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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Richard Womack 1655-1685- Trading Paths in the 1600's

                                                          The Occaneechi Trail

The Occaneechi Trail from Ft. Henry (Petersburg) to Occaneechi Town -1

 When Richard Womack went on his trading expeditions for William Byrd I, he followed a system of old, long established Indian trading paths. Originally the traders used Indian guides, and hired Indian porters to carry their trading goods. These paths were narrow footpaths- which early travelers would follow single file through the wilderness. They generally followed just below the ridges so those walking on the path could see the territory below them, but not be seen. Not being seen was important; not only for hunting, but for survival from unfriendly human elements.

With financial backing from Byrd, however, it is likely that Richard and his fellow traders were trading on a scale large enough to require the use of packhorses for their goods. This caused some discontent among the Indian tribes; not only did the use of horses take away the income that came in from Indian porters, but horse hoofs did some damage to the paths that had been tread lightly by human footsteps clad in hide moccasins. In some places, traders with horses had to divert from the traditional narrow footpath due to bulk with packs and inability of horses to follow difficult terrain a human might manage; rocky climbs for instance. 

Richard and the traders who traveled with him had to have had considerable survival skills. They would have needed to hunt quietly along the way so as not to risk unwanted attention from possibly unfriendly foes. It is likely that they were as skilled with a tomahawk, hatchet, and hunting knife as they were with their long rifles. They would have camped along the way, as well as staying at friendly Indian villages with whom they traded. They likely spoke some of the language of these tribes. It was known that the Occaneechi dialect was well understood by most of the tribes they traded with in the area. Richard was probably able to speak with other tribes using a rudimentary knowledge of the Occaneechi language. Besides the Occaneechi, it is likely that traders ventured out to trade with the Saponi, and  Catawba  in the south and  the Cherokee to the west.

Richard’s packhorses likely carried those goods which the Indian tribes desired; metal tools, cooking kettles, pots, and utensils, woolen blankets, cloth and European style clothing, liquor, and glass beads and other trinkets for adornment. In return, the traders would stock up on deer hides and furs from beaver, otters, raccoons, etc. which were highly desired by Europeans.  In early times firearms and weapons were allowed for trade to Indians, but as tensions rose between the groups, trade in weapons was forbidden. 2

The distance from Fort Henry to Occaneechi Town was about 90 miles- at least 30 hours of walking/riding along the path- a minimum of a week's journey each way, plus time for rest and trade at each end of the journey. It is likely that these trading ventures kept Richard away for home for a month or more at a time.


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