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Virginia and North Carolina’s early settlers intermingled beginning around 1650, particularly in North Carolina’s northeastern or Albemarle region, where colonists trickled down in search of good land to grow crops and establish homesteads. In the early 1700’s, explorer John Lawson began surveying a boundary between Carolina and Virginia at the behest of the Lord Proprietors, but was unable to complete the task. Because many colonists easily traveled back and forth between the two, the border between North Carolina and Virginia was vague until Virginian William Byrd first surveyed the line in 1728. Byrd and other surveyors defined the line from the coast as far westward as modern Stokes County, about 240 miles.
Original Date Cast:
The survey of the boundary between the two colonies was completed in 1749 when Thomas Jefferson’s father, Peter, began in Stokes County and completed the survey to what is now Ashe County. The borders were often disputed and additional surveys were called to settle claims, the most notable in 1887, when the two states sponsored another joint boundary survey.
While Byrd’s adventure is interesting in itself, the explorer and aristocratic planter published a journal of the expedition, The History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina, where he wrote about places and people encountered while surveying the dividing line. In the alternate version, titled The Secret History of the Line, Byrd candidly described the attitudes and abilities of men from both Virginia and North Carolina, tending to place the former over the latter. The unofficial account was only recently published, as Byrd’s frank descriptions of raw colonial life in his secret history deterred many publishing companies. Both versions of Byrd’s account are entertaining, and offer a rare and humorous glimpse into life and travel in colonial America.
William S. Powell, North Carolina Through Four Centuries (1989)
Louis B. Wright, ed., The Prose Works of William Byrd of Westover: Narratives of a Colonial Virginian (1966)
Allen Johnson, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, III, 383-384—sketch by Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker
Kenneth A. Lockridge, The Diary and Life of William Byrd II of Virginia, 1674-1744 (1987)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 663—sketch by Lindley S. Butler
Bill Sharpe, A New Geography of North Carolina (1954-1965)
Virginius Dabney, Virginia: The New Dominion (1992)
Virginia History: http://www.virginia.gov/cmsportal2/facts_and_history_4096/index.html
Reproduction of the Godspeed, one of three ships that brought settlers to Jamestown in 1607. Photo from the Washington Post.