Celebrating our 350th: Historic charter, tour boat visit
By William F. West
Friday, May 11, 2018
Elizabeth City entertained two visitors on Thursday as part of this year’s continuing celebration of the Albemarle region’s founding 350 years ago.
The first visitor to arrive was the Belle of Washington, an 80-foot cruise vessel that docked at Waterfront Park Wednesday night. The Belle’s crew spent Thursday preparing for the vessel’s scheduled departure today with 50-some passengers for a two-day tour of harbor towns in the region.
The second visitor plans to stay a little longer. It’s the original Carolina Charter of 1663, the document King Charles II of England signed granting eight men the right to colonize what is today North and South Carolina.
The document arrived at Museum of the Albemarle for a rare visit away from Raleigh on Thursday. It will be on display on the museum’s second floor as part of the “Our Story” exhibit Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.
Barbara Snowden, a local historian and key organizer of the Albemarle 350th celebration, was at the museum Thursday afternoon prior to an evening reception for museum supporters held to mark the Charter of 1663’s arrival in Elizabeth City.
"Oooh, I'm excited," Snowden said with a smile. "I saw it when I was a child."
Snowden said she first saw charter at the old state museum in Raleigh when she was a visiting eighth-grader from Cornelius.
The charter holds a lot of significance for the Albemarle region. One of the eight men Charles II rewarded with a land grant was George Monck, first Duke of Albemarle. Monck, known as one of the Lords Proprietors, helped establish what was then known as the County of Albemarle. In 1668, the County of Albemarle was divided into four governmental precincts: Currituck, Pasquotank, Perquimans and Chowan. The County of Albemarle eventually ceased to exist and the precincts became what they’re known today as: counties.
The display of the Charter of 1663 is just one of the events planned for this weekend in Elizabeth City to mark the 350th anniversary of the region’s founding. The museum will host a “Learn About 350 Years of History in the Albemarle Region Day” on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Also, Lindley S. Butler, a North Carolina history consultant, will discuss his work on the history of the Proprietary era at 1 p.m. in the museum’s Gaither Auditorium.
Spencer Weig, a retired physician, and his wife, Ellen, were among those admiring the Charter of 1663 during Thursday’s reception at the museum. The Weigs, who are from Wilmington, traveled to Elizabeth City on Thursday to take the weekend waterway cruise on the Belle of Washington.
Spencer Weig said he and his wife had visited Edenton before but never been to Elizabeth City or Museum of the Albemarle.
Ellen Weig said she was enjoying the museum visit. Her only regret was that she didn’t have two days to spend looking at exhibits.
"It's pretty special, it really is," she said, referring to the Charter of 1663.
"Well, hearing it came down under police guard was interesting," Spencer Weig said. “I think we'll probably come back to spend more time in Elizabeth City, too, other than just the afternoon."
George Ramsey, a Suffolk, Virginia, resident said he also plans to take the water tour on the Belle of Washington. Ramey, who's retired, said he had been the southeast Virginia representative for the Virginia Canals and Navigation Society.
"So, the Dismal Swamp Canal and its environments and the A and C (Albemarle and Chesapeake) Canal and its environments are part of my territory, so to speak," Ramsey said. "Since both of the canals begin in Virginia and end in North Carolina or vice versa, that sort of involves my expertise at times."
While Ramsey is familiar with the places where the Belle of Washington is headed, he still thought it worthwhile to make the trip.
"I wanted to hear the detailed history from these experts that are coming along," he said.
The Belle of Washington will be departing Waterfront Park at 7 a.m. Its first stop will be Albemarle Plantation in Perquimans County. There passengers will disembark for a bus tour to the Newbold White House. The Belle of Washington will then travel to Edenton where passengers will attend a social event at the historic Chowan County Courthouse before staying overnight at accommodations.
The vessel will then travel to Plymouth on Saturday where passengers will stay overnight. The vessel will make a stop in Columbia Sunday morning before returning to Elizabeth City in the afternoon.
Guides for the tour will include Bland Simpson, Tom Earnhardt and David Cecelski. Simpson is an Elizabeth City native and a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Earnhardt, a lawyer, is better known as host of the public television series "Exploring North Carolina." Cecelski, a historian, has written books and articles about culture, history and politics on the North Carolina coast.
Greg Brownell, captain of the Belle of Washington, called it a “big honor” to be participating in the region’s 350th anniversary celebration.
"We like to meet new people. So, we're hoping to have a good trip for everyone involved," he said.
Christina Rehklau, director of Visit Elizabeth City, said the vessel is booked solid with 52 passengers, each of whom paid $1,000 for the trip. Rehklau said 30 more people are on a waiting list for the voyage.
According to Snowden, most of those slated to make the weekend voyage are from the state’s Piedmont region.
LeRae Umphlett, acting director of education and cultural outreach at the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, said her information is that all but a couple of passengers are from the Elizabeth City area.
"They're most likely people who have never really been to this area," she said. "So this is a way to introduce the region to people who will hopefully come back and visit again."
Umphlett noted her department worked with partnering agencies from Elizabeth City, Edenton, Hertford, Columbia and Plymouth to help make the voyage a reality.
"We have been looking at ways that we can encourage eco-heritage tourism in this region," Umphlett said. “So we're working with folks from all of those communities to help them see that folks from other parts of the state want to come and learn about their heritage, their culture and their history — and the wonderful natural environment that we who grew up in this part of this state know and love.”