A Nansemond-Nottoway Genetic Connection

chr 6
A piece of chromosome 6 painted as Amerindian by Eurogenes K13

AS EXPLAINED PREVIOUSLY, I have attempted an approach of isolating the segments of my grandmother’s chromosomes called as Amerindian or Siberian using GEDmatch tools, and then determining who matches her on those segments. Then I look at their trees to identify any shared families. While this does not confirm the ancestry came from those families, it does provide some hint as to where it might have come from.

I found a nice chunk of Chromosome 6 painted as Amerindian. I like this segment because it doesn’t look significantly admixed with European or African ancestry, which can make these kinds of efforts confusing.

Next, I used a Tier 1 tool called Segment Search to find out who else matched my grandmother on this segment. There are two people who match my grandmother on that segment: me and a woman we will call SM.

SM is an interesting match. She has a very different genetic profile from my grandmother. She is 74 percent Sub-Saharan African, according to Eurogenes K13, but she is also about 1 percent Amerindian. I decided to run people who match both kits tool using her kit and my grandmother’s kit. It does not provide a long list, but my grandmother’s cousin on her father’s side is on the list. So we know the match is through my grandmother’s father, Tom Pittman, the man whose portrait is featured on this blog.

What’s really helpful is that SM has an AncestryDNA kit. She matches my grandmother as a 5th to 8th cousin on one 16 cm segment. She also has posted a small pedigree. Her father is from Alabama, and her paternal grandmother is from the Caribbean. It doesn’t look like the connection is on that side. Her mother, however, is a Hicks from Southampton County, Virginia. This is much closer to where my ancestors were living.

A deeper search of her tree reveals she descends from mulatto Hicks, Haley, Boon, and Artis families in Southampton. A deeper look at the Artis match reveals family ties to the Turner and Rogers families, both of which were connected to the Nottoway Reservation in Southampton. I am unable to trace the lines directly, but can see that siblings married into the Turners and Rogers over multiple generations.

However, the Turners and Rogers were named on the deeds connected to the Nansemond Reservation in the 18th century.

The list of common matches with SM doesn’t yield much more information, mostly because I do not have access to these people’s trees. One individual’s name I have seen before while doing this, SLA. SLA is mostly of European descent, but is 1 percent Amerindian and 1 percent Sub-Saharan African using Eurogenes K13.

When I run SLA and my grandmother, I get an extensive list of matches, one of whom, VP, I recognize because she matches on another segment of my grandmother’s chromosomes that is painted as Amerindian. This match descends like other matches on that segment from the marriage of William Byrd and Nancy Rogers in Gates in 1814.

Next, I run SLA and SM. Who do they have in common? One common match sticks out. It’s RO. RO is mostly of European descent, but is a Bass and Bright descendant from Norfolk.

What I find interesting is that my usual Collins and Russell matches aren’t coming up in these lists, while my cousin is. However, my ancestor Hugh Collins (1839-1910) married Celia Cross (1844-1912), who was the granddaughter of a woman named Celia Bird/Byrd. Is it possible that this Amerindian ancestry was actually inherited through that line?

What we can say is that people with ancestry from people identified as Nansemond Indians on records (Bass, Bright) are matching people who lived in and around the Nottoway Reservation (Hicks, Artis, Haley, Rogers, Turner) in Southampton County, and that those people are also matching my grandmother who has ancestry from Gates County. While these people have very different ancestries today — some are majority Sub-Saharan, others are majority European — they share a small amount of Indian ancestry.

We do know that some indigenous people from what is now Norfolk, often identified as Nansemond Indians, moved to the Chowan River area, and then over time relocated to the Nottoway Reservation in Southampton County. We also have at least anecdotal information of “spin off” — marrying into African American and European American communities adjacent to Indian communities in the Chowan River area. This chunk of DNA might have belonged to common ancestors from these communities centuries ago.


James Collins of Princess Anne

jamesJUST THIS MORNING, I came across the census records for James Collins in Princess Anne County, Virginia. James is listed as the head of a household of six whites and one other free person in 1810. He is the head of a household of eight white persons in 1820. Then, in 1830, he is the head of a household of free colored persons.

Looking at neighbors, it appears to be the same individual (or perhaps the James in 1830 is the son of the James of 1810). If it is the same person, it would be another example of this family skirting the racial line between mulatto and white in the censuses.

My ancestor Thomas Collins had a sibling named James Collins, who was a neighboring property owner in Nansemond County. This James Collins was never listed in the census in Nansemond or Gates County, North Carolina, where he married Katherine Russell in 1801. He appeared in tax lists, but not in the censuses there. James was the father of Elvy Russell Collins, who was listed as colored when he died in 1870, but white on other documents. Is it possible that James Collins of Princess Anne County is the same man?

The Chatanooka Cut

31K0czT2jqL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_THIS IS AN INTERESTING little book. Legends, Myths, and Folk Tales of the Roanoke Chowan by F. Roy Johnson, 1962. There are some stories related to local indigenous peoples: the Tuscarora, Meherrin, Nansemond, Weyanoke, and Chowan.

One story regarding the Chowan or Chowanoke Indians was recorded by Linda Eure Edwards. She gives as her source her grandfather, Adolphus Eure, who lived on Fort Island in Scratch Hall.

A perusal of Ancestry shows that Adolphus Eure was born in 1848 and lived in Hall Township on the eastern bank of the Chowan River. According to the story, the English permitted two Chowan Indians — called Chatanooka and Wanchese — to live on the property at the southern end of Fort Island near Ray’s Beach.


They subsisted by hunting, farming, and hiring themselves out for work. The piece of land was at the time the story was recorded still known as the “Chatanooka Cut.”

She also recalled that in the 1920s, she and her father, Bruce Eure, discovered tree carvings in this area, including a carving of a man on an old beech tree.

This is another story that places Native Americans in the area of Fort Island and Scratch Hall. It’s hard to know if it’s true or not. The personal names seem a bit concocted — Wanchese was a coastal Algonquian who dealt with the English in the 1580s, and Chatanooka brings to mind Cartooka or Chatooka the Neusiok village sold to von Graffenried.

The Sign of Six

Fontaine’s 1716 word list from Fort Christanna

IN AN EARLIER POST, “The Sign of Four,” I pointed out how the recorded word lists for Algonquian peoples south of the Lenape were similar to languages in New England and Canada. One word that embodied this relationship was the word for “four,” yaw, which could be found in the Western Abenaki, Nanticoke, Powhatan, and Pamlico word lists.

Recently, I came across a 1716 word list taken at Fort Christanna in Virginia, around the same time that John Lawson collected his word list from the Pampticough in Pamlico Sound, 170 miles away. For a few years in the 1710s, Fort Christanna was one of the westernmost outposts of the British Empire. A number of Siouan language tribes were settled there, including the Saponi, Tutelo, and Occaneechi. But there was also an Iroquoian presence, including the Nottoway and Meherrin.

This is significant, because almost all of the phrases collected by Lieutenant John Fontaine, who was there in 1715-1716, are in the Tutelo-Saponi language. However, the list of numbers he collected were undoubtedly of Algonquian origin. Some suppose that the Indians at Fort Christanna were speaking some kind of creole or pidgin that incorporated Siouan and Algonquian words because of this. I believe it’s more likely that he collected his list of phrases and his list of numbers from two different people.

The Algonquians at Fort Christanna were most likely the Pochayick or Nansemond, who lived together with the Meherrin along the Chowan River and filed a joint petition with them in 1723. The Algonquian number list collected from Fontaine at Fort Christanna:

One – Nacout; Two – Tock; Three – Nos; Four – Jow; Five – Prance; Six – Quiock; Seven – Tappons; Eight – Massons; Nine – Ketaugh; Ten – Metaugh

The first word is identical to the Powhatan word: necut. It is also the same as the Natick word from New England, negut. Most of the other words are easily identified as Algonquian. However, the words for two and six actually are Iroquoian. And the word for six — Quiock — is almost identical to the recorded Pampticough word for six — Who-yeoc. The Tuscarora word for six is Oo-Yeak.

The Pochayick Nansemond Indians of the Albemarle and the Pampticough Indians were using the Tuscarora word for six by the first decade of the 18th century. The providers of these word lists were separated by 170 miles, yet used the same word.

This may be evidence of language-shift among the Algonquians of the region south of the Powhatan. The coastal communities would have been familiar with the Tuscarora language and has started to substitute some of their words for their own, according to these word lists.


A Fringe Family: Lassiter and Robins

42091_342495-00322THIS IS AN INTERESTING marriage record that sheds light on the fringe families that lived around the old Chowan Indian Reservation in Gates County, North Carolina. The term “fringe” is used in Helen Rountree’s book to describe families living between a core indigenous community and the surrounding settler community. Fringe people married into both communities, and occupied a sort of gray zone between the two.

The 1814 marriage of Henry Lassiter to Betsy Robins demonstrates the relationship between white families and Indian families in the pre-Civil War South. First of all, Lassiter is a very common name in Gates County and environs, and was present at the arrival of British colonists to the region.

There were multiple lines of this family though. In the May 25, 1814 marriage, Henry Lassiter signs his name with a mark. In another 1822 marriage between a man also named Henry Lassiter and Nancy Hill, the latter Henry Lassiter signs his name in full. In the 1820 census, there are two Henry Lassiters: one is the head of a household of one white aged 16 to 25 and the other is the head of a household of six white persons and 29 slaves (!). I would venture it is the second Henry Lassiter from the slave-holding family. This second Henry Lassiter, born 1800, was too young to have been married in 1814. Furthermore, he appears in the 1850 and 1860 censuses living next to the Hills, another landowning, slave-owning family that actually acquired property from the Chowanoke.

The 1814 marriage of Henry Lassiter to Betsy Robins was witnessed by a man named Isaac Robins. Isaac Robins appears in no census at that time. He signed with a mark.

The first Henry Lassiter, who married Betsy Robins, died by about 1824. His estate record shows that two children — Timothy Lassiter and Sarah Lassiter — were raised by John Copeland Gordon, a neighbor in Gates. Timothy would later marry in 1841 Gordon’s daughter Barsheba. Timothy was counted as white, as were all of his descendants.

This raises some questions. If Timothy Lassiter was the son of Henry Lassiter and Betsy Robins, then why wasn’t he (or his mother) counted in the 1820 census in Gates County? And if she survived her husband, why is she not mentioned in court documents?

There is some interesting information about the census here, courtesy of Ancestry.

Enumerators of the 1820 census were asked to include the following categories in the census: name of head of household, number of free white males and females in age categories: 0 to 10, 10 to 16, 16 to 26, 26 to 45, 45 and older; number of other free persons except Indians not taxed; number of slaves; and town or district and county of residence. Additionally, the 1820 census for the first time asked the number of free white males 16 to 18; number of persons to be naturalized; number engaged in agriculture, commercial, or manufacture; number of “colored” persons (sometimes in age categories); and number of other persons except Indians.

So, if you were considered to be an Indian, you would not appear in the census. Henry Lassiter’s wife, if she was Indian, and Indian children would be invisible as per this rule. This might explain why my relatives are not listed in the 1820 census in Nansemond County either, or were not listed in the 1786 state census in Gates County despite appearing in the tax list that year. It also might explain the emergence of the white Beasley family in Gates County mentioned in the estate of Henry Saunders. Saunders acknowledged four Beasley children in his 1804 will, but did not name their mother.

This may demonstrate how some Indians were assimilated into the white community.

The Genetic Legacy of Scratch Hall

Chromosome 12I OFTEN FEEL a bit awkward putting up chunks of chromosomes on the blog, but this is a good example of what you can do with GEDmatch tools.

This is on Chromosome 12 of my grandmother’s kit. Those gray and light blue pieces represent Siberian and Amerindian ancestry using a calculator called Eurogenes K13.

What I can do next is use a Tier 1 Tool call SegmentSearch to find out who matches her on that particular segment.  I input the kit number, chromosome number, and segment of the chromosome for matching.

It provides me with quite an extensive list, but I can see that a close relative, BC, is on it. Her grandmother and my great grandfather Tom Pittman were siblings. This is good, because it shows the Amerindian ancestry on the family line where I suspected it to be.

Another match, YR, is also known to me. He descends from the Russell family of Nansemond County, Virginia, and Gates County, North Carolina. I have not yet been able to confirm our common ancestor, but we apparently descend from George Russell, whose estate was probated in 1791 in Gates County. He is a strong candidate to be our common ancestor because he was the only man with that surname in the county at that time.

This is even better, because as I have shown on this blog, it was the Russell family that was listed as being of color in several documents. So now, we not only have records that show them to be of color, but we have autosomal DNA analysis that shows descendants to have Siberian and Amerindian admixture.

Three other kits match on this segment. They are administered by someone called JS. I have seen this person’s tree on Ancestry, where they also match, but the results are inconclusive. They have a Collins line from Tennessee and a Butler line from Kentucky. Both of these presumably trace back to North Carolina, but I haven’t been able to make a genealogical connection. Collins of course is a family that was at Western Branch in Norfolk, and Butler is a name I have seen around Indian Woods in Bertie County. Recall that my ancestor Thomas Collins witnessed a deed involving Sarah Butler in 1803 in Gates County.

This in a way challenges the focus on surnames in genealogical research. Too often, we link a particular ancestry to a surname, but as we can see, the Siberian and Amerindian ancestry might have entered the Russell line through marriage with the Butlers or Collinses. We just don’t know who George Russell’s wife was. She was not named in the estate record. No mention was made of a widow, and George Russell’s 25 acres passed to James Russell, who administered his estate, and was presumably his son. I descend from George through his daughter Anna. My relative YR descends from his son James.

In all likelihood, the Russells, Collinses, and Butlers in Gates County were related. In looking at other matches, there are some interesting leads. One person has the surname Smallwood, and is from the Indian Woods area of Bertie County. Another person has Robbins and Beasley in their tree from North Carolina. But this is guesswork at best.

We know that some Chowanoke left to live among the Tuscarora at Indian Woods in the 1730s. We also know that they were most likely adopted into the Tuscarora as a clan, later called the Shawnee Beavers. There is also oral history that there was a return of Tuscarora to the Gates County area in the late 18th century following the breakdown of the Indian Woods Reservation. We know that the “poor whites” of Scratch Hall were by some accounts considered to be mestizos and of at least partial Tuscarora descent. Scratch Hall is the area where my ancestors were living at the end of the 18th century.

Interestingly, both me and one of my daughters inherited this particular segment of DNA. The legacy of Scratch Hall continues.

Furthest Point South

their green corneIN REVISITING the 1901 word list of William Weaver, I came to the same conclusion that many scholars have before me. The Algonquian vocabulary of the indigenous people living between the James River in Virginia and North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound is similar to Cree and Atikamekw, First Nations languages from Canada.

These people migrated south out of what we now call Canada along the coast. They farmed and fished along inlets, rivers, and sounds, and their way of life was dependent on maritime subsistence. Because of that, they did not expand west from the coast line. The indigenous people living this far south probably retained the language of their origin while the languages of those living in between perhaps evolved over time.

This is not unusual. In Europe, we find linguistic minorities like this all over, where the descendants of early waves of migration retain the archaic manner of speech. One might look to Iceland, where the people can still read the old Norse sagas, while the languages of the Swedes and Norwegians diverged greatly from Old Norse. Or the Albanian villages of Sicily and Calabria, where they retain the archaic language spoken by the Albanians in the Middle Ages. One might wager that the languages of the people of Virginia and North Carolina were similar.

They were also neighbors to a significantly large population of Iroquoian speakers to their immediate west. The Tuscarora people were many times greater than the coastal Algonquian communities, and by the time of the European arrival had political control over the region. Due to trade and no doubt familial links, the coastal Algonquians were probably well versed in Tuscarora language and culture. They might have related to the Iroquoians as those Albanians related to neighboring Italian villages, or coastal Swedes related to the Finns surrounding them on the Baltic coasts.

Especially after the English established a base at Jamestown, the Algonquians in these areas must have become heavily dependent on their western neighbors. While culturally and linguistically they had a different origin, they were surrounded by this larger political entity called the Tuscarora. When Fisher, a Poteskeet Indian, was sent to negotiate with the Core Indians on the Outer Banks during the Tuscarora War, he probably spoke to them in Tuscarora. It was the language of local politics and business.

This perhaps explains the fate of the Algonquian communities on the coast following colonization and perhaps even before. While closely related to each other in Algonquian language and customs, they were also part of a greater Iroquoian world that included Tuscarora and even Seneca influence. They were the furthest point south of Algonquian settlement and represented in a way a cultural isolate, like the Breton fishermen of northwest France, who still spoke the old Celtic language, while being versed in French.

Some more thoughts

The fact that an old man was able to provide a few words in a language similar to Cree as late as 1901, however, discredits two other theories though. The first is that Algonquian culture, and language with it, was shattered by colonization. Paul Heinegg writes in his introduction to Free African Americans that, “Free Indians blended into the free African American communities. They did not form their own separate communities.”

However, in viewing the evidence, it seems more accurate to say that in some cases, Europeans, Africans, East Indians and others blended into free Indian communities. These communities were sustained by a land base and a custom of matrilineal descent. Because of this, the focus on surnames, often passed on from father to children, misses part of the story. It is true, though, that authorities used their mixed ancestry to discredit their land claims. One can look to the Chowanoke and Pamunkey cases as evidence.

The second is one posited by some that following contact, the coastal Algonquians underwent a civilizational collapse and were replaced in part by the Iroquoian Tuscarora. Leaming, in his widely quoted Hidden Americans, refers to the Yeopim as a “client nation” of the Tuscarora, for instance. And yet in the 1700s, Lawson collected a vocabulary from Pampticough living at Indian Island in the Pamlico River that showed the people there spoke a language similar to the languages spoken immediately north. Algonquian culture and language were therefore not completely overthrown.

Population loss created a power vacuum that elevated Tuscarora political control. But political deference and cultural and linguistic affinity are two different things.