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The History of Chowan Beach
by George Farrell and Rawl Gelinas
Preface  Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5
Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9  Part 10
Part One

Hundreds of years before Europeans came to the North America, the Chowanoke Indians gathered every summer at a certain river beach. It was the breeding ground of a yellow mussel much savored by the people. Over time the shells, along with pottery shards, bones, arrowheads and other discarded items, formed a mound five to six hundred yards long, sixty yards wide, and five feet deep along the river bank. It had become the rubbish heap for the village, named Waratan, Mavaton, or Weyanoke, depending upon the source consulted, which had been established there. The mound is shown on a map drawn by James Wimble in 1738 and is described as "...covered with about one foot of sand and soil. It is composed almost exclusively of mussel shells taken from the river, pieces of pottery, ashes, arrowheads and human bones."

As late as the 1950's Indian relics such as tomahawks were being found in the area. In 1585 the white man made his first attempt to colonize what is now known as Roanoke Island. This first expedition, led by Sir Richard Grenville, a cousin of Sir Walter Raleigh, was doomed to failure by Queen Elizabeth's choice of Ralph Lane as the colony's Governor. Lane was interested not in establishing a successful colony, but in the gold and jewels which he expected to find in the 'new world.' After Grenville sailed back to England for more supplies Lane alienated the Indians who had helped and supplied the colonists, taking prisoner the son of a chieftain for the theft of a "table piece." The would-be settlers became so hungry and disillusioned that they stayed less than a year and left with Sir Francis Drake just before Grenville returned with fresh supplies. In the meantime, just before Easter in 1585, Lane sailed up the river later to be known as the Chowan with some of his men looking, not for food although they were starving, but for gold and jewels. At a certain point, where the land was very "high and steepe" they saw Indians on the shore. Hearing them singing, Lane decided that it was a song of welcome and sailed toward them. Manteo, who accompanied the Englishmen as their guide, informed them that it was a song, not of welcome but of war! The words were no sooner "spoken by him... but there lighted a vollie of their arrowes amongst them in the boat". The white men returned fire, beached the boat and chased the Indians, who "wooded themselves, we know not where." The white man had discovered the spot, which would, almost two hundred years later, become Bandon Plantation.

Notes: The 'high and steepe' bluff mentioned by Lane could have been either just North or South of the Arrowhead Beach Property Owners Association’s “clubhouse beach".

It is equally likely that the 'high and steepe' bluff mentioned in the previous NOTE is the bluff that used to exist along Chowan Trail between 102 Chowan Trail and 206 Chowan Trail in Chowan Beach. There is still a vertical bluff at 206 Chowan Trail. Until the homes at 202 and 204 Chowan Trail were built, there was a truly vertical cliff along the water at these properties. That cliff was about 32 feet high.

The location of the Indian mound, if indeed it still exists, is a mystery. It may have been completely erased to provide building sites. Since the land just above and below what was the pier of Bandon is privately owned it could not be explored. There were the remains of purported burial mounds to the left of Bandon Road between Pocahontas and Potawatomi that were bulldozed in 2007 – 2008 prior to listing that property “For Sale”. They would seem, however, to be too far away from the water to be described as "along the river bank." In Spring of 2010 the septic drain field at 306 Chowan Trail (just North of the Chowan Beach Recreation Association “Park”) was excavated and replaced. After digging down about 12 to 18 inches, a layer of shells, pottery and other debris was discovered. It extended several feet further down and ran the entire length and width of the area excavated for the drain field. As far as could be determined, it continued North and South from the area excavated indefinitely, parallel and just adjacent to the Chowan River. This could easily be part of the aforementioned “rubbish heap”. Most of the information in this segment of the history was obtained from a set of notes, author unknown, kindly supplied to by Capt. Al Howard and from the book Ingles Fletcher of Bandon Plantation by Richard Walser (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Library, 1952).

On To Part Two

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