THE MODERN IDEA of a Native American tribe has at its core the concept of common descent from a historical group. This is in part shaped by US Bureau of Indian Affairs preconditions for federal acknowledgement. Modern Native American groups must prove their descent from an ancestral group using archival material.

This concept arguably runs into trouble in coastal North Carolina. For example, given the historical record, it is clear that men with the family names Bennett and Robins/Robbins sold off parts of the Chowan Indian Reservation. These men are identified in these deeds as Chowan Indians. People therefore consider the Bennett and Robins families to be Chowan Indians, and some even relate these Indians to the historical Chowanoke of the Roanoke era. Yet in the year 1800, one can find Bennetts and Robinses living in Currituck County, not Gates County, alongside people named Case, Smith, Gordon, and Bowser.

Currituck 1800

Abraham Hiter, presumably a descendant of the Chief Thomas Hiter of the Chowan Indians from the land conveyances in the 1730s, is also listed in Currituck County in 1800. If you look where the Hiters are living in the 1850 census in Currituck, you will find them at Poplar Branch and Powells Point.


If you look closely, you can see a cluster of dwellings on the 1733 Moseley Map denoting the Potoskite Indian settlement at what is today Powells Point. The Chowanoke Hiter family therefore moved during the 18th century to a different Native American settlement that was historically known as Potoskite (or Poteskeet).

Does this mean that the Hiter family “became” Poteskeet? Or does that mean that descendants of the Hiter family, and other Chowanoke Indians in Currituck County are entitled to call themselves Chowanoke Indians? Or have they become Potoskite Indians? Or perhaps they are actually Yeopim Indians?

It seems to me that the various “tribes” reflected on the colonial maps were actually settlements, and the people in those settlements were related, not only by language or culture, but by blood. The idea of a “chief” or “king” of the group related to the headman of that settlement. It is for this reason that we cannot really distinguish the coastal groups in North Carolina into neat “tribes” or “nations.” They are all related, and often consist of the same interconnected families. What interests me, though, is how old these kinship groups are.




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