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  How the Markham Maps Informed the Fish Dam Road Research

By David Southern

The rivers, selected roads, and town limits given as locators on the Markham map are not exactly true to the highly sophisticated USGS maps available today. However, it is possible to plot, with reasonable accuracy, the course of the Fish Dam Road across the mosaic of landgrants between Hillsborough and the Neuse River.

     Markham’s grants include both Granville and State of North Carolina grants, with a few McCulloh grants in the Neuse River valley. John Carteret, Lord Granville, as heir to one of the eight Lords Proprietors, held title to the upper half of North Carolina— a 60-mile-wide band, parallel to the Virginia line, from the Atlantic Ocean westward. There was a partially competing great title to Henry McCulloh of 12 squares of 100,000 acres in an arc along the Trading Path from the Tar River valley, just below present Oxford, southwestwardly to the Catawba Nation near Charlotte. In the colonial period and specifically related to the local land-rush of the mid-eighteenth-century, the first grants were mostly of Granville origin. With the death of Lord Granville in 1763, there were no grants of land in this area until the creation of the State of North Carolina at the time of the War for Independence. The new state seized the vacant lands of Granville and McCulloh, as well as property of British loyalists, and redistributed it, so that by the 1780s the best had been taken, and by 1800 there was very little vacant land in the territory of old Orange County.

     The shapes of the individual grants— few larger than 640 acres and most much smaller— add a specific feature of historical cartography. Vestiges of these early property lines can be found, through much subdivision and recombining, in lines of present-day tax maps. Some present-day roads follow old survey lines. Very few of these original grants mention or depict historic roads that might have crossed them. Occasionally the Trading Path was used as a locator as were rivers and creeks, but the Fish Dam Road is not mentioned once by name in these oldest documents. Still, using a USGS topo with the Fish Dam Road superimposed, it becomes readily apparent how many tracts were served by this long, east-west road on the ridge between the Eno and Ellerbee watersheds.

Read about Allan Markham and his maps here

     The following sections are an attempt to identify, section by section, original landowners along the Great Road, later called Fish Dam Road, from Hillsborough eastward. There is a caveat or disclaimer to the effect that further research may call for adjustments to this list. Moreover, not all present research is included. Either way, there is more information to follow.

Section 1: Occaneechi to Cates Creek

Section 2: Cates Creek to Stone’s Creek

Section 3: Stones Creek to Roxboro Road (US 501)

Section 4: Roxboro Road to Ellerbee Creek

Section 5: Ellerbee Creek to Fish Dam Ford on Neuse River