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History of Beaufort, NC

Excerpts from "Beaufort North Carolina"
by Mamre Marsh Wilson and Beaufort Historic Association, 2002


It was around 1709 when the town located on the site of the former Coree Indian village, Cwarioc, meaning "fish town" was established. Early owners of the small town at the west end of the land surrounded by the Core Sound, known today as Taylors Creek and the Newport River, included Farnival Green (1707-1713), Robert Turner (1713-1720), Richard Rustull (1720-1725), and Nathan Taylor (1725-1733).

Following the end of the Tuscarora War in March 1713, Farnival Green, on July 18, assigned his earlier patent to Robert Turner, a merchant from Craven County, who had Richard Graves, the deputy surveyor, lay out the town that was to be called Beaufort. A map was drawn and streets were named. Anne and Queen Streets were named for the queen. Moore Street was named after the colonel who had come from South Carolina to end the war. Orange Street was named for William the Third who had occupied the throne prior to Queen Anne. The only road into town was called Turner Street after Robert Turner, the new owner of the town. Pollock Street was named for Thomas Pollock, who was governor, and Craven Street was named for William Lord Craven, one of the lords proprietors. There was no street along the water until the 1800s; it eventually became known as Front Street.

On April 4, 1722, Beaufort was appointed a port for the unloading and discharging of vessels by the lords proprietors deputies. The first commissioners of the town were Christopher Gale, John Nelson, Joseph Bell, Richard Bell, and Richard Rustell. Incorporation took place on November 23, 1723, and five lots were sold, all of which lapsed for non-payment or for not having a building erected on them. The law stated that when a person purchased a lot, a house or building of at least 15 feet by 20 feet must be built within two years or the property would revert back to the town or the previous owner. Five years later in 1728, a new section of town was added and deeds began distinguishing Old Town from New Town. Pollock Street was the dividing point, thus everything west of Pollock Street to Gallants Channel was Old Town while New Town went from Pollock east to Gordon Street. Each section had lots along the waterfront that measured 66 feet across and 330 feet deep. The remaining lots in both sections were set aside as 110 feet on the street side and 198 feet running east and west. The only exception to this was in the block bounded by Moore, Broad, Orange, and Cedar Streets where the lots were the entire width of the block east and west (396 feet) and only 55 feet wide on Moore and Orange Streets.

Between 1728 and 1732 deeds were recorded for 21 new lots, 16 of which were lapsed and 5 of which transferred ownership. In 1728, the governor commented that Beaufort had "but little success and scare any inhabitants." Nine years later John Brickell, in his Natural History of North Carolina, described Beaufort as "small and thinly inhabited." In 1748, there were only 320 taxables listed for the county.

Charles Paul states in a 1963 paper that one of the most vivid accounts of Beaufort was given by a French traveler who visited the town 200 years earlier. He described it as a "small village not above 12 houses, the inhabitants seem miserable, they are very lazy and indolent, they live mostly on fish and oysters, which they have in great plenty." Between 1765 and 1770, 37 lots changed hands and 9 had substantial buildings on them, primarily at the west end of Front Street. This is apparent from Claude Joseph Sauthiers map from the 1770s, which shows houses mostly along the waterfront with a few other buildings spread throughout the village. The majority of the houses built at this period are still standing today, with many featured on the Historical Associations annual Old Homes Tour.

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In the late 1600s the ruse of tying a lantern about a horses neck and walking along the shore with it was used to lure ships at sea on to the banks, where they could be scuttled and robbed. Presumably the victims believed the lanterns were the stern lights of another ship, which they would follow for safety. The name Nags Head, from the horses or "nags," is supposed to have derived from just such a practice.

Pirates had been roaming the Atlantic coast for years with bases in the Bahamas. Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, was one of the more infamous. Stede Bonnett, a gentleman by birth and well educated, was one of Blackbeards lieutenants and they had friends everywhere in Virginia and in North and South Carolina. Occasionally pirates would come into the Pamlico Sound to visit and resupply. Some people were indignant that these pirates were allowed to roam so freely and were tolerated by government officials.

Although quite unbecoming in looks with his long black braided hair, Teach apparently could be extremely charming and yet excessively brutal. Along with others who took advantage of the inlet and bight of Cape Lookout, he periodically used the area, including the Beaufort harbor, as a place of rest, rejuvenation, and refilling of supplies for his ship.

It is said that Blackbeard was a frequent visitor to Core Sound, perhaps residing at the Hammock House when in the neighborhood. He would, according to legend, merely anchor his ship in the creek, row to the house, and tie up on the porch post. There are other stories about his association with the Hammock House as well, including the burial of treasure in the yard, although none has been found.

After 1718, when Blackbeard and others had been driven away from the Bahamas by the English, he began making his headquarters near Bath. Records say that Blackbeard and Bonnett visited the Core Sound area in 1718 and commented that Beaufort was a "poor little village at the upper end of the harbor."

In June, when Blackbeard put his and Bonnetts ships into the Old Topsail Inlet, he tricked Bonnett into going on to Bath. Blackbeard then sank both ships, leaving the crews to fend for themselves. He took off in the only ship left and carried his booty away. It is possible that some of the stranded seamen settled in the area rather than take a chance on being hanged as pirates. According to Maurice Davis, one was said to have made his way back to New England, but later returned to Carteret Precinct and became a man of some importance.

When the king offered a pardon for any pirate who would turn himself in and turn his life around, Blackbeard took advantage of the offer, but his new life only lasted about a month before he was back on the high seas. One excursion brought a cargo of oranges and other fruit, with sugar and spices that he had removed from a French vessel captured in August near Bermuda and later burned along the Carolina coast. Apparently, Blackbeard stored some of his booty in a barn belonging to Tobias Knight, the secretary of the colony as well as chief justice while Christopher Gale was absent.

The governor of Virginia, determined to capture and rid the ocean of pirates, sent two sloops into North Carolina waters where they discovered Blackbeards ship the Adventure near Ocracoke. Following an intense battle, the British crew managed to kill Blackbeard along with eight of his men. They took the other nine back to Virginia for trial where they were convicted of piracy.

Following this conviction, the governor proceeded to send a member of the British Navy to the Pamlico area to recover the stolen goods, some of which were still in Tobias Knights barn. Governor Eden and Colonel Thomas Pollock stood by Knight and remonstrated the governor of Virginia for invading North Carolina, even if it was to capture pirates.

At this time, although the records were public and were to be available for scrutiny, they were kept in private homes due to lack of public buildings. Thus when Maurice Moore and Edward Moseley desired to conduct a search of the records to determine exactly who was involved with Blackbeard, they had to break into a home. The governor was furious and issued a warrant for their arrest for breaking and entering and trespass. This led Moseley to make the statement that "the governor could find men enough to arrest peaceable citizens but none to arrest thieves and robbers," intimating that the governor was shielding the pirates.

At the Virginia trial, evidence was presented showing Knight to be associated with Teach. Knight, however, issued an explanation. He said that he had not concealed the fact that the sugar was stored in his barn, but that he had allowed Teach to store it there until the governor could find a more convenient place where the entire cargo could be stored. This implicated the governor.

The council declared Knight not guilty, but the circumstances surrounding his association with Teach were inconsistent with that innocence. At first Knight denied he had hidden any of the goods for Teach in his barn, but when told of a memo found on one of the dead pirates, he admitted the concealment. Not only was he accused of being a close associate of Blackbeard, his own correspondence with Teach, which began "my friend," and proceeded to give him advice, proved they were more than acquaintances. Thus nothing the governor or council could say helped Knight and he resigned his chief justice position and died before summers end.

Recently, almost 300 years after the incident, the wreckage of what is believed to be Blackbeards ship the Queen Annes Revenge was discovered by divers in the present Beaufort inlet between Shackelford Banks and Bogue Banks. Artifacts are being brought to the surface, cleaned, preserved, and displayed at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort.

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Beaufort continued to grow. The town changed slowly, ploddingly, skeptically, and carefully. There were lulls in which not much happened, but there were also spurts of building and great influxes of people moving to the area. This was no different than the previous centuries. Nothing has changed to this day. In the early 1900s a few things happened that were very important in the town. St. Pauls Episcopal Church School came to life once again, following a more than 30-year lapse in teaching. In 1906, the railroad came across the causeway and began regular visits to Beaufort. In 1907, the railroad station on Broad Street was built and a new, large brick courthouse was erected on courthouse square. The old one was auctioned off and torn down.

The First World War affected many here in Beaufort, with young men going off to fight in Europe, many leaving the town and county for the first time. Commercial fishing was doing well, with the advent of the menhaden fisheries in both Beaufort and Morehead City. The menhaden is a small, bony, and inedible fish. Known locally as shad, it does make good fertilizer and fish meal food for pigs and chickens. The oil of the fish is used in the manufacture of paint and linoleum.

Also in the twentieth century, the streets of Beaufort slowly began to be fixed up, first with oyster shells crushed by rollers, and eventually with pavement.

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Beauforts streets, waterfront, and surrounding areas have not changed drastically since the 1700s. Houses that were built in the eighteenth century on Front Street, particularly in the first and second block, are still standing today, occupied by families whose ancestors helped develop the town. Although Front Street is now paved, early on it was merely a path along the shore.

The government buildings are no longer in the middle of the first block as they were when Sauthier sailed along Taylors Creek in 1770 and made his map of the town. Part of this block is occupied today by the North Carolina Maritime Museum.

The original buildings along the waterfront in the fourth and fifth blocks have been replaced with modern parking lots, restaurants, and gift shops. On the land side of Front Street in these two blocks are some of the nineteenth-century office buildings mixed with some newer structures. Only two of the several houses that occupied pace on the land side remain, the others having been torn down or moved to other locations.

One of the 1820s brick buildings on Turner Street remains, with another now located on the historic site of the Beaufort Historic Association. The original school and family lodging house of one of Beauforts early teachers still stands majestically in the second block of Turner Street, just a few steps away from the brick edifice of the Odd Fellows Lodge.

The Methodist church begun at the time of the Revolution at the corner of Craven and Broad Streets and completed in the early nineteenth century is used today for services by the AME Zion Church.

The "new" Methodist church on Ann Street, built on the corner south of the first one shortly before the onset of the War between the States, as well as the Episcopal church in the second block of Ann Street built at the same period, are still serving their congregants.

The cemetery called the Old Burying Ground, located in the fourth block of Ann Street and surrounded by three churches, is no longer available for burial except for members of those families who have ancestors there and space remaining. It has been preserved, restored, and protected by the town and the Beaufort Historic Association over the past many years. A place of quiet, tranquil beauty, the grounds are covered with live oaks and vines that have graced the spot for centuries.

The families who came, built, lived, and died in Beaufort continue today through their many descendants. Although many newcomers have moved to the area in the past 25 years, Beaufort is still a very unique and blessed place to live.

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