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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