Tag Archives: Terrapin Hill

The Plantation at Whaley’s Crossroads, 1743-1792

Having lived at Whaley’s Crossroads for most of my life, I’ve always been interested in the history of the land that I call home. Who lived here in the past? Who was the first? If there were old, forgotten houses, where were they? Were today’s fields yesterday’s woods, and vice versa? What routes did the early roads follow? What did the land look like during the colonial era?

With the help of early maps, land records, wills and other genealogical records, and software, I’ve been able to answer some of these questions, but there is much that remains unknown. The Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868, which features local roads, waterways, houses and their owners’ names, and other structures, is incredibly useful — but 1868 isn’t all that early when one considers that there was English settlement activity in the neighborhood in the early 1700s. My goal is to use the atlas as a starting point and work backwards towards the original Maryland surveys, and connect as many dots as possible in this mostly forgotten period of 150+ years.

For this article, I’ve used Plat Plotter, Inkscape, and Google imagery to create a series of maps to demonstrate how I visualize overlapping surveys  and resurveys from the same neighborhood. In theory — my theory, at least — the overlapping area(s) between different early surveys of the same tract of land can be viewed as a Venn Diagram, of sorts. The unchanging core of a plantation over the course of decades probably includes the site of the primary dwelling house and/or the most desirable land. As successive owners buy and sell parcels of surrounding land, they create new property lines which can be compared to the older property lines, and — again, in theory — we should be able to make some educated guesses about where the core of a plantation may have been during a particular period.

All of this sounds very confusing, even to me as I’m writing about it. This is better shown than described.

Let’s start with a plat of the tract Friendship, surveyed for John N. Saunders in 1760:

This is a resurvey which begins with the original, diamond-shaped 50-acre tract (D), takes away several acres which are part of an overlapping “elder survey” (C), and adds vacant land (B), resulting in a new tract. The rest of the certificate (not shown) explains that the original tract had been surveyed for James Bowger in 1743, and was named Bowger’s Choyce (or Choice), but “the Afsd. Bowger had omitted paying Caution for the Land” and the original certificate became “null & void.” James Bowger or Bouger remains a somewhat mysterious figure in the early history of the neighborhood; he appears on the tax list for 1723, and, interestingly enough, the 1760 survey of Friendship refers to Bowger’s Mill, which was probably located at Terrapin Pond. He also received a patent for a 55-acre tract called John’s Folly in 1720.

A word of explanation is in order before we look at the next image, which shows the approximate location of Bowger’s Choyce. Although I’ll be presenting the next few maps in chronological order, I had to locate and plot each of them in reverse chronological order. Their locations are based on the boundaries of other parcels of land. To the north, a large tract sold in 1811 bordered land owned by Jonathan Betts, and it just so happened that two pieces of land, which Betts purchased from Thomas Paramore in 1791 and 1792, fit the neighboring tract like a glove. The boundaries of these two parcels, which we’ll look at in a bit, begin with the original bounder of both Friendship and Bowger’s Choyce, and although slight errors in the surveys make it impossible to pinpoint its exact location, we can get very, very close.

Here is the approximate location of Bowger’s Choyce, mostly in the area between Route 24, Whaleys Road, and Samuel Hill Road:

Bowger’s Choyce, 1743

The boundaries begin at the southernmost point, which, in 1743, was a marked red oak sapling. As I said, there’s a margin of error here, and the tree is long gone, so we can’t be sure of the exact spot, but it’s close.

Apparently, Bowger’s Choyce overlapped with another tract — “C” from the plat of 1760 — which I’ve yet to identify. The next image is based on a crude tracing of the plat, since I don’t have any other information about the mystery tract’s boundaries.

“C”

Though “C” was called an elder survey in 1760, it’s unclear whether it predates the survey of Bowger’s Choyce in 1743. It certainly predates the resurvey of Friendship in 1760.

Beginning at the same red oak at the southernmost point of Bowger’s Choyce, it’s fairly easy to plot the boundaries of Friendship:

Friendship, 1760

A small section of the tract extends beyond the map. The shape of Friendship doesn’t match the modern landscape in an overtly recognizable way, but there are boundary markers that seem to align with modern features (i.e., roads and tree lines), and may have been used in drawing later property lines.

Friendship was resurveyed yet again in 1776, resulting in a much larger tract called Delay. I don’t have the boundaries of Delay to plot it, although it appears on the incredibly detailed and useful maps created by Mike Hitch and the late John Lyon. However, additional records allow us to piece together the history of Friendship/Delay over the next few decades. Worcester County land record indices indicate that Matthew Parramore purchased a piece of land from John N. Saunders in the late 1760s; though the deed itself isn’t available online and I haven’t sought it out, it seems clear that this purchase included Friendship. Matthew Parramore willed the resurveyed version of Friendship to his son, Ezekiel, who, in turn, conveyed it to Thomas Parremore in 1791. (Note that the name Paramore was spelled differently in various records at that time.) Almost immediately, Thomas sold a 100-acre parcel of the land to Jonathan Betts, Sr., in 1791.

Here is the approximate location of that parcel:

Parremore to Betts, 1791

Notice how a couple of the boundary lines on the northeast side align with modern tree lines. The point near the middle of the tract, at what is almost a right angle, was described as the northwest corner of Parremore’s plantation in 1791, and the line extending to the east and into the woods followed a fence at that time. But just a year later, he sold an additional parcel to Betts, shown below:

Parremore to Betts, 1792

The 1791 and 1792 surveys don’t fit together perfectly, so I’ve erred on the side of matching the 1792 parcel to the tree line along its northeastern corner, which seems to match it perfectly. Its westernmost boundary is questionable, however, and actually overlaps the 1791 parcel somewhat. Both parcels begin at the red oak used as the first bounder of Bowger’s Choyce in 1743 and Friendship in 1760.

I haven’t quite pieced together the history of the land after Betts acquired it in the 1790s; I suspect it passed to Hezekiah Matthews at some point, because I know his son, Henry Clay Matthews, owned it at the time of his death in 1917. Since then, the old plantation has been divided into increasingly smaller parcels owned by a number of landowners including members of the Mitchell, Whaley, Morris, and Slavens families, among others.

The Pomeroy & Beers Atlas offers a glimpse of the neighborhood in 1868 —

Beers Atlas of 1868 + modern imagery

— but it still doesn’t tell us much about the way things were 100+ years earlier. To get a better idea, I’ve stacked the images we’ve already looked at. Where the changing property lines overlap, they reveal what may have been the core of the plantation owned by Jonathan Betts, and the Parremores before him, and John Saunders before them, and — possibly — James Bowger before him, although it’s not clear whether Bowger actually did anything with his land between 1743 and 1760.

The yellowest area  is our “hot spot” (for lack of a better term), not only because it is included in both the 1743 and 1760 surveys, but also because it isn’t included in the first parcel that Thomas Parremore sold in 1791. It seems unlikely to me that he would have sold the most important part of his plantation first. The deeds aren’t helpful, since both vaguely mention housing, fencing, and orchards, which was pretty standard for the deeds of the time, and part of the price of the 1791 parcel is illegible.

So I’ve created two images, the first, showing what I consider to be the primary hot spot; the second, showing adjoining land that may have also been considered part of the core of the plantation between 1743 and 1791, yet, for some reason, was sold a year earlier than the land to the east.

Probable hot spot, 1792

 

Probable hot spot prior to 1791

It’s only my opinion, but I’d like to suggest that the area within the solid yellow lines may have included the earliest and/or primary dwelling house, outbuildings, gardens, and orchards, while the area within the dotted yellow lines may have included early features of less importance; perhaps the earliest fields. I would also suggest that the land outside the yellow lines may have included wooded land and later fields, as the owners expanded and improved their holdings, all while buying and selling surrounding parcels.

The location of H. Matthews’ house on the Beers Atlas seems to support this theory, allowing for minor errors in both the atlas and the surveys layered underneath:

So we have the earliest known house site depicted in 1868, located on the part of Bowger’s Choyce (1743) that was included in resurveys of Friendship (1760 and 1776) and sold in two transactions in 1791 and 1792. This probably isn’t a coincidence.

The overlapping tracts/parcels might also explain why an earlier version of Samuel Hill Road looks like it leads directly to the H. Matthews house before heading east towards Lowe’s Crossroads and Millsboro. It’s possible that this section of the road was built specifically to connect Bowger’s Choyce and Bowger’s Mill, to the south, during the period between 1743 and 1760, if not earlier.

Further research might tell us more about the neighborhood, not only as it appeared in the 1790s, when the vacant land was disappearing and the land records are a bit easier to decipher, but perhaps even as it appeared in the 1740s, when only a handful of settlers were establishing plantations in this part of Wimbesocom Neck. We still know little of this early period.

– Chris Slavens

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The Beers Atlas and Aerial Imagery

The Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868 is a valuable resource for Delaware researchers, featuring the locations of most houses and their owners’ names, in addition to other important structures like churches, schools, and stores. I’ve often compared the atlas to early topographic maps and aerial photography while researching a particular individual or property, glancing from one to another, but with the help of fairly simple software, images from different sources can be layered and merged, creating a sort of hybrid map.

In the following examples, I’ve overlaid a portion of the Beers Atlas (specifically, a portion of the map of Broad Creek Hundred) over early aerial imagery. In each case, there is a significant gap between the year the map was produced and the year the aerial photograph was taken, but the resulting images are striking nonetheless.

The image above depicts the neighborhood between Lowe’s Crossroads and Little Hill. The photograph is from 1954. Points of interest include the absence of King’s Crossing Road in 1868, and the presence of a road connecting what is now Lowe’s Crossing Road and Carey’s Camp Road. That road still survives as a private dirt lane. “Mrs. N. Timmons” is assumed to be Nancy Timmons, who was—according to census records—100 years old in 1870, but only 60 years old in 1850.

The image above depicts the neighborhood once known as Terrapin Hill, or, more recently, Whaley’s Crossroads. The photograph was taken in 1937. Perhaps the most striking difference is the absence of today’s Route 24 in 1868. Even in 1937, the road was fairly new. Persons of interest include Henry Pepper, Elijah Hudson, William J. West, and Henry Clay Matthews. Henry is probably the southernmost “H. Matthews,” living on the north side of today’s Samuel Hill Road, near the center of the image.

I plan to create more hybrid images of neighborhoods in this part of Sussex County, such as the Old Forge community located east of Laurel, Trap Pond (which will be tricky, since it’s in both Little Creek Hundred and Broad Creek Hundred, and therefore appears at the edge of two maps), Cypress Swamp, and parts of Gumboro.

– Chris Slavens

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Filed under Delaware, Delaware history, Delmarva Geography, Maps, Sussex County

Bull’s Mills

A few days ago I posted a short piece about Terrapin Hill, a forgotten hamlet between Laurel and Gumboro, and mentioned Bull’s Mills a couple of times.

By the Civil War, the sawmill and gristmill named after Manaen Bull, a former British soldier who married Governor Nathaniel Mitchell’s widow, were already more than one hundred years old, having been built by Joseph Collins before 1760, when the area was still claimed by Maryland. They were built on a branch of Broad Creek known as Wimbesoccom Creek during the colonial era, Sockum Creek during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and Gray’s Branch from about the 1850s to the present. In modern terms, they were located on the south side of Laurel Road (Route 24) immediately before the road to Trap Pond, though at that time that road didn’t exist and the Trap Mills were relatively unimportant.

There were only about a dozen houses clustered around Bull’s Mills, but the surrounding area was populated enough to justify a post office and schoolhouse. The nearest church was Bethesda M.E. Church, about a mile and a half to the southeast, but there was also a new Methodist Protestant (M.P.) congregation meeting in another schoolhouse, only about a mile to the northeast. They would eventually build their own church and name it Trinity.

It seems that there was a sizable black population in the area between Bull’s Mills and Hitchens’ Crossroads, about two miles north. In The Churches of Delaware, Frank R. Zebley briefly mentioned that “Gray’s Church, colored” was “located south of Record’s School near Gray’s Branch,” but offered no additional information. An A.M.E. church was built across from the Ross Point Colored School in 1884, on what is now East Trap Pond Road. I’m not sure how old the schoolhouse (which was replaced in 1922) was; it doesn’t appear on the Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868, but the atlas isn’t perfect. Unfortunately, historians have tended to overlook 19th-century black churches, schools, and communities, particularly in rural areas.

Today you will not find the name Bull’s Mills on any map. Or Bull’s anything, for that matter. The community became known as Pepper’s Store or simply Pepper, and the old mill-pond was named Pepper Pond. The mills, store, and schoolhouse are long gone.

– Chris Slavens

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Terrapin Hill

If you were to travel from the thriving town of Laurel to Gumborough during the Civil War, you would not take today’s Route 24 to Lowes Crossroads. You couldn’t. At that time, the main road ran roughly parallel to what was known as the main branch of Broad Creek, veering southeast shortly after Bull’s Mills, about six miles east of town. A mile farther, and you’d be at Terrapin Hill, a low hill that was probably prime real estate during the colonial era, when the surrounding area was part of the Pocomoke or Cypress Swamp and the local landowners were still working to drain it with a network of ditches. There was a community there, smaller than a village, but busier than the typical country crossroads; there were four intersections within a quarter mile, and about thirty houses within a one-mile radius.

Terrapin Hill appears on a map published in 1856. I’m not sure how old the name was at that time. In Folklore of Sussex County, Delaware, Dorothy W. Pepper stated that the name was of Indian origin, but didn’t elaborate. I suspect she meant that terrapin is an Algonquian word, not that the Nanticokes named this specific location after terrapins. Other local Nanticoke place names include Asketum or Assacatum (possibly derived from ah!secque, or crane), Rossakatum, and Wimbesoccom or Winnasoccum (possibly derived from weensquaaquah, or cedar; wineak, or sassafras; and/or sachem, or chief). Nanticoke place names are a fascinating subject for another day.

There was a sawmill at Terrapin Pond, and another at nearby Raccoon Pond, which were owned by various members of the Hudson, Matthews, Wootten, and Cannon families over the years. The nearest gristmill and post office were back at Bull’s Mills. Two stores offered whatever the residents didn’t make or grow themselves. Most attended Bethesda M. E. Church, which had been built in 1823, but the slightly older St. John’s at Little Hill, a small Episcopal chapel, was only about a mile away. Children learned to read and write at the one-room Bethesda schoolhouse. From Terrapin Hill, you could travel south to Whitesville, southeast to Gumborough, or northeast to Lowe’s Crossroads and Millsborough—in the unlikely event that you needed or wanted to.

 A century and a half later, little remains of the community at Terrapin Hill. The stores, mills, and schoolhouse are gone, as are all but one of the old farmhouses. Bethesda M. E. Church, which was replaced in 1879, has been beautifully restored, but St. John’s was converted into a private residence a few years ago. Even the roads have changed; part of the old road to Little Hill has been a driveway for decades, and the road to Lowes Crossroads has vanished completely. Terrapin Hill still shows up on some modern maps, but the name is meaningless to most locals, little more than the fading ghost of a forgotten community.

Bethesda Methodist Episcopal Church, located near Raccoon Pond, was built in 1879. Photo taken by Brittney Slavens in February 2014.

Bethesda Methodist Episcopal Church, located near Raccoon Pond, was built in 1879. Photographed in February 2014.

– Chris Slavens

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