A Report on Research of Lumbee Origins by Robert K. Thomas – Part 11 – Traditional Lumbee History – The Cheraws

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/

The second tribal tradition is not as strong as the Hatteras but shows up fairly strong in the accounts and points to the Cheraw.  Those Chavis among the Lumbee who are descended from Ishmael Chavis say the Ishmael Chavis was an Indian from the Cheraw, SC area who moved into Robeson Co. later than other Lumbee families.  In fact, this branch of the Chavis family is not considered as one of the original Indian families in the area.  Michelle Lawing’s genealogical material tends to confirm the Chavis family tradition.  Ishamel Chavis, in fact, does appear to have come from SC sometime after the original Lumbee families had located in their present area.

Further, a Mr. Claud E. Lowery, who is a local historian in Robeson County, says that a great many Lumbee families who now live in the area of Red Springs came into Robeson County in the 1820s or 1830s from the region of Cheraw, SC.  Mr. Lowery (p 31) thinks they were Cheraw Indians.

The Cheraw were located on the Dan River almost on the NC-VA border in the early 1700s.  There are indications that they may have lived originally near the Blue Ridge Mountains in SC. Many people think that the Cheraw are the Indians De Soto encountered in 1540 when he marched through that area of SC and were called by him, Xuala Indians.  As the case may be, we have historical records that locate the Cheraw on the Dan  in the 1700s.  Sometime about the time of the Tuscarora War, due either to Six Nations raiding in that area or in an attempt to avoid getting caught “in the middle” between the Tuscaroras and white settlers, the Cheraw left the Dan River and moved to SC.  They settled about where the modern town of Cheraw, SC is today.  When Barnwell raised his army of SC to fight against the Tuscaroras in 1712, the Cheraw probably contributed  the largest body of men of the SC tribes.

In the late 1740s the Cheraw, according to historical records, left the Cheraw, SC area and went west to the Catawba country.  However, there are indications in the historical records that some Cheraw returned later or else that all of them did not go to the Catawba country but remained in the area.  For instance, in the 1780s the governor of SC was advising the Catawba to entice the remainder of the Cheraw from the “settlements” to the Catawba country.  One would, therefore, presume that in the 1780s there were Cheraws still living around Cheraw, SC.  Local historians at Cheraw, SC say that there was a Cheraw village in that area until the 1820s and 1830s.  In fact, according (p 32) to one local historian there was an old Cheraw graveyard in town in which Cheraws were still buying their dead until the 1830s.  According to another local historian, a woman in her 60s, her great-grandfather who was a mature adult in the 1820s and 1830s owned a store in Cheraw SC where most of the Cheraw Indians traded.  However, the Cheraw disappear from the consciousness of local historians somewhere in the 1820s and 1830s.  This checks with Claud Lowery’s perception that a great many Cheraws came to Robeson County in the 1820s and 1830s.

There is a group of people who live right outside of Cheraw, SC, derogatorily called “Marlboro Blues” with names like Chavis, Silver, Quick and Brigham who are of indetermine (sic) racial origin.  I have not interviewed any of those people but I would guess, particularly since the name Chavis is so prominent among them, that they are what is left of the Cheraw who did not go to the Catawba country or to NC.

There are several Lumbee traditions, in the literature, that point to the Cheraws.  One is that the ancestors of many Indians in Robeson County fought with Barnwell in the Tuscarora War.  So far as we can determine, Barnwell’s army was almost exclusively made up of SC Indians and the Cheraws were the heaviest contingent in Barnwell’s army.  The  other tradition is that many of the ancestors of Robeson County Indians did not go west with the many body of the “Cherokees,” (Cheraw) to the mountain country because they were beginning to take up white ways and had relatives in the area.  This sounds very much like a tradition which explains why the main body of the Cheraws went to the Catawba county (sic) but left a minority remaining in the area of Cheraw, SC.  However, (p 33) in all honesty, this tradition which I have related could apply to other SC Indians as well since other SC tribes did fight with Barnwell and did finally go to the Catawba county.  However, I am assigning this tradition to the Cheraw because of other historical evidence and modern oral testimony of the Indians in the Robeson Co. area.

Roberta Estes:  The history of the Ishmael Chavis line shows the family in Bertie Co., NC as early as 1719 with a land grant.  Before that Bartholomew Chavis, Ishmael’s grandfather, was found in Surry Co., Va. in 1712 and in Henrico Co., Va. in 1707 .  Ismael was taxed in Bladen County, NC as a mulatto from 1768 to 1774.   Many of the early Bertie County families made their way to Craven Co., SC, along with several allied families, including the Brigman and Quick families mentioned by Thomas.  The Thomas Brigman line comes out of Bertie Co. with Gibson, Chavis, Smith, Coward, Skipper/Scipper, Pace, Quick and their allied families. This name is significant to Tuscarora and Lumbee history and culture because it is Thomas Brigman’s descendants, the sons of Brittain Brigman , that rode with Henry Berry Lowry.  They are documented in “To Die Game” by William Evans.  Those sons were Noah and Wellington Brigman.  These early families and family associations can be followed by virtue of a series of deeds, grants and other records in Bertie County.  For example, “Thomas Brigman and wife Elizabeth to John Gibson Oct. 28, 1728 (Nov. 12, 1728)  15 pds. for 35 A. on NS Casay Swamp and NES Watton Swamp. Wit: James Murry, Thomas Rodes, Thomas Brigman. Nov Court 1728. Ed. Mashborne D.C/C.”

Hat tip to Chavis and Brigman family researchers for providing the research and documentation for those and allied families.

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About Roberta Estes

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