One of the most intriguing controversies concerning the history of Elizabeth City revolves around the
background of Elizabeth Tooley, for whom the town was named.
We have two schools of thought on the subject. The Folklore Group, considerable in number, supports the legend that Betsey was a gay, beautiful damsel of the Belle Watkins type, who flirted, teased, and flattered visiting sailors and planters into her tavern, completely captivating these men with her siren-like charms, until their last remaining pence was squandered on intoxicating beverages. Thus, having no more money to spend and being in quite a drunken state, the gents were booted from the Grog Shop by the heartless Betsey.
The second --or Factual Group-- though perhaps somewhat smaller in number than the folklore school, has undoubtedly devoted more time and study in delving through the records to substantiate their story. According to them, Elizabeth Tooley was no barmaid --but a highly cultured lady of utmost refinement. Her forebears were prominent citizens of the Albemarle and her husband, Adam Tooley, descended from the First Families of Virginia. Miss Lillie Grandy, who had done research on the subject, found Elizabeth Tooley was born in 1773, the issue of William Taylor (son of Thomas Taylor) and Mary Nash, daughter of Josiah Nash and granddaughter of Caleb Sawyer.
William was a planter of substantial means as witnessed by the reading of his will, dated December 30, 1772, found in Pasquotank Courthouse, in which he left one half of his real estate (He specifically mentioned one plantation in his will, which consisted of 205 acres of fertile land, bounded by Knobbs Creek) and Negroes Pomp, George, Tome and Grace, who were to be kept on the plantation so long as Mary remained his widow. However, should the widow remarry she was to pay back to William's executor all but one third of the estate and the Negroes were to be hired out for the benefit of the child Mary carried. The remainder of the estate, he decreed, should pass on to the child should it live until becoming of lawful age or married.
As history has it, Mary Nash Taylor remarried to a mariner-planter from Virginia named Emperor Moseley. The couple reared Elizabeth Tooley.
Elizabeth inherited a plantation on Knobbs Creek known as ''The Narrows.'' It was so called for it lay on the west side of the river, opposite the bulge of Machelhe Island, at the bend where the river was squeezed to the narrowest, then as now.
It appears from the records that Miss Tooley's inheritance from her father consisted of many extensive and scattered holdings, besides the ''Narrows'' land.
In September, 1789, Elizabeth (sixteen years of age), wed Nathan Relfe, one of Pasquotank's most prominent farmers, who resided in the Flatty Creek section. Mr. Relfe died within a year of their marriage, leaving Elizabeth with child. The widow inherited a lucrative estate from her husband. Among Relfe's properties was a schooner, T. Amana, which brought 437 pounds sterling, 10 shillings, at public auction.
Within a short while Mrs. Relfe remarried. Her second husband, Adam Tooley, was a wealthy plantation owner from Princess Anne County, Virginia. The Tooley family owned vast portions of land in that state, dating back to James Tooley, grandfather of Adam. James Tooley's will is dated 1728.
The Factual Group will concede to the Folklore Group that Betsey and Adam Tooley were persons who enjoyed the pleasures of entertainment to the fullest but they express grave doubt that Betsey ventured to enter the Grog Shop...except on occasions when she wished to satisfy her whim for amusement.
About the only ground of mutual agreement found by the two groups is that the town did receive its name from Elizabeth Tooley, who --with her husband, Adam-- deeded ''The Narrows'' to Bailey Jackson, Timothy Cotter, and Thomas Reding, Commissioners, in September, 1794, for the purpose of erecting a town.