North Carolina, in the days of her colonial existence, was the asylum and the refuge of the poor and the oppressed of all nations. In her borders the emigrant, the fugitive, and the exile found a home and safe retreat. Whatever may have been the impelling cause of their emigration–whether political servitude, religious persecution, or poverty of means, with the hope of improving their condition, the descendants of these enterprising, suffering, yet prospered people, have just reason to bless the kind Providence that guided their fathers, in their wanderings, to such a place of comparative rest.
On the sandy banks of North Carolina the flag of England was first displayed in the United States. Roanoke Island, between Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, afforded the landing place to the first expedition sent out under the auspices of Sir Walter Raleigh, in 1584. “The fragrance, as they drew near the land, says Amadas in his report, was as if they had been in the midst of some delicate garden, abounding in all manner of odoriferous flowers.” Such, no doubt, it seemed to them during the first summer of their residence in 1584; and, notwithstanding the disastrous termination of that, and several succeeding expeditions, the same maritime section of North Carolina has presented its peculiar features of attractiveness to many generations which have since arisen there, and passed away. In the same report, we have the first notice of the celebrated Scuppernong grape, yielding its most abundant crops under the saline atmospheric influence, and semi-tropical climate of eastern Carolina.
From the glowing description of the country, in its primitive abundance, transmitted to Elizabeth and her court, they gave it the name “Virginia”, being discovered in the reign of a “virgin Queen”. But having failed in this and several other attempts of a similar kind, Sir Walter Raleigh surrendered his patent, and nothing more was done in colonizing Virginia during the remainder of that century.
In 1607, the first permanent settlement was made by the English at Jamestown, Va., under the charter of the London or Southern Company. This charter contained none of the elements of popular liberty, not one elective franchise, nor one of the rights of self-government; but religion was especially enjoined to be established according to the rites and doctrine of the Church of England. The infant colony suffered greatly for several years from threatened famine, dissensions, and fear of the Indians, but through the energy and firmness of Capt John Smith, was enabled to maintain its ground, and in time, show evident signs of prosperity. The jealousy of arbitrary power, and impatience of liberty among the new settlers, induced Lord Delaware, Governor of Virginia in 1619, to reinstate them in the full possession of the rights of Englishmen; and he accordingly convoked a Provincial Assembly, the “first” ever held in America. The deliberations and laws of this infant Legislature were transmitted to England for approval, and so wise and judicious were these, that the company under whose auspices they were acting, soon after confirmed and ratified the groundwork of what gradually ripened into the “American representative system”. The guarantee of political rights led to a rapid colonization. Men were now willing to regard Virginia as their home. “They fell to building houses and planting corn.” Women were induced to leave the parent country to become the wives of adventurous planters; and during the space of three years thirty-five hundred persons of both sexes, found their way to Virginia. By various modifications of their charter, the colonists, in a few years, obtained nearly all the civil rights and privileges which they could claim as British subjects; but the church of England was “coeval with the settlement of Jamestown, and seems to have been considered from the beginning as the established religion.” At what time settlements were first permanently made within the present limits of North Carolina, has not been clearly ascertained. In 1622, the Secretary of the colony of Virginia traveled overland to Chowan River, and described, in glowing terms, the fertility of the soil, the salubrity of the climate, and the kindness of the natives. In 1643, a company obtained permission of the Virginia Legislature to prosecute discoveries on the great river South of the Appomatox of which they had heard, under a monopoly of the profits for fourteen years, but with what measure of success has not been recorded. These early exploring parties to the South, bringing back favorable reports of the fertile lands of the Chowan and the Roanoke could not fail to excite in the colony of Jamestown a spirit of emigration, many of whose members were already suffering under the baneful effects of intolerant legislation. In 1643, during the administration of Sir William Berkeley, it was specially “ordered that no minister should preach or teach, publicly or privately, except in conformity to the constitutions of the church of England, and non-conformists were banished from the colony.” ((Bancroft, I., P. 270.)) It is natural to suppose that individuals as well as families, who were fond of a roaming life, or who disliked the religious persecution to which they were subjected, would descend the banks of these streams until they found on the soil of Carolina suitable locations for peaceable settlements.
In 1653, Roger Green led a company across the wilderness from Nansemond, in Virginia, to the Chowan River, and settled near Edenton. There they prospered, and others, influenced by similar motives, soon afterward followed. In 1662, George Durant purchased of the Yeopim Indians the neck of land, on the North-side of Albemarle Sound, which still bears his name. It was settled by persons driven off from Virginia through religious persecutions. In 1663, King Charles II, granted to the Earl of Clarendon and seven other associates, the whole of the region from the thirty-sixth degree of north latitude to the river San Matheo, (now the St. John’s) in Florida; and extending westwardly, like all of that monarch’s charters, to the Pacific Ocean.
At the date of this charter, (1663,) Sir William Berkeley, Governor of Virginia, visited the infant settlement on the Chowan, and being pleased with its evident signs of prosperity, and increasing importance, appointed William Drummond the “first Governor” of the Colony of Carolina. Drummond was a Scotch Presbyterian, and, inheriting the national characteristics of that people, was prudent, cautious, and deeply impressed with the love of liberty. Such were the pioneer settlements, and such was the first Governor of North Carolina. The beautiful lake in the centre of the Dismal Swamp, noted for its healthy water, and abundantly laid in by sea-going vessels, perpetuates his name.