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Chapter 3. Port Bath’s and Bathtowne’s early provincial trade and merchants
By 1715/1716 a variety of artisans, shopkeepers, and merchants provided port trade related services to the growing Bath
Town and County of Bath population. Drawn from the Bath County Deed Book Volume I, between 1700 and 1730 there
were at least forty-four known colonial merchants and tradesmen conducting business and recording land and trade
transactions in the Bath area. (See list of known Bath merchants in Table A and B of Exhibits). Of the thirteen merchants
listed in Table A from other colonies four were from Massachusetts, four from South Carolina, three from Virginia, one
from Maryland, and one from Pennsylvania. Several bought speculative Bath town lots and at least two merchants,
Cawson and Sparrow, moved to Carolina and chose Bath County. Matthew Rowan, a merchant-shipper from Ireland, also
moved to Bath by 1726. He later moved to the Lower Cape Fear valley region and was appointed acting governor of the
colony in 1753. Table B lists thirty one local Bath and Albemarle county merchants recording land and finance
transactions in Bath.
Early settlers coming to the port to sell or barter furs, hides, or commodities relied on canoes, flats, small sailing skiffs and
sailing per augers. Even the poorest new settlers with only a canoe, raft or a small sailing skiff chose farmland near a river
or creek landing because the waterways were the conduits to local and faraway markets to buy and sell goods. Wealthy
plantation owners and enterprising merchants owned sloops, schooners, brigs, and even larger merchant ships like snows
and pinks. (See nine known Bath- built vessels in Table 2). Some colonists operated ferries, taverns and inns (ordinaries)
near the port towns and river or creek crossings. There were no roads to speak of Indian trading paths and post roads were
impassable for part of the year. The region had no plank road, or rail or steam travel yet.
Blacksmiths, coopers, wheelwrights, shipwrights, chandlers and furniture makers traded in Port of Bath. Some like
Edward Salter, cooper and Thomas Harding, shipwright, expanded into merchant shipping as well. One of the earliest
stores in the Bath area was owned by a SC governor Col. Quary who was Surveyor General in 1704. His store was
located between Adams (Back Creek) and Romney Marsh as early as 1700. Governors and state officials were often
planters as well as planter-merchants. For example Governor Cary ordered a merchant sloop built by Harding, and
Governor Daniels posted bond for a merchant brig in 1709 when he relocated to Charleston (the brig “Martha” named
after his common law wife). In fact Port Bath tradesmen built barrels and casks, made wheels, vessel and household or
farm fittings, built small boats, and sold and repaired goods needed by planter-merchants, as well as ship captains,
quartermasters, sailors and farm families. Beaufort Precinct deed book confirms the presence of these trades and many
others, including even a silversmith. Interestingly, the occupation description in the deed book records changed as
merchants became successful. For example Edward Salter’s occupation in his early recorded transactions shows as
cooper, but towards the end of his life shows as merchant and gentleman: when he died in 1733 his will indicates he had
acquired 3371 acres.
Bath town merchants sold English manufactures, imports such as cloth, iron utensils, and window glass as well as inter-
colonial goods and commodities. From plantations and farms came lumber, naval stores, pork, corn, beans and tobacco.
From the Bahamas and West Indian plantations came products like rum, sugar and molasses. Eventually shops were set
up by fur traders turned merchants. Michael Coutanche for example was a French fur trader from Guernsey who turned
Bath Towne merchant: he became wealthy bartering and exporting naval stores and other goods out of his merchant cellar
near the wharves of Port Bath. Fortunately Coutanche’s home built 1751 has survived, now known as the Bath Historic
Site’s Palmer-Marsh house. Another well known early Bath citizen, Christopher Gale also started out as a fur trader and
ended up with a fine plantation outside Bath, Kirby Grange. Although trained in the law in England, Gale was not the
eldest son so he built wealth the old-fashioned way: after hard workbuilding wealth in his twenties as a fur trade middle-
man by age 32 he married a wealthy Carolina widow in 1702…. Sarah Laker Harvey, widow of Governor Thomas
Harvey.
In the early 1700’s merchants would have sold out of home cellars starting out small, or sold goods at the wharf out of a
wagon or vessel. A merchant would aspire to progress to owning warehouses or a cellar on the creek frontage close to one
of the five Bath wharves. (Insert or cite Lawson 1705 town plan, the Forbes 1766 town map showing Water Street
wharves, or the 1768 Sauthier map of Bath) . Imported goods were sold or bartered in exchange for crops and other local
products including tar, turpentine, cypress roof shingles, potash, and oak barrel staves. From Port Bath local goods from
the Tar-Neuse basins were shipped north and south to coastal towns and ports all along the Atlantic Coast. After 1750,
with improved plank and wagon roads, enterprising men set up stables and taverns to service a growing overland
transportation system. Even with improved roads for inland distribution, this did not eliminate the need for river and creek
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