Mercator and Hondius . 1630 [i1]

“While the Pamlico-Neuse region of North Carolina can boast of the state's oldest towns, it cannot claim the oldest permanent settlements. The cradle of North Carolina lies in the Albemarle Sound area where settlements, about Salmon Creek in present-day Bertie County and along the many south-flowing rivers which empty into the Sound, were begun sometime in the latter part of the 1650's.” 1 

South Part of Virginia 
Detail notes Batts House [i2]
South Part of Virginia 1657
Nicholas Cumberford [i2]

“By 1655 Nathaniel Batts, the first known permanent settler in the region had a house along Salmon Creek at the western end of Albemarle Sound from which he engaged in trade with the Indians. Other settlers soon followed, and by 1663 more than five hundred people were probably living between Albemarle Sound and the limits of Virginia.” 2
“On March 24, 1663, Charles II of England granted a charter for a part of the new world which ultimately included this new settlement on Albemarle Sound to eight prominent Englishmen who had supported his restoration. By October of the next year the Lords Proprietors, as these eight men became known, had incorporated this settlement as the County of Albemarle in the Province of Carolina.” 3
Early settlers passing through the rivers and swamps from Virginia into Albemarle County [i3]
Philip Ludwell
Governor 1689-1691 [i4]
“About the time that Ludwell took office, settlers began to make their way across Albemarle Sound to occupy land along the Pamlico River. With improved conditions, settlers began moving into Carolina at a rapid rate. A great many came from Manakin Town, a French Huguenot settlement a few miles above the Falls of the James River near present-day Richmond.” 4 

“Their [Huguenots] enterprise quickly attracted the attention of the Lords Proprietors who, in 1694, instructed Governor Archdale to erect in that region as many counties as he thought necessary ‘for ye better regulating and ye encouragemt of ye people.’ Accordingly the region from Albemarle Sound to Cape Fear was erected into the county of Archdale although none of the vast wilderness south of Pamlico River was yet inhabited by white men. As the settlement on the Pamlico grew in importance, the colonial authorities thought it advisable to extend to it still further encouragement. In 1696, therefore, the Palatine’s Court ordered that the region extending from Albemarle Sound to Neuse River be erected into the county of Bath and given the privilege of sending two representatives to the General Assembly. About this time, too, a pestilence among the Indians decimated the tribes along the Pamlico and still further opened up that region to settlers who continued to arrive from Albemarle, from Virginia, and from Europe.” 5
John Lawson's 1709 Map [i5]
“By the close of the century, the lands along the Pamlico River were attracting settlers in ever increasing numbers. Along the creeks and waterways of the region, houses and small fields became ever more frequent.
Detail from Lawson's 1709 Map [i5]
“Close on the heels of the Pamlico settlement came the settlement of the region along the Neuse and Trent rivers. The first settlement in this area was made at the mouth of the Neuse on the north shore of that stream. This settlement was soon followed by a French Huguenot colony planted along the banks of the Trent. Plantations soon began to spread up both sides of the Neuse and Trent, and later in 1710, over 400 Swiss and Palatine colonists migrated into the region, under the leadership of Christoph Von Graffenried, where they founded the town of New Bern.

“In 1708, the region embraced in present-day Carteret County began to attract settlers also. This settlement grew rapidly and many families moved into the area about North River which soon acquired the name of “the Core Sound” settlement." 6 

The Captivity of von Graffenried and Lawson 1711 [i6]
“The Indian wars [1711-1713] left North Carolina in a deplorable condition. They had checked immigration, driven many people out to the province, and taken a heavy toll of human life. The destruction of property in the Tuscarora War was widespread. Bath County, the chief scene of conflict, was “totally wasted and ruined.” Along the Neuse and the Pamlico all livestock had been driven off or killed, crops had been destroyed, plantation laid waste, and scarcely a cabin had been spared the torch. Conditions in Albemarle, although that country had escaped the ravages of actual fighting, were but little better. Besides supplying its own needs, Albemarle had been compelled for three years to provide for the necessities of Bath County and to support the military forces raised in both the Carolinas against the enemy. Its supply of pork and grain was exhausted, its trade destroyed, and its people, wrote Governor Pollock, reduced to poverty greater than one could well imagine.

“’Thanks be to God,’ wrote the missionary, John Urmstone, in the winter of 1713, ‘we have no disturbance among ourselves, but all peoples hearts unite and every Member of the Government is as happy as the times will admit of under the wise and prudent administration of our good President.’ When Pollock surrendered the administration to Governor Eden in May, 1714, the colony was enjoying for the first time in a decade a period of ‘peace and quietness.’

Fundamental Constitution 1681 [i7]
“One of the most serious obstacles to the prosperity of the colony had been the absence of grist-mills. Mill sites were scarce and more than fifty years passed after the settlement of North Carolina before a mill was erected in the colony. As late as 1710 De Graffenried states that ‘there was in the whole province only one wretched water mill.’ Poor people pounded their grain in wooden mortars, while the wealthy used hand mills, or else imported flour and meal from New England.

“Looking to the improvement of inland transportation and commerce, the 1715 Assembly adopted a comprehensive plan for the laying out of roads, the building of bridges, and the establishment of ferries, and for their maintenance; while for the encouragement of inter-colonial and foreign commerce it made provision for keeping pilots at Roanoke and Ocracoke inlets who were required ‘constantly and diligently to make it their business to search & find out the most convenient channels,’ keep them properly staked out, and to pilot vessels safely over the bars.

“Recognizing the importance of towns as centers of trade and commerce, the Assembly for the ‘Encouragement of the Town of Bath and all other Towns now or hereafter Built within this Government,’ conferred upon them whenever they should have at least sixty families the privilege of representation in the General Assembly. At this time Bath, Edenton, and New Bern were the only towns in North Carolina.” 7 

"Possibly the Tuscarora War of 1711-1713 delayed the establishment of a town within Topsail Inlet. Within seven months after the power of the Tuscarora Indians had been broken in March, 1713, a town [Beaufort] was laid out on the southwest corner of the tract of land which Farnifold Green had obtained in 1707." 8 
After several attempts to plant a settlement in the Cape Fear area, including 1660 and 1665, "The oldest grant for land on the Cape Fear now extant, is one to Maurice Moore for 1,500 acres on the west bank of the river, dated June 3, 1725. From this grant Maurice Moore, in 1725, laid off, fourteen miles above the mouth of the river, a tract of 320 acres as a site for a town, and his brother Roger, ‘to make the said town more regular, added another parcel of land’ ... Moore then made a bid for royal favor by naming his town Brunswick in honor of the reigning family. But the career of Brunswick did not commend it to the favor of crowned heads or their representatives; it never became more than a frontier village, and in the course of a few years, during which, however, it played an important part in the history of the province, it yielded with no good grace to a younger and more vigorous rival sixteen miles farther up the river, which was named in honor of Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington." 9 
In 1740, the village, originally called New Liverpool, New Town and Newton, was renamed Wilmington.
Detail from 1737 "A New and Correct Map of the
Province of North Carolina" - (Captions added) [i8]
Before the first North Carolina towns were formed, early scattered settlers had either been granted acreage, knowingly or unknowingly squatted on property owned by others or simply “took up” ungranted land.
"The incorporations had to be approved by the royal council and that was only done seven times in the colonial era. I don’t like to use the term incorporate for that reason—I like to stick with ‘legislative action’ which covers 'authorized to be laid out’ and established.'" 10

The ten oldest towns in North Carolina 
that still exist, as authorized to be laid out:
-Bath 1705
-New Bern 1710
-Edenton 1712
-Beaufort 1713
-Wilmington 1740
-Halifax 1757
-Hertford 1758
-Nixonton 1758
-Childsburg 1759 - renamed Hillsborough 1766
-Tarboro 1760

The ten oldest towns in North Carolina, including
those that didn't thrive, as authorized to be laid out:
-Bath 1705
-New Bern 1710
-Edenton 1712
-Beaufort 1713
-Carteret 1715
-Wilmington 1740
-Johnston 1741(destroyed by a hurricane in 1752)
-Brunswick 1745 act to encourage settling (grew from 1725 land grant to Maurice Moore)

1 Herbert R. Paschal Jr., Ph.D., A History of Colonial Bath, The Committee on the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary, Edwards & Broughton Company, Raleigh, North Carolina 1955. (Paschal was a professor of history at East Carolina University 1955-1982; his papers are part of ECU Manuscript Collection.) 
2 William S. Powell, North Carolina Through Four Centuries, University of North Carolina Press, 1989. 
3 Charles L. Paul, Colonial Beaufort: The History of a North Carolina Town, 1965. (Paul earned his Assoc. of Arts degree at Chowan College, Bachelor of Arts degree at Carson-Newman College, Master of Divinity degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a graduate assistantship as well as Masters of Arts Degree at East Carolina University. Paul was a professor of History at Chowan University for 39 years.) 
4 Powell  
5 R.D.W. Connor (Secretary North Carolina Historical Commission), History of North Carolina, Volume I, Lewis Publishing Company, 1919. Conner was the first archivist of the U.S. 1934-1941 (appointed by Pres. F.D. Roosevelt), founding father of NC Archives and History, and a Kenan Professor of History and Government at UNC. 
6 Paschal
7 Connor
8 Paul
9 Connor
10 Ansley Herring Wegner, research historian at the North Carolina Office of Archives and History

i1 Virginiae Item et Floridae, Hand-colored print from the original 1632 map published in Amsterdam by cartographers Gerhard Mercator and Jocodus Hondius, Image courtesy George Howard.

i2 The South Part of Virginia, Nicholas Comberford 1657 chart, notes Batts House. As noted on LearnNC.org: The east coast of North Carolina is drawn along the bottom edge of the map. The map extends south as far as Cape Fear and north as far as what appears to be the Virginia border. The western part of the map (on the top edge) is marked as Tuscarora Indian territory. Between the Pamlico Sound and Albemarle Sound (labeled the Roanoake Sound), the map is labeled “This is a swampy wilderness;” the land north of Albemarle Sound is labeled the same. The house of Nathaniel Batts appears on the map on a piece of land between the Chowan (labeled Choan) River and the “Morallico River.” DETAIL: Shows house in the center of the image.

i3 "Early settlers passing through the rivers and swamps from Virginia into Albemarle County," Colonial North Carolina, Hugh T. Lefler and William S. Powell, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1973.

i4 Philip Ludwell, Audio Visual and Iconographics Collection, Division of Archives and History Photograph Collection, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC, USA.

i5 John Lawson, 1709. To His Excellency William Lord Palatine; The most Noble Henry Duke of Beaufort; The Right Honoble. Iohn, Lord Carteret; The Honoble Maurice Ashley, Esq., Sr. John Colleton Baronet; Iohn Danson, Esq; And the rest of the True and Absolute Lords Proprietors of Carolina in America. This Map is Humbly Dedicated by Ion. Lawson Surveyor General of North Carolina. North Carolina Maps, North Carolina State Archives, North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill, NC, USA.

i6 Pen drawing of captivity of Christoph von Graffenried and Surveyor General John Lawson by Franz Louis Michel. Michel was a Swiss gentleman who, with von Graffenried, brought the Swiss and Germans to Carolina and founded New Bern in 1710. Image found on the Meherrin Nation website. (A member of the Meherrin Tribe was on the tribal council with the Tuscarora.)

i7 Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, The first version of this early constitutional document intended for the American colonies was written and published in 1669-1670 and later amended. The original authors were most likely Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury (1621-1683) and the philosopher John Locke (1632-1704).

i8 John Cowley, "A New and Correct Map of the Province of North Carolina," London. 1737, drawn from the original 1733 map by Edward Moseley, North Carolina Maps, North Carolina State Archives, North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill, NC, USA.

Compiled by Mary Warshaw