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.