Indian Creek Canton

norfolk-indian creekAs far as ‘mystery’ populations are concerned, you can’t get more ‘mystery’ than Indian Creek in Norfolk, Virginia. This meandering water body must have just worked its way just north of the state line and fed into the Back Bay area around Knotts Island, where an “Indian Pond” is located. I can find no modern-day maps that reference Indian Creek, however there is an Indian Creek Road that moves through southern Norfolk and into Virginia Beach.

This is an interesting area, because a number of Indian ‘pilot’ families moved through here in the mid-to-early 18th century. One can find Hall, Bass, Nickens, and others in this region, some of whom later became associated with the Nansemond Indians. Names like Price, Sawyer, and Collins, found on the 1907 census of the Nansemond are also found in this neighborhood.

But who was living in this Back Bay area? Colonial era maps show no Native American villages in the border lands between what became North Carolina and Virginia. Some believe the Chesapeake, or Chesepians, were inhabiting this place, although it is said that Powhatan’s forces eliminated the Chesapeake in the first decades of the 17th century. Moreover, there are no colonial references to Chesapeake people. One can find “Indian Creek” mentioned in Norfolk records as early as the 1680s, and well into the 18th century. There survive some tax records for an “Indian Creek Canton” from the 1730s. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen them.

The other Native American group described in this region was the Weapemeoc, or Yeopim. The etymology of the Yeopim name, the “dawn land people,” is fascinating. This is the same name that the Wabanaki (Abenaki) of Maine and Wampanoag people of Massachusetts called themselves, and demonstrates the links among the coastal peoples.

Both the Chesapeake and Yeopim were Carolina Algonquians, and not entangled in any political alignment with Powhatan’s confederacy. There is a “Monkey Island” in Currituck Sound that is named for the Pamunkey Indians. It was apparently used as a summer refuge for those Native Americans, which brings the Chesapeake, Nansemond, Pamunkey, and Yeopim all into the area. The recurring intermarriage between the group at Indian Creek and the Yeopim in Currituck County and Camden County in North Carolina, the Chowan in Gates County, the Nansemond in Hertford County and Norfolk County, and the Machapunga at Mattamuskeet in Hyde County, North Carolina, leads me to wonder if these “tribal” or “national” names carried much weight among the Indians of the coast.

The one surviving Native American demonym in this area, around modern- day Saint Brides, is “Pungo,” which could refer both to Matchipongo and Pungoteague in Northampton County, Virginia, on the Eastern Shore, and the Machapunga Indians in Hyde County.  Or it just might be a common Algonquian word for “dirt” or “dust.”

Into the 19th century though, marriages did occur between Eastern Shore, Norfolk-Currituck area, and Hyde County families. I have found a marriage record for instance, for a Thomas Collins, from Northampton County, Virginia, who married Missema Chance, of Hyde County, in Norfolk in 1867. There is also a marriage between James Collins, of Hyde County, and Alice Cuffee, of Deep Creek, the traditional Nansemond Indian hot spot, in Norfolk in 1899. Interestingly, though both Collins and Cuffee were from ‘mulatto’ families they were listed as ‘white’ on their marriage record. There were many of these unions.

This shows continuous kinship links among the descendants of the Algonquian groups living on the Eastern Shore and down into the Inner and Outer Banks of North Carolina. I am interested in this area because of the following document:


My ancestor Thomas Collins (1769-1849) had a daughter named Temperance Collins (1793-1868) who married a cousin named William Collins. Burwell Collins (1822-1877), the son of Temperance, married Mary Jane Ellis. So I was looking into any Ellis-Collins connections in the region when I found this will from Norfolk in 1803. It’s possible that this Thomas Collins and my ancestor are the same person. The name “Stephen Price” also brings to mind the Prices on the 1907 Nansemond census. In looking at these names, it appears that all of these people were living in and around Indian Creek in Norfolk. But who were the Indian Creek people? Were they displaced Yeopim, “Dawn Land People”?

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