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.]

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Great Central Coast Road in Orange County NC

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

Earmarks of Settlement

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

A cemetery myth

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

Two Days Well Spent on the Eno River

Some Notes Taken After Canoeing on the Eno River

As 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.