Native Clues in Non-Native Wills

As the director and newsletter editor of the Lost Colony Research Group, I’ve been working with the early North Carolina and Virginia records for some time now.  I’ve written several items for our newsletter which I’ll be posting here as they include information about Native people.  This item was from the March 2010 newsletter where I found a tidbit in Currituck County’s abstracted wills.  You can see the entire newsletter index at

Richard Sanderson, Aug 17, 1733, October 15, 1733, Son Richard, “ye island of Ocrecock”, 3 negroes and one Indian slave, “the manor plantation”, “all my lots in Ronoak town”, “two thirds of ye Sea Flower Brigantine”, one half of sloop Swallow.  Son in law Tully Williams, 5 negro slaves, 140 acres land in Perquimans bordering on son Richard and John Willoughby, one third of Sea Flower Brigantine and one half of sloop Swallow.  Nephews Joseph and Richard Sanderson.  Brother-in- law, Henry Woodhouse, one mustee fellow.  Sister Susanna Erwin.  Dau Elizabeth Pollock.  Cousin Elizabeth Dickson.  Nephew Hezekiah Woodhouse, land on “ye Sandy Bank by the name of Point Lookout”.  Dau Grace, wife of Tully Williams.  Exec Richard Sanderson, son and Tully Williams, son-in-law.  Wit Clement Hall, Thomas Snowlen, Thomas Trumbel. 

Why is this important?  First, it documents that indeed, outer-banks families indeed did maintain Indian slaves.  We know that the Hatteras Island Indians were still living free at this time, and at least as late as 1756, so what Indians were enslaved in 1733?  The answer is that it could have been just about anyone, but many of the Tuscarora were sold as slaves after the Tuscarora War in 1711/1712.  However, if this slave was from the area, and the Tuscarora certainly were from near this area, why did he not just run away?  Perhaps this Indian was from elsewhere.

A second vital piece of information is that Richard Sanderson did differentiate between Indian and “mixed race”, because he mentioned a second as a “mustee fellow”.  At that time, a mustee was considered to be a mix between Indian and negro.  This too is important, because it may imply that the Indian was “married” to a black, enslaved woman, with whom he had the child, the “mustee fellow”.  Of course, this is speculation, but that might also answer the question of why he simply didn’t run away.  His wife was there, and his child, and those bonds will often outlive and outlast any else.  While he could have blended in, she could not, so they lived their life enslaved. 

For genealogists, to track this Indian and mustee fellow, the next step would be to follow Richard Sanderson’s son, Richard and his brother-in-law Henry Woodhouse who inherited the “mustee fellow.”


About Roberta Estes

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