Deep shadows, sticky water, and the sense you’re never alone will haunt you in the Great Dismal Swamp.
Growing up in the typical American elementary school brought with both study and celebration of the origins of the United States as a nation. When I was a kid, back in the 90s, that meant memorizing the names of Christopher Columbus’ ships and wearing a paper grocery store bag at school on the day before Thanksgiving (or a black construction paper hat if you were supposed to be a Pilgrim.) Columbus didn’t even land on what we now know as the United States, and he certainly didn’t set out to discover a whole other continent. Yet on Monday, October 14, we’ll observe Columbus Day. It’s a wonder more children don’t grow up more interested in this continent and who might have gotten here first. It’s them that all the little kid history books tend to ignore, and you could just grow up tending to assume that the first people on the North American continent just sort of appeared here one day. Of course, it’s much much more interesting than that. What I find funny is the tendency to assume that people living in Europe, Africa, and Asia basically never went anywhere and ignored the rest of the planet, while North America remained serene and mostly unpopulated. We now know that at least the Norse were here, at some point, in Canada.
That brings us back to the Great Dismal Swamp, and its role in a weird story about the possibility that Chinese explorers also set foot here, based on an old sighting of a junk, under the command of Zheng He, that might as well have been a ghost ship, buried in the mud off the coasts of North Carolina, and seen only a tiny handful of times. It’s elusive and the last time anyone recorded seeing it was some time in the 1920s. The Great Dismal Swamp isn’t the easiest waterway to navigate. You could imagine that someone could get lost.
Or leave their boat behind.
And head inland.
Possibly meet early Americans and establish a settlement in Appalachia.
Maybe they met up with the Moon-eyed People?
This isn’t to say that Gavin Menzies is a great historian or even right for that matter. A simple Google search doesn’t turn up much about this story. After all, there are much weirder and more accessible theories and legends about pre-Columbian American history that tend to overshadow the simple curiosity of other people we weren’t expecting to have been here.
And knowing what we do about the history of this continent, like how much of the past has been lost, buried under other old things in our race to build a nation, makes us all to aware of how much we aren’t able to know.
We can only see the shadows left behind, footsteps on the surface. We make up tales and imagine aliens and underground people to fill the quiet void of an empty continent. And without even a nod to all our stories, indifferent to the questions we ask, North America resolutely keeps its secrets buried in rock, clay, and mud.
Anyone who didn’t already know who Blackbeard was most likely knows now, oweing partly to the newest installment of the Pirates of the Carribbean films. I haven’t seen that one yet, but I do know that North Carolina’s favorite pirate, Blackbeard, plays a huge role as the antagonist.
While that movie was based on a novel and entirely fictional, the real Blackbeard was no less a character. The name he used more often was Edward Teach, and the man loved him some North Carolina. It has been reported that Ocracoke Island, a quiet place in NC’s Outer Banks (and quite nice if you just want a truly relaxing vacation) was a favored hangout of the famed pirate, when he wasn’t raiding things. You can read more about his life at his Wikiepedia page, though I’ll give you one spoiler. He was killed in a battle with Robert Maynard, after which his head was removed and hung from the bowsprit of Maynard’s ship. Teach was estimated to be around 35 or 40 years old
Now, Edward Teach’s life as the pirate Blackbeard certainly is interesting, but enough of pillaging and living the high life on another’s dime. What really grabs my attention are the mysteries surrounding his life. Who was he?
And where’s that treasure he talked about?
Blackbeard’s used name may have been Edward Teach, but what I didn’t know before was that it probably was not at any point his real name. That was common among pirates back then, because family names were quite important and using a false name would avoid any reputational harm to family members.
Some have suggested that his real name was Edward Drummond, but there’s not a lot of evidence to support this. The theory is that he was originally from Bristol England, but that’s just an assumption. As you probably know, no one came forward to claim the body after the death, or even inquire, as it was disposed of in the water. The true identity of Edward Teach remains a mystery to this day. He seems to have been from no place at all.
Now, what would any of this have to do with Canada, or more specifically, Nova Scotia?
I’m glad you asked.
Pirates were not generally known to have buried any treasure to come back later. Usually, what they did gain was spent on booze and women. A notable exception is William Kidd. I’ll link back to him later. Blackbeard was quoted as saying that his treasure had been hidden “where none but Satan and myself can find it.”
Oak Island, in Nova Scotia, is a quiet place, owned but basically empty because it lies so low in the water (only about 35 feet above it, actually.) There’s lots of trees there and one very interesting feature.
The Money Pit.
When he found it in 1795, Daniel McGinnis had no idea what he and his friends were beginning. He’d seen lights flickering there at night, and was drawn by his curiosity to check the place out. What they found was an apparently manmade hole, and began to dig, at first finding just markings and some flagstones. The deeper they went, the more interesting things got. Every ten feet, someone had put a layer of logs. After reaching a level of 30 feet, they stopped. Since then, people have repeatedly searched and excavated and searched the hole more. It keeps flooding and humans keep going back. They’ve found stuff, artifacts and things. But no one wants an old vase, not really.
What gets their attention is the inscription found about 90 feet down, which was supposedly translated as “forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried.” That was in the 1800s.
Two million pounds.
People keep going back. Maybe now they are looking for old vases. Actually, they are, some of them, because Canada’s been there longer than it was ever called that. Treasure would be nice, though.
Captain Kidd and Edward Teach are both supposed to have buried something there, according to theories. And so far no one has, as he promised, found Blackbeard’s treasure.
So what’s down there?
Did he know something we don’t?
Who was Edward Teach, and what did he hide?
I suspect the answer’s worth more than two million pounds.
Gah, it’s been far too long! I’ve been so busy that I’ve not been able to stop and do a little research, so today I’m just featuring an e-mail from Amanda at Southern Fried Fantasy. After a gracious thanks for a link to her Acid Park post, she shared a tale from her visit to Beaufort, NC. Please enjoy this weirdly true story.
Now, I’d like to share with you an experience that I had happen about four years ago. I was home from college for about a week (self-made spring break), and my family and I had gone down to Beaufort for the day. Beaufort’s a pretty old town, as you probably know, and the cemetery there is, at the risk of sounding morbid, a beautiful place to visit, despite the bees (which I hate.) That day, there wasn’t anything in particular that happened while we were in the actual cemetery, but we did experience a very weird occurrence right as we were entering the old gates. Here’s some background. My dog Minnie, who loved to travel, was in the backseat of the car, as usual. She’d come with us because the weather was fairly cool that day, and cracking the windows kept the car very comfortable. Minnie was very used to staying in the car when we went in anywhere, because to her, the car was a secure, familiar place. What happened next is not something I’ve been able to explain very well.
As we walked toward the gates of the cemetery and opened them to go in, Minnie started freaking out. You know, how dogs do, whining and barking. Because the windows were open, it was pretty loud, and she kept it up. It wasn’t something that ever happened before in the car, and never once happened again after that for the rest of Minnie’s life. I do have my theories. We were in a cemetery, and I know that things can and do happen there that may invite spiritual disturbances, so it’s likely Minnie sensed something that never bothered us. I’ve also heard another reason for dog’s panicking in places that appear to be spooky. Sometimes, depending on the structure of a place, environmental factors can come together to produce frequencies that are too low to audibly register in the human ear. Dogs will hear the sounds, but the only thing that humans experience is a feeling of dread or foreboding brought on, of course, by these low frequencies. If the latter is the case, then the iron fence might at least partly explain this particular happening. The next time I visited that cemetery, Minnie had stayed at home because of the summer heat. I never experienced any dread myself (except of the bees, lol.) In one of your posts you mentioned the people of Roanoke Colony and how some people think they were swallowed up into the earth. Maybe there’s one of those weird doors in the Beaufort cemetery? That might make a weird frequency. I wonder if anyone else has had something similar happen.
Anyway, thanks again!
Whoa. When I read this email…just wow.
I love that my Roanoke Island post did bring some attention to an unpopular but very interesting theory, that of what appear to be wormholes or something. But where would they go?
Keeping it on the coast in today’s entry, about the USS North Carolina.
The city of Wilmington sits on the water in North Carolina. It’s by no means a small town, what with its population of well over 300,000. Hollywood has chosen this city as a place to film numerous movies and television shows. Ironman 3 will be at least partially filmed there. UNC-Wilmington is just one of the colleges that makes this city its home, and its historic downtown is one you should probably visit, if you’re ever in the area.
If you go, please be sure to visit the USS North Carolina.
It sits in the water, quite close to the downtown area. It does function now as a memorial and museum, and a pretty big one at that. A few places are still closed off, but you can make your way through most of the ship unhindered, starting with the deck. You descend into the bowels of The Showboat, and see how men lived and worked during the Second World War. Make sure you go on a day when it’s not too hot, because there is no air conditioning in the ship, and it can get quite warm.
I’ve had my share of trips to the memorial, and often the school groups tend to hurry through. Whether that was a result of time or claustrophobia, I’m not sure.
I was doing some research for this blog on haunted places in North Carolina, and I was quite delighted to discover that the old lady has a few reported hauntings of her own.
The tragedy of the hauntings is the same with any. People died on this ship. Now, at least for the North Carolina, a total of ten men perished aboard her, which is pretty good for use during WWII. But most of the men aboard were young, and it hurts a little when I realize that the men who died were quite possibly younger than me. And so things remain behind on the Showboat.
One man has been there to witness many of the haunted events that take place at night, long after the museum is closed and the tourists go home. That man is Danny Bradshaw, who serves as the night watchman on the ship, since 1976. According to him, only two of the 10 men remain behind. One walks through the hallways of the ship, about his duties forever. I imagine his gait filled with purpose. One woman has reported that this man even came up to her and her friends and asked them to be careful, some places could be dangerous. Another man’s face will often gaze at guests through the portholes. Danny Bradshaw says that he feels two different types of presences there. One good, and one bad.
I guess it’s up to you to decide.
First official weird post!
So I think it’s safe to say that many Americans are at least a little familiar with the mysterious disappearance of the inhabitants of Roanoke Colony. I’ll give you a refresher if you’re not.
A Mr. John White helped found a colony on Roanoke Island in 1587, this one with men, women, and children. (The previous colony had been men only, as was the norm.) Sometime after it was established, John White returned to England to bascially get some stuff for the colony, and make known some of the troubles they were having (problems establishing friendly relationships with local tribes, who had never been very friendly with the English.) He couldn’t get back until three years later, literally.
You probably know how the rest goes. When John White returned, all he and his men found was the word “Croatoan” carved into a tree (actually into part of the fort.)
No other trace of the colonists was found.
Barring all the gruesome stories of what might have happened to these individuals, there are a couple likely situations. White himself believed that by carving “Croatoan” into the wood, the colonists had left a message for him, telling him where they really went, Croatoan Island. (The name of the island now is Hatteras, where, you guessed it, stands the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.) This is a definite possibility. The colonists had some boats at their disposal, so they definitely had the means to head to another location. White left before looking, mostly because of a storm. Storms on the coast of North Carolina can and do get nasty, so I definitely understand him there. I would not be shocked at all if Hatteras is where these folks ended up.
Another definite possibility is that, through whatever situation, the colonists came to live with the local natives. A sad situation may have attracted the pity of the tribe. Also, the area has a high population of people who are American Indian descent. The interesting part is that there are a lot of them who were reported, even a long time ago, to have blue eyes, which isn’t a common trait. So it’s also a possibility that the colonists did somehow basically integrate into the tribe.
But do you remember the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and how he led all the children into a mountainside, never to be seen again?
There are a few who believe that the people of Roanoke Colony were led through a door in the earth, and the ground swallowed them up. This was only implied by a couple of folks I got in touch with, but these people swear that they’ve seen others open doors right where there shouldn’t be one at all. These people think that the odd blue eyes down at the coast came from something else entirely, and that the Roanoke Island colonists were led somewhere else, gone completely, leaving no traces behind but a word carved hastily into a post.
I suppose that we’ll never know.