Thursday, December 22, 2005

A New Voyage to Carolina, John Lawson (UNC Reprint 1967)

In his exploration of North Carolina during the early 1700s John Lawson probably did not make it to the area that now is Caswell County; but he came very close. He certainly made it just south of Caswell County, to the Haw River, Hillsborough, and Durham vicinities. He recorded fording the Haw River at Swepsonville. Do you know for whom Swepsonville is named and the Caswell County connection?

Lawson's exploration of our fair state was promoted by an acquaintance who told Lawson "that Carolina was the best country that [he] could go to."

He published his daily journal of the 1000-mile trek through Carolina, and it is a fascinating story. He then went on to help establish the North Carolina towns of Bath and New Bern.

Fortunately, the University of North Carolina Press now has available a very reasonably priced paperback version of Lawson's A New Voyage to Carolina, which includes much needed edits, an index, and an introduction and notes by noted North Carolina historian Hugh Talmadge Lefler. This is a reprint of a 1967 edition that has been unavailable for quite a while.

Here is the description by the UNC Press:

John Lawson's amazingly detailed yet lively book is easily one of the most valuable of the early histories of the Carolinas, and it is certainly one of the best travel accounts of the early eighteenth-century colonies. An inclusive account of the manners and customs of the Indian tribes of that day, it is also a minute report of the soil, climate, trees, plants, animals, and fish in the Carolinas.

Lawson's observation is keen and thorough; his style direct and vivid. He misses nothing and recounts all -- from the storms at sea to his impressions of New York in 1700, the trip down the coast to Charleston, and his travels from there into North Carolina with his Indian guides.

The first edition of this work was published in London in 1709. While various editions followed in the eighteenth century -- including two in German -- this edition is a true copy of the original and is the first to include a comprehensive index. It also contains "The Second Charter," "An Abstract of the Constitution of Carolina," Lawson's will, and several previously unpublished letters written by Lawson. A number of DeBry woodcuts of John White's drawings of Indian life, sketches of the beasts of Carolina which appeared in the original 1709 edition, and Lawson's map contribute additional interest to this volume.
The website for the UNC Press is:

Just type "Lawson" in the search box.

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