Cod was, in fact, the staple of a European diet that ate fish on Friday and a host of holy days-- so much so, that the supply of fish in European waters had dwindled considerably by the 17th century. These Dorset fisherman may have been observant churchgoers, but I’ll wager that business opportunity called them from home—a fact we too often discount. Money spoke as loudly then as it does now; maybe louder.
On a lark, I went web surfing along the English coast. If you’ve never done this, log into Google Maps and pretend you’re a bird.
My “flyover” covered the shores of County Dorset, and I did a double-take. Incredibly, within five short miles of Dorchester and Weymouth, England is a place called “Maiden Newton”. I blinked. I live between Maiden and Newton, NC. What are the odds?
Maiden Newton and Maiden and Newton, NC are 3,900 miles apart, as the crow files, as if a crow could fly across the Atlantic.
I’ve never visited County Dorset, England, much less Maiden Newton, pop. 1,100, but I saw on Google Maps that there’s an ancient terraced area nearby called “Maiden Castle” that looks intriguing. The “castle” is actually one of the most complex “hillforts” in Britain, dating some 6,000 years ago, on up to the Iron Age, 800 BC with Roman earthworks added ca. 50 AD.
Maiden Newton and its environs figured into the writings of Thomas Hardy, who wrote Far from the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure. Hardy was the subject of a term paper my sophomore year, and until now I had no idea that my family history connects to the area Hardy wrote about.
The web tells me that Maiden Newton has a Norman-era church which would have been 500 years old when my people were tramping around the area. No doubt some of them saw this church building, maybe they even attended services there.
All of this British history sounds impressively old, and then I think of our own Maiden Newton. Native Americans—ancestors of the Catawba and Cherokee--inhabited Catawba County as much as 10,000 years ago. Spanish explorer Juan Pardo and his group camped in what is now Catawba County, in 1567. Some claim the camp site may have been between Maiden and Newton.
Pardo and his band are credited with establishing the first European settlement within the interior of North America. That site was Ft. San Juan, next door to the Indian town of Joara in what is now Burke County. If you haven’t ever visited the site, do yourself a favor and check the Joara website at https://exploringjoara.org Upcoming events include public dig days from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on May 3, 4, 18, 31 and June 1. Public archaeological lab nights are also planned. The dig site is several miles north of Morganton and can make a great field trip for the whole family.
Exploring Joara drives home the fact that we live in an ancient land that was inhabited eons before European settlers arrived in Catawba County in the mid-1700s.
History is relative, depending on whose relatives we’re considering.
Tammy Wilson is a writer who lives near Newton. Message her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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