Paul Heinegg on his website www.freeafricanamericans.com provides the following (extracted) introductory material focused primarily on the records involving Native Americans in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.
After the Civil War, light-skinned African Americans who owned land in the Southeast did not fit into the new society where churches and schools were either white or former slave. Many could vote by the grandfather clause. They had developed a culture very similar to whites because they had gone to school and church with whites since the colonial period and had become part of the local white farming communities.
In 1875 the Democrats in Delaware enacted a law that required all “Colored Persons” to pay a tax of 30 cents on every $100 of property for the erection of separate schools for “Negroes.” The families that had been free since the colonial period in Indian River, Sussex County, organized as a “certain class of Colored Persons” and pressured the legislature to allow them to have their own schools so they would not have to attend with the former slaves. In 1881 the legislature permitted them to form an “Incorporated Body” under which they would be allowed to construct their own separate schools. They included members of the Johnson, Norwood, Wright, Harmon, Street, Clark and Drain families. They built Warwick School on land donated by the Harmon family and Holleyville School on land donated by Samuel Norwood [State Laws of Delaware XVI, Chapter 364, p. 378 cited by Weslager, Delaware’s Forgotten Folk, 112-117].
In 1885 Hamilton McMillan of Robeson County, North Carolina’s Democratic (Jim Crow) Party wrote and helped pass a law creating separate school districts for the former free persons of color of the county in an effort to win their votes in a county and state that were about equally divided between Republicans and Democrats. McMillan invented the name “Croatan Indians” and theorized that they had descended from a friendly tribe of Indians on the Roanoke River in eastern North Carolina who had mixed with the whites in Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost colony in 1587 and had settled in Robeson County during the colonial period. The law created three castes: white, Negro and Indian and prohibited marriage between them. Later, there would be three sets of water fountains, seating areas, rest rooms, etc. [Blu, The Lumbee Problem, 23, 62-3].
This influenced Anthropologist James Moody of the Smithsonian to study other possible Indian groups in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina in 1889. Moody visited the mixed-race community in Charles and Prince George’s counties [Maryland] made up of members of the Proctor, Butler, Newman, Savoy, Swann, and Thompson families which has come to be called “Piscataway Indians” or “Wesorts” [Porter, Quest for Identity, 99-100; Gilberts, Surviving Indian Groups of the Eastern United States] (all families clearly identified in the colonial court records as having descended from white women who had children by men of African descent, convicted of “Mulatto bastardy” and sold as servants for seven years.)
In 1898 William H. Babcock visited the Delaware “Nanticoke Indian” community and observed that “they have near as many white attributes of mind and body, habit, and temper” [Babcock, American Anthropologist, 1 (1899): 277-82].
A study of the mixed-race communities of North Carolina in 1886 reached a similar conclusion, “In their habits, manner, and dress, the free negroes still resemble, as they always did, the poorest class of whites much closer than they do the freedman” [Dodge, “Free Negroes of North Carolina,” Atlantic Monthly 57 (January 1886):20-30].
In 1903 the “Incorporated Body” of Sussex County petitioned the legislature to change their name from “a certain class of Colored Persons” to the “Offspring of the Nanticoke Indians,” and the legislature complied [State Laws of Delaware XXII, Chapter 470, 986 cited by Weslager, Delaware’s Forgotten Folk, 117].
Anthropologist Frank G. Speck visited the Indian River, Sussex County community in 1911, 1922 and 1942. In 1922 he helped the community to incorporate as the Nanticoke Indian Association. He taught them Indian dances and songs and taught them to prepare costumes, strings of beads and feather headdresses, subjecting them to the ridicule of whites in the area [Porter, Quest for Identity, 103, 108-9, 111].
Indian Indentured Servants
The indenture of Indians as servants was not common in Maryland. The Governor and his Council were not familiar with the practice on 18 July 1722 when they heard the case of Marcus Andrews who was charged with indenting an Indian boy named James in Somerset County and selling the indenture to someone in Philadelphia. Andrews explained that it was a “Customary thing in Ackamack in Virginia to indent with them for a Time or Term of years” and that he had indented with the boy in Virginia, not in Maryland [Archives of Maryland 25:390-1].
Women convicted of having children by native Indians were prosecuted for the lesser offense of fornication and had to pay a fine or suffer corporal punishment. In June 1721 Eliza Lester named an Indian called Sackelah as the father of her child and received a fine or corporal punishment from the Baltimore County court [Proceedings 1718-21, 498, 507].
The indenture of East Indian servants was more common. Eleven examples exist that very clearly state that the individual is East Indian and they are indentured, not slaves for life.
East Indians apparently blended into the free African American population. Peter, an East Indian who was one of the ancestors of the Fisher family, had a child by a white woman named Mary Molloyd about 1680 and “became a free Molato after serving some time to Major Beale of St. Mary’s County” [Anne Arundel County Judgment Record 1734-6, 83; 1743-4, 11].
For more detail on East Indians, see Paul’s links below.
Also see the blog titled “East Indian Indians in Early Colonial Records” where I have assembled all of the East Indians records from Paul’s work in summary form in one place.
The sources for Paul’s work and the entire book “Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina” are available on his website http://www.freeafricanamericans.com. Each statement in Paul’s book is followed by the source in brackets and there is a complete list of sources at the end of the book.