Norfolk 1732 – Updated

William Collins 1732
FOR A VERY LONG TIME, I was unable to trace my Collins line prior to their appearance on a 1783 militia list in Nansemond County, when the names William Collins and Thomas Collins first appear in the area. Moreover, additional research showed them actually living near Bennetts Creek in Gates County for most of the 1780s and 1790s.

I was fortunate in recent months to have access to the Norfolk County lists of tithables from the colonial era, which strongly suggest that prior to appearing in the Nansemond/Gates area, the Collinses were living in Norfolk County and neighboring Princess Anne County. They appear in the same lists as the Archers, Weavers, Halls, Basses, Owens, Shoecrafts, and other families considered to be of Indian descent. Families that were also associated with them later in Gates County, such as the Grants and Goomers, also appear in the Norfolk lists.

I have not seen the lists for Princess Anne County yet, but given the appearance of families down in the Indian Creek area there, I tend to think they migrated up from the Indian Creek area to Portsmouth, probably related to employment. There is a 1771 apprenticeship record in Portsmouth for Lemuel Collins, signed by Thomas Collins. Both names later surface in the Gates County tax lists in the 1780s.

This however is the first mention I have seen of them in Norfolk. It’s from a 1732 list for Western Branch in Norfolk, which is the district west of Portsmouth. “William Colins” is listed together with “John Stafard.” Perhaps he was employed by him. Interestingly, “John Stafford” was also the name of an early landowner in Currituck and Pasquotank in North Carolina. A William Stafford left a will in Pasquotank in 1750 naming a son John. It’s unclear if this is the same family.

William Bass and his son Thomas Bass are also listed in the same list in Norfolk as John Stafford and William Collins. It has been interesting to see how other families, such as the Weavers and Prices, later relocated to Gates County over time. The last Norfolk list that mentions the Collinses is from 1772. Sometime in the mid-1770s, which happened to be at the time of the American Revolution, they moved to Gates. Therefore, from 1732 to 1772, we can show that the Collinses were living in Norfolk and Princess Anne.

Interestingly, after 1732, William Collins drops out of the records in Norfolk. The next mention of the family is in 1751 when both Thomas Collins, Sr., and Jr., begin to appear.

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Two Jameses


Nansemond County, 1815. James Russell /Sen./ with 171 acres, neighboring Thomas Collings and John Smith, of James. The property is described as being 18 miles southwest of Suffolk. James Russell /Jun./ with 25 acres neighboring the estate of Benjamin Cross and Abigail Sumner. The property is 22 miles southwest of Suffolk.

ANOTHER GENEALOGICAL LESSON LEARNED. I am a descendant of Anna Russell, who was born in about 1770 and married Thomas Collins in Gates County, North Carolina, in 1801. Their son Graham Collins (1802-1880) is my ancestor, through his son Hugh Collins (1839-1911), and Hugh’s daughter Lydia Collins (1877-1945).

Lydia’s son, Tom Pittman was my great grandfather, pictured at right.

Like most genealogists, I wanted to know who the father of Anna was. Without deeds and wills, the best I could do was make an educated guess. There were multiple Russells in the area at that time. These included:

  • Charles Russell, Sr., who had owned land at Fort Island in Gates County since the 1740s, that was later deeded to Charles Russell, Jr., in 1769
  • The bespoke Charles Russell, Jr., who removed to Johnston County, North Carolina
  • Mary Russell, who appears in Nansemond County tax lists between 1783 and 1804 with various acreage
  • James Russell, Jr., who appears in Nansemond County tax lists between 1783 and 1815, with various acreage, described as “of Mary” after 1804, presumably her son. Also called “of Charles” in a Gates County deed.
  • Judith Russell, who appears in Nansemond County tax lists between 1783 and 1813 with 75 acres.
  • James Russell, Sr., who first appears in Nansemond County in 1796 with 66 acres. His land borders the land of my ancestor Thomas Collins.
  • George Russell, who appears in Gates County tax lists, the 1786 state census and the 1790 US Federal Census, and who left a will in Gates County in 1791, administered by James Russell, Sr.
  • Priscilla Russell, who left a noncupative will in Gates County in 1788.
  • Charity Russell, who fathered one of James Arline‘s bastard children in 1788.
  • William Russell, named in an apprenticeship bond in 1782
  • Mary Russell, named as the wife of Josiah Lassiter
  • Elizabeth Russell, named as the wife of Henry Hill
  • Sarah Russell, named as the wife of Jeremiah Jordan, left a will in 1796 (and strangely kept her maiden name despite her marriage to Jordan, who is named on the estate record, in which James Robbins, the Chowan Indian head man is also named)

In the past, I had mistakenly thought that there was only one James Russell in the area at this time. Now I can see there were two. This will lead to some reassessment. At the moment, I can hypothesize that Charles Russell, Sr., who owned the properties in Nansemond County and at Fort Island in Gates County, was married to Mary. They had a son named James Russell, also called James Russell, Jr. (of Mary and Charles).

The second James Russell, stylized as James Russell, Sr., was actually the son of the George Russell whose estate he administered in 1791, and whose 25 acres he inherited. He began appearing in tax lists after he inherited the property.

It is possible that George Russell was the brother of Charles Russell, Sr. His small amount of acreage (25 acres) in the vicinity of Bennetts Creek, plus the fact that some of his descendants are described as being “of color” suggests that he might have had some connection to the Chowanoke Indians. I have noted that James Collins and James Russell both appeared in the estate records of James Beasley in 1815.

I think the fact that Thomas Collins’ land bordered the land of James Russell, Sr., in Nansemond, and that Thomas Collins and appeared on the same tax lists as George Russell in Gates County suggests that Anna’s father was probably George Russell, and her older brother was James Russell, Sr. However, as you see, this is merely a guess.

To make it more interesting, when Mary Russell died in 1804, her 85 acres passed to James Russell, Sr., while James Russell Jr., who had been described as “of Mary” and “of Charles” retained his acreage. Obviously, James Russell, Sr., could not have been Mary’s son, if she already had a son named James. This is the best I can do in terms of untangling these relationships. At the same time, I am able to draw a few conclusions.

  1. My Collins and Russell ancestors were living in the Scratch Hall/Bennetts Creek area of Gates County in the 1780s.
  2. My Collins and Russell ancestors migrated from Gates County to Cypress Chapel in Nansemond County beginning in the middle of the 1790s.
  3. My Russell ancestors were somehow related to the families already present in Nansemond County as of 1782.

While several members of the Russell family are listed as being of color in records, I have not yet found a document that establishes their Chowanoke, Nansemond, or Yeopim ancestry. However, a Joseph Russell is listed as a headman on the Mattamuskeet Indian Deeds in Hyde County. It’s possible that they too were a Coastal Algonquian family.

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James Arline’s Bastardy Bonds

James Arline

Documents describing the land of James Arline, 1791

JAMES ARLINE (1739-1791), my ancestor, was named on two bastardy bonds in Gates County in the 1780s.  James was a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and descended from a family that had lived in what became Gates County since the late 17th century. He is an important character in this story.

In May 1783, we was named on a bastardy bond concerning Sarah Collins. Five years later, in August 1788, he was named on a separate bond concerning Charity Russell. Arline’s property was located between Cole Creek and Bennetts Creek, so more or less in the vicinity of the old Chowan Indian Reservation.

There is no definitive way to identify how Sarah Collins and Charity Russell are related to my ancestors Thomas Collins (1769-1849) and George Russell. However, both Thomas Collins and George Russell appear in James Arline’s list in 1785. Thomas Collins has no acreage. George Russell has 25 acres. It’s conceivable that Sarah Collins might have been a sister or mother of Thomas. George Russell might have been the father of Charity.

Sarah Collins does appear in the 1800 US Federal Census for Gates County, as head of a household of two. She may be the female aged 45 or older (born prior to 1755), and her daughter with James Arline may be the female aged 16 through 25 (born 1775 to 1784). Based on the bastardy bond, this child would be born in about 1782 or 1783.

What is clear is that James Arline had a close relationship with the Collins and Russell families. His son, Jesse Arline (1776-1842), later removed from the Bennetts Creek area to Nansemond County, where he lived on the border with North Carolina. He may have gained this property through his marriage to Mildred Williams, the daughter of Jonathan Williams. In the late 1790s, we also see the movement of the Collins and Russell families to this area. Unfortunately, since the Nansemond records have not survived, we cannot see from whom the Collins or Russell families acquired their land.

However, one educated guess could be from the Arline family. I have wondered how the poor, Scratch Hall Collins and Russell families became associated with landowning families like the Arlines. It appears it may have been through these kinds of events.

One son of Thomas Collins and Anna Russell, Graham Collins (1802-1880), my ancestor, married Jesse Arline’s daughter Nancy Arline (1800-1880), and his brother, Thomas Collins (1806-1888), married another daughter, Mary “Polly” Arline. Yet all of these families originated in the Bennetts Creek area, as confirmed by these bastardy bonds.

I do not have a document that shows these families were Indian. However, they were certainly “poor whites,” and were living in proximity to a Native American community with whom I have shown via various estate records they had some kind of extant ties. (James Robbins appears on the estate record of Sarah Russell, James Collins and James Russell appear on the estate record of James Beasley). Given the fact that later generations of people in both family were recorded as colored, it suggests the Collinses and Russells in the area were “fringe” families that had spun out into the poor white community. They were  part of the Scratch Hall people about whom I have written.

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No Cherokee Princess

Grandma and Tom

My grandmother Margaret Pittman and her father Tom, sometime in the 1960s

THE GREATEST JOKE in “Indian country,” as it is called on occasion, is that every white family has a legendary Cherokee Princess in its family tree. There have been many excellent articles about it, that abound with the usual stories of high cheekbones and straight black hair.

According to those in the the know in the ancestry testing business, about 30 percent of Americans believe this. It’s definitely part of the allure of DNA testing — is the family rumor true? — and imagine the disappointment when “none” comes back. I can speak honestly about this because, let’s face it, it’s more or less my own story.

With a few exceptions. We never had a Cherokee princess myth in my family. For one, my grandmother was from northeastern North Carolina (actually, she was raised just over the state line in Virginia, and she was actually born in a house right on the border).

This is the house:


There were no Cherokee living in northeastern North Carolina, and in fact the names of the local tribes were sustained mainly by geographical names or political units: Nansemond County, the Chowan River, the Meherrin River, Tuscarora Beach.

Interestingly, some of the people who retained an Indian identity in this area claimed to be Cherokee. Descendants of Tobias Lassiter (1749-1803) of Gates County, North Carolina, for instance, claimed that he was a “Cherokee Indian of the Nottoway Tribe.” (I am as certain as I can be the the Lassiters did have indigenous heritage, but they were most likely linked to the Chowanoke. There was an 1814 marriage between Henry Lassiter and Betsy Robbins, for instance.)

My grandmother did mention the possibility of having Native American ancestors on a few occasions. One was when she saw a special on the Lost Colony. She mentioned to me that her family had been in North Carolina since its settlement, and she wouldn’t be surprised if some of the Lost Colonists were among her ancestors. Another time, when she was older, she said she was quite sure she had some Native American ancestry, based on how her father, Tom Pittman, looked. “I wouldn’t be surprised,” she said.

It was a bit of a stunning admission from someone who had grown up in the pre-Civil Rights South, where if a white woman passed a black woman on the sidewalk, the black woman was expected to get down into the road and let her pass. I could never really get a sense of how my grandmother felt about these issues. When I asked her about that era, she would say, “That’s just how it was.” And yet she was the one who called me in November 2008 and reminded me to go out and vote for Barack Obama for president.

So we had no myth of a Cherokee Princess. As I did my genealogical research, I came upon the records for various members of her father’s family who were listed as mulatto or black in various instances. The first one I found was for Elvy Collins (1806-1870), the first cousin of my ancestor Graham Collins, who was listed as black when he died. (Elvy was a “double first cousin” in that his father was the brother of Graham’s father, and his mother was the sister of Graham’s mother.) This happened about 13 years ago, when I just started using the website to piece together these families. You can imagine how curious I became upon finding this. I knew I had to research it more.

Then I found a similar record for his uncle, Elvy Russell. Then there was their relative Lucinda Russell, who had one daughter listed as mulatto, while the other one wasn’t.

Puzzled relatives who were discovering the same records didn’t know what to make of it. Some of them thought these were clerical errors, others thought there must be other people who were the same exact ages and had the same exact names. So suddenly, we had a real mystery on our hands. Not only did I have a relative who looked like he was something other than European, but I had records that showed some of his relatives weren’t, at least according to those who took the records.

After years of research, and with the help of DNA, particularly matching tools on GEDmatch, I have been able to show, to at least my own satisfaction, that this Collins family was matching people from the “free colored” Weaver, Hall, and Owens families from Princess Anne County and Norfolk County in Virginia. In fact, I was able to narrow in on a piece of chromosome 13 that was being painted as Amerindian, liaise with the match on that segment, and look at his family tree to see he descended from an Owens from Norfolk and Princess Anne, one of the “mulatto” families from these counties.

Chr 13

My grandmother’s chromosome 13, painted using Dodecad World 9. The red denotes Amerindian ancestry.

These were poor families, scraping out a living in a remote, swampy part of Virginia, or on occasion, across the line in North Carolina. There was not a princess among them, let alone a Cherokee. In the 1850 US Federal Census for Nansemond County, my ancestor Graham Collins (the great grandfather of Tom Pittman, shown above), reportedly could neither read nor write. They were not Cherokee, but descendants of the local Nansemond people, sometimes referred to as Yeopim and as Poteskeet. These were coastal Algonquians, who spoke a language similar to that spoken in New England. They emerged out of Canada and spread down the coast from Maine to the Hatteras Banks.

At what point they crossed over into European society is unclear. There were plenty of members of the Nansemond Bass family, for instance, who, upon leaving the Norfolk area, were considered to be white by census takers. I will be studying the tax lists of Norfolk and Princess Anne Counties in the future to better understand the relationships between these families. I do wonder how many families with the “Cherokee Princess myth” actually trace back to the mixed-race families of Virginia and the Carolinas.

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A Damaging Situation


Louisiana Weaver (1837-1914) of Winton, North Carolina

AFTER I WENT THROUGH another group of close DNA matches, I found they were also Hall and Weaver descendants from Winton in Hertford County, North Carolina.

This for me was the final evidence that my Collins ancestors were related to the same Indian Collins family from Princess Anne County, Virginia.

Interestingly, we also match the family of John Collins of Bertie County, North Carolina. This suggests that John Collins, whose sons were associated with the Bunch and Bass families, was probably from this family as well.

The major hurdle in almost all of this research has been the ill-fitting racial categories of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. People who were of a variety of backgrounds were lumped into categories like “mulatto” or “black,” or even “white” by census takers. This is how people whose ancestors were described as indigenous, and who professed an indigenous identity, wound up being identified as black, or, as genealogist Paul Heinegg renders them, “free African Americans.”

Some of them no doubt acquired African lineages over the generations. Yet this begs the question, how does one define one’s own identity? Is it the census taker who gets to say who is “mulatto” or “black”? Or the genealogist? And if having some, or any, African ancestry makes one “black,” then wouldn’t, by that same principle, having some, or any, Indian ancestry, also make one Native American? Or, for that matter, if someone was shown to be of majority European ancestry, would that make that person “white”?

Somewhat depressingly, the federal government still uses its ancient methods of racial categorization to deny people the ability to claim their own ancestry. On occasion, other indigenous people assist in this process. So that in Bureau of Indian Affairs documents denying acknowledgement to various groups — the MOWA Choctaw, for instance, or the Meherrin – they refer back to censuses that show these people to be “black,” or “mulatto,” in order to dispute or discredit any claims to having an indigenous identity.

Even people who are obviously Native Americans, like Louisiana Weaver, pictured, were described as “black” and “mulatto” in 19th century records. That her Weaver cousins across the Great Dismal Swamp in Norfolk were actually included in an Indian census or issued certificates does not matter. According to some, they were actually “black” too, as somewhere in colonial documents, they are described as something other than Indian.

While the “black Indian” phenomenon has been explored, one might also consider the situation for people who were of European and indigenous descent. They too found this aspect of their ancestry airbrushed away by racist laws that protected the purity of their European pedigrees, even if they weren’t actually so pure. These people too would be told — by other whites — that they actually were not Indian at all. All the real Indians were dead or out west or up north. Complicit in the erasure any remaining indigenous identity in eastern North Carolina and Virginia, were the groups that made up the rest of the local populations:

  • African Americans, who sought to claim anyone with African ancestry as their own
  • European Americans, who disputed that any of their own could have any ancestry other than European
  • Other indigenous peoples, who sought to protect their own special relationships with federal authorities

All of this led to quite a damaging situation for people with indigenous ancestry from this region. Under the older, racist system, they were forced to deny their own ancestry. Under the newer, post-Civil Rights system, their claims of descent are treated with the utmost skepticism. The myth of a vanishing people is so powerful that any attempts to disturb that myth’s foundations, to bring about a new realization or understanding, are crushed, often by average people, for whom this topic is still somehow uncomfortable.

Even photographs are treated with suspicion, for even if a person looks like a Native American, and is described as such in some documents, there might be others where they are called “mulatto,” “black,” or “white.” That’s the only doubt anyone needs to bring that identity into question. What’s interesting is that these people were there before anyone ever used the words “mulatto,” “white,” or “black.” They had their own names for themselves, and they did not need federal recognition to tell them if they were genuine or not, or to gauge the veracity of their claims. Partaking in the whole construction is somehow absurd. Who cares, actually, what the BIA says? Or about “blood quantum”?

What does any of that have to do with speaking truthfully about one’s own past? All of these external pressures continue to influence people, especially those interested in their own genealogies. Family histories that are theirs, that belong to them, and to no one else. These pressures, though, are irrelevant. What is relevant is the truth and telling it well.

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Hugo Prosper Leaming

Hugo Leaming

Hugo Leaming (center), Thomas Jefferson High School, Richmond, Virginia – 1940

THERE ARE A LOT of books available today that discuss the mixed-race communities that lived along the Virginia-North Carolina border in the colonial period. One for instance, called Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South makes the case that the people who lived in “Scratch Hall” — modern-day Hall Township in Gates County — were the mixed-race descendants of “Roanoke Old Settlers” (European colonists who had arrived in North Carolina in the colonial era) and displaced Tuscarora Indians.

Much of this information has been recirculated and arrived to me from various sources — I wrote a post about “Black Mingo Pocosin” a while back — but almost always, when I try to trace the origin of the data, it leads back to F. Roy Johnson or Hugo Prosper Leaming.

Leaming’s main work is called Hidden Americans: Maroons of Virginia and the Carolinas, which was completed as a thesis/dissertation in 1979 and published by Routledge in 1995. It’s an important work in the canon of colonial mixed-race narratives that have emerged in the post-Civil Rights era as a way to both undo pre-Civil Rights narratives built on myths of racial purity, as well as to write a new version of American history, one that would support a multiracial future reflected in an idealized pre-history, one where rugged individualists of all colors came together in the wilderness to oppose tyranny.

This is not an easy book to get your hands on, but a few months ago, an academic who happens to also be Tuscarora, was able to get me a PDF (Thank you, Spunky!) The first “book” within Hidden Americans focuses on what Leaming terms “The Roanoke Community.” These were the fugitives from Jamestown, European — mostly British — colonists, as well as Africans, escaping the laws of Virginia to inhabit the lawless, swampy country to the south. He recounts the stories around some of these first Old Settlers — Nathaniel Batts, and my ancestor George Durant among them — placing them into a grander narrative of fringe coastal communities that dotted the East Coast.

Some of them were pre-Columbian, dating back to the fifteenth century or even the fourteenth. The people of these settlements were of Portuguese, Basque, Breton, Welsh and West-of-England descent, from the lands that jut out into the Atlantic.

This early period resulted in frequent miscegenation, the term for intermarriage of people of different ethnic backgrounds. Leaming argues that this early mixing of indigenous peoples and Old Settlers led to the creation of a class in society that would be later called the “Poor Whites,” outside of the Great Dismal Swamp.

As the generations passed, they came to be of Native American as well as European descent, if it be taken that their fathers, as sailors, were unlikely to bring women with them … At the beginning of the nineteenth century there were still tawny-skinned, English-speaking people of a culture distinct from the new majority, inside the Dismal Swamp as maroons, and outside, as Poor Whites.

While Leaming is an excellent storyteller, he is not necessarily an academic. He writes with the authority of an all-knowing source, rather than creating a mosaic of sources. Most of his material though can be substantiated by the colonial records listed at the end of each chapter. However, here and there, he displays some knowledge of Carolina tribal politics that hints at familiarity with oral traditions in addition to paper records.

The Yeopims were one of the branches of the Tuscaroras, or a client nation of that empire, located to the east of the Tuscarora heartland, interspersed with the immigrant settlers in Roanoke.

This is a contention of many Tuscarora today, that the Algonquian nations on the coasts — the Chowanoke, the Yeopim, the Machapunga — were client nations. However, I have yet to see a primary source that states that as such. He also mentions an adoption ceremony for Nathaniel Batts into the Tuscarora. I find this very interesting, because this is something someone would only know of via oral tradition. To me, this shows that Leaming had other sources when writing Hidden Americans, not only primary colonial sources. The only question is, who informed Leaming? With whom did he speak?

He also devotes a lot of time to discussing the “Scratch Hall Folk,” from whom I descend.

On the very edge of the Swamp, where wet and dry wilderness met, and at swamp areas detached from the Dismal itself, lived the Scratch Hall people, not so much in hiding as in seclusion, yet a seclusion that could readily turn into hiding if the enemy appeared in force. Scratch Hall was on the southern edge: other tawny maroons principally of Native American and white descent may have also lived on the edge in the other quarters of the Swamp. If encountered by an outsider they could pretend to be ‘tame’ Poor Whites of the outside who had strayed in.

There is also a reference to Black Mingo Pocosin, as previously discussed.

What appears to have been one of the much older abandoned settlements lay near the edge of the Swamp in the late nineteenth century but had probably been a much more secluded place before drainage canals began to diminish the size of the Swamp. This swampy field is, or was, called Black Mingo Pocosin (pocosin, a swampy area). Mingo means an Iroquoian-speaking person and the field is therefore named for such a people or for the maroon chief Captain Mingo, in either case a survival of Tuscarora influence. If there was a settlement here it was likely to have been a community of Black Mingoes, that is, persons of predominantly African descent with a special Tuscarora cultural tradition.

Black Mingle Pocosin, as it is called today, was located just south of where my ancestors were later living in Drum Hill, North Carolina. It’s literally down the road. However, I am skeptical about his assertion that “Black Mingoes” meant they were Iroquoians with African ancestry. “Black Mingo” and “Blue Mingo” were used interchangeably for Iroquoian groups, such as the Seneca and Cayuga, in the Ohio Valley. One might also recall that men named “Seneca” were counted among the Meherrin and the Tuscarora in the 18th century.  One, a Meherrin Indian named George Seneca, was tried and hanged in a murder case in the 1720s. John Seneca and Thomas Seneca were named on Tuscarora Indian Woods deeds in the 1760s. Here, I feel Leaming might have embellished a bit. This raises questions about the accuracy of the rest of the text.

Leaming also delves into the Civil War era, detailing the exploits of Jack Fairless, whom he calls “Ferelis,” the leader of a group of vigilante “buffaloes” during the crisis in the south. He was described in The Civil War in North Carolina as a “hard-drinking, fast-living Gates County farm boy” who “pillaged, plundered, burned, and decoyed off slaves” in Gates and surrounding areas. He was later shot in altercation with a subordinate.

In his teens he had participated in maroon guerrilla raids upon the plantations, before the beginning of the Civil War between the United and Confederate States. Totally without education, his intellect was of the highest caliber. His name was transcribed Fairless by later writers, a form more acceptable as a modem Anglo-Saxon American name, but in his time it was written Ferelis. He was of the Scratch Hall or kindred heritage.

Actually, John Fairless was born in 1838 and is listed in the 1850 US Federal Census in the household of Joseph Fairless. While he is listed as “white,” his neighbors were the mulatto and Indian Burks and Taylors. He also lived a few households down from Elvy Russell, the nephew of my ancestor Anna Russell. The Chowanoke Robbins and Martin families were also close by. So Fairless was most certainly of Scratch Hall heritage, and likely had the same deep indigenous heritage shared by other families in this area.

While this book is a a great find for anyone interested in local history, one has to ask: who was Hugo Prosper Leaming to begin with? At the end of his life, he was a minister of the All Souls First Universalist Society of Chicago, and was 69 years old when he died in 1993. In addition to authoring Hidden Americans, Leaming also wrote a 1977 essay called The Ben Ishmael Tribe: A Fugitive “Nation” of the Old Northwest that was discredited in 2009 by UCSC Professor Nathaniel Deutsch in the book Inventing America’s Worst Family: Eugenics, Islam and the Fall and Rise of the Tribe of Ishmael.

In it, it recounts Leaming’s own personal transition in the 1960s and 1970s that accompanied his research into Hidden Americans.  Unsurprisingly, he was an early supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, which perhaps encouraged his research, and efforts to construct a post-racial narrative based on a very deep colonial history. “After living half a century as a white man, Hugo Leaming now claimed he possessed Native American and African American ancestry, and was therefore triracial.” Deutsch goes on:

By the time he died in 1993, Hugo Leaming has fully embraced his new identity as a Chickahominy Indian-African American-Anglo Saxon member of the Moorish Science Temple … It was an extraordinary transition for a man who had been raised as a white, middle-class Unitarian in segregation-era Virginia.

So Leaming’s work, while richly sourced, as masterfully woven into a compelling narrative, is still a product of post-Civil Rights era identity revisionism.  This is a fact that is often not mentioned when it is cited in so many books about maroon communities in and around the Great Dismal Swamp today.

At the same time, while Leaming might have been a master of crafting new identity narratives, much of what people have written about mixed-race communities in this area of North Carolina and Virginia has been born out by DNA admixture results, which show a low but statistically significant amount of Amerindian admixture among people from certain communities in the region, along with African and, on occasion, South Asian ancestry, results that are not found in samples sourced from British Isles or other Western European populations. Which is to say that, however Leaming postured in public, whatever identities he adopted, or to whatever extent he took liberties with his accounts, his narratives, when it came to the settlers of the region, were often correct.

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Common Roots

butter beansIF YOU HAVE tested at a major consumer genomics company, and have uploaded your raw data to a site called GEDmatch, you can take advantage of a feature called, “People who match one or both of 2 kits.”

This will provide, after entering into the search function your kit number and another person’s kit number, with a list of other kits that match both of those kits, strongly suggesting some shared ancestry. The number of generations separating the individuals is also listed, but my experience is that once it passes the second or third generation mark, you are probably looking at randomly inherited ancestry from the 18th century.

Recently, a person who is a descendant of individuals identified as Chowan and Nansemond Indians in records, provided me with their kit number. I was able to both run admixture analysis on the kit, as well as run the “People who match one or both of 2 kits” tool, using my grandmother’s kit, as well as this individual’s kit.

To start, I used the Eurogenes K13 calculator to look at admixture. This is one of my favorites, along with Dodecad World9. Also, if you use a tool called Gedrosia K3, it will separate a “East Eurasian” component from “West Eurasia” and “Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Eurogenes K13 shows my grandmother as 1.26 percent Amerindian, 0.38 percent Siberian, and 0.1 percent Oceanian. Gedrosia K3 shows her as 2.7 percent East Eurasian. World9 shows her as 1.8 percent Amerindian.

The individual who has Chowan and Nansemond Indian ancestry is shown to be 2.19 percent Amerindian, 1.68 percent Siberian and 1.37 percent Oceanian by Eurogenes. Gedrosia K3 has this individual as 5.42 percent East Eurasian. World 9 shows the same kit as 2.22 percent Amerindian, 1.23 percent Siberian, and 1 percent Australasian.

Why is this important? First, it shows concordance among the calculators. Secondly, and quite interestingly, it provides what might be a snapshot of the genetic ancestry of Indians in this region. Note that running the archaic sample of a Paleo-Indian man identified from a burial in Montana on the same Eurogenes K13 shows this indigenous person to be 89 percent Amerindian, and just 4 percent Siberian. Yet looking at these two kits, we see the ratio of Amerindian to Siberian to be somewhere along the lines of 2:1.

If you run the sample of a Greenlandic man, also provided among the archaic DNA matches on GEDmatch, he has a far higher Siberian component (51 percent) to his Amerindian component (11 percent). This shows that the indigenous people who populated Virginia and eastern North Carolina might have had substantial shared ancestry with Canadian indigenous peoples. If the ancestors of my grandmother, or the individual of Chowan and Nansemond ancestry, were Iroquoians or Algonquians, this would make some sense, as these people migrated south, out of Canada.

Now to look at their common matches. Some of those listed by GEDmatch include:

  • An individual from Indian Woods, Bertie County, North Carolina, who descends from the Smallwood family (Eurogenes shows this person as 1.2 percent East Asian)
  • An individual from Winton, Hertford County, North Carolina, who descends from the Hall and Weaver families (This person is 1.4 percent Siberian, .7 percent East Asian)
  • An individual who is a descendant of the Indian Sawyer family from Gum Neck in Tyrrell County, North Carolina. (This person is 1.3 percent Amerindian, .4 percent East Asian, .6 percent Oceanian)
  • An individual who descends from the Bonner family (this person is 1.2 percent Amerindian, .6 percent East Asian). Note the Chowan Indians deeded land to a settler named Henry Bonner in the 1730s.
  • An individual in Colorado (this person is 1.3 percent Siberian, 2.2 percent South Asian). To the best of this person’s knowledge, the Indian ancestry comes from an Owens family. There were Owens listed on the Tuscarora Indian Woods deeds. This person actually matches my grandmother on her Native American segments.
  • An individual from Mississippi descended from the Vanns of Gates County, North Carolina (This person shows 1.7 percent Amerindian, .4 percent Oceanian.)

What is most fascinating here, is that we have people with Chowanoke and Nansemond ancestry (Robbins, Bonner, Hall, Collins, Weaver descendants) matching people with Tuscarora ancestry (Smallwood, Owens), matching people from the Machapunga area (Sawyer). The Vanns, meantime, later married into the Cherokee and became a very powerful Cherokee family.

All of this makes the modern squabbling over what surname belonged to what nation look silly. These matches hint at extensive intermarriage between the Tuscarora at Indian Woods, the Chowanoke in Gates County, the Nansemond and Yeopim people from Norfolk County, Virginia and Currituck County, North Carolina, as well as the Machapunga living at Gum Neck.

I do recall looking up other connected Indian lines and finding connections to Nottoway families (Step) and Tuscarora (Owens), as well as to the Lloyd family, which is listed on some Tuscarora documents, though not as Indian. Joseph Lloyd might have been a settler with a Tuscarora wife. A 1777 Bertie County deed from the Indians stipulated that “Joseph Lloyd, Thomas Smith, & Sarah Hicks” could not be disturbed upon the land the Indians were leasing to the settlers.

One Lloyd descendant who matches my grandmother’s kit does not fall into this list of common matches but does cluster with people from Indian Woods and matches my grandmother on her Amerindian segments. Eurogenes K13 shows this person as 4.5 percent Amerindian and 2.2 percent African. Later generations of that family applied to enroll as Cherokee in Georgia but were denied as they were considered to be white.

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