Bertie Co., NC – Potential Fort Location

In May, 2012 the now famous Bertie County fort icon on John White’s map was discovered at the British Museum .  We covered this in two postings, one about the discovery and a second one that provided some historical analysis.

This image of the fort icon was exposed on John White’s map at the confluence of the Roanoke and Chowan Rivers in present day Bertie County. 

During a recent trip to North Carolina, I had the opportunity to visit the area and was excited to do so.

On the map above, the red arrow points to the approximate location of the fort on White’s map.  You can see the inlet above and the indention for current day Edenton across the sound. 

A closer view shows the road from Plymouth, crossing the Cashie, Middle and Roanoke Rivers where they join to form Swan Bay which is part of Albemarle Sound.  The Chowan flows from the north and is the body of water that separates Bachelor Bay and Edenton.

Crossing the rivers, I was surprised how undeveloped this region is, and I do mean totally undeveloped in most places.  The next two photos were crossing the bridges of the three rivers.  They all look exactly the same, tree lines and if you didn’t see the bridge, you would never be able to tell that it wasn’t 1585.  This must have been exactly what the military expedition of colonists saw when they explored here in 1585-1586.  The water is brackish here, not totally fresh water, nor totally saltwater.  The key to survival in this location would have been fresh water, and of course, the ability to defend yourself, or being friendly with a tribe that would help.  The Indians would probably have been all too willing to assist in trade for guns.  They understood a competitive edge.

Looking at the map closer, we see that the area of Bachelor’s Bay, Sutton Road and Avoca Farm Road are the areas where the fort, if it ever existed, might be found.

Let’s take a look and see what is there today.  The area from NC45 to the Bachelor’s Bay development is a good candidate location.  The road is about 2 miles long and this is just about the only place on that road where there is anything except forest until you get to the end where you find the Bachelor’s Bay development right on the sound.

You can see the other side of the Sound from here.  The area does flood, as you can see, and probably significantly more so in times of heavy storms.  Dr. Charles Ewen (ECU) tells me that archaeological digs have taken place in Bachelor’s Bay in the past, with no relevant results.

Driving on Sutton Road, we find more farming.  The land has been cleared and is relatively flat.  This would be a good fort location, assuming we can find a creek with fresh water.

Today on Sutton Road, literally in the middle of nowhere, is the Scotch Hall Preserve, a 900 acre gated golf community that includes sculpted grounds and a golf course designed by Arnold Palmer.  This encompasses nearly all of the peninsula from where Sutton Road intersects with Sutton Road all the way to and including Avoca Farm Road east of Sutton Road.  It’s a huge area.  In fact, the reason it’s there is because it was entirely undeveloped.  Below is a photo from their ads.  You can see that the entire area is heavily sculpted, meaning little has been left undisturbed, and I’m not thinking they are going to welcome an archaeology dig in the middle of Arnold Palmer’s hole 7.


The front of the Scotch Hall Preserve is protected by gates and access only granted to residents and members, but in all developments, there is always a construction entrance.  Below is what is left of Avoca Farm Road within the development.

This is the right area, but looking at the map, appears to be too far north, if the map is accurate at all, and if there was ever a fort.  The photo below is along the front on Sutton Road. 

On the Google Earth map below, you can see Bachelor Bay at the bottom and you can follow Sutton Road to the Scotch Hall Preserve. 

So, are we walking in the footsteps of the colonists, or are we on a wild goosechase?  Only time, research, and archaeology will tell, if that.  In the mean time, whether indeed you believe it’s the footsteps or the goosechase, I think everyone will agree that what we are looking for is indeed a very small needle in a very large, very remote and very overgrown haystack, except of course, for where it’s the golf course.

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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3 Responses to Bertie Co., NC – Potential Fort Location

  1. Karen Marcum says:

    Thanks for the pictures and explanations.

  2. Nancy says:

    I don’t know the local landmarks, the old names of place, rivers, etc., or how much the shoreline has changed over time in this vicinity. I am just looking at the old map and a modern map and thinking about how to choose a settlement location. Defense should be a major consideration. Points and peninsulas are easier to defend by land and offer advance warning of most things coming by water. I would be looking in the Palmetto-Peartree Reserve along a shoreline looking into Albemarle Sound and East Lake with a good view towards the sea to watch for ships or invading canoes etc. And of course, as you said there must be a good supply of fresh water and fertile land for farming.

    Or perhaps the point of land just below the reserve and north of Route 64 just before it crosses East Lake.

    I also wonder if the fort under the patch was a proposed fort that never happened and therefore “erased”. Unfortunately, this would be difficult to prove, since most everything written and surviving from this time period has probably already been studied.

    In any case, this is a very interesting puzzle. Thanks for the post.

    Just my two cents


  3. Nancy says:

    Changed my mind after looking at satellite photos instead of road maps – you are probably right.

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