The Last Hatteras Indian Deed

During the summer of 2010, Baylus Brooks took a road trip to Carteret and Currituck Counties.  He was researching Nathaniel Pinkham for his article, “Nantucket Whalers in NC – The Pinkhams” that appeared in the September 2010 edition of the Lost Colony Research Group newsletter which is online at  Nathaniel Pinkham had died in July of 1821, and Baylus copied his estate records. 

We had heard rumors that the Elizabeth Elks deed below existed, but a copy had never been produced.  Baylus found the deed registered in Currituck County.  It’s contents are quite interesting.  

Currituck County, Deed Book16, page 140

Elizabeth Elke, Deed of Gift to Nath Pinkham

To all people to whom these presents shall come greeting know that Elizabeth Elke Native Indian of the county of Currituck and State of NC for and in consideration of the natural love and affection I have towards my well known trusty friend Nath Pinkham and many other causes sufficient me thereunto moving Me I have given, granted, conveyed and released and forever quit claim and I do by these presents put the same into his possession that is to say a certain tract or parcel of land situate lying and being in the aforesaid county of Currituck known by the name of the Indian lands beginning at the westernmost corner or line on the sound side running along that line to the sea to the extent of said line, then running the length of all the lines so as to include the whole of the Indian right to the first named westward bounding to have and to hold the said tract of land to use occupy and enjoy all the profits of the said lands and timber without any molestation let or hindrance of any white person whatever during his natural life provided my son should live to the age of 21 years then and in that case the land shall be at my sons disposal and for his only use but in case he should not live to the age then the above granted land shall belong to my beloved above named friend Nath Pinkham and his heirs and assigns forward.  Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and affixed my seal this 27th day of March in the year 1802, signed, sealed and delivered in the presents of George Pinkham and William Sharp.

Currituck County, March 3, 1823, Personally appeared before me Richard Chapell of the county aforesaid, school master, who being duly sworn on the Holy Evangelist deposeth and sayeth that he was acquainted with the handwriting of George Pinkham whose signature is annexed to the within deed as a subscribing witness and the signature aforenamed is of the proper handwriting of the said George Pinkham to the best of this deponents knowledge and belief, this deponent further sayeth that the said George Pinkham and that William Sharp the other subscribing witness all have died and Elizabeth Elke whose name is ?? as grantor of the deed one and all dead let the deed aforesaid be recognized.

Registered May 27, 1823

This deed provides us with lots of information but ultimately, it begs more questions than it answers.

Here’s what we know. 

Elizabeth Elke, elsewhere know as Elizabeth Elks, was alive in 1802.  She was not enumerated by that name in the 1790 or 1800 census on Hatteras Island or elsewhere, so she was apparently living in another household, or was not enumerated because she was Indian living on Indian land.  Indians “not taxed” were not to be enumerated, and typically, Indians living on Indian land were not taxed.  The land was granted to the Hatteras Indians as a whole, and not as individuals, so they should not have been taxed.  This would also imply that they if they were living on Indian land in 1790 or 1800, they would not have been enumerated in those census years.  However, any Indians not living on Indian land would be taxable. 

Based on this deed, it appears that perhaps Nathaniel Pinkham was concerned with and wanted the timber.  He probably didn’t care one way or another if Mary Elks lived there or not, so the conveyance may have been in exchange for allowing her to live on the land the rest of her life.  Or perhaps the relationship was closer than a mere land transfer.

In 1802, Elizabeth was young enough to have a son under the age of 21.  Of course that means he could have been anyplace from newborn to age 20, but more likely a younger man.  Had he been age 20, she likely would have simply not conveyed the land, expecting him to live.  He may have been sickly, and she may have expected that her son would not live to maturity.  She may have assured that with the conveyance of this land in this fashion.  Devastating hurricanes in the early 1800s took many lives and the Elks may have been among those who died.

Elizabeth Elks, based on this deed, in 1802, was an adult, over the age of 21 and under the age of 60, so born sometime between 1741 and 1781.  If this is the same Elizabeth Elks who sold land in 1788, along with Mary Elks, that would put her birth at 1767 or earlier, so her birth year would be bracketed between 1741 and 1767.  Given that, in 1802 she would have been between 35 and 61, still a pretty broad range.  However, the descendants of Nathan Midgett, the man who bought the Indian land in the 1788 conveyance, always said that he bought the Indian village from an old Indian woman.  Of course, the “old woman” could have been Mary, not Elizabeth.  Mary is apparently dead by 1802 leaving Elizabeth and her minor son the only Hatteras Indians remaining.

This deed is written in a form too familiar for a traditional conveyance.  My suspicion initially was that perhaps Nathan Pinkham might have been Elizabeth’s son.  Baylus proved that theory wrong, but there is still an untold story waiting to be uncovered, if we can just figure out what it is.  We don’t know the name of the father of Elizabeth’s child.  Was it Nathaniel?  Was the child of Nathaniel Pinkham and Elizabeth Elks the George Pinkham that witnessed the transaction?  This tells is that George would have been age 16 or older to witness a deed.

However, we also know that they had “forms” or standard language for conveyances of deeds, and the “form” for a gift was written for a conveyance normally from parents to children or from one family member to another.  It looks like perhaps they just substituted “friend Nath Pinkham” after the words “my beloved above named”.  Normally words like son or daughter along with their name would be inserted into those “blanks”.  Perhaps I was reading too much into the wording of the conveyance.  Perhaps not.  Why would she simply give this land to Nathaniel with nothing in return?

We know that in 1823 this deed was registered in Currituck County where it was conveyed initially, not in Carteret where Nathaniel Pinkham’s estate was probated in 1822.  Why was this deed not included in this assets in 1822?  Baylus made copies of his estate records and this land does not appear.  Of course, if it was not registered into his name, was it legally an asset?  Did anyone know about it? 

Or perhaps the young Elks male was not yet dead in June of 1821 when Pinkham died or in 1822 when the estate was probated.  If Elizabeth’s son reached the age of 21 before death, then this deed should have been in the young Elks man’s estate (assuming his surname was Elks), not registered to Nathaniel Pinkham.  The time difference between when this deed was registered in May of 1823 and when it was signed in March of 1802 is 21 years and 2+ months.  So for the son to have lived long enough to prevent the deed from being registered with Nathaniel’s estate, but before he arrived at the age of 21, he would have been a newborn child in 1802 and died at the age of 19 or 20 after June of 1821 and before March of 1823.

If Elizabeth Elks child was indeed George Pinkham, he would have had to at least been the age of 16 to sign, which put his birth in 1786 or earlier, but after 1781.  And if George Pinkham were indeed Mary Elks son, then it would also explain why the testimony about George Pinkham’s death was so important.  Not only was he a witness, but potentially the land owner.  Proving his signature and his death may have been important in two capacities, and explains why nothing more was said in the transactions about the death of Elizabeth’s son.  It would seem that proving the death of Elizabeth’s son would be the first step to registering the deed, and proving the witnesses and signatures secondary.

Of course, many deeds were never registered.  Registration wasn’t free, and deeds often were passed for generations from hand to hand, especially within families.  So it’s possible that the deed was only discovered during the estate process, and registered at that time, or afterwards, as a result of the estate.

It would be helpful if we could discover what happened to that land.  Unfortunately, we have been unable to track it any further forward in time.  There seems to be no conveyance from any Pinkham in Currituck County.  Of course, if an administrator conveyed the land, or the husband of a married daughter, we would lose the name Pinkham, and the result is that we can’t track the conveyance. 

Perhaps in time, during our Hatteras Island Neighborhood reconstruction project, we will be able to rediscover this land, going backwards in time from current deeds, until we once again meet up with Nathaniel Pinkham.

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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