Folwell’s Folly: A Tale of Two Wives

When Republican Dale Folwell, Speaker Pro-Tem in a press conference on August 30th described the introduction of a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage he made a curious statement about the lineage of traditional marriage in North Carolina:

We all know about the time tested definition of marriage in North Carolina going back to 1655.

He was no doubt referring to the year that Nathaniel Batts, a fur trader and land speculator, became North Carolina’s first permanent European settler when Batts came from Virginia to establish residence in a 20 foot square brick house with 2 rooms and a chimney on the Bertie peninsula between the Roanoke and Chowan rivers, noted in maps of the time as “Batts House”.

Nathaniel Batts traded with the Indians and developed good relations with them, particularly the Chowanoke, and with a fearless nature became known as “Captain Batts”, the unofficial “Governor of Roanoke”. In 1660 Batts aquired an uninhabited island in the Albemarle Sound, known to the Indians as Kalola, and to the English as Hariot’s Island. It became known as Batts’ Island, and ultimately Batts’ Grave.

Batts fell in love with Kickowanna, the daughter of the Chowanoke Chief Kilcocanen, and subsequently married her. While they maintained their own home on the mainland, Batts liked to spend extended periods of time alone on his island. Kickowanna visited him by canoe and one night in a storm her canoe capsized, and she was drowned. Struck by grief, Batts never again left the island, and eventually died there, hence the name Batts’ Grave. The island eroded over time and disappeared completely in a 1950’s storm. A beautiful and tragic love story with all the romance and fidelity you would want in a state’s first settler.

Yet, there is another side to Nathaniel Batts’s story. Continue reading