April 26, 2013.
II. THE SOURCE OF A NAME
A. WHAT'S IN A NAME
What's in a name? The primary concern of any people is to learn
something of the history involved in the name of their habitat.
Generally a geographical location receives its name in one of
(1) The majority of the places in this part of
the country were named for some location elsewhere, usually in the
country from which the settlers originated. William Byrd named
Richmond because he thought the climate so like that of Richmond,
(2) An almost equal number of localities were
named for some person connected with them either through discovery
and exploration, through ownership, or through some deed of note
or of honor; A noted example of this is Princess Anne County.
(3) The easiest and certainly the least
complicated method is the designation of a particular site for
some physical attribute denoting it. The many Cedar Islands are of
course named because that type of tree abounds there. The Ragged
Islands denote a type of contour.
No records exist stating the precise method used in attaching
Knotts to an island. Again the author must advance the evidence,
weigh it carefully, and then state his own conclusion. It is quite
important that the source of the name Knotts Island be determined.
By elimination it is clear the Island was not so called because of
its physical qualities. The speculation by "foreigners" that it
was derogatorily designated for the knots in the pine trees is
fantastic! Why, then, was it not called Pine Tree Island in
keeping with Cedar Island nearby? As knotty as they are, the pine
tree is found elsewhere, knots and all.
The claim of having received its name through affiliation with
Notts (Nottingham) England has a large following. This following
is advanced, without any correct judgement at all, by "outsiders"
who believe it makes a beautiful and dignified story. A letter
from J. E. Richards, Town Clerk of Nottingham, to the author
reveals that after careful tracing, no connection exists between
Notts and Knotts Island. This conclusion is derived after
investigation of the lists of emigrants in an effort to determine
where these emigrants went.(1).
B. THE ENTRANCE OF THE KNOTTS
There remains the possibility Knotts Island was named for someone
or ones; circumstances support this. The great task present is to
connect persons by the name of Knott with the locality. When it
appears in records and manuscripts, the Island is spelled with an
apostrophe denoting ownership,revealing therefore that the writers
of the reocrds were conscious of the ownership either through
custom or direct knowledge.
Early records of immigrants and emmigrants through Virginia are
sparse with the land office in Richmond the sole source.(2). It is
indeed fortunate that the available records are easily accessible
and usable, for they disclose much proof for the claim.
George Cabell Gaeer’s collection, Early Virginia Immigrants, lists
the following entries into Virginia of Knott's:
John Knott, 1650, by John Hallawes, Gent.,
Northumberland Co. (3).
James Knott, 1560 c. 1650, Richard Hawkins,
John Knott, 1650 John Hallowes, Northumberland
Eleanor Knott, 1636, James Knott, Elizabeth
City Co. This James Knott was brought to the Eastern Store in 1617
at the age of twenty-three on the ship "George" by Charles
Harman,(5). A James Knott was recorded among the living of
Virginia‘s Eastern Shore on February 16, 1623.(6) Eleanor is
probably his sister and not his wife since his marriage was to a
Elian Knott, 1637, James Knott, New Norfolk Co.
Susan Knott, 1656, Mr. Henry Soanes, New Kent
John Knott, 1654, Tho. Hobkins, Lancaster Co.
Robert Knott, 1653, Peter Knight and Baber
Cult, ______ Co.
William Knotts, 1652, Tho. Curtis, _____ Co.
Richard Knott, 1651, Thomas Thornbrough,
Richard Knott, 1642, Thomas Loving, James City
The point of the foregoing listing is to establish the fact that
the Knotts were many in the area at an early age. Neither records
nor private recordings divulge the event of a Knott journeying to
explore or of one owning Knotts Island.
A will dated April 6, 1694 and proved March 15, 1696/7 of William
Knott, a marriner, resident in "The Towne of Norfolk County in
Virginia..." leaves much land in the vicinity although it can not
be definitely described as Knotts Island.(9) This will is
important for its date. As mentioned above the Island first
appears in recorded history in 1692 and a minute map of Carolina
in 1671 is very careful to label the localities even Carotuck
Inlet opposite the Island, but the location of Knotts Island is
not named.(10). Had the Island been named at this time, it would
certainly have appeared on so detailed a map. The logical
conclusion is that it was not then named. It therefore must have
been named between 1671 and 1692.
James Knott was living in southern Virginia during this period
since he is mentioned in his father-in-law's will of 1718.(11)
James lived in New Norfolk County and was there at the mention of
his name in Jonas Halliday's will. William Knott, as his will
states, was also in the close vicinity of Knotts Island during the
period 1671 - 1692. The distance between Norfolk and the Island
today is only forty miles and was less at that time by virtue of
travel by water. Either James or William Knott could easily have
journeyed there, claimed or bought it, and have given it its name.
Another page and approach to the naming is afforded by the sea,
but again nothing is positive. The Original Lists of Emigrants
From Great Britain to the American Plantations 1600 - 1700 unfolds
the names of a number of Knotts who were sea captains sailing from
England to Barbadoes and the colonies.(12).
On June 11, May 28, June 17, May 22, and June 16 of the year 1679
the ketch "Joseph and Mary" under Abraham Knott booked passages
for America.(13 Under "Tickets Granted from Barbadoes" John Knott,
commander of the “Neptune," prepared to sail for Virginia on
August 19, 1679.(14). Joseph Knott, of the "Neptune," took
passengers July 21, 1679 bound for Carolina and passengers for
Virginia on July 2, July 21, August 16, August 13, August 19,
August 16, August 16 of the same year and on the same voyage.(15).
William Knott received passengers on July 12, July 9, July 12,
1679 aboard his "Bachelor" bound from Barbadoes to America. (16).
Again the date 1679 fits well into the period of years in which
Knotts Island was named. How easy it was for a Captain Knott to
enter one of Carolina's inlets and pause momentarily off the
Island thus affording its title. Joseph Knott booked on July 21,
1679 passengers for Carolina and to deliver the same he must enter
an inlet to reach a port.
Arriving from Barbadoes to the south, he must have entered the
first inlet the ship reached, delivered the persons, and in order
to reach Virginian the next place on the itinerary, it would be a
smoother voyage to sail up the enclosed sea (Albemarle and
Currituck Sounds) and enter the Atlantic at the northern most
inlet - Currituck - and then round Cape Henry to reach Chesapeake
A letter of May 20, 1720 from Governor Alexander Spotswood to the
Board or Trade spoke of a Captain Knott from West River Merchant,
London whose ship was halted in the Atlantic by the "Marquis del
Campo," pirate ship, under the famous Callifax.(17). The latter
placed eight of his mates on Knott's vessel so that they might be
transported into the country, four for Maryland and four for North
Knott acted swiftly in capturing the eight and in saving the lives
of valuable government witnesses against the pirates.
Spotswood recommended in the communication that the British
government give reparation for his losses, justly due.(19)
More than likely the payment was in specie, but as was often done,
it was quite possible he was reimbursed and honored with a land
Without a doubt the qualified historian is horrified with the
foregoing speculation, for the logical procedure in proving the
name would be, of course, an investigation of the deed books,
however, no records exist in Currituck County until 1735 and the
Virginia records are far from complete.
C. THE EXISTING DEEDS AND WILLS
The will of Malacky Thruston dated March 14, 1698/9 and proved
November 15, 1699 left "Unto my Daughter Sarah Thruston my
Plantation and Marshes att the back called in Currituck in
Princess Ann County, ...."(20). Thomas Walk's will of January 5,
1693/4 bequeathed to his son Thomas Walke a half-share of his land
purchased from William Hilliard lying in Curituck Bay.(21). The
name Walke is most familiar today, for there is situated in Knotts
Island Bay (Currituck Bay) Walke's Island and Walke's Island
Cove.(22). The normal process for the historian at this point
would be to trace William Hilliard’s deed to its source, but alas,
fate is not so kind; it can not be found.
A 1717 will of Mathew Godfrey assigns to his cousin Joseph Perry
all of his land in Corotuck Bay "Called the Raged Islands and
alsoe my part of the Cedar Island ...."(23). These two locations
are well known today and the latter is cited by William Byrd in
1728. Godfrey left to his sister Jackson's children his cattle in
the marsh section of Corrotuck.(24).
Frequently a governor of a colony bestowed land grants to high
favorites as did Spotswood on June 16, 1714 when he gave land
"Being at Muddy Creek" a branch of Corotuck Bay.(25).
As the preface mentioned, this is as much Virginia history as it
is Carolina, for all of the material dealing with land is found in
Virginia record books. As will be shortly revealed, Knott's Island
was long a settlement without a state.
1. Letter of November 8, 1948 from J. E. Richards, Town Clerk, The
Guildhall, Nottingham, England.
2. George Cabell Gaeer, Early Virginia Immigrants, preface.
3. The person bringing over another person received fifty acres
under the headright system.
4. A repetition of the first entry.
5. John Camdon Hotten, Original Lists of Emigrants, 264.
6. Ibid., 188.
7 Gaeer, op. cit., 195.
8. Ibid., 196.
9. Charles F. McIntosh, Brief Abstract of Lower Norfolk County and
Norfolk County Wills, 1632 - 1710, I, 159.
10. Hawks, op. cit., II, 52 - 53, map entitled "A New Discription
of Carolina by Order of the Lords Proprietors A. D. 1671."
11. Brief Abstract of Norfolk Wills, II, 79.
12. John Camden Hotten, editor.
13. Hotten, op. cit., 364, 369, 377, 380, 396. The reader will
note the dates are not in order, but are included in this history
as they appear in Hotten's compilation.
14. Ibid., 354
15. Ibid., 364, 360, 366, 372, 390, 397, 408, 412. Note the
repetition in the text.
16. Ibid., 353, 407, 412. Was this the same William Knott that
lived in Norfolk and whose will is found on page 13 supra?
17. Letters of Spotswood, II, 337.
18. Ibid., II, 338.
19. Ibid., II, 339.
20. Brief Abstract of Norfolk Wills, I, 171.
21. Ibid., I, 147.
22. The author's grandfather owns a bush blind for duck hunting in
23. Brief Abstract of Norfolk Wills, II, 57.
24. Ibid., II, 58.
25. Lower Norfolk County Antiquary, III, 55. Muddy Creek exists