Grifton, the southernmost incorporated town in Pitt County, has a long and fascinating history that includes Native Americans, an early naturalist, polyester, paddling and fishy celebrations.
Contentnea Creek, with its untouched natural beauty, is the heart and soul of Grifton, and inhabitants have lived along its banks since ancient times. It's the dividing line for Pitt County (the northern bank) and Lenoir County (the southern bank).
The 2013 U.S. Census recorded Grifton's population at 2,672 residents. Modern Grifton residents are linked to the past because of the place in which they choose to live.
A reconstruction of Catechna village in Grifton offers a glimpse into the daily life of the Tuscarora. There's an abbreviated version of a communal longhouse, a bark-covered wooden structure with a domed roof where families lived together. The village also contains a work shed, a fire pit and a garden.
Arrowheads and prehistoric spear points found in the Grifton area are on display in the Indian Heritage Room of the Grifton Historical Museum at the Civic Center.
The Catechna Village is located across from the Grifton Museum and adjacent to Overlook Creekside Park and the NC Wildlife boat ramp. Guided tours may be arranged.
John Lawson Legacy Days
In 1700, young British explorer John Lawson led an expedition through the Carolina wilderness. From Charleston, SC, the group canoed up the Santee River and traveled inland on foot, often along Native American trading paths. They traveled from Charlotte to Durham and Goldsboro, across Contentnea Creek near Grifton and then across the Tar River at what is now Greenville before ending the trek at "Pampticough" River near present-day Washington, NC.
During the 600-mile trip, Lawson kept extensive notes on the wildlife, vegetation and the 20 Native American tribes he encountered. His notes from the expedition were published in 1709 and the book, "A New Voyage to Carolina," was an immediate best seller; it was translated into French and German and spurred Europeans to immigrate to the colony.
During an expedition on the Neuse River in 1711, Lawson was captured by disgruntled Tuscarora led by King Hancock, chief of Catechna. Lawson was brought before a war council and was tortured and executed. Several days later, the Tuscarora led by King Hancock began attacks on the settlers in the region, a four-year conflict known as The Tuscarora War.
John Lawson Legacy Days are celebrated annually, with boating trips along Contentnea Creek, history lectures and exhibitions.
The plant had a major economic and cultural impact on Grifton, bringing people from other parts of the United States and foreign countries to the area. As a result, Grifton was the fastest growing town in the state in 1960. In less than 10 years, the population had surged from 510 to 1,816 residents.
The DuPont production facility still is in operation today, now producing innovative Sorona polymer fabric, a lightweight and stain-resistant material used in products from clothing to carpet. The plant, currently undergoing a $39 million expansion, is making strides to be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly in its biomaterials production.
Hickory shad (Photo from Shad Festival website)
A member of the herring family, shad have been described as "the fish that fed the nation's fathers" (They were George Washington's favorite fish).
Shad spend most of their lives in the Atlantic Ocean, but in early spring, they swim up fresh rivers like the Tar and the Neuse to spawn. Recreational fishermen, who use spinning or fly-fishing tackle to pursue the fish, vie to make the season's first catch in Contentnea Creek.
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In recognition, Grifton was recognized as The Official Shad Capital of North Carolina by the N.C. State Legislature.