A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Captain Mark Thesier is quick to clarify: He’s not a historian; he’s a sailor. But as captain of the Liber-Tea, an intimate six-passenger electric tour boat with Edenton Bay Cruises,

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Captain Mark Thesier is quick to clarify: He’s not a historian; he’s a sailor. But as captain of the Liber-Tea, an intimate six-passenger electric tour boat with Edenton Bay Cruises,

Where History Comes to Life: Tours and Trails of Edenton

The courthouse green of the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse overlooks Little Creek.

Captain Mark Thesier is quick to clarify: He’s not a historian; he’s a sailor. But as captain of the Liber-Tea, an intimate six-passenger electric tour boat with Edenton Bay Cruises, Thesier knows what people like to talk about. And in Edenton, the conversation usually lands on history.

Thesier launches his seasonal cruises from Edenton Harbor and travels up Pembroke Creek. Located in the area of North Carolina known as the Inner Banks, Edenton life revolves around the water, so it only makes sense to explore the town — and its past — from such a vantage point. Thesier aims to create a group-driven experience that everyone can take part in. He says, “I’m listening to my passengers’ questions to direct where I go. Every tour is different because every group brings a different dynamic.”

Climb aboard Mark Thesier’s six-passenger tour boat, the Liber-Tea, as he pilots you around Edenton Bay and regales you with tales about the area’s history. Photography courtesy of Visit Edenton

Along the way, Thesier points out historic landmarks and homes, surprising his guests with facts about Edenton’s rich history. More than 300 years later, North Carolina’s first Colonial capital remains exquisitely preserved.

This year, as Edenton celebrates the 250th anniversary of its famous Edenton Tea Party, visitors can choose exactly how they want to discover that history, whether by trolley, boat, on foot, and even by candlelight.


How to Discover Edenton History

The retro trolley will introduce you to 15 or more historic locations throughout Edenton in less than an hour. Photography courtesy of Visit Edenton

By Trolley

Edenton history buffs agree that the 50-minute Trolley Tour is the most fun — not to mention efficient — way to get a lay of the land. “In about a 20-block radius, the trolley covers at least 15 locations,” says Alexis Tobias-Jacavone, the director of history and communications with the Edenton Historical Commission. “Newcomers get an overview of more than 300 years’ worth of history. It’s an excellent way to get to know the town,” she adds.

Trolley tours depart from the Federal-era Penelope Barker House Welcome Center, known in town as “Edenton’s living room,” since it often serves as a first stop — and, most importantly, first impression — for visitors to town. 

“Penelope Barker was part of an upper-class group of well-connected women,” Tobias-Jacavone says. “She was instrumental in leading the Edenton Tea Party, one of the earliest known actions against Britain organized by women in the American colonies.” While these 51 women were drawing, signing, and publishing a statement declaring their intention to boycott all British goods, Penelope’s husband, Thomas, was in England serving on the Board of Trade.

Reenactors of the Edenton Tea Party welcome Tea Trolley Tour participants with a sophisticated spread of teatime refreshments. Photography courtesy of Visit Edenton

“By participating in this act, not only was Penelope protesting Britain’s mistreatment of the colonies, but she was potentially putting her husband in danger,” Tobias-Jacavone says, adding that the signers’ names appeared in the Williamsburg, Virginia, and London newspapers. “It was an incredibly brave and powerful act.”

In celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Edenton Tea Party, the Edenton Historical Commission will launch a special, monthly Tea Trolley Tour that features costumed interpreters of the “Signers of the Resolves,” beginning May 25, 2024. This added experience gives guests a chance to learn about these women as they visit the locations where they lived and are buried. Following the Edenton Tea Party Trolley Tour, guests will be invited to enjoy a special reception with tea, refreshments, and entertainment at a countryside home associated with one of the signers.


Guided walking tours depart from the Historic Edenton State Historic Site Visitor Center, located on Broad Street. Photography courtesy of Visit Edenton

By Foot

Following the interactive trolley tour, you can delve into the history of individual sites on the self-guided Museum Trail Tour.

History is alive and well at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, first organized more than three centuries ago. The church’s peaceful courtyard, featuring 700 known graves — many of which are unmarked — is one of Edenton visitors’ favorite stops. The Governors Graves, a group of tombstones under the magnolias, includes graves of Henderson Walker, Thomas Pollock, and Charles Eden.

Less than a block away, the Iredell House Homesite gives a glimpse into the home life of James Iredell, who was appointed to the first U.S. Supreme Court by George Washington — and was the youngest appointee, just 38-years old.

The courthouse green offers a shady spot to enjoy a picnic while surrounded by historic sites. Photography courtesy of Visit Edenton

North Carolina’s oldest courthouse, the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse, remains in use as one of two courthouses where the state’s Supreme Court can convene. During non-session times, you can tour the downstairs courtroom and upstairs ballroom and meeting space. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy outside on the courthouse green, which is surrounded by three Revolution-era cannons, the home of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the town’s iconic bronze teapot statue, commissioned in 1905 in commemoration of the Edenton Tea Party.

Your eyes won’t miss the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse, a fully restored example of a screw-pile cottage lighthouse, which, at a glance, is a far cry from the traditional sky-high lighthouse. A quick walk from downtown’s bustling Broad Street, this historic structure is open for tours, and you can get a glimpse of a lightkeeper’s life on the water, complete with period furnishings provided by the Edenton Historical Commission. Don’t miss the opportunity to take a selfie inside, or bring a picnic lunch to enjoy outside the lighthouse on the grassy waterfront. 


Harriet Jacobs Tour

Most everybody who studies North Carolina history knows about Harriet Jacobs: A fugitive slave, writer, and abolitionist, she was born into slavery around 1813 in Edenton. The details of her harrowing experience are lesser known, but it helps to understand the backdrop — Edenton was the second largest port in North Carolina, and the Maritime Underground Railroad provided many enslaved people a means of escape.

Today, visitors can trace the steps of Harriet Jacobs, who wrote Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl about her time in slavery and seven years in hiding before her escape.

Call ahead to schedule a guided tour through the downtown historic area, including the 1825 Chowan County Jail, where her family members were wrongfully incarcerated for refusing to force her out of hiding, and the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse, where Jacobs’ grandmother was eventually freed.


You can purchase tickets for a guided tour of the Cupola House, or you can explore the gardens on your own between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily. Photography courtesy of Visit Edenton

In the Garden

Flowers and herbs, such as Lady Jane tulips, jonquils, and Old Blush roses, flourish in the Cupola House gardens — all planted in accordance with 1769 maps created by the French surveyor C.J. Sautier. The Colonial-Revival gardens are open year-round for visitors to explore, but for two days this April, Edenton artists will set up their paints and easels for Easels in the Gardens, a plein-air event that celebrates Edenton’s commitment to preserving art and history.

Easels in the Gardens invites artists and visitors to take in the beauty of public and private historic gardens throughout Edenton. Photography courtesy of Visit Edenton

“The Cupola House is incredibly important to Edenton’s history,” Tobias-Jacavone says. Built in 1758 by Francis Corbin, land agent for the Earl of Granville during the Colonial period, “it was meant to be impressive and magnificent because it represented the power of the British crown here in North Carolina.”


Christmas Candlelight Tour

Held on the second Friday and Saturday each December, Edenton’s Christmas Candlelight Tour has earned a reputation as a holiday highlight. Tour-goers will head to Edenton’s Historic District to visit residences that have been decked in holiday splendor. Amid the tables ladened with cookies and boughs of holly, you can practically envision what these homes might have felt like before the 20th century. And be sure to ask the on-site docents any questions you have about the homes’ unique historical features.

“I tell my guests, you can’t walk up and down Edenton’s Main Street without someone saying hello or asking you where you’re from,” Thesier says. That sentiment especially rings true during the holidays, when the candlelight seems to mingle with the magic of Christmases — present and past.

The energy surrounding Edenton’s past courses through this historic town, from the tours you take to the trails you follow and sights you see. Start planning your visit to take part in these seasonal and year-round experiences.

This story was published on Mar 06, 2024

Robin Sutton Anders

Robin Sutton Anders is a writer based in Greensboro.