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Introduction: Population and Politics

Map of Slave Populations in North Carolina

Fig 2: Slave Population of North Carolina in 1860

That said, where there is firm soil under-foot, the soil tends to be reasonably fertile, making agriculture (then and now) a large part of the region's economy. This much is visible when looking at the map of slave distributions by county in North Carolina. In 1860 both Bertie and Chowan counties had slave populations of at least 50% of the total population with Hertford only slightly less. This is due in part to location as Edenton in particular was an active port, but one only needs to look at the size of the region involved to realize the slave population is there for more reasons than transshipment. Bertie County, for example, had a higher proportion of slaves to free citizens than New Hanover and Craven counties, home to the major port cities of Wilmington and New Bern respectively. There was little in the way of extractive industries other than logging and fishing in the region at the time. This lack of industry can be verified by the actions taken by Confederate forces during the early years of the war. For example, in Edenton, Chowan County, a battery of volunteer artillery was raised, with the noticeable problem that they lacked any cannons. Nor was there a ready source of ore available for casting cannons with their limited resources. Ultimately they ended up cannibalizing local church and business bell towers, melting down the bells into cannons. This was memorialized as the "Bell Battery" and is still a historical object in Edenton.

The population and political centers of the region are largely unsurprising. As mentioned, travel by waterway was, when possible, the method of choice as nothing of the era matched the motive power that hauling over water, particularly with the advent of steam power, could provide. Therefore all of the towns of importance in the region were situated on or near waterway access. Edenton, the county seat of Chowan County, was an active regional port at the time, located just off the Albemarle on the Chowan River itself. Windsor, the county seat of Bertie County sits astride the Cashie River which empties into the Albemarle as well. The towns of Winton and Murfreesboro, which were population centers in Hertford County, are both situated on the banks of the Chowan River.