A Little History of Knotts Island

Table of Contents

Preface and Introduction

Chapter 1
Discovery, Exploration, and Settlement

Chapter 2
The Source of a Name

Chapter 3
The Great Dispute

Chapter 4
The History of Currituck Inlet

Chapter 5
Knotts Island Today


by Hal James Bonney, Jr.
University of Richmond, Virginia, 1951

Chapter 2



What's in a name? The primary concern of any people is to learn something of the history involved in the name of their habitat. Generally a geographical location receives its name in one of three manners.

    (1) The majority of the places in this part of the country were named for some location elsewhere, usually in the country from which the settlers originated. William Byrd named Richmond because he thought the climate so like that of Richmond, England.

    (2) An almost equal number of localities were named for some person connected with them either through discovery and exploration, through ownership, or through some deed of note or of honor; A noted example of this is Princess Anne County.

    (3) The easiest and certainly the least complicated method is the designation of a particular site for some physical attribute denoting it. The many Cedar Islands are of course named because that type of tree abounds there. The Ragged Islands denote a type of contour.

No records exist stating the precise method used in attaching Knotts to an island. Again the author must advance the evidence, weigh it carefully, and then state his own conclusion. It is quite important that the source of the name Knotts Island be determined.

By elimination it is clear the Island was not so called because of its physical qualities. The speculation by "foreigners" that it was derogatorily designated for the knots in the pine trees is fantastic! Why, then, was it not called Pine Tree Island in keeping with Cedar Island nearby? As knotty as they are, the pine tree is found elsewhere, knots and all.

The claim of having received its name through affiliation with Notts (Nottingham) England has a large following. This following is advanced, without any correct judgement at all, by "outsiders" who believe it makes a beautiful and dignified story. A letter from J. E. Richards, Town Clerk of Nottingham, to the author reveals that after careful tracing, no connection exists between Notts and Knotts Island. This conclusion is derived after investigation of the lists of emigrants in an effort to determine where these emigrants went.(1).


There remains the possibility Knotts Island was named for someone or ones; circumstances support this. The great task present is to connect persons by the name of Knott with the locality. When it appears in records and manuscripts, the Island is spelled with an apostrophe denoting ownership,revealing therefore that the writers of the reocrds were conscious of the ownership either through custom or direct knowledge.

Early records of immigrants and emmigrants through Virginia are sparse with the land office in Richmond the sole source.(2). It is indeed fortunate that the available records are easily accessible and usable, for they disclose much proof for the claim.

George Cabell Gaeer’s collection, Early Virginia Immigrants, lists the following entries into Virginia of Knott's:
    John Knott, 1650, by John Hallawes, Gent., Northumberland Co. (3).
    James Knott, 1560 c. 1650, Richard Hawkins, Northumberland Co.
    John Knott, 1650 John Hallowes, Northumberland Co. (4).
    Eleanor Knott, 1636, James Knott, Elizabeth City Co. This James Knott was brought to the Eastern Store in 1617 at the age of twenty-three on the ship "George" by Charles Harman,(5). A James Knott was recorded among the living of Virginia‘s Eastern Shore on February 16, 1623.(6) Eleanor is probably his sister and not his wife since his marriage was to a Mary Holliday.

    Elian Knott, 1637, James Knott, New Norfolk Co.
    Susan Knott, 1656, Mr. Henry Soanes, New Kent Co.
    John Knott, 1654, Tho. Hobkins, Lancaster Co.
    Robert Knott, 1653, Peter Knight and Baber Cult, ______ Co.
    William Knotts, 1652, Tho. Curtis, _____ Co. (7).
    Richard Knott, 1651, Thomas Thornbrough, Northumberland Co.
    Richard Knott, 1642, Thomas Loving, James City Co. (8).

The point of the foregoing listing is to establish the fact that the Knotts were many in the area at an early age. Neither records nor private recordings divulge the event of a Knott journeying to explore or of one owning Knotts Island.
A will dated April 6, 1694 and proved March 15, 1696/7 of William Knott, a marriner, resident in "The Towne of Norfolk County in Virginia..." leaves much land in the vicinity although it can not be definitely described as Knotts Island.(9) This will is important for its date. As mentioned above the Island first appears in recorded history in 1692 and a minute map of Carolina in 1671 is very careful to label the localities even Carotuck Inlet opposite the Island, but the location of Knotts Island is not named.(10). Had the Island been named at this time, it would certainly have appeared on so detailed a map. The logical conclusion is that it was not then named. It therefore must have been named between 1671 and 1692.

James Knott was living in southern Virginia during this period since he is mentioned in his father-in-law's will of 1718.(11) James lived in New Norfolk County and was there at the mention of his name in Jonas Halliday's will. William Knott, as his will states, was also in the close vicinity of Knotts Island during the period 1671 - 1692. The distance between Norfolk and the Island today is only forty miles and was less at that time by virtue of travel by water. Either James or William Knott could easily have journeyed there, claimed or bought it, and have given it its name.

Another page and approach to the naming is afforded by the sea, but again nothing is positive. The Original Lists of Emigrants From Great Britain to the American Plantations 1600 - 1700 unfolds the names of a number of Knotts who were sea captains sailing from England to Barbadoes and the colonies.(12).

On June 11, May 28, June 17, May 22, and June 16 of the year 1679 the ketch "Joseph and Mary" under Abraham Knott booked passages for America.(13 Under "Tickets Granted from Barbadoes" John Knott, commander of the “Neptune," prepared to sail for Virginia on August 19, 1679.(14). Joseph Knott, of the "Neptune," took passengers July 21, 1679 bound for Carolina and passengers for Virginia on July 2, July 21, August 16, August 13, August 19, August 16, August 16 of the same year and on the same voyage.(15). William Knott received passengers on July 12, July 9, July 12, 1679 aboard his "Bachelor" bound from Barbadoes to America. (16).

Again the date 1679 fits well into the period of years in which Knotts Island was named. How easy it was for a Captain Knott to enter one of Carolina's inlets and pause momentarily off the Island thus affording its title. Joseph Knott booked on July 21, 1679 passengers for Carolina and to deliver the same he must enter an inlet to reach a port.

Arriving from Barbadoes to the south, he must have entered the first inlet the ship reached, delivered the persons, and in order to reach Virginian the next place on the itinerary, it would be a smoother voyage to sail up the enclosed sea (Albemarle and Currituck Sounds) and enter the Atlantic at the northern most inlet - Currituck - and then round Cape Henry to reach Chesapeake Bay.

A letter of May 20, 1720 from Governor Alexander Spotswood to the Board or Trade spoke of a Captain Knott from West River Merchant, London whose ship was halted in the Atlantic by the"Marquis del Campo," pirate ship, under the famous Callifax.(17). The latter placed eight of his mates on Knott's vessel so that they might be transported into the country, four for Maryland and four for North Carolina.

Knott acted swiftly in capturing the eight and in saving the lives of valuable government witnesses against the pirates.

Spotswood recommended in the communication that the British government give reparation for his losses, justly due.(19)

More than likely the payment was in specie, but as was often done, it was quite possible he was reimbursed and honored with a land grant.

Without a doubt the qualified historian is horrified with the foregoing speculation, for the logical procedure in proving the name would be, of course, an investigation of the deed books, however, no records exist in Currituck County until 1735 and the Virginia records are far from complete.


The will of Malacky Thruston dated March 14, 1698/9 and proved November 15, 1699 left "Unto my Daughter Sarah Thruston my Plantation and Marshes att the back called in Currituck in Princess Ann County, ...."(20). Thomas Walk's will of January 5, 1693/4 bequeathed to his son Thomas Walke a half-share of his land purchased from William Hilliard lying in Curituck Bay.(21). The name Walke is most familiar today, for there is situated in Knotts Island Bay (Currituck Bay) Walke's Island and Walke's Island Cove.(22). The normal process for the historian at this point would be to trace William Hilliard’s deed to its source, but alas, fate is not so kind; it can not be found.

A 1717 will of Mathew Godfrey assigns to his cousin Joseph Perry all of his land in Corotuck Bay "Called the Raged Islands and alsoe my part of the Cedar Island ...."(23). These two locations are well known today and the latter is cited by William Byrd in 1728. Godfrey left to his sister Jackson's children his cattle in the marsh section of Corrotuck.(24).

Frequently a governor of a colony bestowed land grants to high favorites as did Spotswood on June 16, 1714 when he gave land "Being at Muddy Creek" a branch of Corotuck Bay.(25).

As the preface mentioned, this is as much Virginia history as it is Carolina, for all of the material dealing with land is found in Virginia record books. As will be shortly revealed, Knott's Island was long a settlement without a state. __________________________________________
1. Letter of November 8, 1948 from J. E. Richards, Town Clerk, The Guildhall, Nottingham, England.
2. George Cabell Gaeer, Early Virginia Immigrants, preface.
3. The person bringing over another person received fifty acres under the headright system.
4. A repetition of the first entry.
5. John Camdon Hotten, Original Lists of Emigrants, 264.
6. Ibid., 188.
7 Gaeer, op. cit., 195.
8. Ibid., 196.
9. Charles F. McIntosh, Brief Abstract of Lower Norfolk County and Norfolk County Wills, 1632 - 1710, I, 159.
10. Hawks, op. cit., II, 52 - 53, map entitled "A New Discription of Carolina by Order of the Lords Proprietors A. D. 1671."
11. Brief Abstract of Norfolk Wills, II, 79.
12. John Camden Hotten, editor.
13. Hotten, op. cit., 364, 369, 377, 380, 396. The reader will note the dates are not in order, but are included in this history as they appear in Hotten's compilation.
14. Ibid., 354
15. Ibid., 364, 360, 366, 372, 390, 397, 408, 412. Note the repetition in the text.
16. Ibid., 353, 407, 412. Was this the same William Knott that lived in Norfolk and whose will is found on page 13 supra?
17. Letters of Spotswood, II, 337.
18. Ibid., II, 338.
19. Ibid., II, 339.
20. Brief Abstract of Norfolk Wills, I, 171.
21. Ibid., I, 147.
22. The author's grandfather owns a bush blind for duck hunting in the Cove.
23. Brief Abstract of Norfolk Wills, II, 57.
24. Ibid., II, 58.
25. Lower Norfolk County Antiquary, III, 55. Muddy Creek exists today.