Ch. 4 A Closer Look at Port Bath’s Early Commerce- Surviving Records of
Martitime Trade and Financing.
Early North Carolina trading who’s who, (the Bath fur traders, planter-merchants, and early provincial
governors* and state public officials) lived either in the state’s oldest town (1705) or outside the town on
plantations in the state’s second oldest county, Bath County (est. 1696). They were not able to simply buy and
build town houses, plantations or ocean-going vessels by withdrawing silver sterling British Pound coins from
their tick mattresses and strong boxes in their ballast rock-lined cellars. To prime the pump of colonial buying
and selling, entrepreneurial colonists of 1700-1730 daily used and issued personal and merchant credit lines.
Coastal and inter-regional merchants using Port Bath, the state’s first official British American port of entry
(est. 1715/16), accrued wealth trade connections with bartered goods and borrowed money, in some cases like
jumpstarting their start-up capital by first marrying wealthy widows or successful merchant’s daughters.
If old Albemarle and Bath County “who’s who” HAD had lots of silver dollars in their strongboxes, they would
have been Spanish milled dollars, known as the piece of eight, and the most important scarce currency in the
money supply of the American colonies. In 1704 Queen Anne issued a proclamation “for setting and
ascertaining the Current Rates of foreign coins in All Her Majesty’s Plantations in America” that rated the
standard Spanish piece of eight at six shillings, an overvaluation of 33 1/3 percent (Watson 1980). Successful
Carolina planter-merchants and enterprising sea captains, even poorly paid missionaries, all routinely bartered
and borrowed in lieu of scarce silver sterling currency as they placed orders for goods and merchandise.
Surviving colonial records refer often to debt transactions. The various transactions also illustrate the use of
local, London, and regional credit, the latter most often issued from Charleston or Boston.
Bath County and other early Carolina merchants leveraged buying power via factors, (agents and trading
partners) who extended credit from English cities as well as major port cities like Boston, New York,
Philadelphia and Charleston. Port Bath fur traders, planter-merchants and local Bath county settlers made
purchases by regional and international credit, cash and barter. Transactions increased after Bath’s 1705 town
incorporation and its 1715 royal port of entry status improved when the Roanoke and Currituck inlets shoaled
up: as a result more vessels used Ocracoke Inlet to enter the Pamlico/Tar/ Neuse river basins and the Pamlico
Sound region, the latter being the largest body of water in the colony of north Carolina province.
*Governors beginning with the founding of Bath County in 1696 through 1730 as follows: John Archdale,
Henderson Walker, Robert Daniel, Thomas Cary, Edward Hyde Thomas Pollock, Charles Eden, Thomas
Pollock, William Reed, and George Burrington. Source The Governors of North Carolina, 2007 Michael Hill
Ed. p. xiii.
North Carolina did not become a royal Crown colony until seven of the eight Lords Proprietors sold their
interests back (2500 pound GB each) to the crown in 1729.
2015-2016 being the
anniversary year of colonial Port Bath, the remaining pages of this chapter dig into
300 year old Beaufort County deed books and other county and state records. Revealed are fur traders
bartering with Indian pay, sea captains and sailing vessels clearing Port Bath, missionaries borrowing and
bartering, and local, regional and foreign merchants’ frequently extending and/or using colonial credit. Credit
definition and borrowing/financing terms where known are compared and contrasted below.
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