Nathaniel Batts: Buried at sea, but not originally

Nathaniel Batts: Buried at sea, but not originally

Nathaniel Batts may not have been the first permanent European settler in North Carolina (there is vague evidence that he was not), but he was undoubtedly one of the earliest and best documented. Where is his grave site?  From NCpedia:

Nathaniel Batts was part of the group employed in 1653 and 1654 by Francis Yeardley, prominent planter of Lynnhaven, Va., to establish a fur trade with the Indians to the southward and to explore that region in detail. In 1655, Yeardley sent Robert Bodnam, a carpenter, to the south to build a house twenty feet square (containing two rooms and a chimney) for Batts to live in while he traded with the Indians. The house was erected beside Salmon (then Fletts) Creek at the western end of Albemarle (then Roanoke) Sound. This trading post appears on the Nicholas Comberford map of 1657, entitled “The South Part of Virginia,” with the legend “Batts House.”


On 24 Sept. 1660 [Nathaniel Batts] purchased from Kiscutanewh, king of the Yeopim Indians, all the land on the west bank of the Pasquotank River from its mouth to the head of New Begin Creek. This transaction, which survives in the records of Lower Norfolk County, Va., is the oldest known surviving North Carolina land deed… His best-known holding was Heriots Island at the mouth of Yeopim River in the Albemarle Sound, which by 1672 was called Batts Island and by the 1690s, Batts Grave.

The cartographic history of this island begins with the very first manuscript map showing the Sound, the John White map of 1585; the island is shown but not named. The island remains unnamed on Theodor de Bry’s 1590 engraved map, which was based on White’s manuscript map:

1590 de Bry
1590 de Bry

In memory of the great English mathematician and astronomer, Thomas Heriot, whose surveys formed the basis for the White/de Bry maps, John Smith’s 1624 map of “Ould Virginia”, engraved by Robert Vaughn, shows “Heriot’s Ile”:

1624 John Smith
1624 John Smith

It maintained this name on the 1657 manuscript map by Nicholas Comberford. The first printed map entitled Carolina, Horne’s 1666 map, shows an unnamed island. The island is unnamed or not even shown on subsequent well-known 17th century maps of Carolina. Although Batts Island “is mentioned in local records as early as 1694” (NC Gazetteer), I have been unable to find it by that name on a 17th century map. Finally, in 1733, Edward Moseley’s monumental map of North Carolina shows the island as “Bat’s Grave” (unequivocal spelling G-R-A-V-E):

1733 Moseley
1733 Moseley (image courtesy of ECU)

However, published abstracts of wills from 1727 (witnessed by Moseley) and 1747 refer to “Batt’s Grove”. Is “Grave” an engraver’s error? Or, is “Grove” a transcription error? Belle Long (see comments) has confirmed that it is a transcription error. Nicholas Crisp’s 1727 will clearly indicates “Batt’s Grave”, as does a 1747 will of John Hull. The name is engraved as “Batfs Grave” on the 1770 Churton-Collet map (below, left), and as “Batts’s Grave” on the 1775 De la Rochette map, aka Mouzon map (below, right).

1770 Churton-Collet

1775 "Mouzon map"





According to the North Carolina Gazetteer, in 1749 the island “was 40 acres in area and had houses and orchards on it; by 1756 it had been reduced to 27 acres.” The island remained stable on coastal surveys published between 1860 and 1913. However, the forces that shrunk it in the 18th and early 19th centuries returned with vigor in the 20th century. By 1919 (below) and 1940, only a “speck” of an island remained, and then it was gone.

Image courtesy of North Carolina Collection

So, where is Batts’s grave? If one believes he was buried on Heriot’s Ile, then Nathaniel Batts, not to mention the entire island, is now buried at sea.

Murder, Surveyor’s Ferry, and now Batts’s Grave. That completes our Albemarle region trifecta. We’ll head elsewhere next time.

3 thoughts on “Nathaniel Batts: Buried at sea, but not originally”

  1. HI Jay, I found Nicholas Crisp’s 1727 will in the ss wills on line. One has to refer to these wills regularly to be able to find them. They are not easily searchable and can’t be saved to one’s computer except by a screen shot. The upshot: it reads “the Island called Batts’s Grave.” I can email you a screen shot of the page, if you like. Belle

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