THIS IS HIGHLY SPECULATIVE. It has to be, because it’s based on a limited amount of information. What I have started to wonder in the past few days, is if there existed some kind of Indian community in and around Deep Cypress in the late 18th century and the early 19th century.
By looking at those early land deeds, I was able to see that these individuals of interest were living near the Sumner and Saunders properties just north of present day Eure. In fact, members of the Sumner and Saunders families witnessed their legal marriages. John Sumner was the witness to the marriage of my ancestors Thomas Collins and Anna Russell on 9 May 1801.
They must have been living in Deep Cypress before the move to Nansemond County. Many of the people I have profiled here in various posts — the Halls, Beasleys, Corneliuses, Collinses, Russells, Dennises, Custalows — were living in this specific area between the 1780s and the 1820s. While they were not identified as Indians, they were often not counted in censuses or militia lists and occasionally appeared as free colored persons when they were counted.
While there never was, as far as I know, an Indian town in this area, there was an Indian school at Sarem immediately to the northeast of this area. It was operational in 1712, and Thomas Hoyter, the chief man of the Chowanoke, expressed a desire to see his son educated there. It was described as being equidistant between two Indian towns. There were actually three settlements in this area: the Meherrin and Nansemond towns on the Chowan River, and the Chowanoke settlement on Bennetts Creek.
By 1728, William Byrd encountered Meherrin on the east side of the Chowan River, who had taken refuge among the settlers after being attacked by the Catawba. The Meherrin settlement in this area appears on the 1733 Moseley Map. In a 1752 letter, the Meherrin are described as consisting of a “mere handful” and living west of the Chowan, presumably at the Potecasi Creek settlement. In the 1760s, there was another migration of North Carolina Indians to join the Haudenosaunee in New York.
The names left on the Tuscarora Indian Woods deeds then appear in Gates County around Deep Cypress. Billy and Sarah Dennis had signed the deeds. Margaret Dennis appears in Gates County. Isaac Cornelius had signed the deeds, Thomas Cornelius appears in Gates County. Yet some of the people who appeared in this area: the Beasley children of Henry Saunders; Sarah Butler; Lemuel, William, and Thomas Collins; Henry and John Hall; the Russell family, bear surnames that are linked to the coastal Algonquian communities.
It appears that if there was a community at Deep Cypress, it was not made up of one particular Indian nation, but multiple families of diverse origins: the Tuscarora Dennis, Custalow, and Cornelius families from Bertie County; the perhaps Nansemond or Yeopim Hall and Collins families from Norfolk and Currituck; the Mattamuskeet Russell family from Hyde County; the Chowanoke Beasley family from Gates and Chowan counties.
There are two bits of anecdotal information that might confirm this theory. One is the mention in F. Roy Johnson’s 1965 book Tales of Old Carolina of an Indian community at Fort Island, directly southwest of this area, that existed until “a few decades before the Civil War.” The second was oral history in 1979-1980 that described Indians living on the Winton Road up into Virginia, and identified them as — perhaps — Tuscarora Indians.
If this was such a community, its composition would be no different from the communities elsewhere in the region. A Neusiok Indian named “Neuse Will” signed the Chowan land deeds in the 1730s. Jeremiah Pushin was on record as a Nansemond and Chowan Indian. The Tuscarora Indian Woods deeds and the Nottoway 1808 census mention men and women named “Wineoke Charles” and “Jemmy Wineoak.”
These people living at Deep Cypress were probably a mix of Chowanoke, Nansemond, Meherrin, Tuscarora, Weyanoke, Yeopim, and other Indians. This is what the area around Deep Cypress looks like today. As you can see, there is still a major swamp in this neighborhood.