Early Bath County at the time, like other British colony frontiers, had only settlements and Indian trading posts, no
official towns, until the state’s first town of Bath received its town charter of 1705. Eastern Carolina explorers, fur
traders, and new settlers alike used the creeks and rivers for travel and maritime trade in lieu of land transport. Bath
settlers, traders and merchants in the new frontier would have had no purpose-built wharfs, docks and quays. They most
likely would have used sandy beaches, plantation landings, tie offs at trees, using only rare wharves at larger commercial
port cities like Boston, New York or London and Liverpool. Just like the legend of Blackbeard and the Lost Colony,
records of early Port Bath’s earliest sailing vessels, mariners and townsfolk like the French Huguenots and early
merchants are either lost, worst case, or otherwise merely confusing. Pardon the mixed metaphors, but a nautical
anthropologist setting sail for Port Bath in 1715 must sail without a compass and be prepared to wade through a lot of
murky water.
We can only conjecture that for convenience sake, long before the golden age of piracy and smuggling, colonists
transporting cargo often loaded and unloaded wherever and whenever, flying in the face of Acts of Parliament regulations
to the contrary. British trade regulations dictated captains must show vessel papers and cargo bills of lading (loading)
documents and pay respective due taxes and customs to customs collectors; they must also have vessels inspected by
British naval officers. Not paying customs or duties or taxes (smuggling) meant fines and vessel confiscation if a captain
or merchant chose to avoid the closest official British port customs house official. Bath County settlers struggling to feed
their families and servants might understandably have chosen to bypass port officials, not wanting to spend additional
days underway, consuming costly ship’s provisions nor taking the chance of commodities spoiling despite careful
packing or salting in barrels pre-transit. Therefore official shipping records are assumed understated to account for
smuggling or breaking bulk before entry. Bath vessels setting sail might well detour lower Virginia port officials or
Albemarle Sound port officials, especially prevailing sailing winds could take them directly to their outward bound
destination i.e. a planter merchant’s personal river landing or even to the Bahamas or South Carolina to quietly barter,
load and reload cargo.
Albemarle County in the early 1700’s was Bath County’s most populated neighboring county. Up until Bath’s new
seaport status decreed by the Lords Proprietors in August 1715/1716 neither county had an official port town despite
numerous settlements. Bath County at one time was part of the first Albemarle county region which had many
settlements, several court houses, and even port records showing vessel clearances by customs collectors as early as 1682.
Today we only know a few names of the early regional port and naval officers from the Albemarle County era, including
the John Culpepper of Culpepper rebellion fame. Those officials enforced English and British trade and navigation law
for Bathtowne and Bath County merchants until James Leigh arrived in Bath in 1704. Leigh was Bath’s first known
customs collector commissioned by the Crown in 1703 when Bath was only a settlement , two years away from being a
town, and almost ten years prior to the 1715 creation of the Port Bath customs district.

(1678) Albemarle customs collectors Elizabeth City area, at the time of the Culpepper Rebellion: Valentine
Bird, Henry Hudson, Robert Holden, John Culpepper

(1694) Chowan planter Thomas Pollock named customs collector*

(1696) County of Bath created, established between Pamlico River and Albemarle River

(1697) March 8 Nicholas Trott commissioned naval officer based out of Edenton Feb 5, 1697 until Oct
8,1701, his last signature on papers inspecting the sloop Sara of Carolina, carrying 6 casks of molasses and 9
casks of rum, his jurisdiction extended to all of Carolina (BRC Z.5.106N)

(1699) Henry Brabant, of Edinburgh new “comptroller his Maj. Customs,” Currotuck River customhouse*

(1703) James Lee or Leigh First known Bath Customs collector commissioned by the Crown, sworn into
office1704 by Christopher Gale Chief Justice who was also a Bath Resident.
Bath County ‘s earliest merchant vessels prior to the 1715 Port Bath decree by default would have been sailing to and
receiving clearances from existing lower Virginia Ports and port officials, as well as from other inter-colony ports like
Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Carolina ports would have included Charleston and Albemarle County ports like
Port Roanoke customs in Edenton or Port Currituck (whose custom house was located in a settlement, not a town, not far
from the Atlantic Ocean’s Currituck Inlet) rather than Ocracoke Inlet. In this latter category four Bath-owned or Bath-
captained vessels with Carolina customs clearances, complete with seals from the customs officials, appear pasted in the
amongst the earliest cleared vessel papers which can be seen today in the Port Roanoke volume, (not the Port Bath
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