The History of the Dividing Line

Written By Dr. Troy L. Kickler

The particular never escaped the observant eye of the landed Virginian, William Byrd II. While traveling through North Carolina, the colony’s natural and man-made environments amazed the Virginia gentleman.  His The History of the Dividing Line (published posthumously in 1841) is not only a political history but also a description of the landscape and people of his southern neighbor.   With other Virginia commissioners en route in March 1728 to Currituck Inlet to meet North Carolina commissioners and settle a boundary dispute between the two colonies, Byrd marveled at the North Carolina countryside:

“We also surveyed part of an adjacent high land, which had seriously any trees growing upon it but cedars.  Among the shrubs we were showed here and there a bush of Carolina tea called Japon, which is one species of the Phylarea.  This is an evergreen, the leaves whereof have some resemblance to tea, but differ widely both in taste and flavor.  We also found some plants of the spired-leaf silkgrass, which is likewise an evergreen, bearing on a lofty stem a large cluster of flowers of a pale yellow.  Of the leaves of this plant the people thereabouts twist very strong cordage.

A virtuoso might divert himself here very well in picking up shells of various hue and figure, and amongst the rest that species of conch shell which the Indian peak is made of.  The extremities of those shells are blue and the rest white, so that peak of both these colors are drilled out of one and the same shell, serving the natives both for ornament and money, and are esteemed by them far beyond silver and gold.”

Byrd’s account also gives modern-day readers a description of the typical abode in North Carolina and the practical craftsmanship of the average North Carolinian:

“Most of the houses in this part of the country are loghouses, covered with pine or cypress shingles three feet long and one foot broad.  They are hung upon laths with pegs, and their doors, too, turn upon wooden hinges and have wooden lockes to secure them, so that the building is finished without nails or other iron work.  They also set up their pales without any nails at all, and indeed more securely than those that are nailed.  There are three rails mortised into the posts, the lowest of which serves as a sill with a groove in the middle big enough to receive the end of the pales: the middle part of the pail rests against the inside of the next rail, and the top of it is brought forward to the outside of the uppermost.  Such wreathing of the pales in and out makes them stand firm, and much harder to unfix than when nailed in the ordinary way.”