Friday, March 1, 2013

Some notes on the Battle at Weitzel's Mill

Weitzel’s Mill, March 6th, 1781

A few days after The Battle at Clapp’s Mill Cornwallis, determined to bring Greene to battle, launched his own light forces northward to cut Greene’s line of retreat to Virginia.  Greene gave him the chance to do so by maneuvering too far west along Buffalo Creek, his moat.  Greene’s light troops were camped a few miles north of Clapp’s Mill, along Buffalo Road, on Great Alamance Creek, Cornwallis’ moat.  They were all that stood between the overextended Greene and his main line of maneuver. 

On March 6th, very early as was his style, Tarleton, leading a flying column of Cornwallis light forces, marched on the Americans.  Alert pickets picked up the British movement and warned Otho Williams and Henry Lee of the approaching enemy and Williams ordered a retreat to Reedy fork, about ten miles to the north.  The ford at Weitzel’s Mill on Reedy Fork was the only defensible ground between the British and the American line of retreat.  The race was on.

The race to Weitzel’s must have been something to see.  Contemporaries said that at times the armies, marching on parallel tracks, overlapped and could see one another doing so.  The Americans, though, pulled away and reached Weitzel’s some minutes ahead of the British.

The drawn line from Clapp's to Weitzel's is just over seven miles long. 
At Weitzels the Americans occupied and fortified the mill that covered one ford and a nearby schoolhouse that overlooked the main ford above the mill pond.  Pickens Militia formed on the road atop the bluff on the south side of Reedy Fork to oppose and delay the British advance to the fords.[1]  Pickens South Carolina militia suffered forty percent casualties successfully screening the Continentals’ retreat over the ford.  Lee and Howard had used them thusly before and after this bloodying they vowed never again fought for Greene.  Pickens sought permission from Greene to retire with his troops as a means of keeping the disgruntled militiamen under control as they made their way home with no commissary.

Safely across Reedy Fork, Williams formed his Continentals in an open field downstream from the Mill, and Lee took his horse to a hilltop overlooking the mill site where he could also provide some protection for a fortified schoolhouse north of the mil pond.

Tarleton’s regulars, equipped with two “grasshopper” cannon, having pushed past Pickens’ militia, formed up on the heights above the mill on the south side of the creek and then they  filed down the road to the mill ford determined to force a crossing . 


This initial movement proved problematic as the mill was indeed a fort, the ford was indeed an obstacle, and the ford approach road was a deeply cut death trap.  After failing to force the ford, the British regrouped and took stock of their terrain. 

They found that there were, in fact, three fords available; the mill ford, the schoolhouse ford, and a seldom-used horse ford about two hundred yards downstream from the mill.  They attacked the schoolhouse ford and, when American attention was riveted there, they hastened troops across the horse ford.  The Americans were flanked and forced to retreat. 

In the end, the British held the ford and the field of battle but failed to force a general engagement.  It is believed that Cornwallis expended too much ammunition forcing the ford to risk a full blown engagement with Greene.  Commanders on both sides chose to minimize the fight in their memoirs (though their subordinates did not) even though each side lost perhaps as many as a hundred men killed in this action.  Actual numbers of casualties were hard to come by, but when Somers cut the race to his new mill seat,  downstream from the fortified mill, a few year after the revolution, his slaves kept disinterring British soldiers buried where they fell along the stream bank.

Perhaps the most important outcome for the day was that Pickens SC militia, no longer trusting Greene and his subordinates, left the army.  Days later, at Guilford Courthouse, Greene lost his chance to destroy Cornwallis and end the war with a single battle for want of decent, experienced, disciplined militia.

The following map is the product of field work performed by Elon University students in 2007.   They found the course of the red line, south of the creek by transecting the likely line of the road with metal detectors.  Flagged metal sensed by the detectors defined the old road perfectly from its deviation from the current road line to the creek.  All of this was and remains on Doug Sockwell's farm, and we're obliged to him for allowing us to play on his land.

Figure 1 Likely Road Courses in 1781

trm - March, 2013

A Short Note on Clapp’s Mill,

Prelude to the Battle at Weitzel’s Mill

The fight at Clapp’s Mill had an effect disproportionate to the event itself.  It convinced General Cornwallis that American forces had finally achieved sufficient strength to be aggressive, and that pushed him to force a battle before American forces opposing him grew any stronger.

The battle came about when Otho Williams, with Greene's permission, attacked the British in their camp.  William’s  cavalry commander, “Light Horse” Harry Lee argued that the British should be attacked on the march.  A compromise of sorts apparently was made for the Whigs approached Tarleton's Legion early in the morning and fired on his pickets with the idea in mind of drawing Tarleton into an ambush.  Everything went fine until Tarleton didn't take the bait.

The net result was strategically painful for the Whigs as a portion of the militia, perceiving (perhaps rightly) that they'd first been put out at risk in front to draw the enemy and then been used to screen the retreat of the regulars, decided to step out for home.  Tarleton could reasonably claim a victory.

Up to this point Cornwallis had been content to maneuver in friendly lands while waiting for the Whigs to err and give him a chance to cut them up.  Perceiving that Whigs now were strong enough to attempt aggression while, he, Cornwallis was slowly losing strength, determined to have a battle.  Thus when his scouts located Greene at Guilford and Lee crowded his forces, he launched his light forces northward to cut Greene’s line of communication with Virginia, his supply base.  .

[The author drew most of this summary from Rollin M. Steele Jr.  The Lost Battle of the Alamance Also known as The Battle of Clapp's Mill: A Turning Point in North Carolina's Struggle with Their British Invaders in the Very Unusual Year of 1781.  Alamance County, NC: Rollin M. Steele, Jr, 1995]



John Buchanan, The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1997.

Kenneth R. Haynes, Jr, “The Race to Weitzel’s Mill, 6 March 1781, Gorget & Sash: Journal of the Early Modern Warfare Society, Voume III, Number 1,  pp1-14.

Algie Newlin, The Battle of lindley’s Mill, Burlington: Alamance Historical Association, 1975.

Rollin M. Steele Jr.,  The Lost Battle of the Alamance Also Known as The Battle of Clapp’s Mill: A Turning Point in North Carolina’s Struggle with Their British Invaders in the Very Unusual Year of 1781 (3rd Printing), Burlington: Powell Enterprises, 1999.

George Troxler, Pyle’s Massacre: February 23, 1781 . Burlington: Alamance County Historical Association, 1973.

[1] We have yet to understand the geography of the approach to battle and where Pickens’ men actually held the British at bay.  We are not even certain where the roads were that the two armies used to get to the battle.  What we do know is where the roads were in the area of the battle.  So, once again, Pickens men get short shrift for want of a voice.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The East Side of Hillsborough, a well preserved bit of history

The Eastern Edge of Corbin Town: Hillsborough at its Birth

Hillsborough was, at its birth, an Anglican enclave in a dissenter district.  Perhaps as part of a plan to reassert Church of England dominance in a decidedly not Church of England colony, Governor Arthur Dobbs and his minions expedited the creation of Orange County (1752).  Though its original seat, its courthouse and seat of government was originally well to the west, two miles from Haw River, that quickly changed.  Within two years the court and seat were relocated to what would in future be called Hillsborough.

It was a rude village at the western-most reach of the west fork of the Neuse River.  Why this site was selected remains a mystery as it was a terrible town site.  Colonial government was in the process of shifting from the Cape Fear drainage to the Neuse drainage, and that may have been the reason for locating the new county seat on the Neuse.  Or, as noted, the new court town was in the center of a region dominated by Quakers and Presbyterians and conflicting land claims; it wanted proper social discipline and law.

Conflict always implies opportunity, and the place that became Hillsborough, the Orange County court town attracted opportunists like humming birds to sugar-water.  Judgeships and other county offices were royal prerogatives, even in the Granville District, a belt of land owned by Lord Granville not the Crown. Granville owned the land but the Crown and colonial assembly owned the law.

Governor Arthur Dobbs spent his ten years as governor (1754-1764) squabbling with the colonial assembly over who controlled what and Hillsborough may be an example of one of his successes.  Francis Corbin (d. 1767), a Granville land agent, and member of the Governor's Council, and a handful business associates loyal to the governor owned the land that became Hillsborough.  In its early days the seat of the new county's government briefly bore his name (Corbin Town).  The colonial Assembly, though, did not ratify the governor's choice until it chartered Hillsborough late in the 1760s, in the midst of the Regulation.

Moseley Map, 1733 Showing Acconeechy towns

Hillsborough was off of all but one, beaten path and its creation required a redefinition of roads in the area and, in response, all the major highways in the neighborhood developed "business" deviations to accommodate the new town.  This note will deal with the roads and other colonial and precolonial artifacts on the east side of Orange's court town.

On the east side of town one channel of the King's Highway (St. Marys Road) made its way to the northeast toward Petersburg by way of Flat River's (East Fork of the Neuse) lower fords, and another crossed the fords near the forks of the Flat (Highway 57).  Another road went a bit north of east, crossing the Eno twice and went on toward Norfolk and Edenton by way of Halifax, and yet another made its way to Edenton by way of lower fords, probably via modern Louisburg, NC (by way of Fishdam on the Neuse).  All but one of these routes deviated from their normal straight line courses to serve the new court town.

These routes likely replicated earlier, Native American footpaths because before the great bend in the Eno attracted a courthouse or so much as a glimmer in an Englishman's eye it drew Native people to some small but decent corn bottoms in an excellent defensive position, in the oxbow east of the great bend.  The paths that became horse trails and then wagon roads originally were not directed toward what later became the town but, rather, vectored in on the villages in the oxbow east of the town seat.

Once the governor's Anglican enclave started asserting the governor's will in the backwater that was Orange County, locals as locals are wont to do, resisted the change.  The Orange County seat was surrounded by Quakers, dissenters not at all dear to the governor's heart and certainly not friendly to Royal impositions.  

New Anglican parishes (for example, Saint Mary's and Saint Matthews) demanded the County Sheriff collect their allotted tithes, taxes for the support of churches most of which did not exist except on paper even though all knew there was very little specie (cash) available (it was still pretty much a barter economy).  The Sheriff demanded payment in specie and confiscated draft animals in lieu of same.  Dobbs' business partners and the court town's elites had cash enough to buy distressed properties and influence enough to see that the Sheriff did not relent in his collections.

The "Court Party", Anglicans and their minions, controlled all important county offices, and reasonable requests and complaints from distressed citizens fell on deaf ears.  Eventually, by the 1760s, ten years into the town's life, an insurrection arose, the Regulation.  The court and its opportunistic hangers-on were targets of the Regulation.  Though Governor Dobbs had passed on, his replacement, cut from the same bolt of cloth, came to town in 1768 to awe the peasants and subdue the unruly.  Having "shown the flag" and promised some relief to the farmers, the governor left town but not before his engineering officer, J. Sauthier drew a map.  The Sauthier map tells us what the town looked like one generation after its founding.  Later, In 1771, Governor Tryon returned to finish daunting Regulators and hung a handful of insurrectionists east of town.  Their execution took place within a few paces of the town's new Anglican church seat, between the Trading Path and the Halifax Road, on a knoll conspicuous to all travelers.  

Sauthier Map of Hillsborough, 1768

We assume the town didn't change much between Sauthier's map and the Revolutionary War, and it probably didn't change all that much between the Revolutionary War and the War Between the States.  It grew a bit to the westward in the late 19th and early 20th century, but the "historic district", the lands drawn by Sauthier didn't change too much. The Town Commons on the northwest edge of town was closed and turned into building lots, for example, but land east of town remained pretty much as Sauthier saw it well past the mid-point of the 20th century.

The Cameron family of Stagville and Farintosh and Cameron Arena fame bought the knoll south of the Anglican church, made an arboretum around the Regulator hanging site and put an ice house down near the Halifax road.  But their estate development hastened the disappearance of humbler structures near by.  By the middle of the 20th century there were fewer houses east of town than there were when Sauthier made his map.  For example, along the Halifax Road extension that once ran into the Indian Fields, where the villages once stood, there are boxwood pairs marking a couple of dwelling sites.

The east side of Hillsborough is sort of protected now.  It is mostly in the hands of conservators of one kind or another.  But there is still the threat that government will destroy what time has shielded and caution is a necessary watchword.  Enjoy the remnants of Hillsborough's not so romantic origins while they persist.

On Sunday, November 25th we will hike around the east edge of Historic Hillsborough.  
A Map of Sunday's Hike

Among the items we will see or hear about are:

King's Highway
Halifax Rd
Jamison Rd
Fish Dam Rd

Hogg Office
Society of the Cincinatti
Cameron House
Cameron Ice House
Cameron Park
Regulator Hanging

Halifax bridge
Box Woods
Wolf Trees
Indian Field-Halifax Rd

Village Sites
Fish Dam Road
Cameron Rd Crossing

Washer Women and town spring


Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Fews on the Eno

Some Few Facts 

Few land grants in ERSP
The brothers Few, James (1703-1787) and William (1714-1794) arrived on the banks of the Eno River in Orange County, NC in 1758.  Odds are good that one or both had previously visited the area to scout out land.  It is also likely that, being Quakers themselves, they were acquainted with or even associates of Herman Husband (1724-1795), a Quaker real estate hawker, later, a leader in the Regulator movement.  They arrived in Orange at a pivotal moment in that county’s history involving a contest of wills between the 99% and the 1%.

When the Fews arrived, North Carolina’s governor, Arthur Dobbs (1689-1765), keeping a promise made during his job interviews, was in the midst of establishing Anglicanism as the colony’s official religion in a colony in which Anglicans were a miniscule minority.  Perhaps he became governor owing to his family’s long experience doing this sort of thing in Ireland.  His zeal for his church and his class would eventually destroy the Fews in North Carolina but not in history.

Few farm on Sauthier map
James, it seems, was more the industrialist and William more the legalist but they shared in their family commercial endeavors; a mill and inn on the Eno in what is now Eno River State Park (see the above map).  William, perhaps to pursue a legal career, perhaps to protect family interests in an environment increasingly hostile to dissenters, acquired land a mile from Hillsborough along the Halifax Road, one of the roads leading to the family mill and inn.  This 1768 map shows William Few’s farm on the road to Halifax, east of Hillsborough.

 In fact, most of the land surrounding Hillsboro was owned by Quakers.  Quakers owned most of the valley of Stroud Creek (shown at left) which wraps around the east and north sides of the town.  Their meeting house was located on the “trading path” north of town (now Hwy 57), on the east fork of Strouds Creek.  To the west of the town, on the Eno, was another successful, Quaker commercial operation, Joseph Mattock’s factories, again, on a major commercial artery.  Those successful competing operations intercepted commercial opportunities that might otherwise have traded in Hillsboro so it is quite likeley that Hillsboro could not successfully compete with the better placed, Quaker commercial centers.

In the end the Anglican minority won, William Few and virtually all the Quakers in the vicinity of Hillsboro (and friends of Friends, like President Jimmie Carter’s ancestors) pulled up stakes and left Orange County for Georgia in 1771.  In that year was fought the “Battle of Alamance”, a violent confrontation between Governor Dobb’s successor and Regulators” from Orange and neighboring counties.  On the scene of that battle, William Few’s son, James (named, we suppose, after his uncle), was singled out from the hundreds of Regulators and summarily executed.  Back in HIllsboro, a few days after the battle, the Governor’s army tore up William Few’s crops and his fences and utterly destroyed his farm.

Because control of government yields control of official documents, the basis for most historical narratives, we probably can never know for certain why Governor Dobbs planted an Anglican town and church in a majority Quaker settlement .  But the historical context of the founding of the town and subsequent actions that resulted in the exodus of almost all of the Quakers in and destruction of all competing commercial centers makes it easy to surmise that the real motive for relocating Orange County’s courthouse in 1754 and for creating an Anglican parish in a district dominated by dissenters was to rid the county of its Quaker and its competitors.  If that was the motive, the result was singular success.

What Followed: James Few, too old to migrate again, stayed with his mill until his death.  William Few was a leader in the great migration, and his other son, William, became a leader in the American Revolution and a signer of the Declaration of Independence for the new state of Georgia.  Herman Husband later rabble roused other farmers before and during the Whiskey Rebellion a few years after the Revolutionary War, when President George I enforced a tax to put his distillery competitors out of business.  Arthur Dobbs died while packing to return to England, probably from something to do with his spleen.

TPA Artifacts and Herbs Hike
Today’s hike will pass through a village that grew up next to Few’s mill and will take us to the likely site of Few’s tavern.  One site we’ll visit may actually have been James Few’s house site.  The hike will be roughtly 1.5 miles long, almost all on park trails.  The map shows the course of the hike as a red line and the shaded areas are zones of occupation containing remains of dwellings or businesses.  Each of the yellow pins marks a point of interest; graves, chimney falls, and other artifacts of a time long gone by.

We hope today you will find a new way to look at our land and our common past.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Settlement north of Albemarle Sound, 1650-1710: the founding of Albemarle

When North Carolina Became a Refuge

Albemarle Sound in the northeast corner of modern North Carolina was once, pretty much, the southern reach of  Virginia.  Rivers produced this result, specifically the Roanoke and Chowan Rivers.  Both are difficult to cross and obstruct traffic moving south and west from the Chesapeake.  But east of the Chowan there are two lovely passages for land traffic on the north-south axis, one east of and several west of the Dismal Swamp.  The Dismal Swamp, itself, was essentially impenetrable for most travelers; it was a great place to hide out, but an awful place to pass through.  Into this matrix of channels and barriers fled North Carolina's first permanent settlers, proto-Quakers from Virginia and Maryland.  It can be argued that their flight through "Southside" Virginia, past the Dismal Swamp, and into the buffered lands of the Albemarle District profoundly altered the trajectory of both Carolina and American history.

John White Map of the NC Sounds, ca 1585
Sixty-five years before fugitive, Protestant sectarians fled into the Virginia's southern hinterlands, refugees from England's first attempt to colonize the southeast of North America probably fled northward into those same lands.  Roanoke Island, the seat of Sir Walter Raleigh's colonial invasion of North America sits just below the mouth of Albemarle Sound.  Raleigh's colonists regularly coasted along the sound in search of food to be begged, borrowed or stolen from the native residents of the shores.  The natives of that region quickly tired of the filthy beggars from the island and reportedly, after sharing what they could, they turned a deaf ear to the English who, then, took by force what they could.  Things quickly grew ugly and it is likely many of the early colonists, but not all, died at the hands of disgruntled neighbors.

John Smith Map of Virginia, ca 1610
One of the first things the next herd of English colonists did, once they'd built another ill-fated stockade in another fetid swamp was to send out search parties to look for Roanoke survivors.  They headed south, past Southside and into the region around the Dismal Swamp where they'd heard English folk lived in English houses.  They found nothing, but they added some fact to John Smiths quite accurate map of Virginia.  That map shows the contiguity of the Regions east of the Chowan River and upper Virginia.  And it is very plausible that there were Roanoke folk added to villages in that area.  (note: the compass rose on Smith's map shows it is oriented with north to the right)

 If Roanoke Island's Native American neighbors were at all like Native Americans elsewhere, in other times and places, they seldom killed indiscriminantly.  It is, for that reason, likely that the folks who finally carved directions at the entrance of the English fort on Roanoke, dispersed into Native American villages north and south of the island.  Which is to say some of the first English to permanently take up residence in North America did so on the north shore of Albemarle Sound.  It is imaginable that when the first settlers came down from the north they were met by the blended children and grandchildren of Roanoke Island's original English occupants.

It is a fact, though, that we have no surviving records indicating survivors or their kin were ever identified as such.  Instead, we have some very interesting journals of reconnoitering parties poking around in southern and southwestern Virginia in the first sixty years of Virginia's colonial experience.  They almost all report Native American intelligence relating the existence of Europeans living among the tribes southward.  The English of Virginia, though, for their first forty or fifty years were preoccupied with surviving Indian wars, starving times, and sectarian butchery to give much thought to matters southward.

Having slaughtered their king (1649), the English empowered Puritan protestants to govern in his stead.  These sectarians then, in North America, set about slaughtering neighborhood heretics.  One never knew from one week to the next who would be declared heretical; the 1650s was a time of great insecurity.  It seems, though, that the one group all could agree were generally worthy of execution were the nascent sect that would eventually be called Quakers.  Ruling elites in Virginia and Maryland in the middle of the 17th century were, respectively, Anglicans and Catholics, and when it came to Quakers they concurred that hanging  would settle the heretics' hash, and they set out to exterminate the devil in their midst. 

The Society of Friends didn't really exist in 1650.  On the theological fringes of Puritanism there were, though, some extremely democratic, extremely self-authenticating, extremely extremist groups that would one day coalesce as the Society of Friends.  Called variously Seekers, Ranters, and Levellers by their friends, they were feared, disdained and detested by English elites and would-be elites alike.  Generally rejecting all authority outside the self, during 1650s these extremists became easy targets for all would be authorities.  Anglicans in Virginia and Catholics in Maryland, liberated to command by the death of their king, proceeded to purge these errant sects and, in response, the Seekers, etc, headed south, into the swamps and marshes, into Albemarle country.  This apparently suited the elites as they didn't pursue the dissenters.

Geography and diplomacy ensured that the folk of the Albemarle region would be isolated from Virginia.  South of the James River, navigable streams flowed south, away from the Chesapeake, and generally into the Chowan River drainage.  The lands west of the Chowan's drainage were, by treaty (1646) reserved for Native Americans.  Southside Virginia, owing to its geography became a buffer between Chesapeake society and the frontiers south and west.  So, likely for this reason, shortly after the disaffected sectarians absconded southward, Virginia's Governor William Berkley, as high an Anglican as one could find, created a virtual colony within his colony, east of the Chowan and south of Chesapeake Bay, called it "Albemarle" and gave it a governor, William Drummond (d. 1677).

The actual occupation of the Albemarle is less well documented.  The first known transfer of lands from Natives to newcomers was the purchase of land (ca 1655-1660) on the west side of the mouth of the Paquatank River by Nathaniel Batts, a trader.  George Durant stood witness to the transfer, so we know at least these two gentlemen were hanging around in the 1650s as the Albemarle filled up with proto-Quakers.  It is likely that Batts was not a "fur trader" as has been claimed by some, but rather a general trader who ran a store where, absent an adequate supply of legal tender, he sold goods for payments in-kind.  He undoubtedly took in trade anything with a discernible value, and equally undoubtedly he cut himself a decent margin in his trades.  For pins and needles and lead and gun powder, he was likely to have taken in distilled liquor, herbs, dried fish, hides, feathers, and darn near anything tote-able and re-sellable.  This was a normal and expected mode of frontier business.  He, in turn, sold the traded goods at his store or abroad, in Virginia proper.

Crop from Edward Moseley Map (1733) showing Bat's (sic) Grave
Batts, like many frontier traders, lived a lonely existence, but in his case, perhaps his loneliness was more artfully contrived than necessary.  After his initial land purchase he moved his operation onto  an island near Drummond Point (named for William Drummond), off the mouth of the Yeopim River where he is said to have preferred the company of his Native American customers over that of his European neighbors, a not uncommon choice among those who had the choice.  Yet, in Batt's case, his choice of location, if not friends, may have had more to do with business than the esthetics of society.  Pirates and smugglers abounded on the Carolina sounds in the 17th century, and it would make perfect sense for a leading trader to position his business as he did.  The freebooters of the sounds were the source of most trade goods and specie in at that time, and Batts may well have positioned his business to take advantage of that trade too.   As the island was only a hop, skip, and jump from the seat of Albemarle's governor and nearby that of its attorney general, it is likely those two officials willingly turned a blind eye toward Batts' safe haven, it providing a valuable public service and all.  Batts died and was buried there (1679) and later generations called the island "Batt's Grave".  The island disappeared forever in a 1950s hurricane.

Nathaniel Batts, William Drummond and George Durant live on in North Carolina history books and in Powell's North Carolina Gazetteer which lists extinguished places alongside existing places.  It is a pity we know so little about the intertwined lives of these three, respectively North Carolina's first recorded trader, first Governor, and first Attorney General.  It bears noting that literate and official folks, generally, do not lead the charge into strange and potentially hostile lands.  We know of these men because they left behind a paper trail.  Odds are they were followers, but those who led the way into the Albemarle, bless their hearts, are lost to history.

In the next installment we will consider the how it was that four of North Carolina's first governors were put in office by armed and marvelously cranky Albemarle Quakers who may well have helped Nathaniel Batts decide where to live and who to hang out with. 


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Some Artifacts Near the Forks of the Eno River

An outcrop from the 1798 Price-Struthers Map of North Carolina.
One little note on an obscure map published in 1798 drew attention to the forks of the Eno River.  There a mapmaker noted the presence of one "Col Shepherd."  This, naturally enough, resulted in our saying, "Who he?"

To have one's place located on a state-wide map in that era indicates you were a person of note, or the place was somehow a landmark.  Yet, if you visit the spot indicated on the map today there is no sign of prior occupancy.  In fact, the land north of the forks of the Eno is a deeply silted flood plain, subject to regular inundations.  So, this raises questions about map accuracy and may suggest changes to the land subsequent to map publication.

1:24K USGS with hand drawn overlay of Eno forks
A modern topo showing the forks of the Eno indicates the Price-Struthers map was probably a poor rendering of the upper Eno, but a pretty fair rendering of the roads near the upper Eno.  Compare the road layouts of the three roads shown in the topo with the roads shown on the older map.  The road running from roughly southeast to northwest, crossing the East Fork was the Hillsborough-Cedar Grove road in the 19th and early 20th century, and the road running east and west has been called "Halls Mill Road" on all road maps of Orange County.  The road running from south to north, crossing the West Fork is now Efland-Cedar Grove Road, but for Price-Struthers it was a variant of what we now call High Rock Road.

 Given that Price-Struthers depicted the forks incorrectly, they probably drew a landmark reported by a correspondent.  The correspondent probably said something like, 'Col Shepard has his home west of the Hillsborough-Saura Town road, in the forks of the Eno.'  Being unaware of the actual structure of the land and river, the map maker didn't represent the pronounced neck between the forks. 

Just below "Col Shepherd", the trivial fork still exists.  As a side note, the triangle of land enclosed by the roads and the river west of that intersection was once owned by Senator Thomas Hart Benton's father, and it is likely the birthplace of that remarkable politician.

Crop taken from 1891 Tate map
It is conceivable that land at the forks looked considerably different in 1798 than it does now.  The course of the river, dictated by bedrock, probably hasn't changed much, but an old dam downstream from the forks had submerged  the forks under water for many years.  This probably produced  the deep silt field seen there today.  As is demonstrated  by the Tate map, simply drawing schematic river channels continued long after Price-Struthers.

Even as late as 1891 the western road forking off Cedar Grove Road appears to be a variation on what is now called High Rock Road.  Which is to say, Halls Mill Road, in 1891, continued westward after passing Fairfield Church.  The Tate Map, even though it was made at a time when maps were increasingly precise, is known to be riddled with bad renderings of rivers and roads.  This certainly seems to be one of those cases.

1918 Soil Survey Map

A more recent and more precise rendering of Orange County is the soil survey map (1918).  Besides a change of ownership of the mill (Smith's Mill versus Hall's Mill), the soil survey reveals the extent of the mill pond for that mill.  From the dam site (roughly 200 feet upstream from the bridge) to the forks is about 2000 feet.  And according to the Soil Survey, the pond pushed well past the forks.  Today, at the forks, the river cuts through a six foot deep silt bed, and it is quite likely that to find 18th century soils and artifacts, one would have to excavate most of that silt.

Clearly, the modern road alignment persists from at least this time period.  It might be informative to learn when Halls Mill Road ceased to be a variation on High Rock Road, the road to Saura Town, and became, instead, an alternate route to Efland and Cedar Grove.  Absent maps (and there really aren't many pre-modern, county level maps for Orange County) somebody would probably have to check Orange County road records (road management was a county court function until shortly after the Soil Survey map was made) or, alternatively, check the land plats for certain critical lots along Efland-Cedar Grove Road and (old) Halls Mill Road.

1938 Orange County Roads map
A 1938 county road map does not name the mill but shows the mill building and the pond.  It, even more clearly than the Soil Survey, shows the pond backing up well past the forks such that the two forks emerge from under the pond.  As in 1918, Halls Mill Road tees into Efland Cedar Grove Road. 

It is worth noting that, in pre-modern times, roads seldom, if ever made tee intersections; it would have seemed a ridiculously inefficient way of making a trivial fork.  So, as a rule, when an old road does this you can assume it once continued beyond the intersection.  It is very likely that were we to cross to the west side of Efland-Cedar Grove road where Halls Mill Road runs into it, we will find old westward running roadbed.  This we can say with confidence because the road bed depression makes a distinct impression on a LiDAR map (see below).  By the way, LiDAR almost makes running around in the woods and being cosy with chiggers obsolete. 

LiDAR map of Fairfield Ch intersection

Whether or not the old roadbed continuing to the east the line of an earlier version of Mount Harmony Church Rd once was the variant High Rock Road to Saura Town, we cannot say, but it might be fun to take a look at the vestige to see if it is, indeed, an old road.  If it is, there may be sufficient remnants of days gone by with which to date its use.

In running on about the roads we've digressed from trying to find "Col Shepherd".  Thus far, we haven't even figured out his first name.  Land at the forks was once owned by a William Shepherd, and there was a Captain William Shepherd who served with one or another NC regiment in the Revolution, but that is a very weak connection (maybe folks were already using the honorific "Colonel" for any distinguished survivor of a war).  So much work remains to be done. 

Fortunately, the land at the forks of the Eno, from the forks most of the way to the Efland-Cedar Grove Road bridge over the West Fork, is now owned by the Eno River Association.  With luck, that means it will remain undisturbed for some time.  If for no other reason than to confirm the presence or absence of an appropriately dated occupancy site in the forks, we would spend some precious time stumbling around on the ridge twixt the forks.  If we get permission and get some time, we'll let you know what we find.


Monday, October 17, 2011

A Morgan Creek Ford Along A Lower Course of the Colonial Trading Path to Virginia

The Old Ford Finder

Bear in mind that in pre-modern times there were, at least, a high road and a low road linking place with place.  The high road stuck to high ground, and it crossed streams high in their course, and found use in times of high water.

Morgan Creek Drainage
Morgan Creek descends from west-central Orange County southeast to a junction with New Hope Creek, a major Cape Fear head-water.  It sort of cradles or embraces Carrboro and Chapel Hill, North Carolina by bending round their western edge and sliding along their south side before reach New Hope Creek.  It powered some the area's earliest grist mills, and it is one of three barrier streams channeling east-west trade routes through the area.  In low water it may have been a preferred route as the ford at Morgan Creek is on a decent flood plain over which flood waters can spread without rising too much.   The topo map shows that the route in question passed over the very northern-most head waters of the creek.  

Some trading Paths converging on Cedar Cliffs on the Haw
A 17th or 18th century traveler en route from Wood's Fort on the Appomatox River in Virginia to, say, the Catawba peoples around their river, south of Charlotte, NC, in a dry season, might have passed over Morgan Creek to get to a low road ford over the Haw River at what became (19th Century) Cedar Cliffs.  Between the Neuse River and the Haw River  there are three barrier streams that traveler had to negotiate; New Hope Creek, west of Durham, Morgan Creek, west of Chapel Hill, and Cane Creek, a Haw River feeder further west, near the Alamance County Line.  In spate, any one of these streams could stop a traveler.
The road from Fish Dam crossed one of the low fords over New Hope Creek, the first fordable point after the New Hope breaks out of its head-water hills.  The ford is on the upstream edge of a massive, eight mile long corn bottom that regularly flooded.  When flooded it was probably all but impassable and traffic would have moved upstream to a shallower, narrower stream bottom near where Mount Sinai Road crosses the creek today.  But in dry weather this lower passage over the New Hope would have been attractive for a number of reasons.

An out-crop from "Tuscarora Jack" Barnwell's 1721 Map of his
 and the Moores recruiting trips into the back country during
the Tuscarora War.
Alongside this low ford over New Hope Creek, in the 17th and early 18th century were two Occaneechi villages renown enough to have appeared on some of the earliest maps of the southeast, renditions of "Tuscarora Jack" Barnwell's map of the backcountry ca 1715.  They were trade towns, and they were probably the towns called "Adshusheer" by John Lawson (who passed through the area in 1701).  It was a wonderfully important choke point attracting traffic from a half dozen major backcountry trade lanes.  

After crossing New Hope Creek, west and southwest bound traffic made tracks for fords over the Haw River, and the best of these low water, low road fords were Saxapahaw and a ford more properly oriented for traffic to the southwest, upstream about two miles, that  came to be called "Cedar Cliffs."  The way to this ford had to pass several obstacles to minimize energy expenditures.  It first slipped between the watersheds for Old Field Creek and Bolin Creek, passing south of the former and north of the latter.  The next obstacle would have been "Meadow Flats", an area of upland marsh almost always damp and soft.  The trail clung to the south end of the flats and then threaded through a region of increasingly challenging hills culminating in Pickards, Crawford, and Thompson mountains (see map above).

After passing Meadow Flats, the trail approached Morgan Creek.  It could bypass the creek altogether but the more direct route, and the easiest route in all but the most extreme weather.  The crossing was at the first falls on Morgan Creek, and this water fall eventually, probably in the 18th century, powered Pickard Mill.  The pond behind the mill dam may have been as much as 3/4 of a mile long and may account for the great northern loop of Dairyland Road.  The Lower Trading Path passed south of Morgan Creek and recrossed the creek just above the upstream end of the mill pond.

Fords and mills frequently coincide as they required the same geophysical circumstances; a shallow place downstream from but nearby a fall.  A fall implies exposed bedrock which ensures a firm substrate for a dam as well as a ford.  Pickard Mill dam, in fact, crosses Morgan Greek about fifty to seventy-five yards from likely ford locations.  All approach roads are now silted over.  Morgan Creek, at Pickard Mill has one more desirable attribute too; below the fall the bottom flares wide, and a broad bottom of a feeder creek provide flats over which a flood can disperse and allow passage even in high water.  For all these reasons and because it sat along the path of least resistance between New Hope Creek and Cane Creek, Mark Morgan saw the ford and the mill followed.

Today we see the dam and think it is the beginning of this place but, in fact, the dam was an end point.  It expemplified a European ideal, taming a river.  Before Mark Morgan saw this site, though, it was well known and a regular land mark for travelers afoot or on horseback in the piedmont.  For its more recent history, please, see Dr. William Burlingame's essay on the recent history of the Pickard Mill site on Morgan Creek, Orange County, NC


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ayr Mount, Hillsborough, NC; some hidden features and obscure history

Trading Path Association's October 2011 First Sunday Hike will be at Ayr Mount, a private historic site east of Hillsborough, NC.  "Ayr Mount" is a nineteenth century brick structure preserved and restored with a goodly part of the grounds immediate to the structure protected as well.  We are interested in Ayr Mount, not because of the house or its plantation airs, but rather because before it was Ayr Mount it had another, and from our perspective, far more interesting history altogether.  We'll look at some of the remnants of that earlier history during our hike.

The site of Ayr Mount had a lengthy, though obscure, history when Ayr Mount came into being.  This isn't surprising given the quality of the site.  It sits on a well drained knoll, above a river and alongside a good mill stream.  It also sat astride one of the primary road channels East of what became Hillsborough.  It was a potentially valuable holding for whomever owned it.

The earliest actual record we have of certain occupation and use of the land is a map drawn in 1768.  That map shows a farmstead alongside a road.  It is possible that when the map was made that farmstead belonged to a Quaker family named Few.  If it was, by the middle of 1771 there wasn't much left of the farmstead as the Governor's troops trashed the Few farm at Hillsborough in retaliation for Quaker support of an insurrection, or so the authorities said.  For a reprise of Ayr Mount's ownership record see Steve Rankin's excellent work.

Near the site, and probably part of the original land holding is land known locally as 100 Acre Field.  Ayr Mount's owners used it as cattle pasturage.  They would trail cows and other cattle out from the barns and stock pens near the main house and these trail drives have some local memory.  It is a short distance but it is a safe bet that young folks earned a little something by helping keep the stock together during the move.  This field earlier is likely to have served Governor Tryon, Lord Cornallis, and possibly General Greene as a military camp ground before and during the American Revolution.

The roads in use in 1768 are still visible on the ground on and around Ayr Mount.  We will walk the red line on Sunday and try to determine where the old farmstead once sat.  We will see a roadbed cut twelve feet deep on one side of the property, and we'll see an even older road on another side of the property.  Along the creek we will see a "race" probably associated with a shingle mill the creek once powered, and we'll see remnants of an earlier dam exposed recently by flooding.

Every time we visit this site we find something new, so we will be keeping an eye out to improve what we know about the place before it became a "Ayr Mount."


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Artifacts on the Haw River between Swepsonville and Saxapahaw

Paddle Tour on the Haw River: Swepsonville to Saxapahaw, the middle fords
November 27, 2010

Touring rivers is new to the Trading Path Association.  We've walked plenty of river banks, before, looking for remnants of riparian commerce and looking for stream crossings, but the idea of searching a river from the water just hadn't caught on with us, perhaps, because so few Piedmont streams will float a vessel.  We knew, though, a number of stream crossings on the Haw any one of which could be visited in a single afternoon, but to see more than just the one would take far too much time, hence the paddle tour.  

In the course of the tour we saw five fords, at least a half dozen dam sites, a couple of power houses that once housed turbines, some sort of occupancy site that may have been a mill prior to government records in the area, and a canal and lock in good enough shape to know what it was even though we couldn't figure out how it work.

In other words, paddling proved to be a most efficient and rewarding mode of study.  Besides the artifacts, we saw a number of delightful critters; deer, cormorants, mouthy great blue herons, a kingfisher, and an adolescent bald eagle.  We had the river to ourselves, and on a sunny, cool autumn day all six miles of the reach was a joy to behold.

Fords are where you can cross a stream on foot, and the shoals at Swepsonville invited fording long before Europeans arrived.  At the bottom of a fall, they are a natural fording place requiring only a convenient way in and out.  Similarly, the shoals at Saxapahaw undoubtedly served the same purpose. The middle fords of the Haw River lie between the towns of Haw River and Saxapahaw.  In the 17th and 18th centuries those fords carried most commercial native and newcomer traffic.  One of those fords carried John Lawson, a writer who told us most of what we know about the Piedmont in the Contact Era.  Historically, these river crossings are among the most important in early American history.  To the left is a map first published in 1798 and then republished in 1808.  It shows Great Alamance Creek joining the Haw, the location of R.L. Christmas' mill and ford that later became Swepsonville, then Island Ford and Hunters Ford, then Cedar Cliffs and just upstream from Mary's CReek it shows the future site of Saxapahaw.

Fords frequently took advantage of exposed bedrock on the down-stream end of falls or shoals.  That way if you were to slip and fall in the ford, the river would spit you out in a pond rather than tumble you through a rock garden; it was safer.  Fords, especially horse and foot fords, are also associated with stream influences where feeder creeks have dumped their load of gravel when they lost energy upon colliding with a larger stream.  The spilled gravel thereby created a bar in the river. There are several of  these potential crossings along the section of the Haw we toured but the reach we were on is a dam pond and whatever gravel bars there once were are long gone under the unnatural pool.

European use of these crossings spanned almost three centuries and, of course, European travelers learned of the fords from Indian guides whose people had used the fords for hundreds and even thousands of years.  When Europeans first set foot in what they called the Backcountry it was not, as many say, ‘a trackless wilderness.’  Trails used for porter borne Native American commerce crisscrossed the countryside.   The first Europeans to penetrate the Backcountry did so guided by Indians who used these well established routes.  Generally, the first Europeans in the Backcountry, traders and surveyors, were mounted on horses.  These first horsemen not only trampled porter roads into quagmires, they set the road matrix for all who followed.  The horsemen followed footpaths, and wagons later followed horse trails. In time the first guides disappeared, victims of disease or slaving but also there were survivors who took on European names and trappings and melted into the new majority population.  They probably were the pack horsemen, and it is likely that they evolved into wagoneer too but it is hard to tell from documents as the last Indian name appeared in Carolina records just after the Tuscarora War (1715).

1833McraeB.jpgOn the map to the left, published in 1733, Swepsonville is shown as "Murphy Mill", and the parallel lines of Island Ford and Hunter Ford just below it are almost stylized.  The road descending from "Mt Willing" descends to Cedar Cliffs.  It is the main line of the upper trading path and, in fact, it defineses almost a straight line asruns northeast to Petersburg.  It crossed the Roanoake at "Monoseep" ford, a horse ford over that river.

Wagons first appeared in the Backcountry at the end of the first quarter of the 18th century.  Economies of scale had first replaced native bearers with pack horses (ca 1676) and then, when sufficient draft horses were available, replaced pack horses with wagons (<1728).  With each change in transportation technology river crossings changed.  Each increase in cargo capacity required changes in routes.  Places that one thrived died.  Places of little importance became critical transportation nodes.  Fortunes were made and lost betting on the next essential place.  But some crossings persisted and retained their value.  Swepsonville and Saxapahaw are two such places.

There will be value in explaining just why these two places persisted while other transportation nodes, like Cedar Cliffs snuffed out and sank back into the forest soil.  Understanding these changes is part of the Trading Path Association mission. To the right we see an 1893 map of our reach of the river.  "Mt Willing", once a thriving truck stop for wagoneers has disappeared, snuffed out by railroads (ca 1860) but Cedar Cliffs still has a crossing for a road we call "the lower trading path" which crossed the Neuse at a town called Fish Dam.  At the time of the map, there was a dam at Cedar Cliffs, the place had its own Post Office (much as Mount Willing once did) and it seemed to have survived the impact of railroads.  Alas, that was not the case.  All that remains of Cedar Cliffs are some foundations on the hillside above an old canal and lock that once carried cargo bateau between Haw River and Saxapahaw mills.

We work toward understanding how transportation technologies changed settlement patterns by mapping stream crossings and the roads that connected them.  We do this because we know that in the Piedmont  during the age of muscle power, paths, trails and roads went not from town to town but from river crossing to river crossing.  By finding the river crossings we find the road matrix for any given technology.  And along those roads will be found the artifacts that will allow us to rewrite our history without the dead weight of Jim Crow and past hatred bearing us down.  That is our mission, our goal and purpose.  And we appreciate your participating in it with us.

Tom Magnuson

[Any reader with HTML skills who is willing to help cleanup my code, please, step forward; you can't believe how much time was spent not fixing the code in this piece.]