The Great Central Coast Road of North Carolina (and how it links to myriad related subjects)

I'm working on a book tentatively titled Finding Ways.  It will, I hope, describe old  road routing and construction methods and how to find remnants of those old highways, by-ways, and other ways of moving over land in the Age of Muscle Power.  First, though, a word or two on The Age of Muscle Power.  

Here is the origin of one of the roads under consideration:

The Great Central Coast Road

We departed the age of muscle powered land transportation in the second decade of the 19th century, just nine score years ago.  All of humanity employed muscle power to move over land for millennia.  One can argue about what constitutes humanity and human history but no matter one’s preferred scale, be it 7,000 Biblical years or 2.5 million paleoantological years, it was a very long time to be limited to the same power source.  Institutions and infrastructures grew around the technology of muscle powered movement.  As man devised new and different means of achieving efficiency within the basic power source, these institutions and infrastructures evolved to accommodate new realities.  Domesticating beasts to do the carrying was one such change.  Development of sledges and wheels were others.  

Each change took, it seems, thousands of years to move into the next best thing.  For example, domestication of livestock started with the dog thirty-some thousand years ago, and it is likely that discovery that dogs could pull their own weight was not far behind.  Cows succumbed to human command 10,000 years ago, horses and dromedary camels went under the yoke, so to speak, only 6000 years ago,  bactrian camels and yaks came to us only 4500 years ago, or so they say.  So, after stumbling around under packs and toting things on our heads, dragging them along behind us for most of human existence, over a period of about 30,000 anthropological years we developed a set of optional, muscled carriers.  

Then, with mastery of our beasts we began experimenting with improved efficiency.  Ours dogs, early on, pulled travois, Egyptians sledged massive weights around as much as 5,000 years ago, and if they did so you can rely on the fact that folk in the great white north used sledges at least that long ago, drawn by dogs and then by reindeer (domesticated 3000 BCE).  The leap to wheels occurred about 6000 years ago.  It wasn’t a big leap from rollers placed under a large object to rollers attached to an axle.  And that is as far as we evolved muscle powered land transportation.  From porters to wagons took about 25000 years, and there we sat for another five thousand years waiting for internal combustion.

One of the less noted but more interesting facts about the region of England’s first North American frontier, the southeast of North America, is that it recapitulated the evolution of human transportation technology over a period of just two hundred years, and there are sufficient remnants of those two hundred years to  demonstrate the economic and social impetus to and impacts of transportation evolution. 

Until 1676 porters dominated cargo transportation in the southeast, and domestic animals dominated from 1676 until the 1720s when wheeled transportation came to dominate commercial transportation.  Owing to the ever demanding economies of scale, it was only a further 80 years until wheeled traffic totally dominated the southeast east of the Blue Ridge.  A nifty recapitulation indeed.

Having dealt with the evolution of muscle powered transportation with broad strokes on a human scale and on a regional scale, let us turn back to considering the ways we move over land.and  to that end examine the word "way."  

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) reveals “way” to be an Anglo Saxon term derived almost unchanged from an Indo-European root.  The OED provides an astonishing ten pages of definitions for the simple, single syllable word.  Anglo-Saxon English is famously rich in one syllable words most of which can be used for every part of speech; noun, verb, adverb, etc.  The downside of this is that it is difficult to obfuscate with Anglo-Saxon English (as opposed to Norman English, the language most likely to have produced the label "perfidious Albion"). For a student of old roads, though, "way" is where one starts.

A "way" is a route from A to B.  A simple concept which, perhaps because of its simplicity, is applied to all sorts of constructions, both physical and metaphorical (e.g., the Ways and Means Committee is charged with finding the route to revenues sufficient to run the state).  So, it has about it an element of method for connecting A to B as well as routing movement from A to B.  Rather than get wrapped around the axle wading through ten pages of the OED, though, let us treat these introductory notes as fair warning that though it may be a simple word, way is not a simple concept.

Let us consider highways and byways first as those are what concern us most.  By-ways introduce another simple but complex idea,  By takes up six pages in the OED, and the meanings range from 'proximate to', as in: nearby, and as a means to an end, as in 'by doing A you will accomplish B.The OED tells us that a byway is not a highway, it is a lesser way, a way near the highway but not on it.  There are also pathways (for foot or animal passage), cartways and roadways, and ways were attached to every imaginable vehicle.

In English law a highway is a route that connects two market towns.  Every English market town had a High Street whereon one found the markets, and to this day the shopping district in English cities and towns is referred to as High Street.  Given what we've seen of colonial highways in southeastern North America, it may be appropriate to surmise that this designation applied to the "high road", the way that ran above the floods, the road that crossed streams higher in their course before bridging allowed shorter routing.  Colonial and early national postal regulations specified that in order to have a post office one must be located on an "all season, all weather road" and that too may be part of the definition of highway.

England used highways strategically in its colonization of Ireland as well as in North America.  It is possible that this technique was Norman in origin.  In Ireland Norman English established market towns by arbitrarily creating Anglican parishes and connected them by highways.  Market towns allowed for capital concentration and a means by which the conqueror could superimpose law into what the conqueror defined as 'lawless frontier realms.'  Once established by law, a parish commission came into being with authority to "tithe" residents to pay for the Anglican Church even a church without a preacher. They encouraged capital investment and they provided a way and means to ship whatever commodity a colony had that would benefit the crown out of the colony and into English hands.  Effectively used in reducing Ireland’s majority Catholics, England employed the same techniques in America to subdue insubordinate folk in the backcountry of Carolina.

Governor Arthur Dobbs (NC governor, 1754-1764) received his commission as governor, in part, by promising to subdue the colony’s majority population of non-Anglican protestants; largely Baptists, Quakers, and Presbyterians.  To that end he established thirty-some Anglican parishes in a colony with only a half dozen Anglican priests.  

These parishes he planted in market towns in the midst of dissenters. The parishes became the core of colonial legal process, and the came with "test oaths", oaths swearing loyalty to crown and Anglican church. This encouraged Anglican entrepreneurs to move into hostile districts to tax dissenter.  It also ensured dissenters (except Presbyterians) would have no voice in courts or other local government offices. 

As in Ireland, ambitious Anglicans quickly establish enclaves among dissenter populations (Dobbs descended from a Cromwellian officer granted a market town in Ireland).  Hillsborough, for example, was a result of this maneuver, and within ten years minority rule fomented a rebellion among backcountry religious dissenters called The Regulation.  One artifact of that moment is a military road suitable for carrying cannon part of which in Durham County is misnamed Cornwallis Road.  It should have been called Tryon's Road after Dobbs' protege,William Tryon,  the man who implemented the Irish solution in the backcountry after the demise of his mentor.

It seems likely that Dobbs had relocated North Carolina’s capitol from the mouth of the Cape Fear River to the Mouth of the Neuse River because the latter drainage contained dissident populations while the former was ruled by Anglicans and populated by Presbyterians, Anglican allies.  Further, the Scots of the Cape Fear basin had emigrated to their new homes after losing the Battle of Culloden and swearing to never again take up arms against England; they were a tame lot.  

Not so the Baptists and Quakers of the Neuse drainage.  Dobbs strategically sited his capital to address the main challenge to his power and the power of his allies, North Carolina’s absentee landlords.  Then he built a way to move an army inland, and it came to be called The Great Central Coast Road. It ran from the mouth of the Neuse to the Appalachian Mountains and Tennessee.


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