Mother Vineyard on Roanoke Island, NC


By Ray Py

Scuppernong Grape of Roanoke IslandMost residents and visitors to Roanoke Island regard Mother Vineyard as the name of one of Manteo's most exclusive subdivisions. But few who live there know that the Mother Vineyard for which the subdivision is named, is another one of Roanoke's unsolved mysteries.

Mother Vineyard was subdivided into large, beautiful homesites during the late 1950's. It's located along the soundside of Roanoke Island about two miles south of Fort Raleigh.

Many of the homes offer unequaled views of both the sunset and sunrise. Woods and narrow roadways separate the houses, and everywhere there's a feeling of peace and tranquility, qualities of rural living at its best.

On this setting many centuries ago, ancient farmers created an agricultural miracle that has both mystified and confused researchers and students of history for over 400 years.

The five towering grape vines known as Mother Vineyard, which is now located on private property, continue to thrive. Their twisted, gnarled trunks, larger than it is possible to reach around, still grow and produce succulent, white scuppernong grapes- a member of the muscadine species, one of the best of all grapes.

Found in abundance in the sandy soil from Virginia to Texas, the muscadine grew among the heavy woods that the Algonquian Indians roamed. But unlike these wild grapes, which can still be found in Roanoke Woods, the grapes of Mother Vineyard show strong evidence of planned settings by intelligent farmers.

The vines grow enqu-distant from each other and were apparently well cared for in the beginning. Researchers speculate that the vines were gathered from the woods and set. After several harvests, the vines were protected with scaffolds to keep them strong and upright.

While researchers generally agree that the vines were set by intelligent planters, there is sharp disagreement about who the farmers were.

Popular speculation is that the planter among the English colonists cared for the vines, but there is also strong belief that the Mother Vineyard was growing on Roanoke Island long before the colonists reached this shore over 400 years ago.

Roanoke Island's Indians, credited with having achieved advanced agricultural culture, were capable of producing seed corn, fertilizing the fields, rotating crops and using other sophisticated agricultural techniques.

So advanced were these farmers that the English found themselves fascinated with such unheard of products as tobacco and potatoes and the use of dead fish and sea shells for fertilizers, which were common planting techniques of the Indians.

Sketches from early reports of the colony's activity show Indians using a scaffold to shelter their huge crops, a technique that would have been necessary in growing the Mother Vineyard to its fullest capacity. Reports left by colonists also show the Indians were capable of making and enjoying wine from the grapes in the wood.

Researchers speculate the Raleigh colonists had more than their share of troubles growing the basic foods they needed to survive while they lived on Roanoke Island. Grapes, they say, would have been a luxury there was little time to afford.

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