A Report on Research of Lumbee Origins by Robert K. Thomas – Part 13 – The Social History of the Early Lumbees

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 38) Part IV – The Social History of the Early Lumbees

Now, what I will do in this section is to take Lumbee traditional history plus Wes White’s historical survey of North Caroline in the 1700s and Michelle Lawing’s genealogical work and put them together into a coherent picture.  If you simply look at my oral history material it appears that three tribes congregated in Robeson County; two Siouan speaking tribes and one Algonkian speaking tribe came together to form the Lumbees.  But the situation is much more complicated than that and when you put Lawing’s and White’s material together with mine, a more complicated but consistent historical picture emerges.

Michelle Lawing’s material shows that in 1850 one finds families bearing the same names we find today in Robeson County congregated along the frontier in Edgecombe and Granville Counties, NC.  It is further apparent that these families are a cohesive social group; that is to say, sometimes they are living in each other’s households, they are marrying together, they are witnessing wills for one another and so forth.  These families had a cohesion apart and separate, to a degree, from the rest of the families in that area.  I would estimate there were some 25 to 40 families or family names involved in this social group.

Their race as recorded on tax lists and other documents varies.  Most individuals are listed most commonly as mulattoes.  In that time in NC the legal category mulatto meant having one white parent and one non-white parent.  The non-white parent could be either Indian or Negro.  Some individuals in these families are listed as white, a few are listed as black and occasionally an individual is listed as Indian.  In the case of listing as Indian, (p 39) this meant fullblood Indian to all apparent purposes; that is, someone both of whose parents were Indian.  In other words, in this time the government of NC was legally listing individuals as to race, not whether people were part of any particular community.  There would be no such thing legally in the colony of NC as a mixed-blood Indian.  By definition, a mixed blood Indian would be a mulatto. 

If you look at these families internally, once again the racial classification of individuals within the family is quite varied.  It is apparent that in some of these families spouses were of different races; a black man married to a white woman or a white man married to someone listed as a mulatto.  Of course within the family household there are differences between generations, as one would expect if the parents were from different racial backgrounds.  But it is also true that as these families moved from one area to another, their racial classification might very well change so individuals go from black to white, from white to mulatto and so forth.  It appears to me that this racial classification was simply determine visually by the authorities; if you looked of mixed background you were listed as mulatto, if you were fairly dark you were listed as black, if you looked white you were listed as  white, and if you looked strongly Indian you were listed as Indian.

One of the apparent things about this group of families is that they were forming a very cohesive group, and the question is why this cohesion?  My best guess at this point in our research is that what made for the cohesion of this group was a feeling of being Indian.  There were fullblood Indians in the group and the (p 40) majority of people in this group were probably of least partial Indian background.  My best guess is that they were mixed blood Indians with a strong feeling of being Indian.  Of course, this is a guess because there is no direct evidence that this group in 1750 identified as Indians. But I have to ask myself as a social scientist why the cohesion.

It is apparent that these families are from different areas of the country.  Some are from extreme northeastern NC and some are from Virginia.  Most of them were probably not related before they began to cluster together in that frontier area, nor did there appear to be any social exclusion that would thrust them together.  The racial situation in NC around 1750 was very fluid and on the frontier even more so.  Therefore, there is no reason to assume that these families were simply social deviants who were pushed together because of a caste situation.  In fact, if you go to that area of NC today there are a great many white people who will tell you that they have Indian blood and blacks who will tell you they have both white blood and Indian blood.  Now, of course, no whites in that area will tell you they have black blood but it appears to me simply from visual evidence that there are a great many white in that area who do have black blood.  This region was pretty socially fluid in 1750 as were most frontier situations, even in the South.  This, kinship cannot explain the reason for this social cohesion nor can social exclusion.  This is not a community of free blacks.  There were very few free black in NC at that time, particularly on the frontier.  Free blacks, thus, could not and probably would not have formed the core of such a community, particularly in the absence of any social exclusion.

(P 41) It is true that there were blacks as part of this social group but they appear to be few in number and to have attached themselves to a core group.

It is my contention that this group were refugee Indians from further east in NC and from VA.  There was a couple of things we know about social conditions in southeastern VA just prior to this period, between 1720 and 1740.  One is that there was a lot of racial intermixture in northeastern NC and southeastern VA in this period, especially between Indians and whites; so much so that authorities were very concerned about what they considered a “problem.”  Secondly we know that several Indian groups in the area lost their lands in the 1730s and 1740s and disappear from history – the Yawpim and Potoskite in extreme northeastern NC and the Nansemond in VA.  By the 1730s the Yawpim and Potoskite probably did not number more than a dozen families each although the Nansemond appears to have been a much larger group. 

Now, Indian tribes simply do not disappear because they disappear from the records.  A number of things happen to such Indian tribes.  Indian tribes are not divisions of some larger unit.  Each Indian tribe is a small national group in and of itself and it is very hard to do away with whole national groups.  National groups tend to persist if possible.  Now, it is true that sometimes American Indian “tribes” (national groups) have disappeared through being exterminated by military hostilities and disease.  Usually, however, these factors have simply cut down the population of an American Indian tribe without exterminating them completely, although in some few instances there has been extermination.  On rare occasions (p 42) an Indian tribe will be assimilated by the white or black population that surrounds them.  This has been true of a very few Indian groups.  Generally, what happens is that tribes merge together to form larger groups if they are small, and in dire circumstances sometimes they will be assimilated by a larger Indian group.  The Six Nations are an example of a large confederation of tribes which incorporated quite a few small eastern Indian tribes.  The Catawba are another example of such a process.  The Fort Berthold Indians of North Dakota who are representatives of three tribes have in recent years merged together to make one tribe.  The usual process is that a tribe will get “whittled down” by disease and warfare and then assimilate into a larger tribe or more often merge with other small tribes to make a new group.  Rarely, as in the case of the Miami, does a small group of Indians become assimilated into the population which surrounds them.  If there are people of a national group left around, no matter how small, they would tend to resist assimilation.  Indian tribes usually prefer a general Indian peoplehood, by merging with other tribes, over against losing their local peoplehood by assimilating into white or black society.  Community and identity are a very precious commodity to most people and although many middle class Americans opt for a raising of rank at the sacrifice of community, relatives and tradition, very few other peoples of the world are apt to do this, particularly tribal peoples.

So the question is, what became of these three small groups after they lost their lands?  I would guess, even if I knew nothing at all about the historical situation, that these groups migrated (p 43) west and either bunched up together or attached themselves to some larger Indian group.  In fact, something of a the sort did happen to these three small tribes.  I think that even before these tribes had lost their land they had taken in a great deal of white blood and maybe some black blood and were fairly acculturated.  I would guess that after the land loss these three tribes then fragmented and as individual families made their way to the frontier regions of Edgecombe and Granville Counties by 1750.

There is some indirect evidence that this was the case.  For instance, we find prominent among this social group a family by the name of Bass and a family by the name of Goins.  We know historically that there were, in 1750 , Indians in Virginia named Goins and Bass.  There was a very prominent family in this social group called Kersey.  We know that there are modern day Kerseys in Virginia who, not too many generations ago, were American Indians.  The same is true of a family by the name of Powell.

As far as connections to the Yawpim and Potoskite of northeastern NC most evidence is even more indirect than the evidence which I have presented for a connection with Virginia.  Most Indians of this time and region adopted their names from those of their white neighbors.  We have found one name which may be an Indian patrinym, Braveboy.  We know it is not a British name and we, therefore, assume it must be an Indian name.  (Lumbee tradition says it is indeed an Indian name.)  But we are not sure whether the Braveboys are from Virginia or whether they are native to northeastern NC.  Many names on this frontier region in this “mysterious” social group are names from northeastern NC – (p 44) Lockleer, Lowery, etc.  But we can trace only one definitely Indian family to extreme northeastern NC.  They are a family of Hatcher who indeed are legally listed as Indians and who appear to have come from the Little River region of northeastern NC, probably Yawpim Indians.  Also, we know that Taylor was the name of an Indian family in the Yawpim area.  Taylor appears later associated with these frontier families.  Jones and Sanderson were prominent white families who lived adjacent to the Potoskite and we find these family names also showing up later associated with the group of families from Edgecombe and Granville Counties. 

I cannot explain the behavior of this group of families in this area very satisfactorily unless I assume, even if I didn’t have indirect evidence, that they were primarily mixed blood refugee Indians.

In the 1750s the Saponi were living in Granville County.  By 1766 they had disappeared.  One local historian said that they disappeared by marrying other races.  I am assuming also at the point that this group of refugee mixed blood Indian families from Virginia and northeastern NC were merging with the Saponi.  Once again, I have some indirect evidence for this.  One cannot find any descendants of the Saponi in the region of Granville County anymore than one can find the descendants of the Yawpim and Potoskite in northeastern NC.  The Saponi undoubtedly did not disappear in a puff of smoke and in fact, one author said, as I quoted above, that the Saponi disappeared by marrying other races.  I would contend that these “other races” were these refugee mixed blood Indian families, as I intend to call them.  We know that two (p 45) of these families, the Lockleers and Chavis’, lived immediately adjacent to the Saponi enclave in Granville County.  We also know that the first generation of Lockleers in Robeson County; that is, Lockleers born in the 1760s were said to be the last speakers of an Indian language in Robeson County – Will Lockleer, Elizabeth Lockleer, Randall Lockleer, etc., who all died in Robeson County before the Civil War.  Unless the Lockleers were speaking Potoskite or Yawpim, which is possible, I would assume that their mother was probably a Saponi Indian. 

In this same time in 1760, new mulattoes appear in the records, Gibson and Collins, for instance. Both of these families appear early in Robeson County.  Some Collins are still in Robeson County, but the Gibsons all moved further south into SC where they are now a numerous Indian family.  Gibson was a prominent early white family in Orange County which is just west of Granville County and Collins was a name among the Saponi, one of the few cases of names that we can authenticate as a Saponi name.  This, of course, does not mean that the Collins’ could not have come from somewhere else since Collins was a fairly common name.  I think the probabilities are that, of these new mulattoes, Gibson was Saponi in the female line and Collins in the male line.  The Saponi, thus, disappear from history at the same time that this new group of mulattoes emerge in this area.  No trace of the Saponi can be found in the area today.  Mr. Dawley Maynor’s phrase, Epta tewa newasin, is the best evidence I have that this group of refugee tribals merged with the Saponi on the frontier in Edgecombe and Granville Counties. But other indirect evidence also points in this direction.

 (P 46) In the 1750s and 1760s this group of people who I will now call Refugee Saponis began to fragment and move off in different directions out of Granville and Edgecombe Counties.  The frontier had bypassed them.  Some people simply kept on the frontier and moved straight west.  By 1810 they were collecting on the Tennessee-Virginia border on what is called Newmans Ridge, near Sneadville, TN and Blackwater, Va.  From there they sent out colonies both north, south and west.  In the 1890s they were called the Melungeons.  Today most of them refer to themselves, that is these Indians originally from Newmans Ridge who now live in pockets all through the Cumberland region, as Cherokees.

A few “Refugee Saponis” in the late 1750s moved into the region of Fayetteville in Cumberland County, NC and then in the 1760s began to move into the recent Lumbee area in Robeson County. 

Other families moved southeast to the Neuse, probably in the 1760s.  There was a famous military man by the name of Nash, originally from Virginia, who lived in this frontier region of Granville and Edgecombe County.  Nash moved to the area of New Bern, NC in the 1760s.  I would presume that many of these Refugee Saponi had probably served under him in different military engagements on the frontier and they may have followed him down to the region of New Bern.  At the same time, the Hatteras of Lake Mattasmuskeet may have started to move over to the Neuse.  But this is purely a guess.  It may very well have been that the Hatteras moved to the region of New Bern in the late 1760s and that people from the Granville-Edgecombe area began to move to this region where they (p 47) could find another Indian community.  I do know that Nash is a very common name among the Indians in southwest Virginia, that Nash was very involved in Indian affairs and that he went to the region of New Bern sometime in the 1760s.  But whether or not Indians followed him there is a guess, but a good historical “lead.”


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Lumbee, Miami, Nansemond, Poteskeet, Saponi, Yawpim. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A Report on Research of Lumbee Origins by Robert K. Thomas – Part 13 – The Social History of the Early Lumbees

  1. Concerned Citizen says:





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.