Chowan Men Named in Court Cases

Chowan court

A 1733 promissory note from John Robins Indian to Thomas Durin Indian

I CAME ACROSS this 2006 paper from the The North Carolina Historical Review last night. It was written by Michelle LeMaster, an associate professor of history at Lehigh University. It contains references to multiple court cases involving Indians in the Chowan Precinct, and expands the list of known Chowan Indians in the records.

Before I proceed, a brief recap of Indians from the Chowan Precinct listed in records:

  • John Hiter (also spelled Highter, Hitaw, Hoyter, Hoyle, etc.) — He petitioned the colonial government for a survey of the Bennetts Creek Reservation in 1714
  • Thomas Hiter — Deeded Indian land in the 1730s.
  • Jeremiah Poshon (also spelled Jerome Pushing, Pushin) — Took part in the deeds in the 1730s. Also deeded land in Surry County in 1745 as one of the Nansemond Indians
  • Thomas Poshon — Also deeded land in the 1730s.
  • John Redding (also spelled Reding) — deeded land in the 1730s. There were actually two John Reddings listed in documents.
  • Charles Cosby (also spelled Cosboy) — also deeded land in the 1730s.
  • Nuce Will (thought by some to be Neuse Will) — deeded land in the 1730s.
  • Hull Will — on the 1730s land deeds.
  • Charles Beasley (also spelled Bearley, Beasel, Beardsley) — appeared on the 1730s deeds.
  • James Bennett — on the 1730s deeds
  • James Bennett, Jr. — called a “Bennetts Creek Indian” in a 1763 deed
  • Amos Bennett — called a “Bennetts Creek Indian” in a 1763 deed
  • Joseph Bennett — described as a chief man of the Chowan Indian Nation in 1790
  • George Bennett — called an Indian boy in a 1781 apprenticeship
  • John Robbins (also spelled Robin, Robins) — listed on the 1730s deeds.
  • Benjamin Robbins — who together with Joseph Bennett and James Robbins sold the last 400 acres of the reservation in 1790
  • James Robbins — described as a Chowan Indian head man on multiple records. Other Robbins family members were described as Indians on deeds into the 1820s.

This is quite a list of names. It includes Hiter, Poshon, Redding, Cosby, Will, Beasley, Robbins, and Bennett as families with Chowan Indian background.

In LeMaster’s paper, a few other Chowan Indians are named. These include:

  • John King — an Indian named in a 1695 court case.
  • Willowby — an Indian named in a 1720 court case involving James Hiter
  • Jonathan White — a “Chowanoc” Indian charged in 1719 with selling liquor without a license
  • Robert Abrams — called an Indian in a 1738 suit involving John Stafford (note: was this the same John Stafford who was living with William Collins at Western Branch in 1732?)
  • Thomas Durin — an Indian who brought suit against John Robbins in 1736. Note that Thomas Durant was also the name of one of the Yeopim Indians. The promissory note upon which the case was based, dated February 1733, was witnessed by John Martin, James Buros (Burroughs?), and Charles Beasley.


SOME OBSERVATIONS. First, we know from census records that the Hiters, Bennetts, and Robbins had moved to Currituck County in the mid-18th century and were living, in some cases, in the area of the Poteskeet town described on the 1733 Moseley Map.

Here we see the case of Chowan men, like Jeremiah Poshon, also acting on behalf of the Nansemond Indians, or Yeopim men, like Thomas Durin, suing John Robbins in court. Billy Bennett was named on a 1766 Tuscarora deed, and as has been noted, in 1733, many of the Chowan Indians moved to Bertie County. It’s possible that some of these families, the Willoughbys, Kings, or Cosbys, relocated there as well. What it also reveals is the rather fluid relationships between the Tuscarora, Nansemond, Chowanoke, and Yeopim Indians. People moved rather easily between these various Indian communities.

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Admixture Insights


Bari, visible on the Italian peninsula, across from Albania, Macedonia, and Greece

DNA TESTING COMPANIES are doing brisk business ahead of the holidays, and no one can doubt that by late January or February, the databases of firms like 23andMe and AncestryDNA will swell with new cousin matches.

I’ve had my DNA run at various companies including AncestryDNA, 23andMe, National Geographic’s Genographic Project, and Insitome, while uploading the data to Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, DNA.Land, and, of course, GEDmatch, to make use of their free tools. One has to ask, with all of that experience, can I communicate anything to newcomers?

The first thing I would advise is, know the history of the places your ancestors lived.

My mother’s father, Francis Abbatecola, was born in New York, but both of his parents were born in villages outside of Bari, Italy. Bari is a port city, and history tells us that it absorbed waves of Greek and Balkan settlers, as well as refugees from points farther east, in addition to Norman adventurers at a later date. Even today in Adelfia, the village where our relatives still live, one hears both French and Greek words in the local dialect.

When AncestryDNA revised my mother’s admixture results, her father’s side was rendered as 34 percent Italian and 18 percent French. MyHeritage, however, said she was just 9 percent Italian and 39 percent Greek. Other services tease a small amount of Scandinavian heritage out of her results, which makes sense, if she has a significant amount of Norman ancestry. This is part of her French ancestry. The fact is, the average “Italian” from Bari is likely to have Italian, French, Greek, Balkan, and other origins.

These admixture results are therefore not fixed in stone. My mother isn’t actually 34 percent Italian, or 9 percent.  Her grandparents, however, were most definitely born outside of Bari. These results reflect and support the diversity of their deep ancestry. If she had roots in another part of Italy, she might have a different combination of ethnicities. An Italian from Bolzano, in the north, might show more Austrian heritage. An Italian from Calabria, like my father’s father, might have Iberian from the era of domination under the Aragonese. So these results tell you quite a bit about the deep past.

Something else I would advise for newcomers is to pay attention to your minor results. They might be telling you something.

Many advise just the opposite. They say these tiny amounts of Central Asian or Finnish are just “statistical noise.” That could be true, if you only see it once. But if you see it repeatedly, across many analytical tools, it’s likely it’s real. 23andMe, for instance, shows that not only do I carry a small amount of West African heritage, but so does my mother, and so do two of my daughters (I haven’t tested the third yet). Scientific studies confirm the presence of a small amount of West African ancestry across Southern Italian populations. We have every reason to believe that we do have West African heritage.

Likewise, I have seen South Asian turn up in some results. The earlier version of AncestryDNA had both me and my mother as 2 percent South Asian. Some say this is from having Romani heritage. DNA.Land informed me that I was 2.2 percent “Gujarati.” We already knew Southern Italy was a genetically diverse place. It’s most likely real.

But this leads me to my third and final point. If you are an admixed person — someone with ancestors from a variety of places — you can and will look, genetically, like a completely different person. 

Consider my Genographic results. I was 46 percent Mediterranean, 31 percent Northern European, and 21 percent Southwest Asian by their reckoning. My matching population, though, was Bulgarian. When I ran matching population algorithms at GEDmatch, I inevitably would get something similar. I was Bulgarian, Albanian, Macedonian, Serbian. On occasion, I would get Tuscany.

What was going on here?

First, I had more Northern European than your average Southern Italian due to my Irish and British ancestry. This raised the location of my signal from the south of Italy to somewhere just north of there. My deep Balkan ancestry, meantime, pushed me east. This is how someone of mostly Italian and British Isles ancestry becomes Bulgarian. There was no secret in the sauce here. My ancestors were not actually Bulgarians. Genetically, however, I looked like a Bulgarian.

The same is true for my daughters. Of mostly Italian and Estonian ancestry, the GEDmatch calculators have determined that they are in all likelihood Croatian.

It’s also why my paternal grandmother came to look “Eastern European” thanks to her Siberian and Amerindian ancestry. Not one of the major vendors were able to distinguish this signal. However, most of them did give her an Eastern European result that was unbelievable, according to her family history. She did have a grandfather from eastern Germany, but that still could, in no way, account for her 40 percent Eastern European result at Family Tree DNA. 23andMe told me she was about 2 percent Finnish and Estonian. DNA.Land told me she was 6.7 percent “North Slavic.” When I ran my father at DNA.Land, it said he was about 2 percent Amerindian and had no Slavic to speak of.

It was the calculators at GEDmatch that consistently separated this 2 percent Amerindian result in the data, something that Doug McDonald also detected in her Geno 2.0 kit data.

When I actually looked at the spreadsheets at GEDmatch though, I could see what was going on. Running Dodecad World9, which is widely considered to be a benchmark, workhorse calculator, I could see that in their reference populations, the average German person might show 0.5 Amerindian ancestry. The average British person has 0.2 percent. It wasn’t actually until you reached the Russian Far East — the Yukagir people of northeastern Siberia — that you found people who had as much Amerindian ancestry as my grandmother. Even the Ukrainians and Finns did not break the 1 percent threshold.

However, a related Siberian signal is present to a low-extent in these populations. Ukrainians have about 2 percent Siberian ancestry. This is how a woman of British and German ancestry wound up looking like a Ukrainian or Finnish person to the algorithms. Combinations of multiple ancestries made her look, genetically, like someone else.

Things to keep in mind as you anxiously await those admixture results. Just don’t get into a fight with a sibling about which of you is “more French” or “more Irish.” Not worth it.

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Kinner Shoecraft Collins (1758-1823)


Princess Anne County, Virginia, 1820

WHEN I FIRST CONTACTED Paul Heinegg about 13 years ago while researching my ancestry, he pointed me in the direction of Princess Anne County, Virginia. I had just found a record for a relative named Elvy Collins (1806-1870) in Gates County, North Carolina, that described him as being of color, whereas all the other records I had found so far described him as white.

This was the first time that I became acquainted with the Native American Collins family of Norfolk County and Princess Anne County. The key figure in this family was named Kinner Shoecraft Collins (1758-1823). Paul has a good account of this individual on his site. While Heinegg stylized the family as “free African American,” members of this family were actually described as white, Indian, and free negro in records.

Often, when given the opportunity, they described themselves as Indian.

Kinner Collins was the son of William Shoecraft and an unnamed woman. In 1774, he was taxable in the household of his grandmother Lucy Shoecraft in Norfolk County.  Lucy was the widow of Simon Shoecraft, who had moved to Norfolk from Lancaster County, Virginia, earlier in the 18th century. The family apparently held property in St. Bride’s, a parish close to the North Carolina border.

st bride

He was variously called Kinner Shoecraft and Kinner Collins during his entire adult life. While recorded in later censuses as a “free colored person,” Kinner Collins actually wasn’t referred to as a “free black” until 1820. Before that, he was recorded as a white person. This is important when we get to other branches of the family.

At least three sons are named in the records: Cary Collins, William Collins, and Presley Collins. Descendants of all three called themselves Indians.

  • Cary Collins, perhaps named for Kinner’s relative Cary Shoecraft, was the ancestor of the “Kerry Collins” listed in the 1907 census of the Nansemond.
  • William Collins was most likely the grandfather of John Bembry Collins, who listed his family as Indian in the 1900 US Federal Census of Hertford County, North Carolina.
  • Descendants of Presley Collins moved to Pennsylvania in the 19th century, where they were recorded as Indian in 1860, and white thereafter.

Heinegg speculated that Kinner Collins’ mother was a member of the Collins family. He notes there was an Elizabeth Collins who was taxable on a horse in Princess Anne County. A look at the 1774 tax list where he is first listed though shows that there was a John Collins resident in the same district. My ancestor, Thomas Collins, had previously appeared in the same list until 1772, after which he apparently moved to Gates County.

It is therefore not possible to say with any certainty who Kinner’s mother was, though she was, in all likelihood, a member of the Collins family. There was apparently a continuous back and forth between a settlement at Western Branch, near Portsmouth, and the community that was taking root in Saint Bride’s Parish, and on the opposite side of the county line in Princess Anne. As Heinegg notes, Lucy Shoecraft was taxable in St. Bride’s in 1765, taxable in 1770 in Western Branch, and then taxable again in St. Bride’s in 1774.

These communities were home to a variety of families from different places around the Chesapeake Bay. In addition to the Shoecrafts and Collinses, neighbors included the Harmons, Weavers, Nickenses, Halls, Turners, and Newtons, and, of course, the Basses.

By 1807, Kinner Collins had acquired land in St. Bride’s adjoining the county line north of Indian Creek.

indian creek

There may have been an overlooked but longstanding indigenous community in this area. The name Indian Creek was in use at least since the end of the 17th century.

July 6, 1692
SOLOMON WHITE, eldest son and heir of PATRICK WHITE—it was father’s desire that my brother PATRICK WHITE have 350 acres called Indian Creek Woods and 200 acres in Norfolk Co. on the North River. Wit: Lemuel Phillips, Patrick Angus

It’s unclear what community this was. It was most likely comprised of the same Algonquian-speaking Nansemond, Yeopim, or Poteskeet people who lived in the area.

By 1820 in Princess Anne County, there was a similar cluster of free colored or Indian families, Kinner Collins’s among them. Kinner Collins neighbored Uriah Collins, as well as Weaver, Harmon, Smith, Cuffee, and other families.

In 1823, Kinner Collins left a will, naming children Cary Collins, Sarah Collins, Lucy Turner, Franky Turner, and Patsy Newton.

Uriah Collins might have been the son of Joshua Collins, perhaps a brother or cousin to Kinner Collins, who was also taxable in Princess Anne County. Born in about 1776, Uriah Collins is in the 1820 and 1830 censuses for Princess Anne, where he heads households of free colored persons. By 1840, he had removed to Greene County, Tennessee, where he was counted as white in 1850 and again in 1860.

This is yet another example of a member of this family being able to change their racial status by moving out of their area of origin where their ancestry was perhaps better known to neighbors. It may also explain why my relatives were, with a few exceptions, counted as white in late 18th century and 19th century documents.

The origins of this family are still elusive. There is no definitive document connecting the Collins family to the Eastern Shore, although the names suggest a link, particularly in the area of Magothy Bay, at the southernmost tip of Northampton County, Virginia. It is here that you will find Thomas Collins listed in a 1666 tax list that also named the Harmon, Driggers, Webb, Archer, and other mixed-race families.

However, the use of the name Uriah Collins might point to a more southern origin for this family. Uriah Collins was also the name of a major landowner and planter in Hyde County, North Carolina, in the early 18th century. He left a will there in 1751/52, and witnessed deeds in Swan Quarter, which is where the Mattamuskeet Indians were living.

A decade later, Cati Collins was described as an Indian woman in a 1765 Hyde County court case.

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The Sign of Four


A Nanticoke vocabulary, collected at the request of Thomas Jefferson in 1792

MAKING SENSE of the few word lists collected from indigenous people in Virginia and North Carolina has captivated at least a handful of scholars for well over a century. A common misconception is that all of the coastal Algonquian languages, called Eastern Algonquian, represent a continuum of varying dialects, where geography more or less indicated linguistic distance. However, this was not always the case.

One example comes from a book by anthropologist John Strong, The Unkechaug Indians of Eastern Long Island. He reports how in the 1770s, Jacob Fowler, a Montaukett Indian, from Eastern Long Island overheard Western Abenaki speakers at a school in Lebanon, Connecticut, and could understand and interact with them without a translator.

Other scholars, such as Jack Forbes, have similarly demonstrated that in some aspects the dialect spoken in Virginia and North Carolina, called Renape, was more similar to the dialects in New England than to the adjacent Lenape. One theory is that the New England and Virginia and Carolina Algonquians represented an early migration along the coasts out of the Abenaki homeland, whereas the Lenape had arrived from the west at a later date, migrating around the Great Lakes.

I have personally looked at the word lists collected and it’s not easy to rush to conclusions. However I did notice that the word for four differs greatly between Lenape and the New England and Virginia and Carolina dialects.

In Lenape and Munsee,  the word for four is written as newa.  In fact, variations of this word are found across the Eastern and Central Algonquian languages. In Mahican, it’s náwa. In Shawnee, it’s nyeewaa. And in Cree, the word for four is newo.

In Western Abenaki, however, the word for four is yaw.

This is more or less the same among the southern New England Algonquians. The Wampanoag word is yaw and the Narragansett word has been rendered as yoh.

The Mohegan-Pequot word for four is, predictably, yáw.

In the word lists collected from peoples south of the Lenape, we see this word for the number four reappear. The Nanticoke word for four is yaguh. The Powhatan word lists from the 17th century render their word for four as yough. Similarly, the Pamlico word for four recorded during the Roanoke expeditions in the 16th century was yau-ooner.

In the word list collected from William Weaver, a Nansemond, in the 19th century, the word for four was toisiaw, the ending of which, -iaw, might be like the Abenaki yaw.

It’s possible the the people living south of the Lenape, from the Indian River in Sussex County, Delaware to the Pamlico River in North Carolina, were from similar background to those in New England and had their deep roots among the Abenaki of New England and Canada, rather than being the southernmost extensions of the Lenape people.

This is guesswork, for sure, and I am not a linguist. However, using primary numbers is an easy way to gain insight into the relationships between languages. In Europe, it’s rather easy to sort languages into Germanic or Slavic language groups based on primary numbers alone, and to distinguish Indo-European languages from, say, Finno-Ugric ones.

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Another Look at Deep Cypress

meherrin 2THIS IS HIGHLY SPECULATIVE. It has to be, because it’s based on a limited amount of information. What I have started to wonder in the past few days, is if there existed some kind of Indian community in and around Deep Cypress in the late 18th century and the early 19th century.

By looking at those early land deeds, I was able to see that these individuals of interest were living near the Sumner and Saunders properties just north of present day Eure. In fact, members of the Sumner and Saunders families witnessed their legal marriages. John Sumner was the witness to the marriage of my ancestors Thomas Collins and Anna Russell on 9 May 1801.

They must have been living in Deep Cypress before the move to Nansemond County. Many of the people I have profiled here in various posts — the Halls, Beasleys, Corneliuses, Collinses, Russells, Dennises, Custalows — were living in this specific area between the 1780s and the 1820s. While they were not identified as Indians, they were often not counted in censuses or militia lists and occasionally appeared as free colored persons when they were counted.

While there never was, as far as I know, an Indian town in this area, there was an Indian school at Sarem immediately to the northeast of this area. It was operational in 1712, and Thomas Hoyter, the chief man of the Chowanoke, expressed a desire to see his son educated there. It was described as being equidistant between two Indian towns. There were actually three settlements in this area: the Meherrin and Nansemond towns on the Chowan River, and the Chowanoke settlement on Bennetts Creek.

By 1728, William Byrd encountered Meherrin on the east side of the Chowan River, who had taken refuge among the settlers after being attacked by the Catawba. The Meherrin settlement in this area appears on the 1733 Moseley Map. In a 1752 letter, the Meherrin are described as consisting of a “mere handful” and living west of the Chowan, presumably at the Potecasi Creek settlement. In the 1760s, there was another migration of North Carolina Indians to join the Haudenosaunee in New York.

The names left on the Tuscarora Indian Woods deeds then appear in Gates County around Deep Cypress. Billy and Sarah Dennis had signed the deeds. Margaret Dennis appears in Gates County. Isaac Cornelius had signed the deeds, Thomas Cornelius appears in Gates County. Yet some of the people who appeared in this area: the Beasley children of Henry Saunders; Sarah Butler; Lemuel, William, and Thomas Collins; Henry and John Hall; the Russell family, bear surnames that are linked to the coastal Algonquian communities.

It appears that if there was a community at Deep Cypress, it was not made up of one particular Indian nation, but multiple families of diverse origins: the Tuscarora Dennis, Custalow, and Cornelius families from Bertie County; the perhaps Nansemond or Yeopim Hall and Collins families from Norfolk and Currituck; the Mattamuskeet Russell family from Hyde County; the Chowanoke Beasley family from Gates and Chowan counties.

There are two bits of anecdotal information that  might confirm this theory. One is the mention in F. Roy Johnson’s 1965 book Tales of Old Carolina of an Indian community at Fort Island, directly southwest of this area, that existed until “a few decades before the Civil War.” The second was oral history in 1979-1980 that described Indians living on the Winton Road up into Virginia, and identified them as — perhaps — Tuscarora Indians.

If this was such a community, its composition would be no different from the communities elsewhere in the region. A Neusiok Indian named “Neuse Will” signed the Chowan land deeds in the 1730s. Jeremiah Pushin was on record as a Nansemond and Chowan Indian. The Tuscarora Indian Woods deeds and the Nottoway 1808 census mention men and women named “Wineoke Charles” and “Jemmy Wineoak.”

These people living at Deep Cypress were probably a mix of Chowanoke, Nansemond, Meherrin, Tuscarora, Weyanoke, Yeopim, and other Indians. This is what the area around Deep Cypress looks like today. As you can see, there is still a major swamp in this neighborhood.

deep cypress

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In the Vicinity


The southwestern corner of Gates County, from a 1929 soil survey map.

ON 18 FEBRUARY 1803, John Lang gave Sarah Butler 10 acres, 2 cows, a sow and pigs, a pot, a feather bed and furniture, a pewter basin, dish, two plates and two spoons.

It was a “deed of gift,” and it was witnessed by James Ransom and my ancestor Thomas Collins. The acreage bordered “John Sumner’s line.” In an earlier deed from 1 October 1791, it is learned that John Sumner‘s line adjoins Henry Saunders and Fereby Parker‘s lines. A separate deed made the same day involving Sarah Saunders and Joseph Parker describes “100 acres running along cypress swamp to Ballard’s corner.”

“Ballard’s corner” still exists as a place name in Gates County, except it is known as Ballards Crossroads.


A close up of the area. Ballards Crossroads at right, Cypress Swamp, just north of Eure Church. The legendary “Fort Island” and Scratch Hall Pocosin are immediately southwest.

The land that John Lang deeded Sarah Butler was north of the Cypress Swamp, referred to as “Deep Cypress” in some records. He had acquired it on 16 May 1795 from William Saunders as part 221 acres described as being on the “north side of Cypress Swamp.”

This land would later pass in 1816 to Martha Butler, the head of a household of 10 free colored persons in the 1820 US Federal Census for Gates County.*

Sarah Butler did not appear in the 1800 or 1810 censuses in Gates County. Some, such as Paul Heinegg, have speculated that this Butler family originated from the union of John Castellaw and Martha Butler, a free colored woman of Bertie County in the 18th century.

There is no evidence to tie these families together.

Sarah Butler did witness the will of Sarah Saunders on 16 December 1803.

sarah butler

Sarah Saunders was the daughter of Henry King, who had previously acquired much of the land in this area. She was also the widow of Charles Saunders, and her 1803 will mentions sons Henry Saunders and Joseph Saunders. Henry Saunders did not live long after his mother passed.

He left a will dated 31 May 1804, in which he named his brother Joseph executor, and acknowledged four children: William, Nancy, Abigail and Polly Beasley. He did not name their mother. Thomas Beasley was listed in the 1800 census in Gates, as the head of a household of one white male, aged 26 to 44.

The earliest Beasley in Gates County was Charles Beasley, who authorized the sale of land held by the Chowan Indians in the 1730s. At this time, I cannot connect Charles Beasley to Henry Saunders’ children.

However, the fact that a marriage record exists for Beley Beasley in 1809 to Jacob Robbins, another Chowan Indian, and that Sarah Butler’s descendants married into the Robbins family suggests that all three families, the Butlers, Beasleys, and Robbinses, were related.

As such, this places two Chowanoke-linked families, the Beasleys and Butlers, in the area of Deep Cypress Swamp at the turn of the 19th century. But the reality is that there may have been other Indians living there. The 1825 marriage of Edward Custalow and Margaret Dennis was witnessed by Charles Sumner. Thomas Cornelius married Sukey Hall in 1804. That marriage was witnessed by Bryan Saunders.

By the time of the 1803 deed to Sarah Butler, John Lang had already moved to Pitt County, North Carolina, where he died in 1840. He was involved in the 1791 estate of his father, James Lang, the same year he married Elizabeth Rogers. It is unclear what his relationship to Sarah Butler was, or why he gave her 10 acres as a gift.

The other two men on the 1803 deed are James Ransom and Thomas Collins. James Ransom appears to have made some income in the slave business. The 1790 census lists him as the head of a household of four whites and 16 slaves. Of the few records that mention him in Gates County, two are involved in the sale of slaves. It is unclear where his land was located, as he witnesses deeds in several parts of the county.

The 1803 is the first (and only) mention of Thomas Collins in the deeds. He owned no property in Gates County, however the deed places him squarely in the area of Deep Cypress. He is listed in the 1800 census as the head of a household of six white persons, four of whom are females under 10 years of age.

This Thomas Collins first appears in the Gates County tax lists in 1792. He may have been the son of the Lemuel, Thomas, or William Collins who appeared in the tax lists in the 1780s.

Of these three men, Lemuel Collins appears on a 28 January 1789 deed of land from Henry Dilday to Eborn Sears.


In 1791, Eborn Sears sold the land back to Dilday. It was described as adjoining Joel Goodman, William Goodman, William Gatling, and Isaac Pipkin. William Collins witnessed the will of Joel Goodman, dated 7 May 1795.

william collings

This land was located a bit farther north from where the Langs, Butlers, Saunders, and Beasleys were living, and closer to Sarem, the site of the old Indian school from the earlier part of the 18th century. In the 1733 Moseley Map, Meherrin Indian cabins are actually shown in this precise area.

meherrin 2

It does not appear that the Collinses were related to the Goodmans. However, even in the 19th century, after they had acquired land on the Nansemond (now Suffolk) border, they retained some ties to the area around Deep Cypress.

Thomas Collins, for instance, acquired 50 acres in Nansemond County by 1804. His land bordered his brother-in-law James Russell‘s land, as well as his brother James Collins, and was located near Collins Road, just north of Drum Hill.  By 1815, he held about 100 acres, and his holdings would grow to 204 acres by 1822.

The account papers for James Beasley, deceased, from 15 May 1815 show that James Russell and James Collins both took part in the estate sale, even though they had left the area about a decade earlier. It’s possible that the Beasleys and Collinses were related, given their close proximity, and that all of these families that were originally landless — the Butlers, Beasleys, and Collinses — had deep roots in the Deep Cypress area.

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Currituck County, 1790 and 1800

1790 basnight

Mary and Robert Basnett, Currituck County “other free” persons in 1790

THE 1790 US FEDERAL CENSUS for Currituck County in North Carolina provides a good glimpse at changing identities in the Albemarle in the early years of the United States.

The 1733 Moseley Map had depicted two indigenous communities in this area: a town called Yeopim on the North River, then part of Pasquotank Precinct, and another called Potoskite in Currituck near a place called Powells Point. These were both Algonquian communities: the name Yeopim stemming from a word that meant, “People of the dawn land,” and Potoskite perhaps meaning, “Where it divides in two.”

In the 1790 census, we find “Thomas Bunnett” listed as the head of a household of six white persons. He is listed beside Joseph Case, who is the head of a household of six white persons. In the 1800 census, though, Joseph Case is the head of a household of six free people of color, and Rachel Bennett, listed nearby, is the head of a household of four people of color. The Cases and Bennetts went from being “white” to “free colored.”

This was but a change in paperwork. As I have posted previously, Thomas Bennett is referred to as a “old Indian man” in an 1810 deed in Currituck County. This community lived precisely near Powells Point, where the Potoskite had been living in 1733.

There were perhaps other Indians living in Currituck County, however. At that time, there were Meekins and Basnett families living at both Powells Point and on Roanoke Island, which was part of Currituck until it became part of Dare County in 1870. In the 1790 Census, Mary Basnett and Robert Basnett and Margaret Meekins and Richard Meekins head households of “other free” persons. In the 1800 census, Mary Basnight and Robert Basnight, as well as Margaret Meekins, are the heads of free white households.

Basnight 1800

Mary, Robert, Willoughby, and Archibald Basnett, “free white” persons in 1800

These records offer a glimpse at assimilation. In the case of the Cases and Bennetts, their identity went from “white” to “free colored” in the span of 10 years. For the Basnights and Meekinses, it was the opposite. I have highlighted a similar situation with my own families, the Collinses and Russells, who similarly hopped the color line a few times.

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