The Legend of Coharie

The Legend of Coharie was written by Ernest Minson Bullard who died in 1959.  It was published in a publication that I believe was called “Pitch ‘n Tar” but I can find no publication information, other than a mention at the bottom of this article in a passing way.  Given copyright restrictions, and the fact that I can’t even figure out who to ask for permission, I’ll extract the information from this article.

I must say, I’m very grateful for contributions.  Someone sent this to Anne Poole who sent it to me.  If you see something that might be of interest, please do send it our way.  I’ll share it with all and who knows where that next hint might be waiting.

Ernest Bullard was the field rep for the Farmers Home Administration.  He was born in Sampson County and lived in Cumberland County, NC when he died.  The FHA reps talked to everyone, in particular the farmers.  At the time, the FHA’s entire purpose was rural development, farm loans, loans for the installation of water systems and emergency relief.  Given who he worked with and talked to, he probably heard every legend that existed in his area, especially if people liked him.  From the looks of this article, people liked him.

Ernest does not tell this in jest.  He says he tells the tale as it was told to him.

In 1588 or 1589, the survivors of the Lost Colony took up residence with Manteo on Croatan Island.  A tidal wave had left the island ground salty and the survivors left Croatan Island for the mainland to the west of Roanoke Island.  One of the survivors was George Howe Jr., the son of George Howe who was murdered by the Indians on Roanoke Island on July 28, 1587.

A consultation was held on Croatan Island about what to do, and it was determined that some of the group would bypass Wanchese’s hostile tribe by going to the north and some would go south.  The ones who went to the north are not part of this story.

Manteo and most of the tribe chose the southern route and left about 1592.

The Indians and the colonists landed in what is now Carteret or Pamlico County.  Legend says they tried early the next year to ascend the Neus farther inland in order to reach higher land on which they could grow Indian corn.  The tidal wave had salted the land where they first settled so it would not grow corn.  Many colonists were sick due to lack of bread to each with the seafood and game that were abundant.

They were attacked  by an unfriendly tribe and some were wounded.  They turned south and dwelt “for many moons” along the coast, finally settling on the east side of the Cape Fear River where they lived peacefully “for many seasons.”

Eventually a colony of white people settled across the river, possibly the Clarendon Colony of 1664, and Manteo’s tribe began to migrate further inland until they reached the confluence of the Deep and the Haw Rivers here they settled on the eastern prong which they named the Howe River in honor of George Howe III who was the grandson of Manteo.  George Howe Jr. had married one of Manteo’s daughters.

They lived on the Haw about 170 moons when a severe drought dried the river and springs.  They then migrated downstream with the receding water supply until they encountered scattered Scotch settlements along the Cape Fear River in current day Cumberland County.

They dispatched two runners, one of which was George Howe the IV who found a clear spring and called out “co-her-ah,” “come here ah,” which eventually became Coharie.  They settled along the Coharies and the South River where many of their descendants still reside.

The legend itself ends here, but their descendants still live in that region.  This story was told to Ernest and had never been previously written and committed to paper.  It had been passed generation to generation by word of mouth.

He reports that the Manors who “have to a considerable degree” preserved their Indian blood and characteristics” and who at that time resided in the central western section of Sampson County and on both sides of and between the two Coharies claim to be the direct descendants of Manteo. Ernest says “The definition of Manor furnished a clue as to why the surname Manteo was changed to Manor after he was christened Lord of Roanoke by order of Sir Walter Raleigh and given dominion over all the Indians in that entire area.”

Ernest says that more than half of the colonist names can be found on the census of Sampson County and more than two thirds found among the people of southeast NC.  Of the remaining 25 or 30, 8 are known to have been changed to similar names.  One of those names is Howe.

The name Howe was given to the Haw River but the name evolved over time.

“Near the center of a small clearing on which these early people produced Indian corn and perhaps potatoes and collards, on top of a knoll overlooking the lowland of Big Swamp in the western part of what was known at that time as “the Territory” of Duplin County, there stood a small log cabin belonging to Enoch Hall.  Hall as said to have been a lineal descendant from George Howe of the “Lost Colony…the name having changed from Howe to Haw to Hall.”

Ernest says he believes that many descendants exist today from those 96 men, 16 women and 9 boys of the Lost Colony and have lived or were living at the time in Sampson County.  I estimate that this article was from perhaps the 1930s or 1940s.

Ernest gave us a lot of good information here, so let’s analyze it a bit based on what he said, in timeline fashion.

First, I want to say that we know that all of the Indians did not vacate Croatoan, now Hatteras Island.  Archaeology digs in combination with John Lawson’s records from 1701 that tell us that the Hatteras lived on Hatteras Island.  Lawson tells us they had grey eyes and said they descended from white people.  Other records confirm their early presence on Hatteras Island as well.  Of course, part of the group could have left and it has long been speculated that they did.

I also want to comment on the tidal wave. Hatteras Island has been routinely engulfed and flooded by ocean water, as has the mainland adjacent the sound.  Vegetation still continues to grow here.  If vegetation couldn’t survive, then neither could animals which eat vegetation.  This story mentions that corn wouldn’t grow due to the salt, but that animals were plentiful.  Those statements seem contradictory.  We do know that a severe drought was taking place when the colonists were left on Roanoke Island in 1587.  The impacts of the 16th century drought (1564-1573) on native agriculturalists in South Carolina was mentioned by Spanish colonists at Santa Elena but this record is too early for the drought mentioned in this story.  I was not able to find any records of prolonged or particularly severe droughts in the 1600s.  A drought severe enough to dry up a river would be extremely pronounced.

1592 – Colonists and Indians left Roanoke/Croatan Island. Some went North and were lost to this history and some went south.  They lived along the coast for many years and then established residence on the Cape Fear River.

1664 – A colony of whites established themselves across the river from the colonist and Indian descendants.  We don’t know when this was, but if it was the Clarendon colony, it was 1664.  They moved inland to the confluence of the Deep and Haw Rivers, naming the Haw after George Howe III, grandson of Manteo.

If George Howe Jr. was 10 years old in 1587, he would have been “marriage age” about 1597, so could have had a child about 1600, which indeed could have had another child by 1630 or so and George Howe III could indeed have been alive in 1664.

They lived “there” for 170 moons.  Ernest seems to interpret a moon as a year, but a moon is a month, so 170 moons would be equivalent to about 14 years.  We don’t know how long it took them to move up the Haw, but let’s say that it was only a few months, so we’ll ignore that, but keeping in mind it could have been a couple years or even more.

This puts us at between 1678 and 1680.

1678-1680 – In search of water, the tribe finds scattered Scotch in settlements along the Cape Fear River.

1678-1680 – George Howe IV finds the Coharie River.  Another generation of George Howes could well be alive in 1680.  They settled along the two Coharies and South River.

Here’s a problem.  The 1678-1680 dates don’t work, because the Scots did not begin to settle on the Cape Fear backcountry until in 1732.  If this story about Georg Howe IV finding the Coharie is now in 1732 instead of 1680, we are several generations off, given that an average generation is 25-30 years.

1587 – George Lowe Jr 10 years of age

1597 – George Howe marries Manteo’s daughter

1600 – George Howe III born

1620 – George Howe IIII marries

1625 – George Howe IV born

1732 – George Howe IV 107 years old when Scotch Irish begin settling Cape Fear region

1779 – Cabin belonging to Enoch Hall in Duplin County, overlooking Big Swamp in “The Territory” of Duplin County.  Hall is alleged to be a direct descendant of George Howe.

If this is the case, Enich would be very admixed and would have been listed as a free person of color in the 1790 census.

The 1790 census, 11 years after the last date given in the story, does not show an Enoch Hall living in Duplin County.  However, one Enoch Hall is shown in Robeson County along with Barnabas, Benjamin, Instance, Isaac, Lazarus, Lewis, Mary, Susannah and Bickley Hall.  In Duplin County, we show David, Isaac and two William Halls and in Sampson County, an Armager, Sampson, Moses, William and Josiah Hall. None of these families are enumerated as Free People of Color.

Hall is not recorded in Robeson, Sampson or Duplin, or elsewhere in NC for that matter, as a Free Person of Color, but Mainor is in Sampson County.  Both Howe and Hall are sporadically noted later as Native in Robeson County, but not Sampson County.  Hall has one death record and one draft registration and Howe has only a mention by Virginia DeMarce.  This is very scant evidence, and somewhat late as well.  By 1920-1930, these families should have been “of color” or Native for a long time.  Perhaps a female Native line married into the family.

I decided to take a look at the Hall DNA project.

There are two possible lines.  An Instant Hall is shown in group 18 and Barnabas Hall is shown in group 34.  I was interested to know if either of these men show any matches to a Howe.  Both of these haplogroups are European, which is what would be expected.  The Hall project administrator reports that neither of these men have any Howe matches.

There is a Maynor from Sampson County in the Lumbee DNA project.  His DNA is European, not Native American, so if the Maynor family descends from Manteo, it’s not the direct paternal line.


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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12 Responses to The Legend of Coharie

  1. Mavis Bullard says:

    I am stunned to see one of my family’s oral traditions written here. Ernest Minson Bullard was my 2great Uncle.This is a story that is being passed down in our family today.It is interesting to note here that his 2nd great grandmother was Jemima Hall born in Sampson county in 1761.Her great grandfather was the Issac Hall mentioned here.I have never been able to find who his father was but I do suspect that Enoch Hall was the father of my Issac.I have begun research recently into this family’s mixed heritage.Based on old photos that exist of Ernest and his family it is evident that they had Native admixture.I do find evidence in my own research to support many details of this story.There are many last names of the colonists found in this area from many generations back.Many of these allied families moved out of NC and into Georgia before the 1800s others stayed behind and can be found among the Lumbee today.Very few were ever documented as other free or colored.I believe that most of this family was able to pass for white by the late 1700s and those that could not migrated south.These familes have lived on the Coharie since the early 1700s.I will dig into my notes deeper on this matter and am happy to share anything that I find.Thanks again to everyone involved in sharing their discoveries.Together we can write the history of the almost but not quite forgotten and discover a bit more of who we are.

  2. Vickie Ellisor says:

    I was told that the Croatan Indians of Sampson County are know now as Coharie Indians, which I can’t find any prove of. I have found them in the Lumbee Tribe. Which one is right? I am trying to get the right information so I can tell my family at our reunion in March. Thanks for your help.

  3. Phil Dexter Maynor says:

    I am a Cohaire Indian. The Indians of Sampson County were named Cohaire in the early 70’s. We are closely related to the Lumbee Indians.

  4. Sandra Johnson says:

    I am from the Maynor family in Beckley, West Virginia. Marvin Silas Maynor and Bessie Mae Parker were my grandparents. I am trying to find our Native American ancestry. If you have any information could you please contact me at Thank you.

  5. Wyatt Stephen Lee says:

    Ernest Minson Bullard (1881-1959) was my maternal grandfather. I knew him well. One small correction in your information about him: He was living in Roseboro, Sampson County, N.C., at the time of his death. He died in the Veterans Administration hospital in Fayetteville, N.C., though he would not have considered himself a resident of Cumberland County. “Pitch ‘n’ Tar” was the short-lived publication of a high school oral history project sponsored by a history teacher, Matilda West, of Roseboro, who happened also to be a high-school classmate of mine. I suspect my mother, also a teacher in Roseboro, showed her one of the typewritten copies of the legend that my grandfather had prepared for his children and grandchildren. The Legend of Coharie, or perhaps the “Legend of Cohera,” was previously published in the 1950’s, I believe, in perhaps a privately circulated booklet and more recently republished in Huckleberry Historian, the quarterly newsletter of the Sampson County Historical Society. My grandfather remembered a time when Coharie, the name attached to two rivers (Big Coharie and Little Coharie) in Sampson County, was spelled Cohera. Old maps confirm that spelling, among others. Family legend did, indeed, assert that Ernest Bullard’s ancestor (and mine) Jemima Hall, the first wife of Thomas Bullard (1759-1837) was part native American, as my cousin Mavis Bullard, whom I have not met, asserted previously. If so, I inherited no genes from Jemima Hall Bullard. Genetic testing found I had absolutely no trace of native American ancestry. My grandfather, however, certainly had features suggestive of such ancestry. He wrote that he first heard the legend as a boy of 10. I do not know where he heard it, but the fact that he mentioned one Enoch Hall in the legend has led me to look at other Hall/Bullard links. Ernest Bullard’s great aunt, Lucy Bullard, married the Rev. Everett Hall, who was the son and grandson of men named Enoch Hall. Lucy Bullard Hall died in 1892, when my grandfather was still 10 years old. The Rev. Everett Hall had a sister named Jemima Hall, though she was too young to have been the Jemima Hall who married Thomas Bullard, and the Rev. Everett Hall and Lucy Bullard also named a daughter Jemima Hall. The legend sounds to me like the sort of tale an imaginative Hall relative, influenced by the then-current writings of Hamilton McMillan, a champion of the Lumber River Indians of Robeson County, might have spun to entertain a bright, personable child of 10 at a funeral gathering for an aunt of the child’s father. That, of course, is purely my speculation. Brandon Fullam, a tireless investigator of the Lost Colony mystery, has analyzed the legend extensively, in two recent books, “The Lost Colony of Roanoke: New Perspectives” and “Manteo and the Algonquians of the Roanoke Voyages.” I know not what the truth may be, but it is a fascinating subject.

    • TamathaCrumpler ("Weaver"not legally married) says:

      Matilda West was born same day as my father n law ,James Montague Weaver 111(Jimmie Weaver,grandson to JamesM.Weaver1,aka,Blue Jim ,of the BATTLE OF THE DEAD, (written about the ghost battle of Bentonville ,NC)story written by Nancy Roberts and husband in GHOST STORIES OF THE OLD NORTH STATE…)
      There is a copy of PITCH N TAR in the office of LAKEWOOD HIGH SCHOOL in Salemburg NC…

      • Tamatha Crumpler says:

        Matilda West born March 11,1941
        Deceased…not known by me
        James M. Weaver lll b.March 11,1941
        Deceased Jan24,2019

      • Wyatt Stephen Lee says:

        Tamatha, I remember Jimmie Weaver well. He, too, was a classmate, from the first grade on, as was Matilda West. I never knew that his full name was James Montague Weaver III until I read his obituary. Last I heard, Matilda was alive, though at Mary Gran Nursing Home in Clinton, N.C., after suffering a stroke.

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