Study of the Poteskeet Indians

Penny Ferguson, a long time researcher of mixed race records, has graciously given  permission to republish her Study of the Posteskeet Indians which was originally published on the Historical Melungeons Blog at  This blog is an excellent resource for factual Melungeon information.

Penny is a the co-administrator of the Melungeon DNA project, as well as a founding member of the Melungeon Historical Society.  She has been researching this mysterious group of people for years, debunking popular myths about their heritage.

One of the theories about the Melungeons is that they are descendants of the Lost Colonists.  The Melungeons did in fact claim that they were Portuguese, or at least “Portygee”, which was interpreted at Portuguese. Of course, there are other legends as well, which may or may not be founded in historical fact.

Penny wondered if there was any connection between “Portygee” and the various spellings and pronunciations of the Posteskeet tribe of Indians found in the same areas where the original Melungeon families were located in early Virginia near the North Carolina border.  The result is her “Study of the Posteskeet Indians.”  Thank you Penny for allowing us to print this important research.

Study of the Posteskeet Indians
Penny Ferguson

While pondering why some of the Melungeon people would say they were Portugee, I thought I’d share some of the notes I’ve made on the Posteskeet Indians. This isn’t in a time line, it is presented to show where and when they were mentioned, and to show their connection with the Nansemonds. The Nansemonds were associated at times with the Saponi, and no matter what tribe of American Indian occupied Fort Christiana they all seem have been recognized by outsiders as Saponi.

It is possible people who became known or were called Melungeon were saying the name of an Indian tribe. Notice in the notes below a band of Nansemond was sometimes called Pochick or Porchyackee. Mooney says the Posteskeets “occupied that portion of North Carolina north of Albemarle sound and extending as far westward as Edenton, between Albemarle sound and Pamlico river and on the outlying islands were the Secotan of Raleigh’s time.” This places them close to the “Lost Colony” which is interesting to me. Any quotes below from C.S. Everett were taken from the Appalachian Journal, Summer 1999, an article written by Everett titled, “Melungeon History and Myth.”

The Indians occupying the coast of Virginia, and extending as far inland as the geologic structure line marked by the falls of the principal streams, formed the Powhatan confederacy, belonging to the Algonquian stock.  Adjoining them on the south were another Algonquian people, known to Raleigh’s colonists of 1585 as the Weapemeoc, and at a later date as Yeopim (Weapeme-oc), Perquiman, Pasquotank, and Posteskeet, occupying that portion of North Carolina north of Albemarle sound and extending as far westward as Edenton; between Albemarle sound and Pamlico river and on the outlying islands were the Secotan of Raleigh’s time, known afterward as Mattamuskeet, Machapunga and Hatteras Indians; while the Pamlico country, between Pamlico and the estuary of Neuse river, was held by the Pamlico or Pamticough, together with the Bear River Indians, the Pomouik or Pamwaioc of Raleigh’s colonists; all these people being Algonquian….. The Souian Tribes of the East, James Mooney, p 7.

The link between the Saponi and Melungeons was noted by Cherokee scholar Robert Thomas when he surveyed the Indian groups in the Southern Appalachians where he concluded that the Melungeon Collins family were, “descendants of … Collins who resided in Orange County, North Carolina in 1760; a family of Saponi Indians.” Thomas also noted the Pochick and Nansemond association with the Saponi Indians in Granville County area around modern Kitrell, North Carolina. Everett p 366.

The Weyanocks began feuding with a segment of the Nansemonds called Pochicks in 1663 and with the Tuscaroras in 1667; in both those years they had to seek refuge among the English.  Pocahontas’s People, Helen Rountree, p 94.

Thus, the Assembly’s census of 1669 shows “(Christianized) Nansemonds” with forty-five bowmen living in Nansemond County and the other segment, called “Pochay-icks” or Pochicks, with thirty bowmen in Surry County, which then included the head-waters of the Blackwater River.

A “King” of Nansemond signed both versions of the Treaty of Middle Plantation in 1677. The traditionalists may or may not have continued to intermarry with their Christianized relatives; however, toward the end of the century they became so embroiled in Nottoway affairs that they became speakers of Nottoway as well, and a single interpreter served the Nottoways, Meherrins, and Nansemonds. Pocahontas’s People, Helen Rountree p108

Everett p 394-5, on the Saponi in southern Virginia where they were associated at times with the Nottoway and Nansemond, a band of which was sometimes called ” Pochick” or “ Porchyackee,” see, “Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia,” ed. H.R. Mcllwaine et al. (Richmond. 1925-1966), Vol. IV, pp. 208-9, 269, 290-1 and Vol. VI, pp. 34, 38-9; “Observations of Superintendent John Stuart and Governor James Grant of East Florida on the Proposed Plan 1764 Regarding the Future of Indian Affairs,” American Historical Review, 20:4 (1915), 815, and Hazel, “Occaneechi-Saponi descendants,” pp 3-29.

Everett p 395, the Pochicks have variously been termed “Poachaick,” “Poachyack,” “Poaychick,” “Pochickee,” and possibly “Portoskite,” and Poteskeet” (in association with northeastern North Carolina.)

Before the European settlement of northeastern North Carolina, the area now known as Currituck County was home to the Poteskeet Indian Tribe. Although the Poteskeet’s main village was located on the mainland, they used the northern Outer Banks, including the area now within the Reserve, as hunting and fishing grounds. Oyster shell middens and pottery fragments found at several locations in the northern Outer Banks are evidence that the Poteskeet used this area (Gale 1982). As English colonists began to settle in the area, documents dictate several nonviolent disputes over territory with the Poteskeet. By 1730, the Poteskeet had mostly disappeared from the Currituck area (Gale 1982).

The Saponi were primarily piedmont Indians. By 1714 several tribes, including the Occaneechi, came together under the name Saponi. They lived most often in the area that has become Virginia but traveled throughout the entire Virginia and North Carolina piedmont region. At times in the 17th century they were associated with the Monacan Indians of modern Amherst County, Virginia, as well as with the so-called “Tutelo” in southwestern Virginia and northwestern North Carolina.

Later in the 18th century, the Saponi associated at various times and in various ways with Cheraw, Meherrin, Nansemond, Nottoway, Occaneechi, Pochick (or Poachyacke), and Tuscorara. Between about 1710 and the mid-1750’s, remarkably active in colonial-Indian trade, war and politics, several bands of the Saponi Nation moved back and forth from Virginia where they had “reservations” from about 1714 to 1722 (though some Saponi were still present at least until 1728) and again briefly in the 1730’s, to the Catawba Nation in what is now northern South Carolina. About 1731, some resided in the upper piedmont between the Roanoke and Appomattox rivers in Virginia and settled down briefly about 1732 near present Danville. Iroquois raids forced them to flee east again, and this time they evidently split up into several small bands.

In late April or early March of 1733, one group petitioned the Tuscarora Nation and the North Carolina Executive Council for residence on the Tuscarora Reservation in Bertie County. They were received by the Tuscarora and granted the right to remain on the Indian Woods reservation by the Executive council.

A few years later and further north, a 1737 Amelia County deed–recorded just southwest of Richmond in territory bordered by Cumberland County (see Jarvis above) –demarcated a boundary of newly purchased lands for Alexander Bruce as “beginning at a white oak above the Sappone Indians Cabbins.” This deed evidently refers to another band of the same nation. Page 365-6 Everett.

Because of the virtual lack of records from the time of the Roanoke colony until the second half of the seventeenth century, we know nothing of the history of the Weapemeoc Indians for over 70 years. During this period the Weapemeoc were reduced in numbers, had been dispossessed of their originally held tribal lands, and had become separated into bands or divisions.

Currituck, Pasquotank, and Perquimans Counties, each set up as a precinct of Albemarle County in 1670, are usually said to have been named for Indian tribes inhabiting the vicinity of these political divisions (169), but the only record of native groups by these names is Lawson’s reference to a “Paspatank” Indian town of 30 or 40 inhabitants, which he named after the river on which the town was located in 1709 (170).

Mooney referred to the Yeopim, Perquiman, Pasquotank, and Poteskeet as “bands or sub-tribes” of the Weapemeoc of 1585 (171), but his only authority cited is Lawson, who enumerated 10 “Paspatank” and 30 “Potaskeit” adult male Indians and 6 “Jaupin (Yeopim) people” in 1709. The Jaupin are not located, but Lawson referred to the Paspatank and Potaskeit as inhabiting towns on Paspatank (Pasquotank) and North Rivers, respectively. Lawson’s names for these Indian groups were, with the possible exception of Potaskeit, place names already in use by the colonists.

Only two of the four Weapemeoc bands above mentioned seem to have been commonly known by the names given them by Mooney. These are the Yeopim, who inhabited the Yeopim River region and in general the western part of former Weapemeoc territory, and the Poteskeet who lived in the eastern half.

In March, 1715, the Council of Carolina was petitioned by the “Porteskyte Indians” who complained that the white inhabitants of “Corratuck Bank” were hindering them from hunting on “those their usual grounds.” The natives reported that white settlers had threatened to destroy the guns of the Indians, without which they could not hunt, and that “without the liberty of hunting” they could not subsist. The Council ordered that thenceforth the Poteskeet should be permitted to hunt on any of the banks without the hindrance of the English (172) .The reference is of interest in locating the Poteskeet in Currituck County and in indicating their possession of firearms by 1715.

There is also mention of trade with these Indians and of their sale of tribal lands previous to that date (173). Governor Burrington included the “Pottaskites” as one of the six Indian “nations” inhabiting Carolina in 1731 and stated that they numbered then less than 20 families. Twenty years earlier the Rev. James Adams had reported “about 70 or 80 Indians… in the Precinct arid Parish of Carahtuck …many of which understand English tolerably well” (174).

Notes 169-174 are from the Algonkian Ethnohistory of the Carolina Sound by Maurice A. Mook, Part 4

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Poteskeet. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.