Don Pendergraft: An Albemarle area history primer

By Don Pendergraft

The Daily Advance

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The Albemarle region is called the Cradle of North Carolina. The story of the Albemarle region, along with the state’s origins, has been obscured by our Proprietary connection to Virginia.

In developing and designing exhibits, I’ve found several points of early history to help visitors better understand the natural and cultural development of our unique region.

Geological formation: The Albemarle region, part of the coastal plain, is composed of half-land and half-water. The region was underwater for millions of years. If you dig into the earth, you’ll find clay, shell and rich deposits of peat moss, the remains of ancient swamps.

The Outer Banks, a more recent land formation, were formed around five to seven thousand years ago. Twelve thousand years ago, after the Atlantic Ocean receded, the main bodies of water were the confluence of the Roanoke and Chowan Rivers. The strong currents of the two rivers helped to create the delta known as the Outer Banks. The Albemarle Sound was originally named the Sea of Roanoke because of the large volume of water it receives from the Roanoke River.

European Explorers arrive: Early European explorers, first Spanish and later English, found Indian tribes, which had been living in the region for at least 14,000 years. These tribes evolved into what archeologists’ term Woodland culture, a complex civilization about three thousand years ago.

Contact with Spanish explorers provided an exchange of ideas and materials. The Indians traded native tobacco, furs and other natural items for European peaches and other materials. When the English arrived they found peach orchards in the region.

The Algonquin people were the largest tribe stretching from south of the James River in Virginia down to the Neuse River basin near Wilmington. The Algonquin and their villages are depicted in the drawings of John White, governor of the Lost Colony and Thomas Herriot, the voyage’s scientist and mathematician, who drafted the earliest detailed map of North Carolina’s coast.

North Carolina was not settled by people coming directly to our shores from Europe: Early settlement of the region occurred about 50 years after the first English colony, The Lost Colony (1587-1590), disappeared. Nathaniel Batts from Virginia was sent to explore the region by Francis Yardley, a wealthy land owner in Virginia. He had a house built on Salmon Creek in Bertie County for Batts about 1650.

William Berkley, governor of Virginia and one of the original eight Lord Proprietors made numerous land grants to Virginians in 1663. This begins the southern migration into “The South Part of Virginia Now the North Part of Carolina,” as Nicholas Comberford’s 1657 map was titled.

The first time our state is referred to by its new name and not “Roanoke.” These Virginians were descendents of the Jamestown colonists. They were familiar with the Roanoke Voyages and even searched for the Lost Colony. They called the new frontier “The Old North State,” our state’s first nickname.

Don Pendergraft works at Museum of the Albemarle

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