nterest in draining Lake
Mattamuskeet for farming purposes dates back to the 1700ís. From 1664 to
1775, Colonial Governors appointed by the King of England ruled the
Carolinas. Josiah Martin served as the last Colonial Governor of North
Carolina from 1771 to 1775.
In 1773, the Provincial
Congress passed a bill to cut a large canal from Lake Mattamuskeet to the
Pamlico Sound to drain the lake. At that time, the lake was from six to
nine feet deep and covered 120,000 acres. Governor Martin vetoed the bill.
After the American
Revolution, in 1789, Governor Samuel Johnson appointed a drainage board
for the purpose of draining the wet lands of Hyde County (including Lake
Mattamuskeet) to make them suitable for farming. Disputes over
right-of-ways for the drainage canals prevented this board from
accomplishing its assigned task.
At the beginning of the
19th century, the State of North Carolina owned most of Lake Mattamuskeet.
In 1825, the North Carolina Legislature vested title to Lake Mattamuskeet
to the State Literary Board of North Carolina with the authority to
improve the lands and sell them to support the cause of public education.
In 1837 the Literary Board
completed the excavation of a seven-mile canal, forty feet wide and eight
feet deep, from the lake to the Pamlico Sound at Wysocking Bay, using
slave labor from Hyde Countyís plantations. The water above sea level
flowed by gravity through this canal into the sound, reducing the size of
the lake from 120,000 to 55,000 acres.
The bed of Lake
Mattamuskeet has long been regarded as some of the richest soil in the
world, having received nutrients from thousands of surrounding acres that
have drained naturally into it for years. Soil experts have compared it to
the rich land in the Yazoo, Mississippi delta region and the famous Nile
River delta in Egypt.
By the beginning of the 20th century, farmers had been
farming the rich land adjacent to the lake without fertilizer for more
than 200 years with record yields. Hyde County received an average of 60
inches of rainfall each year. To take advantage of the rich soil,
landowners had to devise ways to drain the land and prevent flooding of