Scott Huler never expected to write a book about John Lawson until a decade ago. In fact, the only reason why he even came across the story of the explorer was due to research he was doing about another book, On the Grid: A Plot of Land, an Average Neighborhood, and the Systems That Make Our World Work, that led him to Lawson.
At the time, Huler’s research involved tracing the history of his own land, and in doing so, he discovered Lawson, an English explorer and writer, who chronicled his travels across North Carolina back in 1701.
Huler’s interest was immediately piqued. He found Lawson’s book and read it. But soon, he had another thought.
“Well, where’s the book where somebody retraced Lawson’s journey and put modern place names to Lawson’s descriptions,” Huler, an Orange County resident, recalled to the News of Orange County.
Soon, Huler realized no one had yet written that novel. As the author of numerous books and with bylines on some of the nation’s top publications, including The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, the current Duke Magazine senior writer took it upon himself to be the one to write that story.
In 2014, Huler began the same journey that Lawson once took over 300 years before. Five years later, Huler’s book A Delicious Country: Rediscovering the Carolinas along the Route of John Lawson's 1700 Expedition, was published on March 4, 2019. Since that time, he has traveled to various bookstores and visited with many groups, including the Eagle Lodge in Hillsborough on Nov. 3, to discuss the journey he shared with Lawson, and the book that chronicled it.
After Huler decided he was going to retrace Lawson’s story, he had to come up with a plan. In addition to mapping out the places he would go on his journey, Huler got in touch with a Lawson researcher from South Carolina named Val Green, who had spent 40 years looking at Lawson’s journey. Connecting with Green proved to be a breakthrough for Huler. He was given a map with step-by-step details of where exactly he needed to go.
Once Huler knew the path he would take on his journey, he broke it down into 17 different installments. While Lawson had the luxury of embarking on his journey with no other responsibilities, Huler has a wife and children, and couldn’t uproot his life for months on end for his quest.
Some of the segments, which were broken up over a yearlong span, included canoeing trips, camping trips, nights spent in motels, church pews, or on someone’s front porch.
“Part of what I was doing was reaching out to the people of the area I was going to walk through and then that always led to, ‘Well where should I stay’ and then they would help me out by recommending places,” Huler recounted.
Throughout his journey, Huler was able to document his quest through Instagram and his blog. He carried around a pen and a notebook, constantly writing down details that stood out to him and could be of potential importance to his book. By chronicling his trip along the way, Huler was able to interact with people who followed along with him online.
“It was wonderful to be able to document the story that immediately, which also enabled people to reach out to me because of how interactive all of that stuff is and I met people that way, who I wouldn’t have otherwise met, and that was really terrific,” Huler said.
One such interaction Huler had began with a message on his blog from someone asking if he wanted to see Jamestown. Specifically, the spot where the Huguenot settlers (French Protestants who emigrated from France to the New World) settled along the Santee River.
Huler’s response was immediate.
“I was like, ‘Well, yeah. That’s exactly what I want,’” Huler said.
Whether it was eating bundt cake with people whose descendents Huler believes likely sat with Lawson hundreds of years ago, or seeing the same towns that Lawson visited, once rich with people and trade, now deserted, or struggling, the author felt connected to the subject of his novel.
But after the journey had ended and Huler had leafed through pamphlets, maps and notes, outlined his story and written his book, he’s left with the idea that Lawson is a figure of paramount importance for North Carolina, and one that should be recognized by more people in the state.
“People need to know about him,” Huler said. “I tell people all the time, ‘Lawson should be William Penn for North Carolina.’ He helped found our first two incorporated cities, Bath and New Burn, he took this enormously important journey, he wrote this book that helped populate the colony, he gathered botanical specimens that are part of the British Museum, he’s an enormously important guy.”