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]

 **********************************************

Bibliography


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

trm

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.

trm

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. 

trm









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.

trm


Friday, October 28, 2011




Occaneechi Gap and “Moorefields” Historic Site


We blogged about Occaneechi Gap some time back (“An Important Gap in the Piedmont” (December, 2009), now the following note ties Occaneechi Gap to a colonial era historic site just west of gap, “Moorefields.”  It is more than likely that historic site, now known simply as an antebellum plantation house, is where it is because of the gap; telling the story of one requires the story of the other.

Before there was a recognized town at the place we call Hillsborough, there was little reason to use the Eno River fords at or near the great bend of the Eno.  Instead, traffic on an east-west axis in the central piedmont was (and still is) drawn to Occaneechi Gap as an alternative to repeated crossings of the Eno River.  It was more efficient to bypass the Eno by cutting through the gap south of Occaneechi Mountain.  The brown shaded are in the above map defines the gap zone.  

This saddle gap, the center of which is just south of the parking lot at Occaneechi State Nature Area's parking lot, the road uses two unnamed tributaries of, to the west, Sandy Creek, and to the east, Mill Creek as ramps to carry traffic into the saddle.  Their waters are separated by about 2000 feet, and that is the center of the saddle.  East and west of the gap, roads converge on the the neck of the pass which at its narrowest was probably about 1000 feet wide.

On the above map, gray lines and the brown lines represent known, mapped old roads.  Note the more or less classic fork of three or four roads on the left of the map.  They came together just north of the plantation house at Moorefields historic site.  Moorefields sits on the western side of the gap.  Roads pass through Moorefield plantation north and south of the plantation house and converge on the line of the old road erased by the intersection of interstates 85 and 40.  There are at least seven separate roads concentrating on the western approach.  Not quite so obviously, there are a similar number of roads being compressed into the gap along the eastern approach.

It is likely that “Grayfields”, the plantation at which Orange County's first court met (1754) sat near the convergence of the western approaches to Occaneechi Gap.  John Gray, a power in colonial Granville County, moved to the site of his plantation while the land was yet part of Granville County, and he called it “Grayfields.”  He passed the plantation on to Thomas Hart.  

Hart, a an ambitious man, rising in Orange’s Anglican elite, married Gray’s much beloved ward, and by that means Hart inherited Gray’s very considerable estate.  In the early days of the War of the Regulation, Hart was Sheriff of Orange County  and a major Anglican figure in the “court party”.  He supported Governor Tryon against his neighbors during the Regulation, he the governor rewarded him for his loyalty with lands confiscated from Quakers at the end of the Regulation.  Subsequently, during the American Revolution Hart left Orange County probably to avoid reprisals for his Regulation days, and probably, as well, because he was, at best, a luke-warm patriot.  He turned his land holdings over to an agent, and eventually, probably not long after the Revolutionary war, the land ended up in the hands of the Waddell and Moore families.  Hence the name “Moorefields.” 

Alfred Moore, a North Carolina Supreme Court Justice bought the place as a retreat but, beyond that, it was a major commercial venture consisting, at its peak, of two thousand or more acres.  In the graveyard at the plantation there are both Waddell and Moore graves, and it is clear the family was on the site until well after the “late unpleasantness.”  

The plantation house seen today at “Moorefields”is too young to have been part of Gray’s, plantation.  “Grayfields,” was, by the time Judge Moore purchased it, close to fifty years old and, as a frontier strucuture it probably was no where near the elegance expect of a major piedmont planter in the early Republic.  So, Judge Moore replaced it with the current structure.  It is likely that “Grayfields” was north of the current structure, nearer what was then the main highway.  The current structure faces south,  but there are indications that it orginally faced north toward a late 19th century road that replaced the highway Gray overlooked.

All these structures are where they are because old John Gray had an eye for strategically important land.  After Gray, the strategic value of the land deteriorated until, after the railroad bypassed Occaneechi Gap altogether, it had little more than agricultural value.  

Following is another TPA maps of old roads and other artifacts around Moorefields, our primary field laboratory as they relate to Occaneechi Gap.  The brown lines are all old road remnants we have mapped around Moorefields.


trm

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.  


http://www.tradingpath.org/images/stories/Blog/adshusheertocaneck.jpg
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


trm