Which Nation?

One of the reasons I have been trying to introduce a new perspective of looking at Native groups as part of a larger cultural group extending south of the Lenape to the Pamlico River, is that people these days are often caught up in the concept of “national identity.” This is often linked to the very sketchy concept of “surname analysis.” The idea is that if there is a person named as belonging to a certain group, for instance “John Robbins,” of the Chowan Indians, then that surname is associated with that tribe. Therefore, modern day descendants of the Robbins family can claim to be Chowan or Chowanoke Indians.

However, as I have shown, surnames were shared across many different nations. The surname Bennett, for instance, often associated with the Chowanoke, is also found among the Tuscarora at Indian Woods, and the Yeopim in Currituck County. So what is it? Are the Bennetts Chowan Indians who joined the Tuscarora or Yeopim? If you are a Bennett descendant, who do you claim to be? Do you start studying up on Dekanawida, or is it time to devour collections of “fellow Algonquian” Abenaki folk tales from Maine?

For the many — and there are many — descendants of the Collins families, people get tangled up in these falsely constructed ideas. They take documents that show someone named Collins was referred to as Saponi in northern Virginia in the 1740s and extrapolate that all people with that surname anywhere in the region are wandering Saponi. Which is not true. Nor is it true that the appearance of Collins among the Mattamuskeet in the 1760s makes it a “Mattamuskeet name,” anymore than it is a “Nansemond name” because some people with this surname, among them my ancestors, were living near the “Nansemond” Basses at Deep Creek in the 18th century. It’s also true that this name might have been present among the Accomack on the Eastern Shore before then.

So what’s going on? Am I actually an Accomack descendant? This is why I am in favor of describing all of these people by what many of them called themselves from Maine to North Carolina, Weapemeoc, Wampanoag, Wabanaki: “The People of the Dawn Land.”

Or,  “The Easterners.”

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Clues from a Map

These are two details from a 1685 Dutch map of the English colonies in North America. On the left, you will see “Accomack” located south of present-day Boston, Massachusetts, while on the right, you will see “Sauwanoos” outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. To the northwest, you see “Minquaas”: an almost universal Eastern Algonquian term for Iroquoian peoples. This dynamic is mirrored in Coastal North Carolina and Virginia, where we find the same word, “Accomack,” to describe the people on the Eastern Shore, and the term “Mangoaks” to describe the Iroquoians to the west. The “Sauwanoos” would be analogous to the “Chowanoke” who lived in the Chowan River basin. And the “Wapanoos” (Wampanoag) would be analogous to the “Weapemeoc” or “Yeopim” people.

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Henry Hall

THERE IS A REASON I look through old records over and over again. Each time, I turn up something new. This morning was no exception. I was looking into the Hall family of Gates County and found that a man named Henry Hall had witnessed two deeds involving my relative John Arline.

18 Oct 1792 – “John Arline appoints his friend, Henry Goodman, as his attorney to sell land, etc.” Witnesses: Henry Hall, William Goodman

18 Oct 1792 – “John Arline to Henry Goodman, 76 pds, Negro Benjamin.” Witnesses: Henry Hall, William Goodman

John Arline was the brother of my ancestor James Arline (1739-1791). Their father, also named John Arline, had died in 1790. The Arlines held land between Cole Creek and Bennetts Creek in Gates County. I have written more about this family here.

Henry Hall is a new character. He is not in the Gates County state census in 1786 or the federal one in 1790. He is also not over across the river in Hertford County at this time either. However, as we have shown, just because a person was not counted, doesn’t mean he wasn’t there. In the case of Native Americans, they were actually not supposed to be counted. He was certainly living with or near the Arlines though in the early 1790s.

Remember that James Arline had two bastardy bonds in the 1780s, one for Sarah Collins in 1783, the other for Charity Russell in 1788. Could it be that the Collinses, Russells, and Halls were indigenous laborers on the Arline property? And given the very long list of Hall DNA matches I have, this provides more evidence that the mother of my ancestor Thomas Collins or the mother of my ancestor Anna Russell might have been a Hall.

Right now, I speculate that Thomas Collins’s mother was a Hall living on the Arline property at Bennetts Creek, while Anna Russell’s mother was a Pierce. This is based on DNA matches.

But here we have the 18th century, in all its silver-plated grotesqueness and depravity. Arline descendants maintain that our ancestor, Jeremiah Arline, was born in Ireland circa 1650. We have an Irish settler family selling Africans and bedding Indian laborers. Two generations later, my ancestor Graham Collins would marry Nancy Arline.

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The De Bry Map

De Bry

THIS MAP OF VIRGINIA, made by engraver Theodor De Bry based on the watercolors by John White, provides some interesting insights into the populations inhabiting the North Carolina and Virginia coast at the time of contact. While modern anthropologists have created a dotted line between “Virginia Algonquians” (Powhatan), and Carolina Algonquians, the De Bry engraving actually shows three nations in this area. The “Weapemeoc” inhabiting the land from the Albemarle Sound to the James River, the “Chawanook,” inhabiting the Chowan River basin, and the “Secotan,” inhabiting the peninsula to the south.

Nowhere will you find “Poteskeet,” “Mattamuskeet,” “Chesapeake,” or “Nansemond” Indians.  These are names that arose later to describe peoples. Both “Weapemeoc” and “Chawanook” have analogues among other Algonquian groups: the Abenaki and Shawnee, respectively. “Secotan” looks vaguely like “Secatogue,” which was the name of a group of Mohegan-Pequot people who inhabited Long Island. As I have written previously, there were linguistic and cultural similarities between the natives in this area, and those in southern New England.

This had made it impossible though, for me as an amateur genealogist, to claim that anyone individual was a “Nansemond,” “Hatteras,” “Yeopim,” or “Mattamuskeet” person. They were all, more or less, one people. This occurred to me today when I found an 1816 marriage record for George Hall and Mary Mackey in Norfolk, Virginia. I believe this is the same George Hall who was described as a Nansemond Indian in an 1833 certificate. The Mackeys were a native family from Mattamuskeet in Hyde County. If correct, would this really be the union of a “Nansemond” person and a “Mattamuskeet” person?  I don’t think so. They were all part of one larger kinship group of Coastal Algonquian peoples.

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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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