7
Ch. 1. Introduction
The town of Bath in old Bath County was established in 1705, chartered by the Lords Proprietors as North Carolina’s first
town. Ten years later in August of 1715/1716 the Lords Proprietors decreed Bath the state’s first seaport town, giving
instructions to port officials and naval officers to enforce trade and shipping regulations for a new Port Bath customs
collection district. Bath’s town limits haven’t expanded much beyond the 1715/1716 town gate and palisade boundaries
on the King’s Road to Edenton, and 300 years later tourists and locals alike can still enjoy a daily visual maritime feast
when driving Highway 92 as they enter or exit Bath over the Bath Creek/formerly Town Creek bridge. Driving or cycling
along the former northeast-southwest post road route and colonial ferry porterage points, all can see that the creek
waters are still full of masts, maritime flotsam and jetsam on the shore, clinking halyards and flapping canvas with
watercraft of all descriptions in all directions in the water and parked beside home driveways.
Around Bath’s peninsula, you can count on seeing all types of boats ranging from a kayak, john boat or canoe, to
commercial fishermen hauling crab pots, to recreational weekenders on jet skis, fishing boats, pontoon boats, sailing
racer-cruisers, even retirees cruising the river or occasional trawler and the occasional big schooner making an
intracoastal waterway detour up and down river. Lucky bystanders might even catch colonial reenactor troupes of
soldiers and pirates cleaning their brown besses and firing cannons off the point during Pirates in the Port special events.
Even better one might spy historic canvas off Bonner Point during one of the periodic visits of reproduction historic
sailing vessels, such as the small two masted periauger from Hertford and the larger square rigged Queen Elizabeth from
Manteo.
Today most of Bath’s recreational local sailing vessels seen at Bath’s public and private docks are fore-and-aft sloop-
rigged or occasionally even schooner-rigged. Very rare is the sight of a square- rigged vessel sailing in from the river.
This does not contrast with early colonial merchant vessels that also would have mostly been fore-and- aft rigged with no
more than two masts usually arriving at Port Bath’s 1715 waterfront.
Non customs house legal records reveal at least twenty one known vessels with either names, size or ton burden specifics
mentioned in the 1700-1730 period with respect to likely Port Bath clearances. They are as follows: Town Clerk Levi
Truewhitt’s Sloop Pamlico Adventure (1704) 30 tons, Capt. James Beard’s The James of New York 10 ton sloop, (1704) ,
Governor Daniels’ brig Martha (1709) which held 100 barrels of Tar, each 250 pounds, the sloop Speedwell 7 tons,
(1710), Governor Cary’s nameless sloop 46 feet length built by Harding with an 8 foot hold (1709/1710), Fowler’s Eagle
13 ton sloop, (1725/26) , John West’s large sailing periauger built by a local shipwright Harding named The Adventure
(1725). Edward Salter also had a larger brigantine named The Happy Luke (will probate 1734). For small craft we also
know that Edward Teach (1718) and Edward Salter had unnamed two masted sailing pirogues, Thomas Morris had an
unnamed 17.5 foot shallop (1707). Other names of sloops known to have passed through Bath with diligent owners or
master leaving records include Batchelor, Content, Fortune, Frances, Rachel , Thomas and John, Tryall…. and
schooners Ranger, Seaflower, and Virginity.
Although this souvenir manuscript is not about Port Bath in the second half of the 18th century, the mid to late 1700s, for
purposes of comparison surviving shipping records see the table below drawing from the approx. 2443 known vessels
paying customs going through Port Bath: 1080 sloops, 1006 schooners, 335 brigs/snows, and 22 merchant ships.
So again, to generalize, smaller sloops and schooners were equally common clearances at Port Bath, representing together
approximately 85% of vessels recorded and averaging fewer than 33 and 41tons respectively. Larger brigs and ships
averaging 80 and 136 tons respectively were the exception. Although large brigs and ships over 150 ton were rare, the
table below shows clearly large brigs as large as 186 tons and at least one ship as much as 250 ton could and did sail over
the Ocracoke bar and up to Port Bath. This is somewhat a slightly different finding from Reed Wingate’s statement
understating Port Bath capability by about 25% vessel tonnage capacity in his 1962 History of Beaufort County. He says:
The narrow inlets to the sound and the shifting, shallow channels of the sound and river limited passage to sloops,
schooners, brigantines, and brigs of 150 gross tons, and a draft of six to eight feet. (Ch. XV p. 161). Charles Crittenden’s
1936 comments in contrast slightly overstated by about 10-15% the size of sloops and schooners coming into Port Bath
stating they averaged 50 tons, they in fact were much less than that, averaging 33 and 41 tons burden. The few early
1700-1730 early era Port Bath sloops whose specs this editor was able to identify, those 21 vessels mentioned above,
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