Chowan Men Named in Court Cases

Chowan court
A 1733 promissory note from John Robins Indian to Thomas Durin Indian

I CAME ACROSS this 2006 paper from the The North Carolina Historical Review last night. It was written by Michelle LeMaster, an associate professor of history at Lehigh University. It contains references to multiple court cases involving Indians in the Chowan Precinct, and expands the list of known Chowan Indians in the records.

Before I proceed, a brief recap of Indians from the Chowan Precinct listed in records:

  • John Hiter (also spelled Highter, Hitaw, Hoyter, Hoyle, etc.) — He petitioned the colonial government for a survey of the Bennetts Creek Reservation in 1714
  • Thomas Hiter — Deeded Indian land in the 1730s.
  • Jeremiah Poshon (also spelled Jerome Pushing, Pushin) — Took part in the deeds in the 1730s. Also deeded land in Surry County in 1745 as one of the Nansemond Indians
  • Thomas Poshon — Also deeded land in the 1730s.
  • John Redding (also spelled Reding) — deeded land in the 1730s. There were actually two John Reddings listed in documents.
  • Charles Cosby (also spelled Cosboy) — also deeded land in the 1730s.
  • Nuce Will (thought by some to be Neuse Will) — deeded land in the 1730s.
  • Hull Will — on the 1730s land deeds.
  • Charles Beasley (also spelled Bearley, Beasel, Beardsley) — appeared on the 1730s deeds.
  • James Bennett — on the 1730s deeds
  • James Bennett, Jr. — called a “Bennetts Creek Indian” in a 1763 deed
  • Amos Bennett — called a “Bennetts Creek Indian” in a 1763 deed
  • Joseph Bennett — described as a chief man of the Chowan Indian Nation in 1790
  • George Bennett — called an Indian boy in a 1781 apprenticeship
  • John Robbins (also spelled Robin, Robins) — listed on the 1730s deeds.
  • Benjamin Robbins — who together with Joseph Bennett and James Robbins sold the last 400 acres of the reservation in 1790
  • James Robbins — described as a Chowan Indian head man on multiple records. Other Robbins family members were described as Indians on deeds into the 1820s.

This is quite a list of names. It includes Hiter, Poshon, Redding, Cosby, Will, Beasley, Robbins, and Bennett as families with Chowan Indian background.

In LeMaster’s paper, a few other Chowan Indians are named. These include:

  • John King — an Indian named in a 1695 court case.
  • Willowby — an Indian named in a 1720 court case involving James Hiter
  • Jonathan White — a “Chowanoc” Indian charged in 1719 with selling liquor without a license
  • Robert Abrams — called an Indian in a 1738 suit involving John Stafford (note: was this the same John Stafford who was living with William Collins at Western Branch in 1732?)
  • Thomas Durin — an Indian who brought suit against John Robbins in 1736. Note that Thomas Durant was also the name of one of the Yeopim Indians. The promissory note upon which the case was based, dated February 1733, was witnessed by John Martin, James Buros (Burroughs?), and Charles Beasley.


SOME OBSERVATIONS. First, we know from census records that the Hiters, Bennetts, and Robbins had moved to Currituck County in the mid-18th century and were living, in some cases, in the area of the Poteskeet town described on the 1733 Moseley Map.

Here we see the case of Chowan men, like Jeremiah Poshon, also acting on behalf of the Nansemond Indians, or Yeopim men, like Thomas Durin, suing John Robbins in court. Billy Bennett was named on a 1766 Tuscarora deed, and as has been noted, in 1733, many of the Chowan Indians moved to Bertie County. It’s possible that some of these families, the Willoughbys, Kings, or Cosbys, relocated there as well. What it also reveals is the rather fluid relationships between the Tuscarora, Nansemond, Chowanoke, and Yeopim Indians. People moved rather easily between these various Indian communities.

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