Cassandra Gibbs of Hyde County
AFTER THE TUSCARORA WAR, the swamps of Hyde County became a haven for refugees from that great conflict, which left thousands of indigenous peoples throughout the region dead or on the run.
Even today, the land east of Bath is low-lying and sparsely inhabited, much of it a wildlife refuge. It was to here that the Machapunga, Core, and others, including Tuscarora, fled in the 1710s. Even at this time, the names Squires and Longtom were associated with the Indians in this area.
These names appeared on the earliest deeds associated with the Indians at Mattamuskeet, along with other surnames such as Mackey and Russell. It’s worth noting that the Mattamuskeet Indians were a group defined by location, rather than culture. They were the Indians at Mattamuskeet, just as the Indians who lived in Gates County were the “Chowan Indians.” People were defined in documents by where they lived, rather than by to whatever ‘nation’ they belonged. Men making sales of land at a particular place did so on behalf of the Indians living there.*
This Indenture made the twenty fourth day of February and in the year of Our Lord one thousand Seven hundred and fourty Seven Eight… by me Charles Squires King of the Arromoskeet Indians with the advise and Consent of the other Indians in the County of Hyde in Province of North Carolina
It’s possible that the people at Mattamuskeet had their roots in a variety of nations. This seems to be of interest to people, because they often want to know to what nation their ancestors belonged. It is unclear if the Squires, Mackeys, Russells, Longtoms, and others, were descendants of the people of Secota who met Ralph Lane’s expedition in the 1580s.
Moreover, as land sales throughout the 18th century attest, many of the Indians at Mattamuskeet did not remain on that land for long. Once they sold off their land, they moved elsewhere, and surnames vanished from documents associated with the people of this area. We saw, for instance, a similar pattern with the Chowan Indians, where the Hoyters sold off their land, only to resurface later among the Poteskeet on the Currituck Banks, or near Yeopim Indian Town in Camden County.
I haven’t done a thorough study on the Mattamuskeet Indians. I don’t have time right now in my life. The name Russell though is of course of interest. The only Russell who appears on the Mattamuskeet deeds is Joseph Russell. He last signs a deed in 1761.
. . . this Eigth Day of June in the year of Our Lord one Thousand and Seven Hundred and Sixty one Between George Squires Charles Squires Timothy Squires James Tom John Squires and Josses Russell of the tribe of the Malimuskeet Indians and heirs of John Squires deceased of the one part
I have wondered if my Russells were somehow connected to these Russells. Up until recently, I thought this could not be the case, as there were Russells living in Scratch Hall since the early 1740s. Moreover, these Russells were major landowners, and, by all appearances, completely European in ancestry. Only recently did I discover that the George and James Russell who began appearing in Gates County in the late 1760s were newer arrivals to the area and were perhaps not related to the earlier Russells at all.
DNA shed some interesting new light on a potential connection, with clear matches to descendants of the Sawyer and Brickhouse families of Gum Neck, north of Mattamuskeet. The Sawyers in particular were another of these families skirting the boundary between white and mulatto in records. Somehow, we are related to them.
Another individual who arrived to the Scratch Hall area at this time was named Henry Eborn Sears. This name has always fascinated me, as Henry Eborn was the name of a Hyde County planter. It seemed wholly strange that an individual with the name of a Hyde County planter would suddenly appear in the wilds of Gates County around the time of the American Revolution, as odd as the appearance of the name John Sherrod, a name from Tyrrell County. It occurred to me that perhaps the “Tuscarora” who moved into the Hall area, according to oral history, and moved up toward the Great Dismal Swamp were really an amalgam of Mattamuskeet, Indian Woods, and other peoples.
These are people who remained invisible for decades (as I reported earlier, my relatives James Russell and James Collins did not appear in any US Federal Censuses in Gates County, despite having been present there for the 1790, 1800, 1810, and 1820 censuses). This is also the line of the family where several members were listed as being “of color” in records, as if those taking the census simply could not decide of what race they were.
As David La Vere writes in The Tuscarora War: “And what of those Hatteras or Mattamuskeet men and women who sold off the last bit of their reservation land and walked away with a few pounds sterling or new American dollars in their pocket? They were no less Indian, but now they belonged to no recognized nation, and so they took their place on the margins of white society, barely noticed by the settlers around them, who may or may not have seen them as Indians.”
Could any place have been more on the margins of white society than Scratch Hall? Or the swampy areas on the border of the Great Dismal Swamp?
An exception is the Tuscarora at Indian Woods, who always were referred to as Tuscarora, rather than Indian Woods Indians. A variety of nations have been described as living at Indian Woods in records though, including Chowanoke, Saponi, and even Conoy from Maryland.