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Griffin's Quarter Plantation

An Historical Overview of the Griffin's Quarter Plantation Area of Bertie County, N.C. by Wilson Angley (20 Dec 1983)

The area once embraced within the Griffin's Quarter Plantation is located in eastern Bertie County between the Roanoke River and the small, adjacent communities of Woodville and Lewiston. Lands in and around the future plantation began to be taken up in the 1720s as land speculation and permanent settlement moved gradually upriver from the Edenton area and the shores of Albemarle Sound. Early landowners from this period included representatives of the Harrell, Nairn, Stephenson, Chapham, Parker, Emerson, West, Smith, Ryall, Peeke, and McDaniels families. With the exception of the Nairns and Harrells, however, most of these early landowners do not appear to have improved or settled on their property. (1) Subsequent land- owners of the 1730s and 1740s bore such names as Gewin, Hedges, House, Bryan, and Meade. (2)

In May of 1751 one Aaron Ellis, who resided on nearby Roquist Creek to the east, presented a petition to the Bertie County court requesting that "two Acres of Land ... be laid off for Building a Grist mill on Flagg Run," a small stream which borders the former Griffin's Quarter Plantation area on the south and east. More specifically, the mill was to be located "Near the mouth of Flagg Run near Roanoke River." By the following July permission for construction of the proposed mill had been granted by the absentee landowner, David Meade, Esq., a merchant of Nansemond County, Virginia. It was at or very near this same site that a mill would be operated a century later by John B. Griffin, owner of Griffin's Quarter Plantation (3)

In all probability, sizable portions of the land later encompassed within the Griffin's Quarter Plantation were cultivated throughout much of- the colonial period in the production of corn and wheat, the principal crops of Bertie County prior to the American Revolution. (4) It is also probable that one or more points along the Roanoke River were used for the downstream shipment of naval stores, timber products, agricultural commodities, and livestock to the port of Edenton. Indeed, such use of the Roanoke as an important artery of commerce and transportation persisted throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Even prior to improvements by the federal govenunent, the river carried a navigable depth of between four and five feet at mean low water as far upstream as Weldon, with a depth of more than eight feet from its mouth to Hamilton. The Griffin's Quarter area lies about one-third the distance between Hamilton and Weldon, approxi- mately eighty-five miles upstream by water from the mouth of the river and the broad waters of Albemarle Sound. (5)

By the end of the colonial period much of the future Griffin's Quarter Plantation had been acquired by members of the prominent Hinton family. These included Noah Hinton, who represented Bertie County in the Provincial Congress at Halifax in November of 1776, his father John, and his grandfather Jonas. Jonas Hinton died about 1769; his son John in 1791; and Noah Hinton himself in 1803. While the two elder Hintons' estates were rather modest, Noah Hinton's estate included fifty-eight slaves, together with assorted livestock and farming implements. He left neither wife nor children, and his will was contested over a period of many years .(6 )

The bulk of the future Griffin's Quarter Plantation lands descended to the sons of Noah Hinton's brother, William Hinton of Gates County, who died seven years before him in 1796. These two sons, Noah B. Hinton and William Hinton, were reared by their guardian William Baker in Bertie County, attended the University of North Carolina, and later established themselves as planters. William Hinton died about 1823, and his brother Noah later removed to Madison County, Mississippi. (7) It was several years after Noah F. Hinton's departure from the area that the former Hinton lands were acquired by Griffin.

John B. Griffin was born in neighboring Martin County on 1 August 1804, the son of planter John Griffin and his wife Nancy. (8) Already by 1830 young Griffin had acquired ownership of thirty-five slaves on his Martin County plantation. By 1840 the number of his slaves had increased 9 It was apparently in the mid-184Qs that Griffin took to wife the former Sarah E. Williams, daughter of Samuel Williams of Martin County. Their union would produce six children. l0

In 1838, prior to his departure for Mississippi, Noah B. Hinton author ized William Slade of Martin County to sell a 1,155 acre tract of land in Bertie County. Ten years later, on 14 December 1848, Slade conveyed this land to Griffin at the request of Hinton's wife (the former Chloe Ann Slade) for a recited consideration of $12,000. It is apparent that the land was extensively improved at the time of Griffin's purchase; and it is quite possible that Griffin soon came to reside in a dwelling house which had long stood on the property. The deed of conveyance described the lands as including those which had "descended from William Hinton Jr. to Noah B. Hinton and William Hinton as well as the lands purchased by William Hinton the younger from John Robbins." On 14 December of the same year Hinton sold to Griffin three additional tracts of land totaling 478 acres. The recited consideration for these tracts was $4,000, again reflecting con siderable improvements. The property description, moreover, made refer ence to a 'mill Road," indicating that a mill existed on the property at the time of Griffin's purchase--quite possibly the mill erected by Aaron Ellis nearly a century earlier.l2 In February of 1849 Griffin sold the 1,155 acre plantation tract to his father-in-law Samuel Williams for $10,000; but Williams immediately transferred ownership to his daughter in a deed of gift, with the under- standing that it be considered equivalent to $10,000 in her future share of his estate. By the summer of 1849 John B. Griffin had removed from Martin County and had taken up residence on the newly acquired Bertie County plantation. 13

Following his move, Griffin continued to enjoy conspicuous success as a planter. In 1850 he owned some fifty-seven slaves; and by 1860 the number of his slaves had increased to sixty-eight.15 Not unexpectedly, the value and production of Griffin's Quarter were correspondingly high. In 1850 the plantation included 600 acres under cultivation anil 1,800 acres which were unimproved. The cash value of the plantation was put at $21,000. Some 6,000 bushels of corn had been produced during the previous year, together with considerable quantities of oats, peas, beans, and sweet potatoes. Livestock included horses, mules, cotrs, o~en, cattle, and swine. 16By 1860 Griffin's improved acreage had increased to 1,000, with unimproved land now comprising 1,531 acres. The cash value of the plantation was put at $27,000. Again, the principal crop was , with 6,500 bushels having been produced during the corn preceding year. Other crops included oats, peas, beans, and sweet potatoes as before, but with the addition now of cotton and Irish potatoes. Live- stock holdings remained roughly equivalent to their levels of a decade earlier, but with larger numbers of both cattle and swine. The value of Griffin's personal estate in 1860 was estimated to be $61,300.17

A Confederate tax census of 1862 reveals that Griffin's acreage and slave holdings had remained virtually unchanged after the first year of the Civil War. Additional information in this census discloses that Griffin owned a pleasure carriage, one or more gold watches, a piano, and other household and kitchen furniture valued at $650.18 A Confederate drawn in April of 18Q3, indicates the presence of approximately six structures at "Griffin's Qrs [i.e., Quarters]." It also indicates the location of "Griffin's Mill" near the mouth of Flag Run Creek.19

John B. Griffin did not live to see the end of the Civil War. He died intestate on 13 November 1862 in the fifty-ninth year of his age.20 In addition to his slaves and large plantation, Griffin's estate included numerous shares of various stocks and considerable holdings in Confederate bonds. Much of his personal property was sold at public auction on 23 December 1863. The dower of his widow Sarah included large quantities of crops and provisions, tnelve slaves, and

The whole of the tract of land near Woodville on which the mansion House is situated and also all the land on the south side of the mill run including the mill seat.

Sarah E. Griffin did not remarry and apparently continued to reside at Griffin's Quarter for the remainder of her life. In August of 1894, persuant to special proceedings in the Superior Court of Bertie County, she was granted deeds in fee simple to the home place and mill tract which she had held in her possession since the death of her husband more than three decades earlier. These two properties were described as being

Situate in Woodville Township, Bertie County, adjoining the Watson [,1 Smith and Johnson Tracts containing one hundred and five acres more or less and la~own as the Griffin blansion House tract and also the mill tract ... containing three hundred acres more or less and adjoining the Tharrpson [,1 Smith and Clark tracts--both being the lands upon which Mrs. S.E. Griffin now dowers. 22

Mrs. Griffin passed away less than a year after the conclusion of these legal, proceedings, dying on 6 May 1895 at the age of seventy.23 The homeplace and mill property were subsequently purchased at public auction by her daughter Virginia, wife of William C. Thompson, on 6 Aug- The recited consideration for "the biansianHouse tract" of 105 acres was $3,000; and that for the 300-acre "mill Tract," $1,000. 24

William C. Thompson died on 24 November 1895, only three months after his wife's purchase of the old Griffin homeplace and mill. Virginia A. Thompson survived her husband by a decade, dying on 6 June 1905. 25 Their marriage had produced three sons: W. C., Lewis W, and John S. Thompson. It was apparently to these sons that the Griffin homeplace and mill eventually descended following the death of their mother. 26

The soil survey map of 1920 indicates the presence of several structures at or very near the presumed site of the John B. Griffin homeplace; but it is not clear whether the house was still standing at that time. The mill near the mouth of Flag Run Creek was not recorded on this map and apparently hnd fallen into ruins since the latter part of the nineteenth century. Along the east bank of the Roanoke River, on portions of what once had been the Griffin's Quarter Plantation, three landings were situated: Flag Run Land- ing, Sand Bar Landing, and Eason Island Landing. Between the presumed house site and a pronounced loop in the Roanoke River was shown a large area comprised of Wickham soil--a fine sandy loam of high fertility. 27

The aerial photograph of 1937 clearly reveals that this same area of Wickham soil was under cultivation, as possibly it had been since the mid- eighteenth century. At the time of this photograph, a solitary cluster of trees stood conspiciously in the west-central portion of this cultivated area, perhaps indicating the presence of a slave cemetery. As in the case of the 1920 map, this photographiprovides no conclusive evidence as to whether the John B. Griffin homeplace was still standing. It should be noted, however, that a group of large trees at an intersection of unpaved roads indicates the probable location of either the house or its structural remains. 28

The Griffin's Quarter Plantation area, once comprising some 2,500 acres, is now owned and leased by several individuals and corporations. Portions of the former plantation are still being cultivated, while others remain undeveloped forest land for the use of hunters. Perdue Inc. operates a poultry farm in the area, and the Dickerson Group Inc. has recently developed a series of borrow pits for the purpose of obtaining sand for road construction and other projects. It was in connection with these borrow pits that archaeological investigations and historical research were conducted.


1 Mary Best Bell, comp. Colonial Bertie County, N.C. 6 volumes (Windsor, N.C. Published by compiler, 1963-1968) Vol II, pg 25, 38, 59, 76-78, 86, 100, 103, and 105.

2 Bell, Colonial Bertie County Vol III, pg 134, 137-138; IV pg 256; V p319; VI pg 295, 345, 364.

3 Bertie Co. Miscellaneous Records, Grist Mill Papers; and Bell Colonial Bertie County Vol V pg 319 and VI pg 295, 345, 364

4 Allen D. Watson Bertie Co: A Brief History (Raliegh: North Carolina Division of Archives and History 1982) pg 52

5U.S. Congress, 63rd Congress, 1st Session. House Document No 139, pg 2; US Congress, 75th Congress, 3rd Session, House Doucment #694, map.

6 William L. Saunders, editor. Colonial Records of North Carolina, 10 vols. (Raleigh: State of North Carolina, 1886-1890) X, pg 913-915; Bertie Co Misc Records, Grist Mill Papers; Bertie Co. Estates Papers-Noah Hinton Folder. Numerous mid and late eighteenth century deeds involving the Hintons are listed in the grantee and grantor indexes for Bertie County; however, the microfilm copies of these deeds are too dim and blurred to be legible.

7University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Alumni Directory, 1795-1953 Chapel Hill: Alumni Office, 1954) pg 409 and Bertie Co Estate Papers, Noah and William Hinton folders.

8 Works Progress Administration , Pre-1914 Graves Index, N.C. State Archives, Raleigh, NC

9 Martin County Censuses of 1830 and 1840.

10 W.P.A. Pre-1914 Graves Index; Bertie Co Deeds, Book HH, 343-345; Bertie Co Census of 1860, population schedule. Children in 1860 were: John [S.} 14; Virginia 12; Hezekiah 10; Thomas 8; Mary 6; and Cora 3.

11 Bertie Co Deeds, Book HH, pg 337-339. See Also Book EE pg 161

12 Bertie Co Deeds, Book HH, 341-343. In this same transaction Hinton made a gift to Griffin of another tract of 200 acres located on Roquist Pocoson.

13 Bertie Co Deeds, Book HH, p 339-340, 341-343 and 343-345

14 Bertie Co Census of 1850 and 1860, Slave schedules

15Allen D. Watson Bertie Co: A Brief History

16 Bertie Co. Census of 1850, Agricultural Schedule

17 Bertie Co Census of 1860. Agricultural Schedule

18 Confederate Tax Census for 1860, N.C., 1862 compiled by United States History Class, 1975-1976. Windsor, N.C: Roanoke Chowan Academy, 1976


20 WPA, pre-1914 Graves Index

21 Bertie Co Estates Papers, John B. Griffin folder

22 Bertie Co Deeds, Book 80, pp 477-478. See also Book 81, pg 351-352

23 WPA, pre-1914 Graves Index

24 Bertie Co. Deeds, Book 85, pg 357-359

25W.P.A. Pre 1914 Graves Index; and Windsor Ledgeer of 28 Nov 1895. William C. Thompson was the youngest son of Lewis Thompson and the former Margaret Clark.

26Virginia A. Thompson left no will and the three sons had not yet reached adulthood at the time of her death. In special proceedings of 1911 in Bertie Co Superior Court an administrator was appointed for the Virginia A. Thompson estate and a legal guardian was appointed for the sons. A portion of the estate was later sold at public auction following several attempts to gain a satisfactory price. See Bertie Co. Special Proceedings, Vol I, pg 285 and Vol II pg 48

27 1920 soil survey map

28 1937 aerial photograph

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