On a October day in 1728, Colonel William Byrd and a team of men, with turkey beards in their hats as “cocquades,” crossed the Dan River for the first time at the site that would become Milton. In “William Byrd’s Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina,” Byrd observed: “The bottom was covered with coarse gravel, spangled very thick with a shining substance, that almost dazzled the eye, and the sand upon either shore sparkled with the same splendid particles. At first sight, the sun beams giving a yellow cast to the spangles made us fancy them to be gold dust, and consequently that all our fortunes were made….but we soon found ourselves mistaken, and our gold dust dwindled into small flakes of ising-glass [mica]. However, this did not make the river so rich as we could wish, yet it made it exceedingly beautiful.”
“Cocquade” is French for hat decoration.
Milton Renaissance Museum & Visitors Center will commemorate Byrd’s crossing on October 12, beginning at 10 am, celebrating the river that brought batteaux, boatman and business to Milton. Special guests will speak on historical interest topics throughout the day, along with entertaining presentations by Fred Motley, Anthony Hearn, Little River Cloggers of Durham, NC, and GrassStreet Bluegrass Band. In addition, a new museum display in honor of boatman William Watkins, a Free Person of Color who lived in Milton in 1850, as well as Ellis G. Cooper and Wesley Martin, free mulatto barrel makers, will be revealed.
Event times are scheduled as follows:
10-10:45: “William Byrd and the Dividing Line” / Charles Rodenbough
11-11:45: “Bateau Navigation” / Stephen Wilson
12:15-1:00: LITTLE RIVER CLOGGERS
1:30-2:00 “A ‘Day’ in the Life of a Boatman” / Fred Motley and Anthony Hearn: Fred Motley will reprise his role as Free Black Furniture Maker, Thomas Day, imagining a conversation with Free Mulatto William Watkins, a Boatman, portrayed by Anthony Hearn.
2:15-2:45: “Drawing the Line: Byrd, Mosely and a Connection to Blackbeard” (Speaker TBA)
3-3:45: “History of a Naval Captain: William Lewis Maury” / Jerry Roxbury
4-4:45: Civil War Era Special Collection / Russell Hicks
5-7:00: GrassStreet Bluegrass Band
Milton restaurants plan to offer special turkey dishes that day, in honor of the turkey beard cocquades Byrd and the surveying team wore.
Milton Renaissance Museum & Visitors Center is located at 169 Broad Street, Milton, NC. Event is free but donations appreciated. For additional info, email [email protected].
Sponsored in part by History United