By Ray Linville
Interested in taking a good long walk? Sure. Want to trace the path of an English explorer taken through the Carolinas in the early 1700s? It all depends, right? What’s the temperature? How much rain and how many snakes? What and when do we get to eat?
Most of us remember history lessons about Lewis and Clark, whose expedition in the early 1800s explored and mapped territory from Missouri westward to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, a major part of their task was to study and sketch plants, animals and geography.
Equally important in this area was a similarly significant journey, more than 100 years before Lewis and Clark took their first steps. This one began in 1700, only a few years after the Carolina Colony had been chartered by King Charles II of England. Little was known about the territory that now comprises North and South Carolina and Georgia of today.
Enter John Lawson, who was commissioned by colonial authorities to learn more about the interior of the colony. Although the coastal areas were being explored in depth, the Europeans knew little about the region farther inland.
With several companions and native guides, Lawson tromped through the Carolina wilderness nearly 600 miles over several weeks to describe animals, plants, crops and natives. He dutifully recorded detailed descriptions in his journal and later returned to London in 1709 to publish “A New Voyage to Carolina.” The book attracted many new immigrant settlers to the colony because it was also translated into German and French.
Perhaps Lawson is the first person we can credit with recording the enjoyable outdoor life of North Carolina. The climate is “healthful,” and the land is very fruitful,” he writes. Because the soil is rich, the inhabitants “live an easy and pleasant life.” Lawson also describes more than 70 varieties of seafood in the Carolina waters and pronounces catfish as being “very plentiful.” He identifies more than 25 “beasts” that can be hunted, proclaims that bear meat is “very good” and enjoys a “curious ragoo” made with venison and possum.
Proving that history needs to be lived and outdoor life enjoyed, a modern-day explorer is undertaking Lawson’s journey. Scott Huler, an award-winning author who lives in Raleigh, has begun a modern walking exploration through the Carolinas to retrace Lawson’s footsteps.
Unlike Lawson, Huler is not waiting nine years to publish his account. To share his observations, he is documenting his journey online. His blog The Lawson Trek (www.lawsontrek.com) is updated with posts, images, sound, and video. On Twitter (@LawsonTrek), Huler is also tweeting images and thoughts – routine and unusual – about his adventures and has observed that he often is “walking along a sand road that has probably been trodden by human feet for a thousand years or more.”
Check out Huler’s posts and images, and follow him as he shares a historical perspective of the Carolina outdoor life.