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Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Curse of Bath

Posted May 6, 2010
Updated May 7, 2010

For the next 10 week days I’d like to take a historic tour of North Carolina. We’ll visit the 10 oldest towns in the state. I’d like all of you to share your thoughts and ideas about these places. Please feel free to post your recommendations for lodging, dining and historic sites in these early communities along the Carolina coast.  I'll give a musical prize for the best comment offered each day.

We’ll begin with North Carolina's oldest town – Bath. How many of you have visited Bath? What did you like about it? Did you stay overnight there and if so where?  Did you dine there?

Bath was born in 1705 by explorer John Lawson who laid out the town along the Pamlico River. The town was named to honor John Granville, Earl of Bath and one the Lords Proprietors. But Bath never thrived. Today the population is only 268. Why didn’t Bath become as large as New Bern or Wilmington? Why did Washington, N.C., just up the road become a more important destination? Some point to the curse of George Whitefield. In the mid 18th century the traveling evangelist cursed the town of Bath for its sinful nature. State historians say Bath suffered a steady decline following Whitefield’s public condemnation. Wealthy merchants moved away and ships sailed to other ports.

I've visited Bath three or four times. I actually wrote a song about the town. The tune is called "Bells of Bath" and features the church bell of St. Thomas Parish, the oldest church in the state.  Though Blackbeard was killed before the founding of the church some of his money may have helped pay for the church bell, which is older than the Liberty Bell. Parishioners allowed me to ring and record the bell for my Peaceful Journey album in 2004.

What do you find interesting about North Carolina’s oldest town? Please share your thoughts.

13 Comments

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  • emaleth May 7, 2010

    I love Bath! I have family down there. Good fishing, beautiful scenery, NICE people, relaxed atmosphere, and wildlife viewing. The Quarter deck has ice cream, and Blackbeard's makes a mean pizza! Not the place for big city life, which is one more reason I love it.

  • Celt May 7, 2010

    I love Bath because of what others have said--the history. You could do an interesting local history just in St. Thomas' churchyard--why, for instance, so many people died in a relatively short period of time. Were there illnesses which moved through the town.

    I am wondering if Washington flourished because of its better position on the estuary, allowing more direct trade routes up river to Greenville.

  • bleslie May 7, 2010

    Thank you thelostlight for the correction regarding Blackbeard and the church. I will adjust the script. State historians do stand by their story of the curse.

  • thelostlight May 6, 2010

    Blackbeard was killed in 1718. Construction of St. Thomas Church was not commenced until October 1734 and it took nearly 20 years for the building to be completed, so it is not possible that Blackbeard ever darkened its doors. However, one of Blackbeard's crew members, the cooper Edward Salter, became a warden of the church and provided some of his own money for its construction, so there is a grain of truth to the legend you described.

    I don't believe Rev. Whitfield placed a curse on the town but rather said that the behavior of the townspeople would prevent the place from ever being able to thrive.

  • Mike Moss May 6, 2010

    We've traveled through Bath back and forth to Pamlico Beach all my life, and it's always struck me as a pleasant, peaceful spot. I can also remember always thinking about the tale from a book I read in elementary school called something like "NC Ghost Stories" that covered things like the Brown Mountain and Maco Station Lights and the Devil's Tramping Ground - you can read the Bath story at www.nchistoricsites.org/bath/legends-hoofprints.htm.

  • 3stoogesfan May 6, 2010

    I attended school in Bath for 12 years. There were 63 in my graduating class. They started kindergarten when I started first grade. Anyway, back in elementary school, every year we went to the Palmer Marsh House, St. Thomas' Church, and the Bonner House. Back then, it was boring to me but I think I'd enjoy touring it today.

  • ECU4lyf May 6, 2010

    My aunt and uncle live in Sydney, thats just a bit beyond Bath, they live in the brick home thats sits to the right of the ferry. But I love riding thru Bath and walking around when I go visit them. My uncle speaks of a bird sanctuary in the area, not sure where it is but my grandfather used to love to go there when he visited. Never have eaten there, other than my aunt and uncles cooking, and he cooks some really mean soft shell crab. Have fished in Bath creek and have been out with my uncle on his fishing and crabbing boat. I'll get on the ferry and ride over to Aurora and back every now and then, thats a nice little ride across the sound and it does me good. No it's not much to do there, but it's one of the more peaceful places I've been, and I like that.

  • xyzzy May 6, 2010

    Have been to Bath and attended worship at St Thomas there (http://stthomaschurchbathnc.com). Stayed in little Washington. Besides the history, what struck me is the forthcoming struggle between those who want to preserve Bath as it is and those who see an opportunity to develop the Pamlico overall for retirement communities.

    As to why Bath didn't grow more, I wonder if there were shoaling problems on the inlet to Bath.

  • ziradog May 6, 2010

    I have visited Bath many times, the latest a few weeks ago (a brief drive through & walk around). I usually come by boat. I love the history of the place, and the peacefulness. The free dock is nice too, with the old steam engine beside it (no longer buried in the brush). One time when I came I needed to buy gas & the water was too low for my sailboat to get to a gas dock. I bought a jerry can & hiked back & forth from the gas station & the boat, hauling gas & ice each trip. Everyone I saw on the way spoke, and by the third trip they were offering me sweet tea & a ride. For sure there aren't many dining choices, but that is true for most towns that small. As to the complaint that there isn't much to do, I would say that if the water, fishing, and history don't keep you busy the problem is not Bath.

  • Garnerwolf1 May 6, 2010

    Big Five: the 'natives' don't really want to cater to the tourist dollar. They don't mind sharing their history, but they also don't want to turn into the next 'water front community'. It's changing I think, but there simply has not been enough business to sustain any kind of restaurant. And you're right, unless you have a boat, there's not that much to do after touring the historical homes and the visitor center, and perhaps strolling Main St. Remember, it's a very small place, with a small population. There's not much industry around, so most made their living from farming or the water.

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