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Nathaniel Batts (1620–1679) was a fur trader and Indian interpreter. He became the first recorded European to permanently settle in North Carolina in 1655. His deed from King Kiscutanewh for "ye land which Mr. Mason & Mr. Willoughby formerly bought of mee but never paid me for, to Mr. Nathaniel Batts for a valuable consideration in hand received, all ye Land on ye southwest side of Pascotanck River from ye mouth of ye sd. River to ye head of new Begin Creek" was witnessed by George Durant and Richard Batts in September 1660. The deed was recorded in Norfolk County, Virginia, but was for land located in present day North Carolina. Nathaniel apparently was living on this land on July 11, 1662, as indicated by a Northampton County, Virginia record binding "John Vines, Robert Foster, William Foster & Richard Stevens, Joyntly & Severally our Joynt or Several Heirs, Executors or Administrators to pay or cause to be paid to Nathaniel Batts Gent his heirs, Executors, Administrators or Assigns twelve good Cows under nine years old a piece to be delivered in “pascotanch River” [Pascotanck River] at ye house of ye said Nathaniel Batts Gent", which record was witnessed by Richard Foster and Samuel Pricklove. Samuel Pricklove was evidently another early settler in the Roanoke region as evidenced by the March 1, 1661 deed of George Durant, which was recorded in Perquimans County. This is the first surviving deed in North Carolina and it states that the land was "adjacent land formerly sold to Samuel Pricklove".
On May 8, 1654, a letter describing discoveries to the south of Virginia was written by Coll. Francis Yeardley to John Farrar, Esq., wherein are numerous mentions of a “young man, a trader for beavers" who is referenced alternatively as “the young man the interpreter” or "interpreter", though the letter does not name Nathaniel by name. Nathaniel Batts and Coll. Francis Yeardley are found in records together in Maryland in 1653/54, where they are noted as "of Virginia". The Court and Testamentary Business, 1653/4, in Maryland show that "Cornelius Saunders, Carpenter, did sell Nathaniel Batts, Coll. Yardley's Interpreter, a parcel of sugar amounting by Agreement unto 19’ & of Beaver as by his Note to Richard Foster doth appear". A small house was later built for Nathaniel Batts at Yeardley's expense and is depicted as "Batts House" on a manuscript map of "The South Part of Virginia" drawn in 1657 by a London cartographer, Nicholas Comberford. A carpenter, Robert Bodnam, sometime before the middle of July of 1655, was sent "twice to the Southward" where he remained for a total of five months "ffor building a house for Batts to live in and trade with the Indians wch I did doe by Coll. Yeardley's Appointment and he did promise to see me paid for it." Surviving records of the case in Norfolk County show that the house was twenty feet square with two rooms and a chimney, for which Bodnam was awarded "One Thousand weight of Tobb and Caske" by the court."
Circa 1655/56, Norfolk County, Virginia records show that prior orders restraining Nathaniel from trading with the Indians be reversed, "It is ordered that a former order granted against Nathaniel Batts by ye Comrs of ye Melitia restraining ye sd Batts from goeing unto or trading wth the Indians be reversed & disaanulled." Another Norfolk County record around this same timeframe show that Nathaniel Batts was ordered to be set in ye stocks and remain during the pleasure of ye court in response to "Mr. Nathaniel Batts for being in drinke & threatening Mr. Conquest".
On May 25, 1656, Nathaniel married Mary Woodhouse, widow and second wife of Colonel Henry Woodhouse. The marriage contract of Nathaniel Batts was dated April 20, 1656 and was witnessed by William Clayborne Junior (son of William Claiborne), Roger Green and John Ayres. The marriage contract stated that Nathaniel was "indebted to some men in Virginia and am now intended to bee married to Mrs. Mary Woodhouse ye relect & widow of Henry Woodhouse deceased, I doe by these presents firmely bind & engage my selfe not to meddle with any of ye said widdowes estate...".
At a Quarter Court held at James City on June 11, 1657 and recorded August 17, 1657 in the Minutes of Quarter Court of Virginia, “The court taking into consideration ye great paines & trouble which Mr. Nathaniell Batts hath taken in the discovery of an Inlett to the Southward, which is likely to be mutch advantagious to the Inhabitants of this Collony; have therefore ordered that ye said Batts be hereby protected from all his creditors within this Country for one year & a day, without any trouble or molestacon upon consideration that the said Batts shall always be ready upon ye Courteous service, & to petition to the next Assembly for Confirmation hereof. Test: Thomas Brereton."
Nathaniel owned 900 acres in Nansemond County, Virginia. County records for Nansemond have been destroyed, but an October 20, 1665 land grant to the orphans of Thomas Frances, deceased, recite that Thomas Frances had purchased 900 acres from Nathaniel Batts. The parcel had been "granted to Samuel Stephens on 20 July 1639, the patent being then for 2,000 acres, but upon strict survey found to contain the quantity aforesaid; by Stephens sould [sold] unto Nathaniell Batts, who sould [sold] to sd. Francis [Thomas Francis]." Samuel Stephens (from whom Nathaniel Batts bough the 900 acre parcel), was Governor of North Carolina from 1667 until his death in 1669 and had married Frances Culpepper.
Later he purchased an island in Albemarle Sound near the mouth of the Yeopim River that became known as Batts Island. Some charts refer to the island as Batts Grave since he lived a solitary life on the island and was buried there.
The island eroded through the years and was totally destroyed by a hurricane in 1950. Nathaniel Batts had a close friendship with Kickowanna, the daughter of an Algonquian Chief. In his later years, Nathaniel spent more time with Native Americans than he did with other European settlers.
Quaker missionary, George Fox, and his party on October 2, 1672 during travel through Carolina, "came to captaine Batts & there most of us lay that night by the fire". George Fox refers to Nathaniel as "the Old Governor" and "Nathaniel Batts, who had been Governor of Roan-oak. He went by the name of Captain Batts, and had been a Rude, desperate man who has great command over ye countrie, especially over ye Indians." An epistle addressed by George Fox to some Friends in Virginia in 1673 reads, “I received letters giving me an account of the service some of you had with and amongst the Indian king and his council, and If you go over again to Carolina, you may enquire of Captain Batts [Capt. Nathaniel Batts], the old Governor, with whom I left a paper to be read to the Emperor, and his thirty kings under him, of the Tuscaroras, who were come to treat for peace with the people of Carolina.” The 1672/73 records of George Fox and his travels to Carolina are the last accounts of Nathaniel Batts being alive. Despite Nathaniel Batts being an early settler and resident of North Carolina, his name appears in only two state records within North Carolina and his name is not known to appear in any surviving county records in North Carolina. His September 1660 deed recorded in Norfolk County, Virginia was for land located in present day Pasquotank County, Virginia, for which records do not survive prior to circa 1700.
The last appearance of Nathaniel Batts in the records of Virginia are in August 1663 in Accomack County, Virginia. The records include depositions showing some political disagreement concerning the "Indians in the south", but it is not clear what the circumstances are. Deposition was made by John Marvell on August 18, 1663 that "about five or six weeks ago he was at John Waltham's house where he saw Capt. Batts and others with him, but did not see any weapons or hostile behavior." On the same date, David Gibbins deposed that "at his master John Waltham's house, he saw Capt. Batts and his men, who were not armed and did not stand guard." The Court Orders of November 11, 1663 reveal that it was "ordered that John Waltham be dismissed from the office of constable", with Richard Kellum appointed constable instead. At the same court, "By the governor's command, John Waltham, Peter Walker and Richard Stevens were questioned about their actions among the Indians in the south" and "John Waltham was charged for entertaining Nathaniel Batts and his company at his house."
Nathaniel was dead by December 1679, for on December 5, 1679, Joseph Chew, who married the relict of the dec’d, applied to administer the estate of Nathaniel Batts. Signed by John Harvey, John Jenkins, Nath. Slocum, Robt. Holden. On December 10, 1679, Joseph Chew and James Blunt of Shaftsbury Precinct in Albemarle County posted bond of 50,000 pounds of tobacco for said Chew to administer the estate of the dec’d. Witnessed by John Jenkins, Robt. Holden.
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- kindredtrails.com - North Carolina History
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- Northampton County, Virginia Court Records
- The Ferrar papers, 1590-1790, in Magdalene College, Cambridge.
- "The Lords Proprietors of Carolana and Carolina".
- Transcriptions of Lower Norfolk County, Virginia, Volume 1, Wills and Deeds Book D, 1656-1666.
- The North Carolina Historical Review; Nathaniel Batts, Landholder on Pasquotank River, 1660; Edited by Elizabeth Gregory McPherson. 1966. pp. 66–81.
- Virginia Land Grants, State of Virginia Archives
- Cumming, William P. (1966). North Carolina In Maps. State Department of Archives and History. pp. 11–12.
- The American Journey of George Fox, 1671-3, Taken from a MS [Manuscript] in the Boldleian Library.
- Accomack County, Virginia Court Order Abstracts 1663-1666 Volume 1, Heritage Books, Inc., written by JoAnn Riley McKey.
- Early Records of North Carolina. Volume II. Wills, Administrations, Inventories, Deeds 1677-1790 (From the Secretary of State Papers).