Native Americans in the New Hope Bottoms
“Acconeecy Old Towns” on the above map indicates abandoned village sites that once probably belonged to what we now call Occaneechi Indians. These were Siouan people, which is to say they spoke a dialect of Sioux. In fact Occaneechi was the trade language understood throughout the Carolinas and Virginia at the moment of contact between Europeans and Native Americans in the piedmont of the southeast. And these villages on New Hope Creek once exerted control over all the lands from the Neuse to the Yadkin Rivers.
We don’t know what the Occaneechi called New Hope Creek before some Englishman named it and claimed it. Folks who used watersheds and basins for navigation purposes undoubtedly referred it to as the eastern branch of the East Fork of the Cape Fear River. But its actual name we cannot know. Because we have Barnwell’s map and a travel narrative that tells us so, we can surmise that its most common name was a word from the Occaneechi dialect of the Sioux language.
When English colonists first arrived at Roanoke Island in 1585, there were three Indian peoples occupying Carolina, each identified by its language. On the coastal sounds, in the immediate neigborhood of Virginia Dare’s family were Algonquin speaking Indians. They had come by water down the east coast of North America from their northern homeland many centuries earlier.
In the coastal plain, inland from the sounds were the Iroquois speaking Tuscarora, cousins of the Iroquois of the mountains, the Cherokee. They too were from northlands, but they probably arrived in the southeast by land routes. They were foresworn enemies of the Algonkian folk from long before either group arrived in the southeast. Wedged between the two Iroquois peoples were the Siouan folk of the piedmont and of the New Hope basin.
Between these language groups there was frequent warfare. Occassionally one would raid the other for slaves, to steal corn, or just to hone military skills. The Algonkians of the coast and the Sioux of the interior made common cause against the Iroquouian folk in the coastal plain and the mountains. It is probably for this reason that a “Shoccoree” Indian came to be chief of the village in the New Hope bottoms.
We know this because just as the Native Americans were disappearing from the piedmont a European, John Lawson, while heading downcountry on the Great Coast Trail, visited a village on a tributary of the Cape Fear River and he left us a narrative of his visit. The village sat beside “…a pretty Rivulet…” 10 to 15 miles from the Hillsborough area, and Eno Will, an Indian forever friendly to the English, governed it.
Eno Will was of an Algonkian tribe of Indians from near the mouth of the Neuse River known to history as Core or Coree or Shakori, or Shoccoree. He had married an Occaneechi woman of high estate. And by marriage he acquired chiefdom over his Acconeechy village at the crossroads on New Hope Creek. Given the quality of the lands around the village, it is safe to surmise that the principle trade good available at this village was food. And young Mr. Lawson waxed poetic describing the plenty to be had at “Adshusheer.”
The New Hope bottoms were extraordinarily good farmlands. Below modern Erwin Road, New Hope Creek was for Native and newcomer alike a wonderfully rich farmland. Even above Erwin Road wherever the creek widened it served for farmland as is testified by the name of one of its tributaries, Old Field Creek. Furthermore, two great trade routes intersected along the banks of New Hope Creek.
Near its upper reaches, in Orange Couty, in the vicinity of Efland, New Hope Creek's upper branches, the eastern-most waters of the Cape Fear River, reach out toward and almost touch the western-most tributary of the Neuse River, Seven Mile Creek. Shooting the gap between these two drainages was a great ridge trail along which Native traders from the mountains and the sea and the piedmont trafficked in shell money, salt, hides, baskets and herbs.
For untold generations this was a main road from the piedmont to the coast. It followed the watershed between the Neuse and Cape Fear Rivers. In the Triangle, Cornwallis Road approximates the line of this road. But, whereas Cornwallis Road skirts the soft bottomland of New Hope Creek, the original ridge trail crossed those bottoms so travelers could rest a moment with the farmers clustered near the pretty rivulet we now call New Hope Creek.
At the upper end of the New Hope bottoms, near Erwin Road, another major trade route intersected the Great Central Coast Trail. This east-west trail Europeans called “the Lower Trading Path.” It crossed the Neuse River at Fish Dam, just below where the Eno and Flat Rivers merge to form the Neuse and forded New Hope Creek just down stream from Erwin Road along a line connecting Pickett Road in Durham County with Whitfield Road in Orange County. It went on to ford the Haw River at a point upstream from Saxapahaw called Cedar Cliffs.
So, the coincidence of wonderful farmland and important trade routes enhanced the value of the New Hope bottoms, Eno Will’s lands. That inherent value persisted long after the dear old Indian was gone and his people’s memory but a fadding ember. The Indian staples of corn, beans, and squash gave way to tobacco and cotton and other market crops in the New Hope bottoms. European market farming replaced the subsistence farming techniques so much less productive and so much gentler on the land. Even as he spoke with Eno Will in 1701, young Mr. Lawson knew that Indian populations in the southeast between 1650 and 1700 had fallen by five-sixths. Within a mere fifty years only vestiges, confused memories of Will and his people, remained on New Hope Creek.
But when you walk along New Hope Creek’s banks, sit in a boulder field and enjoy the stream’s song, or wallow in the symphony of critters in the New Hope Corridor, think of Eno Will, young Mr. Lawson, the wonderful daughter of a great clan mother who married a Core to help her people in their last moments. Remember that once they too enjoyed our “pretty little rivulet.”