Historic Albemarle Timelines
GEORGE DURANT: ALBEMARLE'S FIRST SETTLER
By Howard Draper, Museum of the Albemarle
Pasquotank County takes great pride in knowing that the first land grant in North Carolina occurred there in 1660 when Kiscutanaweh, chief of the Yeopim Indians deeded to Nathaniel Batts “all ye land on ye southwest side of Pascotank River from ye mouth of ye sd river to ye head of New Begin Creeke.” What falls between the cracks many times, however, is that the land at that time was a part of Norfolk County, Virginia, the deed was actually recorded there. Therefore, the first recorded land grant in North Carolina actually belongs to George Durant.
Very little is known of George Durant.
In fact, the only substantial biography is Mattie Erma Parker’s entry of Durant in William S. Powell’s landmark Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. However, the story of Durant and the tract of land that would come to be known as Durant’s Neck in present-day southern Perquimans County is a very interesting story.
Shortly after his marriage in January 1658 in Northumberland County, Virginia to Ann Marwood, Durant decided he wanted to make a home away from his Nansemond County residence. Where Durant was living at the time is not known. Possibilities include Northumberland County, Westmoreland County, or Nansemond County. It is known that at this time, he joined with at least six other gentlemen including John Battle, Thomas Relfe, Roger Williams, Thomas Jarvis, John Harvey, and John Jenkins to explore the Albemarle area, at the time a Virginia frontier called Roanoke. Many of these men brought land which Durant was witness to, including the one dated September 24, 1660 to Nathaniel Batts. It is possible that Durant was employed by Batts. Richard Batts, Nathaniel Batts brother, was a sea captain, and it is known that Durant was a mariner.
It is known that land was purchased from Cisketando, a Yeopim Indian chief on August 4, 1661. Shortly after, Durant purchases more land from the Yeopim. This deed is now recorded in the Perquimans County records, making it the oldest deed in North Carolina. The area that Durant settled, now known as Durant’s Neck, proved to be a good location for him. Located in present Perquimans County on a tract of land jutting into the Albemarle Sound, the soil proved to be good for growing corn and wheat. In addition, cattle and swine were prosperous, as were the numerous forest animals. Unfortunately, Durant would have many problems with this tract of land.
One year after Durant settled his land, Virginia Governor William Berkeley informed all settlers that if they obtained land from the Indians, they must now obtain grants from Virginia. Under these rules, Berkely granted George Catchmaid of Northumberland County, Virginia the same land that Durant was living upon. Durant, feeling the land was rightfully his, refused to move. It did not take long for the two men to temporarily settle their differences. They both agreed that Durant could settle the western side of the point, Catchmaid the east. Catchmaid also promised to have the land patented in Durant’s name. Unfortunately for Durant, Catchmaid died before the patent was obtained. To complicate matters for Durant, Catchmaid’s widow, remarried a wealthy Quaker, Timothy Biggs, with whom he did not get along. Biggs, ignoring the gentlemanly agreement made between Durant and Catchmaid, pursued the title. Not until 1697, almost three years after Durant’s death was a suit won by Durant’s son giving them legal title to the land they had been living for thirty-five years.