A Report on Research of Lumbee Origins by Robert K. Thomas – Part 15 – Lumbee Identify – Their View of Themselves

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 54) Part V – Lumbee Identify (sic)

In this section I would like to look at how Lumbees conceive of themselves and see if anything can be gleaned from this avenue of inquiry.  The Lumbees have a conception of their own history, as of course do any other people.  They see themselves as having come from Roanoke in Virginia originally.  Although some modern Lumbees have “bought” the Lost Colony notion, as well.  But this is almost like some kind of mythical emergence.  It is like when Appalachian whites tell you their family came from Ireland.  It really hasn’t too much to do with who they are as a people now.  It is the American experience which molded them as a social group.  Lumbees conceive of a core of families who were the original settlers in Robeson, presumably from Roanoke in Virginia.  I think most people would agree that the Lockleers, Braveboys, Oxendines, etc. are core families; that is, first settlers in this area.  Most Lumbees are vague about the time of the first settlement except that it was sometime before the Revolution.  They see this core as having been joined by other Indian families.  I get the impression that older Lumbees think of this original core as belonging to the same tribe while these late families coming in, like Ishmael Chavis’ family or the Woods family coming from the east or the Stricklands coming from SC, are really representatives of other Indian tribes.  Further, they see the Lumbee people as having emerged in Robeson County as a result of the merger of this original core group of families with these later families coming in who were offered refuge.  But the Lumbee as a people, I think, were “born” in Robeson County.

(P 55) That does not mean to say that the Lumbees do not have roots in other areas but Robeson County is seen as really their homeland.  The Oglala Sioux, for instance, know that at one time they lived in Minnesota but once again that’s like coming up out of the earth.  It’s like an emergent myth.  The Sioux came out of Minnesota onto the Plains and the Sioux as they are “happened” on the Plains.  Coming from Roanoke in Virginia, for the Lumbee, is their mythical origins but they came into being, as they are, in Robeson County; as this group of core families probably of the same tribe took in these refugee Indian families from other areas.  Many Lumbees see themselves as a people who have offered refuge over the years for many Indians.

Lumbees usually speak of themselves as “Our People,” as do a great many other Indian groups when they speak in their native language, or else as “the Indians,” meaning of course the Indians around here.  They have a strong notion of being Indian.  Now being Indian does not mean a middle ground caste position, as it does to many whites in Robeson County.  For many whites in Robeson County, Indian simply means people who are neither black nor white, whatever might be their specific racial origin.  In fact, some whites in Robeson County think Lumbees are really a mixture between black and white.  They use the word Indian, but they use it to mean a middle ground status position.  Even whites who use the word Indian for Lumbees in the standard sense of the word think that the Lumbees aren’t “real Indians”; that is, that they aren’t fullbooded, they don’t speak an Indian language, and so forth and so forth.  But the Lumbees think of themselves as Indians, meaning the native aboriginal people of that region.  Many Lumbees (p 56) know that there is considerable white blood in the Lumbee veins because they know that in the 1800s there was quite a bit of intermarriage and hanky panky with whites.  However, they have no traditions of any intermixture with blacks even though it is obvious physically that the Lumbees do carry black genes.  They tend to deny that this is the case for a very good reason.  I think most of the black blood among the Lumbees was acquired before 1770 when they lived in other regions and their sense of history really dates from the time they were welded together as one people in Robeson County. 

It appears to me that the Lumbee view of their own history and how they came to be a people where they are, is, in broad outline, historically correct. The question becomes, I think to many scholars, is how long have the Lumbees conceived of themselves as Indians?  Is this something which came up after the Civil War during the time of segregation?  So I think we have to address that question and see what light we can throw on it.

It is impossible to say how the people who I have called refugee Indians in 1750 on the frontier in Granville and Edgecombe Counties conceived of themselves.  We simply do not have the documentation.  The only hint that we have at all is that Thomas Kersey who was a resident of Granville County joined Hugh Wadell’s army of SC Indians and fought in the French and Indian War.  There are some hints that other refugee Indians in that region fought with Wadell.  This was an all Indian army with a few white officers.  It is probable that Thomas Kersey conceived of himself as Indian. But that is the only hint that we have of Indian (p 57) identification among these mulattoes.

However, I think if we look at what happened to those people who went into Tennessee we can get a little better idea of how they must have conceived of themselves on the NC frontier.  In 1840 there were several of these families in Tennessee who were enrolled on the Cherokee rolls of the 1840s and 1850s.  There were Maynors, Thompsons and a few others enrolled as Cherokee Indians. So they must have conceived of themselves as Indians and as Cherokees.  Further, if we look at the census of Letcher County, Kentucky which was boring settled about 1840 by this same stock of Indians out of Newman’s Ridge on the Virginia-Tennessee border, we find a great many people with Indian first names like Blackfox Thomas, Tecumseh Collins and so forth.  So it is probable that some of these people, in the 1840s, conceived of themselves as Indians.

In 1890 we have some direct evidence.  The people of this stock living on Newmans Ridge who had originally come from Granville and Edgecombe Counties were presenting themselves to whites as Melungeons which, according to McMillan, was a name that French-Swiss whites, I presume from around New Bern, NC applied as well to Lumbee families.  It comes from the French word Melange, to mix.  These families were presenting themselves to whites as a mixture of Portuguese and Indian.  This sounds very much like the way the Red River halfbreeds, the Metis, conceived of themselves.  There were other families in that Cumberland region, however, who simply conceived of themselves as Indians. 

Modernly, most of these families, scattered in this Cumberland region, will tell you that they are Indians or part Indian and (p 58) usually identify as Cherokees.  In Ohio up until about WWII whites were referring to people of this stock as halfbreeds.  I would guess therefore, on the basis of this material, that part of this group on the frontier in 1750 conceived of themselves as a mixed race, Indian and something else.  Other families, that had a heavier component of Indian blood and were more attached to the Indian part of their family for some reason or another, conceived of themselves as Indian.  Thus, there was some division of opinion between people who thought of themselves as a new product and other families who simply thought of themselves as Indian but without any particular tribal designation.  When the majority of these people left the frontier in Granville and Edgecombe Counties for Robeson County and there absorbed a large element of Hatteras and Cheraws I would imagine that this clinched the Indian identification; that is, if there was some division in 1750 along the lines which I have postulated the absorption of more people of Indian stock probably squelched the mixed race identification, if it was ever very strong in Robeson County, and confirmed the Indian identity.

Roberta Estes:  It would certainly be interesting to see the list of men serving in Hugh Waddell’s army of SC Indians.  If have not been able to locate the list, if it exists.  If anyone has knowledge of this, please let me know.

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About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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4 Responses to A Report on Research of Lumbee Origins by Robert K. Thomas – Part 15 – Lumbee Identify – Their View of Themselves

  1. SGomez says:

    The New york herald 1872 list scuffleton(pembroke NC) as a “homogenous “free negro community the largest in the usa and north carolina

    and no mention of it as any kinda of indian settlement ! its the real origin of the so called indian myth a cover up of african heritage .

  2. Pingback: Hugh Waddell’s Castaway Indians – 1756 | Native Heritage Project

  3. Ron Camp says:

    The “Lost Colony of Roanoke” was on Roanoke Island, North Carolina – NOT Roanoke, Virginia.

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