A Little Bit Closer

IN MY LAST POST, I showed how some associations between people living in Gates County, North Carolina, at the end of the 18th century and New Kent County, Virginia, at the end of the 17th century had led me to discover apparent genealogical connections between both locations.

This led me to a rather stunning discovery, as I understood that my ancestor Graham Collins (1802-1880), who was born in Gates County, was very likely named after a local landowning family in New Kent, the Grahams. I also understood that my Collins ancestors likely had deep roots among the mixed Indian families of that region, most of whom were Pamunkey Indians.

Perusing the tax lists of that region, excerpted by Paul Heinegg, dredged up some familiar names. In King William County, the following Collinses appear starting in the following years: John Collins (1782), Mason, John, and William Collins (1787), James Collins (1790). Interestingly James Collins is the most poorly documented individual from my family in Gates County, disappearing from tax lists in the 1820s. There is a James Collins who reappears in King William County in the 1830s. Could this be the same man?

James, John, and Mason Collins all appear in King & Queen County as well at this time. Moreover, an Elijah Collins also appears. This is quite interesting to me, as my ancestor Graham Collins’s eldest son was named Elijah Collins. A Thomas Collins appears too. So, in King William and King & Queen Counties, we find the almost exact family names as we do in Gates County and Nansemond County: Thomas, James, William, Elijah.

Interestingly, we find Birds, Langstons, and Sweats alongside them, the same families we find beside the Collins families in Nansemond County in the 1850 census. The tribal origin of these families is always in question. We find Boones, Butlers, and Wigginses among the Tuscarora, and among this Cypress Chapel cluster of families in Virginia. But this is more evidence of my family’s roots among the indigenous populations of Virginia and North Carolina, and I welcome it after so many years of searching.

 

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Detribalized

detribalizedI’VE SPECULATED a lot about the origins of my ancestors on this blog, but some of the information contained in my last post led me to some astonishing revelations. To recap, I had been tracing a group of people called the “Scratch Hall Folk” from their final destination — the Virginia-North Carolina border on the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp — to the swamps beside the Chowan River in current-day Gates County, and then to an origin in and around the old Tuscarora Indian Woods Reservation in Bertie County.

The trajectory of these mixed-race people — whose multiple ancestries are borne out by recurring instances of being classified as white, mulatto, and black on US federal census forms — jibed with anecdotal accounts of people moving from Bertie County up the Winton Road into Virginia in the mid- to late 18th century, including folklore about an “Indian fort” at Fort Island in what is modern-day Hall Township. Fort Island was an important landmark, because it is where my Collins and Russell ancestors first began to surface in 18th century documents.

However, the names of these people tied them to another place altogether: to New Kent County, Virginia, particularly Saint Peter’s Parish, across from the Pamunkey Indian Reservation. To review the names of Scratch Hall Folk — Claiborne Austin, Thomas Collins, Charles Russell, Robert Napier, William Wyatt, various Flemings — is to revisit the names of the first men to acquire land in Pamunkey Neck at the end of the 17th century. These are the names of the men on my ancestor George Russell’s 1791 estate record. They are also the names of Pamunkey Neck’s early, wealthy landowners, who were at that time leasing land from the Indians. Yet the men in George Russell’s estate record were smallholders, at best, with marginal acreage, and were almost uniformly illiterate. There was no clear genealogical connection, for instance, between the prestigious Napier family of New Kent, whose patriarch was an Edinburgh doctor, and the poor family in Scratch Hall.

Moreover, some of the Scratch Hall Folk took the names of multiple landowning families. The Claibornes and the Austins owned land in Pamunkey Neck. There was a man named “Claiborne Austin” who was actually listed in New Kent tax lists in 1791 before relocating to Gates County, demonstrating continuous ties between both areas. The Austins eventually owned 64 acres, land they obtained from the State of North Carolina, and intermarried with the Collinses and Russells. New Kent also hosted a Graham family. Hence the origin of my ancestor Graham Collins’s name. Beside the Grahams of New Kent County lived a settler named Thomas Lankford. Yet another name that pops up in Gates County at the end of the 18th century. There was also a Dillard family in New Kent. As per my previous post, there was a Dillard Collins in North Carolina toward the end of the 18th century who served alongside Burwell Collins in the North Carolina line.

I then recalled something I had read in Helen Rountree’s book, Pocahontas’s People, about “Cumberland Indians,” detribalized Pamunkey who had moved across the river from the reservation into New Kent County in the 18th century and apparently left the area (although it is clear that some remained). Interestingly, at least some of them had the same exact names as my ancestors Thomas Collins and William Collins. I also found an 1825 marriage record in Gates County for a Margaret Dennis and Edward Custalow — two compelling Pamunkey names. I recalled that a “Billy Dennis” had signed the Tuscarora Indian Woods deeds. It now seemed very obvious what had happened: when the Cumberland Indians — the detribalized Pamunkey — left New Kent County in the 18th century, some went to live among the Tuscarora in Bertie County. When the reservation was wound up, they moved up toward the Virginia border. These were my ancestors.

My Collins and Russell ancestors were detribalized Pamunkey Indians.

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It’s All in a Name

SOMETIMES A GIVEN NAME offers a valuable clue, but not always.

I descend from a man named Graham Collins (1802-1880), who was born in Gates County, North Carolina, and died in Nansemond County, Virginia. In looking around for this relatively unique name, I did find another man who had the same one, Graham Collins, a 34-year-old mulatto who was living in Hyde County in 1860. I then found another colored Graham Collins who married Matilda Barrow in Pamlico County in 1881. It seems to be a name shared among the coastal Indians of North Carolina.

However, Graham Collins (1802-1880) had a son named Hugh Wilbur Collins (1839-1915), who was a private in both the Virginia and North Carolina cavalries during the Civil War. There was another Hugh Wilbur Collins who left a will in Chowan County in 1855. The similarities of the names seemed to leave no doubt of a family connection. Yet, the more I looked into it, I could see no clear link between the Hugh Wilbur Collins of Chowan County, who descended from the prominent, British-born slave trader Josiah Collins, and the illiterate farmers living on the Virginia-Carolina border.  It seems to be a case of appropriation: Graham Collins named his son after a well-to-do local businessman.

Which brings us to Burwell Collins, another man with a unique name from this enigmatic family. Burwell Collins is relatively well documented. He was born in 1822 in Cypress Chapel, Nansemond County, Virginia, the son of William Collins and Temperance Collins (1793-1868). Fortunately, the names of Temperance Collins’s parents were recorded when she died in 1868 as Thomas Collins and Annie Collins. This makes her the likely daughter of my ancestor Thomas Collins (1769-1849) and his wife Anna Russell (1770-1855). Interestingly, Thomas Collins and Anna Russell did not marry until 1801, although they are listed with six girls under the age of 10 in the 1800 Gates County census. The marriage may have been connected to the acquisition of property in the area now known as “Collins Road” around that time.

Burwell Collins’s father was William Collins, who according to census records was born in 1790. He was perhaps the son of the William Collins who was listed in the Gates County tax lists in the 1780s. It’s possible that Burwell Collins’s parents were first cousins, if William Collins, Sr., and Thomas Collins, Sr., both listed in the Gates County tax lists in the 1780s, were brothers. Burwell married Martha Jane Ellis before 1850. She was about a decade younger than him, and apparently the daughter of Solomon Ellis (an interesting aside, but if you search for the name ‘Solomon Ellis’ you will get hits in North Wales around Caernarfon, the area from which many of the settlers in this region originated).

Burwell served in the Confederacy, like his cousin Hugh, and left many descendants, some of whom are apparently proud of his service to the South and have used thumbnails of Confederate flags for his picture in their Ancestry trees. While he survived that great conflict, Burwell Collins did not live very long after, dying in January 1877.

While Burwell Collins’s life was no doubt eventful and interesting, it is his name that has caught my attention. I did do a search to see if anyone else had ever been named “Burwell Collins” — it turned out that quite a few had. One man had lived a generation or two prior and served in the American Revolution in North Carolina.

burwell

Unfortunately, this is the only document — save for a land warrant in Sumner, Tennessee related to his service — that shows that Burwell Collins existed. However, the other Collinses listed here — Dillard, Caleb, and William — do offer clues. I have been unable to find a solid lead for Dillard Collins in the records. Moreover, a just because they are listed beside each other does not mean they were related. A war-related pension application does exist for Caleb Collins in nearby Washington County. I also found this interesting clue: a sale of land on the north side of the Scuppernong River in Tyrrell County to Thomas and William Collins in 1792. Caleb Collins is also mentioned in these records. However, Thomas Collins and William Collins were already in Gates County at this time. Could these be the same men? It’s possible. They were living near Thomas Pierce. The Pierces, like the Collinses, are found at Mattamuskeet, as well as near Chowan Indian Town. But they are also found in Quitsna among the Tuscarora.

Other names included with “Burwell Collins” from the North Carolina Line include Zadock Coward and Ephraim Coward. I had searched for Zadock and came up empty handed until I found “Gadok Cowand” on a list of men who took an oath of allegiance in Bertie County in 1777. This is the same list that includes “Hes Collins,” who may have left a will as “Hezekiah Collins” in Gates County in 1822. Also appearing on the list are David Collins and Joseph Collins. Along with familiar names, like the Butlers and Bazemores, we also find Joseph Lloyd in this list, the same Joseph Lloyd who is mentioned as living on Tuscarora Indian Land in 1777. This is fascinating to me because one of the people who matches my grandmother’s DNA kit on one of her Native segments descends from the Lloyds of Bertie County.

So what are we dealing with here? We have names that suggest links to coastal Carolina Indians in the Washington, Tyrrell, and Hyde county areas, which suggests that Collins is an Algonquian family, and yet we also find them living among the Tuscarora in Indian Woods. I think it’s important to refer back to some history here. That the Mattamuskeet Reservation in Hyde County was home to Tuscarora and Algonquian Mattamuskeet people, and some of these people relocated to Indian Woods, and may have moved to or from Tyrrell County, and later up towards Gates County and the Virginia line. Which is to say, despite the similarities in names — and I did find a “Burrell Collins” living in Atlantic, Accomack County, Virginia in the 1920s, and another living in Norfolk, Virginia before — the story of my family is tied into the fate of the Tuscarora Indian Woods reservation. So it’s not always about names in this business. More than anything, it’s about location.

Use your ancestors’ names to hunt for clues, but assess them by the company they keep.

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Pamunkey Langs

THE WAY THAT GATES COUNTY is situated, it is correct to assume a natural migration from Suffolk, formerly Nansemond County, Virginia. The reasons for this are geographic — Gates County is bordered on the east by the Great Dismal Swamp, and on the west by the Chowan River. Most of the old British settlers moved into Gates County this way.

The natural gateway to this region at first glance seems to be the Nansemond River, which terminates in Suffolk. However, in looking at the genealogies of even branches of my own family, it’s clear that some people arrived to the area from the Eastern Shore of Virginia, via Portsmouth and Norfolk. In looking at Native American groups, one can also see shared kinship with Indians in Currituck and Camden counties, as well as in Hertford and Bertie counties.

Many of the old British settlers of Hertford and Bertie moved from Nansemond and Gates counties, where they lived on the periphery of Indian settlements, to a similar set up in Bertie, where they lived on the outskirts of the Tuscarora Indian Woods Reservation.

It’s for this reason that I find genealogical links to people living in New Kent County, Virginia, so intriguing. There is no clear connection between the Pamunkey River and the Chowan River, and there is little to suggest why people from that area might have migrated into Gates County. I had previously examined the estate sale of my ancestor George Russell and found that many of the names of the men involved in the sale — William Wyatt, Robert Napier, Richard Austin, John Fleming, and John Hamilton — matched the names of planters from along the Pamunkey River from a century earlier. I had also shown how one particularly distinct name, Claiborne Austin, could be found in New Kent County prior to surfacing in Gates County.

In looking into the Lang family of Gates County, I was again surprised to discover that family histories place this family’s roots in New Kent County. The Langs are of interest to me because John Lang deeded 10 acres to Sarah Butler in Gates County in 1803, my ancestor Thomas Collins witness. There is a Lang family today that claims Chowanoke ancestry, and appears to descend from Washington Lang and Elizabeth Nickens, who lived in Winton in Hertford County, just a few miles away from John Lang’s land on the east side of the Chowan River. These Hertford Langs were enumerated as free people of color, unlike the Gates County Langs.

In looking into the name “John Lang” in New Kent County, I learned that there once had been a minister of Saint Peter’s Parish in New Kent in the 1720s named John Lang. I had no idea where Saint Peter’s Parish was located, but after looking at some maps, I learned it was directly across the Pamunkey River from the Pamunkey Indian Reservation. The minister prior to John Lang was named Henry Collins. Again I am left wondering about a connection between dispersed Pamunkey Indians living in New Kent County, and Gates County families that share the names of Pamunkey River planters but no genealogical connections.
Pamunkey

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Sherrod and Grant

LOOKING AT TWO DIFFERENT marriage records for a William Collins in Gates County, I unintentionally stumbled across two other characters that could be characterized as belonging to the shadowy “Scratch Hall Folk,” the community of swampers living in the woods of Hall Township in the colonial and early federal period.

William Collins was a close relative of my ancestor Thomas Collins, either his brother or his cousin (Thomas’s daughter Temperance, or “Tempty” married William Collins in 1812, but the Collins family at that time did not shy away from such close marriages).

When William Collins and Tempty Collins married on 10th January 1812, the witness was named “John Sherrod.” Both William Collins and John Sherrod signed with a mark.

Sherrod

I have tried to ascertain the identity or origin of John Sherrod. This was not a family name common to Gates County — ie. Eure, Lassiter, Harrell, etc. There is no “John Sherrod” in the 1810 or 1820 US Federal Census of Gates County. He does not appear in Nansemond County tax lists for that time. There is a “John Sharod” in the Hertford County tax list in 1759. As the western half of Gates County belonged to Hertford at that time, it could potentially place this John Sherrod in the area at that time.

“John Sherrod,” however, can be found in Tyrrell County, and later Martin County records. This was the name a major landowner in a place called “Hogtown” or “Hog Town” in Martin County. On the 1733 Moseley Map, the area is shown to be inhabited by the Tuscarora Indians, and the site of a town called “Cheeweo.” Edward Moseley originally owned this tract, but sold it to Robert Jenkins Henry of Somerset County, Maryland, who, in turn, sold it to James Sherrod in 1766. John Sherrod was his relative, another planter who owned land in nearby Conetoe, now a part of Edgecombe County.

James Sherrod’s grandson, also named John Sherrod, was born in 1790, and inherited this property. However, this John Sherrod was certainly not the man who witnessed the marriage of William and Tempty Collins in 1812 because that John Sherrod couldn’t even write his own name.

The question I must now pose is, why did an illiterate man named John Sherrod, who was apparently living in the wilds of western Gates County in the early 1800s, have the same name as a prominent planter from Martin County, who patented land on the site of an old Tuscarora town? And why was this poor John Sherrod not listed in any census at that time, even though the records demonstrate he was in the county?

Less than three years prior to the marriage of William Collins and Tempty Collins in 1812, a William Collins, perhaps the same one, married Abby Grant in Gates County on 25th September 1809, “Richard Austine” witness. Again, both men signed with their marks. Richard Austin was a resident of Hall, and later Nansemond County, who was closely associated with these families. His family apparently originated in New Kent County. Claiborne Austin, his relative, bought 50 acres at Fort Island in Hall Township in 1791 for $75.

Like John Sherrod, Abby Grant is a bit of an enigma. There were no Grants listed in the Gates County censuses in 1800, 1810, or 1820. The first Grant who pops up in the Gates County censuses is “WH Grant” who is listed in 1860 living in a place called Folly, right on the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp. A “James Grant,” found in Hertford County in 1850, describes himself as being from Gates County. There was a “John Grant” living in Hertford County in 1820. This family may have removed to Richmond County, North Carolina. However, as one genealogist notes, the Richmond County family was later described as mulatto in records.

The origins of the Grant family may have also led back to the Indian Woods area. As I noted in my earlier post about mixed race Bertie County families, the Grants owned property on the Indian line, and were neighbors of the landowning Basses, Collinses, Castellaws, Whitmells, Kings, and Wilfords. A “Sally Wilford” married William Goomer in Gates County in 1801. A Sarah Collins married John Goomer in 1786, and Abigail Russell married Thomas Goomer in 1800. Therefore all of these families were closely related.

What emerges from the records, is that these people living in Hall Township, nicknamed as Scratch Hall, were illiterate, owned little or no property, were not recorded in federal censuses, and apparently had origins in the Indian Woods area of Bertie County.

The only big question mark remains around the origins of the Austin and Napier families from this region. As I have noted, the Austins and Napiers share the same names as major planters from the New Kent County area yet no apparent genealogical connection. In 1753, an “aged and infirm” Robert Napier gave testimony on behalf of “Indian Jack Hatcher” in Goochland County, Virginia. With local lore about an “Indian Fort” at Fort Island in Hall Township, one wonders if the 75 acres that the Austins acquired served as a land base for this group of people.

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Lines of Descent

WP_20160612_16_05_16_ProAT THE MOMENT, this is how I have drawn up lines of descent in my Collins and Russell families, Native American heritage that would explain both DNA admixture results, and the fact that some descendants are described as being of color in some documents.

My line of descent is through my father: Justin Petrone (1979-); John Petrone (1947-); Margaret Pittman (1918-2016); Tom Pittman (1896-1971); Martha Collins (1877-1945); Hugh Collins (1839-1915); Graham Collins (1800-1880); Thomas Collins (1769-1849) …

Thomas Collins’ mother was likely a Butler — he witnessed the deed of 10 acres to Sarah Butler in 1803. This may or may not be his mother, but I believe she was a close relative, seeing as I match descendants of Martha Butler, the Tuscarora Indian woman, who had children with John Castellaw in Bertie County in the 18th century within that genealogical timeframe. This family is described in detail in Paul Johnson’s excellent book Pell Mellers: Race and Memory in a Carolina Pocosin.

Sarah Butler’s heir upon her death in 1816 was also named Martha Butler.

Thomas Collins’s wife was named Anna Russell. They may have cohabited for a decade prior to their marriage in 1801. Perhaps the marriage was related to the acquisition of land. Thomas Collins was first listed as a landowner in Nansemond County in 1805. Before that he was officially sans acreage in Gates County. He was likely born in Hall Township, or arrived there with his family from the Indian Woods area in the 1770s.

Most of the names associated with these families are unarguably “Scratch Hall Folk,” which explains their absence from many records. The Russells, and Anna Russell’s father George Russell in particular, belonged to this shadowy group of individuals living on the margins of the Great Dismal Swamp.

I believe that George Russell’s common-law wife may have been a Beasley, and a descendant of the same Charles Beasley who signed the Chowan Indian land conveyances in the 1730s. A William Beasley is later listed on the same tax list as known Chowan Indian men James Bennett, Jesse Martin, and James Robbins in the 1790s, after the final parcels of reservation land were sold. I make this educated guess based on the fact that both James Collins and James Russell — who would be the son and son-in-law of this Beasley woman — both took part in James Beasley’s estate sale in 1815, even though they had already removed some 15 miles to the northeast, and were therefore more likely close relatives of James Beasley than neighbors. This Beasley woman would be the one free colored person in the household of Charles Russell, her son, in the 1800 US Federal Census of Gates County. She was also excluded from the estate of her husband, George Russell, when he died in 1791, and there was no mention of a widow, even though an “Ann Russell” later deeded George Russell’s land to Charles Russell in 1816.

Please note, I do not claim to be an Indian based on these genealogical connections. I do not wear traditional dress, and have not yet joined the American Indian Movement. However, it appears, based on the tools at hand, that I am a descendant of several people who were Tuscarora and Chowanoke Indians in the late 18th century.

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‘No Racial Intermingling’

pell-mellers-n

“THERE WAS NO RACIAL INTERMINGLING. There were no half-breed Indians.” This is a quote from a July 29, 1915 edition of The Windsor Ledger in Bertie County, North Carolina. It’s certainly no easy task to “confirm” Native American ancestry in this area. However, from multiple records it is plain to see that there were mixed-race inhabitants in Bertie County during the colonial era that “passed over” into white, or European, society around the time of the American Revolution.

Some of these families had names like:

  • Bass — The Bass family has recorded 17th century Nansemond Indian heritage. Both Thomas Bass and his brother Isaac and their descendants owned land and slaves in Bertie County, while being recorded as mulattoes into the 1770s and white after 1790*.
  • Bunch — DNA testing has confirmed the West African ancestry of the Bunch male line. Paul Bunch and Henry Bunch were in Bertie County by the 1720s. Henry Bunch’s daughter Tamerson married Thomas Bass. His daughter Nancy married Isaac Bass. And his daughter Rachel married Joseph Collins.
  • Bazemore – Members of the Bazemore family, which originated in Norfolk, were taxed as mulattoes through the mid-1770s, but were recorded as white in the 1790 US Federal Census and onward. Not only, they were major slaveholders and landowners — in 1779, mulatto John Bazemore owned 9 slaves and 1,826 acres.
  • Butler — Multiple members of the Butler family were listed as mulattoes in 18th century tax lists in Bertie. They married into the Bunch, Castellaw, Mitchell, Prichard, and Williams families, and were recorded as white in the federal era.
  • Collins — Josiah Collins was a taxable mulatto in his own household in Bertie County in 1771. He was the son of Joseph Collins and Rachel Bunch. Their descendants were recorded as white. A Lucy Collins is recorded as the head of a household of free colored persons in the 1800 census.

Honestly, this is just the start of the alphabet. One might continue to look at the Cale, Cobb, Farmer, Jenkins, and many other families.  To get a better understanding of the areas sexual habits, have a look at the Bertie County bastardy bonds from the 18th century. In fact, you will find the Lloyd family there as well. recently I was able to determine that my grandmother’s Native American DNA segments matched those of a Lloyd family descendant. A “Joseph Lloyd” was mentioned on one of the Tuscarora Indian Reservation deeds from the 18th century. All of this demonstrates that Bertie County in the 18th century hosted a large community of mixed-race landowners, at least one of which, the Bass family, had documented Native American ancestry. Tuscarora ancestry is also claimed by the Butler family on the basis of tradition and phenotype.

*(Note: Thomas Bass’s land in Bertie County was near Amos Grant’s property. A William Collins married Abigail Grant in Gates County in 1809).

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