13
According to Wm Price Ed NC Higher Court Records 1702-1706 by 1706 the NC population had grown over half a
century from a few hundred to an estimated 10,000 whites plus several hundred black slaves. Reverend Urmston a good
scribe, albeit an unhappy missionary, worked and lived in the Albemarle/Pamlico sound(s) regions between 1710-1716
and further describes about sixty inhabitants in the town at the time. We know from deed recordings that many of Bath’s
original 72 town lots were sold and resold, with numerous absentee Bath town lot owners, especially inter-colonial
merchant-shippers and port tradesmen who bought them speculatively. Before and after the Tuscorora Indian war there
were two spells of town growth and lot purchases in the 1700-1730 period. (See Exhibits for extract examples of
merchants , vessels, and tradespeople as revealed by deed book recorded activity).
For Bath County Queen Anne appointed a Pamlico and Neuse River customs official as early as 1703.
James Lee/Leigh, collector of Her Majestie’s customs, was appointed in November 1703 and arrived and was sworn into
office by Bath resident Christopher Gale in November 1704. Instructions from the Lords Proprietors and the
Commissioners of his Majestys Customs in London were as follows:
James Lee was appointed collector of her Majestie’s customs in Pamtico & Neuse Rivers in Bath Co NC by commission
dated 2 Nov 1703…Our will is that you take Entries of all Ships or Vessells Inward bound or outward bound from our
said Province of Carolina that you take an account of their Lading their Bottom (if Brittish or no) what men navigated
withal and all other matters required to be done of Naval Officers by the several acts of Parliament relateing to trade &
navigation. You are to obey all such Instruction and directions as you Shall at any time receive Either from us or from the
Commissrs of his Majestys Customs in London or from any other person or persons now acting or that shall hereafter act
by his Majestys authority perrsuant to or for the better putting in Execution the Several acts relating to the Plantation.
The Lords Proprietors in London at James Palace approved the town incorporation in 1705 and in August 1715 decreed
Town of Bath a royal seaport. The provincial Assembly ratified Bath town a seaport in 1716; the port was to collect taxes
and customs duties from vessels in coastal waters between Ocracoke, Pamlico Sound, Pamlico and Neuse River, whether
landing in Ocracoke, Bath , or at Pamlico or Neuse river plantation landings in between. In 1723 five port commissioners
were named to ensure that duties from powder and lead entering the district were used appropriately to pay customs
district and customs house expenses. Expenses included wages to the collector, the naval officer, men inspecting the
channel markers, as well as building rent, small boats, and installing and maintaining buoys and beacons between Bath
and Ocracoke Inlet. The last known Port Bath customs collector was Nathan Keais/Keais . Copies of his last known
customs records are dated 1786 and 1787, ten years after his move upriver to Washington 16 miles west around the time
of the American Revolution.
By 1773 the American Board of Customs was compiling records of all exports and imports (Shepherd and Walton, 1972
p. 204) from 42 British colonial port districts in North America. Of them Port Bath was among the five primary North
Carolina colonial royal ports or customs collection districts established by the Lords Proprietors.
In the very early 1700’s there were numerous coastal inlets: sailing north to south the names of the safest and most used
inlets to the Atlantic Ocean were linked to create five British customs districts. In John Lawson’s book chapter four even
has 1709 inlet directions for each major coastal inlet. The five inlets linked to British colonial customs districts/ports
were Currituck Inlet and Port Currituck district that had no fixed collection point, Roanoke Inlet and Port Roanoke in
Edenton, Ocracoke Inlet and Port Bath in town of Bath, Old Topsail Inlet/Port Beaufort in town of Beaufort, and Cape
Fear River/Port Brunswick in town of Brunswick.
Only a few years after Port Bath’s 1715 decree, Port Beaufort was ratified in 1722. Brunswick became a customs district
in 1731, with ports at Brunswick and later Wilmington. Only shipping registers for two ports, (Brunswick and Roanoke),
survive from the late colonial period. Registers for all five ports, (as well as some duty books that include imports of
“Negroes” from 1787), exist for the late 1780s. For the years 1768 to 1772 summary figures for all the North Carolina
ports appear in the returns of the Board of Customs and Excise, America. Limited extant Port of Bath shipping records
give examples of vessels, owners and captains for the years 1768-1794, as well as hailing port, cargo, and customs
clearances dates. (See exhibits, Tables 1-6.)
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