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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Early North Carolina Surveys - Hatteras Island

The Tuscarora War in North Carolina from 1711-1715 was a hellish affair for many European colonists.  Indians attacked without warning, some termed it a “hellish tragedy” and “grossest piece of villainy,” 130 people killed at the head of the Neuse River alone.  According to Christopher Gale’s memorial, colonists faced death at the hands of friends, “esteemed as members of the several families where the mischiefs were done, and that with smiles in their countenances, when their intent was to destroy." 

Needless to say, Hancock's hostile warriors' attacks made an impression and the haste with which these men took to permanently settling Hatteras may have caused more trouble than it was worth!

In 1716, right after the war was over, colonists who had visited the island before for mercantile purposes, began to stake claims on Hatteras Island.  One of these men was John O'Neal:

1716 John O'Neal grant on "Hatteras Banks"

John O'Neal's grant of 1716 consisted partly of the land later granted to "William Elks and the Rest of the Hatteras Indians" in 1759.   Presumably, the famous "Indian Towne" of John Lawson fame rests within this patent, for John O'Neal served as their agent in 1720.  

Drawing this patent or any other survey is usually not a problem.  Unfortunately, early surveys in North Carolina could be VERY inaccurate!  John O'Neal's is no exception.

The bounds are as follows:

"Beginning at ye mouth of Tom King Creek then up the said creek by various courses 320 poles [1 mile] and from the Beginning on the Sound N.45 E. 220 po. to a stake S. 45 E. 320 po. into ye woods to a pine, S. 45 W. 220 po. to ye first station...." 

The first problem that becomes apparent involves "and from the Beginning on the Sound..."... where exactly does this start?  At the end of the travel 320 poles down the creek?  Or is it a continuation of the description for the first line?  If we assume that you go d
own the creek 320 poles FIRST, then you have a rectangular plot of land that starts one mile down the creek with an open side... which doesn't make any sense.  

Logic suggests that this phrase refers to the next boundary of "N. 45 E. 220 poles."  When you do this, you get a rectangular plot that begins from the Sound's edge straight into the island's interior, where you might, inded, find "woods."  So, drawing it this way, we have:

1716 O'Neal plot on a map of Hatteras Island showing the actual run of Tom King's Creek

Once we see the plot on the map above, we begin to realize that Tom King's Creek does not run the way that the surveyor originally thought.  Now, if the surveyor was on site, taking this survey, he most likely would have noticed.  The conclusion becomes that he wasn't there, or he took a serious shortcut.  

As it turns out, the North Carolina Colonial Records mentions an aberration in early surveys that may well explain this result.

George Burrington, first royal governor of North Carolina, sent a letter to the duke of Newcastle in 1733, complaining of the colony's surveyor, Edward Moseley, committing a "multitude of frauds and concealments" in his surveys.  One of those involved measuring two points from the shore (shortest distance to walk from their boat, obviously) and assuming the rest of the perfectly rectangular survey... which this one on Hatteras just happens to resemble.  

Not all early surveys were performed so badly... read: illegally.  Still, in a colony full of empty land, who would question the survey in the lifetime of the surveyor.   Of course, if this was done as a matter of course, as Edward Moseley often did in 1733 with his family and their illegal land theft, it soon became apparent to his neighbors... and victims... namely, King George II.   

From the 1883 map of Hatteras, it is easy to see that. from a boat in the Sound, Tom King's Creek appears to run directly SE from the shore.  But, probably beyond the surveyor's sight, the creek turns almost 90 degrees abruptly to the NE.  If you try to connect the open side of the survey with the path of the creek, it becomes an impossible survey.

Therefore, the original meaning of the survey is as shown... as far as we can tell.  The best part is that a rectangle of 320 poles on one side and 220 poles on the others exactly equals 440 acres!  But, since one side was a creek... with meanders and inexact bounds, the land was probably not exactly 440 acres.  Still, it's close enough considering the tremendous errors already incurred. 

There's more, however... yeah, even more!  And this is just where it gets interesting...

Other colonists received grants in the same general area... as a matter of fact, two others received grants that fell on the same lands... they intersected each other.  This error or malfeasance on the surveyor's part actually may have gotten a man killed.

Patrick Callahan obtained another patent in 1716 for the south side of this misinterpreted Tom King’s Creek, adjacent to, or across from, O'Neal.  The misinterpreted creek would have given O'Neal less than his 440 acres and Callahan the portion that O'Neal had lost.  

1716 Patrick Callahan Grant
Three weeks later, Callahan and John O’Neale discovered that Henry Davis’ grant boundaries, according to the wording of the grant, overlapped both of theirs.  Davis’ patent had been surveyed at the wrong angle, causing his land to appear to extend across the lands of the other two men at nearly a right angle to the sound shore, rather than running along the shore as originally intended, just north of O'Neal.  There also was not enough land still available northward of O'Neal for Davis to have his full grant once rotated to the proper angle.  The situation was seriously messed up!

1716 Henry Davis Grant

This misunderstanding became a serious problem, especially for Henry Davis.  Early Currituck County tax records show that Callahan and Davis both had difficulty paying their taxes on this property and this added financial strain probably heightened their anxiety over the land dispute.  John O'Neal, by contrast, did not appear on the delinquent tax records.  

Callahan must have demanded that he had a right to the land, as opposed to Davis’ claim.  Both were valid claims as originally written and, in fact, Callahan stood to gain more land than he was supposed to have by the grant as originally written.  By 1719, the year following the pirate Blackbeard’s death only miles away, Callihan’s avarice and great financial need fueled a deadly conflict with Henry Davis over both of their badly-surveyed patents.  Callihan “beat cutt & bruise[d Davis] by giving and striking him two Mortall blows and cutts on the head with a certain weapon called a Cymeter or Cuttlash [sic].”    Davis died a few hours later and Patrick Callahan, found guilty of manslaughter, forfeited “all his goods & Chattells for ever and the profits of his Lands for a year and a day [sic].”   This probably resulted in Callihan’s land south of John O’Neale to lapse for lack of payment on his already delinquent taxes for he is never heard from again on Hatteras.  Perhaps the lesser of his punishments involved branding an “M” on his thumb – for “murderer.”  

The disposition of these lands after the fatal dispute must be guessed at, for no one changed the official records to reflect the corrections.  If records had been made of this account, they have not been found.  This is my best guess:

1720 Readjustment of Hatteras Properties Mistaken by Erroneous Surveys

Henry Davis’ patent, now belonging to his young daughter Mary, later wife of Thomas Robb, was probably rotated counterclockwise to allow for John O’Neal’s patent to its south.  The O’Neal patent was subsequently extended across Tom King’s Creek to adjust for the earlier misinterpretation.  This placed Davis’ land on the north shore of Hatteras Island as originally intended, including both King’s and Brooks’ Points.  There was still, however, a problem with the patent that would not reveal itself for decades as Mary Davis grew, married, and gave birth to her son.  

When she came of age, Mary Davis Robb thought that she would possess the marshes and hills north of the Indian Town at Trent Woods, including both King’s and Brooks’ Point.  After all, this was the meaning of her father’s patent.  It is likely that the intent was to leave the town to the care of John O’Neale, who, a few years later, appeared as the Indian’s official agent.  Unbeknownst to all involved, however, Mary Davis’ readjusted patent yet included the Indian town itself... another mistake that would pop up later.

John O’Neale still owned the bulk of the land south of Mary Davis that would later be deeded to the Elks band of Hatteras Indians.  Acting as their agent, on March 1, 1720, O’Neale received “20 lbs pow[d]er and 40 pounds shot with 100 flints” to deliver to them.   The colonial government desired “that they may not be unprovided to serve the publick [sic] if occasions requires,” alluding to their friendly inclinations during the recent war. 

John O’Neale later sold his patent to Samuel Stowe, but no extant deed tells of this.  Still, Stowe's 6 April 1737 sale to John Nelson Junr. of Pasquotank was recorded/copied and records full deed information that, unfortunately, was copied directly from the 1716 record in the patent books readily available to the registrar over 50 miles away.  Hatteras was only accessible by water, making the trip even that much more of a burden and that much less likely to have occurred.  The result?  We still know just as little about this grant as we did before!

6 April 1737 deed of Samuel Stowe to John Nelson Junr. of Pasquotank (portion)
That deed information was also slightly miscopied from the original data in the patent book, making the translation of this information that much more difficult without the original.  Sloppy work, huh?  Not me!  Them!  :)

Working with the Lost Colony Research Group over the last two years provided the data and "think tank" help to make this correlation AND the sudden "Eureka!" moment (I can feel the blood pressure rising again!) of recognizing that the old Elks grant was still partially visible on the Dare County GIS during the mapping procedure allowed us to pinpoint the town precisely!  At least, the effects of what these Hatteras folks did lasted through the years in the official county records (even if they were cryptic about it when they did it)...

When I am approached by historians or amateurs and criticized for my lack of detail on these surveys, the explanation/defense is far too long and complex.  Now, I can just link to this blog entry in an email and be off about lunch!  I like eastern North Carolina barbeque... lol.

Have a great day!


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Sunday, October 07, 2012

Bridges of Seal Cove, Tremont, Maine

This past summer, I took a train to Maine... mainly through the plain.  Sorry... couldn't resist.   Anyway, I did go to Maine.  I was part of a four-person team working on a shipwreck study.  Actually, the ship wasn't technically a wreck, but the result was the same... its remains have slowly decayed in the mud of Seal Cove, Tremont, Maine.  As you can see from the picture, there remains very little.  
Franklin H. Price, a graduate of East Carolina University’s Maritime Studies program (2006) and former resident of Tremont, Maine headed the team.  Price is currently employed as a senior archaeologist with the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research.  He began the Seal Cove Shipwreck Project last year in coordination with Arcadia National Park and the Institute of Maritime History.  Another member of the crew is Steve Dilk of NewYork and also a graduate of ECU’s maritime program (2012).  A third member is me, Baylus C. Brooks, currently a member of the same program (graduating in 2013) and the Seal Cove project’s historian.  Last, but not least, is Crista Shere, a student at College of the Atlantic, based in Bar Harbor, Maine located at the north end of Mount Desert Island (MDI).

My trip was a most pleasant one, even aside from getting out of North Carolina in the midst of a hot summer.  The temperatures were cool and we never had to run the air.  As a matter of fact, the apartment that we stayed in at Arcadia National Park on MDI did not even have that option!  

As the site historian for the Seal Cove Project, I was tasked with the study of Seal Cove's history.  Part of that history that we guessed pertained to the shipwreck was a lumber mill that sat just behind a bridge on Seal Cove Stream just at the outlet into Seal Cove.  The mill ceased operation, fell out of use by 1909, and was torn down by 1928.

Clipping from Bar Harbor Times and photo from William O. Sawtelle Center at Arcadia National Park
This picture of the old bridge just in front of the mill intrigued me.  The reason that it did so was the bridge that was there now... a sturdy, yet uncomplimentary affair designed with pragmatism in mind and not so much style.  Still, it seemed to sit further back than the one in the Sawtelle photo.  I began to wonder about the bridges that once existed at Seal Cove.

I became fascinated with the bridge’s history and discovered that there have been at least three bridges at Seal Cove outlet.  Aerial photos in 1966 showed the path of the road (Hwy 102) as it crosses the stream and the 1928 bridge just prior to demolition.  

1966 Aerial Photo and a modern-day Google Earth shot of the same location.
The bridges date 1808-1928 (probably more than one), 1928, and 1969.  Kevin McLaggin at the Maine DOT office was very helpful in finding old photos of the three last known bridges, which, by far, show that the 1928 bridge held the most awe-inspiring architectural beauty.  

Pre-1928 DOT photo of the old bridge with the Heath General Store on left and the W.W.A. Heath homestead right background.  The picture is taken from the former lands of Hiram Flye, farmer and shipbuilder and a contemporary of William W. A. Heath. 

1928 Bridge - Photo from Tremont Historical Society Collections
Dating the bridges aided also in understanding the disposition of the mill since it was so closely-related to the oldest known bridge.  In the days before a bridge, access south was obtained by a ford across the cove itself, indicated on Salem Towne Jr’s 1808 map.  So, the first bridge to be built across Seal Cove Stream would had to have been after that.  In fact, there may have been several, since they were composed of wood and decayed faster than modern bridges.  We have no data on those bridges. 

The DOT information was vital in determining the dates of the last two. Plans for the construction of these two bridges show that the last wooden bridge was closest to the cove itself, the 1928 bridge was built just north of the old wooden bridge, and the 1969 bridge was built in a much different location far to the north of the 1928 bridge, to allow for the lessening of the curvature of Highway 102.  

Composite of bridge photos, 1928 plans, and Google Earth image showing the same region.
 In 1969, the present bridge was constructed in a much different location.  As the picture above indicates, Highway 102 was straightened quite a bit to remove the hairpin curve at the entrance to the bridge built in 1928.  The advent of better and faster cars had a great influence on this change no doubt.  Sharp curves had become deadly... they weren't so bad when your horse-drawn carriage was making its way with fresh-cut lumber or produce.  

The plan for the 1969 bridge is below:

1969 Bridge Plan from Maine DOT

Here is the best shot available for this bridge, not nearly as beautiful as the artistic 1928 version:

The best part of researching on Mount Desert Island, mostly a tourist site, was the food.  We had beer, lobster, beer, seafood pizza, beer, and more beer.  And, still, we got some work done.  :)

Well, the trip back home was great!  I got to eat in a pub in Boston that reminded me of Cheers... right outside the train station.  I also got to stroll through Union Station in Washington, DC... a virtual Amtrak-World complete with a Barnes and Noble!  All in all it was a great trip!


Hopefully, at the end of 2017, I will be finished with my newest book: Dictionary of Pyrate Biography, 1713-1720 which will attempt for the first time ever to re-discover pirate history without using A General History. I guarantee a lot of surprises!

Please keep up with updates on my website at

Meanwhile, visit my Lulu page for already published material, including Quest for Blackbeard! 

Quest for Blackbeard is 15% OFF ALL PRINT FORMATS now at:

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