17 min read

Ghosts among the ruins: Haunted Eno River State Park in Durham, North Carolina

Ghosts among the ruins: Haunted Eno River State Park in Durham, North Carolina

A look at a place full of cemeteries, ruins, and ghosts of the past. Also actual ghosts. Those too.

Eno River State Park, in Durham, North Carolina, is said to have its fair share of hauntings. I dive into the history of the park, especially the area around the Cabelands Cemetery, which is supposed to be one of the most haunted areas of the park. Plus, I dug up some of the paranormal experiences people have reported in the area.

Highlights include:

  • Some grim parts of the area's history
  • A demonstration of my superb math skills
  • Hidden cemeteries

Content note: this episode contains a lot of discussion of colonialism and chattel slavery.

Listen to the episode here or anywhere you get podcasts.

Sign up for my newsletter pls!

Episode Script

DISCLAIMER: I'm providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn't been proofread, so please excuse typos. (Especially because I use dictation software for a lot of my script writing!) There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script—some of this transcript may feel a bit incomplete. Please treat the episode audio as the final product.

In this episode, I want to talk about Eno River State Park, a beautiful park in Durham, North Carolina, that has tons of stories of hauntings and some cool hidden cemeteries. Eno River State Park is located in Durham, North Carolina. Unlike Umstead State Park, which I talked about last time, I haven’t spent as much time in Eno River State Park. I’ve hiked there maybe four or five times and I have not hiked every trail there.

One thing that is really cool about Eno River State Park is that there are tons of ruins in this park. In the last episode, I talked about some of the minor ruins that you can find off the trail in Umstead park, like foundations of buildings, and part of an old dam, but Eno River State Park really has a lot of cool stuff. There are of course some very cemeteries, including one that is famously haunted, and there are also the ruins of an old pump station, the ruins of a mill, and old chimneys, just to name a few examples. Also, in the summer, there are some really beautiful places to see wildflowers.

It’s pretty big and it’s near a city park; combined, those two parks go run along 14 miles of the Eno River. In terms of the size of the park, it is about 4300 acres, and has 24 miles of hiking trails.

And just in general, Eno River State Park is much better known for being haunted than Umstead State Park is. I mentioned last time that Umstead doesn’t have a lot of stories about hauntings there. But Eno River State Park does, and it definitely has a little bit of a creepier vibe to it. I can’t really say why, but I’ve done a ton of solo hikes and Umstead State Park, and just one solo hike in Eno River State Park, and Eno River State Park definitely had me a little bit less at ease than Umstead did. And that could just be because there are so many stories about hauntings there and because of a little bit of weirdness that happened there when I visited, which I’ll get into next time.
Sources:

Visiting Eno River State Park

If you visit the park, you’ll want to keep in mind which area you want to get to. Unlike Umstead, which just has two entrances, there are like four or five different areas you could park in and go into, and some of them are pretty far away from each other. So if you’re planning to go, look it up in advance and decide what trails you want to take before you decide where you want to park. So if you want to go to the more well-known cemetery that I’m going to a talk about later on, the Cabelands Cemetery, you are going to want to go to the Cabelands part of the park.

Trail info:

History of Eno River State Park

Indigenous history

The Eno River is named after the Eno people who lived on the banks of the river. I should preface this section with the fact that a lot of information we have comes from the writing of European colonizers, so it may not all be entirely accurate to the actual history of some of these tribes.

Based on archaeological evidence, indigenous people settled around the Eno River in the 1400s, so that lines up with the late medieval period in Europe, if you want that for reference, since I rarely talk about history that's quite that far back.

There’s confirmation that in the 1670s, the Eno and Shakori tribes lived in the area. (https://abc11.com/eno-river-haunted-cabelands-cemetery-ghost/4561458/ ) There was also an Occaneechi Village located there around the same time.

The Occaneechi

I mentioned the Occaneechi last time, but I didn’t get into their history at all. One European historian in 1705 said that the Occaneechi language was treated like a lingua franca, kind of like Latin in Europe at the time, so basically like a language that a lot of people knew regardless of what their first language was. People from different tribes could communicate with each other using their language. Researchers think that they spoke a dialect of Tutelo, which is a Siouan language.

Overall, it doesn’t sound like the Occaneechi lived along the Eno River for very long. They were forced to move there from Virginia around 1676, when they were attacked by a militia of colonizers, and they left the Eno River Valley by 1712.

In the late 1600s, there was a common trade route called the Occaneechi Path, or The Great Trading Path, which the Occaneechi along the Eno River were located near. (https://www.ncpedia.org/great-trading-pathIn the 1660s and 1670s, the Occaneechi were involved in the fur and deerskin trade between European people in Virginia and indigenous people living in the Piedmont area. (https://www.ncpedia.org/occaneechi-indians )

In the 1980s, archaeologists at UNC Chapel Hill excavated the old village and learned a little bit more about what it was like. There were about a dozen houses built in a circle around a central plaza. A sweat lodge stood in the middle of the village. A defensive stockade surrounded the houses, and a cemetery with a lot of graves lay just outside the village. The archaeologists observed that relative to the small size of the village and the short time that they lived there, there were a disproportionately large number of graves, which speaks to how many of the Occaneechi were killed. European diseases and violence were responsible for many of those deaths, though they also experienced some conflict with the Iroquois. (https://www.ncpedia.org/occaneechi-indians )

Today, the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation is a state-recognized tribe in North Carolina and there are about 1,100 enrolled tribal members.

The Eno

The Eno were also Siouan-speaking, but there’s not a lot of information about them. But this follows a fairly typical story of how the genocide in the land that is now the United States went: colonizers came in, native people were killed, and their land was taken.

The accounts I’ve read about the Eno people sort of handwave past what actually caused the decline in their population, though earlier on they did have some conflicts with the Spanish colonizers, and there was a war in the 17-teens that they might have possibly been involved with.

But at any rate, the Eno ended up being absorbed into the Catawba tribe, who are still around today as the federally-recognized Catawba Indian Nation, which is now headquartered in South Carolina and has 3,300 enrolled members. (https://www.ncpedia.org/catawba-indians )

The Shakori

As for the Shakori, I found even less information about them, but it does look like they ended up merging with the Catawba as well. They were also Siouan speaking.

Colonizers

After the Eno, Shakori, and Occaneechi were forced out, colonizers lived along the river. Apparently, there were a lot of Quakers among the early colonizers who lived there in the 1740s and 1750s. The European colonizers set up farms and also ton of grist mills.

One of the more famous people who lived along the Eno around this time was John Cabe. I’m going to really dwell on him here, because the Cabe family is the main family that I want to talk about, in large part because their cemetery is known as being the famously haunted cemetery.

John Cabe was described as a “planter, miller, and politician,” and was probably originally born in Pennsylvania, but moved to the area around the Eno River in the late 1750s. His father was a well off wagoner, so someone who drives a wagon, but John Cabe became very wealthy. In 1780, he bought more than 300 acres of land along the Eno River, but by the time he died in 1818, he had an estate of more than 3000 acres of land. He enslaved 60 people, who I really haven’t seen much about as I’ve been researching all of this. (https://ncpedia.org/biography/cabe-john )

I tried to find information about the people who he enslaved in the existing records from this time, just because it doesn’t sit right with me to have all this information about the enslavers on this plantation on the Eno, but not the people who were enslaved. It feels like a really incomplete history of the land that we're talking about during the time period we're concerned with here.

The University of North Carolina has a database called the Digital Library on American Slavery, which is where I got most of this info. I will include a link to that in the show notes: http://dlas.uncg.edu/

So I just wanted to share what I was able to find out about the people who John Cabe enslaved. (http://dlas.uncg.edu/deeds/?s=john+cabe&t=0&l=aa )

First, I found information about an enslaved man named Lewis who ran away from the Cabe family. It’s unclear whether he was ever caught, but several ads were placed in local newspapers, in February and then again in March 1819, giving a reward for kidnapping him. In case you’re curious, the first ad was a $10 reward ($234 today), and the second one just said it would be a liberal award. I’m hoping that the need for multiple ads means he escaped for good, but I don’t know. But here’s what we know about Lewis: he was knowledgeable and skilled in farming and distilling. He escaped on a fairly old bay mare. After escaping, he probably passed as a freedman using the name Lewis Petteford. (http://dlas.uncg.edu/notices/notice/1530/, http://dlas.uncg.edu/notices/notice/1144/ )

After that, the rest of the records I found were deeds from purchasing people who he enslaved:

On January 1, 1806, John Cabe purchased a forty-year-old woman named Tabb from William Moreland, James Norton, and Polly Ashley for five shillings. I had trouble finding an exact conversion for that, but it sounds like five shillings in 1806 is about $20 USD today. (http://dlas.uncg.edu/deeds/deed/NC.ORG.12.305.1/  , https://www.answers.com/Q/In_1803_how_much_was_5_shillings_worth )

On January 2, 1806, John Cabe purchased a two-year-old boy named Tapley from Archibald D. Murphey for 30 British pounds, which is about $4,100 today. Tapley was Tabb’s son. (http://dlas.uncg.edu/deeds/deed/NC.ORG.12.305.2/ )

On January 3, 1806, John Cabe purchased a nine-year-old girl named Easter and a seven-year-old girl named Jenney from William Moreland for 152 British pounds total, which is about $21,000 USD today. Oh, also, William Moreland has come up a couple times: I believe he was related to John Cabe’s second wife, Nancy Moreland Cabe, who married him in 1802. (http://dlas.uncg.edu/deeds/deed/NC.ORG.12.174.1/ )

On the same day, he purchased 37-year-old man named Dick, a fifteen-year-old girl named Rachel, and a five-year-old child named Charles from James Norton for a combined 400 British pounds total, which is about $45,000 USD today. http://dlas.uncg.edu/deeds/deed/NC.ORG.12.175.1/

On December 12, 1806, John Cabe purchased a twenty-year-old woman named Lettice her six-week-old daughter named Anne from William Dillard for 100 British pounds total, which is about $14,000 today. (http://dlas.uncg.edu/deeds/deed/NC.ORG.12.239.1/ )

On January 23, 1808, John Cabe purchased a nine-year-old girl name Mary, who had been brought from Virginia to North Carolina, a seven-year-old girl named Dilce, and a nine-year-old boy named Sam from Leonard Carlton for 200 British pounds total, which is about $27,000 USD today. (http://dlas.uncg.edu/deeds/deed/NC.ORG.12.305.2/ )

On November 21, 1808, John Cabe purchased a forty-year-old woman named Cate and a thirteen-year-old girl named either Diley or Dilsey from Peter House for 75 British pounds, which is about $10,200 USD today. (http://dlas.uncg.edu/deeds/deed/NC.ORG.13.212.1/ )

I’m assuming these records are incomplete, though, because I only found these seven deeds. One thing that really struck me while I was reading this was how little money these people were sold for. I think that’s worth dwelling on for second, because 1) it shows how little value enslavers put on the lives of the people they enslaved, and 2) it’s worth seeing how much profit the plantation owners were getting by enslaving people rather than having paid employees.

I did a bit of back-of-the-envelope math, which should be taken with a grain of salt because I did this quickly while working on the script, just to have a general frame of reference:

  1. I found an old document listing what agricultural workers were paid in Massachusetts in 1806, to use as a comparison. The wages ranged from about $.625-$1.17/day in 1806. But I was able to find a number from 1825 that includes room and board, which might be more accurate for this math. So the room and board wage is a much lower $10-12/month. (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=wu.89071501472&view=1up&seq=62 )

  2. 12 months * $10-$12 = $120-$144 in 1825 dollars = $3,612-$4,335 in today's dollars

  3. Looking at John Cabe’s deeds, in today’s USD, he paid between $20 and $15,000 for each person he enslaved. So that means even on the high end, for the $15,000 each that he paid for Dick (who was 37), Rachel (who was 15), and Charles (who was 5), he could expect to force all three of them to do many years of work for what it would cost to pay an employee for just 3-4 years of work.

I’m dwelling on this point because biographies of John Cabe seem to kind of skim over his great wealth, as if it was something that he earned. For example, the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography says: “John attained a real affluence before his death in 1818, when his estate included over three thousand acres of land.” It cites his mill on the Eno River, which was built sometime in the 1770s, as the “source of his prosperity” (in addition to the second mill on the Eno that he built for his son-in-law.) But really, how could anyone not accumulate a huge amount of money when you have enslaved people that you can exploit?

Cabe went on to have nine daughters, at least one of whom was buried at the family cemetery that John Cabe himself was buried in. (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/40493324/john-cabe ) I’ll be looping back to that cemetery in a bit, because it’s the one with all the stories of hauntings.

So, anyway, what happened to the Cabe family?

Per an ABC 11 article (https://abc11.com/eno-river-haunted-cabelands-cemetery-ghost/4561458/ ):

Durham Station, which had previously been a train stop, officially became a town in 1869. "Once Durham had the railroad, (the Eno communities) could not compete economically." Slowly, farmers and millers were drawn to more urban areas. "By the 1960's, the Eno River Valley was a large wilderness," said Cook.

And what of the Cabe family? Christopher Ammon wrote in Hidden Gems of the Eno, "These people were part of two prominent Eno River Families that owned thousands of acres of land, financed several mills, and included state representatives and former mayors of Durham." Yet this wealthy and influential family "faded into obscurity."

The rapid progress of Durham's industry replaced farms and mills. Progress leaped forward -- and left the homesteads and mills of the Eno River behind.

At one point, there were more than 30 mills along the Eno River, but by 1940, all those mills had been shut down.

Sources and additional reading

Cemeteries in the woods

Cabelands Cemetery or John Cabe Family Cemetery

This cemetery contains 51 graves, 12 of which are marked. Because Cabe had daughters buried there have different last names. You’ll see a lot of Shields and McCown. If you walk around there, you’ll see indentations in the ground, which is apparently where rotting caskets have caused the ground to sink. There are also little circles of stones around where the body would’ve laid, kind of like in Umstead State Park at one of the cemeteries there. Like I mentioned last time, I haven’t seen these weird stone circles on graves anywhere else, but they're definitely a thing in the Triangle at least.

https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/2317920
https://web.archive.org/web/20220813065609/https://www.enoriver.org/what-we-protecthidden-gems-of-the-eno/october-cabelands-cemetary/https://web.archive.org/web/20200211071213/http://cemeterycensus.com/nc/orng/cem103.htm

William Cabe Slave Cemetery

I’m not totally sure how to get to it, but this cemetery does exist and apparently it is on the grounds of the park. I’ll link the find a grave page that has the coordinates. But as you might expect, we don’t have much information about this cemetery. There are 20 graves that are visible based on depressions in the ground from rotting caskets or fieldstone markers. None of the stones of any inscriptions. Some people who are buried there may have been enslaved by John and William Cabe’s father, Barnaby Cabe. Oh, and apparently, according to find a grave.com, he was a loyalist during the Revolutionary war, as was John Cabe. (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/126962784/barnaby-cabe )

There is also a William Cabe Cemetery, near the slave cemetery, but it is located on private property. I’ll include the find a grave listing for that one too.
https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/2318059/william-cabe-slave-cemetery
https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/2318054/william-cabe-cemetery

Dunnagan Graveyard

This one’s located along the Dunnagan trail; it has one marked grave and four graves with fieldstones at the head and foot.

https://www.peterdoesparks.com/post/dunnagan-graveyard-at-eno-river-state-park-durham-nc

https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/2389966/dunagan-family-cemetery

Piper Family Cemetery

https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/2327665/piper-family-cemetery

This is a small family cemetery that is near a picnic area at the state park. I’ll include the find a grave information which gives you instructions on exactly how to get to this cemetery.

I know that the Piper family had a school that used to stand near the current location of the picnic area at Eno River State Park, and I think that’s the same picnic area as the one that the cemeteries next to. (https://abc11.com/eno-river-haunted-cabelands-cemetery-ghost/4561458/ )

Haunted Eno River State Park

By Herb Englishman https://web.archive.org/web/20220813065609/https://www.enoriver.org/what-we-protecthidden-gems-of-the-eno/october-cabelands-cemetary/

In the Cabelands stories abound about the family and how their spirits remain alive today. There is a long abandoned family cemetery about 200 yards off of the trail by the Eno River. Although interesting, there is no aura to it. Graves are where the body returns to the earth and places for the living to visit the deceased. Spirits tend to hang out at places that hold the most significance to them.

The special spot for feeling the energies of the historical site is the homestead area at the edge of the bluff overlooking the Eno River. A massive oak tree lays just before the bluff. There is a distinct warm happy vibe to the land. I have visited the homesite area numerous times and gotten EVP [recordings] every time. A man, a woman, and a girl. The girl seems to be the most talkative. She appears as if she was standing right next to you. On another occasion a man’s voice was heard and you could make out the words: “noise, of about, miller, flags, and years.”

A WRAL article has a lot of great details, talking about how hikers have claimed to hear whispers and screams and see shadow people. https://www.wral.com/the-cabelands-abandoned-cemetery-by-eno-river-carries-ghostly-legends/19342740/

More from the WRAL article:

Interestingly, while most of the land surround the Cabelands is covered with young trees – indicating this was once flat land suitable for farming – there is an ancient oak standing atop the bluff at the site of the homestead.

Centuries ago, this quiet bluff would have been where the Cabe family lived, overlooking the peaceful Eno River and farming their acres of land. It's likely they once played and sat beneath the old oak standing there today.

"I have visited the home site area numerous times and gotten EVP recordings every time," said Englishman.

He describes the spirits of a man, a woman and a girl. "The girl seems to the most talkative. She appears as if she was standing right next to you," he writes.

He said that he's also heard a man's voice, and could make out the words: Noise, miller, flags and years.

Following the haunted legends, many local ghost seekers have investigated these lands. One man described seeing a shadow person standing on the trail just as he was trying to leave the cemetery. "The shadow person appeared to be male. He just stood there, only a few feet away from me, but before I could get my camera, he was gone," said paranormal investigator Keith Campbell.

Many people have claimed to hear a young woman's friendly voice greeting them. Others report shrieks from the woods.

Some hikers say they sense someone standing beside them, even whispering or blowing into their ear. They turn, thinking a fellow hiker is beside them, only to discover they are alone on the trail.

An 2018 article on ABC 11 quotes Keith Campbell of Wake Paranormal TV, who has gone to the cemetery to do investigations and said: "I had literally just walked into the cemetery when I saw a shadow figure only ten feet ahead of me . . . I didn't even have my gear out yet."

the article also says:

Testing the validity of the cemetery's cultural mythos, he did his own EVP recordings near the cemetery, mostly picking up radio signals and talk shows--nothing more unusual than the occasional pop song.

Suddenly, a woman's voice wavered through the static. "Hello."

The voice vanished into the static.

A few minutes later, Campbell heard her again, garbled this time, but clearly the same voice.

Several times throughout the hike, the woman's voice would abruptly break through the white noise, but her words were always garbled after that first "Hello."

Campbell's tale adds just another chilling chapter to the Cabelands' legends.

I think there might be a typo in this article, because it says that he was doing EVP recordings, but seems to be describing a spirit box. I’ve talked before about how spirit boxes should be taken with a grain of salt, because it’s easy to hear what you want to hear. I’m not trying to disprove this claim, since I wasn’t there and don’t know what happened, but it felt worth mentioning that.

https://abc11.com/eno-river-haunted-cabelands-cemetery-ghost/4561458/

A 2019 ABC 11 article quotes Superintendent of Eno River State Park Kimberly Radewicz (https://abc11.com/eno-river-state-park-trails-cabe-cemetery/5638068/ ):

Rumors are the only claims to support this former farmland is haunted. Reports of shadows moving over the trails, words spoken by a woman.

"Things that I have heard is that it's a warm sort of place, not a lot of fear here or anything like that."

Previous Superintendents of the park say they haven't had any personal encounters, only the rumors.

It's also worth mentioning that this article dances around Cabe's involvement in the Revolutionary War, saying that he "of course was part of the revolutionary war" without saying which side he fought for. I bring this up just because Findagrave.com said that he and his father were both Loyalists, but other sources seem to equivocate on that.