A Report on Research of Lumbee Origins by Robert K. Thomas – Part 14 – The Social History of the Early Lumbees after 1770

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/

In the 1770s there were a lot of Indians moving straight from the Granville – Edgecombe area to /Robeson County.  Other families from 1770 to 1790 were bypassing Robeson County going from the Granville – Edgecombe area into SC either to the Cheraw area, to Peedee Town or even further west of the Santee.

By 1800 most of the families from Granville or Edgecombe Counties were either on their way west, were in Robeson County or were further south in SC.  People from the “Refugee Hatteras” community on the Neuse were beginning to move straight on to Robeson County after the Revolution or were moving to Sampson County on their trek west by stages.  After the Revolution, it also appears that Indians who had left Robeson county or bypassed Robeson County and had gone on to SC were beginning to turn around and to regroup with the main body in Robeson County itself.

By 1800 most of the Indian families now present in Robeson county were established there although some of their relatives were still “straggling in” from SC.  Ishmael Chavis had come first from SC to Robeson in the 1760s although he appears to have moved around considerable and finally to have come back to Robeson County for the third or fourth time right after the American Revolution.  Hatteras were still moving in from the east all through this period.  In the 1820s, according (p 48) to Mr. Claud E. Lowery, a great many Indians came from the area of Cheraw, SC probably a mixture of these refugee tribals from the north and the Cheraw, moved to Robeson.  When the NC legislature said in 1740 that the Robeson County “free colored” came from the Roanoke and Nuese Rivers into Robeson County, I think they were essentially correct; the people from the Roanoke River region being the first settlers in the area and the core families.  When the Lumbees of the 1880s stated that they were from Roanoke in Virginia, they were essentially correct.

There may have been other stragglers come in from other tribes.  Thomas was a very common name early among the Meherrin.  Bell and Reed appear to be Chowan names from around the region of Gatesville, NC and there may have been some Peedee who wandered into Robeson County.  But I am convinced that Robeson County Indians are essentially refugee tribals from the Yawpim, Potoskite, and Nansemond tribes who merged with the Saponis in the 1750s and the Hatteras at about the same time and then collected together in Robeson County; attracting then a contingent of Cheraw plus some wandering “loose” Indians from other parts of NC like the Thomas and the Bells and the Reeds.

One thing that the reader should remember is that in these early times, I am talking about very small numbers of people.  In 1730 there was not over a dozen Hatteras families, not over a dozen Yawpim families.  In the 1740s when the Saponis came to Granville County, they numbered some dozen families.  Further, probably not more than 5 or 6 Nansemond families drifted over the border from Virginia.  One Cheraw, Ishmael Chavis, came with his family in the late 1760s to Robeson County and probably 5 or 6 other (p 49) Cheraw families in the 1820s or 1830s came also to Robeson County.  By 1790, I would guess the majority of Indian families now in Robeson County had already settled there and there were no more than 300 Indians there altogether.

In 1750 the population of NC numbered some 35,000 all told in the settled regions of NC, excluding the Cherokee population.  The major part of NC was later populated by what has been called in this country the Scots-Irish (the north Irish or Protestant Irish) who came to the US primarily between 1715 and 1760.  They settled first mostly into Pennsylvania and then pushed down into the Shenandoah Valley and then into the Yadkin valley.  They probably account for ¾ of the modern NC population.  English stock settlers did not increase rapidly.  The Scots have not increased that rapidly.  The north Irish have had a tremendous increase in the New World.  I would guess that not more than 200,000 Scots-Irish came to American between 1715 and 1760, yet I can’t imagine less that 60 million Americans being descended from those 200,000 Scots-Irish.  In a sense, the Lumbee increase is no more startling than the Scots-Irish increase, but it is a startling increase.

Now this is not to say that the Indians just came into Robeson County, clustered up there and then started a population explosion.  There were families straggling into Robeson County up until 1850.  In fact, one branch of the Maynor family of Robeson County came from east Tennessee about 1850.  It looks to me like this particular branch of the Maynor family had gone from Granville straight west to east Tennessee, and the in the 1850s came east to Robeson County.  But there were other Indians who left Robeson County and went into other areas.  Some of them stayed and some of them returned later.

(P 50)  For instance, there were Indians who stayed only for a few years in Robeson County after coming down from the Granville-Edgecombe area and then scattering south in a wide belt going from northeast to southwest in SC.  In SC in this central belt we find Chavis, Goings, Gibsons, Scotts, Bunches, etc.  There were quite a few Lockleers in western SC in 1790, but I am not sure what happened to them.  We do know that quite a few families – Dial, Bass, Willis, Sweat, Deas, Willes, etc – left SC after 1800, moved to western Louisiana and merged with Native Indians there to from a group now called the “Redbones.”  A few families – Dial, Ware, etc. – then moved on into east Texas.  Other families left SC later in the 1800s – the Strick, tyc. – to form Indian communities in north Florida.

There were quite a few Lockleers who left Robeson County after the Revoltuion probably after 1790, along with Oxendines, who migrated to the mountains of NC and east Tennessee, but most of these returned about 1830.  There were also Robeson County people who left after the War of 1812 and settled in Lincoln County just west of present-day Charlotte, NC.  In the 1840s there was another big migration out of Robeson County which McMillan mentions.  Mr. Jim Chavis told me of the migration from Robeson County of what he called the white Chavis’, but I am not quite sure when that took place.  Thus, Indians were moving in and out of Robeson County all during the late 1700s and early 1800s. After the Civil War I think there were more Indians moving out.  There were Lumbees who went into South Georgia in the late 1800s to work and quite a few stayed there.  Individual Lumbees migrate west in this era; and since the Second World War a lot of Lumbees have individually (p 51) migrated to many NC cities, to Baltimore, to Detroit, etc.  Sometimes they formed large colonies as in Baltimore and sometimes they scattered out as in Detroit but keep in contact with each other.  I understand by the census that there were around 30,000 Indians in Robeson County in 1970.  I would guess there are at least 30,000 other Lumbees who have migrated from Robeson since WWII and now live in other areas.

The Lumbees tend to show a population increase and a migration pattern very much like the Scots-Irish except the Lumbee have much more of a home base than any of the Scots-Irish have.

When I say that I am not talking about more than a dozen families of Hatteras or Yawpim or Saponi, I am not implying that these are necessarily full blood Indian families.  I would guess not.  In fact, I would guess that by 1890 or by 1820, when most of the Lumbee families were situated in Robeson County, the average Indian in Robeson County was probably somewhere between one forth or one half Indian by “blood, a little over one fourth would be my guess.  Further, there has been considerable “hanky panky”: in Robeson County in the last 150 years; enough for quite a bit more foreign blood, in this case white blood, to spread around among the Lumbees.  So I would guess, just off handedly, that the average Indian in Robeson County (if there is such a thing) is probably around one quarter Indian, three quarters white and with a little sprinkling of black genes in the pot.  I think that most of this foreign blood was acquired before 1770 and that Indians congregated n Robeson County in 1790 were already carrying a great deal of foreign intermixture at that point in time.

This is not typical of other Indians in the eastern part of (p 52) the US.  Some groups, for instance, those in southern New England have absorbed so much black blood that they are almost physically indistinguishable from blacks.  Others have absorbed so much white blood as to be physically indistinguishable from whites and most of this intermixture took place in the 1700s when these groups were small and mates were hard to find.  When your tribe gets down to a dozen families it is hard not to be compelled to marry out of the group.  In fact, much of the wanderings around of Indians in NC in the 1700s and the merging together I would postulate, was not only motivated by the need for land but also to find marriage mates.

I know that modern geneticists have done a study in Robeson County in which they conclude that the Indians in their sample are about one eighth Indian, one eighth black and about three quarters white.  I would say that this is a little “light” on the Indian side.  I don’t know the school the geneticists took or what sampling procedures they used but I feel that they are too light on Indian ancestry.  Further, there must be a tremendous difference in degree of Indian blood from one part of Robeson County to another.  Offhand, I would guess that the Brooks family must be at least half Indian.  Other areas in Robeson County may have very little Indian “blood.”  But it really doesn’t make that much difference.

My point is that most of their foreign blood was acquired very early and I don’t’ think it had too much influence on Lumbee history except in terms of Lumbee relationships with outsiders.  I do not think it had much to do with notions of who they thought they were.  It is bound to have had a tremendous cultural influence; having one of your parents and perhaps one of your grandparents,  a foreigner (p 53 of the report, his page 52) in terms of language, culture, perception, personality, and so forth.  But in terms of peoplehood, I don’t think it was very important.

I must put in a personal reaction here.  I am getting very weary of snide remarks about the Lumbee’s “Indianness.”  The Comanches, some Pueblos and some Mission tribes in California are largely Mexican by blood.  Some Chippewa communities are primarily French in blood and very French culturally, as well.  I don’t hear any snickers directed at these groups.  Nor do I hear anyone say that the people in a large section of northern Italy are not “real” Italians because they are largely descendants of invading German tribes.  I find American racism boring as well as annoying.

Roberta Estes:  Regarding Thomas’s comment about modern geneticists, keep in mind that this report was written more than 20 years ago.

About Roberta Estes

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

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