Recently I stumbled upon a newspaper article so valuable I had to share it here (as an image and with full transcription). I have written extensively about several of the references within this article so I have added hyperlinks to related content.
Dear Sir: I have been requested by my neighbor, Mr. J. S. McCoy, to write you a short account of the “Old Swamp Road,” situated in the upper part of Camden and Currituck counties.
The Old Swamp Road was originally an Indian Trail, or supposed, from the fact that it crosses this part of the Dismal Swamp at its narrowest part. It became the first highway into Camden, or the section which is now Camden county, from the country North of it and a connecting link, in the route from the southeast section of Virginia to Edenton, N.C.
The road was the first mail route from the Norfolk section of Virginia to the old Lebanon mill, it being the first post-office in this section, and distributed mail to a large part of country now known as “Pasquotank and Camden counties.” This mail route was established about 1734. I think you can find something of this among the records in Edenton, N.C. It was continued by way of Joppa, now River Bridge, in Camden county, through the adjoining county to Edenton.
The road was used as a toll road as far back as 1800, and how much further I cannot tell. The first settlers that came into what is now the upwoods section, of Camden, came through that road and settled on the ridge lands bordering on the Dismal Swamp, before North Carolina became a state. David Pritchard, my wife’s great, great grandfather, who settled on what is now the D. L. Pritchard farm, obtained his grant from Lord Clarendon when he owned North Carolina and the land has ever since been in the family. The Conners are descendants of the Pritchard family. The old Lebanon mill was located between South Mills and Pearceville ceased to operate about 1818, after the Dismal Swamp Canal cut off its supply of water from Lake Drummond. This road is yet to become the pass way from upper Camden and Pasquotank counties to Norfolk, Va.
This road was fortified at the time of Col. Fordyce, the British commander and Gen. Gregory the American commander, fought the Battle of Great Bridge, Va. If the British had been successful, they would have attempted to pass through to Edenton, N.C. There is said to be two pieces of ordinance still buried where this fort was located. I have seen the foundation work of the old fortification.
It was about 2.5 miles from South Mills, and near McBrides church, that the first Baptist church ever established in North Carolina was erected. It was established by Rev. Paul Palmer, who was several times whipped and otherwise badly treated by the established church, which was only a few hundred yards distant, and at last he was driven away and his house burned. He then went to Shiloh, Camden county and established Shiloh Baptist church in 1727.
J. G. Huges
I have discovered bits and pieces of the information within this article over time but it was fascinating to see it all together as a story. In my earliest articles about the origin of the Basses of upper Camden County, I associated their migration with the construction of the Dismal Swamp Canal which began in the late 1700s. However, I soon learned that William Bass (b. 1755) and his wife Ann Sammon moved into a small community of free people of color that was established before the Dismal Swamp Canal was conceptualized. This letter from J. G. Huges provides invaluable insight into early connections between Norfolk County, VA and Camden County, NC that can be used to further investigate migration patterns.
This chronology provides new context for the migration of my ancestors and their extended family who lived across the Norfolk County, VA / Camden County, NC line. In subsequent articles, I will explain more about the role that the Old Swamp Road would have had in their lives.