The Lumbee by Many Other Names

The history of the Lumbee has been a rocky road with their official identity changing from time to time.  This “label crisis” stems from the fact that the early records of the Lumbee fail to unquestionably identify their origins, and they appear to have moved to the Robeson County area as either an offshoot or remnant of another tribe or a mixed racial group.  Tribes in that time were in a state of crisis with the encroachment of Europeans into their traditional territories.  There is no consensus within the tribe, and to say it has been and remains a hot potato would be an understatement.

Because of this, prior to 1885, they were not known by a specific name, although in the 1860s there is documentation that their members said that at least some of them were descended from the Tuscarora.

In 1885, they were given the name of the Croatan Indians by the North Carolina General Assembly as a result of the efforts of Hamilton McMillan’s to obtain a separate Indian school for their children.  To do so, he suggested that they descended from the Lost Colonists and the Croatoan Indians and in honor of that, the tribe was named the Croatan.  Today, this causes confusion, because when people see records with the name Croatan, they assume that the records refer to the Hatteras Indians on Hatteras Island.  Unfortunately, the name was shorted to Cro and became pejorative.

In 1911, the General Assembly changed the name from Croatan to the “Indians of Robeson County.”

In 1913, the name was once again changed to the “Cherokee Indians of Robeson County” which made the Cherokee tribe quite unhappy.

In 1924, there was an unsuccessful attempt to have the Lumbee recognized as “Siouian Indians.”  Although this was not successful, I do sometimes run across the tribe referred to by this name.

In 1953, the name was once again changed to the Lumbee, in honor of the Lumber River along with they were originally found, and that remains their name today.

You can view a timeline of significant Lumbee events on their Lumbee webpage.

Posted in Cherokee Indians of Robeson County (later Lumbee), Croatan (Later Lumbee), Indians of Robeson County (later Lumbee), Lumbee, Tuscarora | 6 Comments

The Meherrin in 1728

Mosely 1733 Meherrin

The 1733 Edward Moseley map of North Carolina, above, shows the Meherrin Indian Village to the left.

Around the same time, this note from William Byrd was recorded in 1728 while surveying the dividing line between North Carolina and Virginia:

In this camp three of the Meherrin Indians made us a visit. They told us that the small remains of their nation had deserted their ancient town, situated near the mouth of the Meherrin river, for fear of the Catawbas, who had killed fourteen of their people the year before; and the few that survived that calamity, had taken refuge amongst the English, on the east side of Chowan. Though, if the complaint of these Indians were true, they are hardly used by our Carolina friends. But they are the less to be pitied, because they have ever been reputed the most false and treacherous to the English of all the Indians in the neighbourhood. 

Sadly, I think this information from Byrd is the swan song for the once vibrant Meherrin.  It allows us to peer uncomfortably at the death throes of a Native nation.  It sounds like there may have been fewer in the tribe in 1728 than the 14 that were killed the year before.  While it’s easy to blame the demise of the Native tribes on the Europeans, it’s also obvious that their decimation was not entirely at European hands nor through European diseases.  However, these people could not survive multiple attacks on different fronts, reducing the number of their population and separating them from their home lands and villages.

In 1731, 20 Meherrin families were documented, so the tribe was quite small.  The current Meherrin Tribe, comprised of descendants, provides additional historic information on their website.

Hat tip to Justin for the map and Byrd info.

Posted in Catawba, Meherrin, North Carolina | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Croatoan, North Carolina | 2 Comments

White Buffalo Calf Birth Amid Wildfires

White Buffalo Royal Gorge 2013Amid the wildfires in Colorado this year, a sign of hope has emerged.  A white buffalo calf has been born near Colorado Springs in the Royal Gorge Park to a mother that had been very stressed by the fires and smoke.  Click on the link for the Fox News full story.

Here’s another article with 5 photos of the calf, Smoky and Mom, Brownie.  Turns out that Smoky’s Dad, Chief Silver Bullet, is white and about 25% of his offspring are white as well.

If you’d like to know more about the White Buffalo Prophecy and why it’s important to Native people, then click here.

Posted in White Buffalo | Leave a comment

The War of 1812’s Forgotten Warriors

In the heat of the battles of the War of 1812, Native warriors were sometimes critically important.  They were all but forgotten later.

battle of queenston heights

Battle of Queenston Heights drawing by eyewitness James Dennis depicts the unsuccessful American landing on 13 October 1812. The village of Queenston is in the right foreground, with Queenston Heights behind. Lewiston is in the left foreground.

An article today in the Toronto Star provides the information below and some additional detail.

At the Battle of Queenston Heights, in particular, John Norton, John Brant and about 80 Six Nations warriors distinguished themselves by holding back the overwhelming American advance until reinforcements could arrive. Their invaluable efforts offer one of the many lesser-known tales of the war. The traditional historical narrative of the battle heavily privileged the courage of Brock and the swift leadership of his replacement Roger Sheaffe, rendering the story of the Six Nations, who battled a force more than 10 times their size for several hours, a footnote.

Using their knowledge of the forest and their superior marksmanship, the overmatched Six Nations warriors scaled the heights under cover, avoiding the treacherous rise where a charging Brock had fallen. While Brock had faced the invaders head on, exposing himself to sharpshooters, Norton led his troops around the battlefield to come upon the Americans from the southwest.

Taking the Americans by surprise, the warriors used the cover of gunsmoke to obscure their numbers and their war cries to strike fear in the hearts of the Americans, preventing them from advancing to take the town of Queenston. Hundreds more troops waited to cross the river from the American side, but the sounds of battle made them fear the Six Nations forces had overrun their compatriots. Fearing for their lives, the American reinforcements refused to cross the river, and the remaining troops were defeated when additional British support arrived.

Like many who served, John Brant was emboldened and embittered by his experiences and became a community leader after the conflict. The 18-year-old son of Mohawk leader Joseph Brant who fought for the British in the Revolutionary War, he would later fight for the Six Nations as a politician in the legislative assembly, the first aboriginal person to do so. John Norton, of mixed Cherokee and Scots origins, was adopted into the Six Nations community as a chief before the war and left a written diary known for its objectivity and detail. Other warriors at the battle would go on to community service as well. John Smoke Johnson became a Mohawk chief who was tasked with keeping and interpreting the community’s wampum belts.

Posted in Military, Mohawk | 1 Comment

Las Castas – Spanish Racial Classifications


Las castas” – Painting containing complete set of 16 casta combinations. An 18th century socio-racial classification system used in the Spanish American colonies.

The European conquest of Latin America beginning in the late 15th century, was initially executed by male soldiers and sailors from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). The new soldier-settlers fathered children with Amerindian women and later with African slaves. These mixed-race children were generally identified by the Spanish colonist and Portuguese colonist as “Castas”.

The subsequent North American fur trade during the 16th century brought many more European men, from France and Great Britain, who took North Amerindian women as wives. Their children became known as “Métis” or “Bois-Brûlés” by the French colonist and “mixed-bloods”, “half-breeds” or “country-born” by the English colonist and Scottish colonist.

Casta is an Iberian word (existing in Spanish, Portuguese and other Iberian languages since the Middle Ages), meaning “lineage”, “breed” or “race.” It is derived from the older Latin word castus, “chaste,” implying that the lineage has been kept pure. Casta gave rise to the English word caste during the Early Modern Period.

The term Castas was a Spanish and Portuguese term used in 17th and 18th centuries mainly in Spanish America to describe as a whole the mixed-race people which appeared in the post-Conquest period. A parallel system of categorization based on the degree of acculturation to Hispanic culture, which distinguished between gente de razón (Hispanics) and gente sin razón (non-acculturated natives), concurrently existed and worked together with the idea of casta.

The system of castas, or genizaros was inspired by the assumption that the character and quality of people varied according to their birth, color, race and origin of ethnic types. The system of castas was more than socio-racial classification. It impacted every aspect of life, including economics and taxation. Both the Spanish colonial state and the Church expected more tax and tribute payments from those of lower socio-racial categories.  Even baptismal records includes your designation.

This complex caste system was used for social control and also determined a person’s importance in society. There were four main categories of race: (1) Peninsular, a Spaniard born in Spain; (2) Criollo (feminine, criolla), a person of Spanish descent born in the New World; (3) Indio (fem. india), a person who is descendent of the original inhabitants of the Americas; and (4) Negro (fem. negra) – a person of black African descent, usually a slave or their free descendants.

General racial groupings had their own set of privileges and restrictions, both legal and customary. So, for example, only Spaniards and Amerindians, who were deemed to be the original societies of the Spanish dominions, had recognized aristocracies. Also, in America and other overseas possessions, all Spaniards, regardless of their family’s class background in Europe, came to consider themselves equal to the Peninsular hidalgía and expected to be treated as such. Access to these privileges and even a person’s perceived and accepted racial classification, however, were also determined by that person’s socioeconomic standing in society.

Persons of mixed race were collectively referred to as “castas”. Long lists of different terms, used to identify types of people with specific racial or ethnic heritages, were developed by the late 17th century. By the end of the colonial period in 1821, over one hundred categories of possible variations of mixture existed.  I’m guessing that no one could keep up with them.

The terms for the more complex racial mixtures tended to vary in meaning and use and from region to region. (For example, different sets of casta paintings will give a different set of terms and interpretations of their meaning.) For the most part, only the first few terms in the lists were used in documents and everyday life, the general descending order of precedence being:

  • Españoles (Spanish)

These were persons of Spanish descent. People of other European descent who had settled in Spanish America and adapted to Hispanic culture would have also been considered Españoles. Also, as noted above, and below under “Mestizos” and “Castizos,” many persons with some Amerindian ancestry were considered Españoles. Españoles were one of the three original “races,” the other two being Amerindians and Blacks. Both immigrant and American-born Españoles generally shared the same rights and privileges, although there were a few cases in which the law differentiated between them. For example, it became customary in some municipal councils for the office of alcalde to alternate between a European and an American. Spaniards were therefore divided into 2 categories:

  1. Peninsulares (Spaniards)

Persons of Spanish descent born in Spain (i.e., from the Iberian Peninsula, hence their name). Generally, there were two groups of Peninsulares. The first group includes those that were appointed to important jobs in the government, the army and the Catholic Church by the Crown. This system was intended to perpetuate the ties of the governing elite to the Spanish crown. The theory was that an outsider should be appointed to rule over a certain society, therefore a New Spaniard would not be appointed Viceroy of New Spain. These officials usually had a long history of service to the Crown and moved around the Empire frequently. They usually did not live permanently in any one place in Latin America. The second group of Peninsulares did settle permanently in a specific region and came to associate with it. The first wave were the original settlers themselves, the Conquistadors, who essentially transformed themselves into lords of an area through their act of conquest. In the centuries after the Conquest, more Peninsulares continued to emigrate under different circumstances, usually for commercial reasons. Some even came as indentured servants to established Criollo families. Therefore, there were Peninsulares of all socioeconomic classes in America. Once they settled, they tended to form families, so Peninsulares and Criollos were united and divided by family ties and tensions.

2.  Criollos (Spanish Americans)

A Spanish term meaning “native born and raised,” criollo historically was applied to both white and black non-indigenous persons born in the Americas. In the contemporary historical literature, the term usually means only people who in theory were of full direct Spanish ancestry, born in the Americas. In reality white Criollos could also have some native ancestry, but this would be disregarded for families who had maintained a certain status. As the second- or third-generation of Spanish families, some Criollos owned mines, ranches, or haciendas. Many of these were extremely wealthy and belonged to the high nobility of the Spanish Empire. Still, most were simply part of what could be termed the petite bourgeoisie or even outright poor. As life-long residents of America, they, like all other residents of these areas, often participated in contraband, since the traditional monopolies of Seville, and later Cádiz, could not supply all their trade needs. (They were more than occasionally aided by royal officials turning a blind eye to this activity). Criollos tended to be appointed to the lower-level government jobs—they had sizable representation in the municipal councils—and with the sale of offices that began in the late 16th century, they gained access to the high-level posts, such as judges on the regional audiencias. The 19th-century wars of independence are often cast, then and now, as a struggle between Peninsulares and Criollos, but both groups can be found on both sides of the wars.

  • Indios (Amerindians)

The original inhabitants of the Americas and considered to be one of the three “pure races” in Spanish America, the law treated them as minors, and as such were to be protected by royal officials, but in reality were often abused by the local elites. After the initial conquest, the elites of the Inca, Aztec and other Amerindian states were assimilated into the Spanish nobility through intermarriage. The regional Native nobility, where it existed, was recognized and redefined along European standards by the Spanish and had to deal with the difficulty of existing in a colonial society, but it remained in place until independence. Amerindians could belong to any economic class depending on their personal wealth.

  • Mestizos (Amerindian and Spanish mix)

Persons with one Spanish parent and one Amerindian parent. The term was originally associated with illegitimacy because in the generations after the Conquest, mixed-race children born in wedlock were assigned either a simple Amerindian or Spanish identity, depending with which culture they were raised. The number of official Mestizos rises in censuses only after the second half of the 17th century, when a sizable and stable community of mixed-race people with no claims on being either Amerindian or Spanish appeared.

  • Castizos (Spanish with some Amerindian mix)

One of the many terms, like the ones below, used to describe people with varying degrees of racial mixture. In this case Castizos were people with one Mestizo parent and one Spanish parent. The children of a Castizo and a Spaniard, or a Castizo himself or herself, were often classified and accepted as a Criollo Spaniard.

  • Cholos (Amerindian with some Spanish mix)

Persons with one Amerindian parent and one Mestizo parent.

  • Pardos (Spanish, African, and Amerindian Mix)

Persons who is the product of the mixing over the generations of the white Spanish, Black African, and Amerindians. This mix may come about from a white Spaniard mating with a Zambo, a Mulatto mating with Mestizo, or a Black African mating with a Mestizo.

  • Mulattos (African and Spanish mix)

Persons of the first generation of a Spanish and Black/African ancestry. If they were born into slavery (that is their mother was a slave), they would be slaves, unless freed by their master or were manumitted. In popular parlance, mulatto could also denote an individual of mixed African and Native American ancestry. Further terms to describe other degrees of mixture included, among many others, Morisco, (not to be confused with the peninsular Morisco, from which the term was obviously borrowed) a person of Mulatto and Spanish parents, i.e., a quadroon, and Albino (derived from albino), a person of Morisco and Spanish parents, i.e., an octoroon.

  • Zambos (Amerindian and African mix)

Persons who were of mixed Amerindian and Black ancestry. As with Mulattos, many other terms existed to describe the degree of mixture. These included Chino and Lobo. Chino usually described someone as having Mulatto and Amerindian parents. The word chino derives from the Spanish word cochino, meaning “pig”, and the phrase pelo chino, meaning “curly hair”, is a reference to the casta known as chino that possessed curly hair. (Since there was some immigration from the Spanish East Indies during the colonial period, chino is often confused, even by contemporary historians, as a word for Asian peoples, which is the primary meaning of the word, but not usually in the context of the castas. Chino or china is still used in many Latin American countries as a term of endearment for a light-skinned person of African ancestry. Lobo could describe a person of Black and Amerindian parents (and therefore, a synonym for Zambo), as in the image gallery below, or someone of Amerindian and Torna atrás parents.

  • Negros (Africans)

With Spaniards and Amerindians, this was the third original “race” in this paradigm, but low on the social scale because of their association with slavery. These were people of full Sub-Saharan African descent. Many, especially among the first generation, were slaves, but there were sizable free-Black communities. Distinction was made between Blacks born in Africa (negros bozales) and therefore possibly less acculturated, Blacks born in the Iberian Peninsula (Black Ladinos), and Blacks born in the Indies, these sometimes referred to as negros criollos. Their low social status was enforced legally. They were prohibited by law from many positions, such as entering the priesthood, and their testimony in court was valued less than others. But they could join militias created especially for them. In contrast with the binary “one-drop rule”, which evolved in the late-19th-century United States, people of mixed-Black ancestry were recognized as multiple separate groups, as noted above.

Other fanciful terms existed, such as a torna atrás (literally, “turns back”) and tente en el aire (“hold-yourself-in-midair”) in New Spain or a requinterón in Peru, which implied that a child of only one-sixteenth Black ancestry is born looking Black to seemingly white parents. These terms were rarely used in legal documents and existed mostly in the New Spanish phenomenon of Casta paintings (pinturas de castas), which showed possible mixtures down to several generations.

The overall themes that emerge in these categories and paintings are the “supremacy of the Spaniards,” the possibility that Indians could become Spaniards through miscegenation with Spaniards and the “regression to an earlier moment of racial development” that mixing with Blacks would cause to Spaniards. These series generally depict the descendants of Indians becoming Spanish after three generations of intermarriage with Spaniards (usually the, “De español y castiza, español” painting). In contrast, mixtures with Blacks, both by Indians and Spaniards, led to a bewildering number of combinations, with “fanciful terms” to describe them. Instead of leading to a new racial type or equilibrium, they led to apparent disorder. Terms such as the above-mentioned tente en el aire and no te entiendo (“I don’t understand you”)—and others based on terms used for animals: mulato (mule) and lobo (wolf), chino (derived from cochino meaning “pig”)—reflect the fear and mistrust that Spanish officials, society and those who commissioned these paintings saw these new racial types.

Different paintings depicted different combinations.  In general, the Spanish-Indian combinations were in agreement between them, but the categories for black admixture are quite different.

Posted in Mexico, Spanish, West Indies | 6 Comments

Kissiah Petitions to Become a Slave

Why would anyone want to be a slave?  When I first saw a court proceeding where a free person of color was petitioning to become a slave, I figured it must be:

  1. An anomaly and/or
  2. Because maybe their spouse was a slave at that plantation

But then, I saw more, and more, and more of these petitions….and I had to ask myself why.

Lisa Y. Henderson on her blog, Fourth Generation Inclusive, has posted several of these.  I’ve also seen several others, in Virginia, North Carolina and even in Hawkins County, Tennessee, an area where slavery was not prevalent.  Why?  Why would anyone want to be a slave?  Most people of color struggled to become and longed to be free, manumitted, emancipated, something….anything….to own your own body and the product of your work.  It seemed to be the Holy Grail, so often unattainable, so why would someone who has that willingly seek to give it up?

The answer lies in a recent posting that Lisa retrieved from the North Carolina archives and is echoed in other similar records.

From Pasquotank County, in 1861, Kessiah Trueblood petitioned the North Carolina General Assembly to become a slave.

“The petition of Kissiah Trueblood most respectfully showeth unto your Honorable body, That she is a free woman of color now a resident of State and County aforesaid, and has been during her life, being at this time about 23 years of age; that during minority she was Apprentised to the late William Charles and served her time faithfully with him, since his death she has exercised the privilege of a free woman of color, being borned of free parents. For the space of two years just passed, she has lived with one Dr. W.P. Ritter in the capacity of a servant, receiving wages for services rendered.  Your Petitioner further showeth unto your Honorable body, that after mature deliberation, upon her part, uninfluenced by any person, it being her own free will and accord, she desires to become the slave of the said Dr. Ritter, believing as she truly does after past experienced, that her condition in this life, will be for better, then, than at the present time. That in her present condition she is destitute and without protection, and in the condition of a slave, she would be cared for and have the protection of her Master, and to that end she prays your Honorable body, to enact such laws so as to enable said Dr. Ritter, to hold and possess your petitioner, in fee simple as his slave for all time to come, bothe your petitioner and children should she have any; governed only by such laws as have been enacted to regulate and govern the relations between Master and Slave. And your petitioner as in duty bound will ever pray.  Kissiah X Youngbood”

Perhaps fortunately for Kissiah, her slavery would only last for 4 years, until the end of the Civil War, when she once again would have to provide for herself, along with thousands of other newly freed slaves.  One has to wonder if she really thought things through.  Why was she willing to trade her freedom for an uncertain future outside of her control?  Did she realize what might well be in store for her, or was she simply hungry, tired and lonely – wanting to be part of a community with regular food and clothing, even if it was in slavery?

This next posting, also on Lisa’s blog tells the other side of the story, about why one would not want to be a slave. It doesn’t tell it directly, but the story and the “normalcy” it suggests is enough to make anyone cringe at the thought of the relinquishment of personal freedom, your children taken from you, bought and sold as commodities and then, when you are aged, being freed simply so you didn’t have to be fed, left to starve at the mercy of whom???

“To the Worshipfull Court of Pleas & Quarter sessions to be Held in Hertford on the Second Monday in Febry 1777. I Thomas Newby of the County of Perquimans and State of North Carolina Humbly prayeth that Your Worships Will take this my petition into Consideration & Grant the Said petition. — (to wit.) The Liberateing of A Certain Negro Woman belonging to me Your Humble petitioner by the name of Hannah, for this my Reasons. In the first place, She being grown ould, And Can be Very little Service to me as to any Hard Work or Drudgery. She being an Excellent Midwife Called on Every Land turn to Both White Women & Black and from account has performed her Duty With as much Scill as any of that profession Moreover She being A peaceable Negro Woman haveing Lived in this place for the Space of forty Years with one Certain Husband & Raised a Number of Children Which are at present Divided amongst the Heirs to whom they fell. And I your Humble petitioner from being Satisfyed and Contented With the Services Which I have rec’d from her the sd. Hannah, Humbly I prayeth that your Worships may take in Consideration & Set the Sd. Negro free by your order & further your Petitioner prayeth not.   /s/ Thomas Newby”

Fortunately, the commissioners rejected Newby’s request, but it certainly begs the question about what kind of life Hannah had from that point forward.  Her children were parted out, living among “the heirs,” her family gone except perhaps her husband.  The only saving grace of this is the implication that the family had not been split by sale during that 40 years where they could never find each other or have contact again.

If you’re asking yourself what this has to do with Native Americans, remember that the Native people were enslaved before Africans were even introduced in Jamestown.  Indians were captured by other Native people and sold into slavery, a commodity that the Europeans coveted.  Many Native people entered the slave population throughout the 1600s and 1700s, where they were no longer Native, only people of color, mulattoes, and after a generation or so, simply slaves like the rest.  Some retained the history of their Native ancestry, but many did not.  A slave was a slave and it made no difference whether you were African, Native American or even part white.  You inherited the status of your mother, and once a slave, always a slave, unless you were freed, manumitted or emancipated, or bought your own freedom – that is – unless someone captured you and resold you into slavery.  And then there were the pathetic souls who asked to be rebound into slavery so that they simply could eat.  Slaves were often better cared for by their owners, being an investment, than free people of color could care for themselves.   Maybe the devil they knew was better than the devil they didn’t.

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