North Carolina Office of Archives & History Department of Cultural Resources
Historical Publications Section The Colonial Records Project
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Last Updated 05/21/01

Cartography and Exploration

A Map-Maker’s View of Anson County in 1769

Edited by

[Vol. 59 (1982), 271-278]

Much less is known about colonial conditions in the western, interior portion of the southern colonies than about conditions in the eastern, maritime regions. There are a number of reasons for this discrepancy, and they all have to do with certain basic facts of colonial life. Colonial travelers generally moved up and down the southern seaboard along coastal roads, with the result that their narratives invariably pertained mainly to coastal scenes rather than to conditions in the interior. Writers bent on producing accounts for posterity were attracted to the major seaports, to the colonial capitals, and to affluent plantations—attractions that were almost all located in the maritime parts of the southern colonies. And the simple fact that the coast had been settled by European colonists for a longer period than the interior drew more attention to it, for it was there that the colonization process had gone furthest and produced more than could be identified as being fully American.

This lopsided emphasis in the information that survives makes especially valuable any evidence that bears on conditions in the western parts of the southern colonies. Such a piece of evidence recently came to light in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, where it had lain unused and even, for more than a decade, impossible to locate.1 It is in the form of a brief manuscript description of a North Carolina county in 1769. The county is Anson County, which had then been in existence for less than two decades and had been the western limit of the organized territory of the colony in the 1750s. Although two new counties were carved out of the land immediately to the west of Anson County in the 1760s, the Anson County of 1769 was still very much a part of the newly settled backcountry. While this account admittedly provides only limited information about Anson, even sparse descriptions of the Carolina backcountry in the Regulator period have value.

The manuscript is in the American-British Colonies Collection of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. It is one of nine diverse essays and papers collected in a volume of 94 leaves bound in contemporary paper boards. The volume bears the spine title “Sundry Papers 1774.” Each of the leaves is 6 inches by 7 6/10 inches in size and is numbered consecutively in the upper-right corner of the recto of each leaf. The paper is a fine quality heavy linen and bears a watermark showing the figure of Britannia seated holding a shield. Above this device is a crown topped by a Maltese cross. There are no blank fore-leaves, and the title of the volume, “Sundry Papers/Part the first/Collected/Anno Domini/1774,” appears on the first leaf.2 This is followed on the second leaf by a table of contents which lists the different items or essays that are bound together in the volume. The third essay, which is reproduced here, can be found on leaves numbered 23 through 25. The heading and text of this account are preceded on leaf 22 by a title page which reads “Description/of/Anson County in North/Carolina/By/J. A. Collett/1769.”

The manuscript volume was accessioned by the Library of Congress on August 16, 1910, under the heading “America, British Colonies. Copies of various historical papers relating to America, Cultivation of the vine, N.C., Pa., Mississippi River, etc. 1682-1774 1 vol.” It had been purchased from an English bookseller named Albert Sutton.3 A brown leather case has recently been prepared to house the small volume.

The nine papers in the volume are truly miscellaneous in character, and the account of Anson County seems to have no relationship to any of the other items. It is preceded by two accounts dealing with the culture of the vine and is followed by a copy of the 1682 grant of the western bank of the Delaware River below Pennsylvania to William Penn by James Duke of York.4

It seems obvious from the manuscript that it is a promotional piece written by John Abraham Collet for someone interested in acquiring by purchase or some other manner a tract of 25,000 acres that the writer owned in Anson County, North Carolina.5 It is not clear whether the individual for whom Collet wrote the piece had it and the other items bound or whether they were collected and bound by some other person. It does seem clear, however, that all of the items are contemporary copies made by the same hand about the time they were bound in 1774.

The author of this account, John Abraham Collet, was a well-known figure in the late colonial and Revolutionary periods in North Carolina. He is best known for his “A Compleat Map of North Carolina,” published in London in 1770.6 Collet was born in Switzerland. He saw service with the French in the Seven Years War. Having obtained training in mathematics, drawing, and fortifications, he went to England and in 1767 was commissioned an army captain by George III and was appointed governor of Fort Johnston near the mouth of the Cape Fear River in North Carolina.

The appointment proved a disappointment financially, although Collet secured the friendship and support of Governor William Tryon. Sometime in 1768 Governor Tryon turned over to Collet an unfinished but largely completed map of North Carolina that had been drawn by William Churton, surveyor in the Granville District, before his death in December, 1767.7 When Collet gained control of the Churton manuscript map, he found that portions of the coastal region and the southern part of the colony were incomplete. Collet subsequently made additions and corrections to this map, although the extent of these is not known.8

In 1768 he served as aide-de-camp to Governor Tryon on the latter’s expedition against the Regulators at Hillsborough which lasted from July 6 to October 2.9 Whether Collet visited Anson County during the course of this expedition or sometime earlier cannot be determined. It was during this period, however, that he purchased 25,000 acres of land near Rocky River in Anson County when it was sold at public auction at the county courthouse on August 10, 1768.10 Collet purchased two tracts of 12,500 acres each which were formerly owned by two merchants, Henry Slingsby of Barbados and Henry Howson of London. The Slingsby tract was purchased for £5 (proc.) and the Howson tract, for £2 (proc.). Deeds were issued on the date of the sale by Sheriff James Pickett, and they were privately proved before Chief Justice Martin Howard at Hillsborough on September 29, 1768.11

Early in December, 1768, Collet returned to England with the deed for his large tract of Anson County land and a large manuscript map based upon Churton’s surveys and upon the limited material he had obtained himself. After some revisions of the manuscript map, Collet published his map on May 1, 1770, under the sponsorship of George III. It must have been sometime during this period, also, that he disposed of his Anson land to the unknown English purchaser.

Collet returned to North Carolina early in 1773, where he strengthened Fort Johnston and recruited soldiers from New York for a small garrison for the fort. During the crisis of 1774-1775 he strongly supported the royal cause and was finally forced to abandon the fort and flee North Carolina.12

Collet’s account of Anson County undoubtedly belongs to the genre of promotional literature. More specifically, it constitutes a fine example of “the west is best” theme, insofar as it bolsters and reflects a highly favorable image of the interior. The legend and mystique of the West, a motif underlying western expansion in nineteenth-century America, had its antecedents east of the Appalachians in the colonial period.13

The careless manner in which the author presents his account of the region and the rather superficial generalizations he makes lead the reader to conclude that his knowledge of the area was limited or the person for whom the account was prepared had such limited understanding of the region that only the most general account was necessary or even, perhaps, desirable. There is little or no reason to doubt that Collet had visited the area he describes, but when he did so during the year he was in the colony cannot be determined.

Without any doubt the major theme or impression conveyed by the account is one of considerable commercial activity in the interior and general economic well-being on the Carolina frontier. Since Collet’s view of Anson County was of necessity formed at the very moment the Regulator troubles began to climax, the impression his account conveys is an interesting one, although largely unsubstantiated elsewhere. For this reason the promotional nature of the account should not be forgotten.

Since the text is short and completely intelligible, the original spelling, punctuation, and capitalization have been preserved. The three footnotes in the original manuscript are placed at the end of the main body of the document. The first and second footnotes in the original manuscript were indicated by a “+” and the third footnote by a “D.” These symbols have been retained in the text.

A Short Account of Anson County, in North Carolina

Anson County+ in North Carolina lies between Great Peedy and Santee or Watereek Rivers, two of the largest of the Province, running both into the Sea about the boundary line which divides North and South Carolina, they are Beautifull and full of Fish, but Navigable only for Periagas and boats, being too Shallow for Ships.14 This County is about a hundred & fifty Miles from Cape Fear and Two hundred from Charles Town in South Carolina.15 The Inhabitants generally Carry their Goods to Sell, to one of those two places, thro’ fine and Spacious Roads,16 except their Lumber and Timber, which they Send by Water, to be put on board Ships for England, were it Turns to very good Account.17

Anson County is bounded to the South by South Carolina, and in North Carolina is Surrounded by Mecklinbourgh County to the North, Rowen County to the South East (in which is Salisbury Town which is a pretty place, with a good Trade) Cumberland County to the East, and by Bladen County, next to which is Brunswick County, where the Governor of the Province generally resides in a town of the same name.18

The whole back Country is a little hilly, full of Rivers, and Consequently healthy, the brightness of the Sky, and Serenity of the Air makes it delightfull, the people in general live to a great Age, and it is Common to see Men of a hundred Years Old, Working in the Woods like Young Ones.19 The Soil is Rich, fruitfull, and fit for every production, such as Indian Corn, Wheat, Barley, Pease, Oats, etc. Any sort of fruits such as Apples, Pears, Apricots, Nectarines, Peaches, etc, grow very soon, and in such abundance, that they feed their hogs with them, all sorts of Grains and Garden Plants thrive also in great plenty, the Abundance of Rivers, and Brooks, being a great help to the Fertility of the Soil;20 the Whole Country is Covered with pretty good wild grapes, and Vines transplanted from Europe, or other parts of the World, thrive surprisingly, but there are but few; it would be worth while to plant Vine Yards there, for, besides the Immense benefit they would be to the Country, and the Planter, Government has promised a reward of five hundred pounds to the first who shall make a Hogshead of Good Wine.21

The Inhabitants of this Country live in the greatest plenty, having Beef, Veal, Mutton, Pork, the same as in England; there are also in the Woods great Number of Deers, Hares, Wild Turkeys, Wild Ducks and Geese, the Bucks, and Dears Skins are a Very Good branch of Trade,22 as well as their Pitch, Tar Gums and Rosin, of which they send large quantities Yearly to Great Britain;23 The County produces also a little Silk and Cotton,24 but such a Manufacture properly attended to, would Certainly turn to great profit as well as two or three Mills,+ which if built would at least produce, six hundred Pounds each proclamation Money to their Owner.25 Anson County has a Courthouse,26 and there is no doubt but that in a few Years when the Country shall be better peopled, that Lands there will become Very Valuable.D

+In this County are situated the Twenty five Thousand Acres of Lands ceded to me by Collett.

+ By Mills is meant not only Corn Mills, but Saw Mills, which might easily be erected upon some of the Rivers which abound in that Province.

D Some allowance ought to be made for the Stile of the Above description in having been wrote by Captain Collett who was not perfectly Master of the English Language; The Lands which he made over to me there, are Divided into two Tracts of Twelve Thousands five hundred Acres each, and are Situated about the Middle of the Province.


* Dr. Merrens is professor, Department of Geography, York University, Toronto, Canada; Dr. Paschal; at the time of his death on June 2, 1982, was professor, Department of History, East Carolina University, Greenville.

1 When Professor Merrens first noted this item listed among the vast holdings of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, it could not be found. It remained lost until Mrs. Carolyn Hoover Sung, then a manuscript librarian in the Library of Congress, finally identified the item and made it available in 1969.

2 There is no known “Part the second,” although it is obvious that the compiler of this volume intended to prepare two or more such volumes of papers.

3 This volume was accessioned as Item No. 1100. Accession Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

4 The table of contents lists the following items as they appear in the bound volume:

“Plan for the Cultivation of the Vine &c at New Bordeaux.”

“The Utility of the Culture of Vines &c in North America.”

“Description of Anson County, North Carolina.”

“Grant from James, Duke of York, to Wm Penn Esq. of part of Pensilvania.”

“Indenture made between James, Duke of York and William Penn Esqre. relative to a tract of Land in Pensilvania.”

“Governor Brown’s Reasons for the Establishment of a Civil Government adjoining to the River Mississippi.”

“Plan of a Mexican Commerce.”

“Proposals of the Marquis D’Aubaredes, relative to the Mississippi.”

“Account for the Sale of Lands in the Island of Newfoundland.”

5 A splendid sketch of Collet’s career, prepared by William P. Cumming and citing most of the basic sources for a study of his life, can be found in William S. Powell (ed.), Dictionary of North Caroltna Biography (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press [projected multivolume series], 1979—), I, 402-404, hereinafter cited as Powell, DNCB. The editors wish to gratefully acknowledge additional notes and ideas supplied to them by Dr. Cumming.

6 An account of this map and the manuscript map on which it is apparently based is in William P. Cumming, The Southeast in Early Maps (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), 55-58, 239, 244, hereinafter cited as Cumming, The Southeast in Early Maps. The map is reproduced on Plates 63, 64, 65, and 66. Except in the document itself, the spelling “Collet” has been used by the editors throughout this paper since that was the spelling engraved on Collet’s map, which it is assumed he approved and, hence, preferred.

7 An excellent account of Churton’s career by Mary Claire Engstrom is in Powell, DNCB, I, 370-371.

8 Powell, DNCB, I, 371, 402.

9 William S. Powell, James K. Huhta, and Thomas J. Farnham (eds.), The Regulators in North Carolina: A Documentary History, 1759-1776 (Raleigh: State Department of Archives and History, 1971), 127-145.

10 Governors Office Records, Council Papers, 1766-1784, GO 118, pp. 22-28, Archives, Division of Archives and History, Department of Cultural Resources, Raleigh, hereinafter cited as Governors Office Records, Council Papers.

11 The land purchased by Collet was part of the 1.2 million acres warranted to the original sixteen Huey-Crymble associates by the king in council in 1737. This land was laid off in twelve tracts of 100,000 acres each, and then each tract was subdivided into eight parcels of 12,500 acres. The associates were required to settle a specified number of people on the land within ten years and to pay a quitrent or forfeit their grant. Since the terms of settlement were not met, the lands were declared forfeited to the crown and were advertised for sale in 1768. Governors Office Records, Council Papers, 1766-1784, pp. 28b-32b; Land Grant Records of North Carolina, Department of the Secretary of State, Raleigh, Land Grant Book XIX, 320, 321; William L. Saunders (ed.), The Colonial Records of North Carolina (Raleigh: State of North Carolina, 10 volumes, 1886-1890), IV, 253-256; V, 630; VII, 140, hereinafter cited as Saunders, Colonial Records. The editors gratefully acknowledge the references and aid provided to them on this subject by George Stevenson, head of the Reference Unit at the State Archives.

12 Powell, DNCB, I, 402-403.

13 For the development of this theme in a somewhat different context see H. Roy Merrens, “The Physical Environment of Early America: Images and Image Makers in Colonial South Carolina,” Geographical Review, LIX (October, 1969), 530-556.

14 The Great Peedee or Pee Dee River is formed by the junction of the Yadkin and Uwharrie rivers at a point that in 1769 was just below the northern boundary of Anson County. It flows southward into South Carolina and enters the sea at Georgetown on Winyah Bay. The Santee or Wateree lies well to the west of the Pee Dee and was known in North Carolina then, as today, as the Catawba River. The Catawba rises in the Blue Ridge Mountains and flows 150 miles southward into South Carolina where it is called the Wateree River, and where, changing its name once more, it reaches the sea as the Santee River some distance above Charleston. Collet’s location of Anson between these two rivers is deceptive. Only about half of the county in 1769 lay west of the Pee Dee. The other portion of Anson lay east of this stream. William S. Powell, The North Carolina Gazetteer (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968), 94, 376, 546.

15 These distances are reasonably rough estimates if figured from about the center of Anson County. However, the southeastern extremity of Anson, adjoining Bladen County, was not much more than 75 miles from Cape Fear and certainly less than 200 miles from Charleston.

16 The major roads of Anson in 1769 are best set forth on Collet’s map, which he was in the process of completing at the time he wrote this description. His map showed only one road coming into Anson from the east. This was from Cross Creek on the Cape Fear. It crossed the Pee Dee at the same point at which a road from the communities on the Haw and Deep rivers to the north came down along the Little River and crossed the Pee Dee. Two roads from Salisbury, only a short distance apart and almost parallel to each other, crossed the Rocky River, converged, and then ran southward along the west bank of the Pee Dee into South Carolina. Another major north-south road from Salisbury, known as the Charleston Road, divided well above Charlotte. Its more easterly portion ran along the western edge of Anson, while its western portion passed close to the village of Charlotte. These two roads then came together once again on the east bank of the Wateree well below the South Carolina border. The Collet map can be most easily studied in Cumming, The Southeast in Early Maps, Plates 63-66. A British army officer passing through the South Carolina low country in 1765 noted the extensive trade with the Carolina “back settlers” and observed: “the produce of a considerable part of North Carolina, comes down to Charlestown in waggons, drawn with four horses, two abreast—perhaps at the distance of three hundred miles—this would appear extraordinary at home, but it must be remembered that they live at no more expense when travelling than they would at home, since they lie in the woods all night, make a good fire to drefs their Bacon, and turn their horses loose near them, till day light, after which they proceed on their journey, and carry back in Return what goods they stand in need of themselves, or for their neighbours in the back settlements.” “Journal of an Officer, who travelled over a part of the West Indies, and of North America in the Course of 1764 & 1765,” King’s Mss. 213, British Library, London, in British Records (Mf. Reel Z.5.162p), State Archives.

17 The lumbering industry by 1769 had become quite important in North Carolina, especially in the Cape Fear Valley. In that year nearly 3 million feet of sawn lumber was exported from North Carolina ports. Since the streams down which the forest products of Anson could be floated to market flowed only into South Carolina, it is obvious that the export figures of North Carolina fail to reflect these exports. The heavy timber or ton was hand-produced by trimming and squaring the tree trunks where they fell. The lumber was produced in mills and generally consisted of wide boards several inches in thickness known as dales or deals. These were lashed together to form huge rafts and floated down the river. Rafts of 50,000 dales were reported on the Cape Fear. See Harry Roy Merrens, Colonial North Carolina in the Eighteenth Century: A Study in Historical Geography (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1964), 93-101, hereinafter cited as Merrens, Colonial North Carolina; Lawrence Lee, The Lower Cape Fear in Colonial Days (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965), 149-150, hereinafter cited as Lee, Lower Cape Fear.

18 The writer of the document has made two very strange errors in describing the bounds of Anson. It seems clear that he did not have his excellent map of North Carolina at hand when he wrote this description. Mecklenburg County lay immediately west of Anson, and Rowan County lay on its border to the north.

19 Examples of exceptional longevity in the North Carolina backcountry are not supported by any evidence. This statement must be discounted as so much promotional propaganda.

20 All of these grains, fruits, and other crops were grown throughout the backcountry.

21 Governor Arthur Dobbs reported in 1755 that “wines may be had higher up in the Country among the Hills near the Mountains, where there is a great variety of native Grapes, which yield rich wines, which only want proper Vine Dressers to improve them.” Saunders, Colonial Records, V, 316. There is no evidence that a bounty or reward for wine was ever offered by the government, although the royal governors had been instructed to secure one. Saunders, Colonial Records, VI, 16.

22 While backcountry settlers in North Carolina had only a limited fur and skin trade with the Cherokee and other tribes, they took large numbers of deer themselves. In 1768 North Carolina exported 2,469 raw skins and 41 pounds of dressed skins to Great Britain. These export figures are deceptive since many of the skins taken in the interior went overland to Charleston. Donald Eugene Becker, “North Carolina, 1754-1763: An Economic, Political, and Military History of North Carolina during the Great War for the Empire” (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1971), 47, 97, hereinafter cited as Becker, “North Carolina, 1754-1763.”

23 While naval stores could be produced by families or individuals with small tracts, large-scale production required the possession of numerous slaves. Since there were few slaves in Anson prior to the Revolution, the naval stores industry could not flourish there despite extensive longleaf pine forests in eastern Anson. Merrens, Colonial North Carolina, 87-88; Lee, Lower Cape Fear, 152.

24 Both cotton and silk were produced in eighteenth-century North Carolina. Short-staple cotton was raised in small quantities throughout the colony, largely for local use in producing shirting and stockings. Only a few hundred pounds were exported annually. The difficulty in separating the cotton seed from the fiber severely limited its usefulness. Royal Governors Johnston, Dobbs, and Tryon urged silk production upon North Carolinians, and Johnston took the lead in the colony in attempting to produce it in commercial quantity. Dobbs felt that the climate was “extremely proper for silk.” Despite all efforts, it remained, however, an exotic, if hopeful, commodity throughout the eighteenth century. Saunders, Colonial Records, VI, 6; Lee, Lower Cape Fear, 157-159.

25 Sawmills were built throughout North Carolina, although they centered in the Cape Fear Valley. Lee, Lower Cape Fear, 149-150; Becker, “North Carolina, 1754-1763”, 48-49; Merrens, Colonial North Carolina, 96-101.

26 The first Anson courthouse was erected or begun about 1752 on the north bank of the Pee Dee River in what was then known as the Mt. Pleasant section (now the Ingram Mountain section). It was the scene of considerable activity during the Regulator troubles. Mary Louise Medley, History of Anson County, North Carolina, 1750-1976 (Wadesboro: Anson County Historical Society, 1976), 17-18.

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