The puzzle of Strawberry Island;
and Francis Corbin's other property transactions in NC


In a Warrant to intercept Francis Corbin's mail, issued in London by the Duke of Newcastle on 17 September 1741, it is stated "that he has Effects abroad".
These Effects have not yet been identified.
Then living in Charles Town, SC, was another Francis Corbin, after whose death his son Edmund Corbin was described by Francis Corbin as "his nearest relation in the world".

In 1751 Earl Granville instructed Corbin about "the necessity of having a proper office in Edenton for the safe lodgement of my papers & records and for your transacting my business with decency and order." He wished to have "one part of the house allotted for the clerks office with proper conveniences and the other to serve as an apartment for you where you may commodiously transact my affairs with necessary and secure accommodations for the reception of my papers." He authorized Corbin to spend about 80 to 100 pounds sterling, but no more.

Corbin did not, as Granville directed, purchase an office lot in Granville's name, but in his own instead, acquiring Lot 1 (New Plan number) on April 19 1756 for sixty one pounds five shillings from "William Pick of Newbigin in the Parish of Newburn in the county of Northumberland [England], gentleman, and Margaret his wife heirs and heirs at law of Jan Morton late of Edenton in North Carolina, merchant, deceased and only daughter & heir at law of George Morton of the town and County of Newcastle upon Tyne [England] mercer and clothier deceased." The lot's proximity to the busy wharves and commercial district made this the ideal site for Corbin to establish his office. On this lot Corbin had Morton's premises demolished and the expensive Cupola House built in 1758-59.

This is the earliest record of any property transaction by Corbin in Chowan county.

On 27 July 1756 Francis Corbin bought a 292 acre tract that included Strawberry Island from the executors of James Craven. James Craven appointed Francis Corbin as one of his executors in his will dated 28 September 1755. The will was proved on 11 October 1755.

In a Renunciation of Dower registered July 1, 1774, Jean Corbin listed five properties in Chowan County that had been owned by Francis Corbin:
... a Tract of Land lying on Mattacomack Creek [present-day Pembroke Creek] containing Two hundred and Ninety two Acres more or less, and including an Island called Strawberry Island opposite to the Town of Edenton in the Province aforesaid.
And also of in and to four several Lotts or half Acres of Land situate in the said Town and known and distinguished in the new plan thereof by the Letters G. H. J. K. and the following Numbers to wit, 193, 194, 195, 196.
Which said Moiety of the aforesaid Plantation, as well as the several Lotts before mentioned, have lately been sold by the Sheriff of Chowan County towards satisfaction of my Husband's Debts the late Francis Corbin Esquire deceased to Wilson Blount of Edenton aforesaid Esquire for a Valuable Consideration.

Close examination of the 1769 Sauthier map of Edenton shows (just to the left of the compass rose) a building within a circular clearing on a northward pointing peninsula across the water from Edenton. On the map this does not appear to be an island. However the wording in Corbin's marriage agreement of October 1761 is "Strawberry Island, and marsh thereto belonging" - making it apparent that this is effectively an island. All that now remains of Strawberry Island are a few cypress trees growing out of the water between the eastern end of John's Island and the town of Edenton.

Since Francis Corbin did not buy Strawberry Island until 1756, this cannot have been the home "five miles from the nearest town" where he was keeping the records of the Granville District. Thus identifying the location of Strawberry Island has not solved the puzzle of where Francis Corbin lived.

The answer to the long-standing question of where was Francis Corbin's Chowan county home is found in an Indenture dated May 31 1763 in Deed Book L-1, pages 177-182:
Bottom of page 177: "commonly Called and known By the Name of moseley point containing by Estimation four Thousand Acres be the same more or less, now or late in the Tenure or Occupation of Francis Corbin Esquire - "
Top of page 178: "Together with all and singular the messuages and Buildings thereon Located and Built".
Francis Corbin's signature is at the end of this document, signing as Associate Justice when it was recorded.

Through his first wife Ann Lillington (the widow of Governor Henderson Walker) Edward Moseley acquired the large plantation that had belonged to Henderson Walker on the north bank of Albemarle Sound (a little to the east of the future site of Edenton). Moseley's Point later became known as Skinner's Point, after it was bought by the Skinner family of Perquimans county. James Skinner moved here some time after 1797, and named his home here Montpelier. Most of the land, together with that of neighboring Athol (built about 1836 by Joshua Skinner on land split out from Montpelier), went for the creation of a military airfield during World War II (now Edenton's Northeastern Regional Airport). The little that remained became the housing developments Cape Colony & Montpelier Acres. The house itself was left uninhabited, decayed, and is thought to have been demolished when the airfield was constructed.

In the late 1730s Edward Moseley moved from Chowan county down to New Hanover county, where he owned a plantation, a house in Wilmington, and a house in Brunswick. This last held his law library of 200 books. In his will of September 1749 he bequeathed his Chowan county plantation to his second son, Edward Moseley Jr. It appears that this son never lived in Chowan county, so the Moseleys' distant relative (through marriages in England) Francis Corbin was given the use of this plantation.

On 15 December 1753 Francis Corbin, acting as agent for Earl Granville, granted to James Carter 640 acres on Panther Creek, NE-side Yadkin River, Shallow ford Rd (in what became Surry county). James Carter was deputy surveyor in the Granville District.
640 acres, frequently the size of a grant, is an area of 1 square mile.
On 18 December 1753 James Carter assigned this land to Francis Corbin of Edenton personally.
On 8 September 1777 Edmond [sic] Corbin, heir at law of Francis Corbin, sold this land to Robert Lanier.

On 7 June 1754 Francis Corbin, acting as agent for Earl Granville, granted to William Churton 663 acres of land lying on the north side of Enoe River. William Churton, who was principal surveyor in the Granville District, laid out a town on 400 of these acres.
Orange County Court Minutes, October 1754: James Watson, Josias Dixon and Lawrence Thompson appointed Commissioners and Trustees for the land laid out for the town on the River Enoe, 400 acres.
Orange County Court Minutes - May 1780; Deed dated September 9, 1754, was proved - William Churton to Francis Corbin, for 263 acres of land which represented the remainder of the 663 acre Grant after conveyance of 400 acres to the Magistrates of the County of Orange, laid off for a town by the name of Orange [subsequently renamed Corbinton, then Hillsborough].
This 263 acre tract of land was purchased from the heirs of Francis Corbin by James Hogg. This tract of land adjoins the eastern boundaries of the Town of Hillsborough.

It is apparent from a variety of later references that Francis Corbin must also have acquired in excess of 1200 acres in Orange county on the south side of the Eno River.

On 1 July 1755 Francis Corbin, acting as agent for Earl Granville, granted to William Churton 227½ acres both sides of branch of Cobb Creek near Hico the waters of Dan River (in Person county).
On 8 March 1756 this land was assigned by William Churton to Francis Corbin.
In 1777 this land passed from Thomas Douglas to John Armstrong. The record of Thomas Douglas acquiring it has not been found.

Thus there is a pattern of Francis Corbin acquiring land indirectly, without his employer's knowledge. Copies of original grants with an attached plat had to be sent to Earl Granville in London, but not information about subsequent transfers. Corbin even appears to have avoided having transfers to him recorded in local courthouses, so details are only found where a subsequent owner had to prove title or his heir Edmund Corbin (whose name is sometimes miswritten) made a sale. There are also references to his ownership in boundary descriptions of neighboring land.

UK National Archives. SP 36/56/90.
Chowan County Deed Book H-1, p. 213.
Chowan County Deed Book G, pp. 15-16.
Chowan County Deed Book L-1, pp. 177-182.
W. O. Absher, R. K. Hayes. Stokes Co., NC, Records of Deeds, Vol. 1 (1787-1793). pp.276-277.
North Carolina Land Office Records, Raleigh; Book 4, Page 381.
Person County Deed Book B.