Traces of the Tuscarora

Artwork by Dennis Cusick (1800-1824), a Tuscarora artist from New York

AT THE START OF THE 18TH CENTURY, the Tuscarora were the dominant indigenous people in Eastern North Carolina. Early exposure to British colonists had taken its toll on the Algonquian-speaking coastal people of the Inner and Outer Banks, and the Iroquoian Tuscarorans had gained power politically, projecting power from the Great Dismal Swamp down to the Core Sound.

The current narrative, however, is that following a war with colonial powers and allied indigenous peoples, the Tuscarora slowly trickled north, until the process was declared complete at the beginning of the 19th century. There are plenty of people in North Carolina today who claim to either have Tuscarora ancestry or to be Tuscarora people. Who are these descendants? Are they all just white, or black, or some other Indian people? Are they frauds? And, furthermore, is there any way to prove a link between the people who went north to the Six Nations and those who stayed behind?

Recently, I obtained the GEDmatch kit number of someone who is a Tuscarora descendant from New York. She descends from a certain well-known Tuscarora chief from the 19th century, through his daughter. Using Eurogenes K13, I was able to isolate a piece of a chromosome that had been painted as Amerindian and then run segment match to see who matched her there. The person who also had this Amerindian DNA, it turned out, was a Butler descendant from North Carolina.  The Butlers, as I have noted previously, have been described in oral history as being of Tuscarora descent. Yet there is no proof of this — there are no Butlers listed in the Indian Woods Reservation deeds.

There were, however, Butlers described as mulattoes in various Bertie County records. Robert Butler was described as a “free mulatto male” in 1763. Margaret and Isaac Butler were “free mulattoes” in the 1761 tax list. William Butler was a “free mulatto” in the 1763 list. Elizabeth Butler was similarly a free mulatto in the 1761 and 1763 lists. She was also the common-law wife of Arthur Williams. Her son Isaac Williams married Nancy Bunch. This family, despite its mixed race origins, was later counted as white. Martha Butler was the “mulatto” common-law wife of John Castellaw in Bertie County. This was clearly a family that had mixed ancestry.

One must ask, why is a person of Tuscarora descent from New York, whose ancestry is local to northern New York and Canada, matching a woman who descends from a family of mixed ancestry from the area of the Indian Woods Reservation in Bertie County, North Carolina? I noticed a relatively close DNA match of this Butler descendant also matches my grandmother. This second person, who matches the Butler descendant, descends from the Hinton family of Gates County, North Carolina. Specifically, she descends from James Hinton, to whom the Chowan Indians conveyed reservation land in the 1730s.

Thomas Hiter, Chief of Chowan Indians, and other Indians, to Jacob
Hinton. 200 acres land on Bennett’s Creek; November 15,1733. Test,
Thomas Carman, Henry Hill.

Same, to James Hinton. 500 acres adjoining Jacob Hill; January 9,
1733. Test, John Alston, Thomas Garrett, Thos Carman, John Thomas.

This raises some interesting questions. First, were the Indians of the Chowan Precinct, at this point, Tuscarora Indians? Second, did James Hinton gain his land through marriage into the tribe. Hintons descendants also married Freeman descendants. Priscilla Freeman, the daughter of John Freeman and Tabitha Hoyter, married William Hinton. Were these all mixed European-Chowan Indian families? William’s daughter, Sarah Hinton, later married John Collins in 1779 in Chowan County, George Russell witness.

Another issue is that the Tuscarora supposedly absorbed a large number of Chowan Indian families in the 1730s, and some have said that after the abandonment of the Indian Woods Reservation, many people returned to the Chowan River area, reinforcing the communities that today are called the Meherrin and the Chowanoke.

This is all quite vague, but the genetic link between the Tuscarora in New York and descendants in North Carolina appears to be quite real. It warrants further study and if more people in New York tested, it would no doubt allow a better understanding of the genetic relationship between the two communities.

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