If it clears due diligence, I may be writing some of these essays at a retreat on Mayo Lake which, as I will describe, is very unique.
Even if you didn’t grow up along lakes, as each of us did, like being a morning person or a night owl, it is just something in your nature.
Mayo Lake lies 35 miles and change north of our house in Durham. The most scenic route, for me, will often be astride the Harley Crossbones up and over Mt. Tirza.
Mt. Tirza is the location and namesake of a church where good friends of mine, Eddie and Nita Hill, were first posted after he graduated from Duke Divinity.
Nita helped us jumpstart Durham’s community destination marketing organization 26 years ago.
But the crossroads there predates the church by three or four decades, when it was established by a Revolutionary War veteran, Lt. Colonel Stephen Moore, in 1777 and 1778, two years before he famously led the Caswell County Regiment at the Battle of Camden in a losing cause.
The rest of Moore’s family had sided with the British so after the war he inherited the family’s estate at West Point overlooking the Hudson in New York, which he negotiated to sell to the newly created U.S. government beginning in the late 1780s for use as a military academy.
The Battle of Camden has significance to me because along with Moore, my fourth great grandfather, James McCrory, was captured there after seeing earlier combat at Brandywine and Germantown and serving a stint in General Washington’s select guard.
At Camden, he and Moore along with 1,000 other American soldiers were captured during the battle. Moore was imprisoned on a prison ship in Charleston Bay while my fourth great grandfather was imprisoned on a ship near Wilmington.
Moore was held until a prisoner exchange in late summer 1781, but after only four months as a POW, my great (x4) grandfather was earlier released in only his underwear and without shoes upon taking a vow that he would never again take up arms against the British Crown.
Moore returned to a noncombatant commission in Hillsborough, a 20 mile ride from his home on Mt. Tirza and retook his seat in the North Carolina legislature there, then the capital.
But instead, just four months after his release, my fourth great grandfather McCrory rejoined the war in combat at the Battle of Cowpens where his British captor Tarleton was thoroughly routed, marking a turning point in the war.
A few months later he was fighting in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, a place to which he had immigrated from Northern Ireland just as the Revolutionary War began.
The British Army retreated to the Virginia coast and seven months later surrendered to American General Washington bringing the Revolutionary War to an end.
While Moore was settled back on Mt. Tirza, my fourth great grandparents McCrory headed up and over the Appalachians, eventually settling on the frontier along the Tombigbee River southwest of Tuscaloosa.
The old soldier lived until 1840 at which time his daughter and son-in-law, whose grandparents had migrated from North to South Carolina before ending up on the Tombigbee, headed into the Rockies.
James McCrory’s great grandaughter, my great grandmother was claimed by the Great Influenza Epidemic in 1919 while visiting the ancestral Idaho ranch where I would be born three decades later and spend my early years.
It is from her parents and two other lines of ancestors that I derive my 5th generation Idaho roots.
Moore, who had been in the lumber trade in Canada before the war, was proud that his home on Mt. Tirza was “where the ax had never been laid to a tree.”
He would be greatly dismayed today by clear-cut timbering now laying waste along Mt. Tirza’s northern slopes not far from his home. It is a lazy way to timber, fueled by technology, compared to the equally lucrative but more sustainably way of selective cutting.
Moore had a grist mill on the Flat River, just over what would become the Durham County line, thus the name Moores Mill Road, which I will take past Hill Forest and Mt. Tirza.
He died in 1799 while visiting friends in Durham at Stagville Plantation, now a state historic site, and is buried up on Mt. Tirza in a family cemetery along the route to Mayo Lake that bears his name.
Like the lakes that dot northern Durham - two to provide the city’s water and one to provide for Raleigh’s further to the south and east -Mayo is a reservoir, but not just for drinking.
It has 85 miles of shoreline that encompass its 2,800 acres lined with homes on the southern half that are very secluded compared to other lakes.
The shoreline while accessible for boating and swimming has been uniquely set aside as a wildlife habitat dating back to the late 1970s when Mayo Lake was created to cool a steam power plant on the far northern end near the Virginia border.
It finished filling in the 1980s, a few years before I arrived in Durham.
Mayo, both the lake and the stream that was dammed to create it, are named for Major William Mayo, an Englishman who immigrated first to Barbados in the early 1700s and then Virginia.
He led the survey teams that mapped the gaps in the Blue Ridge Mountains through which my Messersmith ancestors traveled soon after immigrating to settle along a creek feeding the South Fork of the Holston River.
It is where the southern and northern tips of the Jefferson and Cherokee national forests, respectively, nearly touch today.
In 1728, Mayo also led one of the teams jointly surveying along each side to map the border between Virginia and North Carolina, guided, in part, through the area north of what is now Mayo Lake.
It was a prequel to officially dividing North and South Carolina the following year. Mayo was guided by Native Americans in that area known as the Sappony (aka Sapponi) who had migrated down from the foothills to avoid Iroquoian raiders.
Sappony is derived from Monasusapanough, one of three villages they inhabited.
All of these tribes traded with the Catawba nation down the “Great Trading Path” remnants of which can still be seen where it cut diagonally across northern Durham near Stagville.
It is actually a spine or mainline for a network of countless other tributary trading paths along its route. It was created first by buffalo, then by Indians following game, then for trade. Then came pack horses and settlers, followed by wagons.
Signaling the road building savvy of buffalo, today, it is roughly the route of Interstate 85.
However, it appears the Sappony didn’t really migrate permanently across into North Carolina around Mayo Lake until after the Revolutionary War, in which they had fought on behalf of the colonists against the British Crown.
Their slow migration down into North Carolina had begun after the 1676 Bacon’s Rebellion.
At the time, only coastal counties in Virginia had been organized along with only a handful in the very northeast corner of North Carolina, including Bath near where my eighth great grandmother had been born twenty-six years before.
Yes, my Tar Heel bonafides stretch back to when there were fewer than 1,000 settlers in all of what became North Carolina, long before there were counties.
But a line of my ancestors, the Sheltons, had already moved into the interior along the border northwest of what is now Mayo Lake.
The migration of the Sappony had hastened by 1746: nine years after Mayo had laid out the city of Richmond and two years after his death, when Lunenburg County was created along the Virginia side.
At the time Granville spanned along the North Carolina side.
Their flow had quickened even more by 1752, when Halifax was carved from Lunenburg in Virginia across from Mayo Lake, while Orange County spanned North Carolina side by then.
At the time, there were fewer than 53,000 white settlers in all of North Carolina and another 19,000 enslaved African Americans.
In 1761, my fifth great grandmother Miller was born in Orange County before relocating with her family to a point in South Carolina along the Old Trading Path.
It was her grandson, my third great grandfather Graham who had later married a McCrory on the Tombigbee before heading westward to the Rockies.
The crossover by the Sappony into North Carolina had begun in earnest six years later just as western Halifax in Virginia was divided to create Pittsylvania.
It had become a steady stream by 1776 when my ancestors, the Shelton’s, petitioned to carve off Henry County further west along the border of Pittsylvania.
The next year Caswell County was carved from Orange on the North Carolina side which is why Lt. Col. Moore led a regiment from that county.
Person County, where both Mayo Lake and Mt. Tirza are located today wasn’t carved from Caswell until 1791; the year after Moore had sold West Point to the government.
It was five years later that the town of South Boston, Virginia was created in Halifax County just across the border from Mayo Lake.
As with other nations of Native Americans across the country, we didn’t keep our agreements with the Sappony regarding land.
By the time Mayo Lake was created, the bottom land for the reservoir, which averages 30 feet in depth as well as the surrounding embankments were purchased from subsequent settlers.
There will be a lot to contemplate from lakeside and a lot to learn, but all of this is to say that it will seem like coming home.