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Travels in the Confederation [1783-1784]
From the German of Johann David Schoepf,
Translated and Edited by Alfred J. Morrison
Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, The Carolinas,
East Florida, The Bahamas
(Philadelphia, William J. Campbell, 1911)
Johann David Schoepf, author of the work from which this extract was taken, was born in 1752 in the German principality of Bayreuth. Educated as a physician and natural scientist, he arrived at New York in 1777 as chief surgeon of the Ansbach troops in the service of George III. Returning to Europe in 1784, Schoepf died in 1800 while serving as president of the United Medical Colleges of Ansbach and Bayreuth. The German edition of his book was published at Erlangen in 1788, and an English translation by Alfred J. Morrison appeared in 1911.
English Title Page
account of his travels in the Bahama Islands, East Florida, and the
newly independent United States in 1783 and 1784.
Title page of the German edition of Johann David Schoepf's account
Dr. Johann David Schoepf
from which the following extract relating to North Carolina
A straight line, under 37° 37' north latitude, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi, or from the 76th to the 90th degree of west longitude, divides Virginia from North Carolina. This boundary line has only very recently been surveyed and fixed for the region to the west.A The length of the state of North Carolina from east to west amounts thus to 720 miles; its breadth, on the other hand, from the Virginia to the South Carolina line, or from the above mentioned north latitude to about 35° north latitude, reaches only some 110 miles. But the boundary between North and South Carolina, particularly its western part, has not yet been settled, and is a matter of more or less dispute.
At a recent adjustment of the boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina, it was found that the line struck immediately behind the house of a man living on this road, dividing his lands so that half lay in one state and half in the other. His dwelling-house stood on the Virginia side; and it occurred to him to build a new kitchen on the North Carolina side, so placed that the roof-tree should lie along the boundary. He desired to have the pleasure of being able to say that he ate his meals every day in Virginia which had been prepared for him in North Carolina.
To the view, the landscape is quite the same, all sand-flats and pine-forest as before; however, a few more oaks are all at once observable. The country travelled through from Virginia, as well as that traversed before and what follows, must be imagined as a continuous, measureless forest, an ocean of trees, in which only here and there cultivated spots, what are called plantations, of more or less extent are to be seen. In the midst of the fields stands commonly a house, better or worse; the kitchen and other mean out-buildings are at a distance. In Virginia, on the tobacco-plantations, the shelters for hanging and drying the tobacco stand somewhat farther off from the house, as in South Carolina those used in the preparation of indigo. Neither plant being raised as yet in this part of North Carolina, one misses these subsidiary buildings, and there is nothing to see but a few cabins for negroes and store-houses, which in outward appearance are seldom much inferior to the dwelling-house of the master. One comes upon such plantations scattered about in these woods at various distances, 3-6 miles, and often as much as 10-15-20 miles apart.
But it is the forests which supply the present inhabitants of North Carolina not merely an occupation and a support, but the means as well of an easier life and often considerable estates. For the products of these pine-woods as such, the convenience and small expence of keeping numerous cattle in them, and the pretty abundant stock of game even now, these have for long formed the most important items in the export trade of the province, carried on chiefly with the West Indies, where there is a near and ready market.
Through such a lonesome country, then, had we to go from Suffolk to Edenton, 68 miles, or from the boundary line 44. The tedium of the monotonous woods and the dead winter-season was broken but seldom by new objects, by no means peculiar to this province, (since most of its natural productions are common either to Virginia or South Carolina), but offering for observation somewhat more frequently.
The Buzzard (Vultur Aura L.)1 is, in the southern provinces of America, a very common bird. It is the size of a wild turkey, to which at a distance it is not dissimilar in figure and color, so that new-comers have often taken the one for the other. The color of the body is a blackish brown; the bare and wrinkled forehead, and the nib, as far as the point, are red. The eyes large, active, and brownish; before each eye is a large, white callosity set with short bristles. The long-cut nostrils stand wide open on both sides, and are not divided; the pituitous skin of the nose is reddish, very much folded, thick, and soft. From this distinct structure of the organ of smell, the assertion that the buzzard can scent carrion many miles, although not proved is made likely enough. The tongue is furrowed; its edge and the palate indented backwards. Legs, feet, and talons are not so strong and muscular as with others of the genus which take their prey alive. The buzzard has no need of strength, nature having assigned it dead bodies only, and it never or very rarely ventures against living animals. It is content with filth and carrion, the smell of which would otherwise, in so warm a climate, be injurious. For this reason the bird is nowhere molested, and is suffered to go unharmed even in populous towns; it is forbidden by law to kill it, and hence the buzzard is not coy. But if wounded or deprived of its liberty, it manifests fear and does not resist if handled; however, there is no temptation to come near, since its atmosphere has an odor of carrion, and its mouth is always full of regurgitated filth, which it seems to bring up out of fear or distress. It is said they leave untouched the dead bodies of men. They breed in holes in the rocks and in hollow trees. In the woods they roost on the branches of trees, and often one sees them together in great numbers. The breadth of a pinion is commonly from 5 and a half to 6 feet. We observed these birds first along the James River; it does not appear that they are found much farther north, but towards the south they grow everywhere more numerous and are met with in flocks.
Of passage-birds which at the onset of winter desert the northern and middle provinces, some tarry in this rather more temperate country; others continue farther towards the south. Even wild ducks winter here, and most of the water-fowls which in the spring and summer are to be found on the northern lakes and rivers. A sort of swan was mentioned, similar to the European and said to frequent these rivers; none was seen by me. Wild turkeys are not only numerous here, but of a good weight.
The European bee, in most of the forests of America but especially in the southern, has become almost native. The bee was formerly not known to the Americans who call it the European fly. It has rapidly increased, what with the many hollow trees, and the favorable climate furnishing rich pasture. But little honey is gathered; the bears nose it out with their fine sense of smell, clambering up such trees for the store—if hunters wandering about the woods remark this, they commonly take the skin of the bear and the honey discovered by him.
People working in these forests during the summer find the wood-louse (Ticks, Seed-ticks, Acarus americanus L.) a great plague, at many times and places very numerous. Their bite causes great pain and wicked boils; with their proboscis they bore deep into the skin, and when they have become fast lodged, must be quite probed out, if possible. During my time in the northern provinces, little was heard of this pest, but according to Kalm it was abundantly felt there in the years 1748, 1749, and 1750, more so indeed than ever before.
James River passed, the parasitical plant commonly called moss grew more and more frequent, and often the largest trees were almost covered with it. This strange plant at first sight appears very similar to hanging garlands; it consists of thin, soft, woolly-white, branching threads, which pend one to two or more feet from the trunks and branches of trees. It is the Tillandsia usneoides L. It is seen vastly oftener on oaks and other deciduous trees than on pines; and oftener and more luxuriant on dead trees than on living. Whether the plant prefers dead trees, thriving better there, or whether its encroaching growth kills the tree, I will not decide. If the outer, woolly covering is stripped off, (more easily done with the dry plant), black, pliant, strong threads are obtained, which make good material for mattrasses, cushions &c, and the entire plant is very serviceable for packing breakable wares. The fresh plant has an insipid, rather sourish taste. Horses do not eat it willingly; horned cattle tolerate it in winter, from hunger and lack of something better; and in order to supply the cattle keeping in the woods with this nourishment, the people fell here and there such trees as are most abundantly laden.
In the swamps, on the banks of the rivers, and in other low spots that are overflowed, there flourish everywhere an exceeding great quantity of canes or reeds. The younger leaves and tender shoots of these supply the cattle let run in the woods with the chief part of their winter food. Thus the raising of cattle is made extraordinarily easy to the planter, who has little to spend on their keep until they are ready for fattening. These canes are hardly found north of the James and York rivers, but to the west, even beyond the mountains, they are everywhere plentiful in such places. They shoot up in close thickets, the canes sending up sprigs or joints 8-10 inches long, and measuring 1-2 inches through near the ground. Generally they are from 3 to 12 feet high, but now and then much higher. I have seen no blooms, and therefore do not venture to say to what species2 they belong.
Most of the North American indigenous wild animals are still to be found in these extensive and thinly settled woods of the fore-country of North Carolina. Wolves, bears, wild cats, the brown tyger or cuguar, as well as the bison and the original, are often met with in North and South Carolina even far to the east of the mountains, whither they have been frightened from the northern provinces by the greater number of the inhabitants there. The Virginia deer, commonly called the deer, (Cervus virginianus), of which I have already made mention repeatedly, still ranges in these parts in large herds. Now and again we saw many of them pasturing together quite unconcerned. Their size is a little less than that of our fallow deer. In color they are throughout pale yellow or a very light brown; but in very young animals the fallow verges sharply into grey, flecked with white. But they are taller and longer legged than the fallow deer, and spring with backs bent. The horns are round at the insertion, and only towards the ends a little flattened or not at all; bent outward towards the forehead and set with divers extremities. The export of their skins is a considerable item yearly in this province. A proof of the number of these animals is that one man on the New river has been able to shoot 175 head since the spring of this year, and simply for their pelts. If one cannot or will not shoot for himself, the game may be bought commonly for one or at most two Spanish dollars the head, which always gives more than a hundredweight of venison.
With the most careless handling domestic cattle have increased with the greatest rapidity. It is nothing uncommon for one man to own 100 or more head of horned cattle; some count their herds by the thousand, all running loose in the woods and swamps. By penning up the calves, and throwing out a little corn every day to the dams, the milch cows have been accustomed to come up to the dwelling-house from time to time to be milked. For each farm, the black cattle, sheep, and hogs are distinguished by special ear-marks; horses are branded. Each planter’s own peculiar mark is registered by law, and is thus a legitimate proof of ownership, and extinguishment or falsification of these marks is treated as felony. There is little beef salted for export; what is salted is said not to keep well, and to grow hard and lank. In general, the beef is of no especial goodness in any of the provinces south of Pensylvania and Maryland; the cattle themselves small and thin. But live cattle are exported to the West Indies from the coast country, and large herds are driven up from the farther regions to Pensylvania, and there fed for the Philadelphia market. Out of the woods and thin as they are, one head with another is sold to the cattle-handlers at 3 to 6 Spanish dollars; and to the owner, who has been at so little trouble and expence, this is almost clear gain. Their hogs likewise range throughout the year in the woods.B Towards the coast in the pine forests, the cones of the pitch-pine, larger than those of the other sorts, are their favorite food; also they root up the young sprouts of these pines and eat off the bark, for which reason the pitch-pine does not spring up so readily where it has once been taken off. Farther up the country the hogs find better mast beneath the numerous oaks, chesnuts, beech-trees, and chinquapins. In winter the sows make themselves beds of pine-twigs where they litter; the owner seeks them out, brings them in nearer the house, gives them a better bed of straw, and marks the pigs. Later, to accustom them to the plantation, they are called up several times a day and fed on corn-stalks. In the autumn, after the maize-harvest, a number of hogs are brought in from the woods and placed on feed. A bushel of corn a week is allowed each head, for 5-6 weeks. The amount of corn made determines the number of hogs to be fed. Fattened hogs reach 3 to 500 pounds’ weight. Live hogs sell at 3-3˝ Spanish dollars the hundred. Nowhere on the whole continent is the breeding of swine so considerable or so profitable as in North Carolina. Besides what is consumed in the country, salted, exported, and lost in the woods, there are annually 10-12000 head driven to South Carolina or to Virginia. The North Carolinians therefore should not look a-skance, if their neighbors rally them for being pork-makers, for when the talk gets on their swine-breeding they themselves use the expression, ‘We make pork.’ But in these circumstances, a hog costing them next to nothing except for what goes into the fattening, the North Carolinians can send their salted hog-meat to market at a third or a half cheaper than their neighbors in the northern states where harder winters and more restricted pasturage make the maintenance dearer. On the other hand, there is a difference in the quality, for the bacon of the Carolina hogs is softer and does not keep so well. But it is not very long since this part of the cattle trade has been much followed—and doubtless it will be found to their interest to make betterments.
Such a quantity of neat cattle, horses, and hogs ranging about in the woods, many get from under the eye of the owners, are either not marked, or run off and are chased by predatory beasts into regions where the marks are not known, or multiply in unsettled parts of the country. All such cattle are called wild, and are no man’s property except his on whose land they are found. But in certain parts there is a ‘woods-right’ so-called, according to which every plantation has a fixed share of all wild herds thereabouts; and this right, like any other property, can be transferred or sold at will. Their hogs are especially apt to grow wild, not answering calls and difficult to bring tame again. But I could not precisely discover whether these wild hogs and their progeny become like the European wild hogs.
Edenton was the first town we came to in North Carolina, and it is none of the worst, although consisting of not more than 100 framed houses, all standing apart and surrounded with galleries or piazzas. The place was once for a considerable time the capital of this province, and stands on the north side of Albemarle Sound, which is here 13 miles wide and has always been a furtherance to the trade of the town, notwithstanding the harbor is very ordinary and shipping in the entire Sound extremely difficult and tedious. The road which ships must take coming in from the sea by the navigable and best channels is as much as 180 miles long, although the town itself is not more than 35-40 miles from the sea in a direct line. There would be a shorter passage if the Roanoke and other inlets were navigable for vessels even of a moderate tonnage. Coming in, vessels must first pass the Occacock Bar, where at high tide there is no more than 13 ft. water; and then there lies in the way another bank, 2-3 miles wide, called the Swash, consisting of firm sand, and at the highest tide giving a depth of only 9 ft. Ships, therefore, often take 8-12 days entering and clearing the Sound, at times must wait months for a favorable opportunity, and then are subject to the very great inconvenience of lading and unlading at a distance from the town by means of lighters. And when at last a ship is freighted and past all obstacles, shortly after getting into the ocean the Gulf Stream must be contended with, which in this latitude approaches very near the main-land. In this way various circumstances unite to hamper shipping and make it difficult, but these notwithstanding are overcome by patience in times of peace, and during a war are made use of to the positive advantage of the place. By reason of this especial and unfavorable situation of the place, during the last war the trade here grew uncommonly active and flourishing. It was certain that no hostile vessels of any size could venture over the Bar and the Swash. Thus most of the American trading ships took refuge here, where they could take in or put off cargoes in security; Philadelphia merchants established themselves here; the Virginians brought hither their tobacco by land-carriage, taking in exchange West Indian or other wares, which at that time were over-plentiful here. With this stimulus to trade, Edenton found itself in such good circumstance that the inhabitants wished peace away, which made their town be again deserted. At the time there were lying in the harbor but three ships, top-sail vessels, and in good condition, but many large and small craft were there which at the outbreak of the war had run in here and were now half gone to pieces. The worm does little damage here, the water being only brackish. It will be odds whether, without especial and serious attention on the part of the government, Edenton will ever come again into the trade it once had, for it appears that most of the vessels entering the Sound pass by the town and go immediately to Hallifax and other small places lying on the rivers emptying into this Sound.
It was hoped, but in vain, that Lord Cornwallis on his march through North Carolina might come to Edenton, which he at one time seemed to be approaching. It would indeed have been an easy matter to lock him up here, because on the land side, what with the numerous swamps and creeks, there is only one practicable road for an army destined for Virginia, and for crossing the Sound a great number of small boats would have been necessary, since no large armed vessels could have been used; in either case the loss of the army would have been inevitable. But Lord Cornwallis knew the country quite as well as his enemies, at that time fleeing before him.
At Edenton we were for the first time regaled with the domestic tea universally known and beloved in North Carolina. This is made from the leaves of the Ilex Cassine L., a tolerably high and beautiful tree or shrub, which growing abundantly in this sandy country is very ornamental with its evergreen leaves and red berries; more to the north and even farther inland it is rare. It is here generally called Japan, but has this name in common with the South-Sea tea-tree (Cassine Peragua L.), which likewise grows on the Carolina coast, and is also greatly esteemed for tea. The people here have a very high opinion of the good qualities of the Japan; they not only make use of it for breakfast instead of the common Bohea, but in almost every kind of sickness as well. Near to the coast, where the drinking-water is not altogether pure, it is pretty generally the custom to boil the water with these leaves. Such an infusion is not unpleasant, if it is properly managed. There are those who in a slovenly manner chop up the fresh leaves, the twigs, the wood, and the bark all together; but this gives the water a repulsive taste. More careful housekeepers have the leaves, which may be gathered at any season of the year, culled out in a cleanly way, and dried in an iron kettle over a slow fire; they pound them a little in a mortar, so as to keep them the better in glass bottles, but before putting them up they let them evaporate a while in the air. Prepared thus, the taste betters by keeping, and not seldom a pound fetches one to one and a half Spanish dollars. It is claimed here that at one time this Japan-tea began to be much liked in England, a pound bringing readily half a guinea; but importing was forbidden, lest the sale of the Chinese tea should be diminished.
All the good qualities of this tea, praised as they are, cannot however prevent the sickliness of the inhabitants, especially prevalent in the low, overflowed, and swampy parts of this country, and giving the people a pale, decayed, and prematurely old look. This is the case not only about Edenton, but along the entire low-lying coast, which this fall, from Virginia to South Carolina, was visited with numerous fevers. Only those living scattered in the deeper and dryer forests,3 and farther from large swamps, enjoyed at that time (and commonly do enjoy) a somewhat more unshaken state of health. The people themselves are apt to ascribe their better condition of health to the beneficent effect of the pitch and tar odors they are almost constantly inhaling, and they set particular store by the volatile, balsamic exhalations from their pine-woods; just as many take it to be an established fact that standing water among pines, on account of the properties communicated by the rich heart-wood, is less subject to pollution and gives off exhalations less unhealthful. However, it appears that where large swamps are near by, the pitch and tar atmosphere is not a protection generally against fevers and other autumn sickness. At the same time, it is confirmed by experience that swamps, so long as they are occupied by trees and bush, are less injurious to the health of people living round about than if naturally bare of such growth, or when the fertile marshy soil is cleared up for cultivation. The well known air-improving property of plants makes this explicable and was the ground of Dr. Franklin’s advice that the forests in Virginia and Carolina should be cut off with circumspection, way being given for the air to dry the rich marsh land, but sufficient vegetation being left for the purification of the air. Over the low, exposed, half-dry swamps which almost encompasss Albemarle Sound, the unstirred hot air must all the more rapidly grow corrupt, because ebb and flow are very insignificant here, and the cool winds which elsewhere accompany these movements of the water are very largely absent. In addition to the usual bilious and intermittent fevers, there prevailed last fall a bad form of quinsy, which carried off many people in these parts. In so small a place as Edenton there were 9 bodies to be buried in one day. The people here are too much given to a belief that there is no way of avoiding frequent sickness, and consequently they take little trouble to be rid of their plagues, regarding it as matter of fact that no physician can cure their ‘fever and ague.’ They try a few doses of quinquina, and if this does not help they give themselves up to the fever, hoping that with the approach of winter they will grow sound. It is remarkable that among the multitude of fevers, the quartan should be extremely rare.
We lived in the same house with a doctor who, like many country-doctors in America, had all his medicines exposed in the window; his store was very restricted, little besides tartar-emetick, flowers of antimony, tartar, saltpetre, Peruvian bark, and a few other mixtures of sorts. He complained of slow and small pay. As yet there are no medical regulations in America, and if any one thinks his doctor’s charge too high it is the custom to submit the matter to some neighboring practicioner, or to several of them, who allow or reduce the amount according to the circumstances or the degree of friendship or spite they have for their colleague. But if injustice is done, the charge can be very easily made good by an affidavit.
In Virginia as well as in Carolina there are in most of the houses hand-mills by which the maize, for the beloved homany, is ground small by the negroes. The mill-stones used are for the most part shell-stones, and having to be of a sufficient hardness are obtained only in certain places. Those used here come mainly from a place this side the falls of the Roanoke; at first sight they seem not at all adapted for the purpose, the shells weathered out having left large holes and flaws; but the stones are hard and firm, the shells bound together by a fine sand-cement, in some places effervescing under acids and in others striking fire on steel. Mill-stones such as these last 20 years and more without whetting, which would besides be superfluous, on account of the great unevenness due to the holes. They are light, and therefore well suited for hand-mills, the construction of which is very simple, as might be expected in an American apparatus. The mill consists of a hollowed block, about 3 foot high and 2 in diameter, in which the nether stone lies fixed, the upper, even with the edge of the block, moving on an iron spindle-tree fixed in the stone beneath, and adjustable high or low by a wedge, according as the grinding is to be coarse or fine. A pole 4-5 ft. long, shod with iron at the lower end, is fixed at the top in a piece of timber made fast above the mill; the lower end being gripped to the upper stone by a hole in the edge, a negro briskly turns it about, and grinds several bushels of corn a day. A pair of these stones costs 5-6 Spanish dollars. Horse-mills are set up here and there with larger stones, but the construction is almost as simple.
Full four days we stayed at Edenton waiting to be set over Albemarle Sound: the trouble was not wind and weather, but the scurvy negligence of the man who by permission of a high authority keeps the ferry. He had allowed the negroes to go across the Sound with the boat for a holiday, not at all solicitous about travellers who might arrive in the mean time. No people can be so greedy after holidays as the whites and blacks here, and none with less reason, for at no time do they work so as to need a long rest. It is difficult to say which are the best creatures, the whites here or their blacks, or which have been formed by the others; but in either case the example is bad. The white men are all the time complaining that the blacks will not work, and they themselves do nothing. The white men complain further that they cannot trust the faithless blacks, and they set them a dubious model. We lived at a regular tavern, where the legal charge per day for 3 persons and 3 horses was 5 Spanish dollars (12 fl. Rhenish), and for four long days we had nothing but old geese, suckling pigs, and raw salad, there being no vinegar to be had in the whole place. Here was much a-do about nothing; half a dozen negroes were running about the house all day, and nothing was attended to, unless one saw to it himself. Exterior courtesies increased with the latitude south; the negroes make low bows, partly from imitation, partly by order of their proud masters; the people in the northern parts require nothing of the sort of their negroes, they themselves having no such practices.
When at last on the fourth day the expected boat for ferrying-over the horses arrived, the next morning was fixed for the passage, and everything arranged; but although we had now a right to hope for prompt service for once, we found ourselves deceived again when we came to the water-side at 8 o’clock. The gentleman who kept the ferry was still sleeping quietly in bed; we had to rouse him up, and then wait until he had called together a dozen negroes who were to look for two others whose business it was to tend the boat, which they only now began to make ready; more time lost. I mention this vexatious delay of purpose, and should not forget to add that we had other similar experiences. Travellers therefore must have a good supply of patience if they are not to be outdone at extreme carelessness which may often mean hindrance and loss to them, for there is no means of prevention or of compensation. To be sure, we were informed that we could bring action against the owner of the ferry for the loss of time and the expence involved, and might be certain of getting judgment; but we should have had to wait for a court-day, which was not worth the trouble.
In two hours we crossed the Sound, into which fall many larger and smaller streams, of which the most considerable are, the Roanoke, Chowan or Gouana (3 miles broad at the mouth, but not of a long course inland), Maherren, Blackwater, Nottoway, and others of less consequence, which all contribute to render the water of the Sound almost sweet. The Sound is connected with the ocean by divers inlets, but the mouths of these being all choked by bars4 are navigable either not at all or for very small craft. Chief among the fore-mentioned streams is the Roanoke. It rises in the Blue Mountains in latitude 37, having several sources (the heads of Roanoke), and keeps a south-easterly direction. It is in that region that the Blue Mountains begin to be markedly lower, and at only a few miles’ distance from the head-springs of the Roanoke, another stream, the New River, takes its rise, which has a course quite opposite to that of the Roanoke, flowing north-west and falling into the Ohio as the great Kanhawa. The Roanoke, at its entrance into Albemarle Sound is 5-6 miles wide; thence it is navigable for shalops to Hallifax, a small town but of an active trade. Eight miles above that town, the falls of the Roanoke prevent the farther passage of vessels; about the falls the river is wider than at Hallifax itself, and at one place plunges 15 ft. perpendicular. At one time the river shot over there with such force that one could pass dry beneath the water-arch made; but some time since a rock was loosened, and this natural curiosity spoiled. On the whole, the falls of the Roanoke are not of the splendor of those of James River, 100 miles away to the north. Not long ago a man came down in his canoe too near to the falls, was dashed over by the current and seen no more.D However, fish attempt the leap, but if they fall short are flung against the rocks and fall dead below. In the spring towards the end of April or the beginning of May so vast a number of fish crowd together below the falls that in their confusion they do themselves injury and may be killed with sticks. Rock-bass especially come up the river in millions to spawn, and being checked at the falls spring and tumble so that the water foams with them. This commonly lasts for several days and is called the ‘Rock-fight.’ Fisherman take good advantage of the opportunity.
Above the falls, the bed of the stream widens, the river flows softly, and there is no obstacle to inland navigation until the mountains are reached, where the Little Yadkin and the Holston divide the waters of the stream. But little use is made of this navigation. Planters from the back parts prefer to haul their produce to James River where they find better markets.
Along the upper course of the Roanoke and its tributaries, there are great tracts of the best land, garden-earth often to a depth of 6-8-10 feet. But even in the lower country there are extensive tracts of the richest soil along the rivers and creeks, and lying quite unused. People prefer the higher, dryer, poor land, because being without undergrowth, it is more easily brought into tilth and needs no ditches for draining. The bottoms would make most excellent meadow-lands, or under different treatment might be used for rice-culture, in which case every acre would fetch 5-6 guineas. For such enterprises the North Carolinians are as yet either not rich enough or too slothful.
The first settlers having laid down no meadows, the practice is followed to this day. And hence most of the farmers, although they keep a number of cattle in the woods, can hardly winter one milch cow at the house, are commonly at a stand for milk and butter, and must buy of the people farther inland, who keep fewer cattle than they themselves. In other places, along the rivers and coves, there are long stretches free of timber, and covered only with a rough swamp-grass. As is proved in like instances in the northern provinces, these might be easily brought into grass, did not the people here balk at the trouble, even persuading themselves that their cattle will not do on any other feed but what is to be had in the swamps and the thin woods-pastures. The milk of cows pasturing in the swamps is many times not palatable, and the bad taste disappears only after the cows have been fed for some days on corn and corn-fodder.
We landed on the south side of Albemarle Sound, at the mouth of a small river on the low banks of which were assembled almost all the different and beautiful ever-green plants which before we had met with only here and there, and dispersed. The sight of such a splendid green coppice in the depth of winter, (it was the 31st of December), could not fail to be pleasing. These ever-greens are oftener to be found along the coast, where the weather on the whole is milder than farther inland. The most conspicuous of those we found together here were: Ilex Aquifolium (Holly). Ilex Cassine (Carolinian Holly or Japan). Prinos glaber (Winterberry). Myrica cerifera (Candleberry-Myrtle). Laurus Borbonia (Bay-tree). Bignonia sempervirens? (Yellow-Jasmine). Smilax laurifolia—and other varieties of this species, which however do not hold their leaves so well as this. Prunus lusitanica (Evergreen-Baytree). Kalmia latifolia & angustifolia—and divers Andromedae, which keep their leaves longer here than in the northern regions. Hopea tinctoria—used for dyeing yellow, the leaves are boiled half an hour, and the stuff soaked a quarter of an hour in the poured-off infusion, while hot; the color comes a fine straw-yellow; cotton takes it better than linen. Juniperus virginiana (Red Cedar). Cupressus thyoides (White Cedar), which often grows trunks 60-100 feet long, and 12-15 ft. in circumference at the butt. But they reach this extraordinary height only in fat swamp-land, and where they are protected by other trees against violent winds which their shallow roots do not easily withstand. Pinus Taeda, and other varieties of the species.
But besides these shrubs and trees, commending themselves to the eye by their enduring leaf, there are many others both useful and beautiful. Cupressus disticha (Bald Cypress) is plentiful in these swamps. Its seeds fall at this time of the year; each scale of the seed-vessel has at the stud a little blister of fragrant, clear resin, of which no use is made. The wood is light and durable, and hence makes the best shingles and boards. Callicarpa americana (Sourbush) was still hanging full of its pale purple berries, which give a bright purple color to cotton stuffs. A splendid tree, very useful in ship-building, is the Ever-green Oak, Querus Phellos sempervirens; Marshall, Amer. Grove—which begins to appear in this region, and grows continually more abundant towards the south. It is found also in the western country, on the Ohio and the Mississippi. Other commoner trees, seen here and everywhere, I need not mention. But the Melia Azedarach, the Bead or Paternoster tree, deserves notice. It is not indigenous, but thrives prodigiously and belongs among the rapid growing trees. They showed us one at Edenton, five years old and raised from the seed, which measured 9 inches in diameter and had made a shoot or sprig 11 ft. long, one year’s growth.E
From the Sound we went 15 miles to Squire H—’s, who was a Justice of the Peace in his district. Of what dignity is a North Carolina Justice in these times the following incident will show, which happened immediately after our arrival. A young man who rode up after us, offered his hand to another whom he found here but it was not accepted, because the latter fancied the man had injured him on some former occasion. After a brief exchange of words there was a challenge, and both young men, laying aside their coats and shirts, hurriedly prepared themselves for a boxing-match, which took place on the spot, in front of the house and in the presence of the Justice of the Peace. Women, children, and blacks gathered around, the women exclaiming at the contempt shown for the officer’s house. The Justice himself stepped forward with folded arms and tranquil demeanor, and once, twice, three times bade the combatants keep the peace. The boxers paid no attention, and the Justice having fulfilled his duty by thrice commanding the peace, withdrew with the same measured step, and looked on in cold blood. Outraged at the disobedience, the Justice’s wife appeared and repeated the commands of her husband, but was received with derision. Finally the antagonists cooled, shook hands by the fighting code, and each rode on his way. By the law, must they not give obedience to your commands, I asked the Squire, and abstain from their squabbling in your presence? They should, was the answer. Well! and could you not bring them into court for their behavior, and have them punished? I could, was the second laconic answer of the good-natured Justice, who seemed to make far less of the matter than his indignant wife, and was of the opinion that it was more in keeping with his official worth to pass over an apparent slight, instead of taking the proud revenge which an injured self-love might demand. 33 miles farther, through desolate woods again, and we arrived at
Washington on the Tar river, a new-settled little place of perhaps 30 houses. The Tar river5 comes from the mountains, is a mile wide here, and flows into Pemticoe Sound at Bath-town. The entrance to Pemticoe Sound is below Cape Hatteras through Occacock Inlet, and therefore the same as that ships must take bound for Albemarle Sound or into Neus-River. The generally difficult and dangerous passage into the rivers and bays of North Carolina, occasioned by shoal-water, sand-banks, low islands and bars, is a great hindrance to the trade of this province which on that account was long neglected. The trade of Washington is as yet trifling; the chief occupation is the building of small ships and vessels, which are put together entirely of pine timber and sold very cheap, but they do not last long, this timber quickly rotting under water, but lasting well above ground. Here, as well as in most of the small towns of North and South Carolina and Georgia, which are unable to carry on a large trade of their own, the greater part of their produce is taken out by the New Englanders who, (like the Hollanders in Europe), have begun to be the middlemen and freight-carriers of America. They generally come to these southern parts in the autumn, in small schooners and shalops, spend the winter either at one place or at several, bring with them cyder, cheese, apples, gingerbread, rum, sugar, iron-ware, and trinkets which they exchange in small trade for pelts, pitch, tar, and the like, returning in the spring.
The New Englanders are in general active and industrious seamen, full of enterprise. The whale-fishery in which they are engaged, especially the inhabitants of Nantucket, brings it about that they visit the most distant seas and parts of America. They follow their gainful pursuits, now on the coast of Labrador, now among the West Indian islands—and they have often cruised even to the Falkland islands. But their somewhat more vigorous traffick, as it appears, with the inhabitants of North Carolina, besides being due to the profits and advantages on both sides, may be explicable further because of very many New England emigrants having settled in North Carolina.
The nearer, so-called post-road to the South, formerly ran from Duckenfield, on the south side of Albemarle Sound, straight to Bath-town, on the north side of Pemticoe Sound (a distance of 45 miles)—but the ferriage over the latter, 8-9 miles across, being often long delayed by wind and weather or other hindrances, and Bath-town, a place of hardly a dozen houses, affording scant accommodations for travellers, they preferred turning off to Washington and considered that by avoiding such obstacles they were repaid for going the long road.
The space between the Albemarle and the Pemticoe Sound is mainly filled by a swamp of great length and compass. This also, from the unwholesomeness of its neighborhood, is called Dismal Swamp. It bears besides the name of Alligator or Crocodile Swamp, those animals frequenting the region rather plentifully. It is commonly said that the Alligator or American crocodile is found no farther north than the Neuse river, but it is nothing rare to see them much to the north of that, i. e., about Cape Henry in Virginia.
On the road from Edenton to Washington not a soul met us, and we saw but few dwellings; and quite as lonesome were the 40 miles from Washington to New-Bern. We passed Batchelor’s Creek and Neuse River, and for the last 18 miles saw not one house, but sheep, swine, and black cattle enough, which roam the forest. Beasts of prey have free booty among these herds: multiplying fast and costing nothing, nobody has an eye to them.
It is an advantage that now at mid-winter one has almost the same prospect as that to be had in summer. That is to say, the sparse, thin grass which grows under the pines and on the dry sand turns as wilted and brown from the heat as it is now yellow and sap-less from the cool winter nights. Everywhere the Stipa avenacea L. appeared to have the upper hand here; a rough grass which is eaten by cattle only in the spring while it is quite tender. On the dryer tracts there is absolutely no undergrowth or bush among the lofty pines, and the trees standing by no means close, one can see far between them. But at every brook, or at any rather moister spot, there appear forthwith beautiful thickets of evergreen bush, called indiscriminately laurels, and such places consequently are known as laurel-swamps.
The Yucca filamentosa L. was now often to be seen in the woods. Its leaves can be cut into threads, thin and strong, of which the people make use for various household purposes.
The red bird and the blue bird (Loxia Cardinalis and caerulea L.) frequently appeared hereabouts, and other birds which winter in this region and only in summer migrate to Pensylvania and New York. Swallows come hither from the south the last of March and early in April, and stay until late in November. At Charleston they are absent hardly longer than from December to February. Regarding the migrations and winter-home of the swallows, so long a matter of uncertainty in Europe, it will soon be possible to obtain more exact information from America.F
New-Bern is situated on a point of land, where the rivers Neus and Trent unite. The beds of these rivers are very deep and flat and subject to frequent overflow. The region thus is not the healthiest nor its air the purest, and almost every autumn brings sickness which carries off many. Moreover, the mortality among children in this and other parts of the south is perhaps double what it would be for an equal number of children in the northern states. The river Trent has only a short course inland, but the Neus comes down about 200 miles from the mountains, where it rises near Mount Ararat, making a little fall 70-80 miles to the west of this place. The entrance for ships coming in from the sea is impeded by the bars already often mentioned; the passage is by Occacock Inlet, or the same as that ships must take bound for Edenton, lying much to the north. The town is small, not yet rich, and the houses are all of timber. Its trade is restricted entirely to the products of the forests and of cattle-breeding. Formerly it was the seat of government and for the last British governor, General Tryon, there was a very genteel house built, the only one of brick, on the banks of the Trent. This palace, for it is honored with that much too splendid name, is at this time almost in ruins; the inhabitants of the town took away everything they could make use of, carpets, pannels of glass, locks, iron utensils, and the like, until watchmen were finally installed to prevent the carrying-off of the house itself. The state would be glad to sell it, but there is nobody who thinks himself rich enough to live in a brick house. The government of North Carolina was at the outbreak of the war removed to Brunswick, continuing there for some time; during the war there was no fixed seat of government, but at last the inland town of Hillsborough was chosen, for the better convenience of the more populous back-country.
The state of North Carolina, to remedy the oppressive lack of hard money, was obliged to have recourse again last year to paper-money, and by an Act of Assembly 17th May, 1783, 100,000 Pd. was struck off. Other states, doubtless, will soon be compelled to follow the example of North Carolina, for the gold and silver which was brought into the country during the war by the British and French armies, and by the very profitable West Indian flour-trade, seems to be rapidly disappearing in trade with Europe. In North Carolina there is almost no hard money now to be had; not that it has all been sent out of the country, but because of the general dislike for the new paper-money, in consequence of which everyone is disposed to keep what coin he has as long as he can, and to get rid of the paper he receives, or rather has forced upon him, as quickly as possible, from the fear that this, by precedent, will decline in value. Paper-money is everywhere taken squeamishly and unwillingly, and owes any value it has to the extreme necessity. In the middle parts of North Carolina, about Hallifax and on the Roanoke, where the chief crop is tobacco which may be sold for cash money at Petersburg, they refuse absolutely to give paper any currency. The paper chosen for the new money being very fine and thin, the people fancy (especially as from former examples the guarantee seems to them uncertain) that such thin paper was selected on purpose, so that a part of these bills might be torn and destroyed before the time fixed for redemption, which would be so much gain for the treasury. This mistrust is proof that the people have not the highest regard for the government. A General was paying off North Carolina troops in paper-money and they refusing to accept such bills as were any way damaged, he tore and cut bits from the whole supply, and dispensed these bills with the notification: that if they would not take the torn, they should have none of any sort.
A certain amount of this new paper-money comes back to the State treasury in taxes, which must be settled partly in paper-money and partly in ‘certificates’ which during the war the state issued to the inhabitants for services rendered, supplies furnished &c. Even those who have none of these certificates for deliveries made by them, must make use of them for paying a certain part of their taxes; a number of the inhabitants are therefore obliged to buy these certificates from others for the purpose. They are readily exchanged, not for paper-money, but for cash or goods, at a fourth or a third of their face value; the people’s distrust of the government making them glad to get free of the certificates as well as may be. The government has reckoned on this exchange to distribute more evenly among the inhabitants the burden of contributions to the war, and the sums coming in through such certificates are to be regarded as an extraordinary impost, over and above the tax necessary for meeting the state’s expences, and so much the less felt by the subject because until very recently the certificates were looked upon as worth nothing whatever.
In addition, the paper-money being supported by law, merchants and shop-keepers must take it, giving in exchange for paper, goods that they are unable to get elsewhere except for cash money. The amount of the produce of the country, which the merchants take in lieu of payment, is not sufficient to make good the annual imports; and the people, disposed to idleness and good-living, commonly buy more of the merchants, and in advance, than their labor amounts to. The merchants are therefore obliged, and it is their custom, to sell on long credit, but they are in consequence involved in continual processes at law and suits for debt.6
The subjects are in debt to the state, the state to the subjects, and these very generally among themselves. The non-payment of these debts being due especially to the lack of current coin or a valid substitute, the renewed introduction of paper-money was held to be expedient. The assertion is made that the first call for it came from very respectable citizens who were however greatly in debt, and that they were supported by others who had claims on the state, but that the people in general were against the measure. Therefore, to place an amount as much as 100,000 Pd. the more easily in circulation, and in order to make the paper more acceptable and give the inhabitants time to recover themselves and bring more order into their affairs, a law was passed which made all legal claims and actions in cases of debt of no effect for the space of one year.
The taxes at this time in North Carolina amount, under divers heads, to about 1˝ per centum of all property. The land-tax in itself is very small, only 3 pence in the pound, and besides lands are assessed very low, greatly under their true value, the valuation being made by 9 sworn men (Assizers) in each county. For example, the dry pine-land, or ‘pine-barren,’ is fixed at a shilling the acre, and thus 20 acres of such land pay 3 pence, and 100 acres only 15 pence. So trifling a tax does not fall heavy even on those who own great tracts of land, one man, for instance, in North Carolina owning 50,000 acres, and many 20,000 to 10,000 acres;7 their practice being to keep so much together as long as they can raise the taxes without difficulty. Such extensive possessions as these never being sufficiently cultivated or utilized, it appears at once that an increase in the land-tax would further industry and be an advantage to the country; but the poorer part of the inhabitants resists any increase, and if it was made, would rather withdraw to other regions, where land is still to be had not taxed at all or very little.
The manner of taking up land usual in North Carolina was formerly as follows: a piece of land possessed of no man, was sought out, and taken over as freehold either from the crown or the proprietors of the province on payment of 20 Pd. for a thousand acres, and a shilling a year ground-rent for every 100 acres. One could, moreover, for 1 penny the acre annual ground-rent, have the use of as much land anywhere as was desired.
The maintenance of the civil list of the state of North Carolina is said to amount at this time to only some 15000 pounds. North Carolina during the last war set up at one time and another 10 regiments, each commonly of but 300 men, and towards the end of the war much less than 300. The number of the people of this state was estimated by the Congress in September 1774 at 300,000 souls, among whom it was believed were 75,000 arms-bearing men, but this estimate is likely very much too high.8
The form of government of this state does not differ materially from that of most of the others. The executive power is in the hands of the Governor and the Council of State, who are elected annually by the members of the Assembly. The Governor must own property in land to the amount of at least 1000 Pd., and must have lived five years in the province. The Assembly, or the law-making power, is made up of the Senate and the House of Commons; a Senator must have lived a year in the province and own 300 acres, a member of the lower house at least 100 acres. The members of both houses are elected annually; all free inhabitants, who have lived a year in the country and have paid their taxes, cast their votes at the election for members of the lower house; but for a vote at the election of Senators they are qualified by a freehold of 50 acres of land.
From New-Bern to Snead’s Ferry on the Neus river it is 53 miles, flat sandy land covered with pine-forest. The sand, however, where it has not been disturbed by wind, weather, or water, is generally overlaid with an inch or more of good black earth; but if the timber has been taken off, the land ploughed or in any way touched, this black earth disappears rapidly. Everywhere clay lies beneath the sand, often very little below the surface, and could at small expence of trouble be turned up for the betterment of the sand. Approaching the sea-coast by this road, we observed that in place of the fine, white, barren, sand, blacker and mirier soil appeared now and then; really such places were where large swamps had dried off, and they deserved to be made more use of. Still nearer the coast, the landscape is no longer so uniformly flat as farther inland, but grows uneven and broken, with ranges of very low sand-hills standing one behind the other or pell mell. On the Neus river also it was observable that the face of the country was changed, the land losing its dead flatness; a broad and high natural embankment followed the course of the river, and the land behind seemed lower than the surface of the river itself. I make mention of this here for the first time, although it is a circumstance often to be remarked in other regions and along other rivers, and a source of danger at times of sudden overflow; at least, on the Roanoke, the Trent, and other rivers, many cattle pasturing in these low woods are lost when there is a sudden rise of the water. These low-lying tracts are filled with evergreen bush, and fine old trunks which have a grey and ancient look, from the long thick moss (Tillandsia usneoides) everywhere pending. In these shadowed and not unamiable wilds a rich harvest of the finest and rarest Carolinian plants might be expected, allowed no chance by the dry and burning sand;—but at this season, alas, everything was dead.
In the midst of the sandy levels and the forests there are here and there little lakes, often pretty deep, and apparently with no outlet or supply from other waters. In several of these, fish are said to be found, coming from no one knows where. The same is true also of South Carolina, where in deserted rice-plantations rain-water assembles in large ponds, which have no running water outlet, and yet fish are found in them. The people believe that the seed of the fish fall down with the rain, and the wild ducks and numerous other water-fowl which visit these ponds are not suspected.
At Snead’s Ferry there is a free prospect over the river and towards the open sea. Here, and for some distance farther back, the vehement and continual roar of the surf was to be heard, or the sound of the waves breaking on the main-land, although the shore is 4-5 miles away. The Neus, as well as the other rivers of this country yield throughout the year an abundance of fish, of one kind or another. Mullets (Mugil Albula L.) come in the autumn with the first cold nights, going up the river in great schools from the sea to spawn. At that time many boats and shalops are to be seen about the mouths of the rivers; with little trouble they take a quantity of these fish, salt them, and convey them to the West Indies. Mullets are in the rivers throughout the winter. With them come numerous schools of a sort of trouts, which are a more delicate fish, for no sooner does a fresh north-wester blow than they go quite numb, and may be taken almost dead from the water.
A chain of small, low islands lies close in to the main-land, along North and South Carolina, forming a narrow, navigable sound. The soil immediately on the coast is not altogether bad, in many places better than that more inland, and many people are tempted to live there, where in addition to farming they may get a support and money by fishing. The shore, it is said, is pretty well settled already; and it was astonishing, after we had come the whole way from New-Bern without meeting a soul, to be assured here that by a few musket-shots and in an hour’s time, 200 men might be brought together from the adjacent country.
The alligator or American crocodile begins to be more frequent in this region. But at this time of the year none were to be seen, for they keep hidden in their holes during the three winter months; only on very warm days, it is said, are their tracks to be found on the sand. There is ascribed to them a strong odor of musk. One has not much to fear from them, except when bathing or swimming in the rivers. Their increase is greatly checked by the fore-mentioned buzzards, which hunt out the alligator eggs in the sand and eat them. They live chiefly on fish; but their voraciousness tempts them to snap at anything that comes in their way, and pieces of wood, leather, or iron have been found in their maws.
Of serpents there are found in this and the neighboring regions almost all the known species of North America, and rather plentiful, but few of them are venomous. They do not often resort to the great swamps, because they find no good holes in the wet earth, and in winter would be in danger of freezing or drowning under the ice, in their holes. A snake, called the ‘black runner,’ was killed some time ago and found to be 12 ft. long.
Our journey was favored with a series of clearer, warm days.9 Frogs were everywhere noisy in their swamps; bees flew; bats fluttered of an evening; black urchins gamboled naked in the open. This, in the first week of January, was augury of an early spring; however, scarcely a plant dares unfold until the beginning of the month of March, when the spring may really be said to open in this region. Spring-frosts here fall at times even in April. But severely cold winter-weather10 is nothing uncommon in this uncertain climate, often holding for a good many days. Three years ago the Neus river at New-Bern (in latitude 35 south) was so hard frozen that men and animals could cross on the ice.
The Iris verna L., called Violet here, the Viola pedata and palmata, Gomphrena flava, Lupinus perennis, Sanguinaria canadensis, Sarracenia lutea and purpurea, Cypripedium Calceolus, Azalea viscosa, Kalmia latifolia, angustifolia, and glauca, and other plants seem, from the partial accounts I had, to belong among the first to appear in the spring, blooming towards the end of February or the beginning of March. The remarkable Dionæa Muscipula L. (Fly-trap) is at home in this region, but seems to be known to very few of the inhabitants. And besides it, there are many rare plants to reward the pains of the future investigator.
In this thin sandy soil, corn is planted 6 ft. apart. A bushel of seed therefore is enough for 10-12 acres of land, yielding some 12-15 fold, and more on new land. One and the same acre is cultivated many years together, as long as it will bring anything whatever, and without any dunging or fallowing; until the earth is quite exhausted there is no taking in a new piece of land, for it never suits their fancy to better the old by dunging.
In North and South Carolina, besides corn, a small kind of peas, called Indian peas, is very much raised. They yield heavily and in good years produce 40-50 for one. They plant them the end of April or the first of May and gather in October. The people here distill a bad sort of brandy from potatoes (Convolvulus Battatas L.).
The lack of salt and its dearness during the war, when a bushel often cost one or two Spanish dollars, brought it about that on the coast of North and South Carolina they began to boil sea-water in pans. This was done at the time with good success and great profit, but is now given over since it can be had in plenty and cheap from the West Indies. Since the value of the wood may be counted as nothing, this manner of preparing salt would still be profitable, if the price of salt continued at no more than 3/8 of a dollar, but this is not the case. No attempt has been made to get salt from sea-water by evaporation in pits. The expense for salt is considerable, and many vessels are engaged in its conveyance. Besides that necessary for pickling fish and meat, it is the custom in the back parts and the country at a distance from the coast to give the horses and black cattle a little salt several times a week, as well with a view to the health of the cattle as to accustom them to the house and the plantation, and the cattle hanker after it. Near the coast, however, even where the cattle cannot get to salt-water, they are not so lickerish; and no salt is given them, the people believing (but mistakenly) that the air itself and the falling dews are laden with salt evaporated from the sea.
Sweet water is found almost everywhere along the coast at a slight depth. Even near the shore, if a pit is dug with the hands in the sand, it soon fills with water tolerably fresh. A few miles from the sea, water is found in the clay-bed under the sand at a depth of 2-4-6 feet. Also there are very good and fresh natural springs in this low country; in the midst of the swamps strong, pure springs are found, for which commonly a way is opened by trees rotting out and leaving holes.
That the greatest and most important part of the immense forests of this fore-country consists of pine, I have already several times mentioned. But it is precisely this wood that so much advantages the inhabitants, in which lies the compensation for their generally sterile soil; it is this that supplies them with excellent timber for building and other purposes, and with the opportunity for considerable gain from turpentine, tar, pitch, resin, and turpentine-oil. Therefore the pitch-pine is for North Carolina the tree most important and profitable.
Turpentine, as is well known, is obtained by cutting into the trunk. These cuts, which they call ‘boxes’ here, are made at first quite low, only 1 or 2 feet above the ground; in the following years they are extended upwards, new ones being made above the first; but there are no cuts made higher than 5-6 feet above the ground, although it would be practicable to gather turpentine higher up, with the help of a small ladder. The great quantity of the wood is the reason why the trouble is not taken, new trees being worked in preference. According to its strength, 2, 3, and 4 boxes are cut in one tree; this is done in mid-winter, for in summer the wounding of the tree would be fatal. The resinous sap, or turpentine, begins to flow in April and continues until into the month of September. Twice a month, and commonly in the new and full moon, the outflow is ‘dipped,’ or scraped, from the boxes, and as often the boxes are chopped a-fresh, or ‘re-chip’d,’ else dust or the hardened turpentine itself would clog the openings of the sap-vessels and check the flow. One man can readily care for 3000 boxes, and that number is generally assigned one negro, the negroes doing the most of this work. At the best and warmest season one negro can easily fill 15-20 barrels of turpentine a day. In rainy and cloudy weather the outflow is less, and nothing is done. It is reckoned that from 3000 boxes more than 100-120 barrels in the average should be obtained in a summer. For these 3000 boxes some 12-15 acres of forest should suffice, according as the trees stand close or far apart, and are strong or not. A barrel of turpentine, 32 gallons, is now worth 16 shillings or 2 Spanish dollars.
Tar is coaled from the wood of this and other sorts of pines; but old wind-falls and dead trunks of the pitch-pine are greatly preferred, the pitch-pine being the most resinous, and hence losing nothing if long exposed to the air and weather, merely the watery sap evaporating and the resinous part remaining behind. This dead wood used for tar-burning is called ‘light-wood,’ and the tar prepared from it is called ‘dead tar’ to distinguish it from ‘green tar’ which is got from freshly felled trees, already used some years for turpentine. The green is preferred to the dead. Tar-coaling is done in a pit lined with clay, in which the wood is covered with earth and coaled by a slow fire; the tar sweated out goes to the bottom and runs through wooden pipes into casks more deeply buried.H Tar-coaling is here a winter-business, and by the use of wind-falls, dead trees, and those that have been boxed for turpentine, the people make money almost from nothing, since where this business is not carried on, such wood rots useless in the forest. A middling sized cart full of resin-wood, or so much as two thin oxen can draw, yields a barrel, by the usual estimate, or a cask of tar, worth 12 shillings or 1 ˝ Spanish dollars.
From the tar is burned pitch; either in great iron cauldrons or, more commonly, in pits, 6 ft. deep and four and a half across, and lined with clay if the soil is not already clay. Such a pit can hold 50 or more casks of tar. Three casks of tar give about 2 of pitch. A cask of tar costing 12 shillings, and one of pitch 20 shillings, it follows that since 3 of the one make but 2 of the other, only 4 shillings are gained. But there is besides a saving in casks, rated at 2 2/3-3 shillings a-piece, and the pitch loses nothing in keeping, whereas tar is a diminishing article.
Oil of turpentine is obtained by distillation of turpentine, and the residue is common rosin. A cask of turpentine gives some 3 gallons of turpentine-oil and 29 gallons go to rosin. A gallon of turpentine-oil costs a half dollar, and a cask of rosin three dollars.
All these works are carried on mainly by negro slaves, and the profit arising is so much the greater because no establishment is necessary beyond the working hands themselves. It is here and there estimated that each working negro, what with these and other uses made of the forest, should bring in to his master one to two hundred pounds current a year, but this calculation may be perhaps too high.
Formerly one could buy 100 acres of this pine-forest for 4-5 Pd. Current (about 24-30 fl. Rhenish). He who took up 1 or 200 acres, generally had the use of six to ten times as much more lying adjacent, there being unalienated timber-land in plenty. At present, the returns from lands sold being applied in the settlement of the state debts, the price of 100 acres of timber-land is raised to 10-12 Pd.
The Pitch-pine, here so-called, which is greatly preferred for turpentine because most resinous, has three very long needles in each case; the tree is of a tall comely growth, and has long bare boughs upward-bent, which, commonly at the extreme end, bear outstanding tufts of needles. It appears more like Pinus palustris Mill11 than Pinus Taeda L., since it grows here almost entirely on barren, sandy soils, and is found oftener towards the coast than farther inland. The tree is not apparently weakened if turpentine is drawn from it many years together, and it is even thought that it merely grows the richer for these tappings, and used finally as light-wood, yields the more in tar and pitch.
Together with it, but in greater plenty farther inland, grows the Rosemary-Pine12 so-called, which has but two needles, and short ones; and yields vastly less turpentine than the other, nor for so long a period. The name Yellow-Pine is given in this country for the most part to the rosemary-pine; but others hold that this is a particular variety of the pitch-pine, distinguished by a thinner, smoother back, a softer, yellower wood, somewhat shorter needles, a straighter and less branching growth, and that the variety may be discerned quite young and makes a better house-timber. Others again give the name yellow-pine only to very old pitch-pines, and believe that the tree makes no good timber until then. It is difficult to get a clear notion of the many names, varieties, and sub-varieties of this region.
The products of these trees having long brought in good returns to the province, there have always been official inspectors appointed to look into the quality and purity of the turpentine and give attestation. In addition, the wood of these forests is made into boards, shingles, cask-staves &c., dressed and exported, and to this end there are already a good many saw-mills established in the country. The means of gain, within the reach of every owner of such a tract of wood-land, being so manifold and so easy, it is certainly no hard matter to grow rich in a short time, if it is regarded as indifferent in what state one leaves the land to his heirs.
From the Neus river to Wilmington on the Cape Fear river it is 42 miles through forest and sand. The many paths and roads inter-crossing these woods often bring travellers to confusion. Here and there, indeed, guide-posts are set up, but nothing is written on them. Once we got quite out of the road and might have gone heaven knows where, had not a gentleman met us and set us in the road again. This was the first human creature that for many days had met us on this road. He had come a matter of 21 miles to have a trifle made at a smith’s, and tomorrow would be going 19 miles farther to find a tailor—and was riding on a saddle-cloth.
Wilmington stands close to the Cape Fear river, and lower than the general sand-surface. There are in the town perhaps 150 framed houses, but most of them of good appearance. This was once for a good while the capital of the province, and drove a considerable trade with the West Indies and the northern provinces; at the present time its trade is almost entirely with Charleston. The harbor should be good; but the entrance is difficult for larger vessels, from a bar giving no more than 9-10 ft. water. Larger ships must consequently first lighten cargo at Brunswick, a little place 16 miles from here, lying nearer the mouth of the river. Nine miles below Brunswick, on Cape Fear so much dreaded by mariners, stands or rather stood, Fort Johnson, erected long ago for covering the approach; both this and Brunswick are now almost wholly demolished and deserted.
While on the road to Wilmington I heard mention of a place by the name of Rocky-point, on the Cape Fear river. Merely the name must excite attention, since from the general nature of this country, a rocky point suggested something unlooked-for, something strange. But at Wilmington I soon found the explanation. This town is situated on the deep-cut banks of the river; behind and around, the land lies higher, the continuation, that is, of the general sand-surface, here broken by hollows formed by the river and several other smaller streams. Near to the town, and hard by the water, there are apparent at the surface several beds of shell-stone, many feet in thickness; covered with a bed of white, pure sand in which no strata were plainly to be observed. The shell-bed is thus laid bare at the river-side, and consists of a stone for the most part hard, here and there clearly stratified. It is altogether made up of the same sorts of cockles and shells as that mentioned at York in Virginia. They are more or less crushed, particularly in the deepest layers; higher up, a good many are to be seen whole among those broken, and quite at the top they are not so closely associated, but mixed with sand, reddish clay, and, now and then, small rounded pebbles. In places where the harder rock has been exposed to the air and the current, there are many hollow spots among the shells and fragments, the sand or other binding parts having been washed out. In the middle of this rock-bank there appears a layer which is distinct in hardness and purer whiteness, and might almost be taken for white marble were it not for the very small crevices among the shell-fragments, here very small themselves. Now and again there were plainly to be seen entire impressions of the flat sea-star (Echinus Orbiculus L.).
There grew on the rocks Acrostichum polypodioides and Asplenium rhizophyllum L.
The day after our arrival we attended a public auction held in front of the Court-house. House-leases for a year were offered for sale, and very indifferent houses in the market street, because advantageously placed for trade, were let for 60, 100, and 150 Pd. annual rent.
After this, negroes were let for 12 months to the highest bidder, by public cry as well. A whole family, man, wife, and 3 children, were hired out at 70 Pd. a year; and others singly, at 25, 30, 35 Pd., according to age, strength, capability, and usefulness. In North Carolina it is reckoned in the average that a negro should bring his master about 30 Pd. Current a year (180 fl. Rhenish). In the West Indies the clear profit which the labor of a negro brings his master, is estimated at 25-30 guineas, and in Virginia, according to the nature of the land, at 10-12-15 guineas a year. The keep of a negro here does not come to a great figure, since the daily ration is but a quart of maize, and rarely a little meat or salted fish. Only those negroes kept for house-service are better cared for. Well-disposed masters clothe their negroes once a year, and give them a suit of coarse woollen cloth, two rough shirts, and a pair of shoes. But they who have the largest droves keep them the worst, let them run naked mostly or in rags, and accustom them as much as possible to hunger, but exact of them steady work. Whoever hires a negro, gives on the spot a bond for the amount, to be paid at the end of the term, even should the hired negro fall sick or run off in the meantime. The hirer must also pay the negro’s head-tax, feed him and clothe him. Hence a negro is capital, put out at a very high interest, but because of elopement and death certainly very unstable.
Other negroes were sold and at divers prices, from 120 to 160 and 180 Pd., and thus at 4-5 to 6 times the average annual hire. Their value is determined by age, health, and capacity. A cooper, indispensable in pitch and tar making, cost his purchaser 250 Pd., and his 15-year old boy, bred to the same work, fetched 150 Pd. The father was put up first; his anxiety lest his son fall to another purchaser and be separated from him was more painful than his fear of getting into the hands of a hard master. Who buys me, he was continually calling out, must buy my son too, and it happened as he desired, for his purchaser, if not from motives of humanity and pity, was for his own advantage obliged so to do. An elderly man and his wife were let go at 200 Pd. But these poor creatures are not always so fortunate; often the husband is snatched from his wife, the children from their mother, if this better answers the purpose of buyer or seller, and no heed is given the doleful prayers with which they seek to prevent a separation.
One cannot without pity and sympathy see these poor creatures exposed on a raised platform, to be carefully examined and felt by buyers. Sorrow and despair are discovered in their look, and they must anxiously expect whether they are to fall to a hard-hearted barbarian or a philanthropist. If negresses are put up, scandalous and indecent questions and jests are permitted. The auctioneer is at pains to enlarge upon the strength, beauty, health, capacity, faithfulness, and sobriety of his wares, so as to obtain prices so much the higher. On the other hand the negroes auctioned zealously contradict everything good that is said about them; complain of their age, long-standing misery or sickness, and declare that purchasers will be selling themselves in buying them, that they are worth no such high bids: because they know well that the dearer their cost, the more work will be required of them.
For the betterment of the condition of this class of mankind especially the Quakers in America have for a long time worked, but in vain. Only recently one of them, a member of the Virginia Assembly, had courage and philanthropy enough to make a public proposal for freeing the negro slaves; but this time he did not succeed.13 However, while the Quakers have been looking forward to a time when the civil powers should give ear to their repeated philanthropical representations, and by general ordinances entirely do away with the thraldom of the Africans, individual members of their society have held it a matter of conscience to encourage others by example to so praiseworthy an end. But their benevolent and noble purposes have commonly been thwarted by the corrupt state of mind prevalent among the negroes themselves, a result due to nothing but their rude bringing-up and the absolute neglect of their instruction. A rich old Quaker, who lives near Richmond in Virginia, gave all his slaves their freedom, but under the condition that they should remain with him and work for very fair day’s wages. All of them solemnly promised, but as soon as they got their free papers, most of them left him. Another rich Virginia Quaker set his negroes free likewise, and gave each family a bit of land on which they could support themselves, paying annual rent like other tenants; this indeed they began to do, but no longer feeling under strict oversight, and moral and religious principles (of which they knew nothing) not keeping them in order, to which they had previously been accustomed by force alone, the good Quaker’s designs were not carried out, and he soon saw his lands and himself deserted of his free negroes. One hears of many such instances,I cited to prove that the negroes generally are incapable of making any good use of freedom, and to support the quite ungrounded opinion that they are destined by nature for servitude. But as many examples might be given of free negroes who live decently, orderly, and industriously; and that so much may not be said of all of them, and certainly it may not, is to be explained solely on the ground of the great and intentional neglect of the education of their children; and the disposition to indolence, thievery, and untruth laid to their charge is the inevitable consequence of slavery. They are let grow up like other cattle, and taught no rule but the will of their master, have no motive to action other than the whip. It is said that the negro is by nature trifling, and can be accustomed to work only by compulsion and rigid oversight, and hence, if left to himself, would be nothing but a useless member of the community and a burden therein. It is very likely that the African, blessed at home by kind Nature with almost everything he needs for his support, has brought with him thence no great inclination for severe and painfully continuous labor; but no good reason can be given why the negro, forcibly transferred to America, should do zealously and with pleasure what the American planter himself does not like to do—why the one, in the sweat of his brow and on very scant rations, should till the fields so that the other may spend his days in peace and good-living. Were I to defend the rights of Europeans to make the negroes their slaves, says Montesquieu, I could give only these reasons: The Europeans, having driven out and exterminated the native Americans, are compelled to bring the Africans under the yoke in order to till such great tracts of land. Sugar, indigo, rice, &c. would be too dear if produced otherwise than by bondmen. These creatures are so black and their noses are so flat, it is impossible to compassionate them. It is difficult of belief that a wise and good Creator should have placed a soul, much less a worthy soul, in such black, ugly bodies. The negroes think beads of greater value than gold,—which plainly shows that they are unreasoning beings.14 It is not possible we should regard these creatures as men, for so we make ourselves no Christians. Montesquieu has here said everything that the defenders of negro slavery are wont to say, whether clearly or ambiguously.
The Cape Fear river divides at Wilmington into the n. east branch and the n. west branch, which receive the Deep river, Haw river, and many other streams. The North-east branch, under different names, extends far into the interior of the country, and is navigable by boat to Cross Creek, 100 miles from here. The straight road from Wilmington to South Carolina lies through a swampy region; the war had left the bridges useless, and we were obliged to go some miles up the Northwest Branch by boat, to avoid the swamp. The low banks of the river were grown up on both sides with reeds and canes; closest in were the smaller varieties of evergreen bush, beyond which stood the higher evergreen trees: magnolias, laurels, Hopea, Gordoma Lasianthus, and the like, their green a pleasant prospect. Amongst this green grew splendid oaks, water-shrubs, Tupalos, tulip-trees, and others, the Tillandsia hanging in long filaments from their wide-spreading branches, and a number of climbing plants woven everywhere on trunk and limbs—but at the time, unfortunately, most of them were leafless and quite without blooms. The morning of this passage it was bitter cold, felt all the more because it was necessary to keep very still in the little open boat. The negroes rowing kept warm at their work, but none the less they had brought along a few chips with which they studiously kept up a little fire, of no use to them except for the pleasure of seeing it burn. They love fire above everything and take it with them whatever they are about, in the field, in the woods, on the water, and that too at the hottest time of the year. From the plantation where we were landed, (and where for two Spanish dollars cash we had bad tea, worse sugar, no milk, tough beef, and little bread), we came 10 miles, by a long labyrinthine woods-road, to Town Creek, and thence 37 miles of uniform forest, past Lockwood’s Folly and Shallot Bridge, to Murray’s house at the South Carolina line. The whole way from Wilmington we remarked scarcely 8 or 9 houses.
This road described, which took us through North Carolina, runs near to the coast and is therefore called the lower road. The country does not certainly appear to the best advantage here, but from the character of this region one must not form an opinion of the whole. Inwards from the sea-shore, for 80-100 miles, the land is uniformly a sand-slope, as in Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia. The higher and more barren parts of this surface are occupied by the immense pine-forests, and called therefore ‘dry pine ridges,’ or ‘pine barrens.’ In the lower parts of the forests everywhere are ‘evergreen or laurel swamps,’ and along the rivers and brooks there are very generally ‘cane-marshes,’ among which must be counted the ‘savannahs,’ very low tracts subject to overflow, where only canes, rush, and sedge come up, but trees and bush very rarely. Farther inland, especially above the falls of the Roanoke, Tar, and Neus rivers, the country has a different look, swelling into hills and mountains; the valleys are well watered and rich in grass; the soil is fatter and more productive; the air wholesomer; oaks, walnuts, and other leaf-trees push out the pines; and these parts are inferior in beauty and fertility to none in America. The pleasant banks of the Dan, the Yadkin, the Holston, and other rivers, are set with numerous plantations and dwellings. Pitch and tar-making are no longer followed, because there are other kinds of trees there, and the soil being better gives guaranty of heavier yields in tobacco, hemp, wheat, and corn. In this part of the province there are already many little country-towns, such as Salisbury, Hillsborough, Campbellton, and others; plans have been made and good sites chosen for many new towns, and the country now once more at peace, these will hasten to arise. The Moravian Brethren have notable settlements at Bethania, Bethabara, and Salem, and here too are distinguished above the other inhabitants for their industry and diligence in agriculture and the crafts. A service which is recognized by most of their fellow-citizens but tempts very few of them to imitation.
Among the inhabitants, particularly of the back country, are very many German families;15 mainly from the Palatinate and Salzburgers; the most of them have gradually worked down from the more northern provinces, and one may believe that they have everywhere found out the best lands.
Near to the mountains, and surrounded by European settlements, there are still a few families of Indians, of the Catawba tribe; a district of 12 square miles is made over to them, beyond which they are not to pass, nor are they to be molested therein by their neighbors.
Among the mountain-ranges which extend through North Carolina, continuations of the great North American mountain-chain, the Tryon, Arrarat, Carraway, and Moravian mountains are especially distinct.
Beyond the mountains, to the west, the limits of North Carolina reach to the Ohio and the Mississippi, and there also many new settlements are gradually establishing.
1Buteo specie gallopavonis. Catesby, Carol. I. tab. 6.
2Probably Zizania aquatica L.
3But according to Director Achard’sC experiments, (Chem. Annal. 1786, 8, 108), the air of dry places, distant from marshes, is not precisely the best.—Thus, for the more exact explanation of the above remarks other circumstances and causes are to be sought out, local and at the time unknown.
4These sand-banks change position from time to time; the channel is often quite filled in so as to be crossed a-foot, but opens again after a space and gives free passage to larger or small vessels.
5Higher up this river are several other small towns, as Martinsburg, Tarburg &c. The latter is an inconsiderable place of itself, but before the war there was every year brought in and sold there 7-8000 Pd. of English goods; not all paid for at this time.
On the banks of the river as far as Martinsburg &c. there are found various shell-banks, full of oyster and other shells.
6The planters in North Carolina are generally in debt to the merchants; in South Carolina, on the contrary, where products of greater value are raised, the merchants are oftener in debt to the planters. In North Carolina there are considerable land-holders, owning 2-300 negroes, who yet cannot command enough cash to pay their taxes, and must sell negroes or horses to get money.G
7By the above valuation the land-tax on 10,000 acres pine-land amounts to only 6 Pd. 5 shillings, about equal to 37 fl. 30 kr. Rhenish.
8According to a later numbering of the people in the 13 provinces, published by the Congress since the Peace, only 200,000 souls are given for North Carolina.—Several American almanacs for 1785 and 1786 still make a parade of the figures for 1774, which exceed the last by at least half a million, in the total population.
9The same warm weather which we had in North Carolina the 4th, 5th, and 6th of January, with south-west winds, was observed at Philadelphia on the 6th and 7th. There as here it was the effect of the southern wind, which reached the northern parts later. Philadelphia newspapers stated that at the time the thermometer rose 53 degrees within a short space, and snow and ice suddenly melted off.
10The severity of the winters is often strangely different as between regions north and south. Linnaeus observes of the celebrated hard winters of 1739 and 1741, that in those years in Norway, beyond the Alps, there was a very mild winter; that in the years 1745 and 1746 when Sweden had a very passable winter, there was at Montpellier, on the contrary, severe cold; and that in the winter of 1735 and 1736, when Sweden and Holland had very moderate weather, at New York in America brandy froze in the cellars.—It was likewise with the winters 1779-80, and 1783-84, which were uncommonly hard throughout the middle and southern colonies of North America, but in Nova Scotia and Canada were as unusually mild. Similarly opposite conditions have several times been remarked as between the southern coasts of England and the northern parts of Scotland.
11Pinus palustris foliis ternis longissimis, Von Wangenheim’s Beyträge, 73. Marshall’s Amer. Grove, 100. The former says, it seems to contain little of resinous parts; the latter, that it is as resinous as any other kind.
12Pinus virginiana; Jersey-Pine; two-leaved Pitch-pine—von Wangenheim’s Beyträge, 74; Marshall’s Amer. Gr., 102.
13In Virginia the slavery of the negroes is now effectively annulled; no more black slaves may be imported; schools have been established for their instruction, and societies formed to protect them against the severities of their masters.—And in Pensylvania all negro slaves have been declared free, born in the province since the Declaration of Independence.
For a good many years the spreading abroad of more favorable opinions regarding the negroes has been effected chiefly by Anthony Benezet's A short Representation of the calamitous State of the enslaved Negroes in the British Dominions. Philadelph. 1766. 8; and Dr Rush's Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America upon Slave-keeping. Philadelphia. 1773. 8. Both spoke out, and were for the rights of humanity and freedom for the negroes;—shortly other writings and articles followed, which supported and made better known the position (at first criticized) of these high-minded and philanthropical men. Since that time the betterment of the condition of the negroes has been had constantly in view,—and it appears now that the effects so long desired are working.
14For the truth of the matter, not to be questioned without valid grounds, that the negroes, as regards their natural capacities and powers of mind, are in no way inferior to the rest of the human species, See Prof. Blumenbach’s remarks on the negro in Magazin zur Physik und Naturgeschichte, IV, No. 3, 4.—An impartial, unprejudiced observer might assemble among the American negro slaves, notwithstanding their unfavorable situation, numerous instances in support of this undeniable truth.
15The Germans in North Carolina are for the most part of the Lutheran faith. From published accounts it is learned that several Helmstadt Professors, at the instance of the Evangelical minister in North Carolina, Mr. Adolph Nüssmann,J have become associated in the preparation of a series of school-books for the German youth in that province. From the profits to be expected, they hope to pay the passage to Charleston of 2-3 Evangelical ministers, furnished with a good supply of books presented. It is their purpose to put together seven books, arranged on a common plan, of which the first has appeared, (Katechismus und Fragebuch, Leipzig 1787) Allg. Litt. Zeit. 1788, No. 8—North Carolina was most indifferently supplied with schools and educational establishments; but after the Peace the government was beginning already to give especial attention to education and the furtherance of good public schools.
ASee, An act for extending the boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina, Hening, IX, 561 [October 1778]—Beginning where Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, commissioners from Virginia, together with others from North Carolina, formerly appointed to run the said line, ended their work, and if that be found to be truly in the latitude of thirty six degrees thirty minutes north, then to run from thence due west to Tenasee river.
BSee, American Husbandry, London, 1775, I, 337, The two great circumstances which give the farmers of North Carolina such a superiority over those of most other colonies, are, first, the plenty of land, and, secondly, the vast herds of cattle kept by the planters. The want of ports, as I said, kept numbers from settling here, and this made the land of less value, consequently every settler got large grants; and, falling to the business of breeding cattle, their herds became so great, that the profit from them alone is exceeding great.
Cf. Smyth, Tour in the United States. London, 1784. II, 78-79.
CAchard, Franz Karl [1753-1821]. Founder of the beet-sugar industry; from 1782 Director of the Natural Philosophy section of the Academy of Sciences, Berlin.
DJohn Banister, the Virginia botanist, lost his life at the Roanoke Falls, in 1692. Cf. Goode, Beginnings of Natural History in America [Smithsonian Institution Report, 1897, II], p. 385-386.
EIn the streets and suburbs of Wilmington [North Carolina] the Pride-of-India tree (Melia azedarach) in very conspicuous, some of them twenty-five years old, having survived many a severe frost, especially that of the autumn of the present year, the severest since 1835.
Lyell, Second Visit to the United States of North America. New York, 1855, I, 219.
FSee also, John Lawson, History of Carolina, containing the exact description and natural history of that Country. London, 1714.
GThere were very few planters (possibly but one) in North Carolina at this time owning 200 negroes. See, Heads of Families 1790—North Carolina, Bulletin, United States Census Bureau.
HThis operation is described at length in American Husbandry. London, 1775. I, 343-44. The pipe ran from the depressed-centre floor to a barrel, set in the ground some two feet away.
ISee, Munford, Virginia’s Attitude toward Slavery and Secession. New York, 1909, p. 105 ff.
JPastor Adolph Nüssmann of St. Paul’s Church, Cabarrus County, North Carolina. See, Bernheim, History of the German Settlements and of the Lutheran Church in North and South Carolina. Philadelphia, 1872, pp. 242, 257, 261.
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