Saturday, July 11, 2009

Eastern North Carolina 25.7.91: Slow Brown Rivers and Wild Caladia

At Edenton. A pretty morning, but promises to be hot. One feels the sea in the air. People at Windsor yesterday said it was the hottest it’s been in many moons—record highs.

Didn’t write last night because the heat had me prostrate (he said with typical Southern exaggeration), and we drank a glass of wine at supper and the combination did me in.

When we got going yesterday, I went to see Harry T., the Bertie historian. He teaches history classes at the community college. He was at Hope Plantation back in the woods working on a building which will—inter alia, and I’m not sure of the alia—store genealogical records.

Mr. T. that sort of amateur local historian who performs great wonders collecting and preserving materials, and who also works manually and considers it important to do so. I interrupted him planning wood; he owns a lumber company and sawmill.

I asked where Cashie Neck was and he took a piece of board and drew a map of the confluence of the Cashie, Middle, and Roanoke Rivers, showing me where various planters were. But when I told him the Strachan deeds mention Roquist Creek, he said he suspected we were dealing with land at the confluence of the Roquist and Cashie—probably just south of and on the side were Roquist flows.

We talked awhile and then Steve and I toured the plantation. A Bazemore who donated the house—built by the Kings—gave us a tour of the house, with interesting t-chimneys, a studded basement door, and other medieval features, recessed closets and shelves beside all the fireplaces. Love to hear the lady speak with that old coastal Carolina-Virginia sound, and a hint of a y in her “here”—the old “hyar.”

On the tour were four African Americans. This seemed somewhat to inhibit both of the tour guides, and make me wonder how often African Americans tour old plantation sites like this. Miss Bazemore a perfect lady: when she couldn’t understand a question one of the group kept asking, she would say, “Sir?”

Then to Hope House, where air conditioning was broken and it was devilishly hot. I tried and tried to think of whether any of my ancestors would have been here—to “feel” their presence. But couldn’t, not even when the tour guild told me that James Cherry had bought the house from the Stones.

Where I did feel them was in the land. A 17th-century feel about it, land well chosen and well tended. And perhaps it’s that, when one sees no machinery as one looks at fields in the 20th century, one is essentially seeing what one would have seen in the past. I know that crops vary and hybridization has “improved” some crops. But the overall lay and tilth is the same—and the birds soft over the crops and in the verges, and how the light falls and air feels. That’s what makes me feel I’ve been here before.

Even more so as we drove down to San Souci (that’s “suzy” to locals) ferry, over the Roquist to the Cashie where the ferry runs. This drive would have taken us very close to the Monk plantation, and the more we got back along the road, the more I felt I left the 20th century behind. It was lovely, paradisiac, still, green, removed. At the ferry itself on the far side of the river were lovely wild caladia, some in bloom (purple spikes) and wild iris—not in bloom, of course.

The Cashie brown like tobacco cured, but not muddily so—one fancies one can almost see the bottom. A brown I associate with water around cypress trees, of which there were many. The ferry was so slow and the stream so gentle, I felt far and away.

Between this crossing the Cashie, we went back to see Mr. T. at his mill. He had found for me an 1804 court document with Nottingham Monk’s signature, which he gave to me—kind of him.

In the late afternoon, we arrived at Edenton as a storm blew up—lots of bluster, but only a trace of rain. The town was beautiful then, the roiled bay and wild wind.

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