County, North Carolina
18th Century Landmarks
Searching for the earliest recorded reference to a place, a person or an event that can be identified with certainty as being within the territory that became Robeson County when it was created in 1787 has led to examining maps of the Carolinas, the accounts of early explorers, and the records of old land grants, some of which go back over 300 years. It is amazing, given that length of time, and the unsettling events of history, that any written records remain, but there are enough still existing to give fascinating glimpses of exploration and settlement and the naming of geographical landmarks.
Finding landmarks that can be connected to something we know now is essential to locating anything, and early explorers, surveyors and settlers apparently had a free hand in choosing the names for rivers, swamps and other geographical features when they first came into the wilderness of America. Many names have been created and lost with time, but some have remained to become the landmarks by which we can place historical events and to be used even till today. As to many that remain, we can only guess as to who gave the name and why the choice was made.
The records that can lead to a possible answer to the question begin with the Carolina Charter of 1663. By that instrument King Charles II of England granted the territory of Carolina to eight of his cousins, The Lord Proprietors, with the right to govern, to explore and to allow settlement. The name "Carolina" was chosen in his honor - a Latinized version of "Charles' Land". When the Proprietors found that the land was not rich in gold and precious stones they apparently lost interest, but they did set up a sketchy government and eventually divided the colony into North and South Carolina and made a few grants of land. During this period a few explorers crossed the colonies and wrote accounts of their travels, and map makers began to identify some of the geographical features.
Maps of the period show considerable detail along the coast, but the inland sections are often depicted with trees to indicate great forests, sometimes vague indications of Indian settlements, and occasionally with drawings of imaginary beasts, but almost never any names identifying geographical features. The Cape Fear River, which was originally called the West Branch of the Cape Fear, or merely the West or Northwest River, first appears on a map in 1682. The Little Pedee (Pee Dee) River, -of which Lumber River is a tributary-along with Lake Waccamaw and the Waccamaw River (spelled "Waggomau") are first named on a 1733 map. The earliest name of a Robeson County landmark that I have found on a map is the name "Shoe Heel" on the Mouzon map of 1775, but it appears in South Carolina and the stream it names stops at the South Carolina line. Shoe Heel Creek, of course, crosses the southwestern corner of Robeson County below Maxton and runs into the Little Pee Dee River
Surprisingly, the 1775 map shows nothing to represent Drowning Creek, now Lumber River, which is our most significant landmark. Drowning Creek is mentioned as early as 1749 in the bill to create Anson County out of the western part of Bladen. It was called "that Branch of Little Pee-Dee River called Drowning Creek," and it was made the boundary of Anson County from where it crossed the South Carolina line to its headwaters in Moore County. Thus for a time all of present Robeson County south and west of Lumber River was in Anson County. That territory was returned to Bladen County in 1777, ten years before Robeson County was created. Drowning Creek was used as a landmark in many grants, the first in 1750, and certainly it would have been well known when the Mouzon map was made.
At least two explorers who travelled across North and South Carolina during the time of the Lord Proprietors wrote accounts of their travels which still exist. John Lederer in 1670 and John Lawson, Surveyor General of North Carolina, in 1709, made trips between Virginia and Charleston, and both recorded the names of Indian settlements they visited and the names of major streams they crossed. It is impossible to plot their routes with certainty, but some of the names they used suggest the possibility that they passed near Robeson County, if not through it. Lederer went south through the Piedmont and back north through "the pine barrens." John Law-son records crossing the Northwest Branch of the Cape Fear. Their reports of contacts with Indians who had knowledge of the English language and of a tradition that some of their ancestors were white have been a part of the basis for the intriguing theory that the Lumbees are descended from The Lost Colony of 1587.
The source from which one can begin to focus on recognizable Robeson County landmarks is the record of early land grants still preserved in the office of The Secretary of State in Raleigh. Some of these date back to the time of the Lord Proprietors. They become more numerous from the time North Carolina reverted to a Royal Colony in 1729 and a program of granting land to encourage settlement was begun.
Obviously, these records are not complete, but considering the lapse of more than 250 years, the change of government from royal colony to a state through a war, and the fact that North Carolina had no permanent capital until 1795, it is remarkable that any exist. Also, it is clear from history that many who received grants did not record them and that many others settled on the land without the formality of applying for a grant - the "squatters." Many early grants that can be identified as in Robeson County mention adjoining owners for whom no grant exists.
Historians have recorded that the earliest settlement in Robeson County began in the 1730's. This would coincide with the beginning of the new settlement efforts by the British government and with known settlement in nearby counties, particularly along the Cape Fear River. However, the earliest land grants which have been found to date with a clear Robeson County location are three grants to Henry O'Berry, dated October 8, 1748
One, for 600 acres, is described as "on a fork of Raft Swamp," and this land has been definitely located as in the Philadelphus community, and its lines are still known to surveyors and property owners and are used as landmarks today. Another grant, for 300 acres, was also described as on a fork of Raft Swamp, and it can be located several miles to the north in the Mill Prong area north of Antioch Presbyterian Church, which became a part of Hoke County when it was created in 1911. The third grant, also for 300 acres, begins "in the fork of Pedee." While this land has not been positively located, it is almost certain that the fork of Pedee referred to was Drowning Creek, later named Lumber River, and that it was also in Robeson County
Henry O'Berry made application for these grants to the Royal Council on March 15, 1747, so for the present my answer to my question is that this is the date of the oldest record and that Raft Swamp and the fork of Pedee are the oldest landmarks still recognizable to us. Henry O'Berry disappeared from recorded history a few years after these grants, and no known descendants of his exist here.
Beginning with 1750, land grants begin to appear with an increasing number of recognizable landmarks. Within ten years there were grants which used as their point of reference Drowning Creek, Saddletree Swamp, Wilkinson's Swamp, Pugh's Marsh, White Oak Swamp, Ashpole (sometimes called ;"Tadpole". The Great Swamp, Ten Mile Swamp, Five Mile Swamp, Back Swamp, and Hog Swamp-all names still in use today. Among the holders of those grants are names still prominent in the county, including Willis, Barnes, Lamb, Lockaleer (sic), Oxendine, Baxley, Ivey and Regan.
[Submitted by: Henry A. McKinnon, Jr.]
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