New Bern - 1710 in the Carolinas
|The History Behind the Novel|
Some History Behind the Novel
As an author of historic fiction, my deepest desire is to make history come alive for the reader. I want each reader hungry for the next section or the next chapter, and my job is accomplished when a reader puts down this novel and says “Wow! I didn’t know it was like that!”
In order to excite folks about this history, I have done what all writers of historic fiction do—I have taken some liberties with history. I tried to minimize these, and in this case, it is amazing how little this was necessary. This history of New Bern is quite rich and totally fascinating! While simple factual material cannot be discussed item by item, I did want to provide the reader some basis for exploring the amazing history of the New Bern settlement and colonial North Carolina of that period. First, here are a few general truths.
An Amazing Decade! New Bern (settled in 1710) was the first large settlement in the North Carolina colony, while Bath (1705) was the first recognized town. Bath never did grow a great deal, and in many ways the real settlement of North Carolina began with New Bern, since it was nearly central from north to south in the colony, and quickly became an important seaport. It also caused, to a large degree, the Tuscarora War.
Still, de Graffenreid’s settlers were not the first whites to settle this area; they had been predated for some five to ten years, by William Brice, John Lawson, and a few others. Those New Bern settlers were however, the first large group to settle in North Carolina, save a somewhat smaller group of French settlers around Bath and along the Trent River in the mid 1690s.
The first eight to ten years of the New Bern settlement really did experience a major Rebellion, the Tuscarora Massacre, and the Golden Age of Piracy, pretty much as described herein. Those events are certainly fertile ground for any writer of historic fiction, and it is an absolute wonder to me that this type of book has not been done before!
Generally, I have exaggerated the piracy aspect of this history slightly since most of that history took place in Bath, Ocracoke, or along the Cape Fear. Cary’s Rebellion and the Tuscarora War are exaggerated not at all! This stuff, amazingly, really happened!
Fiction and Non-Fiction: Several main characters, including Julien Bender (Jesus), Dunker Tim, Mildred Bender, Jesse Bender, and Martin Bender, as described herein are fiction. While a Martin Bender did show up in early New Bern, he was, by most indications a six year old orphan who thus would have lived through this history but not participated directly in it. I have a distant family tie to Martin Bender, of which I am very proud. Ms. Mildred Bender lived recently in the area passing away in 1992, but she kept no family papers to speak of and certainly nothing like those reported in the novel. Also, very few of the historic records discussed in the book actually exist.
In the book I used Martin Bender, and his friendship with Dunker Tim, along with a parallel, and quite similar relationship between Jesse Bender and Jesus, to explore some tough issues such as human enslavement, race relations, and the amazing bond men sometimes form in combat.
The battles described herein did take place, except for the fight at the Daniels plantation. While a confrontation took place there, a battle did not. For all other battles, the locations and times are reasonably accurate, and to the degree possible I’ve used the historic record to tell those stories.
Descriptions of the Tuscarora and the North Carolina Colony of the day are accurate and much of that material came from primary historical sources. For example both Lawson’s journal of his early travels through North Carolina (1700 – 1701) is available today, as are many of de Graffenreid’s papers. De Graffenreid’s map of New Bern does show farms all the way up the Neuse, the Trent, and Mill Creek. Unfortunately, de Graffenreid did not put names by most of the farms indicated on that map. He did leave a description of how the earliest version of New Bern was laid out, with streets in the shape of a cross.
With that said, no descriptions of the earliest days of the New Bern settlement exist, so I invented those for this story. A church was eventually constructed by and for the German Palatine people, but that came much later than I placed it here (around 1740 historically). Still, those folks were “Anabaptist” and/or Mennonite, as you prefer, and were the “radical” religious outcasts of the day. They did feel and believe in a very direct experience of and relationship with God, and that belief profoundly influenced this colony early on. I’ve tried to show that here.
History teaches us again and again, that no force on earth is stronger than religious conviction. Men will die for their God, quicker than for gold, for country, or even for family, and many of these early German and Swiss settlers in New Bern did. Of 650 German Palatines who left Europe, less than 300 were alive a year later in and around New Bern. We owe these people more that we could ever repay, and my notes in the book about the men, women, indentured servants, and slaves who created this city and this land are heartfelt and, I hope, poignant to the reader.
Historic Locations:Almost all of the locations described herein are real and accurately described. There are a few exceptions. I invented “Jackson’s Tavern” to provide a logical location for some events in the story, but Jacksonville does sit at the head of the New River. Pollocksville was originally called Trent Bridge, though there is no record of it being called Trent Mill. It is reasonable to assume that name at some point however, since the earliest trail to that area was probably on the Southeastern bank of the Trent River, and thus followed Island Creek Road in that area, rather than the current route of Highway 17 on the opposite bank of the river. Thus no bridge would have existed across the Trent in that town until later, whereas a grist mill was constructed there at the direction of de Graffenreid early on. For this reason, I invented the name, “Trent Mill.”
A blockhouse type fort was also built, surrounded by earthworks at “Sand Beach” just across the Trent River from the mouth of Mill Creek by order of de Graffenreid. Some of those large holes in the ground were still there as late as the 1960s.
The early settlements in the state were offshoot settlements from Virginia and thus were in “the Albemarle” with Bath and New Bern coming later. By the 1690s settlers were filtering into the area around New Bern, but these were few. Those earlier Albemarle settlements did dominate state politics at this time.
Cary’s Rebellion: In Cary’s Rebellion, both Hyde and Cary had armed followers numbering in the scores of men, and those groups did fight several battles, one of which was at the Pollock Plantation. Descriptions of those battles (i.e. battle tactics) do not exist, so those actual battle stories are my own invention. However, Cary and his followers did equip a couple of small ships with cannon, and attack Hyde’s followers at the Pollock Plantation, and Cary was eventually hauled to London in chains. Unlike the story here, Blackbeard played no role in this rebellion. The rebellion was much more of a factor in the area around Bath than in New Bern, but I wanted that story told here since that conflict did paralyze the colony and its leadership.
The Tuscarora Massacre: Early traffic in Tuscarora slaves was a feature of early New Bern, and William Brice did traffic in slaves according to one historical source. However, not much is known of how much this went on, and many Native American tribes practiced slavery themselves. The Tuscarora massacre was accurately described herein, but must be seen in the context of both children and hunting territory being stolen from that tribe. Still, it was a bloody, horrid affair that can teach us much today about what we think we know of terror. It raged for three days across the region from the Pamlico River down to the Trent, and about one-hundred and fifty whites were killed. Of those about half were Germans, including settlers along the Neuse, The Trent, and Mill Creek. John Koonce was killed in the massacre, and several of the descriptions of the attacks (including most all of the gory details I have presented herein) are in the historic record. The war lasted for two years (1711 – 1713), but Tuscarora raids continued from 1711 until about 1715.
The capture and torture of Lawson is accurately described herein, as is de Graffenreid’s release by the Tuscarora, and his negotiations to protect New Bern from direct attack. Brice’s Plantation, located on the eastern shore of Brice’s Creek where the Creek joins the Trent River, did become a garrison. So did many other farms and plantations along the Neuse and the Pamlico Rivers. At one point the whole of New Bern was evacuated to Brice’s Garrison (an event I did not put in the book). However New Bern itself was not attacked, though Brice’s Garrison was. King Hancock and King Tom Blount did lead the Southern and Northern Tuscarora, respectively, and King Blount did keep his Tuscarora out of the war. The personalities I have described herein are purely my invention, since no such descriptions of these men exist. At the end of the War an Indian Reservation was established in Bertie County, but it did not remain a reservation for long.
The Tuscarora War: The timeline of the war, as I’ve presented it is fairly accurate, and the battles and expeditions took place as I’ve described herein. Later in the war, Fort Barnwell, Fort Hancock, Fort Narhantes, and Fort Neoheroka all existed within 20 miles of each other near where the small town of Fort Barnwell is today. Whites built Fort Barnwell, but all of the others were constructed by the Tuscarora. The Barnwell and the Moore expeditions were accurately described, as was the reluctance of North Carolina to support those large armies, though, once again I invented the various “personalities” for these gentlemen. I also invented the specific tactics of the attacks on these forts, since I could find no accurate descriptions of exactly how those battles progressed.
The exception is the battle at Fort Neoheroka. As amazing as it seems, Fort Neoheroka, the largest of the forts constructed by the Tuscarora, is accurately described in the text. It was an acre and a half large, with palisade walls, blockhouses, and several underground passages. There is also a historic description of Col. Moore’s attack plan, and the constructions described for his attack on the fort are taken from that source. Fort Neoheroka was amazing in size and complexity, as was the attack fortifications constructed by Col. Moore, and the fact that these fortifications ever existed in eastern North Carolina shocks me even today. Certainly some archeology could and should be done on these locations, if indeed the actual locations can even be found.
Pirates of the Carolinas: The Golden Age of Piracy did coincide with the settlement of New Bern. Most historians date that from 1690 until about 1730. Again, amazingly, the pirate events described herein really did happen in the Carolinas. There were an estimated 2000 pirates operating along the east coast, and many were based in the Carolinas or harvested prizes here. Many of the ships named in this chapter are accurate to history.
The battle in which Stede Bonnet was captured on the Cape Fear River is accurately described, though no militiamen fired on him from shore. He was a gentlemen pirate as I’ve described here, but he did become more vicious as his career progressed. While it is not in the book, he is one of the few pirate captains that ever made anyone “walk the plank.” He and his band of pirates were hanged in Charleston, the largest public execution in American history.
Almost all of the lesser known pirates I mention in the book were actual pirates of the Carolinas. These and many others are known only to historians today. I presented this list to emphasize for the reader the amazingly large number of pirates along this coast. While most Carolinians know of Blackbeard, who would have guessed that 2000 pirates operated here? Governor Spotswood of Virginia (a historic figure) once complained that the pirates of the Carolinas were paralyzing shipping into Virginia!
Here are more amazing facts from history. Blackbeard did do battle with a Man-of-war and win, one of the only pirates in history to ever do so! He did command, at one point a fleet of four ships, and he did lay siege to Charleston Harbor! He married a girl in Bath, and did set up housekeeping there for a time. He did intentionally run his ship aground in Beaufort Inlet, near Morehead City, and that ship is the site of much underwater archeology today. His death at the hands of Lt. Maynard is accurately described. The Ocracoke Orgy did take place at Ocracoke, as described herein and Blackbeard did have some plans to turn that inlet into a haven for pirates, thought that never took place. Bath did know many pirates. However, New Bern was not as much of a location for piracy as I’ve portrayed here. Also, there is no evidence of the New Bern Militia playing any role in the capture of Stede Bonnet or Blackbeard—I invented Martin Bender’s role in those event merely to tell that story of piracy.
Black Jambo did not exist, but I used him to emphasize that a great many ex-slaves did find their way into piracy. Piracy offered slaves freedom, and many took that opportunity. The reports on operations of pirate ships are accurate in general. These ships were operated as an early democracy, with pirates voting on decisions. I’ve extended the dates a bit on when some of these events took place, to make the story flow a bit better. For example both Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard died within a month of each other in 1718, but I’ve stretched that timeframe a bit in the book. I’ve also emphasized piracy in New Bern a bit more than history suggests. Most of the pirate history in the Carolinas took place in Bath, Ocracoke, Beaufort Inlet, and the Cape Fear.
Characters: The political and military leaders herein are generally real, and acted as I’ve described, though I have created many personality traits to some to make the story interesting. Thomas Pollock, William Brice, Barnwell, James Moore, Governor’s Cary, Hyde and Eden, and the Tuscarora leaders Blount and Hancock were all real historic figures, and acted in the manner described in this text. Lawson and de Graffenreid were described herein accurately.
Dunker Tim, whom I consider to be one of the most important characters here, was invented for this story, as was his sister Beatrice. While the majority of slaves had nothing like the freedom of movement of Dunker Tim in this novel, a few did, particularly highly skilled slaves, and these were the slaves most likely to interact more with whites. I’ve tried to use Dunker Tim to go beyond the common, and rather bland portrayals of enslaved people in historic fiction. These amazingly strong people had hopes and dreams, capabilities, desires, and fears, as do we all, and I’ve tried to show that complexity and richness of character here using the Dunker Tim character. Moreover, many slaves did develop amazing friendships with whites, and again, I’ve tried to show rich, complex interracial relationships here, using both the Jesse/Jesus and the Martin/Dunker Tim relationships.
However, this should not in any way be considered an apology for that “peculiar institution.” Slavery was horrid in all manifestations, and history suggests that the majority of slaves suffered through lifetimes of harsh emotional cruelty, as well as physical cruelty in many cases. Such is our common heritage.
It is truly amazing that enslaved peoples did, indeed fight and die for the dream of a new colony and later, a new nation, even while in bondage. We can never repay what we owe to those millions of enslaved individuals, I have tried in every sense here, to at least acknowledge their amazing contributions.
Mallard’s Tavern did not exist, but many such places did, and the general description of tavern life is accurate for that period. Whorehouses were a feature in taverns of those days, and were a feature of the rough frontier life of this town as well as every other town in colonial America. Slaves as well as free women worked in those taverns in every capacity, as described herein.
The Carmichael family was not in New Bern or Pollocksville at this point, but I did name many families that have been positive influences for many centuries in this area, including Benders, Banks, Foscue, Jarman, Whittey, Mallard, Askew, DuVal, Ipock, and others.
The historic Daniel Bender (Not Martin) did have a son named Burdine, and that name is found today among Benders in Tennessee of African American heritage. It is a historic fact that Martin’s son Daniel moved to Tennessee in the early 1800s, as did his son Berdine. Another of his sons, Bernice Bender, operated a ferry there in Wilson County, TN. There is still a “Bender’s Ferry” road in that locale.
I have some documents that suggest white Benders were buried in the Rutland Church Cemetery, near Leesville, TN, and the African American Benders in that area have indicated that many black Benders are buried there also.
Enjoy and Explore!
To repeat a theme from the book, whites, blacks, men, and women all played a critical role in building the city of New Bern, as well as the nation that we cherish. It is my sincerest wish that this historical novel be a tribute to all of those peoples. This wonderful town of New Bern, offers a rich tapestry of history to explore. It is a history of which we all can be quite proud, since it is a micro-history of the early settlement throughout America.
There is much to cherish here; there is faith here, and hope for a better tomorrow. There is nobility here among these, the common folk that make up our heritage, including folks like Martin Bender, Dunker Tim, Beatrice, Johannes, and Katheryn. These are the Germans, the Swiss, the English, the Scots, and the African Americans that created our city, and a richer colonial history cannot be found anywhere else on earth.
I hope this book wets your appetite! Do enjoy!
Jimmy C. Waters
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© Copyright 2008 Currahee Books
Publisher: William Bender 766 Collins St.,Toccoa, GA 30577800 991-1114