The 1782 List

john collinsFOR THE FIRST TIME, today, I had access to the 1782 tax list for Gates County, North Carolina. I was surprised because I wasn’t aware there was even a list for 1782. Which goes to show you — keep searching. There are more insights to be discovered. Gates County was created from parts of Hertford, Chowan, and Perquimans counties in 1779. The western part of Gates, where my ancestors were living, was part of Hertford from 1759 to 1779. Before that, the eastern bank of the Chowan River was in Chowan County.

A 1779 tax list for Hertford County exists. However, it was apparently collected after the formation of Gates County. Prior to these lists, we enter a dark period. A 1770 tax list for Chowan County exists, but few of the men from this area are on that list. Prior to this, the next landmark records are the tax fee books of William Murfree for 1768 and 1770.

There were two persons of interest for me in the 1782 list: John Collins and George Russell. Neither Thomas Collins nor William Collins, who both begin appearing in the lists in 1785 are in the 1782 list. George Russell had actually witnessed the marriage of John Collins to Sarah Hinton in Chowan County in 1779. I have wondered if Sarah Hinton Collins is the same Sarah Collins named in James Arline’s 1783 bastardy bond. It may have been another. There is no way to tell.

Based on the 1768/1770 list for Hertford, there were two men with the name Russell in this area at this time: Charles Russell and George Russell. In the 1782 list, the only Russell in the list is George Russell. By this time we might presume that the elder Charles Russell listed in the 1740s deeds for the area had died and that the younger Charles Russell had moved to Johnston County. Moreover, there is no definitive link between these two men.

This George Russell is the one whose 25 acres were inherited by James Russell. And this James Russell, of George, is the one who first appears in the Nansemond County tax lists in 1796 with 66 acres. All of these people: George Russell, James Russell, John Collins, etc., were “Scratch Hall Folk,” the quasi-outlaws living in the swamps along the Chowan River. Note: the names Russell and Collins do not appear on any of the 1754 Gates militia lists.

Two other interesting names I encountered in the 1782 list, Claiborne Austin and John Grant, were of the “Scratch Hall breed” as well. Neither name appears on the 1786 state census for Gates County. Richard and Claiborne Austin do appear in the 1790 census. John Grant appears in neither list. It is reminiscent of the characters who appear on George Russell’s Gates County estate record in 1791, such as John Fleming and William Wyatt, who similarly do not appear in the census for 1790, or John Sherrod on some documents from the 1800s, but does not appear in the census at the time either.

John Fleming is in the 1757 tax list for Bertie County. The name is on the early Chowan Indian land conveyances in the 1730s, and was the name of a trader out of New Kent County. (William Wyatt was also the name of a settler on Mattaponi Creek in New Kent). I’ve written previously how a number of the “Scratch Hall” families were, at least in name, connected to early Indian traders out of New Kent County.

These are people who were not always recorded, yet existed. There are few land records surviving that would allow one to trace location or descent. It’s unclear what the source of this population was. The 1733 Moseley map shows Meherrin Indian cabins in this area. These people were reportedly living among the English settlers, while other Meherrin moved west to establish their town on the Potecasi. It’s hard to imagine that many people living in this area, as it is low-lying, overgrown, dense, and swampy.

There are other anecdotes about Tuscarora moving into this area. And then of course, there is the question of who was a Meherrin, Nansemond, or Tuscarora, or if these people were even Indian. History has recorded them (mostly) as white, with a few listed as mulattoes. The Wyatts in Gates were “white.” Across the river in Hertford, they were “mulatto.” The names lead researchers everywhere. To Norfolk. To Bertie. To New Kent. They do not appear at first glance to be linked to the Chowanoke at Bennetts Creek. Maybe they were.

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Chowan Men Make Their Appearance


A detail from the 1792 Gates County tax list showing James and Elisha Robbins.

IN 1790, THE CHOWANOKE in Gates County authorized the sale of their remaining reservation land. This date was also significant because prior to 1790, the following men do not appear in the recorded tax lists, which begin in 1784. After, these names emerge:


In Jonathan Roberts’ Captaincy: Joseph Bennett, Jesse Martin, Elisha Robbins, James Robbins, Benjamin Reid


In John Bethey’s Captaincy: James Boon, Hardy Robbins

In Jonathan Roberts’ Captaincy: Joseph Bennett, Jesse Martin, James Robbins, Elisha Robbins


In Jonathan Roberts’ Captaincy: Joseph Bennett, Jesse Martin, Samuel Robbins


In Jonathan Roberts’ Captaincy: Elisha Robbins, Samuel Robbins, James Robbins, Benjamin Reid


In Jonathan Roberts’ Captaincy: Jesse Martin, James Robbins


In James Walton’s Captaincy: James Robbins, Isaac Sawyer


In James Walton’s Captaincy: Jesse Martin, James Robbins, Isaac Sawyer


In James Walton’s Captaincy: James Robins, Jesse Martin, Isaac Sawyer, Thomas Boon

I do not have the tax lists from 1798 to 1815 at hand, though it would be interesting to work through them. However, the 1815 tax list is available online. In Thomas Freeman’s Captaincy in 1815, we find: James Robins, John Robins, Blake Robins, Sarah Reid, and James Reid.


It was previously known that by the 1750s, only two families remained on the reservation at Bennetts Creek: the Robbinses and Bennetts. The Martins and Reids can be shown to have intermarried with the Robbins (see marriages of Sealy Robbins to James Reid in 1808, marriage of Nancy Robbins to Jethro Martin in 1806).  Two other known Indian families that appear in these lists are the Boons and Sawyers.

Kianga Lucas at Native American Roots has traced the Boon family back to the Tuscarora Indian Woods Reservation in Bertie County.

The Sawyers are included in the 1907 Nansemond Indian census. They can be traced back to Yeopim Indian Town.

2 Oct. 1764 – Mary LURRY, widow of the county of Currituck, to Thos. SAWER.  50 acres situated near Indian Town adjoining Wm. LURRY’s line, Horse bridge branch & North River swamp.  For the sum of 40 Pounds Proclamation money.  Wit: Francis WILLIAMSON, Lemuel SANDERSON, Peter POYNER.

While this reveals more or less who had been living on the remaining land at Bennetts Creek, there may have been other Chowanoke living in Gates County at this time. In the land conveyances in the 1730s, Charles Beasley is named as a Chowan Indian head man.  There was a Beasley family living northwest of Bennetts Creek near Eure in Gates County. In 1812, Henry Saunders, a local landowner, listed William Beasley, Polly Beasley, Abigail Beasley, and Nancy Beasley as his heirs in his will, which was dated 31 May 1804.

Saunders children did not bear his surname. Moreover, in an 1813 record, Abigail Beasley is listed with husband Stoll Beasley, which means she either married her cousin, or he took her name as well. This land was located near Deep Cypress Swamp, just outside of Eure, which is where my ancestor Thomas Collins witnessed the deed of land to Sarah Butler in 1803. Sarah Butler witnessed the will of Sarah Saunders in 1804.

The Beasleys are not well documented, not appearing in the tax lists of the 18th century, and only periodically making appearances in censuses. A Thomas Beasley is listed in the 1800 census in Gates County as the head of a household of one white male aged 26 through 44. Note that James Beasley left an estate record in 1815 and never appeared in the census. My relatives James Collins and James Russell appear on that record. (Also note that the same James Collins (1772-1826) never appeared in any census either).

In 1830, William Beasley is listed as the head of a household of five white persons and two slaves. In 1850, William Beasley is described as 55 years old, meaning that he was born in 1795. He was an illiterate farmer with 400 acres of real estate. He was apparently deceased by 1860. His property was inherited by his son, Augustus Beasley, born 1830, who in 1860 was listed beside mulatto neighbors James Butler and Wilkerson Boon.

It’s possible that the Beasleys, through intermarriage with the Saunders family, were assimilated into the European community.

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William Weaver’s Word List

nanseIN 1901, James Mooney, an anthropologist, collected half a dozen words from William W. Weaver, a Nansemond Indian living in Norfolk County. William Wesley Weaver, born in 1818, is described as an Indian in the 1860 US Federal Census, and supplied the words to Mooney. He was described in Mooney’s 1907 article in American Anthropologist as “so feeble, mentally and physically that he could not be questioned to any satisfaction.” Weaver died in 1902.

The list is interesting in that it confirms that the language spoken among Nansemond descendants in the Norfolk area belonged to the Algonquian family of languages. The word for one, nikatwin, matches the Smith and Strachey vocabularies collected in the 17th century. It also resembled the Unami Lenape word nkwëti. There is also concordance for the word four, toisiaw, with the Smith and Strachey lists, if we take siaw and yowgh/yeough to be similar.

The use of yaw for four differentiates the southern Algonquian languages from other languages, such as Lenape and Mahican, which use variations of newa. (In Cree, it’s newo). However, in Western Abenaki, Narragansett, Wampanoag, etc., it’s yaw.  This is an interesting coincidence given the geographic distance between the Nansemond and the Abenaki.

The word for dog is recorded as marimo. At first glance, this resembles none of the other Algonquian languages. If one removes the ‘m’ though, it does sound like the word recorded for dog by Smith and Strachey, attemous, and even closer to the Abenaki, alemos. These differ significantly from the Lenape words for dog, alum or alem.

In conclusion, some meaning can be extracted from this word list, though it’s based on very uncertain foundations and coincidences. The Nansemond were Algonquian speakers though, and their language was similar to the Algonquian spoken elsewhere in Virginia and perhaps related to the Abenaki and Wampanoag dialects in the north.


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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. The list itself might provide a snapshot of Nansemond/Yeopim families in the vicinity of Portsmouth in the 1730s.

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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