Entrepreneurs of North Carolina History Exhibit

Entrepreneurial Pioneers

1663Lords Proprietors

In 1663, King Charles II issued a land grant to the Lords Proprietors, eight entrepreneurial aristocrats who had remained loyal to him during his exile. These men include: Edward, Earl of Clarendon (1609-1674), George, Duke of Albemarle (1608-1670), William, Lord Craven (1608-1697), John, Lord Berkeley (1607-1678), Anthony, Lord Ashley (1621-1683), Sir George Carteret (1610-1680), Sir William Berkeley (1605-1677), Sir John Colleton (1608-1666).

According to the Charter of Carolina, these men "being excited with a laudable and pious zeal for the propagation of the Christian faith, and the enlargement of our empire and dominions, have humbly besought leave of us, by their industry and charge, to transport and make an ample colony of our subjects." The colony was supposed to make money for its proprietary investors by providing raw materials for England and a market for English products. The Lords Proprietors exercised power "in as ample manner as any bishop of Durham in our kingdom of England." In other words, they were feudal lords with full and absolute power.

As North Carolina's original entrepreneurs, the Lords Proprietors were instrumental in shaping the state. The names of Albemarle County, Carteret County and Craven County, all for the Lords Proprietors, speak to their lasting influence in North Carolina.

1763George Washington

George Washington & the Dismal SwampIn May 1763, George Washington made his first visit to the Great Dismal Swamp and suggested draining it and digging a north-south canal through it to connect the waters of Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. Joining with several other prominent Virginians and North Carolinians, he formed two syndicates known as the Dismal Swamp Land Company and the Adventurers for Draining the Great Dismal Swamp. This group hoped to drain the Swamp, harvest the trees, and use the land for farming.

The company purchased 40,000 acres of Swamp land for $20,000 in 1763. Washington directed the surveying and digging of the 5-mile long ditch from the western edge of the Swamp to Lake Drummond, known today as Washington Ditch. The Adventurers soon realized, however, that the task of draining the Swamp was enormous and gave up that part of their plan to concentrate on lumbering. They cut much of the cypress trees for use in shipbuilding and the cedars for shingles and other products.

During slavery, many African Americans used the Great Dismal Swamp as a means to find their freedom. It is now the oldest operating artificial waterway in the country. Like the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal, it is part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

1831Christian Bechtler, Sr.

BechtlerChristopher (Christian) Bechtler, a native German jeweler and watchmaker, recognized the need for a depository for all the gold that was being mined after the recent discovery of the valuable ore and the resulting boom in gold mining Mecklenberg County, NC in the 1820s. By 1831, Bechtler along with his son and nephew, began operating their private mint and assay business to determine the quality of the mined ore and to manufacture gold coins. With shortage of legal tender at the time and the delay in Congress establishing a branch of the US Mint in the region, Bechtler’s business thrived. 

Bechtler was most famous for the quality of his coins and for the integrity he brought to the enterprise and for the resulting trust the public had in his gold coins.  “The Bechtler’s have the distinction of being the first to mint gold dollars a good 18 years prior to the first striking at Philadelphia in 1849. The Bechtler coins were so well accepted for commerce in general that during the Civil War that monetary obligations of the Confederacy were specified as payable in “Bechtler Gold” rather than Union or Confederate or state currency,” as noted in The Bechtler Private Mint website.