A European settlement near the Pamlico River in the 1690s led to the founding of Bath. The first settlers were French Protestants from Virginia; among those inhabitants was John Lawson, naturalist, explorer, and town father. In 1708, Bath consisted of 12 houses and about 50 people. Early Bath was disturbed by political rivalries, epidemics, Indian wars (the Tuscarora War), and piracy. Yellow fever plagued the town along with a severe drought in 1711. A war between the early settlers and the powerful Tuscarora Indians followed the fever and drought. Bath was the first nominal capital of North Carolina, but the colony had no permanent institutions of government until their establishment in New Bern. Four subjects loom large in Bath's history. In chronological order, they are:
- John Lawson, known as the town father. Without the dedication and perseverance of John Lawson, there would be no documentation of the beauty and uniqueness of what the town of Bath is and what it has become. Lawson was known for laying out the land of Bath and helping it become an established town in 1705. On March 8, 1705, the tract of land was incorporated as the town of Bath by the General Assembly at a meeting at Capt. John Heckenfield’s home in Albemarle. Lawson had laid out the town into 71 lots measuring half an acre and four poles (about a tenth of an acre). The lots were located on the waterfront, which is now known as Main Street, and that allowed early settlers to become merchants, with easy access into town by the water.
- Blackbeard the pirate, who figured prominently during the town's earliest days.
- The curse of Methodist evangelist George Whitefield. "...the famous Methodist evangelist George Whitfield, who personified the Great Awakening in America, made a visit to the town. Whitfield was deeply troubled about what he called Bath's "deadly sins." In fact, he was so concerned for Bath, he visited the town on four occasions between 1747 and 1762 to preach the gospel. But his calls for repentance fell on deaf ears. On his fourth visit, even the church refused to allow him to preach. T. Jensen Lacy in his book, Amazing North Carolina writes: "Whitfield finally gave up on converting Bath ... Just like the disciples of old, he drove his wagon to the outskirts of town, removed his shoes, shook the dirt from them, and put a curse on the town. He told onlookers that the Bible said people who couldn't get sinners to reform were to do just what he had done, and by shaking the dust of Bath from his shoes, the town would be cursed for its hardness of heart against the Word." Whitfield declared, "I say to the village of Bath, village you shall remain, now and forever, forgotten by men and nations until such time as it pleases God to turn the light of His countenance again upon you." Interestingly, Bath has never prospered. The village has suffered a number of setbacks throughout history. It still remains almost entirely within the same boundaries laid out by its primary founder, John Lawson. It's a sleepy little village on the North Carolina coast, largely "forgotten by men and nations."
- Edna Ferber's novel Show Boat, and its subsequent film and Broadway adaptations. Ferber's inspiration came from her time aboard the showboat James Adams Floating Theatre when it visited Bath Creek during the spring of 1925.
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