Kinsearching October 9, 2011




Marleta Childs
P. O. Box 6825
LUBBOCK, TX 79493-6825

     Over a period of years, a series which chronicles the background story of the various counties of the Tar Heel State has been sponsored by the Historical Publication Section of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History. Each volume is concise, yet contains comprehensive data. The latest addition to the series is TYRRELL COUNTY: A BRIEF HISTORY by Alan D. Watson.

     In this highly readable book, Watson recounts the history of Tyrrell County over nearly three hundred years. Formed in 1729 and named for one of the proprietors of the Carolinas, Tyrrell County is one of the oldest counties in North Carolina. (Dare, Martin, and Washington counties were later created from parts of Tyrrell.) Geographically isolated and still sparsely populated, the eastern county has never played a major role in North Carolina’s statewide affairs.

     Watson’s central theme is the development of county government and courts from the proprietary period through the end of the twentieth century. His basic description of duties of the county court and officers such as justices of the peace, county clerk, sheriff, and constable provides a good foundational knowledge that is applicable to colonial North Carolina counties as a whole. The author demonstrates how people were selected for county offices based upon their family and wealth and how these individuals were able to use their duties to expand both their influence and affluence. He also explores the role the court played in transmitting the culture of society during its proceedings. Then he discusses governmental problems inherent to a poor county, such as the construction and upkeep of public building like the courthouse and jail, ferries subsidized by public funds, and taxation.

     Although much space is devoted to local governmental issues, Watson’s narrative expands to discuss a variety of topics, including the county’s boundary disputes, the role of colonial taverns in conveying information, the division between residents during the American Revolution and the Civil War, the changing role of women, free blacks and slaves, the local economy, agriculture, fishing industry, wood products, wine production from scuppernong grapes, transportation and internal improvements of waterways and roads, the environment and ecotourism, education, religion, health care, and lifestyles of its residents, many of whom have roots extending back into the area for generations. Prominent surnames in the county through the years include BLOUNT, COLLINS, CURRELL, DOWNING, HASSELL, HOOKER, HOSKINS, JONES, KENNEDY/CANNADY, LEE, MACKEY, MCCLEESE, NORMAN, PETTIGREW, SLADE, SMITHWICK, SPRUILL, STEWART, SWAIN, WARD, and WYNNE.

     Well-written and fully documented, the informative text is accompanied by interesting illustrations, including drawings, photographs, maps, and reproductions of records. Packed with names of people as well as the story of major events, the work is a valuable reference resource that remains easy to read. TYRRELL COUNTY: A BRIEF HISTORY is an excellent example of a general history that will attract and will useful to both amateur and experienced genealogists and historians. Watson’s volume will make a welcomed addition to any library’s collection of North Carolina materials.

     Sporting a scenic front cover, the 244-page paperbound book contains a foreword, an introduction, more than 60 illustrations, chapter notes, a twelve-page bibliography, and a thorough index of names of persons, places, and subjects. Priced at $24.78 (which includes tax and shipping costs), TYRRELL COUNTY, A BRIEF HISTORY may be ordered online at  or at It may also be purchased from the Historical Publications Section (BR), Office of Archives and History, 4622 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, North Carolina 27699-4622. For credit card orders, call 919-733-7442, extension 0.

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