Friday, October 28, 2011

Moorefield's Relation to Occaneechi Gap is of more than Orange County importance.

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 (1752) 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, scion of a Granville County Anglican leader, 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.


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