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!


hatgensoc said...

Well done, Baylus...Well done :)

Stacy Lynn said...

I second that! :) Love reading your blog.