The Voyage Begins– Elizabeth City, N.C.

The Belle of Washington resting on the Pamlico River, in its home port, Washington, N.C.

The Belle of Washington resting on the Pamlico River, in its home port, Washington, N.C.

This is the 1st in a series of posts from the Belle of Washington’s tour of historic ports on Albemarle Sound

Today I’m excited to be writing from Elizabeth City, N.C.  I’m here to co-host a riverboat voyage that will explore the history, culture and environment of the Albemarle Sound region of coastal North Carolina.

The trip is sponsored by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and we’ll be sailing from here to Plymouth, N.C. and many points in between over the next few days!

It’s a special joy to be here with my two co-hosts, acclaimed writer and Red Clay Rambler, Bland Simpson, and Tom Earnhardt, the extraordinary host of UNC-TV’s “Exploring North Carolina.”

Bland, Tom and I will be traveling aboard the Belle of Washington, a lovely little passenger boat that usually offers river tours in Washington, N.C.  And we’ll have a full boatload of passengers interested in learning more about the Albemarle and its history.

In addition to plying local waters,  we’ll also be going ashore and exploring some of the region’s most important historic sites and museums.

We’ll start at the Museum of the Albemarle here in Elizabeth City, and during our voyage we’ll also visit the Newbold-White House, the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse, the Port o’ Plymouth Museum and Somerset Plantation, among other places.

I won’t be able to stay on the Belle of Washington for the whole voyage, unfortunately. But for the 2 days I’m here, I’m going to post several blog entries about the history of this part of the Albemarle Sound.

In those blog posts, I’ll focus particularly on the history of slavery and plantation society on this part of the Albemarle Sound. I’ll draw especially from a group of extraordinary runaway slave advertisements that appeared in local newspapers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and on one remarkable account written by a woman that grew up in slavery here.

That might not be standard “river cruise” fare, but this is not a standard river cruise, either. We’re seeking to highlight this region’s history in all its glory, but we’re definitely not here to turn away from the dark chapters of our past.

The stories I’ll be telling here are ones that are sometimes hard to hear, but many of them are tales of courage, love and struggle that are deeply moving and inspiring. Those, at least, deepen my pride at being from the North Carolina coast.

I’m also going to let the passengers on the Belle of Washington know about these blog posts, so that if they want to go into more depth on those topics than I can on board, they can take a look at them, too.

Before I close this post, I should say that these blog posts are mine and mine alone. They are not an official part of our Albemarle tour. They’re also not in any way connected to the good folks at the N.C. Department of Environmental and Cultural Resources or to any of the local historical institutions that will be hosting us on our trip.

So thank you for reading. I hope you enjoy this voyage on the Belle of Washington, even if you’re not on the boat with us. Maybe you can make the next trip!

For now, though, it’s time for me to go– I’m on my way to the Museum of the Albemarle for our voyage’s opening reception. At the latest, I’ll post my first blog entry for this trip when the Belle of Washington reaches the waters off Nixonton and the Little River tomorrow morning.

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