Documenting the American South Logo
Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Arthur Dobbs to the Board of Trade of Great Britain
Dobbs, Arthur, 1689-1765
May 19, 1755
Volume 05, Pages 344-347

[B. P. R. O. North Carolina. B. T. Vol. 12. C. 83.]

Letter from Arthur Dobbs Esqre Govr of N. Carolina to the Board, dated at Newbern Ye 19th of May 1755, relating to the Expediency of building a Fort on Cape Lookout.

My Lords

I wrote to your Lordships ten days ago from Portsmouth Harbour, Core Banks near Ocacock Inlet, in which I acquainted you that I had viewed and fixed upon a situation for the seat of Government near Stringers Ferry on the North side of Neuse, healthy high and well watered, about 50 miles by water and 40 by land above Newbern, to which small craft Periaguas and Canoes or flats may come in the dryest summer which may easily be made fit for larger Vessels, which is agreable to the whole Province, north, south and west, provided His Majesty approves of it and had also fixed with the Commissioners a proper place for a Battery to Command and secure the Ships in the Harbour, and have given directions to begin the work, to which letter I refer your Lordships.

On Wednesday I left that place, and passed the Southern Channel from that Harbour to Neuse river, and took the Soundings, and believe for a moderate Expence that passage might be made 2 or 3 feet deeper than the swash, which all Vessells going up the three rivers must pass, which has only 8 or 8½ feet water, when this Channel has 12 feet everywhere but in 3 narrow reefs, 2 of which are 9 feet deep and only forty yards over, and the other gradually shoals to 5½ feet deep, and in 300 yards again deepens to 12 feet, which by piling that length about 150 feet wide for 300 yards and gradually widening it at each end, to increase the current of the tide betwixt the double row of piles, and breaking up the shelly surface of the hard sand with large Iron Harrows, and scooping up part of it into Lighters, and carrying it away to a distant shoal,

-------------------- page 345 --------------------
the current of the tide would increase thro' it and force the loosened sand away to the depth of the Channel which would improve the Navigation greatly by the addition of 3 feet water, by which means ships drawing near 12 feet water, could proceed with safety up to Newbern, Bath Town, and Edenton, without unloading or loading by lighters as all Vessells drawing above 8½ feet water must now do at great expense and delay.

I proceeded from thence up Neuse to Clubfoot Creek and went 10 miles by Land to Newport river, which falls down to Beaufort, and old Topsail Inlet, to view the situation they had chosen to erect a Battery there, which I disapproved of, it was fixed about 2 or 300 yards from the Town, and could only secure such Vessels as lay near the Town, but any Vessels might come over the Bar, and lye in a safe Harbour, where most Vessels lye for a wind without being hurt, it being two miles at least from the Battery; a shoal at a miles distance lying over against the Town, and a large Deep Channel about a mile over beyond the shoal. I went therefore to the S. W. point of the Inlet where I found the Channel coming in from the Bar, was within ½ a mile from the point, and a fine sandy Point well fixed, above high water 5 or 6 feet, where the Roots of the Trees in the sand made a sure foundation for a Battery, where they would have good water, and wood for firing, and fixed with the Commissioners to raise a fascine Battery with 2 faces, containing 6 guns each one of 9 pounders to command the passage at the Bar and the other of 6 pounders to command and secure the shipping in the Channel within the point, where the Channel to the Shoal is not a mile over, and the deepest of the Channel near the Battery—From Beaufort I went to View the fine Harbour of Cape Lookout of which I sent your Lordships a plan, & found it very exactly drawn except in the narrow place for the hawl over which is only 230 yards over, which is about ½ a mile further to the westward without the harbour. I went round the harbour and also round the Peninsula which forms the Cape and makes the harbour and went thro' the Cape Lands, which are all low and covered with grass, hard & strong and much liked by the Cattle, I had several people with me who were many years acquainted with this Harbour and confirmed the depths set down in the Chart. I having gone up in a Canoe within Core sound, and no Vessell being in the Harbour, I had no boat to sound it, but all agreed to the depth laid down and that the French and the Spanish Privateers had known it of late years, brought in their prizes there, wooded, watered and heaved down their Vessels, and sent ashore and killed the Cattle, and furnished themselves with fresh provisions and excellent fish, I found neither wood nor water on the Cape

-------------------- page 346 --------------------
side of the harbour and no foundation but a low sandy Beach not above one or two sand hills on the point, but the Peninsula rather rising than lowering, by a long shoal on the S. E. side and a shelving bank of sand higher than the Cape, which if overflowed in any great storm lodged more sand on the Cape and raised the soil, they also informed me that the sand point which formed the S. W. of the harbour was encreasing and straightening the entrance, but at the same time it extended further S. W. into the Bay and lengthened the Harbour, having an account that ships wooded and watered on the Core Bank side there being no proper place for a Fort on the Cape side, I went and Viewed the other side and found that good water might be had everywhere, by sinking in the Bottoms betwixt the sand hills, that the lands on that side were above a mile all over covered with cedar live oak, and shrubs even to the tops of the sand hills which sand hills were about 20 feet high where the Fort could be supplied with fire wood and water, and a level bank above 5 or 6 feet high above the highest tide, where it commanded the entrance over against the sandy point of the harbour and the greatest part of the Bay; This I fixed upon as the only proper place to build a Fort upon, but as this harbour is the best altho' small, of any harbour from Boston to Georgia and may be of the utmost Consequence to the Trade and navigation of England where all our cruizers can ride in safety, as in a mill pond and warp out at any time in an hour, where they can wood, water and clean, and be at sea in a few hours, where the whale fishers from the Northward have a considerable fishery from Christmas to April, when the whales return to the northwd and where our trading ships may have always a safe harbour upon easterly storms, and the whole Bay without a safe road against all but south westerly winds, when they can run into the Harbour, and since in time of war it has been and will be a place of safety for French and Spanish Privateers, to infest the whole Coast, where they can at pleasure have a safe port under their Lee, a place to wood and water, to clean in, and get fresh provisions, by shooting the Cattle on the Banks, I think it of the utmost consequence to the protection of the Trade of all the Southern Colonies on the Continent to have a proper Fort and Garrison there to defend it, and think it should be made a station for our Guardships or Cruizers, instead of Cape Fear, Charles Town or even the Rivers in Virginia where they are confined or can't get to sea when they would which they may do from hence in 3 or 4 hours and get round the shoals, and in 48 hours be either at the Capes of Virginia or at Charles Town Bar, or Port Royal with a favourable gale, and may from their mast head in harbour see all ships within view of the coast as they pass along. Taking this harbour in this view, I
-------------------- page 347 --------------------
can't in Duty to his Majesty and to the Public but lay this before your Lordships to be laid before his Majesty and his Cabinet Councill for their Consideration, and if it should strike them the same way it does me, I must beg leave further to observe it will be of consequence to have it a fort with a sufficient Garrison and an experienced Governor, not to be taken by a small force without a siege for if it should be a fort which might be taken by a few Privateers, it would be of greater damage to our Trade than to have none, for it would then be a Gibralter in their hands against the greatest part of this Continent and would be soon made of much greater strength against our Colonies.

This is therefore of too great Consequence to be attempted by any sum that can be raised in this Province, and if done must not only be built but maintained for some time at the expense of Britain until the Provinces on the main unite in their general Defence, for this harbour is of general use to all the Provinces, and to all the Trading Ships from Britain passing this Coast.

I can't neglect an hour giving your Lordships my observations upon it, as I can't probably get a Council these 3 months without sending Expresses thro' the whole Province, but if your Lordships think my report is not sufficient to lay it before his Majesty at the first notice you may have not only a Representation to the same purpose from the Council and Assembly of this Province, but also from Virginia and South Carolina, to add weight to it, it being the general sense of all the Traders in these Provinces, to have it secured for our safety, and the prejudice of our enemies, who will not then have one place of safety to enter on the American Coast.

I submit this to your Lordships & am with the greatest respect my Lords, Your Lordships most obedient and most humble servant


Newbern 19th May 1755.