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I is for Isabella, the eight year old daughter of John Lawson, botanist,
surveyor and naturalist author. Isabella Lawson (b April 15 1707- d
sometime after 1767) was only a newborn baby a week old when she
received a gift from her father of two little calves with two breeding cow
mothers. Her father died when she was four, so she would have been nine
years old living with her mother Hannah Smith and brother William at
Bonner Point in 1716 when the Port Bath decree by the Lords Proprietors
was signed.
Isabella was a week old when her father bought her and her mother a
thoughtful gift to start her own herd. The cows arrived complete with
Isabella’s own unique owner ear marks, distinctive notches cut in their
ears. The cattle were brought from New Bern by land and river ferry, a
brindle heifer and calf, along with a black heifer and yearling, and all four evidently left for her mother to retrieve
from the Bath town pen. There were two operating ferries in Bath at the time and they might have looked like the
colonial ferry salvaged from the Trent River a few years ago or even the one still in use in North Carolina in the
photo below taken as recently as 100 years ago. Some river ferries had a small pen for livestock in addition to
benches for passengers, maybe one day one of the ferries used in Colonial Bath will be found sunk on the river
bottom like the Blossom Ferry was in the Trent river. The Blossom ferry underwater archeologists tell us typical
colonial river ferries had drop ramps at each end for wagons and barrels to roll off and on as well as for people
and livestock to disembark.
Below image: Hannah's Ferry on the Yadkin River between Davie and Rowan Counties, ca. 1900. Image Courtesy
of North Carolina Office of Archives and
History.
We know Isabella’s parents were not
married which was common at the time in a
region with few clergy. Before John Lawson
sailed for London out of Hampton Virginia
(to have his book published and portrait
painted) his will was recorded and witnessed
by Isabella’s maternal grandfather and also
by Port Bath’s first custom’s collector James
Leigh. In his 1708 will her well- known
father John Lawson left his Bonner Point house and a 2/3 estate interest to her mother who was expecting their
next child, William.
Isabella’s father in addition to his government duties made money for his family and bartered for household
goods selling Indian skins, pelts and furs to middlemen for inter-colonial and overseas export. We know from a
lawsuit and arrest order filed by his friend and town neighbor Christopher Gale that at one point he owed Gale
over 300 pounds worth of dressed buck skins, value priced at two shillings each and dressed doe skins 18 pence
each. Gale was also one of Lawson’s two partners in the town’s first grist mill and evidently subscribed to the
theory I like you as a friend and partner but don’t interfere with my money or I will take you to court. Like other
entrepreneurs in BathTowne, Isabella’s father had both a town house in Bath town and a plantation farm with
acreage to raise cattle and crops elsewhere. Isabella and her mother lived on Bonner Point across the creek from
her grandfather ‘s plantation. Lawson’s primary plantation was near the Neuse River on Clubfoot Creek outside
New Bern. While town clerk her father drew up the Bath town map to sell lots, in 1709 he was named Surveyor
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