Tuesday, 22 March 2011

THE WESTOVER MANUSCRIPTS 1733. Travel overland.

15th. After the clouds broke away in the morning, the people dried their blankets with all diligence. Nevertheless, it was noon before we were in condition to move forward, and then were so puzzled with passing the river twice in a small distance, that we could advance the line in all no further than one single mile and three hundred poles. The first time we passed the Dan this day was two hundred and forty poles from the place where we lay, and the second time was one mile and seven poles beyond that. This was now the fourth time we forded that fine river, which still tended westerly, with many short and returning reaches.

The surveyors had much difficulty in getting over the river, finding it deeper than formerly. The breadth of it here did not exceed fifty yards. The banks were about twenty feet high from the water, and beautifully beset with canes. Our baggage horses crossed not the river here at all, but, fetching a compass, went round the bend of it. On our way we forded Sable creek, so called from the dark colour of the water, which happened, I suppose, by its being shaded on both sides with canes.

In the evening we quartered in a charming situation near the angle of the river, from whence our eyes were carried down both reaches, which kept a straight course for a great way together. This prospect was so beautiful, that we were perpetually climbing up to a neighbouring eminence, that we might enjoy it in more perfection.

Now the weather grew cool, the wild geese began to direct their flight this way from Hudson's bay, and the lakes that lay north-west of us. They are very lean at their first coming, but fatten soon upon a sort of grass that grows on the shores and rocks of this river. The Indians call this fowl cohunks, from the hoarse note it has, and begin the year from the coming of the cohunks, which happens in the beginning of October. These wild geese are guarded from cold by a down, that is exquisitely soft and fine, which makes them much more valuable for their feathers than for their flesh, which is dark and coarse.

The men chased a bear into the river that got safe over, notwithstanding the continual fire from the shore upon him. He seemed to swim but heavily, considering it was for his life. Where the water is shallow, it is no uncommon thing to see a bear sitting, in the summer time, on a heap of gravel in the middle of the river, not only to cool himself, but likewise for the advantage of fishing, particularly for a small shell-fish, that is brought down with the stream. In the upper part of James river I have observed this several times, and wondered very much, at first, how so many heaps of small stones came to be piled up in the water, till at last we spied a bear sitting upon one of them, looking with great attention on the stream, and raking up something with his paw, which I take to be the shell-fish above mentioned.

16th. It was ten o'clock this morning before the horses could be found, having hidden themselves among the canes, whereof there was great plenty just at hand. Not far from our camp we went over a brook, whose banks were edged on both sides with these canes. But three miles further we forded a larger stream, which we called Lowland creek, by reason of the great breadth of low grounds inclosed between that and the river.

The high land we travelled over was very good, and the low grounds promised the greatest fertility of any I had ever seen. At the end of four miles and three hundred and eleven poles from where we lay, the line intersected the Dan the fifth time. We had day enough to carry it farther, but the surveyors could find no safe ford over the river. This obliged us to ride two miles up the river in quest of a ford, and by the way we traversed several small Indian fields, where we conjectured the Sawroes had been used to plant corn, the town where they had lived lying seven or eight miles more southerly, upon the eastern side of the river. These Indian fields produced a sweet kind of grass, almost knee-high, which was excellent forage for the horses. It must be observed, by the way, that Indian towns, like religious houses, are remarkable for a fruitful situation; for being by nature not very industrious, they choose such a situation as will subsist them with the least labour. The trees grew surprisingly large in this low ground, and amongst the rest we observed a tall kind of hickory, peculiar to the upper parts of the country. It is covered with a very rough bark, and produces a nut with a thick shell that is easily broken. The kernel is not so rank as that of the common hickory, but altogether as oily. And now I am upon the subject of these nuts, it may not be improper to remark, that a very great benefit might be made of nut-oil in this colony. The walnuts, the hickory-nuts, and pignuts, contain a vast deal of oil, that might be pressed out in great abundance with proper machines. The trees grow very kindly, and may be easily propagated. They bear plenty of nuts every year, that are now of no other use in the world but to feed hogs. It is certain there is a large consumption of this oil in several of our manufactures, and in some parts of France, as well as in other countries, it is eaten instead of oil-olive, being tolerably sweet and wholesome. The Indian killed a fat buck, and the men brought in four bears and a brace of wild turkeys, so that this was truly a land of plenty, both for man and beast.

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