Admiral Ross’s Journey, part 5: The Land of the Blueberry Bogs

Log raft passing the village of Coinjock, N.C., on the Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal, 1901. Image by Albert Ross, USN. Courtesy, Linda Garey

Log raft passing the village of Coinjock, N.C., on the Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal, 1901. Image by Albert Ross, USN. Courtesy, Linda Garey

This is part 5 of a series I’m doing this week based on an extraordinary collection of glass lantern slides that a teacher named Linda Garey shared with me. Her great-grandfather, Rear Admiral Albert Ross, took the images on a trip down the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal in 1901.

In Rear Admiral Ross’s next glass lantern slide, we see a steam tug towing a raft of logs by the village of Coinjock, N.C. This was a very common scene on the Albemarle and Chesapeake (A&C) Canal at the turn of the 20th century. Held together by spikes and chains, the logs in this raft are headed south toward the North River, a tributary of the Albemarle Sound.

The village of Coinjock was located on the canal’s “North Carolina Cut,” the 5 and ½-mile-long section of the A&C Canal that was dug through the peninsula that makes up the bulk of mainland Currituck County.

The name “Coinjock” is said to come from an Algonquin word meaning something like “the land of the blueberry bogs” for the wild ground blueberries that grow along the eastern edge of the Great Dismal Swamp.

By the time then-Commander Ross reached Coinjock, the Violet had already passed down the Elizabeth River, traversed the canal’s Virginia Cut, passed south on North Landing River and Currituck Sound and gone through half of the North Carolina Cut.

In the distance, we can see Coinjock’s drawbridge, which of course is open to allow the steam tug and the Violet to pass down the canal. Coinjock was one of three places where a road passed over the canal.

Red oval marks the village of Coinjock and the A&C Canal's North Carolina Cut. Detail from Kerr and Cain, "Map of North Carolina" (1882). Highlighting from virginiaplaces.org. Original map courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina

Red oval marks the village of Coinjock and the A&C Canal’s North Carolina Cut. Detail from Kerr and Cain, “Map of North Carolina” (1882). Highlighting from virginiaplaces.org. Original map courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina

The two-story building next to the drawbridge is probably the bridge tender’s home. The Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal Co. kept houses for each of its bridge tenders.

In the right foreground, four villagers are standing in or next to a livestock pen. One looks like a young boy or girl.

Judging from this view, Coinjock was a tiny bit of a paint-bare village in 1901—a few handfuls of homes, all wooden, not a brick in sight, a sawmill and a little general store or two.

At stores along that side of the Great Dismal, backwoods men and women in the surrounding area could come and exchange fur skins, hand-cut shingles and chicken eggs for flour, cornmeal and other necessities.

No doubt those stores did quite a bit of business in tobacco, too, as well as in liquor fresh from local stills. The canal traffic and its boatmen made sure that there was plenty of demand for both.

The village may also have had a blacksmith shop, a livery and maybe a cooper’s shop or wheelwright, though most likely they were situated in sheds or barns behind one of the stores or next to a local family’s home.

A closer look at the same 1882 map.

A closer look at the same 1882 map.

I doubt Coinjock had a church, but the villagers might have worshiped in a local home. A pair of one-room schoolhouses, one for white children and one for black children, was probably somewhere in walking distance, though I’m sure school sessions were short and infrequent.

In Coinjock, most people lived out of their gardens and the forest. They lived by hunting and trapping, fishing a bit, making liquor and “working in the logwoods,” as people used to say: felling trees, dragging them to the canal or to a creek and floating rafts of them to mills, as the tugboat on the far side of the Coinjock drawbridge is doing here.

 Tomorrow, part 6—Steamboats and Barrels of Fish

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