A Brief History of Chowan County

By Benjamin F. Speller, Jr., Ph.D.

Established in 1668 as the Shaftesbury Precinct of Albemarle County, the Chowan Precinct eventually formed in 1681. The Prescient was named after the Chowan River which was named in honor of the Chowanoac tribe who lived in the area with the Weapemeoc. The seat of government was originally known as Roanoke, then the Town of Queen Anne’s Creek. In 1722, the town was incorporated and named Edenton in honor of Charles Eden, the popular royal governor of North Carolina

Edenton, linked historically to the colonial and revolutionary era, was the capital of the colony for over twenty years from 1722 to 1743. On the heels of the Boston Tea Party protest on December 16, 1773, North Carolinians in Edenton staged a similar protest, the Edenton Tea Party, in support of American independence. Fifty-one women met on October 25, 1774, in Edenton with an agenda not unlike that of the fifty men in Boston Harbor, their shared cause being a protest against “taxation without representation.” Some of the women gathered at the home of Mrs. Elizabeth King, a prominent member of the Edenton community. The house, just off the courthouse green, was pulled down in 1876.

Penelope Barker, wife of Thomas Barker, treasurer of the Province of North Carolina is believed to have organized the party, developed the resolution, and sought the signatures of 51 women from the surrounding communities.

The women drew up resolves, declaring their intention to boycott English tea and English cloth. They stated, “We, the Ladys of Edenton, do hereby solemnly engage not to conform to the Pernicious custom of drinking tea,” and that “We, the aforesaid Ladys will not promote ye wear of any manufacturer from England until such time that all acts which tend to enslave our Native country shall be repealed.” Like the Boston Tea Party, the Edenton Tea Party was a bold demonstration of patriotism and the belief in individual rights.

In March 1775, a political cartoon satirized the women who participated in the Edenton Tea Party. It was not long before caricatures and articles depicting the ladies as unruly were published in England. An account of the gathering at Mrs. King’s 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 story of the Edenton Tea Party has endured over the years. A colonial teapot mounted on a Revolutionary era cannon commemorates the meeting just off the green in front of the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse. The local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is named for the event.

The Chowan County Courthouse, the oldest courthouse in North Carolina, was constructed in the late 1767. Joseph Hewes and Jacob Blount, both county assembly members, developed a plan to construct a new courthouse in Edenton in 1766. Throughout the Colonial and Revolutionary Era, the likes of Samuel Johnston, James Iredell, and other North Carolinian Patriots assembled in the Chowan County Courthouse to discuss independence from Great Britain. The courthouse displays simplistic Georgian architecture: a vast rectangular outside frame of Flemish-bond brick, an English ballast stone floor, and whitewashed walls. The courthouse has gone through many renovations, and in October 2004, the site was opened for public use.

Chowan County Courthouse and Confederate Monument Edenton, N.C. (The monument has been moved to another place in town.)

The Chowan County Courthouse today.