Donate to Brooks Historical

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wrecked on Hatteras Island: A Long Tradition

The author, Baylus C. Brooks is a graduate maritime historian studying at East Carolina University’s Maritime Studies Program.  He is also a member of the Lost Colony Research Group (LCRG), conducting investigations into North Carolina’s maritime history, including genetic research, genealogy, and archaeology.  Brooks is their official historian. 

Solomon Lumberd was a mariner from Maine who once sailed the Dove to England, claiming to be of the “North Carolina trade” and left his name upon “Lumberd’s Marsh” on one of Hatteras’ earliest deeds near Cape Point; Erasmus Harfleet was a mariner who wrecked on Cape Hatteras in spring 1708; William Reed was a Justice of the Peace and wealthy speculator in North Carolina property, later the "president of North Carolina" and obtained the first deed on Hatteras in Jan 1712 “between the Indian towns”; John Neale was a virtual unknown of some pecuniary significance who lived near or with Hatteras Indians; Patrick and John Mackuen lived nearby to the southwest; Thomas Bilton was a shipwrecked mariner on his way from Lisbon to Virginia… what do all of these people have in common?  They visited and probably worked on Hatteras Island long before the first recorded deeds in 1712-16.  They also left a pile of glorious garbage near Buxton and probably elsewhere for later archaeologists to find.  They probably also married into the Indian population on that island - a population that may or may not have already possessed English DNA.

That’s why the Lost Colony Research Group is looking!  LCRG, headed by genetics specialist Roberta J. Estes, represents a professional group of scholars in history, genetic studies, British and American genealogy, and archaeology whose primary goal is the study of Hatteras Island and its heritage… both native and European.  Hatteras Island Genealogical and Preservation Society works in conjunction with LCRG.  
LCRG recently attained an entry in wikipedia!  This article concerns the history of the island’s English inhabitants and the current working theory of the author. 

Hatteras is a rather small island, only about six miles long at this thicker part between Frisco and Buxton; the official length of the island starts at Oregon Inlet and runs to Hatteras Inlet and is about 18 miles.  At the thickest, it is only three miles wide, but it supported many island families, both native and European, for centuries and packed a sometimes violent maritime history on its Atlantic coast, but a mild and gentle history on its western, or sound side.  The Janus-faced Hatteras thus welcomed and repelled many.  Its waters tore thousands of ships to pieces.

 Washington Times 1906 – Full-page article on the dangers of Cape Hatteras issued after a dangerous hurricane in September 1906.  The inserted map shows numerous shipwrecks associated with Cape Hatteras.  Source: Washington Times (Tacoma), November 1, 1906.
On October 30, 1707, a ship sailed from Lisbon, Portugal to arrive upon the “Virginia” sand banks.  It encountered “hard Gales of Wind” and anchored off Cape Hatteras, where the crew “spoke to the Virginians on shore.”  They beat the coast for several months, finally wrecking in the latitude of Bermuda.  From there, nine persons, including Thomas Bilton, made their way in a ship’s boat to Anguilla in the West Indies.  After the wreck, they were thirty-one days at sea and “constrained to drink their own urine.”  This comes from the account of Thomas Bilton in “A Voyage from Lisbon to Virginia,” published in London in 1715.  It is one of the few accounts of contact with the Englishmen living on Hatteras Island prior to recorded settlement.

Another record of a shipwreck only two months or so later, following similar routes from London to Lisbon to America, tells the names of some of these Englishmen upon Hatteras’ shores.  The ship America sailed from London to Lisbon, Portugal, and then ran aground on Cape Hatteras before March 1708.  Erasmus Harfleet survived the wreck and attempted to salvage what he could while on Hatteras Banks, but was stopped by Justice of the Peace William Reed who just happened to be in the vicinity.  A petition was filed by Harfleet on March 11, 1708.  Harfleet “was allowed to work upon the sand banks to save what he could from the wreck.”  But, he encountered William Reed, who “came and threatened him if he took anything belonging to the wreck.”  Since Harfleet said that “Salvage from the wreck was the only wage that the petitioner would receive for his wages from London to the City of Lisbon in Portugal,” he asked for resolution to this argument.  The back of the petition reads, “Patrick MACKANNE, John NACKOUNE, John NEALE, Laruence MARTINSON, witnesses. 11 Mar 1707/8.”  [CCR-192].

It should probably be noted that some years later, Erasmus Harfleet was accused of purposely wrecking a ship in the sound off of Roanoke Island while en route to the area then called “Croatan” (known formerly as “Dasamonquepeuk” and today, as “Mann’s Harbor”) in 1714.  Harfleet was hired by Joseph Parker to pilot the ship, but when the ship ran aground, Harfleet began salvaging the wreck and refused to “get the sloop off” the shoals, who “cursed and said he would never go on board.” Harfleet had already unloaded a boatload of goods onto the mainland before refusing to go back, so he did not seem to mind going aboard the sloop while there were valuables on her.  [CCR-192, 26 Apr 1714]

    Erasmus Harfleet may have been a ner’do’well and justifiably stopped in his “salvage” activities by William Reed that early spring day in 1708.  Still, that encounter with Reed and other “Virginians” on Hatteras Banks tells us something valuable about the activity on that island before its recorded habitation by Englishmen.  Most Hatteras deed records occurred in 1716, although the earliest record we have is a deed for Col. William Reed in 1712 and several others in the following years, so he probably spent a good deal of time there.  At least, he was around to justifiably harass our Mr. Harfleet a few years earlier. 

Dr. David Sutton Phelps (archaeologist from ECU) found a “workshop” locale on Hatteras near the present town of Buxton during his excavations in 1998 that he dated from 1650-1720.  Coins that he found indicated its use by 17th-century Englishmen.  I have postulated before that settlement of Hatteras might have begun as early as the first Virginians arriving south of the Dismal Swamp in the mid-1600s, maybe earlier.  You see, with no roads and numerous creeks inland, travel by water was far easier in those days and Hatteras made a perfect “first stop,” yet, not always a chosen one. 

    Nothing can be certain without written proof, however, but the constant English shipping that began with Jamestown, Virginia since 1607 and that ran past Cape Hatteras on their way from the West Indies and on to London most likely deposited frequent and hapless visitors to Hatteras Island.  Many of them probably remained.  This was the normal trade route, a clockwise voyage from London, to the Canaries, Portugal (long allied with England), across the Atlantic on the trade winds to the West Indies, along the American coast, again picking up the trade winds in the North Atlantic, and then back to England.  This was fed by a desire to deprive the Spanish of their gold and silver, then later, for the sweet white gold of sugar from the Caribbean. No product was ever more valuable than sugar.

    The money is what prompted men like Bilton and Harfleet to brave the obvious dangers of the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” and caused over 2,000 known shipwrecks (actual numbers vary around 5,000).  Ships have found the bottom of these waters since early in the sixteenth century.  Hatteras was not simply an island in North Carolina.  It was a maritime hazard, entrepôt, whaling and porpoise center, and supply station for shipping all along the eastern seaboard.  It must have frequently encountered visitors like Bilton and Harfleet.

Ship Wreckage on Hatteras Island - Photo by Collier Cobb, circa 1900.
Other names mentioned in Harfleet’s petition in 1708 were John and Patrick Mackanne/Nackoune [Mackuen], and John Neale [O’Neale].  These are names also found later in the official deed records of Hatteras Banks.  Both are found in the “Trent Woods” area (today’s Frisco) where we also find the Elks band of Hatteras Indians.

Anna MacKuen was granted 155 acres “between William Rowlason and Patrick Callahan” in 1716 [Pat. book 8, p. 132].  She is probably the wife of John or Patrick MacKuen, seen in the earlier “Harfleet” petition.  Her husband must have died before 1716 when she was officially granted the land – land that the family had lived on for years.  Her neighbors were important men.  Patrick Callahan’s name will appear again.  For now, I’d like to should focus on “John Neale.”  He is an important name when it comes to the Hatteras Indians.  It was in 1720, after the Tuscarora War, that John O’Neale was entrusted with the delivery of gunpowder, lead shot, and flints to the Hatteras Indians.  O’Neale was perhaps chosen because his land may have included the “Indian Town” once visited by explorer John Lawson:

John Oneall 1716 patent for 440 acres on Tom King’s Creek - “File No. 1192,  John O’Neal” (October 9, 1716), Land Office: Land Warrants, Plats of Survey, and Related Records, Secretary of State Record Group, State Records, Old Book 8:113-14,  Microfilm S.108.451 (Raleigh, N.C.: State of North Carolina)
John Lawson visited this town circa 1701 and left his record of the Anglicized Hatteras Indians for all to read in his book:  A New Voyage to Carolina; Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of That Country: Together with the Present State Thereof. And A Journal of a Thousand Miles, Travel'd Thro' Several Nations of Indians. Giving a Particular Account of Their Customs, Manners, &c., published in London in 1709.

The mouth of Tom King’s Creek, also known as “Peter’s Creek” (allegedly named for Peter Gordon) in the recent past, begins the boundaries of the later Elks grant of 1759 that was patented for “William Elks and the Rest of the Hatteras Indians.”  O’Neale probably held this property well before 1716 and his relationship with the neighboring Indians seems to have been a good one.  It’s not so easy to call them “Indians” because, as Lawson found, they probably behaved more like Englishmen, shared DNA, dressed, and worshipped like them, too.  Still, living on a remote island far away from prying eyes in the “country,” or mainland as Hatteras islanders once called it, made living openly as something other than “white” far simpler.  [Reference Cecelski’s Waterman’s Song]

John “O’Neill” appears on a Currituck County tax list for 1718, having paid his taxes, unlike Henry Davis and Patrick “Kallahan” who later fought over land boundaries.  This dispute resulted in Henry Davis being killed by Patrick Callahan with a sword.  Callahan then lost his Hatteras property, which just so happened to border both the Mackuen land and John O’Neale.  See map below:

Readjusted 1716 patents in the area of Trent Woods – Base map: 1883 Hatteras map (annotated by Baylus C. Brooks).  A red line represents the mistaken course of Tom King’s Creek and the unforeseen extension of Patrick Callahan’s property in the initial erroneous patents of 1716.  The last frame shows the readjusted property lines as determined from deed and other records.  Mary Davis was too young in 1720 to inherit, but after she came of age and married Thomas Robb, the Jacobite “rebel” who was shipped to Carolina in 1716, they settled in upper Currituck from where they came in 1751 to claim their land.  For about thirty-five years, the Hatteras Indians did not suffer any serious problems with European settlers.  When the Robbs arrived in 1751, they determined that the town was on their land.  The Trent Woods town was readjusted again and granted with 200 acres to “William Elks and the Rest of the Hatteras Indians” in 1759.  Source: “File No. 1190, Henry Davis” (September 12, 1716), “File No. 1196, Patrick Callihan” (October 9, 1716), “File No. 1192,  John O’Neal” (October 9, 1716), Land Office: Land Warrants, Plats of Survey, and Related Records, Secretary of State Record Group, State Records, Old Book 8:113-14,  Microfilm S.108.451 (Raleigh, N.C.: State of North Carolina); United States Coast Survey, “General chart of the coast no. V from Cape Henry to Cape Lookout” (1883), MC.168.1883ub, North Carolina State Archives (Raleigh, N.C.: State of North Carolina).
The “Ungranted” property located in the 1720 frame of this illustration is probably close to the area that Anna MacKuen obtained in her 1716 grant.  Still, it is definitely the known location of Joseph “Maskue/McCun” in 1755-7. 

    John O’Neale, whose eventual fate is not well known, is more than likely the father of Christopher O’Neale (born about 1700).  Christopher O’Neale lived in this same King’s Point area of Hatteras until his death.  He would have grown up around the Indian Town there.  Their families probably all shared a common heritage.  In fact, the O’Neales have owned land (off and on) at King’s Point up until the sale of that property for the development of the high-end subdivision, Brigand’s Bay sometime after the new paved highway developed in 1953.  Urias O’Neale sold the bulk of the property that was terra-formed into the lucrative commercial site found there today. 

    The point is that Hatteras Island has been continuously occupied by European descendants since the mid-1600s.  Indeed, many are the ancestors of the same families who walk the island sands now.  They are the ones who left behind the artifacts that Dr. Phelps was digging up along the Buxton or eastern end of the island.  Phelps also found Indian artifacts mixed with European in the same date range.  Englishmen and Indians lived together for decades before John Lawson’s arrival, at least as early as 1670 and possibly earlier.  They could have lived together since 1587 when John White’s “Lost Colony” arrived.  Still, no two heritages more aptly belonged to any single group of people as those of Hatteras Island.  The Indian Town was simply the last holdouts of traditional Indians hoping to hold on to their ways.  This resulted in William Reed’s “between the Indian towns” reference in 1712.  There was little reason to worry, however.  The Englishmen were family already.  Time eventually brought them all together.

    There have been Rollinsons, Wallaces, Whidbees, Quidleys, Basnetts, Fosters, Fulchers, Farrows, Scarboroughs, Midgetts, Davises, Clarks, and many others on Hatteras Island for a long, long time… perhaps since before Nathaniel Batts and George Durant came through the Dismal Swamp in the 1650s and 60s.  Hatteras and the rest of the Outer Banks may have been the only part of what we now know as North Carolina that was inhabited by European people before then.  The mainland suffered from a lack of roads and numerous creeks, no roads, and dangerous unknowns.  The shores along the sounds and rivers is where you would have found the Europeans in the early eighteenth century.  The Indians, of course, were everywhere else... on Hatteras Island at least since 1,000 A.D. 

    When discussing the earliest history of North Carolina, we must begin with the first point of contact… with the Outer Banks, and Hatteras Island, for the sharp sandy snag known as “Cape Hatteras” or its “Diamond Shoals” brought many a drenched mariner to live there long before Batts or Durant dreamed of trading with the Yeopim or the Chowanoc in the Albemarle.  Whereas the Spanish did not remain on the banks, Englishmen did… maybe since 1587.  Certainly, more accounts of shipwrecks upon these shores will turn up, with more tantalizing tidbits of knowledge about the “Virginians” living there.  They continue to live there today.  And artifacts will continue to emerge from its sands to reveal this nascent North Carolina history.  This is Hatteras’ and, indeed, our country’s earliest European heritage.  Still, the native heritage persists there as well… you can ask them yourself.

No comments: