THE LAND OF THE LONG-LEAF PINE
A score or more years ago, on on afternoon off from my medical practice in High Point, I was browsing through the reference section of the public library in search of things related to the Bridger/Whichard and Hamrick/Moore families.
I found several interesting volumes: The N.C. Regiments in the War Between the States, a volume on the origin of English surnames, and a small volume entitled The State of Robeson, the latter an account of the early white settlement in that southeast corner of the colony.
Though my father knew little of the more remote generations of his family he told us much about Robeson County where he had been raised.
When I asked him about so presumtuous name for a county, he confirmed that, indeed, the first white settlers did speak of their community as a separate state, but he had no inkling why.
Pondering this I've wondered if it had to do with the multi-ethnic nature of its earlier population, certainly more varied than the make-up of its neighbors.
And this brings up several more vignettes which I can't resist.
One also wonders what impelled settlers specifically to "The Sand Hills" of North Carolina in the later 18th century, near two centuries after Raleigh's ill-fated settlement at Roanoke Island, the first English settlement attempted in North America and in what would one-day be North Carolina.
Were these episodes casually related?
Did the fact that Indians significantly people the Robeson area cause the expansive whites to consider this "open country?"
Did the fact that these native Americans were called "Croatans" related to those along the northwest coast of the colony where "The Lost Colonists" had left the name carved in the trunk of a tree?
These "Croatans" were an unusual group, not "full-blooded," but said to be a mixture of American Indian, French and Portuguese, and therefore themselves relatively new to the area.
Even today, now calling themselves "Lumbees," they strive in vain to have themselves officially designated a tribe by the U. S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In any even, "The Croatans" were there when the whites arrived, and though the Bridgers were early in the land they were not the first form the British Isles.
"Daddy" often spoke of his two closet childhood friends: Lindsay Norment -- his first cousin -- and Walter McCrae (spelling uncertain), a boy from one of the numerous Scot families n the Robeson settlement.
The Lumber River, so-named, I always figured, because it courses through heavily timbered country, and because the lumber industry was a main-stay of colonial economy, runs through Robeson County, and as best I remember is a tributary of the Cape Fear.
However, I've since learned it was first known as "The Lumbee," with little doubt, and Indian name, and considering the mixed ethnicity of "The Croatans" may have been a polyglot expression which did, indeed, have to do with lumbering.
If one doesn't know something for certain, speculation is always fine.
The reader must remember that a dedicated yarn-spinner never allows the truth to get in the way of a good story.
The river also gave name to Lumberton, now the county seat of Robeson County.
The Cape Fear, in its coreallis erosion, flows nigh due south near its mouth, and is the only river in North Carolina, which bypasses the sound system and enters directly into the Atlantic.
Along its estuary lies Wilmington, which is the state's major port and thereby the river is one of the few, which accommodated direct settlement from Europe.
Wilmington was the state's leading city when my father was in his formative years.
Still, the offshore waters are characterized by shifting sand-banks, known as "Frying Pan Shoals," and like most of the littoral waters of N. C. were particularly perilous to sailing ships, giving name to the river's headland and to the river.
The Scots were the seafarers who dared the passage, and the influx of these folk began in the 1730's and grew.
In 1774 the Highlander followers of Prince Charles Edward Stuart -- "The Young Pretender" -- who fought to alter the Stuart procession in England after "The Restoration" -- were led into North Carolina by Allen and Flora MacDonald.
Flora, a maid of the off-shore Hebrides, had temporarily sheltered "Bonnie Prince Charles" when he fled to those islands following his defeat by the royalists at Culloden Moor.
When she, in turn, fled to the colonies to escape reprisal for offering sanctuary to an enemy of the throne, she and her husband brought their flock to the Cape Fear valley.
Some of them reached Robeson County about the same time as did overflow colonists from Virginia and South Carolina, the Bridgers among them.
A few years later these same Caledonian expatriates took part in "The Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge," this being among the early confrontations in what would become "The American Revolution."
Ironically, these Scots, their own families refugees from British oppression were the "Tories" who opposed the colonial rebels in the fighting along Moore's Creek.
Though no record supports this it's intriguing to speculate that some of these adversaries survived to -- a century later -- spawned Samuel Leon Bridgers, Lindsay Norment and Walter McCrae.
Several generations later and several generations before now The Presbyterian Church established there in the sand hills a seat of higher education for women which they named Flora MacDonald College, but which since has become co-educational and renamed St. Andrews University.
Robeson County is on the edge of a unique area in North Carolina - "The Sand Hills."
Here is a region that was once the littoral fringe of an antique ocean, once a seabed and now a pine-laden plain over burdened with sand.
Much of this is also known as a "Thermal Belt."
The fact that it is warmer than the surrounding geography allows folks to play golf during the winter.
Hence we have Pinehurst and Southern Pines.
At once, these attributes of soil and weather are likely at work in the prevalence of "The Long Leaf Pine."
Anyone who has driven through the state -- or through most of the south, for that matter -- knows that confers many times out-number the hard woods in the still-thick forests.
In the mountains there are all sorts of cedars, balsams, spruce and firs - as well as pines.
But in the flatter lands the prevailing tree is the lob-lolly pine.
This species provides, over the continent, much of the internal lumber for buildings, particularly housing.
The lob-lolly, if it stands alone and uncrowded, is a pretty tree.
However, in nature it is seldom so found, and grows mostly close among a plethora of siblings.
Thereby in its usual groves, instead of having a conical skirt-like shape, the lob-lolly is usually tall with a long bare trunk, save for a tuft of needle-bearing limbs at the top.
This apparently provides the long reach from the shaded forest floor into the sunlight sufficient to sustain photosynthesis for the entire tree.
It's easy to realize in the days of sailing ships that lumber-hungry ship-wrights of sea-faring England saw these as a prime source of tall, straight masts.
Further, the copious sap of pines produced turpentine and tar which likewise were treasured grist for the ship-yards of the mother country.
The lob-lolly pine supported one of the industries which caused the American colonies to prosper.
But, through "The Sand Hills" one sees an entirely different species in the woods and along the road -- "The Long Leaf Pine."
Here is a shorter but shapelier tree, which even in groves is full and green; its long needles on terminal limbs which appear as fluffy balls from the tree's broad base to its pointed tip.
It has a beauty the lob-lolly lacks.
It has found it's way into the state anthem -- The Old North State Forever, and some even call North Carolina the "land of the long-leaf pine."
In truth, though, the "Long-leaf Pine" is found almost exclusively in "The Sand Hills."
The tree, once a nuisance to planters at worse and a source of lumber at best, is now treasured as an ornamental.
My father occasionally talked of huge bonfires of the trees, felled to clear land for crops.
You could tell that he remembered these chores as exciting as a youngster, and sensible in the context of his father's day and generation, but now a memory he rued as the wastage of a cherished gift.
The trees are worth driving through the "Sand Hills" to behold.
In any event, when the Bridgers and their fellow pilgrims trekked into "The State of Robeson" in the late 1700's, they found sandy loam soil, forests of "long-leaf pines," "The Croatans" and folks from Scotland.
The picture which comes to mind is of moving down country roads, sandy and unpaved, the routes I remember leading to my uncle's farm when I was a child and saw on my several visits.
However, to try to give accuracy and color to their venture, I've made myself picture either burdened wagons drawn by mules or horses, or sledges drawn by oxen, trundling down Indian trails through spreading pine forests.
That would seem closer to the truth and less in the way of a good story - "a good history" if you will.
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