Thumbing through history

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 15, 2004

One of the best $15 purchases I’ve made lately was for &uot;The History of Harrellsville&uot; by the late Dr. Thomas C. Parramore, a book published through the efforts of Harrellsville Historical Association. Friend Betty Earley of the same town made sure a copy was available when I visited her flea market one recent Saturday morning.

The 96 pages and pictures in this history cover the Harrellsville area from 1584 into the 20th Century. It is wise to remember that this entire region was grouped together under Chowan Precinct originally, so history of one place infringes on the past of another.

The first known recorded reference to the area comes from Arthur Barlowe, who was sent with Philip Amadas by Sir Walter Raleigh from England to find a suitable settlement site on the new American coast.

Barlowe wrote of Albemarle Sound, called Occam, and another river called Nomopana, which housed on its shores an Indian village known as Chowanoake (Choanoke), and what we know today as Mount Pleasant between Swain’s Millpond and the mouth of Wiccacon Creek.

The native American town of Muscamunge was a few miles east of today’s Edenton and the village of Mettaquen was at the mouth of Salmon Creek (area known today as Avoca Farm). On a &uot;goodly high land&uot; was Ooanoke in the area of today’s Colerain.

There is not enough space here to cover more than a thimbleful of information found in The History of Harrellsville, but Dr. Parramore believes the little town is much more important in the settlement of this nation than has ever been recognized.

Ralph Lane, head of Sir Walter Raleigh’s first Roanoke Island Colony, came to Swain’s Millpond in 1586 and met with Chief Menatonon of Choanoke Town. The chief was the earliest identified resident of Harrellsville and the two men envisioned moving early Roanoke Island colonists to Chesapeake Bay for its deeper harbors. Then the English and Indians could enter Tuscarora country west of Roanoke River seeking mines of copper and silver, two metals which were instrumental in originally bringing the English to America. The plan would make England richer and strike a blow at the Choanokes’ most dangerous enemy. The famous Lost Colony was originally destined to land at Chesapeake (but settlers were unceremoniously dumped at Roanoke Island by an unscrupulous ship captain).

A handful of Quakers settled around Salmon Creek in 1661, but did not first get permission of the Tuscaroras, who drove them and other Indian tribes away. Permanent settlement west of the Chowan began around 1680 when the Tuscaroras allowed fur-traders to set up trading posts on or near Salmon Creek. (I wonder if Nathaniel Batts was one of these men. He is known to be the first white trader in the area and is known to have his trading post on or near Salmon Creek. It is believed that his original post location is under water now.)

One of the first Lords Proprietors, Sir William Berkley, made a series of land grants in 1663 for all land between Salmon Creek and Wiccacon Creek, with the northernmost point at a Choanoke town (Swain’s Millpond).

Virginia’s Thomas Woodard received 2,000 acres on the west side of Choanoke River and Swain’s Millpond was known as Woodard’s Creek for more than 50 years. In 1701 Woodard’s heirs sold property to Harrellsville’s (and Hertford County’s) first white settler, Lewis Williams, who was living in Chowan County when Albemarle settlers decided to move inland from Chowan River.

Names known well today in Harrellsville took up lands along the lower Wiccacon between 1701 and 1720, including Wynns, Sharp, Downing, Lassiter, Boon, Pugh and Sumner (my grandmother’s maiden name). Land west of Chowan River was taken into a new County of Bertie in 1720 and official seat changed from Edenton to Timber Branch (St. John’s) and then moved near Windsor in 1740.

By 1720-1730, records show the Harrellsville area had a builder, Benjamin Wynns; a turner or lathe operator, William Kirby; millwright Joseph Wynns; joiner and shipwright, William Sharp; William Wynns of Wiccacon, Fincher Hayne and Robert Evans of Petty Shore, merchants; John Cherryholme and Thomas Banks of Chinkapin Neck, tailors; William Lewis, William Askew and Thomas Bonner, cord-wainers (shoemakers); Alexander Valentine, Lewis Byran and Thomas and William Lee, coopers (barrel makers); and John Morris, tar-burner.

This account hasn’t even spoken about the tar and turpentine industry, early politics and legislators from the area, mariners, the walk and push train, social gatherings, herring fishing, wharves and shipping, homes still standing today, ferries, farming and the Civil War.

That means instead of writing just one column from this new book, as I originally intended, a couple more will follow. But if you are a history buff or just want to know more about your area, get a copy of the book from any member of the Harrellsville Historic Association or stop by Tar Landing Grill and Grocery on Main Street and buy a copy. I promise you won’t regret it.

To whet your appetite, did you know the original name of Harrellsville was Bethel Crossroads?