A Small Town with a Big Name
If you grew up in Perquimans County, North Carolina it’s highly likely that you have met someone who didn’t and they have no idea where this place is located or how to pronounce it. When someone does pronounce it correctly, you are shocked and often find out they played sports when they were younger and that’s the reason they were familiar with the name. My attempt here to give some accolades to my hometown will surely fall short but I’m giving it a try because the place is just that special. Some of what I will mention you will have heard before, but maybe some will be new.
It seems like when you grow up in a small country town you are mostly counting down the days until you spread your wings and fly away to the city for more excitement, and so you don’t learn all the intricacies of the history that make your home unique. We read about other places, go visit other places, and never know the really cool things that happened right beneath our feet. If you are reading and you are not from Perquimans, I hope that this strikes your interest and you decide to stop in but I must prep you, it’s a little place. You won’t find skyscrapers or heavy traffic or chain shopping centers on every corner. I was once on a phone call with a credit card company rep in California who realized where I was from and said he had been waiting his whole life to come to Perquimans. Imagine my surprise! I laughed and questioned him, of course, and he said his all time favorite baseball player was Jim “Catfish” Hunter and he wanted to see where he had lived and come check out the museum. Our county has lots to offer and it may not be what some expect or desire, but it may end up being just what you were looking for. I’m sure we have more rocking chairs than stoplights, more boats, kayaks, and 4 wheelers than fancy cars, more words of wisdom from older, well meaning folks than you ask for, and the most waves and friendly smiles you can find anywhere. Things aren’t perfect here, but there are lots of people who care enough about each other to ensure it will continue to get better.
Have you ever paid attention to the road names as you drive through town? Hertford was named after the borough of Hertford in Hertfordshire, England and so many of the streets are English names like Covent Garden and Hyde Park. Hertford has many buildings listed with the National Register of Historic Places and it’s often considered a great example of a Southern picturesque town.
According to the town’s website, “The Town of Hertford was established in 1758 and is North Carolina’s seventh oldest town. The county seat of Perquimans County and located on the beautiful Perquimans River, Hertford is home to a year round population of approximately 2,200 citizens.”The entire county had a population estimated at 13,422 in 2018. The land area was reported at 247.09 square miles with over 100 miles of shoreline and more than 65,000 acres of active farmland (NCpedia). Names of families popular early on in the county include the following: White, Wilson, Skinner, Whedbee, Blount, Wood, Modlin, Evans, Winslow, Jessop, Cox, Hollowell, Nixon, Toms, Newby, Leigh, Morgan, and Smith (Winslow, 26-27).
When you think about Perquimans, you might think about Catfish Hunter like my California call, or shopping at Layden’s Store to get some country sausage, thin sliced country ham for biscuits, and hoop cheese, my personal favorites. You might think about Scott’s Store in Belvidere (likened to a country Walmart recently by someone visiting from up North), our delicious restaurants across the county that are just fantastic, the turtle log, Christmas with the downtown lights and annual parade, dancing and martial arts downtown at The Dance Company of Hertford that kids and adults really enjoy, the recreation center right on the water with great trails and a playground, or the famous ice cream at Woodard’s. You might think about being a kid and going to the games at the Little League field or the famous disc jockey Wolfman Jack or the S shaped bridge or sunny days fishing on the river. Maybe you think about farming, tractors, hunting dogs, peach picking, strawberry fields, and homemade jam. Maybe you think about the Newbold White House, the oldest brick structure in the whole state. Maybe you wonder about Harvey Point and the sounds coming from down there. Did you know Tim Weiner wrote an article in 1998 about Harvey Point in the NY Times? The article opened by referring to Hertford as being “as tranquil as an old dog on a porch” and continued to say “…the Central Intelligence Agency has run secret paramilitary and counter-terrorism courses for thousands of its officers and select foreigners — most recently, the Palestinian security forces, according to intelligence officials. Established weeks after the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, this school for spies has been shielded by secrecy, security fences and cypress trees festooned with Spanish moss ever since.” Who would have thought Perquimans would be involved with the CIA? It’s pretty remarkable if you think about it.
Maybe you remember my favorite festival, Indian Summer, that marked the memories of so many of our childhoods and became a great big reunion once a year. There was always something special about seeing your old friends there, remembering going when you were a kid, and then walking hand in hand with your own children. The early history of the county has always interested me and I enjoyed seeing Native Americans at the festival, dancing downtown with local residents in front of the courthouse and sharing their traditions. How many of you remember taking a trip to the courthouse as a 4th grade student and being given a copy of the first recorded land deed in North Carolina? I still have my copy in a scrapbook in the closet. It reads, “First land transaction recorded between white man (George Durant) and Indian Chief (Kilcoconewen) in which the Indian was paid for his land.” Some say that land had also been purchased from Cisketando, a Yeopim Indian chief, before this recorded transaction took place.
The name of the county is legend itself. Back in 1668, Perquimans was called Berkeley Precint and when the Town of Hertford was originally incorporated, it was called Phelps Point. Durant’s Neck used to be known as “Wicocombe” and the Little River was known as both “Kototine” and “Katoline” in different documents. The name of the county was changed to represent the earliest inhabitants of the county, the Yeopim Indians. According to the NC History Project, “A derivative of the Algonquians and the Tuscarora, the Yeopim were driven away by the English and Welsh settlers. By 1701, there were only six warriors within Perquimans because most had moved to a reservation in present-day Camden County.” I’ve found notes that refer to the Perquimans Indians and the Weapemeoc. The name Perquimans does indeed mean “land of beautiful women.” What other place can boast such a fabulous name?
I found a family history of an Indian tribe that likened Perquimans to a first capital, impressive with court hearings and public buildings despite being small and rural. Perquimans was a bustling port with access to trade on the waterways and railroads. I found one account, a book on Perquimans almost 500 pages long that was written in 1931 by Mrs. Watson Winslow, that said “…the records in Perquimans prove beyond a single doubt that Perquimans County at that time ran all the way to the Virginia line…the line was changed in 1779, and Perquimans shrank to its present boundary.” Winslow wrote that there was an early courthouse built on the Sound that burned down in 1701 after only being used one time. Winslow also reported, “No man could serve on the jury unless he held a freehold of fifty acres of land in the county” and a “grand juryman had to be the possessor of 300 acres.” She speaks of George Durant being mistakenly given too much credit for bringing settlers to Perquimans from London and says that many people were already rooted in the area. There was a dispute over land between Durant and George Catchmaid, who said the land already belonged to him so Durant stopped building. Catchmaid owned 3,333 acres in Perquimans and left them to his neice, Elizabeth Chandler, in London. Although Winslow does question Durant’s behavior and his religion, she says he was “beloved of men, honored by the Indians…”
She speaks of the Indian Chief Kilcoconewen, King of Yeopim, and talks about people in the county wondering where he was buried. Because he was so favored by the English, many thought he may have been given a special burial. I couldn’t find any definitive answer to whether this mystery was ever solved, but I came across many tales of children being afraid to go out after dark in case Kilcoconewen’s spirit was lurking.
Winslow also wrote that to encourage early settlers to emigrate to Perquimans, each person was given 100 acres of land and 50 more acres for any servants he brought along. Additionally, if you came before December 25, 1672 and you were over 16 years of age, you were given 50 acres. Imagine! In fact, the first tax list in 1729 listed how many acres each person owned next to their name. Records were kept of the people who settled and it was titled “Births, Deaths, and Marriages in Berkeley” as Berkeley was the original name of the county. Winslow also mentions Pirates in the Albemarle waters, as well as seemingly innocent travelers being hung for suspected piracy. She mentions gentlemen in Perquimans wearing wigs, riding in stately carriages, and having Negro servants to help passengers step out from carriages.
From what I can conclude from her writing, Piquimins, Piquemons, and Perquimons were earlier names for Perquimans. Perquimans citizens petitioned for a town in the late 1750’s. She documented that, “The county was a stronghold of Quakers.” She sites the movement of the Quaker settlement from the Little River to Belvidere as another mystery of the past. She writes that several Quakers in the county were imprisoned for 6 months for refusing to bear arms. They were very strict and were referred to as “constant opposers of the Church of England.” Legend has it that the founder of The Society of Friends, George Fox, preached right here in Perquimans. Legend also says that George Washington stayed in the hotel that used to be in downtown Hertford.
You can infer a lot from the deeds that Winslow included in her book. Many include land transfers but some are much more simple. One family, for example, left a cow behind to someone and to each person in their family, an iron pot. Another deed, 117, notes “Indian Corn & Pork” to be exchanged each year. And although we all know slaves were bought and sold, when you read it in the records of deeds in the county you have grown up in, it is a strange feeling. Deed 140…”New feather bed, & Boulster, 2 Blankets, & a Rugg, 1 doz Pewter plates, & 2 Pewter Dishes, & 1 Iron Pott.” At 16 years of age “1 negro man, 40 pounds, & 4 young Sows, as a gift from me. July 9, 1698.”
The S Bridge & The Turtle Log
Another interesting report I stumbled across was from North Carolina Historian William S. Powell who talked about our hometown bridge. You know, the one the turtles on the log have always enjoyed. Powell says, “The story goes that the original bridge that spanned the river was a floating bridge, made of steel and wood. When a boat came near and wanted passage, the bridge would be unhooked from one bank and allowed to float out of the way. When the boat had passed, lines were used to haul the free end of the bridge in and reconnect it. Molasses, sugar, and liquor came in from the West Indies. During the Revolutionary War, when Boston was hard pressed, Perquimans farmers donated a handsome cargo of corn, flour, and pork to their northern friends. Regular ferry service linked communities, but after ferry-goers repeatedly complained of great delays and danger from high seas during southeast winds, Hertford’s first bridge across the Perquimans River was built in 1798. Twenty feet wide and floating on empty whiskey barrels, the privately owned drawbridge was eventually purchased by the county for $5,786 and tolls for residents were abolished. A hundred years later, when high waters dislodged the old bridge, a new one was christened with a 207-foot trestle, a 153-foot draw, and strict limitations. Crowds were forbidden, and no one was permitted to drive faster than a walk. The former float bridge sold at public auction for $16. Finally, in 1928, the current “S” bridge of concrete, steel, and “Carolina Moon” fame was constructed” (Lewis).
It’s hard to picture what it must have been like long ago. The town so many of us love looked incredibly different. Native Americans hunted the woods and fished the rivers throughout the county, and later settlers from England showed up and started to develop, bringing systems of government, business, and housing. I came across accounts of canons being shot from the river straight into homes, and later during the Civil War, accounts of Northern troops raiding the homes and farms of Perquimans residents and many hiding in swamps until the troops were gone. In closing, I’ll leave you with the words of Winslow because she says it much better than I can.
“…grateful hearts remember the stark necessity of these tillers of the soil and how they dug out of the Swamps a splendid prosperity; the brawn and sinew of the land her pioneer men, bent with heavy toil, bronzed by the sun, pinched with cold, ravaged by dread malaria, yearning over little ones and sickly wife who helped to bear and share their burdens, carving out of the bare wilderness a home where the future generations might live at ease. Truly may it be said that our forefathers in Perquimans laid the foundations of the progress that followed. Every soul with an ounce of patriotism should take off the hat in lowly reverence by the side of a grave where is silently lying the remains of one of these who labored so long and so well that coming descendants could possess the land in freedom.”
Check out more with these resources:
Lewis, J.D. “Perquimans County, North Carolina.” NC Home, 2019, www.carolana.com/NC/Counties/perquimans_county_nc.html.
Martin, Jonathan. “Perquimans County (1668).” North Carolina History Project, John Locke Foundation, 2016, northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/perquimans-county-1668/.
“Perquimans County.” NCpedia, The Government and Heritage Library, a part of the State Library of North Carolina, www.ncpedia.org/geography/perquimans. Accessed 5 July 2020.
“Perquimans County.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).
Weiner, Tim. “Is the Explosion-Noisy Base a C.I.A. Spy School? What Base?” The New York Times , The New York Times Company , 20 Mar. 1998, www.nytimes.com/1998/03/20/world/is-the-explosion-noisy-base-a-cia-spy-school-what-base.html.
“Welcome to Hertford.” Hertford North Carolina , Granicus – Connecting People and Government, www.townofhertfordnc.com/about-hertford. Accessed 6 July 2020.
Winslow, Watson. History of Perquimans county as compiled from records found there and elsewhere. 1931. East Carolina University Digital Collections, digital.lib.ecu.edu/13772#details.