gave through a
charter the land contained between the latitudes 31 and 36 degrees
North to George, duke of Albemarle; Edward, earl of Clarendon;
William, earl of Craven; John, Lord Berkeley; Anthony, Lord
Ashley; Sir George Carteret; Sir William Berkeley; and Sir John
The vast five degrees of parallel must now be settled; in fact it
had been investigated before the charter of 1663. Two years later
on June 30 Charles once again set his seal and extended the
territory on the north to 36 degrees, 30 minutes.
The author concludes the land called Carolina was settled in four
ways. Even before the charters some persons had purchased land
from the Indians as did George Durant from Kilcocanen the king of
the Yeopim Indians on March 1, 1662. The section secured became
known as “Durant‘s Neck."(19). Others desiring a taste of the land
received theirs through grant from the Virginia government which
gave land in the present state or North Carolina since the
boundary line was not known.
Such was the method used in disposing or Knotts Island as the
original Virginia land patents and grants reveal. The first date
was September 25, 1663. On this date the land in the Knotts Island
area was deeded for the first time. William Munday received 300
acres in Carratucks Creek for paying the passage of six persons
from the old country to Virginia.(20). This was known as the
headright system whereby fifty acres of land was given to anyone
paying the passage fee of a person coming to the colony. William
West received 2500 acres running from the Perquimmins River
northeast to the "mouth of a small creeke called Curraticke”
(adjacent to Knotts Island) while John Harvey secured 600 acres in
a small creek called "Carrawtucks" and Henry White, Jr. 750 acres
near the same.(21). The above four were given the same date and on
September 10, 1664 William Basnett of Lower Norfolk City received
510 acres, all that remained, on the north branch of
Others were given land by the Lord Proprietors of Carolina and the
fourth group utilized the popular custom of squatting on the land
desired. The logical step to follow would be to trace the names of
the grantees receiving land on Knotts Island, but, alas, their
dispersion of the land can not be found and we can only be
satisfied with the original grants. As early as 1622 settlers
flocked to Carolina‘s coast to escape the Great Massacre of the
Virginia colony by the Indians.(23). The newly granted colony was
swiftly populated due no little to a Carolina law stating that no
one could be arrested for debts owed before coming to the
In 1664 the first governor, William Drummond, was appointed and a
council of twelve was then created. The first legislature met in
1665 and the Established Church of England was named the official
place of worship. The Albemarle section was soon fully settled and
the colony was consequently divided into precincts one of which
was Currituck, the county containing Knotts Island.
Knotts Island does not appear by name in recorded history until
March 16, 1692 in the report of Thomas Milner to the
lieutenant-governor and council of state in regards to the
boundary line between Virginia and Carolina.(25). For this reason
much of this narrative deals with the closely surrounding area for
which records are available.
F. THE INDIANS OF NORTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA
The activities of the Indians of the Currituck area range from a
peaceful voyage to her majesty's throne room to one of the bloody
massacres of American history. No history of an early settlement
is complete without some facts alluding to its Indians, for it is
they who unfold much of the geography of the region. How
regrettable it is the savages did not leave to the historians an
account of the white man's activities. It would be quite
refreshing to partake of their view of American history as a
welcome change to the continual rewriting now experienced in the
Captains Amadas and Barlowe were warmly welcomed upon their
arrival in the enclosed sea. Riding at anchor off Roanoke Island,
they cautiously received a delegation of Indians who went out of
their way to extend hospitality. Upon the departure for England
the ship carried to the queen‘s court Manteo and Wanchese, natives
of the New World and enclosed sea.(26).
The voyage the following year, 1585, of Richard Grenville and
Ralph Lane uncovers the Indian province of Weapomeiok on Knott's
Island ruled by Okisco.(27).
Hawks' History of North Carolina discloses, without reference to a
source for the statement, that the "Poteskeet or Currituck Indians
lived on the banks that form the eastern part of the county of
Currituck,...."(28). The records lead to the conclusion that the
Island was not always inhabited by Indians, but served rather as a
hunting reserve and a wealthy source of fish and oysters. John
Lawson's description of North Carolina in 1700 reports the red man
preferred to live at the head of rivers that emptied into some
larger body of water.(29).
By 1700 the Indian was very scarce in the extreme eastern section
(Currituck) of North Carolina. The Tuskerruros, largest tribe in
the colony, numbered only sixteen men on the Sand Banks.(30).
The Reverend James Adams, minister for the Established Church in
Currituck, reported 2000 people in that country and Pasquotank in
1707 with 70 or 80 Indians most or whom spoke English.(31).
The Indians of the region were clean cut, straight people tall in
stature with their limbs well shaped. Their eyes glowed with a
black or dark hazel while the skin was tawny beyond its natural
color since they constantly daubed with oil. They had no hair on
their faces and were not as robust as the white man. Since they
mastered handicrafts with amazing rapidity, they were of frequent
use to the English who purchased their services for a mere
All was not total peace in the Albemarle between native and white
intruder, for with the increase of the latter friction naturally
developed. The matter was intercolonial with Virginia affected as
well as the colony to her south. As early as December 15, 1651
constables were ordered to notify all men to fix arms in
preparation for sudden Indian raids.(33). These notices were more
than occasional and seemed routine to the settlers. Not so
commonplace was the event that was destined to come.
No doubt William Drummond foresaw it when as governor of North
Carolina (1664 - 1667) he pressed (drafted; compelled) people in
east Currituck as a result of Indians killing some English living
on the "So. (Shore) of Currituck Inlet in Carolina ...."(34).
The acme of friction, wrote Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood
to Lord Dartmouth on October 15, 1711, broke with the dawning of
September 22 upon the heads of the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers (near
the Virginia line) when the Tuscaruro Indians began their
massacre.(35). This was the famous Tuscaruro War, but the tribe
was joined by other nameless nations of smaller number.
The outbreak had been mounting for years and entered the bloody
stage when John Lawson, Surveyor-General of North Carolina,
attempted to lay off land for new settlements.(36). The offensive
war by the Tuscaruros was a defense of their domain. Governor
Spotswood sent the Virginia militia to prevent the Virginia
Indians from joining the massacre while North Carolina reeled
before the severe savage blows.(37).
Many unsuspecting settlers fell victim to the sudden attack and
among them was Lawson for whom the Indians nursed a special
hatred. Governor Edward Hyde called forth the North Carolina
militia which was soon joined by 600 troops and 360 Indians
furnished by the legislature of South Carolina. The main body of
the hostiles was fortified in Craven County where it sufrered
attack and defeat with 300 of the Tuscaruro killed and a hundred
The war affected Knotts Island directly as the sworn testimony of
George Bullock proves. This statement was made June 8, 1711 before
Edward Moseley and John Lawson, surveyors, who were investigating
the boundary controversy and it tells of Samuell Stephens,
Carolina governor, pressing the people of "Knotts plane,... Back
Bay..." and to the "Northward of Currituck Inlet" into
service.(39). As remote as it was, Knotts Island was called upon
to send its men on a march to New Berne in Craven County to meet
The part the Indian portrays in local history should never be
1. To Leif Ericsson, a Norseman, America can give credit for its
discovery. In the year 1000 he explored the coast of the present
United States as far as Rhode Island and recent findings lead to
the conclusion that the Scandinavian reached Northern Virginia.
2. Richard Hakluyt, The Voyages of The English Nation to America,
3. Francis L. Hawks, The History of North Carolina, I, 87. Even
though Hawks recounts the history of North Carolina, he includes
in his volumes reprints of the original documents which are used
in this paper, taken from Hawks, because of their accessibility
4. Hakluyt, op. cit., II, 292.
5. See frontispiece.
6. Hakluyt, op. cit., II, 292.
7. Ibid., II, 302
10. Hawks, op. cit.
11. Infra, 49.
12. Samuel A'Court Ashe, History of North Carolina, I, 31
13. Hakluyt, op. cit., I, 302. Today there is a distance of
eighteen miles from Virginia Beach to Norfolk.
14. William L. Saunders, Colonial Records of North Carolina, I, 18
reprinting from Thurloe State Paper, II, 273.
15. Virginia Historical Register, VI, 97.
16. Hakluyt, op. cit., II, 303.
17. This author, like many historians, has his beliefs as to the
fate of the Raleigh colony left on Roanoke Island. The colonists
left the fort to seek food and protection from the hostile
Indians. What more can the lettering on the tree mean other than
the goal of their departure? Without a doubt their ancestors are
living in eastern North Carolina even today.
18. Colonial Records of N.C., I, xii.
19. Ibid. I, 19.
20. Nell Marion Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers Abstracts of
Virginia Land Patents and Grants, 1623 – 1800, I, 425.
21. Ibid. 427, 428.
22. Ibid. 434.
23. John Oldmixon, History of the British Empire in America.
24. Colonial Records of N.C., I, 181-182.
25 Ibid., I, 385.
26. Hawks, op. cit., I, 88.
27. Hakluyt, op. cit., II, 303.
28. Hawks, II, 91. 29. John Lawson, Lawson's History of North
Carolina, 180. 30. Ibid., 255. 31. Colonial Records of N.C., I,
32. Lawson, op.cit., 181- 183. The author is tempted to devote
numerous pages to a treatment of the Indians but fearful of losing
sight of the goal, Lawson's History of North Carolina is highly
recommended as a 1710 description.
33. Lower Norfolk County Records, Wills and Deeds, 12.
34. Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, April 1900, No. 4,
35. R. A. Brock, The Official Letters of Alexander Spotwood, I,
36. Colonial Records of North Carolina, II, intro.
37.Letters of Spotswood, I, 119.
38. J. H. Wheeler, History of North Carolina, 37.
39. Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, April 1900, No. 4,