The Pierce family of Tyrrell County is known to be of Native Heritage. The early records including the 1790 census records these individuals as Free People of Color (FPC) as do other records tax records. Let’s see what the official records of Tyrrell County show us.
A letter written by Ann Brickhouse, or more accurately, by her assistant Melanie L. Armstrong, then the register of deeds and assistant, respectively, of Tyrrell County, in 1992 provides us with some information. She checked by all variant spellings and came up with the following marriage entries:
- Timothy Pearice married Sarah Simpson April 6, 1786
- Mary Pierce married Jacob Simpson July 6, 1790, witness Andrew Bateman and Tom Mackey.
- Dianah Pearce married Isaac Simpson Sept. 11, 1782
- Caron Happy Pearce married Reddin Simpson May 10, 1786, witnesses Timothy Pierce and Tom Mackey. Caron Happy is also spelled Karenhappuck. Ann Brickhouse adds a note saying that Caren’s family sold land to her ancestors, the land her great-grandmother’s family owned.
With so much intermarriage between these two families, it looks like the Simpson family might be Native as well. The Tyrrell County will of Samuel Woodland dated October 1, 1777 provides us with a very important hint. “I give ….to my son-in-law Thomas Williams the land and plantation whereon Indaon Bet Simpson now liveth.” The Simpson family appears to be Native as well.
In the 1790 census in Tyrrell County, the following families were listed as “free colored”:
Reddin Simpson (1 male>16, 3 females)
Jacob Simpson (1 male >16, 1 male <16, 1 female)
Elizabeth Will (1 male <16, 2 females)
Jack Williams (1 male <16)
William Foster (1 male >16, 4 <16, 2 females)
John Dempsey (1 male <16)
Phillip Biffins (1 male <16)
Jane Vollovay (1 male <16, no males)
Isreal Pierce (1 males >16, 2 males >16, 3 females)
Thomas Pierce (1 male >16, 3 males < 16, 3 females)
Bridget Bryan (1 female)
Neither Andrew Bateman nor Colonel Thomas Mackey, witnesses to the 1790 Pierce/Simpson marriage, were free people of color. Both appear to be white, and Colonel Thomas Mackey prestigious, although Mackey is also a known Mattamuskeet Indian name. Often the Native people took the surname of someone they knew and respected.
Melanie then notes that Thomas Pierce lived in Chowan County before buying land and moving to Tyrrell, citing the deed dated 1755 and recorded in book 17, page 156. However the deeds referenced are not included with the copy of the letter contributed.
Kay Lynn Sheppard extracted the Pierce deeds from Tyrrell County for the period of 1735-1794 from “The Deeds of Tyrrell County, NC” by Dr. Stephen E. Bradley, Jr., as follows:
August 3, 1739 – Gabey Ginnet, planter of Tyrrel Co., to Thomas Pierce, planter of Chowan Co., for 50 pounds, 127 acres joining John Ginnet, Jr. and John Jennet. /s/ John Jennet. Witnesses: Sam’l. Swann, John Whidbee, Sam’l. Gregory. Recorded August 3, 1739.
October 24, 1739 – Jabez Jennet, yeoman of Tyrrel Co., to William Popewell of the same county, for 20 pounds, 138 acres on Alligator River joining Thomas Pierce. /s/ Jabez Jennet. Witnesses: Sam’l. Swann, Thomas Pierce, Thos. Leary. Proved: Oct. 31, 1739
April 11, 1743 – Thomas Pierce, trader of Chowan Co., to John Pierce, planter of same county, for 150 pounds, 170 1/2 acres which was to have been conveyed to Saml. Swann but sd. Swann wished to have conveyed to sd. Pierce, and which was part of 235 acres called the Rich Land, the other part of which is owned by sd. Pierce & leased to David Powers, & which had been a patent on Alligator River in Tyrrel Co. /s/ Thoms. Pierce. Witnesses: Richd. Skinner, Jams. Skinner. Registered May 29, 1745.
February 7, 1749 – Henry Bress of Tyrrel Co., to Thomas Perce, labourer of the same county, for 15? shillings, 100 acres on south side of Albemarle Sound joining Cypress Swamp and the land of Henry Bress bought from Thos. Long. /s/ Henry [x] Bress & Dina [x] Bress. Witnesses: Andrew Long, Joshua Long, Guiles Long. March Court 1749
There is some very interesting information contained in these deeds that may not be immediately evident. For example, the fact that Thomas Pierce witnessed a deed in October 1739 tells us that he was not an absentee landlord, at least not entirely, and that he was not “of color”, given that he witnessed a deed for white men.
Perhaps even more telling though is the 1743 deed. Thomas Pierce is listed as a trader of Chowan County. The deed is to his son John who subsequently died in 1747. We also know where the land is located and that at least part of it is being leased, so not farmed by John or Thomas Pierce themselves. Notice that the Long family is involved with the 1749 land and also as witnesses, and in the following will of the Thomas Pierce who is a free person of color, the land he leaves his grandsons abuts the Longs land.
Tyrrell County Wills 1729-1811, page 256, Thomas Pearce – Jan. 8 1795. Weak of body. I lend my plantation where I now live to my wife Man…? during her lifetime and then half of it to my daughter Sarah ??? joining Thomas Norman. To my grandson C..? Simson the rest of my plantation. To my grandsons Stephen Foster (?) and John Foster 40 acres joining John Long. To my grandson John Simson 25 acres joining Stephen Foster. To my grandson Hardy Simson 25 acres joining John Simson. To my daughter Jimmine? Perce? …? to my son Isrel Perce 1 shilling sterling. To my son Simonathe 1 shilling sterling. To my daughter Ealler Simson 1 heifer. To my granddaughter Mille Simson 1 heifer. To my daughter Sarah Perce(?) 1…? to my daughter Dianne Perce 1 grammar being the youngest. To my grandson Isaac Perce…? to my wife the residue of my estate and then to be divided among my children. Executor My friend James Long. Thomas (x) Perce
The reference to the land joining Stephen Foster and Thomas Pierce’s grandsons, Stephen Foster and John Foster beg the question of whether the Stephen Foster who owned the abutting land is the son-in-law of Thomas Pierce. In the 1790 census, William Foster is listed as free colored, so he is likely the son-in-law.
Grandson Isaac Pierce would be either the son of Israel, William (deceased) or perhaps Timothy who may be a deceased son as well.
On April 8, 1796, nine year old James Simpson, son of Sarah Pierce was bound to Isaac Bateman. Since Sarah Simpson married Timothy Pierce in 1786, it’s odd that her son was using her maiden name. This may well be a remnant of a matrilineal culture. While the child may have been legally James Pierce, he may have been known as James Simpson. In 1820 a James Swinson was the head of a Beaufort Co. household of 2 “free colored”. This suggests, but is not conclusive evidence that Timothy Pierce is deceased requiring his son to be bound out.
Frank G. Speck, an anthropologist, visited Hyde and Dare Counties on behalf of the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1915. He investigated reports of remnants of the Machapunga Indian tribe living near Nags Head, Ocracoke and on Roanoke Island. There he found several families, namely Pierce, Pugh, Collins, Wescott, Daniels and Berry. All claimed to be descended from a Pungo River (Machapunga) Indian named Israel Pierce. These families he concluded were mixed to a great extent with Negro and White ancestry. They could not speak any of the Algonquin language and they knew very little of the traditional arts and crafts.
Israel was known as a Pungo River Indian. English Christian names were common among the tribes of this general region as early as 1713 as noted in the North Carolina Colonial Records, Vol. IV, p 33-35 where Thomas Hoytes, James Bennett, Charles Beasley and Jeremiah Pushing, chief men of the Chowan Indians sold land to the settlers. The Chowan Indians were neighbors of the Machapungo.
In the index of the Wellfleet Chapter of Simeon L. Devo’s History of Barnstable, Massachusetts, Isreal Pierce is given as marrying Bethia Swett. Although this seems unrelated, there are Cahoons in the book as well, another Tyrrell County surname, and until proven otherwise, this can’t entirely be discounted. There are other Pierce individuals listed in this book that do not have familiar names, so it is an unlikely connection.
Isreal Pierce’s granddaughter, Mrs. M.H. Pugh was a very old woman in 1915 and Speck estimated her age to be about 80 years. She was born and reared in the Pungo River district. Later in her life she moved to Hatteras Island. She had 4 sons and daughters and numerous grandchildren.
Thomas Pierce’s wife was said to be an Indian, and we know from his estate records that her name was Mary. Israel’s wife was also said to be an Indian. Frank Speck gathered additional family information about the descendants of Thomas and Israel Pierce as well, providing us with an excellent genealogy if we can find a Pierce male from this line to DNA test.
Israel Pierce was listed as “free colored” in 1790 in Tyrrell County, part of a family of 7 “other free” in 1800 in Hyde County, 11 in Hyde County in 1810 and 8 “free colored” in Beaufort Co in 1820. On June 21, 1791 in Tyrrell County, he gave power of attorney to Samuel Warren, an attorney, to receive his final settlement due him as a soldier in the NC Continental line.
Revolutionary War pension records show a final pension payment made to Israel Pierce of North Carolina made the fourth quarter of 1836. Ordering service records for Israel Pierce, William Pierce and Isaac Simpson, all contemporaries who reportedly served in the Revolutionary War would be quite interesting. It has been stated that Isaac Simpson is the husband of one of Israel’s sisters, but that remains unproven.
William Pierce died before April of 1784. At the April court, T. Pearce was assigned as administrator, indicating that William did not have a will. Bondsmen were James and Joshua Long. In 1788, the estate of William Parce was sold in October and buyers were Thomas Parce and Finn? Parce. In June of 1791, a document certified that Thomas became the administrator of this estate in April of 1784. On June 13, 1795, “Thomas Pierce of Tyrrell County, administrator of William Pierce” gave power of attorney to Samuel Warren, an attorney, to receive final settlement for his service in the NC Continental line. One researcher states that William died in the war, but we have no proof of such.
It’s reasonable to suggest that William was the son of Thomas Pierce and the brother to Israel.
Paul Heinegg at www.freeafricanamericans.com speculated that Thomas Pierce may have been the son of Deborah Pierce, born in the early 1700s and the servant (but not necessarily a slave) of James Halloway on June 19, 1729 when she was a witness for Christopher Needham in Elizabeth City County court. This implies that she was not “of color” as people of color were not allowed to testify or witness for non-colored people. On December 31, 1731 she was presented for having a “bastard child” and on June 7, 1748 she was presented for having a “mulatto bastard”. The first child may have been Thomas Pierce and the second was Elizabeth who was bound to John Seldan on February 15, 1749.
However in the Tyrrell Tides (Feb 2004), contributor Max Liverman provides us with additional information that appears to disprove Paul’s postulation.
Max tells us that Thomas Pierce was a Quaker farmer from Perquimans County and that in 1725, Quaker meetings were held at his house on the side of the Perquimans River. Thomas was the son of Thomas and Mary Pierce and was born September 24, 1693. His wife was Isabell (possibly Newby, unconfirmed) and he had one son John born in 1718. There is no record of a marriage for John and he died on December 12, 1747. Thomas had several daughters including Mary born October, 23 1722 who married Phineas Nixon, Sarah born September 9, 1725 who married John Morris in 1745, Jemima born August 21, 1728 who married Robert Newby in 1748, Keziah born March 15, 1730 who married Nathan Newby in 1751 and Karenhappuck, the youngest, born Feb. 11, 1737 and who married Cornelius Moore in 1757. All of these daughters sold the land they inherited in Tyrrell County from their father.
According to this record contributed by Kay Lynn Sheppard, Thomas Pierce was functioning in the area before 1725. The estate inventory of Mary Simmons from the Early Records of NC, Vol. III; Loose Papers and Related Material 1712-1798 by Dr. Stephen E. Bradley, Jr., showed the appraisers as Samll. Phelps, Charles Denman, Jonath. Evans and states some items sold Sept. 12, 1724; some sold at Chowan & some at Perquimans by Tho. Pierce. Thomas may have been selling these items in his capacity as a trader, which would explain the dual location, as traders traveled throughout an area with horses and sometimes wagons carrying goods.
In 1739 Thomas purchased 137 acres of land at what is known as Gum Neck from Jabez Jennett bordering Camp Branch. The same year he received a large land grant and in 1743 he deeded part of his land, 170.5 acres, to John Pierce, land known by the name of Richland on the west side of the southwest branch of the Alligator River.
After John’s death in 1747 this property apparently went to his oldest sister Mary and husband Phineas Nixon who later sold 235 acres to John Poole in 1766. At this time the property was known as Kilkenny. In 1758 they sold 250 acres to William Magound and in this deed established the date of their father’s land grant as being November 30, 1739.
Thomas Pierce received a warrant for 57 acres in Tyrrell County, NC on March 21, 1743.
In May of 1755, Thomas Pierce received a grant for 320 acres bordering on his own line beginning at Camp Branch and also bordered on the land owned by Jabez Jennett and purchased in 1739. These two grants shows the division between Gum Neck and Kilkenny.
This Thomas Pierce died in 1756 and lists property “up Alligator” and leaves “to my brother-in-law Peter Jones heirs, one half of the land lying on the north side of the southwest branch of Alligator River that was leased to James Cahoon. To wife Isabel, one half of the dwelling homeplace (back in Chowan), the remainder of the estate divided between my 5 daughters.”
The similarities in the family names of the Quaker Thomas Pierce, the trader, and the “free colored” Thomas Pierce of the 1790 census whose will was written in 1795 can’t be ignored. Jemima is rather unusual, but Karenhappuck or Caren Happy is unique and compelling. Was the “free colored” Thomas Pierce the son of John Pierce who was the son of Quaker Thomas Pierce, the trader? Did John “marry” a Native woman? How did “free colored” Thomas obtain his land? Free colored Thomas had children marrying as early as 1782. Assuming he married at age 25 and his daughter married at age 20, free colored Thomas would have been born about 1738 or as late as 1742, maybe even as late as 1745 – certainly in the timeframe that he could have been a child of John Pierce who died in 1747. He could also have been older, but not younger.
Was free colored Thomas Pierce the son of Thomas Pierce the Quaker trader and a native wife. Planters who were also traders typically had native families in the villages where they lived and traded. In the English world they were known as “country wives”. For traders to establish kinship, having a kin connection was essential.
The first record that we can definitively assign to “free colored” Thomas Pierce is this one in 1774, contributed by Kay Lynn Sheppard.
May 17, 1774 – Abraham Jennett & his wife Priscilla, Jesse Young & his wife Kezia, all of Tyrrell Co., sold to Joshua Swain of the same county, for 170 pounds proclamation money, 113 acres on Albemarle Sound joining Andrew Long, Isaac Long, and Thomas Pearce.
In 1782, Thomas Pierce was taxable on 265 acres, 4 horses and 10 cattle in Tyrrell, which for the time and place was a quite respectable holding. This cannot be the earlier Quaker trader Thomas Pierce who died in 1756, so this must be the free colored Thomas Pierce. How did he obtain his 256 acres? Perhaps the reason that Thomas was treated more like the white families than “colored”, with white men witnessing the marriages of his children, is that the legacy of his white trader father who in some fashion provided him land extended to him the respect that came along with owning land, being a “planter”.
In his will written on Jan. 8, 1795, Thomas Pierce disposes of 90 acres plus the plantation “on which I now live” of unspecified size. We don’t know exactly when he died, but in January, 1797, Mary Pierce appeared in Tyrrell County court to claim her dower rights to two tracts of land. In the court record she states that her husband died in 1795 owning 50 acres on the sound joining Thomas Norman and John Long and also 140 acres joining Samuel Chesson and Josiah Spruill. Between 1782 and 1790, Thomas had acquired an additional 24 acres.
In 1800 Mary Pierce was the head of a Washington Co. household of 2 “other free”, confirming that both Thomas and his wife were “free colored”.
Other miscellaneous and tantalizing records exist as well, hinting at relationships, but not tieing the documents together. For example, there is a record in the Beaufort County Orphans Book B, 1828-1837 that combines several interesting names.
Account of sales of John Allen, decd, sold the 21st day of December 1831 at 6 months credit. Purchasers Henry Davis, Isaac Simpson, Thomas B. Winfield, Smith Daw, John R. Davis, Israel Pearce, Jacob Paul, Hardy Davis, Frederick Allen, Martin Davis, Rheuben Allen, Thomas Allen, John Evertt, Willis Sawyer, Zach Corden, Kennedy Smithwick, Thomas Gurganus, Jeremiah Allen, Nathaniel Davis, Henry Davis. Negro girl Elsy. Notes against John Wilkinson, Polly Ebnorn, William H. Price, George P. Paul, Isaac Simpson, L.S. Eborn – Henry Davis Admin
The Gurganus family is also a family of interest to the Lost Colony project due to their history of Native heritage.
An earlier record in Beaufort County lists Simon Pierce, born December 28, 1798 and Lewis Pierce, born September of 1801 as “free mulattoes” bound as apprentices to William and Mercer Cherry by the court in the September Minutes (Minutes 1809-1814,10th page of Sept. minutes).
A quick survey of Hyde County records does reveal a Thomas Pierce, but he seems to be unrelated, living on Blount’s Creek and deceased by 1789, although he could be related to a Jonathan Pierce who may be from another Pierce family who may be related, according to Sheila Spencer Stover, a descendant of Jonathan. However, the estate record of that Thomas Pierce shows that he was a slave holder and that he likely had two sons, Lazarus and George. A record extracted by Kay Lynn Sheppard shows that included in his estate were negroes Ben, Mustopher, Jem, Murreah, Jenny, Will, Toney, Edney, Levy. Signed by Lazarus Pearce, Thos. Vines, George Pearce, executors.
According to a letter from Stover, a Jonathan Pierce estimated to have been born about 1755 someplace near Bath went North in time to fight in the Rev. War, falling with Brant’s men at the battle of Minisink in June of 1779. Stover believes he is buried in a mass grave near Goshen, NY. His name is on the Minisink Monument, put there by his granddaughter Hannah Pierce Kellam in 1833. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Minisink
Jonathan’s son, Henry is said to have gone to Canada in the 1820s, settling at Brantford, named for the mixed blood Mohawk Brant family. When he died is not known. His daughter, Hannah was born in September of 1800 and lived her life in the US. She had uncles or perhaps brothers, Job and Reuben born in either 1799 or 1801. Stover finds them in Wisconsin among the Stockbridge-Munsee in Wisconsin who were a very mixed bag of Tuscarora, Lenae (Delaware), Mohican, etc., in the 1830s and 1840s. Job and Reuben appear too young to be brothers of Jonathan, given the 45 year age gap between Jonathan’s birth about 1755 and theirs about 1800, so they are more likely to be Hannah’s brothers.
Family tradition says that Jonathan Pierce’s wife was a Tuscarora by the name of Mary/Maria Mann (Emanuel). As the Mann name is very predominant in the Rampo Mountain Tribe of New Jersey, and according to Stover, always believed to be Tuscarora out of the south, which she states does fit the Northward Tuscarora migration pattern. There are also Mann’s from Mann’s Cove, NC who repeat the same story known in the New Jersey group.
Jonathan’s wife Mary/Marie Mann (Emanuel) is said to have a brother/nephew by the name William Mann who “went west with the Cherokees”. There is a William Mann on the 1832 Cherokee list, but he does not appear to have made it to Oklahoma.
Hannah Pierce married Jacob Killum who was a 50/50 mix. His mother was a Lott and supposedly Shawnee.
Shiela feels that it is highly possible that Israel and Jonathan were either brothers or Uncle and Nephew. If Jonathan were a brother to Isreal, he would surely have been listed in the 1795 will of Thomas Pierce. If Jonathan Pierce is from Hyde County near Bath, born there about 1755 as Stover suggests, then he may be connected with the Thomas Pierce there who died in 1789 and owned land on Blount’s Creek. If Blount’s Creek Thomas is related to free colored Thomas, it could be that their fathers were brothers and both names their sons Thomas. However, Thomas Pierce the Quaker Trader only had one known son, John, who died in 1747. Perhaps Quaker trader Thomas also had a brother who named his son Thomas – or perhaps these two Thomas Pierces, one in Hyde County and one in Chowan and Tyrrell were not connected or related.
The late Chief of the Meherrin Indians, George Earl Pierce was descended from Israel Pierce. In the mid and late 1990s, he was quite interested in the genealogy of the Pierce family and unraveling the threads, or maybe better stated, reweaving the cloth. Sadly, he was killed in an automobile crash in 2007.
A more recent tidbit came from Hatteras Island from Andre Austin, as follows:
Today on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Elizabeth City area, and Tidewater Virginia are some descendants of Israel Pierce. They are descended from Elizabeth Pierce Simmons, the daughter of Israel Pierce. Elizabeth Pierce married Asa Simmons. They lived on land that belonged to Israel Pierce in Beaufort County, N.C. near the Town of Pantego on the Pungo River. Asa and Elizabeth Pierce Simmons’ daughter Anna “Annie” Simmons married Smith Pugh, a Hatteras Indian of Hatteras Island, Buxton, N.C. in 1857. This marriage was born Arrinda, Adaline, Luther, Darmon, M.H., Agenora, Margaret, and Jazinna.
Annie Pugh was the “Mrs. M.H.Pugh” mentioned in the 1916 article by Frank G. Speck entitled the “Remnants of the Machapunga Indians.” Annie considered herself Pungo Indian. Most of the people are descendants of the Hatteras and Roanoke Indians. Smith Pugh’s mother was a Hatteras Indian woman and his father was white.