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Formation of the Town (1.2.1)

The route chosen for the Dismal Swamp Canal connected Deep Creek, a tributary of the southern branch of the Elizabeth River in Virginia, with Joyce's Creek, a tributary of the Pasquotank River that lies in Camden County, North Carolina (see Map 1) (Brown 1966, 32). The actual terminus of the canal, therefore, was approximately ten miles north of the narrows. But the narrows was a logical choice for the development of a town because it marked the spot where the Pasquotank River changed from a relatively narrow and twisting channel to a broad and fairly straight body of water that then flowed southward to the Albemarle Sound. In 1793, the same year that construction began on the canal using hired slave labor, the North Carolina General Assembly incorporated the town of Redding, stating that a town at the narrows would be "conducive to the welfare of [Pasquotank] County and of public utility." Commissioners were appointed and ordered to lay out a town consisting of regular lots with principal streets not less than fifty-six feet in width. The commissioners purchased, as required, five acres of the Narrows Plantation from Adam and Elizabeth Tooley. This was accomplished on June 10, 1794 and the first drawing and sale of town lots occurred the following November 3-6 (Deed Book M, p. 355; Griffin 1970, 25-26, 34).


Presumed to honor the prominent early Redding family, the town's name did not endure long. In 1794 the General Assembly renamed the town Elizabethtown, but it was discovered that there were two other towns of this name within the state. To end the confusion, in 1801 the small town at the narrows of the Pasquotank River was given the name of Elizabeth City. Although there is no documentation, Elizabeth City (and its predecessor, Elizabethtown) is thought to have been named in honor of Elizabeth (Taylor) Relfe Tooley. She had inherited the Narrows Plantation from her father, William Taylor (Griffin 1970, 26-29).

Growth and development were slow but steady in the fledgling town (see Map 2). In 1799 Elizabeth City became the governmental seat for Pasquotank County and a courthouse, prison, pillory, and stocks were built. The courthouse was not completely finished until June 1806, and, while no description survives of that building, it is known to have stood at the site of the present structure. The designation of Elizabeth City as the county seat had an immediate effect on the town's activity and business. It brought large numbers of Pasquotank's population to town for the quarterly sessions of the court in order to transact all the official and semi-official business of the county (Griffin 1970, 49-50). The little town was beginning to assume its eventual position as the center of activity for northeastern North Carolina.

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