A Report of Research on Lumbee Origins by Robert K. Thomas – Part 4 – Tuscarora Theory

A continuation of Robert K. Thomas’s Report of Research on Lumbee Origins.  This was transcribed from a photocopy of an original report at the Wilson Library, UNC, Chapel Hill, NC in June of 2012.   Any comments I have will be made at the end of these transcriptions and it will be evident that they are mine.  To see more about Robert K. Thomas, go to:  http://works.bepress.com/robert_thomas/

One of the most recent hypothesis, regarding Lumbee origin is that the Lumbees are descended from the Tuscaroras.  This is based on one piece of evidence altogether.  A Mrs. Norment, the wife of the sheriff of Robeson County killed by the Lowery gang after the Civil War, wrote a book called “the Lowery History.”  Mrs. Norment not only gave us a record of the activities of the Lowery gang, but also went into the history of the Lowery family and as well, a general history of the Robeson County Indians.  I think that her family histories are pretty accurate since she had the testimony of very old people in Robeson County  who knew the Lowerys well.  Mrs. Norment first published her volume in 1875.  I am not able to judge how objective and factual her portrayal of the Lowery gang was in her book.  She was, of course, the wife of a man who was killed by the Lowerys but her family histories are well done.

In her first edition she speaks of the Robeson County Indians as mulattoes and says that they are a mixture of Indian, black and white.  In fact, she goes into detail about the Lowery family and spells out the source and the generation of black, Indian (p 9) and white “blood.”  However, she never identifies the specific tribe of Indians. 

She revised her book and it was put out again around 1890.  At that time and in that version she makes some changes.  I supposed that by that period the Indians in Robeson County were becoming more powerful politically and they certainly did not like to be referred to as mulattoes.  So the author drops that word.  When there is any hint of black blood, she uses the term Portuguese.  It is quite common in the South to stress a Latin background where black ancestry is suspected, for status reasons.  Norment refers to many early Lumbees as Tuscaroras as half Tuscaroras or part Tuscaroras.

In the 1860s, a historian by the name of Evans, a man born in Robeson County, wrote another history of the Lowery troubles called “To Die Game”; presumably from a quote by Henry Berry Lowery, the leader of the Lowery gang.  Evans quotes Mrs. Norment’s later version of the history of the Lowery family in his book.  It is this source primarily from which the identification of Robeson County Indians with the Tuscarora had its origin.

This notion was further sanctioned by a member of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Steve Feraca, who helped some of the Robeson County Indians, who now refer to themselves as Tuscarora, organize in the 60s.

Now if you talk to the Tuscaroas in New York, they readily admit that it is possibly that they left some Tuscaroras behind in NC.  In fact, many say that this is indeed the case.  The Onondaga’s say the same thing; that a few Tuscaroras were left behind in NC.  However, the Tuscarosas are dubious that the Lumbees are descendants of these people and tend to be (p 10) resentful of the claim of Indians in Robeson County to Tuscarora ancestry.  Some of the Six Nations think that such statements are simply a ploy to “get in on” some of the Six Nations land claims payments.  However, they are not as resentful as Cherokees.  It is within the realm of possibility for the Tuscarora that some of the Lumbee are descended from the Tuscarora, although they really don’t think it is probable.

In the case of the Cherokees, they are generally resentful of Lumbees saying that they are Cherokees, for a number of reasons.  One is that it makes Cherokees appear as if they do not know their own relatives.  For some of the more white oriented Cherokees in NC, there is also a fear of being associated with a group of people who physically appear to have black ancestry.  However, this attitude has diminished greatly over the last few years.  But it does call you into question when strangers from a strange place announce that they are the same nationality as you and you have never heard of this group before.

Now at one time I did think it was probable that the Lumbees had descended from the Tuscaroras.  I had read Norment’s material.  Secondly, I knew that many Lumbee families appeared to have migrated from northeast NC to Robeson.  Thirdly, I didn’t know enough about NC Indian history other than to make a good guess about Lumbee tribal origins in northeastern NC.  I have since changed my mind as the evidence has come in.

However, it appears very probable that the Haliwa in Halifax and Warren Counties in NC are in part descended from the Tuscaroras and certainly someone needs to do some research to establish that fact.  It could be very easily done.  The last of the Tuscaroras sold (p 11 of the report, his numbered page 10) their lands in 1802 and according to a local historian, Ernest Jaycocks, whose family bought the Tuscarora lands, it appears that the remaining Tuscarora families in Bertie County simply moved over and formed a new community with the Richardsons after 1802.  Jaycock’s main evidence is that many of the present-day Haliwa family names are the same as in the deeds which, in 1802, transferred the last of the Tuscarora lands.  But I can see no connection with present day Lumbees and the Tuscarora.  In fact, Lumbee elders, as recorded by McMillan in the 1880s state that the Tuscaroras were their enemies.

Roberta’s Comment:  I am currently finishing research on the Tuscorara land sales.  I’ll publish the findings in an upcoming blog.  On another note, the switch in Mrs. Norment’s categorization of the Lumbee from mulatto to Portuguese is very interesting.  It appears to have been a trend elsewhere as well.

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About robertajestes

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

One Response to A Report of Research on Lumbee Origins by Robert K. Thomas – Part 4 – Tuscarora Theory

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