About Hill Forest

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Registered archaeological study sites of north-central Durham County (blue markers) in relation to Hill Forest (red). The area covered by this map extends roughly 8 miles N/S by 10 miles E/W.

The Forest itself is, today, completely silent regarding its prehistoric residents and visitors, due to an absence of archaeological studies within its borders. Nevertheless, the region of northern Durham County of which the Forest is the heart is rich with important prehistory, particularly on and near the Flat, Little, and Eno rivers, enabling us to sketch at least the broad outlines of aboriginal life in and around the Pre-Contact and early Colonial Forest.

The ancient significance of the area which is today’s Mangum Township in northern Durham County stems largely from its position astride a great highway of pre-historic and colonial commerce known to Europeans as the Indian Trading Path, or the Occaneechi Trail. The trail’s 500 mile path (roughly followed by today’s Interstate 85), from Virginia’s Bermuda Hundred on the James River to today’s Augusta, Georgia, connected numerous aboriginal settlements, including those of North Carolina's Eno Indian tribe, of the Eastern Sioux nation, the best-known prehistoric and Early Contact residents of the Hill Forest region.

One of the earliest recorded mentions of the Enos by a European occurs in a 1654 letter from Francis Yeardley (an Indian trader from Virginia) to John Ferrar (deputy treasurer of the Virginia Company). Yeardley wrote that a Tuscaroran had described to him a “great nation" called the “Haynokes” who had “valiantly resisted the Spaniards further northern attempts." In 1670 the German physician, John Lederer, traversed the region seeking the Enos (or Oenochs, as he called them) and their chief village, Eno Town (about 3 miles south of today's Hill Forest), and chronicled a settled, prosperous and hospitable people:

“The Country here, by the industry of these Indians, is very open, and clear of wood. Their Town is built round a field, where in their Sports they exercise with so much labour and violence, and in so great numbers, that I have seen the ground wet with the sweat that dropped from their bodies: their chief Recreation is Slinging of Stones [....] They plant abundance of Grain, reap three Crops in a Summer, and out of their Granary supply all the adjacent parts. [They] build not their houses of Bark, but of Watling and Plaister. In Summer, the heat of the weather makes them chuse to lie abroad in the night under thin arbors of wilde palm. Some houses they have of Reed and Bark; they build them generally round: to each house belongs a little hovel made like an oven, where they lay up their Corn and Mast, and keep it dry. They parch their Nuts and Acorns over the fire, to take away their rank Oyliness; which afterwards pressed, yeeld a milky liquor, and the Acorns an Amber-colour’d Oyl. In these, mingled together they dip their Cakes at great Entertainments, and so serve them up to their guests as an extraordinary dainty. Their Government is Democratick; and the Sentences of their old men are received as Laws, or rather Oracles, by them.”

A generation later John Lawson, surveyor general of the Carolina colony, wrote of his 1701 expedition’s encounter with the Enos in this area:

“The Country, thro which we pass’d, was so delightful, that it gave us a great deal of Satisfaction. About Three a Clock, we reach’d the Town, and the Indians presently brought us good fat Bear, and Venison, which was very acceptable at that time. Their Cabins were hung with a good sort of Tapestry, as fat Bear, and barbakued or dried Venison; no Indians having greater Plenty of Provisions than these [....] The next Morning we set out, with Enoe-Will, towards Adshusheer [....] Several Indians were in our Company belonging to Will’s Nation, who are the Shoccories, mixt with the Enoe-Indians, and those of the Nation of Adshusheer. Enoe-Will is their chief Man, and rules as far as the Banks of Reatkin [today's Haw River]. The stony Way made me quite lame; so that I was an Hour or two behind the rest; but honest Will would not leave me, but bid me welcome when we came to his House, feasting us with hot Bread, and Bear’s-Oil; which is wholesome Food for Travellers.”

Plowed soil almost anywhere in the Hill Forest region (and particularly on or near floodplains) frequently reveals finely-worked stone projectile points and ceramic sherds, reflecting the numbers and the industry of the Enos. Their prosperity was likely due, at least in part, to their land's strategic position on the Trading Path. Prominent villages naturally thrived at important points along the Path, such as at river crossings, and two such Eno settlements occurred just south of Hill Forest, at the Trail’s crossings of the Flat River (where today Old Oxford Highway crosses the river just south of Lake Michie) and Little River (near today’s Merck & Co. facility on Old Oxford Highway). The Flat River site is believed to be location of Lederer's 'Eno Town.' The proximity of such important communities to the Forest probably insures that its lands were well-known and frequented by pre-Colonial Enos.

By the early 18th century, disease and violent confrontations with the Colonists had dramatically reduced the Enos' numbers, who along with the neighboring Shakoris, Tutelos, Saponis, Keyauwees, and Occaneechis were reduced to a total population estimated at no more than 750 people. The much-reduced tribe migrated south to merge with the Catawbas of the South Carolina border area in about 1715.