Tom in Newfoundland

Tom in Newfoundland

This is a photo of my great grandfather Tom Pittman (1896-1971). It was taken in Newfoundland, I assume where he was stationed with the Air Force. I always find it striking how much he looked like a Métis person, which in a sense he was.

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Mattamuskeet Revisited


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.


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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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