Thursday, March 15, 2012

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

When North Carolina Became a Refuge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Some Artifacts Near the Forks of the Eno River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1918 Soil Survey Map

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

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

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

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

LiDAR map of Fairfield Ch intersection

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

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

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


Friday, March 2, 2012

The Haw Fields

Haw Fields lying between the Haw and Eno Rivers, was a 50,000 acre cleared meadow once used by Native Americans as a hunting field.  They burned it off a couple of times each year so that there favored game animals would come there to feed on the resulting grass shoots.  All that slash and burn attention meant the land was both relatively unwooded, and had rich top soils resulting from both the burning and the manuring of the grazing herds of deer and buffalo and maybe even elk.   After harvesting their summer crops, native folks probably moved up, away from the foggy, cold corn-bottoms to their hunting grounds.  There as hunters harvested hides and laid in venison for jerky, the ladies harvested the rich, oak mast; they mashed and dried acorn flower for the coming seasons.  The first Europeans who saw the Haw Fields probably thought they'd died and gone to heaven.   John Lawson waxed euphoric about that land in his 1709 real estate prospectus,  New Voyage to Carolina.