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William Randolph Mayfield and his wife Sarah Amanda Davis ca. 1900.

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Early Mayfield Settlers of North Carolina

By Phil Norfleet

 

North Carolina in the 17th Century

The Carolina Grant to the Lords Proprietors

By a Royal Charter issued on 24 March 1663 which was subsequently modified (grant increased in boundary by 30 minutes of latitude) by the Charter of 13 June 1665, the land which today comprises North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia (lying between 31 degrees and 36 degrees, 30 minutes North Latitude), was granted to eight "Lords Proprietors." These eight men were political supporters of King Charles II, and most had assisted in the King’s restoration to the English Throne in May 1660.

Albemarle County

In 1664, the Proprietors established a local county government within the Carolina grant, in an area northeast of the Chowan River, bordering on Albemarle Sound; that local government was called Albemarle County. Today, this area embraces the eight modern counties of Currituck, Camden, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Chowan, Gates, Hertford and Bertie.  

This was the first region of the Carolina Grant, in what is now North Carolina, to be settled. (See William S. Powell, Editor, Ye Countie of Albemarle in Carolina (published 1958), pages xxv-xxvii)

Immigration to the Albemarle

The coastal waters and sounds lying along the North Carolina seaboard are for the most part too shallow to allow safe entry for ocean going vessels, even the small wooden ships of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Therefore, the natural entry point for immigrants to the Albemarle region of Carolina was through Hampton Roads and from there through that part of Virginia lying south of the James River, in particular, southern Nansemond and Lower Norfolk Counties, to the Albemarle Sound region.  Thus, Carolina-bound settlers would have initially arrived by ship in Virginia and proceeded by land southward to the region lying just north of the Albemarle Sound.  This was the route most probably taken by the first Mayfield to emigrate to NC, Peter Mayfield (see below), who arrived in the Albemarle during the 1670's.

In the 1660's, the Lords Proprietors launched a major promotional campaign encouraging migration to the Carolinas.  For example, in 1666 an anonymous tract, entitled A Brief Description of the Province of Carolina, on the Coasts of Florida was published.  It was produced at the request of the Lords Proprietors, and spoke of the Province of North Carolina in glowing terms.  The 'Fair and spacious Province" was portrayed as a region of fertile soil, "freed from the inconstancy of the weather," and "wonderfully healthy and fruitful." (See Hugh T. Lefler, History of North Carolina (published 1956), Volume I, pages 44-45)

Unfortunately, many of the immigrants, originally intending to settle in North Carolina, found, upon their arrival, that much of the area north of Albemarle Sound was still virgin wilderness, inhabited by Indians and not readily open to settlement.   The historian Hugh T. Lefler, has stated that travel by land from Virginia, because of the forests, swamps and rivers, was a "jungle experience."  (See Hugh T. Lefler, History of North Carolina (published 1956), Volume I, page 44) Accordingly, unlike Peter Mayfield, many immigrants chose to remain in Virginia Colony as land grants there were inexpensive and still relatively abundant. For example, it is probable that the first Norfleet immigrant to America, Thomas Northfleete, upon his arrival in Virginia Colony in the early autumn of 1666, decided to remain in Virginia and purchase land there (along the Nansemond River) rather than continue onward to the Albemarle.

Government of the Early Albemarle

The Lords Proprietors, while they controlled North Carolina, were never able to establish an efficient and successful local government.   Instead, they attempted to rule the region as a sort of feudal fiefdom!  In fact, until 1712, no town or courthouse even existed in the Albemarle.  Governmental functions were, for the most part, performed from the residences of the major planters of the region.  The local residents, consisting of pioneer planters and hunters, resisted all outside authority.  All of the early governors, appointed by the Lords Proprietors, were forced to resign, jailed and/or banished.  The settlers resisted the attempt by the governors to enforce the British trade and navigation laws.  A notable example of this resistance occurred when Governor Thomas Miller attempted to enforce the British tobacco tax in 1677.  This resulted in a local revolt known as Culpeper's Rebellion  which was not resolved until 1679.  The last of the Albemarle governors, Seth Sothel, (see below) was impeached and banished from the colony in 1689.  The weakness of the North Carolina provincial government resulted in the Albemarle Sound and the adjacent Pamlico Sound areas to become the hangout of thieves and pirates, the most famous being the notorious Black Beard.

Seth Sothel

That Seth Sothel, Governor of North Carolina from 1683 to 1689, was not well liked by the Colonial North Carolinians would be an understatement!  Let me use the words of the early historian of North Carolina, John Hill Wheeler, found on page 31 of his book Historical Sketches of North Carolina (first published in 1851) to illustrate this point:

"In 1683, Seth Sothel, who had purchased the rights of Lord Clarendon, arrived as Governor in North Carolina.

"The Character of Sothel presents every vice that can degrade man or disgrace his nature.  During the six years that he misruled the people of North Carolina, the dark shades of his character were not relieved by a single ray of virtue.  Profligate in his habits, licentious in his tastes, sordid and avaricious in his conduct; his administration is marked by every kind of extortion.  He was not fit to rule over a people that were impatient of any tyranny or oppression.  He was impeached, imprisoned by the people, and sentenced by the colony to twelve months exile, and a perpetual incapacity for the office of governor.   He returned to South Carolina, where he afterwards became governor; from this colony also his vices expelled him, and he died in North Carolina in 1692 without issue."

 

Peter Mayfield (1652-1687) - The First Mayfield Immigrant to NC

The earliest Mayfield known to have settled in North Carolina is a certain Peter Mayfield. The parents of Peter Mayfield are unknown and I consider it probable that he migrated to Colonial North Carolina directly from England during the 1670's.  Some Mayfield researchers have concluded that he was a son of the Robert Mayfield who came to Virginia Colony as an indentured servant in 1652.  However, I consider this to be mere speculation as there is absolutely no documentary evidence to support such a conclusion.  We know from a sworn deposition, made in about the year 1680, that Peter was born in the year 1652.  It is highly unlikely that Robert Mayfield would have had a child born to him during his first year of indenture.  Also, the use of the name Peter is completely unknown among the Mayfields of Colonial Virginia and their known descendants in 18th and early 19th century North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky.

There are only two official records that have survived concerning Peter Mayfield.  The first document is a deposition he made with respect to a lawsuit, given in January 1680/1681, shortly after the time of Culpeper's Rebellion.  The second document is Peter Mayfield's last Will and Testament made and proved in 1687 by Seth Sothel.

Based upon my review of both the above cited documents, I draw the following conclusions concerning Peter Mayfield:

1)  Peter was born in about the year 1652.

2)  He was a small planter, living in Albemarle County, North Carolina around the time of Culpeper's Rebellion.  The location of Peter Mayfield's land is unknown; however, during the early 1680's most of the Albemarle County plantations lay along or in the vicinity of the Pasquotank River.

3)  At the time of his death, Peter Mayfield had a wife named Ann, but apparently had no children.  In his will, Peter leaves virtually his entire estate to his wife with no mention of any children.  The only other person to whom a bequest (eight pounds sterling) is made, is to Peter's god-daughter, a certain Ann Loud.

 

Abraham Mayfield (Died 1778) - The second Mayfield Immigrant to NC

To the best of my knowledge, the second Mayfield to remove to North Carolina was a certain Abraham Mayfield (d. 1778) who migrated from Orange County, Virginia to Granville County, North Carolina in about the year 1762. A biographical sketch of this man is available at my other Mayfield website and is accessible from this link:

Abraham Mayfield (d. 1778)

 

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