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.
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.