The Settlement of North Carolina

When working with researchers who have families in early North Carolina, I find a lot of misconceptions.  It’s easy to understand why, because the settlement of a new land is foreign to us today and their lives were so very different then.

Many people think that Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Colonists would have been living as English families, just waiting for more Englishmen to join them, or find them.  We know, positively, from the records that do exist, that this was not the case.

If the colonists did survive, they would have done so by assimilating with the Native people.  Lawson, the best resource we have,  in 1701 distinctly discussed how apt human nature was to “degrade,” based on his assumption that the English were forced by necessity to intermarry with the Native people.  Although the Hatteras Indians carried physical indications of having European ancestors, which Lawson duly noted, they were clearly “Native” people, living as Native Americans, not as Christians, not as Englishmen.  They were proud of their English heritage, but that was a distant memory to them.  To the best of our knowledge, they did not know the names of their English ancestors.  Lawson did discuss the colonists and the Hatteras and relayed what they told him, and none of it involved any names at all, let alone surnames.

The next assumption, of course, is that surnames were passed in the same way they are passed in America today, father to the children, and in particular, father to son which parallels the way the Y chromosome, which we use in our genealogical DNA testing, is passed as well.

Given that they didn’t have any oral records of their ancestor’s names, it’s extremely unlikely, especially in the Algonquian maternal culture, that English names were retained in any form, that surnames were retained or that they were passed from father to son.  In a maternal culture, if there were surnames, they would have passed from mother to her children, and in fact, later, they did.  But our first evidence of surnames or English names with the North Carolina Indians comes as a result of the Indians adopting the names of the English they respected, such as George Durant, the Indian, adopting the name of George Durant, the Englishman whom he sold his land to in 1661 on what is now Durant’s Neck.

In any event, there is a wonderful article about the early settlement of North Carolina, which was later than many people think, at this link:

As part of this history of Perquiman’s County, we are told that in 1696 the records show that there were, in Carolina, sixty or seventy scattered families, settled principally along the water front for twenty miles up Little River shore, and around to Perquimans River. The inlet of Roanoke was frequented by small vessels trading to and from the West India Islands, and pirates and run-away slaves resorted to this place from Virginia. (Colonial Records, Vol. I, page 467.)

About Roberta Estes

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