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/
(P 25) Part III – Traditional Lumbee History
My main contribution in the research on the Lumbee has been to look at Lumbee traditional history and to see what could be gleaned from the Lumbee accounts of their own origin. Wes White had done a fairly complete historical record of early Indian history in the Carolinas and Michelle Lawing has done very good genealogical research on Lumbee families.
The most extensive accounts of Lumbee oral history were recorded by amateur historians who were writing on Lumbee origins between 1880 and 1915. Most of these men were trying to prove one hypothesis or another, mainly trying to tie the Lumbee into the Lost Colony of Roanoke. But in the process they quoted a lot of Lumbee traditions and it as Lumbee traditional history they relied upon to make their case for the lost colony hypothesis. Of course, Hamilton McMillan was the main researcher in this area but there were several others as well. In fact, one researcher I have mentioned, Mr. Mclean, had another hypothesis. However, all of the quoted extensively of Lumbee traditional history.
The other body of material was gathered modernly. I have interviewed quite a few older Lumbees, particularly Mr. Jim Chavis, and LRDA itself has collected quite a bit of such material. What I tended to do was use the modern oral history as a check on or to add to the accounts I got from the literature written from 1880 to 1915.
I should at this point give some idea of my methodology; that is, the way I went about to analyze this body of literature.
Most of the men who wrote during this period had an “axe to grind” and most of them were not professional historians. Their material is very disorganized and much of it is garbled or else is unusable. Sometimes it appears to they put words in the mouths of the Lumbee elders in order to bolster their own interpretations. Much of their argument is circular; it is assumption based on assumption based on assumption until in their later arguments they are taking their previous assumptions as fact and as proof of the argument which they are presenting to you later in their article. However, they do present one mass of material and these writers are honest scholars, particularly McMillan, even though they may be undisciplined.
The way I handled this material was to first read it over several times until I almost had these works memorized. It must have taken me almost a month to read and re-read this material until I had a gestalt in my own mind. This was for my own benefit as a researcher. I tend to work this way and to let my unconscious do a lot of sorting out and rearranging of material. After I had done this I went over the materials and weeded out all the tribal names since these names are simply confusing and cue one the wrong way. I also weeded out all statement where it appeared to me that the authors were putting words in the mouths of Lumbee elders. Then, I tried to weed out what I thought were garbled passages. Now I should tell my readers that in none of these works are there direct quotes of Lumbee elders. The authors usually say the Lumbee tradition says such and such but I think I managed to weed out all the author’s own interpretations, as such, of Lumbee traditional statements. I must say that McMillan is the most disciplined in (p 27) keeping his statement separate from the Lumbee statements. Then I took that whole mass of material and I simply listed each statement of Lumbee tradition, not in any particular order. Then I tried to check out these statements with historical fact, statements that I thought were Lumbee tradition unaltered. They checked out well.
For instance, McMillan in one of his later publications says that the Lumbees referred to the region of Pamlico Sound as Roanoke and that they referred to the sound itself as Pamtico. In looking at accounts in the early 1700s – Lawson and others – and looking on old maps, this does check out. Old maps do show Pamlico Sound as Pamtico and Lawson and others referred to the region of Pamlico Sound as Roanoke. McMillan also says that the Lumbees say that the Indians in Sumter County, SC were their relatives and that the people known as Melungeons in the east Tennessee were also their relatives. This checks out historically as well. There are other items which I checked out and I came to the conclusion that Lumbee traditions as recorded by these authors was very accurate. Of course, these traditions are speaking to a time in the 1800s which was probably only a hundred years distant from the time the first author, McMillan, started to look at Lumbee tradition; a great deal of time had not passed.
I also tried to make an evaluation of the authors themselves and checked their material internally and with each other and with historical records. Except for their rather undisciplined methodology and rather offhand interpretations not based on evidence they seemed to be fairly honest and accurate, particularly McMillan. One author, Ford, tends to put words in the mouths of Lumbee elders but he was the only one of about 6 or 7 who seemed to me to do that.