About Edenton and Chowan County
A place where business and life support each other.
Founded Before the Revolutionary War
Formed in 1668 by English settlers, Chowan County was originally called Shaftesbury Precinct of Albemarle County. It was renamed Chowan Precinct around 1681 for the Chowan River, which is named for the Chowanoac Indians who inhabited the region.
The county seat, Edenton, was incorporated in 1722. It all started as a temporary fishing village on the shores of the Albemarle Sound.
From a temporary fishing village to a thriving center of commerce.
Edenton began as a temporary fishing settlement founded by European settlers connected to the Roanoke Colony as early as the 1620s. The Albemarle Sound was teeming with fish and wildlife and quickly became an essential food source for the early Jamestown settlers. But, it quickly grew in importance.
Europeans were increasingly familiar with the area and the winding and twisting waterways. Before long, Edenton began to transform from a tiny fishing village to a bustling port. Over the next 100 years, Edenton grew in size and importance and thrived economically.
Though, it wasn’t “Edenton” yet. That required Charles Eden.
Charles Eden and the famous pirate Blackbeard.
Yeah, that Blackbeard, the famous pirate. We don’t know much, but Charles Eden had reasonably extensive dealings with the famous pirate and his first mate Stede Bonnet. Though, whether those were above-board or not, no one knows. We know that this era was “the golden age of piracy in Carolina waters.” And that pirates along the rivers, inlets, and throughout the Outer Banks were relatively common.
Blackbeard operated with little opposition throughout the region and eventually settled in Bath, where Governor Eden may have presided over his marriage to a local woman. By the time Charles Eden died in 1722, the place which was once named “Town on Queen Anne’s Creek” had become a bustling center of business and commerce, and was renamed Edenton.
Charles Eden left a monumental legacy. And, even if connections to infamous criminals might have tainted it, his impact on this town cannot be overstated. In 9 years, the profile of Edenton grew, its regional importance was entrenched, and he ironically set the stage for Edenton’s essential role in the Revolutionary War.
Charles Eden arrived from England in 1713 to a rapidly changing village named The Town of Queen Anne’s Creek. His was one of the momentous times in Edenton’s history. He installed bureaucracies and structures in the rapidly growing town and became the governor of the British-controlled colony of North Carolina.
That’s right. Charles Eden was a North Carolina Governor, and the town that would later be named Edenton was the capital.
Why this town? It’s strategic importance! The town hosted a bustling port on the Albemarle Sound and was connected via trade throughout the colony. But, he was only one of the important people who shaped Edenton.
Other Famous Edentonians
People who shaped our history
On July 9, 1781, he was elected the first president of the Continental Congress. He, however, wanted nothing to do with it and immediately declined, returning home just a few days later, becoming Governor of North Carolina.
Harriet Ann Jacobs was a writer and abolitionist who was born into slavery in 1813 in Edenton, North Carolina. Her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, was the first ever narrative written by a formerly enslaved woman and was published in 1861 under the pen name Linda Brent.
We’ve all heard about the Boston Tea Party, right? In 1773, men from the Sons of Liberty, a grassroots organization dedicated to American Independence, boarded ships filled with tea in Boston’s harbor.
Edenton had its own tea party, not wholly unlike its more famous counterpart.
Patriotism wasn't just for men
Throughout the Colonies, the women of households were just as patriotic as men. But, they expressed this attitude in different ways as managers of their households. The boycotts were enforced mainly by women, who did much of the shopping and household management in those days. They were the ones who shopped and purchased the imports involved in the tug-of-war between England and the American Colonies.
So, when it came time to pick sides, they did so with their wallets and household goods. Penelope Barker gathered 50 other women from Edenton, who signed a proclamation declaring they’d stop purchasing tea, cloth, and other British imports to support the fight against unjust taxation.
It’s referred to as the “Edenton Tea Party” because it came in the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party and because these women drank symbolic tea with local ingredients when they signed the resolution. Holding out was no easy feat. The colonists were largely dependent on British trade for these essential goods. And the British knew it. The fledgling colonies didn’t have the industrial infrastructure to grow, process, and create tea, wool, and cotton. But Edentonians, from the very beginning, have been resourceful and creative people.
The first political action by women
51 women signed the resolution and sent it to the British parliament, gaining widespread attention. Penelope Barker, who had survived two husbands, had become a large landowner and successful woman in her own right. She didn’t need men on the other side of the ocean telling her what she should or shouldn’t do.
51 courageous women gathered, expressed their political beliefs, and told the British Parliament that their goods were not welcome in Edenton. In many ways, this was as (or more) brave than the men of the Boston Tea Party. The men of the Boston Tea Party concealed their identities by dressing as Native Americans while they boarded the ships in Boston.
The women wrote their names on their declaration before sending it out for the whole world to know who did it. And don’t forget, Penelope’s husband was still in England! It wasn’t merely an inconvenience. It was dangerously seditious.
The Barker House and Edenton's history today
Today, down on Edenton’s waterfront, the Penelope Barker House is Edenton’s front door. The Home of the Edenton Historical Commission is part museum, part bookstore, and the place to get your Edenton Trolley Tour tickets.
It’s also probably the best place to catch a sunset in town. People come from far and wide to explore our beautiful buildings, learn about our place in American history, and check out Edenton.