Manwaring, Stephen (ca. 1640-1699)




  • Virginia
  • Perquimans County, North Carolina


  • Carpenter/Joiner

NC Work Locations:

Stephen Manwaring (ca. 1640-1699), an English-born carpenter active in 17th century Perquimans County, was one of many men who plied their trades and strove to prosper in the rough and contentious frontier culture of the 17th century Albemarle region of North Carolina. He is one of the few North Carolina builders of his period to leave a lengthy record in documents, chiefly because of his irascible and litigious nature that brought him to the attention of the court for mistreating servants, forgery, squabbles with neighbors and employers, and insurrection. No specific buildings have been linked with him, though he was probably involved in constructing the simple frame houses and other buildings typical of the time and place—a generation of buildings of which no examples are known to survive.

Nothing is known of Manwaring’s origins, training, or early career in England. By his early 30s, he had married, fathered at least two children, and immigrated to Westmoreland County in the Northern Neck region of Virginia. A land patent of 1672 showed the English carpenter as one of 116 people who settled in the Chesapeake region under the aegis of William Whittington. Evidently a man of means, Manwaring by 1673 employed at least four indentured English and Irish servants on his Virginia plantation. In that year three of his servants charged that he had failed to release them from their indentures and pay them their freedom dues. Moreover, the servants testified that Manwaring and his wife had murdered a servant woman by bashing her head with an axe or hoe and thrusting her into a henhouse where she died. Manwaring denied the charge and said she had died from disease, a claim which the court apparently upheld. Two years later, Manwaring was involved in the insurrection against the provincial government commonly known as Bacon’s Rebellion. After the rebellion was quelled, he was pardoned but soon ran afoul of the law for uttering “contumacious words in favor of the rebellion,” and was also sued for goods he had seized during the rebellion.

In debt and with his reputation ruined in the Northern Neck, Manwaring, like many other desperate men, made for North Carolina in the 1680s. He was in Perquimans County by January 5, 1684, where he began to practice his trade. He rented a house and land and began sawing planks for customers. By October, 1684 however, he sued his landlord for speaking so ill of him that he had “lost his good name and reputation amongst his employees.” In 1689 he had a disagreement with a client over the sawing of several thousand feet of planks for a house he was building. Despite his litigious nature, Manwaring prospered in the 1690s; various court references indicate that he was operating as a contractor with trained servants in his employ. He acquired land and maintained sufficient reputation to be involved in community affairs.

In 1694 he and carpenter Anthony Dawson were appointed by the county court to arbitrate in a building dispute between carpenter Richard Williamson and a client, and in 1695 carpenters Manwaring and Dawson witnessed an apprenticeship indenture. Manwaring also served as a juror, inventoried estates, and participated in court matters. But in 1698, his acquisitiveness exceeded accepted propriety, not to mention the law. Convicted of forging fraudulent deeds, he pled for mercy and was given a heavy fine, which he ignored. Within three months he “contemptuously and dangerously” threatened the lives of members of the court. He was punished for his outrages by having to stand in the pillory with one of his ears nailed to it (a standard punishment, in which the ear was then clipped off to brand the offender). After the loss of his ear and concomitant public shame, Manwaring returned to Virginia, leaving a trail of lawsuits behind him in North Carolina. He died in November, 1699, and was buried in the churchyard of Sittenburne parish in Richmond County.

  • Mattie Parker, ed., Higher-Court Records of North Carolina, 2 and 3 (1971).
  • Perquimans County Records (Deed Book A; Minutes of Perquimans Precinct Court, 1688-1693, 1698-1701), North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • William S. Price, ed., Higher-Court Records of North Carolina, 4 (1974).
  • Richmond County, Virginia, Records, Deeds, Wills, County Order Books, Virginia State Library, Richmond, Virginia.
  • Westmoreland County, Virginia, Records, Land Patent Book 6, Deeds, County Order Books, Virginia State Library, Richmond, Virginia.
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