Edenton, North Carolina – Traces of Colonial America

The exploration of the New World and colonization of those lands was a significant period in European history.  People often think of New England when thinking about early American history and the Revolutionary War, but the Southern colonies (Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia) also played important roles in America’s founding and independence. Few may realize that the first English settlement in North America was the Roanoke Colony in 1585 in the area now known as North Carolina. This early settlement of 115 people, which disappeared without a trace, is an historic site on Roanoke Island, North Carolina.

The Province of Carolina was charted in 1629 and this province was split into North and South Carolina in 1712. The colony of North Carolina was one of the original thirteen colonies and, after the War of Independence, one of the founding states making up the United States. The first colonial capital of North Carolina was located in Edenton, North Carolina.

With this rich history in mind, I had an opportunity to explore historic Edenton and see what remained of North Carolina’s colonial history. Pulling into the Edenton visitor’s center, one of the first things you will notice is the Roanoke River Lighthouse which is arguably the most photographed structure in Edenton.

Chowan County Courthouse

In November of 1712, the North Carolina Colonial Assembly passed an act to build a courthouse to hold its assemblies and established Edenton as the seat of the provincial government. The first building was unsatisfactorily completed in 1718. A second building was constructed in 1724. A third iteration of the courthouse was built in 1767 and stills stands today. After North Carolina became a state, the capital was moved south along the coast to New Bern and the later to Raleigh in the center of North Carolina.

Chowan County Historic Courthouse
Chowan Courthouse, rear view

The 1767 Courthouse was considered the finest Georgian courthouse in the South and is one of the most important public buildings in colonial America. As the oldest government building in North Carolina, it is a National Historic Landmark and served as a setting for state and national political actions during the 1770’s and 1780’s.

Penelope Barker House, 1774

In 1774, the women of Edenton, led by Penelope Barker in 1774 resolved to boycott British imports such as tea and clothing in support of resolutions made by America’s First Provincial Congress. The women signed and mailed the document to England and the action has since became known as the Edenton Tea Party. It is an example of early and influential activism and patriotism by women in colonial America.

Penelope Barker House

An account of the event appeared in the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser on January 16, 1775, along with a drawing portraying the women in a less than flattering light. The event went unrecorded in North Carolina and remained unknown until 1827, when a North Carolina native naval officer purchased a rendering of the cartoon in a shop abroad. The event was the traced back in time to the English newspaper – Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser.

A teapot mounted on a Revolutionary era cannon just off the green in front of the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse commemorates the Edenton Tea Party and the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is named for it. The Penelope Barker home now serves as a museum and visitor center.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is the second oldest church building in North Carolina and the oldest still in regular use. It is a landmark in the development of religious architecture in the state. The parish was organized in 1701 as the first parish in the colony.

An early building for the parish was built in 1701. By 1736, the building needed to be replaced and construction began on a brick building that followed the popular red-brick form in Virginia. On October 15, 1736, the Williamsburg Virginia Gazette reported that “a large, handsome Brick Church, with Steeple, is shortly to be built” in Edenton, with “many of the Bricks being already burnt”. As it turned out, funding construction would prove to be a challenge and wouldn’t go into use until 1760. Even then, the windows were unglazed until 1767 and the interior woodwork not be finished until 1774.

The Cupola House

The Cupola House on South Broad Street is another National Historic Landmark structure in Edenton. Dating from 1758-1759, the house is of singular architectural and historical importance in North Carolina. It combines an unusual framing system with its jettied second story, and a boldly scaled and richly detailed interior with classical Georgian ornamentation. The dwelling provides a rare look into Edenton two decades before the Revolution.

The James Iredell, Sr. House

The James Iredell, Sr. House was home to a James Iredell- Justice on the first United States Supreme Court. He purchased the home in 1778. Iredell County in North Carolina’s piedmont region just north of Charlotte is named after this gentleman. The home, sadly, doesn’t present well for photos and is in need of some attention.

More of Edenton

A colorful neighborhood with smaller fronts that had deep extensions in living area added to back of the homes. Love the rockers and swings on the porches and beautiful landscaping in this area. I believe this neighborhood once housed workers for the Edenton Cotton Mill.

Like many small towns in North Carolina, cotton mills were a major employer. The Edenton Cotton Mill opened in 1900 and operational until 1995. It was then added to the National Register of Historic places and converted into condominiums. The Mill office is now a museum which details the history of the cotton mill and 70 mill homes built to house workers.

Gorgeous homes in neighborhood on or close to the waterfront and not far from the historic Chowan County Courthouse.

Broad Street

One last look at the waterfront.

Where in the world…

Taking a look at the map below, you can see the location of Edenton inside the Outer Banks and tucked inside the Albemarle Sound within a natural harbor. Another point of interest is the island behind the word “Nags Head” on the outer banks of North Carolina. That island is the site of the Lost Colony of Roanoke – the first English settlement in North America.

The Roanoke colony was established in 1585, Jamestown in 1607. The pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. While all of these events are an important part of the nation’s beginnings, none of them marked the first permanent settlement in what would later become the United States. That distinction belongs to St. Augustine, Florida, established by the Spanish in 1565.

Historic Edenton offers daily tours of a remarkable collection of Georgian, Federal, and Greek Revival buildings including the 1767 Courthouse.

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