Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ch. 20 of Suart-Smyth's A Tour in the United States (1784)


Newse-River. Hillsborough. Stong Post. Haw
Fields. Singular Phenomena. Accounted for.

The last two considerable streams of water that I crossed on my way to this place, Fishing-creek and Tar-river, receiving several inferior creeks and branches in their course, form a tolerable large river, which passing by Tarburg, falls into the immense body of water, that is known by the appellation of Pamplico sound, at the Bath town, after a course of about an hundred and fifty miles, in a direct line, from the source.

It was in February when I left this place, and again proceeded on my journey.

At the end of two miles, I crossed Flat river, and in two miles farther, Little river; these, with another river (the Eno) within a couple of miles more, meet some small distance below, and form the river Newse.

Each of these small rivers, is larger than the Thames at Richmond, and the Newse is not much inferior to the Roanoak.

After a course of more than three hundred miles, it empties itself in Pamplico sound, about thirty miles below the town of Newbern, which is sometimes called and lately established as the capital of North-Carolina.

This town is situated in a very beautiful spot, on the banks of the Newse, at the confluence of a pretty stream, named Trent river.

After a ride of twenty-two miles, I arrived at Hillsborough, where I dined and passed the rest of the day.

This is the third appellation this town has already been honoured with since it was erected, being first named Corben town, next Childsburg, now Hillsborough; all in less than thirty years.

It is also the capital of a district, and the county-town of Orange.

Hillsborough is a healthy spot, enjoys a good share of commerce for an inland town, and is in a very promising state of improvement.

The land for some distance around Hillsborough, consists of a mixture of loam and strong red clay of so bright a colour that white horses and cattle, soon after they are brought there, become in appearance a fine scarlet. [I suppose this is true in a way, but really, scarlet?]

In the vicinity of Hillsborough, and to the westward of it, there are a great many very fine farms, and a number of excellent mills.

The inhabitants are chiefly natives of Ireland and Germany, but of the very lowest and most ignorant class, who export large quantities of exceeding good butter and flour, in wagons, to Halifax, Petersburg, &c. besides multitudes of fat cattle, beeves [beefs], and hogs.

There is a very steep and high hill, or small mountain, with two summits of an equal height, on the south-west of Hillsborough, which arises abruptly in the middle of an extensive plain, and commands the whole country for a great distance around.

This might easily be rendered a very strong post, by works thrown up on the summits, which are near enough to cover and support each other, and so situated, as the communication between them could not be interrupted. The flanks and rear likewise would be strengthened by the river Eno, which runs at the base of this mountain, and two sides of it. [Such an unusual perspective on Occaneechee Mountain. Says a lot about the author and his times.]

The staple produce of all this country being provisions of every kind, a fortified post in this place would thereby be enabled to subsist and maintain itself in every necessary supply, excepting arms and ammunition, and might be defended, by a small force, against a very considerable and superior army.

Almost every man in this country has been the fabricator of his own fortune, and many of them are very opulent.

Some have obtained their riches by commerce, others by the practice of law, which in this province is peculiarly lucrative and extremely oppressive; but most of them have acquired their possessions by cropping, farming, and industry. [Pretty much what the War of the Regulation was all about.]

I dined next day, by invitation, at the house of Mr. Frank Nash.

{Since then it has happened, in the vicissitudes of fortune, that Mr. Nash and the author were engaged in battle on different sides; Mr. Nash as a General in the American army, and the author a Captain in the British, at the action of German-Town, near Philadelphia, where Mr. Nash received his mortal wound.}

Here, at Mr. Nash’s, I happened to meet a Mr. Mabin [Alexander Mebane presumably] (a native of Ireland) who very kindly insisted on my accompanying him to his seat on Haw river, adjoining the Haw fields, to spend some weeks there.

Having a great desire to view the Haw fields, a place I had heard much about, I went along with him to his plantation, which is about an easy day’s ride, west of Hillsborough.

Mr. Mabin’s farm is very valuable and extensive, but not particularly remarkable. [Mr. Smyth Stuart is not a terribly gracious guest.]

I rode several times over the Haw fields, but could not perceive any thing in them extraordinary. [You know, John Lawson said of this area: "the Land is extraordinary Rich, no Man that will be content within the Bounds of Reason, can have any grounds to dislike it. And they that are otherwise, are the best Neighbours, when farthest of[f]." So I guess we know who Lawson was talking about.]

They consist partly of wide savannahs, or glades, and partly of large fields overgrown with shrubs, brush, and low under-wood, entirely destitute of heavy timber. But there appears many vestiges of trees, which in all probability have been blown down by a hurricane, and the young shoots afterwards choaked by the extreme thickness of the low bushes, and scrubby underwood. This I have also observed to be the case in many other places besides. [Sounds doubtful.]

From the effect of these most violent and tremendous hurricanes and tornadoes, which being sometimes partial, frequently move in strange and fantastic directions, and from the irresistible force of the wind, and the vast deluges and inundations of water that generally accompany them, all the appearances may be readily

[It seems as though the typographer omitted a portion of the text here. There is a page break before the next word and I think maybe an entire page was erroneously omitted.]

accounted for in a common natural way, which, however, have lately given scope to an ingenious, celebrated and elegant author’s (Dr. Dunbar) and others of less note (Mr. Carver,&c.) vague imaginations; hazarding their fanciful and wild conjectures of some of these being vestiges of military works erected many ages past by a people then conversant in the science, but whose descendants, by the mere dint of practice, (for war and hunting appear from the most early period of time to have been the sole study and occupation of their lives,) and by some other equally absurd and unaccountable transitions, have thereby forgotten, and, at this day, have lost every trace thereof.

Indeed it must be confessed, that the elephant’s bones, or those of some other unknown animal of vast magnitude, found on the banks of the river Ohio, the antique sculptures in the Delaware’s country, on the north-west side of that amazing river, the shells and marine substances in the Alegany mountains, together with many other strange appearances and singular phenomena, so frequently to be met with throughout this most extensive continent, display a fertile field for a creative, fanciful genius to explore, and may give rise to the most novl, elegant, and beautiful flights of imaginstion, and the brightest, most ingenious and splendid embellishments of fiction. [He sure has a way of wandering pretty far afield.]

However, I have reason to believe, that some of the Haw fields have been cleared of woods by the Indians, in ages past, who were undoubtedly settled here; many insignia, and vestiges of the remains of their towns, still remaning. [So generous. All authorities certainly agree the that Haw old fields are far older than the European settlers.]

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