Beaufort During the Revolution

A portion of 1775 map by Mouzon & others
Click image to enlarge
“Beaufort – The County Seat of Carteret County”
by Jean B. Kell

From: Carteret County During the American Revolution 1765-1785
Era Press, Greenville, NC - 1975

Looking toward the ocean from the town of Beaufort at the time of the Revolution, there was an unobstructed expanse of water except for one small island designated on maps as Town Marsh and known locally as the “bunch of bushes” (deeded to Daniel Bender). At the far end of town, just beyond the Hammock house was Carrot Island where Taylors Creek began.

There were two channels to the port, one east and one west. The busiest section of town was where it is today, from Queen Street to Turner. Here along the waterfront a street ran and probably continued to the west toward docks and shipyards. From Queen Street east were live oak trees and brush, the lots all extending to the water’s edge. It was along these beaches and through marsh grass that Easton and his men patrolled the fateful night, April 1782.

Shipping records, letters and Capt. Charles Biddle’s biography tell of a busy seaport, ships leaving and entering the harbor in spite of danger of capture by the British. Ships of Loyalists entering in guise of friends. Ships leaving under flag for the purpose of exchanging prisoners, as well as ships arriving from friendly nations with sorely need articles, some to be trans-shipped north to the Continental Army. There, too, were privateers, armed vessels sailing under a letter of marquee which empowered the captain to capture enemy ships in the name of the Continental Congress.  

In the North Carolina Gazette, published in New Bern, were advertisements telling of ships arriving at Beaufort to carry passengers (stating they were armed for protection from the British) and telling of ships arriving with “a large assortment of goods to be sold at the warf to merchants and townsmen.”

North Carolina Gazette 1777: Just imported from London but left from Boston. To be sold at Beaufort on board the St. Andrew. London cordage, Ticklenberglis irish Freget, fine brown cloth, sail twine, wollen stockings, breeches, patterns red and black, ready made cotton and check shirts, check drawers, long and short trousers and Frocks, white cups and saucers, bowls mugs planters and dishes. Tortoise shell cups and saucers teaspoons and glasses of all sort per whd loaf sugar per wt. powder sugar pe Hhd, sold cheap for caloor, tar deerskins and fur.

We find in documents the names of masters of the vessels: Chadwicks, Fulfords, Bell, Paquinett, Biddle, Fuller, Leecraft, Thomas, Pigott and others, and the names of importers, Nathaniel Gibbs, Samuel Leffert, Solomon Chadwick, Benjamin Appleton, Nathan Fuller, William Athern and William Fisher. These and many more engaged in shipping. The complete story of the port activities of Beaufort would fill another book.

There were also ads in the Gazette telling of boats under construction to be sold in Beaufort. Along the waterfront were shipyards. William Borden, Abel Chaney and John Fuller were some of the shipbuilders.

An active port meant an active town. Court records and deeds often tell the occupation of men like Robert William, merchant; Thomas Reese, storekeeper; John Adams, hatmaker; William Foreman and Thomas Hampton, cordwainers (shoemakers); James Severen, silversmith and blacksmith; William Owens, tailor; and James Davis, chair maker. Joseph Morse and James Shackelford agreed to teach the trade of cooper (barrel making) to boys bound to them. Henry Brus a wheelright, John West a house carpenter and Laurence Boore and James White ship carpenters, who were in a position to “cause” G. Shadrock “to lernt the art and mistery of a ship carpenter” and also with in this term (of bondage) “to lernt this G. Shadrick to read and write.” The names of these few men give an idea of the various businesses in the town.

Records of the court mention licenses given for the keeping of an ordinary or tavern where meals could be served, spirituous liquors sold and lodging for man and horse offered. In 1770 a license was granted to William Fisher to keep an ordinary in the house of William Dennis in Beaufort. William Coale was granted license to keep an ordinary in his own dwelling in Beaufort and Joseph Bell was given a tavern license. Each of these men had served as a justice in the court, were active in the duties of St. John’s Parish and were outstanding citizens of the town and county. They had plantations in the country as well as houses in town.

Laws were passed in the county court regulating the charge for lodging, food and drink. The Assembly in 1770 ruled that no tavern or ordinary keeper should allow “any person or persons to sit tippling or drinking” in his house at the time of “Divine Service on the Sabbath day” or allow “any person or persons to get drunk.” If so, the keeper “shall forfeit and pay twenty shillings for every such offense.”

The county courthouse at this time was near what is now courthouse square, and the jail to the east was near the waterfront. In 1760 the court designated an area covering at least two square blocks where prisoners could roam with a large iron ball chained to one ankle. At the same time two pounds five shillings was allowed for the building of stocks or pillary as they were called.

In 1770 the Assembly passed a law that “whenever any person or persons shall be found quarreling or fighting within the town or township of Beaufort” he would pay 20 shillings, or spend 24 hours in jail or two more hours in public stocks. There was also a law passed in 1777 that anyone lawfully convicted of perjury “shall stand in the Pillary one hour, have his or her right ear nailed thereunto and further be punished by fine or imprisonment.” Also for willful perjury “shall stand in the Pillary one hour having his or her ears nailed during the whole time and at the expiration of said hour both ears shall be cut off and severed from the head, leaving them nailed on the Pillary until the setting of the sun.”

The days that the County court was in session were busy days in the port town.

There was an active religious life in the town at the time. As early as 1724 a house, on lot No. 81 between the burial ground and what is now Purvis Chapel, was deeded to the wardens of St. John’s Parish. In it, during the middle 1700s, the Anglican service was read. The wardens of St. John’s Parrish also arranged for the reading of the Divine Service throughout the County. We read of churches at the Newport River, Bells Chapel near Bogue Sound and a chapel at Hunting Quarters. A church was built on lot No. 81 after 1774. It is recorded that the Methodist services took over when the Anglican service, disrupted by the war, ceased to be read in the County. But the church wardens of St. John’s Parish were still meeting in 1782 when the minutes read, “whereas the British took possession of Beaufort…disenabled the overseers to meet.”

There was a Quaker meeting house at Core Sound. Here many Quakers from the County assembled. The Quaker Genealogy gives an excellent record of the Quakers in Carteret County.

The Kehukee Baptists also had a congregation in the county.

There was a schoolhouse in town, and in April, 1756, John Bell was authorized to employ a schoolmaster to keep school two years, one at Straits and one at Shepard’s Neck which indicate there were classes held throughout the County.

Documents tell little of the everyday life in the town. Inventories and wills list possessions, such as mahogany tables, twelve mahogany chairs, tea set, silver spoons, silver buckets, and buttons, silks, as well as fine cambric for shirts. Such wills tell us that some of the people lived in the “fine manner.”

A self-sufficient county such as Carteret did not suffer from lack of food as shown in a letter to the Governor from John Easton in July of 1777 in which he states: “We have had expectations of your Excellency’s paying us a visit, should he happing in Indeavoring to make the time agreeable to you here. Pure air and plenty of fish we have still to boast of.” And Rev. Purcell in a letter tells of a delicious variety of fish, some chicken and turtle.

The general assumption from all this is that the people of Beaufort and Carteret lived as well if not better than the average person throughout the Colony during the years of the Revolution.