Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Books: A Peek Into the Carolinas' past.

While I'm on the subject of history, I'll share a resource I learned of after my last research trip to Charleston.

Narratives of Early Carolina 1650-1708

In authentically-replicated reports and letters written by William Hilton (Hilton Head's namesake), Robert Horne, Francis Yeardley, Robert Sanford, Thomas Ashe, Danie Defoe and more, readers get a glimpse of both North and South Carolina in the days Europeans began exploring their shores.

Encounters with the natives and Spanish are included with description of the landscape, which, at times, is barely recognizable to me as described, so lush and plentiful were the trees and wildlife. The journeys were taken so early in the Carolinas' infancy, which is often referred to as Florida or, in North Carolina's case, South Virginia, the explorers named some landmarks as they traveled. Names that have been lost over time.

While reading, I pressed into the wilderness of NE North Carolina, where the Tuscarora dwelt. Read of the sugar cane that grew thick and tall; of the interactions between explorers and the various tribes, and between the tribes themselves; of the difficulties in finding the mouth of the Cape Fear River and then the trip up the river and its tributaries. Read of encounters English explorers had with the Spanish, and the difficulties they faced due to language barriers. I learned about the North Carolina settlement called Charles Town. New information for me. The town is gone today, and little of it remains, including memories, so I was thrilled when, during our trip to Old Brunswick Town, we passed the historical marker noting the settlement's location down the creek.

And that was within the first four of the eighteen reports included. I'm trying to read them in order, working my way southward to Charles Town (Charleston). However, the collection is divided so one can read one report and then skip around to another, if they so desire.

Below is an excerpt from William Hilton's, "A Relation of a Discovery", written in 1664 after his trip up the Cape Fair (Cape Fear, to my understanding, but those who read nautical terms can correct me):

...we returned, viewing the Land on both sides the River, and found as good tracts of land, dry, well wooded, pleasant and delightful as we have seen any where in the world, with great burthen of Grasse on it, the land being very level, with steep banks on both sides the River, and in some places very high, the woods stor'd with abundance of Deer and Turkies every where; we never going on shoar, but saw of each also Partridges great store, Cranes abundance, Conies, which we saw in several places; we heard several Wolves howling in the woods, and saw where they had torn a Deer in pieces. Also in the River we saw great store of Ducks, Teile, Widgeon, and in the woods great flocks of Parrakeeto's; the Timber that the woods afford for the most part consisting of Oaks of four or five sorts, all differing in leaves, but all bearing Akorns very good: we measured many of the Oaks in several places, which we found to be in bignesse some two, some three, and others almost four fathoms; in height, before you come to boughs or limbs, forty, fifty, sixty foot, and some more, and those Oaks very common in the upper parts of both Rivers; Also a very tall large Tree of great bignesse, which some do call Cyprus, the right name we know not, growing in Swamps.

Likewise Walnut, Birch, Beech, Maple, Ash, Bay, Willough, Alder and Holly; and in the lowermost parts innumerable of Pines, tall and good for boards or masts, growing for the most part in barren sandy ground, but in some places up the River in good ground, being mixed amongst Oaks and other Timber. We saw several Mulberry-trees, multitudes of Grape-Vines, and some Grapes which we did eat of. We found a very large and good tract of Land on the N. W. side of the River, thin of Timber, except here and there a very
great Oak...

Looking at the shores of the Cape Fear today, I never would have known.

Narratives of Early Carolina 1650-1708 is available on Amazon. Most, if not all, reports are now public domain and can be found online, but you have to know the title! I like the book version, though. It's far more portable. If you're a fan of Carolina history, I highly commend this collection.

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