Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pleasure Driving into North Carolina Maritime History

I like to drive.  Ever since before I had a driver's license, I loved to take off down the road and go places I've never been.  This started with a minibike, a Honda 50.  It was so much fun and living in the country gave me a lot of room to legally (sort of) operate it.  

Anyway, I love the open road.  At least, I used to.  Have you seen it lately?  Well, you'd better if you're driving on one.  Take your eyes off of that road for even a second and you'll be in an accident.  I don't know why so many people wanted to invade our quaint little private spaces, but they have.  Now, it's a sheer sign of insanity if you want to drive for pleasure.  

Well, I found a place that I can recapture the past glory days of driving in the peace and quiet.  No, it's not Montana although that works, too.  No, there's a place right here in North Carolina and it's mostly flat and straight, so it's pure pleasure driving at its best.  

I hesitate to tell everyone because I don't want to spoil it for myself.  Still, I hate to be so stingy.  I'm not a capitalist and actually DO believe in the biblical tenets of sharing... yes, not for a profit, but for FREE (the real kind of "free" with no catches).  Note: Jesus would not be a capitalist either.  Try to imagine a kindly socialist with long hair, a robe, and sandals working on Wall Street... in an office I mean and not down on the street, living in tents with the Occupiers.  No, you can't really imagine that, can you?  Maybe one day we'll practice what we preach...

Ever heard of Hyde County?  

Enter Gull Rock, Wysocking Bay, Hyde County, NC

I used to travel to Roanoke Island by way of a hectic northerly route north and then an eastward turn on Hwy 64.  Not any more!  Now, I follow the little known route of 264 through the forests and swamplands of Pitt, Beaufort, Hyde, and Dare Counties to arrive just west of Roanoke.  The only real obstacle that you might have to avoid is a snake.  And if you do happen to hit the poor guy, well... no damage to your vehicle anyway.  I have yet to come across a bear, even a deer.  I suspect they are there, so don't go thru there without looking.  Still, talk about a quiet, pleasant drive.  Just like when I used to go from my hometown of Fayetteville to White Lake for the weekend.  

I never worry about who else is on the road... really.  

This place is remote.  One day, I decided to take a side venture off of Hwy 264 and try to find the little town of Gull Rock in Wysocking Bay, where the Revolutionary War personality Stephen Brooks was buried.  Brooks, who was born probably in New England in 1725 and died in Hyde County 1797, was one of those early maritime adventurers who came to early Hatteras Island and then, like many, settled on the mainland of Hyde County, just across the Pamlico Sound.  He married Mary Farrow, the daughter of Jacob Farrow, who also lived on Hatteras Island near where we find the Hatteras Indians.  Many of his family filtered west into Beaufort and Pitt Counties, some even to Tennessee.  

William & Martha Foreman Brooks
Well, I did not find Stephen's grave there in Gull Rock and wondered what must have happened to the original Methodist Church there (The Outer Banks, Hyde, and most of Dare were predominantly Methodist in belief - a maritime NC religion?).  But, I did find William Brooks, a son of Stephen who founded a Methodist church and congregation in Hyde.  Beside him were his wife and family in the Brooks cemetery there.  Deeds reveal his lasting presence in Hyde County.  His son, Caleb was responsible for many of the homes that you will see dotting the landscape around Lake Landing in Hyde County.  

The connection to my Brooks ancestors has its own history.  William may have had a younger brother, Ephraim who moved west to Anson County... just to confuse his Brooks with mine, of course.  The amazing science of DNA proved the difference in our groups and, sadly, I had to say goodbye to Ephraim and his bunch.  But, alas, it sparked my interest in this Brooks family and eventually led to my fascination with Eastern NC and Hatteras Island and its history.

I assume that Stephen Sr. and Jr. are hanging around in the nearby wooded areas.  I need to search for his burial information again because I'm sure that Stephen Brooks had a tombstone in Hyde... I hope it's still there.  I didn't have much time to search though because it was late in the day and there are few streetlights that far out in the wildlife preserves of Hyde County.  

Celia & Banister Midyett
I got another welcome surprise that day and in the very same cemetery, was Banister Midyett and family, including Daniel Midyett and another Daniel just a half-mile down the road in Gull Rock in the Pugh cemetery.   Banister Midyett is very likely closely related to the Nathaniel Midyett who bought the "Indian Town" (most likely of John Lawson fame) from the Elks family in 1788 just before the few Indian Elks faded from existence in 1802.  His family may even have continued to own the town well into the twentieth century, if some of our information is correct.  

All in all, this was a very pleasant day.  I had a great, quiet drive and found some of those personalities that I've studied so closely as a genealogist and an historian.  I rather enjoyed myself.  Still, Stephen Brooks is out there and I have yet another adventure awaiting me upon my next visit.  I love to think about how this man lived near and probably spoke to the last Hatteras Indians to live as natives before assimilating into American culture.  

There will be another pleasure drive through Hyde County for a visit soon.  :)

Saturday, January 07, 2012

John Lawson's Indian Town on Hatteras Island

What am I doing?  I'm celebrating a great New Year at Mi Casa Cafe on St. George Street in St. Augustine, Florida.  I'd also like to introduce my new friend, Spaten Oktoberfest beer.  It just became my favorite.  Mi Casa Cafe specializes in Cuban and Reuben sandwiches, too.  I had the Cuban.  Magnifico!   
What does St. Augustine have to do with John Lawson's Indian Town on Hatteras Island?  My first inclination was to say "Not one damned thing!"  That's not exactly true, though... and a good part of why I'm writing about it now.  Think maritime... 

Actually, my wife and I are simply celebrating our anniversary in style after coming back from Orlando (yeah, the Disney place) where I presented my paper on the "Disappearance" of the Hatteras Indians.   

St. Augustine is a perfect place to reflect on Hatteras Island because of the tropical environment, that, thanks to the Gulf Stream, resembles that of Hatteras Island.  It is the last point northward where the palmetto grows and I even found a reference to the National Park Service buying a ten-acre orange grove for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore!

Where did the Hatteras Indians go?  Well, nowhere.  That's why the quotes around the word "disappearance"... it's a clever toy that we writers sometimes use to denote questionable status to this particular use of the word.  

Hatteras Indians never disappeared, nor did they leave the island... not all of them, anyway.  They're still there.  You can ask them yourselves anytime you like.  They can also tell you where to find the old "Indian Town" visited or written about by John Lawson in his 1709 book.  And, it's not where Dr. David S. Phelps dug at the 31DR1 archaeological site in 1998.  That site is near Buxton.  Now, he did find a town, but one that had already been Anglicized by the time Lawson visited or heard about it.  

Note: I keep saying "visited or heard about" because there is still some question as to whether or not John Lawson actually visited the island.  I happen to think he did because his map shows Hatteras as very different from other maps of the time.  I think he actually witnessed that Hatteras Island was bigger than others believed it to be then.  

1709 Lawson/Senex Map (partial)
 John Lawson was not much of a geographer.  He was a self-trained ethnographer and naturalist.  He didn't even make this map, but he worked hand in hand with engraver John Senex to produce it to accompany his book, New Voyage to Carolina that was being published upon his return to England in 1709.  

The old Elks property and their town remained in a virtually virgin state for a long time.  Old accounts tell us why as well... Indians there wanted to remain aboriginal, not become as modernized as the Indians that lived and worked with Europeans near Buxton.  Of course, sadly, they would be unable to hold out forever.  European society clearly dominated over theirs and most European cultures rarely respected Indian culture.  Hatteras, though, may have been better than most places, thanks to its maritime egalitarian nature.  It may even have attracted other Indians who escaped enslavement following the American Revolution when Indians and Africans were grouped together in the census.  Slavery became a uniquely American phenomenon after the Revolution when the new nation needed the money, no longer able to depend upon Great Britain for support.  You can read up on this in David Cecelski's Waterman's Song if you're interested.  He mentions some of the residents of Hatteras Island, too. 

The new highway encouraged Hatteras residents to come up to speed in the 20th century.  Before that time, the island sat apart from the North Carolina mainland.  I'd even venture to say that Hatteras has rarely, if ever, been a part of North Carolina at all.  It more appropriately belongs to the Atlantic community that includes places like Nantucket Island or... St, Augustine, Florida.

Native inhabitants may have wished to live apart from the town at Buxton because they wanted to preserve their culture, very much like traditional Algonquians on Nantucket Island separated from Christianized Indians.  This part is just as vital to North Carolina history as the discovery of the Lost Colony.  Small steps....

I spent the better part of last week preparing for the Phi Alpha Theta History Honors Society Biennial Conference in Orlando where I presented this work.  The reception was very good.  A lot of good new research comes out of these conferences where researchers can meet and discuss similar topics, get new ideas and such.  This event benefits us all.  I learned a lot there myself.  Now, onto a new idea that I got while in Orlando and maybe some of that Spaten Oktoberfest!