Edenton History Bullet Points - 300th Celebration
Following are a few key points about Chowan County’s history and historic leaders:
An Act of Assembly by the British Crown adopted November 6, 1712 called for
the surveying of a new town on Queen Anne’s Creek, which became Edenton.
o Edenton is the second oldest town in North Carolina.
o Many houses and the historic courthouse stand on the lots where they were
plated 300 years ago.
o The oldest house in North Carolina, 1718, stands today in Edenton.
The Crown appointed Charles Eden, the first colonial Governor of North
Carolina, May 18th 1713. Upon his arrival in 1714 he established the first Capital
of North Carolina, at the Town on Queen Anne Creek – later renamed Edenton
after Gov. Eden’s death in 1722.
In 1774 Edenton’s Penelope Barker became one of the most courageous women
in American history by organizing 51 ladies to sign their names to a petition
saying “NO to taxes on cloth & tea,” and she sent it to the King. This rattled
some in England and led to stories about women in the colonies being out of the
control of their husbands. (Sixty years later the event was called the “Edenton Tea
Party. ”) Her courage is honored by the preservation of the Penelope Barker
House, Edenton’s living room.
Interestingly, at that other Tea Party in Boston, the men were disguised as native
Indians and did not disclose their names. So, the ladies of Edenton showed far
more courage by signing their names and sending their petition to the King.
Edentonian Joseph Hewes signed the Declaration of Independence (one of three
signers from NC) and served as leader of the colonial committee creating the
nation’s first Navy. Hewes is considered the godfather of today’s US Navy. His
home in Edenton still exists, but is a private residence.
Samuel Johnston, also of Edenton and a Governor of NC led the ratification of the
US Constitution by NC once it included the Bill of Rights. Prior to the Bill of
Rights being added, North Carolina declined to endorse the proposed
Johnston also has a unique distinction as one of the few to ever have been elected
president and then declined the office. He was elected US President under the
Articles of Confederation, but refused the office due to ill health. Some debate
his excuse because he lived another 30 years and became North Carolina’s first
US Senator under the new Constitution.
His plantation at Edenton now houses one of the state’s most famous residences,
Hayes Farm, which was build by Johnston’s son. The library of that beautiful
home was one of the best in the country at the time.
Page 1 of 3
Edenton History Bullet Points - 300th Celebration
The citizens of North Carolina elected Edenton’s Hugh Williamson to attend the
Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Williamson cast a deciding vote to
form a two legislative chamber government, the compromise we all learned came
to be known as the Connecticut Compromise. Williamson signed the proposed
US Constitution.
Earlier, Williamson was appointed surgeon general of the North Carolina
Revolutionary War militia. As an army surgeon, he recommended inoculation
against smallpox for civilians and military troops before entering service.
After the adoption of the new Constitution, in 1790, President George
Washington appointed Edenton lawyer, James Iredell, Sr. to serve on the very
first US Supreme Court. He was only 38 years old when appointed and the
Senate only took one day to ratify his nomination. Iredell was a leader in our
nation’s fight for Independence and in 1788 led North Carolina to ratify the
proposed US Constitution on its second try. His home exists and can be toured at
Edenton. It is part of the Historic Edenton State Historic Site.
Every lawyer and every high school student studies a famous 1803 US Supreme
Court decision known as Marbury vs. Madison, which decided the Supreme Court
has the right to rule on the constitutionality of legislative acts. What most folks
don’t know is that James Iredell, Sr., of Edenton, North Carolina initially wrote
the same conclusion in rulings he made as a circuit court judge 15 years earlier in
North Carolina.
James Wilson, born in Scotland, signer of the U.S. Constitution and the
Declaration of Independence (one of only six men to do so) and a member of that
same first US Supreme Court died in Edenton and was buried in the cemetery at
Hewes Plantation in Edenton. What might come as a shock is that he is no longer
there. President Teddy Roosevelt sent a naval ship to Norfolk and delegates from
Pennsylvania came to Edenton by special train where they exhumed Wilson’s
body, transported it via Norfolk to Philadelphia where it was reburied at Christ
Edenton is proud to be among the few towns or cities, large or small, in the US
that can boast forefathers who were signers of the Declaration of independence
and the Constitution.
During the War Between the States, Edenton developed its own defensive power
by melting the church bells, courthouse bell and farm bells to forge the Edenton
Bell Battery, which saw service in the war. A popular, widely reprinted song,
"Melt the Bells," inspired many to donate bells for recasting during the war. You
can see those cannons, in place defending Edenton today on its beautiful
waterfront, adjacent to the Barker House.
Page 2 of 3
Edenton History Bullet Points - 300th Celebration
Edenton’s history as a major colonial port was rudely interrupted in 1795 when a
huge storm closed the Roanoke inlet serving Edenton. Earlier records showed
Edenton competing with Charleston, Savannah and other ports charting over 800
annual ships of trade with Europe, the West Indies and other US ports between
1771 and 1776.
Edenton is home to many historically significant homes and public buildings as
authentic examples of over 250 years for architectural progress in America. Much
of Edenton was declared a National Historic District including: The 1736 St.
Paul’s Episcopal Church; the 1758 Cupola House, a National Historic Landmark;
the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse, the 1773 Iredell House and the 1782
Barker House, home of Penelope Barker of Edenton Tea Party fame and many
others. What you’ll see are well-maintained properties, not reproductions.
Edenton’s 1767 Courthouse, a National Historic Landmark, is the only place in
North Carolina outside of Raleigh where the North Carolina Supreme Court and
the Legislature can hold official sessions.
o This is the oldest still in use courthouse in the United States.
o On May 7-8, 2013, the North Carolina Supreme Court heard oral
arguments in the 1767 Courthouse, partially as a way of participating in
Edenton’s 300-year celebration.
Edenton’s significance in history is easily seen, within one square mile there are
more than 170 dwellings, buildings, and churches from the 18th and 19th century
that are still in use.
o Edenton is original to its period, not made to “look like,” not
reconstructed, but actual. Edenton is a true preservationist delight.
o Edenton is the real thing.
Even before Edenton’s 300th Birthday, Forbes.com had defined Edenton as “One
of America’s Prettiest Towns”; thereby awarding Edenton the honor of being the
only 300 year old town in the United States to hold such a distinction.
Broad St. is the center of Edenton’s Downtown Historic District. It ends at
Edenton Bay on the Albemarle Sound. Parks and vistas of aging Cypress greet
the visitor, the site is breathtaking; the Barker House, open year around sits
magnificently, surrounded by the beauty of the bay and welcoming visitors.
The newest addition to the waterfront is the relocation and restoration of the 1886
Roanoke River Lighthouse, which served until 1941 at the mouth of the Roanoke
Page 3 of 3

Edenton History Bullet Points