John Lawson (explorer)

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John Lawson (1674? – 1711) was a British explorer, naturalist and writer. He played an important role in the history of colonial North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, publicizing his expeditions in a book, and founding two settlements in North Carolina.

Early life and education[edit]

John Lawson was born in England. Little is known definitively about his early life. His education seems evidenced by his books. His freedom to explore and take charge suggest he was well-placed in society. After an acquaintance in London assured him that "Carolina was the best country", Lawson as a young man sailed for the North American colonies, arriving in Charleston, South Carolina on August 15, 1700.

Cover of John Lawson's 1709 book

Exploration[edit]

Beginning December 28, 1700 Lawson led a small expedition out of Charleston and up the Santee River by canoe and then on foot to explore the Carolina backcountry. Along the way he took careful note of the vegetation, wildlife and, in particular, the many Indian tribes he encountered. He traveled nearly 600 miles through the wilderness, ending his journey near the mouth of the Pamlico River.

After his expedition, Lawson settled near the Pamlico River and earned a living as a private land surveyor. In 1705 he was appointed deputy surveyor for the Lords Proprietor of Carolina. In 1708 he succeeded Edward Moseley to become surveyor-general.

Lawson played a major role in the founding of two of North Carolina's earliest permanent European settlements--Bath and New Bern. On March 8, 1705, Bath was the first town incorporated in what was to become North Carolina. Part of the incorporated land was owned by Lawson. He became one of the first town commissioners. Later he became clerk of the court and public register for Bath County.

In 1709, Lawson returned to London to oversee the publication of his book, A New Voyage to Carolina, in which he described the native inhabitants and the natural environment of the region. The book was an instant success, and several editions were published, including versions in German and French. The resulting publicity attracted many settlers to the colony of North Carolina.

While in London he represented the colony in a boundary dispute with Virginia. He also organized a group of Germans from the Electorate of the Palatinate to settle in Carolina and returned with them in 1710 to found New Bern on the Neuse River. The government of Queen Anne had invited the refugees to England for passage to the colonies. They were fleeing extended hardship in their homeland, due to a record cold, and French invasions. Nearly 3000 Palatine Germans were settled in the New York Colony in 1710 as well.

In September 1711, Lawson and his associate Christopher von Graffenried were captured by Tuscarora Indians while ascending the Neuse River. The Tuscarora released von Graffenried, but they tortured and killed Lawson.[1] Shortly thereafter, tensions between Indians and settlers erupted into a bloody conflict known as the Tuscarora War.

Bibliography[edit]

  • A New Voyage to Carolina (London, 1709). Other editions of this work appeared under the titles, The History of Carolina or Lawson's History of Carolina.

Online versions of this work:

Notes[edit]

  1. ^  Seccombe, Thomas (1901). "Lawson, John (d.1712)". In Sidney Lee. Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement​. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 

References[edit]