‘Where It Divides in Two’

currituckCOLONIAL RECORDS are packed with references to different Native American groups, often named according to their place of residence. Modern-day narratives take these fragments and construct trajectories for people based on land deeds, surnames, and tenuous links afforded in old records. This is much of the science behind previous work on some indigenous people living on the Currituck Banks referred to as the Poteskeet.

I have seen a few articles and papers that specifically address the Poteskeet people. One, authored by Jay Hansford C. Vest attempts to link the coastal indigenous people of the Currituck Banks to the Siouan Monacan people of the Virginia Piedmont via some consolidation of stray Nansemond, a band sometimes call “Pochayick” or “Pochick” at Fort Christanna. Another, by Penny Ferguson, links the “Poteskeet” and “Pochayick” to the “Portugee” of the Melungeon settlements in Tennessee.

A third, by Whitney Petrey, shows using records that the Poteskeet of the Currituck Banks and the Yeopim people of Camden County were the same, as people calling themselves Yeopim sold land to William Reed in Currituck, and these same people involved in that sale were described as Poteskeet in other records.

I would suggest Petrey is right, in that the Pochick/Poteskeet were actually a band of Yeopim that originated in the Currituck Banks area, the same way the Wampanoag of Massachusetts included bands at Nantucket, Aquinnah, Mashpee, or Nauset. These bands are now known as the Nauset Wampanoag, the Aquinnah Wampanoag, and so forth.

Similarly, there were likely Poteskeet Yeopim, Paspatank Yeopim, etc. They were all one people, Wabanaki/Wampanoag/Weapemeoc — “People of the Dawn Land” — with different bands named after locations.

Given the similarities between the New England Algonquians and the Carolina Algonquians, it makes sense that they might have had a similar affiliation. The meaning of the names “Poteskeet” and “Pochayick,” shortened to “Pochick,” might be linked to the Natick Algonquian word pohshaog, “where they divide in two.”

There is a reef off Nantucket called Pochick because of this, as well as a bluff in Siasconset on the same island, and an avenue in Nantucket. As such, the “Pochick” and “Poteskeet” were probably just more Wabanaki, coastal Algonquian peoples, from the place “where the land divides in two,” the Currituck Banks.


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Cate Collins, an Indian woman

Cate Collins

THE NAME COLLINS is not listed on any of the deeds associated with the Mattamuskeet Indian Reservation in Hyde County, North Carolina, such as Squires, Barber, Mackey, and Longtom. However, in March 1765, a woman named Cate Collins made an appearance in the Hyde County court minutes.

On motion Patrick Gordan ordered that William Gibbs be summoned to next court to shew cause if any he has why Cate Collings an Indian woman now in his service should not be set free.

In June 1765, there was another mention of this Indian woman.

Ordered that William Gibbs have timely notis [sic] that he shew cause why Cate Collins an Indian woman be not set at liberty.

I was curious as to where William Gibbs was living at the time he had Cate Collins as his servant. Apparently, they were living at Indian Ridge in Mattamuskeet, in the vicinity of the Indian settlement there. Patrick Garrow, in The Mattamuskeet Documents (1975), also noted that the Collins name was absent from the reservation deeds and speculated that the family might have originated on the Outer Banks before moving to Mattamuskeet, suggesting an origin at Hatteras or Roanoke Island. This family remained at Mattamuskeet, and many people of Indian ancestry probably descend from Cate Collins.

However, this was not the only instance of people with this surname being referred to as Indian in records. The Norfolk County Register of Free Negroes and Mulattoes contains the following references:

Douglass Collins, 23 yrs, 5 ft 11-3/4, Indian complexion, Indian descent, 16 Sept. 1850

Douglas Collins’ full name was Presley Douglas Collins. He descended from Kinner Shoecraft Collins, who left a will in Princess Anne County, Virginia, in 1823. Later, as I have shown, he moved to Pennsylvania, where he was counted as Indian in 1860, and white in 1870. Kinner Shoecraft Collins named six children in his will. These were Presley, perhaps the father of Presley Douglas Collins, William Collins, Cary Collins, Patsy Newton, Lucy Turner, and Sarah Collins.

Kinner Collins’ land, I should note, was located along Indian Creek Road in Saint Brides Parish in Norfolk, which also runs into the southern limits of Princess Anne County.

William Collins was probably the father of the William Collins who was listed in the Norfolk County Register of Free Negroes and Mulattoes as a “light mulatto” in 1831. This is the same William Collins who married Jane Bissell and moved to Hertford County, North Carolina. Jane was also from a family that was recorded as Indian. The same Norfolk registry in 1851 listed the following:

Nathan Bissell, 23 yrs, 5 ft 4, Indian complexion, Indian descent, 22 April 1851

Their son John Bembry Collins also listed himself and his family as Indian in 1900:

The family of Cary Collins also retained an Indian identity. Descendants of Cary Collins were included in the 1907 Smithsonian “census” of the Nansemond Indians.

This is interesting as when the BIA reviewed the Meherrin’s application, they stated that there was no evidence to support John Bembry Collins’ claim of Indian descent in 1900. This is clearly not the case. There is ample evidence to support it.

However, the Collins family did not originate at Meherrin Indian Town on the Potecasi in Hertford County, nor at Chowan Indian Town in Gates County. Moreover, it is not listed in early documents with the Bass family, the so-called “Christianized Nansemond” who recently received federal recognition.

Rather, Garrow might have been correct in assuming the family originated on the islands.  These two deeds in Currituck show a man named Thomas Collins appointing Nicholas Lund as his representative to sell land on the Outer Banks, specifically at the “North Banks,” roughly the location of Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

[Deed Book 3, pg. 5] Thos. COLLINS to Nickles LUND. Jan. 22, 1738/9. Thos. COLLINS of the precinct of Pasquotank power of attorney to Nicklas LUND to appear at next court in Currituck and “acknowledge in my Name one certain parcell of Land called Rowly park lying on the North Banks”. /s/ Thos. (x) COLLINS. Wit: Robert (x) PAUL. Proved April 3, 1739. Registered Sept. 25, 1739.

[Deed Book 3, pgs. 5-6] Thos. COLLINS to Joseph MIDYETT. Jan. 19, 1738. Thos. COLLINS of the precinct of Pasquotank…planter…£50. Land…on the North Sand Banks…Beginning at the Southern line or creek & N.E. to John ARESES line…150 acres. /s/ Thos. (x) COLLINS. Wit: Nichlas LUND, Robert (x) PAUL. Acknowledged April 3, 1739. Registered June 28, 1739.

The land he deeded was known as “Rowsepock,” the Indian name for Kill Devil Hills. Thomas Collins meantime had become a “planter” in Pasquotank County, which then also included modern-day Camden County. He also signed with a mark. It is unclear how this Thomas Collins obtained land on the North Sand Banks. While he is not referred to as an Indian, he shares the surname of people later identified as Indian in the same area.  It is also important to note that those same people were often not described as any race. They were likely of mixed European ancestry as well, as both Kinner Collins and his grandson Douglas Collins were recorded at times as white. Moreover, I can find no deed in Princess Anne County or Currituck County that mentioned the granting of this land.

Where did he get the land from?

There was a Collins family that later lived at Indian Ridge in Currituck County, in the vicinity of Yeopim-associated families like the Ferebees, Gregorys, and others.

A woman named Euphan Collins paid 5 pounds for a parcel of land on the border owned by William Reed and his wife Lucy of Princess Anne County in 1782.

Nov. 10, 1782 – William REED & his wife Loosey (Lucy) of Princess Anne County Virginia for and in consideration of the sum of 5 Pounds paid to us by Euphan COLLINS for a percel of land adjoining the province line of North Carolina various courses to the first beginning. Witness: William MULDER, Willoughby READ, Malachi READ; Registered May 21, 1783

Euphan Collins apparently married Butler Turner, who was listed in the 1787 Princess Anne Personal Property List, along with the Weavers and Shoecrafts, as well as Kinner Collins and his son Cary Collins.

Nov. 29, 1788 – I Butler TURNER & Euphan my Wife of Princess Anne County Virginia for the sum of £5 paid to us by William REED for a tract of land adjoining the province line of North Carolina various courses to the first beginning.  Witness Ked. MULDER, Malachi READ, Archalous MORSE; Registered Aug. 13, 1789

The Turners are listed as “other free” in the early Currituck County censuses. This is another surname that is found spread among the Algonquian-descended people of the coasts. The name is found on the 1786 sale of Nansemond Indian Reservation in Southampton County, Virginia, as well as at the Nottoway Indian Reservation.

In the aforementioned Norfolk register, one finds the following record:

Mary Turner, 42 yrs, 5 & 1/2, a bright Indian complexion, Indian descent, 15 Sept. 1851

So apparently the Collinses and Turners living on both sides of the border in Princess Anne and Currituck were of Indian descent. This provides some evidence that the Collins family found across the region had its origin in the coastal borderlands between Virginia and North Carolina, which was originally populated by the Nansemond and Yeopim.

I also descend from this family. My ancestor Thomas Collins is named on this will in Norfolk County from 1803, along with Stephen Price, another Nansemond/Yeopim man. The same year, he witnessed the transfer of 10 acres to Sarah Butler in Gates County.

ellis will

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Thomas Bennett, an old Indian man

YawpimTHE NAME BENNETT appears on multiple documents related to Native Americans in northeastern North Carolina. These include the following:

  • James Bennett, on the Chowan Indian land conveyances in 1733-1734
  • George and Josiah Bennett, described as Indian boys in Gates County apprenticeships in 1781
  • George and Joseph Bennett, described as “chief men and representatives of the Chowan Indians” in the 1790 sale of reservation land in Gates County in 1790
  • Billy Bennett, described as a Tuscarora chief in a 1766 letter to William Tryon

To this list can be added “Thomas Bennett, an old Indian man,” described in the following 1810 deed in Currituck County.

May 31, 1810 – I Caleb ETHERIDGE Sheriff by Writ of Fieri Facias issued out of the Court of Pleas & Quarter Session commanding me out of the goods, chattles & lands of Pleasant YOUNGHUSBAND to cause the sum of £120 with interest which was recovered by Lessdid YOUNGHUSBAND againgst him for damages also the sum of £5, 18 Shillings & 4 Pence for cost. In obedience of Writ I took into possession a tract of land which Pleasant YOUNGHUSBAND claimed on Powels Point. Beginning at Thomas WHITE land adjoining Charles GRIGGS land various courses to the land formerly belonged to Thomas BENNETT an old Indian man to the first, being the land that Thomas YOUNGHUSBAND bought of Jonathan CASE containing 50 acres. After legal notice land was exposed for sale when John WILLIAMS SEN. appeared & bid the sum of 8 Shillings per acre & was highest bid. By virtue of Writ & the sum of £22 in hand paid by John WILLIAMS SEN. I Caleb ETHERIDGE Sheriff doth convey & grant unto him the said property.  Witness: T. BAXTER, Thos. WILLIAMS; Registered Aug. 20, 1810

I decided to highlight Jonathan Case’s name in addition to Thomas Bennett’s, because in the 1790 US Federal Census of Currituck County, Thomas Bennett and Joseph Case are listed side by side.


Thomas Bennett’s name is mentioned in other deeds, yet this is the only one that specifically identifies him as Indian. He was living at Powells Point, an area that was inhabited by the “Poteskite Indians” on the 1733 Moseley Map. Families mentioned in the other deeds, such as Griggs, Ferebee, Gregory, Case, and Bright, were all found around the old Yawpim Indian Town, also depicted on the 1733 map. So here we have one family, the Bennetts, that are described as Tuscarora and Chowan in records, and are found at sites occupied by the  Yawpim and Potoskite Indians.

Interestingly, Thomas Bennett and Joseph Case are listed as white in the 1790 census, but Rachel Bennett, who is listed with Joseph Case in this 1805 Currituck deed is categorized as “other free” in the 1800 census of Currituck, as is Joseph Case.

Just another friendly reminder that those racial categories are often meaningless.

[Deed Book 9; pg. 63-64] Mar. 4, 1805 – Benjamin TAYLOR, SEN. to Charles GRIGGS, both of Currituck, for 1800 silver dollars, land in Currktuck County beginning on the North River Swamp and bounded by where Silbey BARCO now lives, Hadley WOODHOUSE, Rachel BENNETT , Joseph CASE, YOUNGHUSBAND. “To land Formerly owned by Sarah SMITH”. Bounded also by Thos. WHITEs land.  Witness Thomas POYNER; Registered July 2, 1805.


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A quick one

I’LL MAKE THIS BRIEF. One of the most frequent questions that people, particularly of mostly European descent, have about their admixture results is where their purported Native American ancestry disappeared to. Some actually have documented ancestors, some are enrolled members of tribes. I’ve seen the results of people from Virginia tribes that show almost 100 percent European ancestry. Where did it go?

This came to the fore recently because I received back my grandmother’s Family Tree DNA results. According to FTDNA, the little old lady from Virginia, most of whose ancestors were from the British Isles and Germany, was 40 percent Eastern European. I’ll add here that I was not surprised, because when I ran Oracle on her result on GEDmatch I would get back results like Ukrainian, Belorussian, etc. At the same time, the calculators on GEDmatch were reporting back a result of about 2 percent Amerindian ancestry, across the board, from MDLP (1.7 percent Amerindian), to Eurogenes (1.3 percent Amerindian, 0.4 percent Siberian), to Dodecad (1.8 percent Amerindian) to PuntDNAL (1.5 percent Americas, 1 percent Siberia).

PuntDNAL also provides the following results when you run Oracle.

1 French + French_Basque + German_South + Mordovian @ 2.010765
2 French_Basque + Mordovian + Norwegian + Spaniard @ 2.109148
3 Belarusian + French_Basque + German_South + German_South @ 2.119651
4 French_Basque + Orcadian + Slovak + Utahn_European @ 2.139321
5 French_Basque + Scottish + Slovak + Utahn_European @ 2.143707

Why is she getting these results? The answer lies in the spreadsheets. Most populations are charted out across a number of components that, essentially, locate a population relative to others geographically. A North German, for instance, is 53 percent Northeastern European on the PuntDNAL spreadsheet, while a South German is only 46 percent. A Finnish person is 71 percent, while an Estonian, directly south of Finland, is 67 percent.

Meantime, an English person typically charts 0.5 percent Americas and 0 percent Siberian in PuntDNAL. An Irish person has the same result, as do Germans. Western Europeans typically do not carry more than half a percentage point of Americas or Siberian ancestry. However, Finnish people carry 7.5 percent Siberian ancestry. Ukrainians have 1 percent Siberian ancestry and Belorussians have 1.5 percent. Mordovians, a people living southeast of Moscow, have 1 percent Americas and 7 percent Siberian. The farther east you go, the higher your Amerindian and Siberian result rises. So if you are a person of mainly Northern European descent, if you have 2 percent or so Native American ancestry, from persons who lived in the late 18th or early 19th century, then you look, for all purposes, the same genetically as someone from Kiev or Kazan.

Something else to factor in is that the indigenous people of North America likely had more Siberian ancestry than their counterparts to the south who, interestingly, have provided the bulk of indigenous reference populations that our samples are run against.

GEDmatch’s MDLP K23b, gives my grandmother a result of 1.2 percent Amerindian and 2.3 percent South Central Asian. Its Oracle tool approximates her ancestry as 50 percent Belarusian East and 50 percent Spanish Cantabria.

It also has Cree and Algonquian reference populations both of which are just half Amerindian and 15 percent “Arctic” or Siberian. The farther north you go, the more the “Arctic” element increases. Athabaskans are 34 percent Arctic. Mayans are 92 percent Amerindian and 0.7 percent Arctic. Considering many people of mainly European and African descent are descended from tribes that expanded south out of Canada, such as Algonquian speakers along the coast, it’s not difficult to see that their indigenous ancestors likely had a significant amount of Siberian ancestry, perhaps slightly less than the Cree and Algonquian reference populations.

So in short, if you are getting some inexplicable results back that say Finnish/Northwest Russian, East Asian, Asia Central, Eastern European, and you have no ancestry from these areas, its worth plotting out your results in GEDmatch to get a more granular look at those values. Of course, having genetic ancestry does not make you culturally indigenous. However for many people whose ancestry had been purposefully denied for generations due to a climate of hostile racism against anyone not of European descent, it can bring some feelings of validation and clarity when it comes to family stories.



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Gale Letter

As to what y’u desire to know off ye Ind’s, some are Civil & some
barbarous, they using ye Seabord. They live in small Townes and barke
Cabbins, pallisado’d in w’th 2 or 3 Rows of Stakes; every Towne or nation
hes its perticular King & different language; they have some notion of ye
Flood, butt verry obscure. They offer ye First Fruits of every thing they eat
to ye Devil, by whome they cure deseases & act severall strainge things,
as laying ye wind, &c. Ye nations I am as yett acquainted with are, the
Portes Leites, Nazimumbs, Choans, Maherins, Pampticoughs, Bay Rivers,
Marchipooongs, News Rivers, Cores, Corennines, Connamocksocks, w’th
all w’ch (ye Cores & Corennines excepted) & ye Tuscaroorays, have verry
Free commerce w’th. To write every perticular custome, &c., requires
Volums, so must refer itt till furth’r opportunity (DocSouth, Letter from William Gale to his father, August 05, 1703).

It’s an interesting letter. There are no Yeopim mentioned here, but the “Portes Leites” (Poteskeet) are. Lawson similarly described just 6 Yeopim people. The Poteskeets, he said, had 30 fighting men, which could mean a population of 150 people. This is a pretty large number. Where did they go? Did they really just vanish from existence between the 1739-40 land deeds and the 1790 census? Moreover, the ‘Nazimumbs’ (Nansemond) are in North Carolina, along with the ‘Choans’ (Chowans), and ‘Maherins’ (Meherrins). It seems that ‘every town or nation’ has its own language, king, and name. It’s interesting that the Cores, Corennines, and Connamocksocks are listed as three distinct peoples. Some had conflated all three groups as being one people, or off-shoot Tuscarora towns.

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Norfolk Folk

A LITTLE genealogical breakthrough, and many thanks to James Nickens for advising me to look in Norfolk for my ancestors.

To recount, the source of my indigenous ancestry is through the Collins family of Gates County, North Carolina. I descend, through my grandmother Margaret Pittman, from a man named Thomas Collins, who lived between 1769 and 1849. The birthplace of Thomas Collins was always obscure, because this family did not appear in local records prior to 1783.

That 1783 document is the militia list of Willis Parker in Nansemond County. This covers families living along the border with North Carolina. Some of the families here intermarried with the Collins and Russell families or lived alongside them. These include the Elmore, Kearney (Carney), Goomer, and Reid families.

One can find Elmore, Carney, Goomer, and Reid in Norfolk County prior to the American Revolution. And one can find the name Thomas Collins as well. There is a Thomas Collins, Sr., and Jr., as well as a Lemuel Collins listed in the records between 1751 and 1772. That was the last year that these men were listed, before the appeared in the Nansemond lists in 1783, and later moved into Gates County, appearing on lists in the 1780s and 1790s, before they apparently acquired their land near Collins Road in the early 1800s.

What’s fascinating is that “Thomas Collins” appears in the same list as the Bass family. And in some cases near the Halls, Shoecrafts, and other mixed families, as seen above. This has led me to revisit some of the narratives I had created about the source of the “Scratch Hall Folk.” Because it looks like these families were actually living in Norfolk prior to arriving to Scratch Hall. In that sense, they are Norfolk Folk. This also opens up a new corridor of about 20 years of records to study related to this family. I have not yet seen the first 20 years of Norfolk tithables, from the 1730s to the 1750s, to determine how long this family was in Norfolk.

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People of the First Light


A page from the Eliot Indian Bible, written in Natick language in 1663. Some linguists estimate that Natick and Powhatan were about 72 percent mutually intelligible.  

I AM NO EXPERT on Algonquian peoples or languages, but when it comes to Carolina Algonquians, there are a few basic ideas that are important to understand, and which help to explain later migrations between Indian communities.

The first is that Algonquian peoples migrated southward, out of Canada, along the coast. According to the archaeological record, the southernmost extent of Algonquian settlement was around the White Oak River in North Carolina. By the time of John Lawson’s journey in 1709, it had retreated somewhat to an island in the Pamlico River. “Indian Island” still exists.

Lawson also recorded a vocabulary for these “Pampticough” Indians that is similar to the vocabularies recorded for Virginia Algonquians. Some linguists have determined that the Algonquians who lived below the Indian River in Delaware spoke a variety of Algonquian that was more similar to the languages spoken in New England and Canada than it was to Lenape, immediately adjacent to the north. The Lenape represented a later influx of Algonquians from the west, which displaced this original group extending down the coast. However, the coastal people, from Canada to North Carolina, retained the same name for themselves — Wabanaki, Wôpanâak, Weapemeoc — “People of the First Light,” or “People of the Dawn Land.”

As such, the peoples extending south from Canada, through New England and Eastern Long Island, and then continued from northern Virginia and southern Delaware along the coast to the southern extent of modern-day North Carolina, were one group of people with a common name. Different nations, largely based and named by Europeans according to geography, at times comprised confederacies. It is worth mentioning here that the Chowanoke, or “Chawanook,” as they were rendered by the first European map makers, may have been a satellite of the semi-migratory Shawnee people.

In the early 17th century, Shawnee were found not only in the Ohio Valley, but just west of the Delaware River, and as far south as the Savannah River. It seems entirely plausible that the Indians who were living on the Chowan River were another group of migratory Shawnee. The names recorded for the “Chawanook” and “Suwanees” are almost identical. At the same time, it could just be another case of a common Algonquian word for “South” (Chuwon) being applied to disparate groups of people.

Another interesting detail is that according to the Weapemeoc, they gave the Chowanoke the land upon which they settled. The two groups were related. The Durant surname is listed on several of the early Yeopim deeds, while the Robbins name appears of the Chowan Indian deeds. In 1736, an Indian named “Thomas Durin” sued his fellow tribe member “John Robins” for a debt. The names John and Thomas Hoyter are recorded as Chowan Indian leaders in the 18th century. By the end of the century, though, they are found among the Yeopim in Camden and Currituck counties.

The Algonquians relied on a mix of fishing, hunting, gathering, and agriculture to survive, and the extent of their settlement was largely related to the coastal environment they inhabited. They too were semi-migratory and lived in seasonal villages. I am currently looking into the idea that the “Poteskeit” Indians recorded by Lawson as living in Currituck might have been a seasonal village of the “Pochayick” or “Pochick” band of traditional Nansemond, whom he does not name as being in North Carolina at this time. The relationship between these sites may explain why the same families are found in Norfolk and Currituck as are found near the old Nansemond and Meherrin towns in Hertford County. “Poteskeit” could have been one of their seasonal village sites.

The sounds and rivers of the Inner Banks represented a network that connected Algonquian settlements, rather than a barrier that separated different peoples. This is helpful to know when one is considering how Algonquians from the Eastern Shore migrated to the Norfolk-Currituck area. If one considers them to have been a single people, connected by water, then their migration up and down the coast makes sense.

Sometime after the failed Roanoke Colony left behind devastation among the Coastal Algonquians, the Tuscarora gained political control of the region. Hugo Leaming in Hidden Americans (1979) for instance refers to the Yeopim as a nation of the Tuscarora Confederacy. That does not mean that the Tuscarora completely replaced the populations of the towns, but rather the coastal peoples deferred to the will of their stronger neighbor in most political matters. It was not unusual for weaker, coastal Algonquian nations to ally with their stronger Iroquoian neighbors. This may explain why some families from the Norfolk-Currituck area later joined the Tuscarora at Indian Woods.

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