I’m a sucker when it comes to history—especially family history.
Recently while perusing the “maps” and migration section of Ancestry DNA, I checked out County Dorset, the area in southwestern England where some of my ancestors originated. That’s what my DNA test claims, and my paper trail confirms it:
Dorchester, England and nearby Weymouth were where my fishermen—Thomas Gardiner, John Woodbury, John Balch and Thomas Griggs–lived before they set sail for the New World in 1624. The group landed near what is now Gloucester, MA, a town that’s still known for fishing.
My imagination paints a picture of these brave men with beards and tall black hats, knee britches and large buckles on their shoes, loading up their nets in search of cod dry and ship back to the Mother Country.
Cod was, in fact, a staple for Europeans who ate fish on Friday and a host of holy days– so much so, that the supply of fish in European waters dwindled considerably by the early 1600s. Enter these Dorset fisherman who saw an outstanding business opportunity, and off they went to “Cape Cod.”
Recently, I went web surfing along the English coast. If you’ve never done this, log into Google Maps and pretend you’re a bird.
My “flyover” covered the shores of County Dorset, and I did a double-take. Incredibly, within five short miles of Dorchester and Weymouth, England is a place called “Maiden Newton”. I blinked. I live between Maiden and Newton, NC. What are the odds?
Maiden Newton and Maiden and Newton, NC are 3,900 miles apart, as the crow flies, as if a crow could fly across the Atlantic.
I’ve never visited County Dorset, England, much less Maiden Newton, pop. 1,100, but I saw on Google Maps that there’s an ancient terraced area nearby called “Maiden Castle” that looks intriguing. The so-called castle is actually one of the most complex “hillforts” in Britain, dating some 6,000 years ago on up to the Iron Age, 800 BC, with Roman earthworks added ca. 50 AD.
Maiden Newton and its environs figured into the writings of Thomas Hardy, who wrote Far from the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure. Hardy was the subject of a term paper my sophomore year, and until now I had no idea that my family history connects to Hardy country.
The web tells me that Maiden Newton has a Norman-era church which would have been 500 years old when my people were tramping around the area. No doubt some of them saw this church building, maybe they even attended services there.
All of this British history sounds impressively old, and then I think of our own “Maiden Newton.” Native Americans—ancestors of the Catawba and Cherokee–inhabited Catawba County as much as 10,000 years ago. Spanish explorer Juan Pardo and his group camped in what is now Catawba County, in 1567. Some claim that one of their camp sites may have been between Maiden and Newton, NC.
Pardo and his band are credited with establishing the first European settlement within the interior of North America. That site was called Ft. San Juan, located next door to the Indian town of Joara in what is now Burke County. If you haven’t ever visited the Joara site, do yourself a favor and check the website at https://exploringjoara.org .Upcoming events include public dig days from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on May 3, 4, 18, 31 and June 1. Public archaeological lab nights are also scheduled. The dig site is several miles north of Morganton and can make a great field trip for the whole family.
Exploring Joara drives home the fact that we live in an ancient land inhabited eons before European settlers arrived in Catawba County in the mid 1700s.
History is relative, depending on whose relatives we’re considering.