Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Travelers from ancient times to the present used Occaneechi Gap when traveling from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. The course they took came to be called the Great Central Coast Path/Trail/Road. The gap allowed travelers to avoid a one hundred and fifty foot climb and, more importantly, provided a reasonably easy way to bypass the Eno River if one were going down to the ocean and the river was high. Or if, like John Lawson, you just didn't want to cross any more rivers.
|Upper Neuse-Cape Fear watershed|
One can, without great difficulty, walk all the way from Seven Mile Ck, just west of Moorefields to New Bern without getting your feet wet because just southeast of Moorefields, near the intersection of NC 10 and New Hope Church Rd, the trail intersects the watershed between the Cape Fear and the Neuse River basins.
To the right is a map showing the upper portion of that watershed. In the upper left the Great Bend of the Eno west of Hillsborough shows distinctly. The blue lines are Cape Fear feeders and the red lines are streams feeing the Neuse.
In fact, harkening back to young Mr. Lawson's chastening experience of 1701, we can surmise that he decided to get on this road when he was approximately at the place called Haw Fields today, the center of a 50,000 acre savannah. There one morning in February 1701 he met a trader who told him to not proceed to his destination, Virginia, but rather to turn down country as the 'Seneca' were raiding farther to the north. The night before Mr. Lawson had nearly drowned trying to cross the Haw River when it was in flood, therefore he robably needed little convincing that a dry walk to the coast was a good idea. All he needed to do was to get across Seven Mile Creek and he was on his way. [He did, though, later cross the Neuse River, probably below the falls.]
The road he had been on was a great old trading path that followed an almost perfectly straight line from Moniseep ford (about a mile downstream from Interstate 85's crossing of the Roanoke River) to the Catawba in the vicinity of Charlotte. In fact, a straight edge with one end pinned to Bermuda Hundred on the Appomattox River in Virginia and the other end pinned to the Catawba towns around Sugar Creek would almost perfectly pass through Moniseep. Then it would cross the Tar in its upper springs, pass the Flat River just above its forks, and cross the Eno just above the Great bend, near where NC 70 crosses it today west of Hillsborough. That straight line would then have gone to a crossing of the Haw a couple of miles upstream from modern Saxapahaw.
But, if one decided to turn down country somewhere near the center of the Haw Fields, then one would have climbed on the Great Central Coast Trail. It crossed the Haw downstream of NC 54 and would have met the Lawson's trading path near Efland, NC, west of Seven Mile Creek's ford and Occaneechi Gap.
|Old roads at Occaneechi Gap surmised from remnant traces|
Traffic traveling northeast or east that wanted to avoid the fords on the Eno around its great bend, had the option of passing through a gap south of Occaneechi Mountain. Just as at fords, several roads came together on either side of the gap. On the west side there were roads coming from the northwest (the Saura Trail/High Rock Road), from the west (Central Coast Trail) and from the southwest, the Trading Path to the Catawba. They all came together on the west side of Occaneechi Gap. On the other side of the gap, two roads from the Chesapeak met two roads from the coast and a road from the heads of navigation of the Cape Fear and the Peedee. Small wonder that the gap today carries both I-85 and I-40.
Whoever owned that gap and its approaches owned valuable real estate. When Orange County came into being the west end of the gap was owned by John Gray, father-in-law to Thomas Hart, god-father to Thomas Hart Benton, Senator from Missouri born just west of the Eno on the Saura Trail approach to Occaneechi Gap, close to that trails intersection with the post road to Virginia and not more than a quarter mile away from where all those wonderful trails came together on the east side of the Haw Fields.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
In Anglo-American history, "settlement" is the last stage in conquest, it is when invaders become controlling occupiers rather than: visitors, transients, curiosities, opportunities or necessary evils. Settlement marks a change in regime, in culture, economy, and society. On England's first frontier, in the southeast of North America, settlement marked an end to pre-market, subsistence economies, supplanting them with law, centralized order, and markets. Settlement replaces a life-style rooted in personal freedom with a life-style rooted in personal obligations and liabilities.
Participants in subsistence economies live for today and depend on wit, will, and good fortune to survive tomorrow. Participants in market economies are expected to defer today's joy in the interest of a less frightening tomorrow. For example, 'starving time,' that time between the consumption of last years's produce and the arrival of this year's harvest was a common feature of subsistence economy but it was a rarity in market economies. Thus, the moment of settlement in Contact Era of the southeast marks a major transformation.
We need to know more about this transitional moment.
While mapping old roads we frequently note other artifacts of early social infrastructure nearby; mills, taverns, meeting houses and the like. Was there a sequence to their imposition on the landscape. Reason indicates that farmsteads preceded mills, but did mills precede inns? Common meeting houses, general purpose houses used for public meetings of all kinds, were found throughout the southeastern frontier. How long did it take from the first moments of settlement for settlers to replace the meeting house with sectarian churches?
Mills have purpose driven, common features like races, wheel wells, and dams that tend to be relative to one another across a variety of sites. Do public houses, inns and tavern similarly have common, purpose driven components predictably distributed? Was there a trend in settlement from generalized structures toward purpose designed structures?
These questions seem obvious. Do you know who has already answered them and how well they were answered?
In our earliest settlement times, were there discernible stages of settlement defined by the presence or absense of purpose-designed structures? The TPA has found mills, taverns and inns, stores, post offices and courthouses. We generally map roads, trails, and paths and don't have enough time to thoroughly map all artifacts proximate to them but it would be useful to know if there is a pattern we should be looking for as a shortcut to generalizing a site. Are there predictable patterns for the layout of outbuildings in public building complexes.
Similarly, can we generally forecast relational locations of "out buildings" on farmstead and cabin sites? Was it generally the case on a successful farmstead that the cabin became the kitchen for the big-house? Was the big-house invariably located in front of the kitchen? We know that springboxes were located a certain distance from the cabin(s) they served, but what about wells? Were public wells normal or were they exception? Was a private well considered a public asset? On a grander scale, are there stages of settlement discernible in public infrastructure? Do general purpose structures precede purpose-specific structures or vice versa? We know mills began as mills, but did they also begin as stores or was that an evolution normal or exceptional?
In modern times we know that country general stores in the southeast, until quite recently, were associated with specific church communities. We know that in backcountry Carolina there were ethnically defined neighborhoods and stores too. So, in colonial times were stores, mills and other public facilities normally affiliated with sectarian communities? It would seem such exclusivity would be a luxury, but there may have been compensations (more effective social control of debtors, for example). So we want to consider these questions in the context of our trail and route finding. What do the settlement artifacts we find tell us about abandoned public sites?
What can you tell us to make the earmarks we find more meaningful?
Monday, June 7, 2010
What We Can Tell From Unmarked Gravestones
Recently a neighbor described a "slave cemetery" she'd found. When asked how she had identified it as a slave cemetery, she said the stones were (all but one or two) unmarked. This belief is totally anachronistic. Blank stones, head and foot stones with no inscriptions are not the earmarks solely of slave graves in the South. First, illiteracy was the norm for all three prevalent races in the antebellum South, enslaved and free and, second, some religions disapproved of the use of grave marking.
Even amongst sects that took pride in their literacy, inscribed stones could be controversial. Varieties of Quakers and Baptists, alike, have gone through moments of discomfort with grave markings. Many genealogy sites on the internet carry a warning or observation along these lines: "There was a period when Quakers were discouraged from marking their graves. An old Quaker Burying Ground may look as if it is only partially filled when, in fact, there are many graves that simply have no stones." What held true for the Quakers, particularly in the 18th century, held equally true for some Baptists. So, an unmarked stone is no clear earmark of anything, not even of economic standing.
Even within the vague ambit of race exclusive graveyards, it is nearly impossible to discern differences between slave graves and the graves of freed slaves, or those of other people of color; Native Americans, and multi-racial folk. Again, particularly in the case of colonial era graves and graves of the early republic it is all a matter of temporal and physical context.
Before asserting conclusions about the social and economic status, legal status of the residents of a graveyard, take the time to research the deed and grant records to ascertain if the land was associated with a church at any time. See if it was part of a plantation. But don't assume that if there is no documented use as a church site that it wasn't as the documentary record is very, very incomplete.
Before there were "plantations" in much of the south, there were communities of squatters, so graveyards can predate legal land records. In these cases, you may have to suspend judgment about the age of the graveyard and the makeup of its residents until after a careful archaeological analysis has been performed.
Before investing in archaeology, though, consider that graveyards are, by definition, sacred land. Archaeologists regularly invade sacred space to study burial procedures, grave goods, and so forth, but even for them it is becoming more and more difficult to rationalize disturbing final resting places. If we are unable to determine the racial or socio-economic identity of a corpse is it all that important? Probably not.
It should be sufficient to know that a graveyard exists. Mapping the landscape remnants of the graveyard; grave locations and alignments, head-stone and foot-stone locations, boundaries, and so forth should provide all the information one can reasonably extract from the earth. Mapping plus documentary research will tell virtually everything the present needs to know about the occupants. It is, in fact these spatial issues that are most informative, so, whatever you do, locate and map our graveyards for it is one of the most effective ways for us to get some understanding of the location and concentration of people in our common past.
Try to set aside anachronistic prejudices about the quality of a gravestones relationship to the quality of the grave's content. In and of themselves, unmarked gravestones can tell us practically nothing whatsoever except that 'neath those stones lie the remains of somebody once loved and missed and more or less tenderly laid to rest.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Some Notes Taken After Canoeing on the Eno RiverAs rivers go, the Eno isn't much. It is not long and, except in spate, it is not deep, it is not rapid, nor broad. It is a rather typical stream of the southeastern piedmont of North America; high banked under steep but low valley walls, too shallow for commercial navigation but with sufficient basin capture to produce prodigious spates after a summer downpour . Until the advent of modern bridge materials (steel and then concrete) that could lift a bridge above these floods, the river alternated between being merely a dangerous impediment to travel to being an absolute barrier to movement. Yet, like most streams in the Piedmont of the Appalachians, the Eno powered numerous pre-modern industries, and its fords channeled movement for thousands of years. Having located a light watercraft, I determined to see what vestiges could be seen of transportation and industrial impacts on the Eno above, near and below Hillsborough, NC.
[In the photo to the right, Critter on the Eno]
In mid-May 2010, for two days I paddled, poled, and dragged a canoe down the Eno at low water searching for signs of human cultural impacts. People, like bark beetles and groundhogs and beaver, leave signs of their passage on our landscapes. Those signs sometimes are the only evidence of their passing. They are thus inherently interesting. Along the river signs of human occupancy were many and there was much to be seen of the natural context of that usage.
Rhododendron bushes bloomed along the river banks, generally on the south side of the river. At this point in the annual cycle green was fully returned and the depths and variety of greens embracing the brown stream was almost painful to see. Full summer sunlight will make southern greenery actually hard to look at for me. Sunglasses are useful not so much to ward off the sun as to soften the green assault produced by the sun. But it was mid-May, late Spring and it was only almost painful.
Thanks to the low water, rubble from collapsed stone dams were clearly visible along the way (at least eight clustered in four areas of fall). There were timbers embedded in the stream bottom in one place indicating that a wooden dam, once a common feature in the piedmont, once occupied the spot. I couldn't help wondering how many other wooden dam sites I passed without a clue of their previous existence. None of the mill pond sites had certain "silt wedges" visible where the pond silted up before the dam blew out.
It was surprisingly difficult to see fords along the river. There were shoals aplenty, but the river had erased all sign of any ramps that might have once eased cargo into and out of the river. There were only four old roads visible from the river and they were visible only because prior study told me where to look. It is certain that there were at Hillsborough at least six crossings. And between Hillsborough and the southward reach of the river east of the Occaneechi Hills there were at least another six only two of which were barely discernible.
Just downstream from where Highway 70 crosses the river east of Hillsborough is the old Raleigh Road ford. Back in the 90s and old, old man told me his school bus used to cross the river there in the 1930s. It was a delight to find the old ten foot wide wagon road pointing right at a junction with old Fish Dam Road near the intersection of Palmers Grove Road and Highway 70.
It was a learning experience. Canoe touring on the upper Eno is a sketchy prospect at best. Seeing road remnants from the river after the return of the forest canopy is just not likely. In low water, dam rubble is the best indicator of dam locations. Most of the dam sites found had no visible remnant abutments, so the rubble was critical to finding the sites. Silt wedges, for reasons not yet totally clear were are not visible. Most of the riparian infrastructure shown on the J. Sauthier 1768 Map of Hillsborough is still visible.
Birdsong in a quiet canyon is captivating. That bird that looks like a drab sandpiper and actually hits the water for its food is just plain fun to watch. You can get real close to a preoccupied racoon if the stream is gurgling and you don't make any noise.