Early Tidewater North Carolina Families: Hunters and Norfleets

Excerpts from Marion T. Plyler’s article, “FAMILY TRADITIONS OF TIDEWATER NORTH CAROLINA, first published in the South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 4, October 1938 with an introduction by Phil Norfleet. 

Full text available at Phil Norfleet’s website: http://pcn2051.tripod.com/family.htm.

(The Jacob Hunter Trust is grateful to Thomas E. Hunter for locating and sharing the Norfleet Family Genealogy site)

Sections of M.T. Plyler’s article mentioning early Hunters: 

As typical examples of the early settlers of Albemarle, the Norfleet and the Hunter families may be cited. These two prominent families, the influx of whose life currents for more than two and a half centuries have influenced our national existence, are representative of the many who have had a part in the building of the commonwealth. In 1668, Thomas Norfleet patented land on the southern branch of the Nansemond River (in upper Norfolk County) Virginia. This same year, in lower Norfolk, William Hunter Patented land for transferring two persons into the colony. In 1695 William Hunter also patented 240 acres in Nansemond County (upper Norfolk had then become Nansemond) for transferring four persons. This same year, 1695,Thomas Norfleet, Jr., also patentedland in Nansemond. So, from the very first, as disclosed by the land grants in Richmond, the two families have lived in close proximity. Although through the long years many of their descendants have journeyed afar, they hark back to the flat lands of the Atlantic seaboard.

Although the original Marmaduke Norfleet died in Northampton County, and was buried at Rich Square, all his earlier life was spent in Gates County in the Orapeake section, where the Norfleets first settled. Orapeake lies west of the Dismal Swamp in a section that George Washington visited more than once. In 1766 George Washington and Fielding Lewis, gentlemen, bought of Marmaduke Norfleet four tracts of land, 1093.5 acres, for £1,200, Virginia currency, situated at a place called “White Oak Springs,” in Perquimans County. This land lies near Orapeake, now known as Corapeake, west of the Dismal Swamp.

Washington’s own account of a trip in the Dismal Swamp, dated October 15, 1763, has this memorandum of a trip the preceding May: “The Main Swamp of Orapeake is about one-half mile from this where stands the widow Norfleet’s mill and Luke Sumner’s plantation. This swamp cannot be less than 200 yards across but does not nevertheless discharge as much water as Cypress Swamp. At the mouth of this swamp is a very large meadow of 2,000 or 3,000 acres held by Sumner, the widow Norfleet, Marmaduke Norfleet, Powell and others, and valuable ground it is. From Orapeake Swamp to Loosing Swamp is about two miles and this seventy yards across.”

The Riddicks, the Ballards, the Bakers, the Sumners, the Norfleets, the Hunters, and other leading planters were closely associated with Washington in his ventures in North Carolina. He is reported to have accepted their gracious hospitality during his excursions into the colony. His abiding interest in the Dismal Swamp Canal is well known. In Gates County the citizens west of “the Dismal” still speak of Washington’s “Ditch,” a small canal.

All this section has been closely associated with the Norfleets since the first of the family emigrated from Old England. To this section every Norfleet in America might trace his lineage were the records available. But this cannot be said of the Hunters of America, although the Hunters of this section were most intimately associated with the Norfleets, having intermarried and been engaged in business together from generation to generation.

The Hunters and the Norfleets owned lands, mills, shops, distilleries, slaves, and other plantation fixtures regarded as necessities in their day. Their many wills reflect the nature of their holdings. Some of these were written with great care, disposing of the legacies to generations following. Family life was stressed in it all. In similar fashion, they held fast to the characteristics of English life, even though in a new country. Much of the England of that day crossed the Atlantic with them. Early the leading citizens became a part of the government, William Hunter being a justice in 1699. Marks of distinction were cherished by them also. The impression on the seal of Isaac Hunter (will 1752), and a ship in full sail was on the seal of Mary Norfleet (will 1743). [4] The Hunters, however, were much more given to life in the public service than were the Norfleets, who were generally taken up with the demands of the family and the plantation.

Jacob Hunter, a son of the Isaac Hunter referred to above, was an owner of lands, mills, and Negroes; but, unlike his father who accumulated a big estate for that day, he was much involved in the Revolution as soldier, legislator, and administrator. Jacob was a member of the Provincial Congress at Halifax which formulated the first Constitution of North Carolina. He served as major and field officer of Minute Men. As vestryman of St. Paul’s, Edenton, his name appears to a resolution for independence of England. His daughter Leah married Seth Riddick, whose family was much involved in the struggle for liberty and furnished many officers to the army.

Kinchen Norfleet, son of Jacob , grandson of John and great-grandson of the first James Norfleet, married Sarah Riddick, daughter of Seth Riddick and Leah Hunter, a daughter of Jacob Hunter. Kinchen and Sarah Riddick Norfleet left a family of ten. Their many descendants have scattered far, though not a few of them remain in the Old North State. With the many inter-marriages of these families a homogenous order of life became almost inevitable.

Along with the blood of the Norfleets, of the Hunters, and of the Riddicks has mingled that of the Arnolds, the Kinchens, the Hills, the Gordons, the Feltons, the Smiths, the Sumners, the Ruffins, the Bakers, and others indigenous to this section. A people so genuinely English and so intimately associated for eight and ten generations in rural life must certainly be a people of conservative habits and long-cherished traditions.

Such families as the Riddicks, the Sumners, the Smiths, the Bakers, the Hunters, the Norfleets, the Gordons, and the Brown – brought with them to America an appreciation of the finer things of life. They built homes, and the women who presided over these homes were refined and walked in gentle ways; they took great pride in everything that contributed to make a home of beauty.

It was an essential part of every girl’s training to know how to use a needle skillfully and artistically. Even little girls were trained to “roll and whip,” hemstitch, to do drawn-work, and to embroider fine linens. At the Edenton Tea Party, no doubt every woman there had made her own dress, and, perhaps, each was wearing her best silk with a “breast-pin” at her throat. A lady’s brooch, or “breastpin,” was usually a handsome piece of jewelry, oftentimes having a fancy arrangement of her husband’s hair under glass in the center.

In the day of the beginnings of the commonwealth there were landlords who possessed dignity, chivalry, and honor. These qualities gave woman an exalted position, and created a sense of obligation to the unfortunate. In a raw country, they practiced the hardy virtues of daily living and preserved to posterity an appreciation of beauty and a love of culture and learning.

The foregoing paragraphs are a picture of the life and times of the people of the Albemarle country as handed down through many generations from grandmother to grandchild, for it must be remembered that the families of Colonial Virginia and of the Albemarle region have lived closely bound to the traditions and customs of the English people in the Mother Country as well as on this side of the Atlantic. Early the pioneers of all the Tidewater region of the Atlantic seaboard were caught in the tide that for two centuries flowed westward, finally reaching the Pacific Coast. The record of this steady flow makes the romance of American history. No one with modern means of travel can cross the continent without being filled with wonder, and often with astonishment, at the intrepid spirit and persistent hardihood of our heroic ancestors. The hardships endured and the opposition encountered did not crush the dauntless spirit of those who laid deep and strong the foundations upon which our national superstructure was reared. Names familiar to the Albemarle country can be found in the various sections of this state and in almost every state beyond the mountains.

The Hunters and others of the Tidewater region had no little to do with the movements that resulted in locating the capital of the state in Wake County. At the Convention at Hillsboro in 1788, to use the words of Governor Samuel Johnston, “The Convention fixed the seat of government at such place as the Assembly may appoint within ten miles of the plantation whereon Isaac Hunter now resides in Wake County.”

On March 20, 1792, the commission appointed by the New Bern Assembly in 1791, acting in keeping with the instruction of the Hillsboro Convention in 1788, assembled at Hunter’s Tavern to consider the tracts of land offered. After three weeks of consideration, having enjoyed the hospitality of Joel Lane the night before, the commission chose the Joel Lane tract, where Raleigh now stands. The location for the site of the capital city had strong personal and political backing because of intermarriage and business association.

Isaac Hunter first married Rebecca Hart; his second wife was Charlotte Thomas. Of his thirteen children, the oldest daughter, Pherebe, married Joseph Lane, brother of Joel Lane. Numerous descendants of the Lanes and of the Hunters and other families that intermarried in those early days are still in Wake and are scattered across the nation.

After this fashion, the generations continued to live in their first homes on this side of the Atlantic and in the new land of this vast domain. But we may be sure that some held fast to many of the best things they knew. Notwithstanding their sins and shortcomings in a new and rugged country, the family circle about the open fireplace remained to them a cherished reality in cabin and “big house.” There womanhood was enthroned and family ties were prized. Thrift and sociability were prime virtues. A sense of obligation and honor were the marks of a gentleman. They cherished the family and esteemed the finer things that belonged to culture and learning, though oftentimes they were far removed from all these.

4.  Note by Phil Norfleet: I have personally reviewed the original of Mary Norfleet’s will, which is on file at the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh. Surprisingly, the seal is still intact, and although very faint, the image of a three-masted ship in full sail is outlined on the seal!

5.  Note by Marion T. Plyler: Mrs. Epie Smith Plyler (Mrs. M. T. Plyler) is a daughter of the late Honorable Leroy L. Smith and Edna Norfleet Smith. Being eighth in line from Thomas Norfleet, seventh in line from Isaac Hunter and fifth in line from Seth Riddick, to say nothing of other parallel lines extending over two centuries, she could not escape many family traditions. Her lawyer father was an interested student of history, especially of the Albemarle country. The Smith family dates back to the early days of Isle of Wight County, Virginia.

The main Norfleet Family Genealogy site developed by Phil Norfleet can be found at: http://pcn2051.tripod.com/index.htm.
Phil Norfleet has done an extensive amount of research on early settlers of Colonial Virgina and the Tidewater area of North Carolina.


Another Norfleet-Hunter Transaction from Phil Norfleet’s websites

At: http://pcn2051.tripod.com/john.htm

George Washington Buys Norfleet Swamp Land

On 15 October 1763, George Washington passed through the Corapeak area and made the following annotation in his diary:

“The main swamp of Oropeake is about ½ a mile onwards from this, where stands the Widow Norfleet’s Mill and Luke Sumner’s plantations … At the mouth of this swamp is a very large meadow of 2 or 3000 acres held by Sumner, Widow Norfleet, Marmaduke Norfleet, Powell and others and valuable ground it is.” The “Widow Norfleet” mentioned by Washington was, of course, Elizabeth Riddick Norfleet.

Washington was quite serious with respect to his interest in this “valuable ground.” By indenture, dated 25 April 1766, Washington and his brother-in law, Fielding Lewis, acquired Cousin Marmaduke’s Corapeak plantation of 1093½ acres. [2] After the sale, Marmaduke supplied wheat, oats, beef and corn for the slaves which Washington had sent to work the land he had just acquired. Marmaduke subsequently moved to Northampton County where he purchased from Thomas and Priscilla Hunter, by indenture dated 27 December 1766, a total of 535 acres of land called Rich Square. There, Marmaduke established a trading center consisting of a general store, a blacksmith shop, and a grist mill.