Historic Bath is North Carolina's oldest incorporated town (1705), featuring several restored period homes and is a North Carolina State Historic Site.
European settlement near the Pamlico River in the 1690s led to the creation of Bath, North Carolina's first town, in 1705. The town's location seemed ideal with easy access to the river and the Atlantic Ocean 50 miles away at Ocracoke Inlet.
The first settlers were French Protestants from Virginia. Among early inhabitants were John Lawson, surveyor general of the colony and author of the first history of Carolina (1709), and Christopher Gale, first chief justice of the colony.
By 1708, Bath consisted of 12 houses and about 50 people. Trade in naval stores, furs, and tobacco was important, and Bath became the first port of entry into North Carolina.
Early Bath was disturbed by political rivalries, epidemics, Indian wars, and piracy. Cary's Rebellion (1711) was an armed struggle over religion and politics in the colony. An epidemic of yellow fever and a severe drought occurred in 1711. The Tuscarora War between the weakened settlers and the powerful Tuscarora Indians followed immediately. Bath became a refuge for the surrounding area until the Indian power was broken. Bath was also the haunt of Edward Teach, better known as the pirate "Blackbeard." An expedition of the British Navy killed him in a naval battle near Ocracoke in 1718.
Later Bath offered a more peaceful, settled life. The first Beaufort County courthouse was built in the town in 1723. Construction of St. Thomas Church, oldest existing church in the state, began in 1734. In 1751, Capt. Michael Coutanch, a merchant, legislator, and commissioner for Bath and Portsmouth, built what is today known as the Palmer-Marsh House, Bath's oldest, and in the colonial period, its largest residence.
The General Assembly met in Bath in 1743, 1744, and 1752. In 1746 the town was considered for capital of the colony. Governors Robert Daniel, Thomas Cary, Charles Eden, and Matthew Rowan made Bath their home for a time, as did Edward Moseley, long time speaker of the assembly.
By the turn of the 20th century, Bath had improved land transportation. Waterborne activities also increased as several large sawmills were operated nearby.
Yet Bath remains a small village. Restoration efforts in Bath have preserved the St. Thomas Church, the Palmer-Marsh House, Van Der Veer House (ca. 1790), and the Bonner House (ca. 1830). The original town limits are the boundaries of a National Register Historic District.