Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bath 18th century town curse or blessing?

Bath, NC (KLWood, 2014)
Recently, my husband and I made the trek down to Bath, North Carolina, just about one hour south of us here in 
Bath, NC
Edenton. Bath, created in 1705, is a fascinating place with its designation as North Carolina’s first established town and, along with many other intriguing facts, the residence of the infamous pirate captain, Edward Teach (AKA Thatch AKA Blackbeard.) Wandering along its quiet streets and down by the Pamlico River, it’s easy to envision life three centuries ago when the little town was bustling with activity including activity that inspired a visiting minister to cast a curse upon the village, but more on that later…

European settlements began growing up along the Pamlico River during the 1690s, leading to Bath’s official establishment in 1705. A collection of books sent to its St. Thomas Parish in 1701 became the origins for the colony’s first public library. (My husband, Bill, went into the Bath Public Library and speaking to one of the librarians was disappointed to learn that all but one of the original books had disappeared over the years and the one remaining book was now owned by the church and not available for public viewing.) Bath became North Carolina’s first port of entry with trade in furs, tobacco, and naval stores.

The first settlers of Bath were French
St. Thomas Church, Bath, NC, (KLWood, 2014) 
Protestants who moved down from Virginia. Early English settlers included John Lawson who was the surveyor general for the colony
of North Carolina and who designed the town’s layout. You may recall from a previous blog post --March 19, 2014-- the story of how poor John Lawson, author and happy expounder of the virtues of North Carolina (including its native Indian
Palmer House, Bath, NC, (WFAhearn, 2014)
tribes,) was killed in 1711 by the Tuscarora in a most horrific manner. 

As a matter of fact, the quiet, nearly deserted streets of Bath today, were the scenes of much political, social, and religious turmoil during its first years. The years 1711-1712 were especially challenging with the area a center of serious upheaval and strife between the Church of England’s Anglican Church and the Society of Friends (Quakers) culminating in Cary’s Rebellion. During that time, the region was also decimated by a yellow fever epidemic, severe drought, and the Tuscarora War. At one point during the war between the Indians and the colonists, Bath was the refuge for more than three hundred widows and children. Keep in mind that just four years earlier, Bath was home to only twelve houses and a total of fifty residents.
Palmer House, Bath, NC (KLWood, 2014)

As the region began putting its pieces back together following the cessation of the Tuscarora War in 1715, Bath began to flourish with increased traffic and trade once more. When Blackbeard the pirate, governor’s pardon in hand, decided to settle down, he chose the town of Bath. There, he and his rowdy crewmen became the life of the party around town, a town that is reported to have grown to a
Plum Point home of Blackbeard, seen from Bath (KLWood, 2014)
population of 8,000. Blackbeard was wined and dined by the locals who were fascinated by his wild tales of adventure and happy to do business with the reformed (so-called) pirate. He took a young wife from the Bath residents, a sixteen year old girl by the name of Mary Ormond, daughter of a nearby plantation owner. The marriage was short-lived however since, within a couple months, Blackbeard was back in the pirating trade and, in November, 1718, was killed in Ocracoke, North Carolina by orders of Virginia’s Governor Spotswood. (You may note it was not North Carolina’s governor, Charles Eden, who ordered Blackbeard’s demise. Governor Eden had actually performed the pirate’s wedding ceremony earlier in the summer.)

One of Bath’s more colorful incidents occurred during the mid-eighteenth century when the famous traveling preacher, George
George Whitefield, 1750, by Joseph Badger
Whitefield, reportedly placed a curse upon the town. Whitefield, a minister born in England who was a famously 
impassioned leader of the religious movement in America known as the Great Awakening, and reported to have drawn ardent crowds of 8,000 at the time, visited Bath on several occasions. His manner and austere preachings against such amusements as dancing were not well received in a town with a history of prosperous trade among infamous pirates. At one point, Whitefield gave up and upon leaving the town for the last time proclaimed: “There’s a place in the Bible that says if a place won’t listen to The Word, you shake the dust of the town off your feet, and the town shall be cursed. I have put a curse on this town for a hundred years.”

A Lovely Memorial Garden in Bath, NC (KLWood, 2014)
Not long after, in 1776, the town of Washington (known by us old-timers as Little Washington) was formed fifteen miles up the Pamlico River. Once the seat of Beaufort County government was moved to Washington in 1785, Bath lost most of its trade and importance and its population decreased steadily over the years, never to return to its earlier days of prosperity and power. Today, the town’s population stands at 249. Cursed? Maybe, but some who live there might well call it blessed as they enjoy its peaceful serenity. Perhaps after such a tumultuous beginning, Bath deserves such a restful retirement.

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now! 

Fanciful Floral Fire Hydrant in Bath (KLWood, 2014)


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