Wayne County History in Maps: Colonial Era

Wayne County’s history began in 1787 with its formation from the break-up of Dobbs County. The history of this region stretches back much further however. The following maps highlight the development of North Carolina and also show the slow pace of information hundreds of years ago.

The maps below are from the North Carolina Maps project website. It is a collaboration between the State Archives and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

This is the first of three posts covering Wayne County’s history in maps.

  • The New World
Verrazzano marker, Pine Knoll Shores
NC historical marker, Pine Knoll Shores near the entrance to NC Aquarium.

After the European discovery of North America in the late 1400s, explorers came in droves to chart this new land. The first to lay eyes on what would become North Carolina was the Florentine Giovanni da Verrazzano, who sailed up the Atlantic coast from Florida to New Brunswick in 1524.

In 1585, the same year English settlers arrived at Roanoke Island (the “Lost Colony”), the Americae pars, Nunc Virginia (Americas now part of Virginia) map was published by Theodor de Bry in Germany.

Americae pars, Nunc Virginia map, 1585
Americae pars, Nunc Virginia, 1585                                    UNC, North Carolina Collection

It is not likely that the Lost Colony settlers took this map with them but they would have certainly had one similar. It is both a map and a work of art. Maybe more of a work of art.

At this time, early explorers had only been up and down the coast of North Carolina. A mile inland might as well have been the deepest, darkest portion of the Amazonian jungle.

Americae pars, Nunc Virginia map, 1585
                         click to zoom

The coastline does have some features recognizable to modern viewers. Cape Hatteras, the Chesapeake Bay, and Roanoke Island are featured.

The artistic flourishes are the most interesting. There are numerous sailing vessels, with several flying the English flag. In the bottom center there is a sea monster, a common feature of maps from this era. This was truly a new, unknown world and at the very least a sea monster might spice up a map and entice a few more people to purchase it.

  • The New World comes into focus

By the mid-1600s, maps began to look more like the actual contours of our land. The Virginiae partis australis et Floridae partis orientalis interjacentiumque regionum nova description map (A new description of the countries of Virginia and Florida), published around 1640, should be recognizable to anyone familiar with a basic knowledge of the coast.

Virginiae partis australis et Floridae partis orientalis interjacentiumque regionum nova description, map, 1640
Virginiae partis australis et Floridae partis orientalis interjacentiumque regionum nova description, ca. 1640                                      UNC, North Carolina Collection

The first thing to notice is the orientation of the map; the top of the page correlates to North.

The Neuse River is not named but it is represented, and their is a hint of its name in the map. At the mouth, near present day New Bern, is a native settlement, “Neuusiook”, so-called by early European settlers of the tribe itself. Eventually this became “Neuse” and is one of the oldest, still existent, place names in America.

Curiously, the makers of the map, Dutch father and son Willem Janszoon and Joan Blaeu, omitted the southern Outer Banks, from Cape Lookout all the way to the present day state line. Previous maps included these islands, but information was so scarce and slow to transmit that features were often omitted in later maps.

Dominia Anglorum in America Septentrionali, map, 1737
            Dominia Anglorum in America Septentrionali, 1737                                      Davidson College

The Dominia Anglorum in America Septentrionali (English Domains in North America), was published in 1737 by the German cartographer Johann Homann

Several towns, including Bath, Edenton, New Bern, and Beaufort, existed at this time but are not shown. 

What the map does reveal however, is the settlement and exploration of inland areas. This movement west brought Europeans into contact with the Tuscarora, the most powerful tribe in eastern North Carolina at the time.

There is a sword drawn on the Neuse River representing the 1712 battle between the Tuscarora and settler forces under Colonel John Barnwell at Torhunta, today located in the northeastern corner of Wayne County.

  • Past becomes present

As the Revolutionary War neared, maps of the era became better and began to show places that still exist today (or at least the location is known today).

An Accurate Map of North and South Carolina With Their Indian Frontiers, map, 1775
An Accurate Map of North and South Carolina With Their Indian Frontiers, 1775                                                                                                North Carolina State Archives

An Accurate Map of North and South Carolina With Their Indian Frontiers, published in 1775 by South Carolinian Henry Mouzon, begins to resemble North Carolina today.

Towns including Wilmington, New Bern, and Hillsborough are represented, although Mouzon’s spelling leaves much to be desired. Beauford and Tarrburg instead of Beaufort and Tarboro.

An Accurate Map of North and South Carolina With Their Indian Frontiers, map, 1775
                            click to zoom

Counties are also labeled although their boundaries are not.

Wayne County was just over a decade from birth when this map emerged in 1775. There are several locations from this map either still in existence or the location is known. 

In the bottom right is Kingston (not a misspelling- the “g” was dropped long ago).

In the bottom center is a courthouse. This was the Dobbs County courthouse located today in the southeastern part of the county. The building is gone but its location is known and can be visited. It is on Dobbs County Courthouse Rd. of of Piney Grove Church Rd.

Just to the northwest of the courthouse is Dickson, a ferry crossing over the Neuse located between Waynesborough Park and the Hwy 117 bridge over the river.

To the southwest of Kinston is “Whitefield”, which is almost certainly Whitehall, the name of the estate of the Whitfield family, today Seven Springs.

Part Two will cover the post-Revolutionary War through the Civil War.

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