A Report on Research of Lumbee Origins by Robert K. Thomas – Part 10 – Traditional Lumbee History – The Hatteras

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/

As I looked over this material and taking into account what I know of the historical record, there appeared to be three tribal traditions in this literature plus what I got orally in my own research in Robeson County.  The strongest tradition points to the Hatteras.  It may well be that since most of these early authors were interested in the Lost Colony or Roanoke, they paid much more attention to oral tradition which pointed to coastal Indians.  Nevertheless, the Hatteras emerged strongest in the traditions.  In fact, according to McMillan, after he had completed his first research in the 1880s, an “intelligent” Indian remarked to him (McMillan) that he had always understood that their correct tribal name was Hatteras.  So there was at least one Indian in Robeson County in the 1880s who conceived of himself and the rest of the Robeson County Indians, or at least a good part of them, as Hatteras Indians.

Now nowhere in McMillan’s material does he talk about the Hatteras. He simply traces the Indians from the region of Roanoke and, in fact, this man’s remarks came after McMillan had publically announced the passage of an act of NC in the 1880s designating the Indians in Robeson County as Croatans; so that this Indian’s remark was in some sense a protest against the name Croatan and perhaps McMillan’s research.  His remark certainly does not appear to be prompted by any of McMillan’s research.

From what we know of the Hatteras historically, they lived at Cape Hatteras and were a very small group; probably not more than a dozen families in the early 1700s.  Officially, as far as the colony of NC was concerned, the Hatteras disappeared as an Indian tribe after 1754 when they were still living, a small group, on Cape Hatteras.  The next reference we get to the Hatteras is an account from a missionary in 1761 and 1763 in which he says that the Hatteras were then living with the Mattamuskeet in the area of the old Mattamuskeet Reserve near Lake Mattamuskeet in Hyde County, NC.  After that the Hatteras disappear altogether from history.

In the 1790s one still finds the Mattamuskeet in Hyde County but the Hatteras appear to have moved on or to have in some way disappeared from the area.  Since there was no big epidemics that we have any accounts of between 1763 and 1792, one can only surmise that they either assimilated or they moved from the area.

If you take a  look at the oral tradition of the Lumbees that was recorded by McMillan and several others you can trace, at least some Lumbee families, from Lake Mattamuskeet to the Neuse River to the Black River to the Cape Fear to Robeson County.  These oral traditions are very explicit.  In fact, according to McMillan, in 1820, there were still Indians living in Robeson County who could locate their former homes in the Lake Mattamuskeet area.  So one would presume that sometime after 1763 the Hatteras first moved to the Neuse River and then by successive steps to Robeson County; although later historical material would lead one to believe that two processions took place.  One was this slow step by step movement and, of course, there are still Indian settlements in Sampson County and on the Cape Fear River around Fayetteville.  But also it appears that some people came directly from the Neuse to Robeson County.  The census of 1790 of Robeson County tends to confirm that, as well as some oral histories of families I took when I was in Robeson (p 30) County.

Another factor points to the Hatteras and that is a cultural feature of modern Lumbee life.  Lumbees generally are very oriented towards the coast and the sea.  Up until WWII many Lumbee families would get in their wagons and go to the seacoast and camp on the beach and fish for two or three weeks during the summer.  Even today the Lumbees are great appreciators and consumers of seafood.  There is a very strong orientation among Robeson County Indians toward the sea which certainly is not shared by their white or black neighbors or even other inland Indians.  The Lumbees are unusual in this regard, that is to say, no other community I know of which lives inland from the coast shares such an orientation toward the sea and toward food from the sea.

Roberta’s Comments:  The Hatteras Indians were granted land on Hatteras island in 1759.  They sold that land in 3 pieces.  The second piece, sold in 1788, based on oral history in the buyer’s family, held the original Indian town.  The final piece of land was conveyed in 1802 but the deed was not registered until 1823 with a margin note that says all the original parties were dead.  Census and other documents in the 1790/1800 time period show that a mixed race population did live in the location of the Indian Town, and did intermarry with the local white people on Hatteras Island.  We have photographs as late as 1900 that show a member of one of these families “sweating yaupon,” an activitiy only undertaken by Native people of that area.  Another document from 1756 proves intermarriage between the Hatteras and the Mattamuskeet Indians on the mainland.

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About Roberta Estes

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

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