THE 1790 US FEDERAL CENSUS for Currituck County in North Carolina provides a good glimpse at changing identities in the Albemarle in the early years of the United States.
The 1733 Moseley Map had depicted two indigenous communities in this area: a town called Yeopim on the North River, then part of Pasquotank Precinct, and another called Potoskite in Currituck near a place called Powells Point. These were both Algonquian communities: the name Yeopim stemming from a word that meant, “People of the dawn land,” and Potoskite perhaps meaning, “Where it divides in two.”
In the 1790 census, we find “Thomas Bunnett” listed as the head of a household of six white persons. He is listed beside Joseph Case, who is the head of a household of six white persons. In the 1800 census, though, Joseph Case is the head of a household of six free people of color, and Rachel Bennett, listed nearby, is the head of a household of four people of color. The Cases and Bennetts went from being “white” to “free colored.”
This was but a change in paperwork. As I have posted previously, Thomas Bennett is referred to as a “old Indian man” in an 1810 deed in Currituck County. This community lived precisely near Powells Point, where the Potoskite had been living in 1733.
There were perhaps other Indians living in Currituck County, however. At that time, there were Meekins and Basnett families living at both Powells Point and on Roanoke Island, which was part of Currituck until it became part of Dare County in 1870. In the 1790 Census, Mary Basnett and Robert Basnett and Margaret Meekins and Richard Meekins head households of “other free” persons. In the 1800 census, Mary Basnight and Robert Basnight, as well as Margaret Meekins, are the heads of free white households.
These records offer a glimpse at assimilation. In the case of the Cases and Bennetts, their identity went from “white” to “free colored” in the span of 10 years. For the Basnights and Meekinses, it was the opposite. I have highlighted a similar situation with my own families, the Collinses and Russells, who similarly hopped the color line a few times.