Hello readers! I apologize that I have not authored a new blog post in over a year. I have been working on an important, exciting research project with a group of leading scholars of Native American and North Carolina/Virginia genealogy and history. As a result, most of my research time is dedicated to this contract which leaves me with limited time for outside work. I am grateful for the comments that have been left on blog, and please know that I do try to read most comments but just don’t have the time to respond to many queries. In the meantime, I encourage readers to make use of information that has already been published in the blog. The “Search” button is a helpful feature to quickly access information.
Genetic Genealogy Online Resources
I also do want to bring to your attention some excellent online resources. Advances in DNA testing has been pushing the field of genetic genealogy into the forefront and assisting traditional methodologies. Acclaimed genetic genealogist Blaine Bettinger’s blog is great way to get credible help and advice about using DNA testing to advance genealogical research. One of my favorite blogposts by Blaine Bettinger, is his article “A Small Segment Round-Up” which warns researchers against lowering thresholds for autosomal cousin matches. Tools available on the popular genetic genealogy website Gedmatch, allow for users to adjust threshold levels when making comparisons between DNA kits. However, Blaine Bettinger warns that matches below 7 centimorgans (cM’s) are not credible.
“Beware any research or conclusion that uses these small segments without specifically addressing the issues that are known – based on all the scientific research and evidence gathered to date – to surround small segments.” – Blaine Bettinger
Genealogical Proof Standard
How do we know when we have successfully proved a genealogical connection? This is an important question to always keep at the forefront as you attempt to draw conclusions from your genealogical research. The Board of Certification of Genealogists does provide a way to assess the credibility of a genealogical claim. The Genealogical Proof Standard is how you can asses the merits of research conclusions:
Making as wide a search as possible for sources that could help establish the identity, event or relationship under investigation.
Recording in proper, acceptable format the source citation and/or the provider of the information.
Analyzing and correlating the collected information—evaluating the quality of sources and the reliability of information within them.
Resolving any conflicting, contradictory evidence with reasoned argument.
Stating your conclusion convincingly (more than a “balance of probability”).
Familysearch.org is a free genealogy website that has a seemingly infinite amount of digitized records online. Some of these records are indexed, meaning that they can be located via keyword searches. And some records are not indexed, meaning that these records are not keyword searchable and instead must be browsed to find relevant information. Just because these records are not indexed does not make them any less valuable. In fact, if you are doing “deep dive” research, it is often the unindexed records that prove to be most valuable. This is time intensive research because you typically will have to browse through hundreds if not thousands of pages of historical records, just to find the one reference you are looking for. There are no short cuts for doing comprehensive genealogical research.
The following weblink will bring you to Unindexed Records for North Carolina:
There is a drop down menu, where you can select the North Carolina county of interest:
The availability of records varies greatly from one county to the next. Not all records have been digitized and if they have not been digitized, there are instructions for how to view those records in person. For records that have been digitized, there is a camera icon next to the accompanying folder.
The folders are generally organized by date, but aside from that, you will need to spend a great deal of time browsing the records page by page, to narrow in on what you’re looking for.
For Granville County, I have a particular interest in viewing the County Court Minutes. Anytime a case was heard before the courts, the minutes were recorded in these books. So life events such as land sales, bastardy bonds, estate sales, wills, civil trials, apprenticeships, guardian cases, etc are documented in these books. Therefore browsing the court minutes provides an excellent snapshot into the happenings in Granville. You can observe which families are repeatedly interacting with one another, the socio-economic status of specific individuals, and the names of the town clerks, judges, and sheriffs. These records have been extremely helpful in my research and allow for me to adhere to the Genealogical Proof Standard, by exhausting all known available sources.
The following are just some of the court minutes I have recently found pertaining to people from the Native/FPOC community in Granville:
In two previous blog posts accessible here and here, I discussed my research about identifying the parentage of brothers Racey Bass and Willis Bass. Milly Bass was a woman who had children out of wedlock by her neighbor, Jesse Chavis. Those two sons: Racey Bass and Willis Bass were subsequently apprenticed out. I had previously located apprenticeship records and bastardy bonds which helped confirm their parentage. And in the unindexed Granville County court minute books, I found several references to Racey Bass and Willis Bass being the sons of Milly Bass. It is great to multiple sources which corroborate the same conclusions. This record is also a great find in that it provides exact birth dates for Racey and Willis.
Drury Pettiford (1755-1838) was a Revolutionary War soldier who filed for a pension on 27 May 1818. Two years later on 25 August 1820, Drury Pettiford provided additional testimony about the names and ages of the family living with him at that time. He testified that Jesse Pettiford, age 18 resided with him. While it may be inferred that Jesse Pettiford was Drury’s son, Jesse’s age made it more likely that he was Drury’s grandson. However it was not known which of Drury’s children, was the parent of Jesse. The Granville County court minutes, identify Jesse Pettiford as the son of Fanny Pettiford. The reason Jesse resided with his grandfather Drury now makes sense, given that Jesse was born out of wedlock.
Sometimes simple road orders such as the one seen above, can be helpful. Brothers Stephen Bass (b. 1758) and Darling Bass (1777-1845) are documented sons of Edward Bass (1728-1800) and wife Tamer Anderson. Darling Bass can be found enumerated in the Granville census records, but for some reason Stephen Bass was not enumerated in the census. With his absence from the census, we need to turn to other records to let us when and where he was still live. He is mentioned in a few tax lists and his land referenced here in this 1802 road order, lets us know he was still alive in 1802.
I still have many more decades of court minutes to browse through. So whenever I have extra time, I try to get through these folders. Whenever I recognize a name of someone from our community, I make note of that record. So when I am finished with these court minutes, I will have identified every time someone from our community made a court appearance.
John Chavis (1763-1838) is often credited as being the first black man to become an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church and credited for being the first black man to attend a university or college in the United States. After completing his missionary work among enslaved people, John Chavis opened a school in antebellum Raleigh, North Carolina where he taught both white and free black pupils. These are just some of the fascinating details about the life of John Chavis, a man whose name and legacy continues to inspire people today.
The purpose of this blog post is not to retell the biography of John Chavis, but rather is about correctly locating John Chavis in the historical archives. Having a name like “John Chavis” in antebellum Virginia and North Carolina is akin to having a name like “John Smith”. That is, there were many John Chavises who were contemporary to John Chavis (1763-1838). As a result, the records for these other men who happened to share the same name, have been confused and incorrectly attributed to John Chavis (1763-1838). In 2001, scholar Dr. Helen Chavis Othow published a biography titled: “John Chavis: African American Patriot, Preacher, Teacher, and Mentor.” In her book, Dr. Othow wonderfully recounts the life of John Chavis, however some key biographical details are not correct. Dr. Othow wrote her book before Paul Heinegg published his seminal genealogical research: “Free African-Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware”. In his book (which he continues to update and correct online with the new research), Heinegg has an entire section dedicated to the Chavis family, including John Chavis (1763-1838). (John Chavis 1763-1838, is number 40 in the Chavis family sketch that can be accessed here). Heinegg does correct most of the outdated information in Dr. Othow’s book, but there are still some minor inaccuracies in Heinegg’s summary of John Chavis (1763-1838). This is why as more records and research becomes widely available, it is crucial to revisit and update older work.
John Chavis (1763-1838) Timeline
In this section, I will present a timeline of John Chavis’ (1763-1838) life from the primary source records found in the historical archives. Creating timelines is something I emphatically encourage researchers to do because it helps to avoid common genealogical mistakes such as conflating the identities and records of people who share the same name.
For example if John Smith (1750-1804) is documented with a wife named Betsy and residing in Warren County, NC through land deeds and census records, then he cannot be the same man also named John Smith (1760-1797) who is documented with a wife name Rebecca and residing in Cumberland County, NC where his will and estate records are located.
So even if John Chavis (1763-1838) is not relevant to your research interests, I still encourage you to read this blog post so you can see the benefit of creating timelines.
1763– Lunenburg Co, VA (now Mecklenburg Co, VA): John Chavis was born to “free colored” parents Jacob Chavis (1736-1808) and Elizabeth Evans (1745-1818). His birth year is an approximation based upon his age reported in later documents, so it is possible he may have been a year before or after 1763. His father Jacob Chavis is documented through land deeds and court cases in Lunenburg (now Mecklenburg) during these years, so this is undoubtedly where John Chavis was born.
20 Dec 1778– Mecklenburg Co, VA: John Chavis swore an oath of allegiance to enlist in the Revolutionary War. This information comes from an article in the Raleigh Register on 27 Oct 1835 in which John Chavis showed his oath of allegiance to prove that he was a Revolutionary War veteran.
1786 – Mecklenburg Co, VA: John Chavis is taxable on one tithe (himself) and one horse.
1787– Mecklenburg Co, VA: John Chavis is taxable on one tithe (himself) and one horse
22 May 1787– Mecklenburg Co, VA: John Chavis is named in the will of his maternal grandfather Thomas Evans (1723-1788).
1788– Mecklenburg Co, VA: John Chavis is taxable on one tithe (himself) and one horse.
1789 – Mecklenburg Co, VA: John Chavis is taxable on one tithe (himself) and one horse.
1789– Mecklenburg Co, VA: John Chavis was employed to tutor the Greenwood orphans of the late Robert Greenwood according to this source. This is a key detail because it shows that John Chavis was not only literate but educated enough to be entrusted to teach white children. It may have been this experience and others like it that propelled him to become a minister and teacher.
1790s – I have not located John Chavis in any records in the 1790’s until 1799 (see next entry). He is not listed as a tithable in the Mecklenburg Co tax lists as he had been in the 1780’s, which means that he moved outside of the county. One possible explanation is that he was a student at Princeton during these years. There are reports that he took private classes at Princeton University under Dr. John Whitherspoon and there is a 1792 board of trustees report that the university accept a a free black man named John Chavis of Virginia. John Chavis is not listed as an official alum of Princeton. Perhaps because of his race, John Chavis was an “unofficial” student at Princeton.
1799– Lexington, VA: The first time John Chavis appears in the records of the Presbytery of Lexington when he attends their meetings.
1800 – Lexington, VA: The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church grants John Chavis a license to be a missionary.
1801 to 1807 – Lexington, VA: John Chavis begins his missionary work among enslaved people of Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.
6 April 1802– Rockbridge County (Lexington is the capital), VA: John Chavis’ free papers are recorded which refer to him as a former student of Presbyterian Washington Academy (now Washington and Lee University) and that he completed the regular course of studies.
8 November 1802 – Rockbridge County (Lexington is the capital), VA: John Chavis’ free papers refer to him as a free black man of 40 years of age.
August 1805– Chatham County, NC: While doing missionary work in North Carolina, his conversation with an educated black woman was reported in the August 1805 issue of the The Association Missionary Magazine of Evangelical Intelligence.
15 May 1806– Wake County, NC: John Chavis purchased 233 acres adjoining Mine Creek and Haw Branch in Wake County for $700 from Joshua Eastland of Chatham County. This is the first record that show John Chavis as a resident of North Carolina.
11 July 1806 – Mecklenburg Co, VA: John Chavis’ father Jacob Chavis gives him power of attorney to recover a debt from William Stewart (born circa 1715) of Wake Co, NC. William Stewart formerly lived in Mecklenburg Co, VA and owed money to Jacob Chavis from when Jacob Chavis successfully sued his own father-in-law Thomas Evans. William Stewart had agreed to pay Thomas Evans’ court costs but left the state for Wake Co. Because John Chavis had just relocated to Wake Co, it would make sense that his father Jacob Chavis would ask him to recover this debt.
26 August 1808 – Wake County, NC: In an article in the Raleigh Register, John Chavis provides details about classes in a school he recently opened.
1809 – Wake/Orange/Granville County, NC: John Chavis joined the Orange Presbytery while residing in Raleigh (capital of Wake Co), which serviced Wake, Orange, and Granville counties.
28 June 1815– Wake County, NC: John Chavis purchased 111 acres on the south side of the Neuse River on Laurel Creek.
3 December 1827– Wake County, NC: John Chavis wrote to his friend Senator Willie P. Mangum about a deed of trust for land adjoining Tignal Jones and Job Rogers in Wake County which was given to him and his wife Frances during their lifetimes. This record confirms that John Chavis was the same John Chavis who owned land in Wake County and establishes that John Chavis’ wife was named Frances. I have found no record of their marriage nor records that help to identify her maiden name or birth year.
18 December 1827– Wake County, NC: John Chavis wrote again to his friend Senator Willie P. Mangum inviting him to attend the next examination at his school in Wake County at Revises Crossroads.
22 April 1830– Wake County, NC: It is reported in the Raleigh Register that Joseph Gales (editor of the paper), had recently attended an examination “of the free children of color” at the school and “seldom received more gratification from any exhibition of a similar character”.
8 July 1831– Granville County, NC: John Chavis made a quit claim deed relinquishing any right to the estate of his brother Isaac Chavis (1766-1831). Isaac Chavis had moved from Mecklenburg Co, VA to Granville Co, NC in the early 1790s and is well documented in the Granville census records and tax lists until his death. He had no living children which meant that his estate would be divided among his siblings.
1831– Wake County, NC: The Orange Presbytery assigned Samuel Smith Downey and William McPheeters of Raleigh to take care of John Chavis and his wife Frances.
27 October 1835 – Wake County, NC: In 1835, North Carolina passed a new state constitution which stripped away the voting rights of free people of color, including John Chavis. During a debate at the state convention it was argued that no free men of color took the Oath of Allegiance. In an article from the Raleigh Register that was republished in the Fayetteville Observer on 27 Oct 1835, it was noted that an “old colored man” named John Chavis a resident of Wake County who was a licensed Presbyterian Preacher, showed the crowd his Oath of Allegiance from 20 Dec 1777 signed by James Anderson of Mecklenburg Co, VA.
15 June 1838 – Wake, Orange or Granville County, NC: John Chavis’ died on this date according to an obituary published in the Watchman of the South, Obituary Notice by Virginia Genealogical Society Quarterly. There is conflicting information on the location of his death. John Chavis was documented as a resident and land owner in Wake County up through 1835, so it would stand to reason that he died at his residence. However a Richmond Presbyterian paper reported that his death was in Orange County. A 28 Sep 1880 (over forty years after his death) article in the Oxford Torchlight, reports that John Chavis died at his residence somewhere between Oxford and Williamsboro (Oxford is in Granville and Williamsboro was in a part of Granville that became Vance County in 1881). It is believed that John Chavis is buried on the plantation of his friend and former student, Senator Willie P Mangum in Rougemont in Durham County, NC.
Discussion On John Chavis’ Timeline
By sequencing John Chavis’ life events in a timeline, we can begin to draw out a broader narrative of his life. John Chavis was born and raised in Mecklenburg County, VA and lived there until he went away to study to become a minister in the 1790’s. His formal education took place in Lexington, VA at the Presbyterian Washington Academy and probably in New Jersey at Princeton University. By 1800, he was a practicing Presbyterian preacher and traveled throughout the region doing missionary work.
John Chavis then settled in Wake County, NC by 1806 where he was licensed to preach by the Orange Presbytery and also opened a school where he taught both free black and white students. He was not only well known in Wake County but also known in neighboring counties such as Granville and Orange. Land deeds show that he owned property in Wake County yet I have found no records of him selling his land. It’s possible he lost the land due to taxes and other debts. In 1831, North Carolina forbid men of color from practicing ministry and in 1835, North Carolina disenfranchised all free people of color. As a result, this may have put John Chavis in a bad financial situation. This is evident when the Orange Presbytery assigned caretakers for John Chavis and his wife Frances. I have yet to find estate records for John Chavis, therefore I have no records of surviving children or heirs. John Chavis’ widow was apparently receiving financial assistance from the Orange Presbytery until April 1842 when it was reported she went to live with friends. I cannot confirm her in any later census records and I have not found a record of her death. It’s quite possible the couple had no surviving children given that widow Frances went to stay with friends and not with any of her children (if she had any).
Records and Family Relationships That Are Not Attributed to John Chavis (1763-1838)
In this last section, I will discuss the many records and family relationships that have been incorrectly attributed to John Chavis (1763-1838). Frequently on Ancestry and other on genealogy websites, I have noticed researchers attaching just about any “John Chavis” record to John Chavis (1763-1838) which has added to the confusion about his identity. So all of the records discussed in this section are NOT for John Chavis (1763-1838) and instead I explain who these records should be attributed to.
On 27 July 1801 in Mecklenburg Co, VA, John Chavis married Sally Blair with Thomas Cypress as security. This marriage record is for John Chavis (born 1780) who was the son of a Revolutionary War soldier also named John Chavis (1755-1787). As we can see in the timeline established above, John Chavis (1763-1838) did not reside in Mecklenburg Co, VA in 1801. Instead he was living in Lexington, VA where he had recently completed his studies and received his license from the Lexington Presbytery to preach.
On 8 June 1815 in Granville Co, VA, John Chavis married Sarah Anderson with Abraham Anderson as the bondsman. This marriage record is for John Chavis (1790-before 1840) who was the son of Jesse Chavis (1766-1840) of Granville County. Sarah Anderson (1798-1820) was the daughter of Lewis Anderson Jr and Winnie Bass of Granville County. Bondsman Abraham Anderson was a brother of Sarah Anderson. John Chavis and Sarah Anderson had two children together: Anderson Chavis (born 1816) and Joyce Chavis (born 1816) who were named legatees in the 1844 will of their aunt Patience (Reeves) Anderson (1776-1844). Patience was the widow of Augustine Anderson (1776-1827) who was a brother of Sarah Anderson and died with no living heirs. As a result, Augustine Anderson and wife Patience, left their estate to their orphaned nephew and niece Anderson Chavis and Joyce Chavis. Sarah Anderson was deceased by 1820, when her husband John Chavis remarried a woman named Nancy Harding on 19 July 1820 in Granville County. John Chavis was deceased sometime between 1830 ad 1840. I believe the reason why Patience (Reeves) Anderson left her estate to her nephew and niece was because they were orphaned and she wanted to ensure that they were financially taken care of. We know that the John Chavis mentioned in these records are not John Chavis (1763-1838) because his wife’s name was Frances and she lived to at least the year 1842.
As stated in the timeline, there are no estate records for John Chavis (1763-1838) or his wife Frances, which makes identifying any possible surviving children extremely difficult.
Charlotte “Lottie” Chavis (born 1803) was the wife of Littleton Taborn of Granville County. Paul Heinegg incorrectly guesses that Lottie Chavis was a daughter of John Chavis (1763-1838). This comes from the fact that her marriage record to Littleton Taborn on 14 April 1818 in Granville County, shows the bondsman as a John Chavis. However this bondsman was John Chavis (1790-before 1840) who was discussed above. Moreover, there is an apprenticeship record for Lottie Chavis which identifies her as a daughter of Mary Chavis. On 8 November 1815 in Granville County, Charlotte Chavis, aged thirteen, was called the daughter of Mary Chavis when she was apprenticed out to Richard Lemay. John Chavis (1763-1838) was alive and well in 1815, married to Frances and living in Wake County where he ran a school, so there is nothing that connects him as the father of Lottie Chavis.
Revolutionary War Records
John Chavis (1763-1838) was not the only John Chavis from Mecklenburg County, VA to enlist in the Revolutionary War. We know that John Chavis (1763-1838) enlisted on 20 December 1778 with James Anderson signing his Oath of Allegiance. This is the certificate that John Chavis presented to the North Carolina state convention in 1835 when they voted to disenfranchise all free people of color. Another John Chavis (1755-1787) who lived in Mecklenburg County is also a documented Revolutionary War soldier.
In March 1783, Captain Mayo Carrington certified that John Chavis (1755-1787) had “faithfully fulfilled [his duties] and is thereby entitled to all immunities granted to three year soldiers”. This is consistent with a July 1778 payroll which shows a John Chavis in Captain Mayo Carrington’s Company. We know that these records are for John Chavis (1755-1787) because his heirs on 20 April 1818 filed suit to be compensated for their late father’s war service. According to a letter from William O. Goode on 12 January 1836, John Chavis (1755-1787) and his brother Anthony Chavis (1757-1831) were both wagoners in the Revolutionary War. His letter further states that John Chavis (1755-1787) was issued a certificate for public debt for 89 pounds signed by Captain Mayo Carrington. So this confirms that the John Chavis who enlisted in Captain Mayo Carrington’s Company was not John Chavis (1763-1838) but rather John Chavis (1755-1787).
Chatham County Land Deeds and Census Records
The following records from Chatham County have been attributed to John Chavis (1763-1838) by Paul Heinegg. However, the timeline shows that there is ample evidence that John Chavis’ place of residence during this time period and his school were in the city of Raleigh located in Wake County. I think the reason why Heinegg attributed the Chatham County, NC records to John Chavis (1763-1838) was from when a conversation between John Chavis and an educated black woman was reported in 1805. However John Chavis did missionary work in Chatham County which is probably why he was recorded there. These records of a John Chavis residing in Chatham County are actually for John Chavis (born 1775) who was the son of the above mentioned Anthony Chavis (1757-1831) and his first wife Betsey Evans.
9 November 1804 in Chatham County, John Chavis purchased 100 acres of land on Weaver’s Creek.
In the 1810 census for Chatham County, John Chavis is enumerated as the head of household of five “free people of color”. In this census he is enumerated next to his brother Peter Chavis (born 1772 – after 1850) and his uncle-in-law Charles Evans (born 1783). Peter Chavis (1772-born 1850) is a confirmed son of Anthony Chavis (1757-1831) and his first wife Betsey Evans from the Revolutionary War pension file on Peter Chavis. Charles Evans (born 1783) was the apparent brother of Richard Evans (1772-1855) who gave a deposition for Anthony Chavis’ pension application in which he stated that his wife Lucy Evans was the sister of Anthony Chavis’s first wife Betsey Evans. These families moved together from Mecklenburg Co, VA and neighboring Nutbush township (split between Granville and Warren counties, NC) to Chatham County, NC in the early 1800’s.
23 July 1811 in Chatham County, John Chavis purchased another 100 acres of land on Weaver’s Creek.
28 April 1817 in Chatham County, John Chavis sold 100 acres of his land on Weaver’ Creek for 100 pounds.
7 March 1818 in Chatham County, John Chavis sold his remaining 100 acres of land on Weaver’s Creek for $650.
In the 1820 census for Chatham County, John Chavis is enumerated as the head of household nine “free people of color” (household looks consist of husband, wife, and seven children).
The purpose of this blog post is twofold: To put a spotlight on how tax lists are helpful for genealogical research and to encourage researchers to take full advantage of the North Carolina Wills and Probate collection made available on Ancestry. Recently while browsing through these records, I stumbled across a list of ‘Insolvent Taxpayers’ from 1810 mixed into a folder of wills. I immediately recognized the names of several Native/FPOC residents of Granville Co whom I research regularly, including my own direct and indirect ancestors.
North Carolina Tax Laws
In order to read and interpret North Carolina tax lists, it is vital to understand how the law determined who was taxable. This is a link which provides an overview of North Carolina tax laws as well as instructions on how to access original tax lists. The North Carolina State Archives houses tax lists prior to 1900, so it requires an in-person visit. Tax lists have not been digitized and are not available online through popular genealogy sites such as Ancestry and FamilySearch. (This is why the list of Granville County Insolvent Taxpayers from 1810 mixed into the Wills folders is a remarkable find).
Before the implementation of the modern income based tax system that we are all familiar with, North Carolina used to have a ‘Poll Tax’ system that was initiated in 1715. Free white males, 16 years of age and older were considered taxable. And all “free people of color”, both males and females, 12 years of age and older were considered taxable. This meant that FPOC had to pay more poll taxes than whites. In Granville County, there were petitions signed by FPOC and sympathetic whites, requesting that this unfair tax system be abolished. Consequently, some “free colored” men protested and refused to pay taxes on their wives and you will see notations in the tax lists which reflect that.
In 1784, North Carolina passed a new tax law which more or less, stayed in place with minor amendments until 1970. Here are the key features of the tax law:
All free men (both white men and men of color), ages 21 and over were required to pay a poll tax.
In 1801, the law was amended so that all free men, ages 21-50 were required to pay a poll tax. This meant that when a man turned 51, he was no longer taxable.
All slaves, ages 12-50 were taxable. Slave owners were responsible for paying taxes on their slaves. Slaves were also referred to as “black polls”.
In 1817, the law was further amended so that all free men, ages 21-45 were required to pay a poll tax. This meant that when a man turned 46, he was no longer taxable.
No matter the age, all men were required to pay taxes on their land. Therefore you will see tax lists which show men who are not assessed with a poll tax, and are only assessed with a property tax.
If you did not pay your poll tax, your name was added to the Insolvent Taxpayer List.
Though tax lists don’t specify the age of the individual listed, you can at least determine an age range if they were assessed with a poll tax. Therefore tax lists are helpful when you are trying to estimate the age of an individual you are researching. Another advantage is that tax lists are created yearly, whereas census records are created only every ten years. Much can happen in the span of ten years, so tax lists help fill in those gaps.
Mixed into Granville County Wills, Vol 7, 1808-1816 folder on Ancestry is where I found the list of insolvent taxpayers from 1810. In a previous blog post here, I provided detailed instructions on how to access this collection on Ancestry. The Wills and Probate Collection on Ancestry not only contains estate records but for some counties, this collection also includes apprenticeships, “Poor House” lists, some court orders and other official court documents. The availability of these records online varies considerably from one county to the next and these records are not at all consistently available for all years. Luckily for Granville, some of these miscellaneous files were mixed into the estate records. The problem is that none of these records are indexed which means they are not searchable, so you quite literally have to browse page by page in folders that contain thousands of pages. Joy!
However, when you do find these miscellaneous records, it is worth the time spent. After hours and hours of reading wills containing barely decipherable handwriting, I came across the following list of “Insolvent Taxpayers” from 1810:
An insolvent taxpayer refers to someone who failed to pay their taxes. So this is NOT a full list of taxpayers but rather a list of residents of Granville County who were supposed to pay taxes in 1810 but failed to do so. You can see from the second page that this document was produced and recorded in the August 1811 session of the Granville County court. There is also an additional note at the top of the page which indicates that some of these persons may have moved out of county which is why they did not pay taxes to the county that year.
There are two columns next to each individual name listed. The first column is “Free Poll” which refers to the unpaid poll tax of the individual named. The second column is “Slaves” and refers to individuals who failed to pay taxes on their slaves. What is omitted from these lists is additional biographical information such as age, race, occupation, marital status, etc. So though tax lists and insolvent tax lists are excellent primary source records, it can be tricky to identify exactly who is named on the list (especially if multiple people living in the same county share the same name).
Fortunately, I recognize the names of all the FPOC who are listed and I have transcribed their names below. And to ensure there is little confusion about the identities of the individuals listed, I have included a brief bio on each person.
Racey Bass – Born circa 1790 (though probably a year or two older because to be taxable he had to be 21 years of age). Son of Jesse Chavis and Milly Bass. Resided in the Abrams Plains area. You can read more about Racey’s father Jesse Chavis here and read more Racey’s brother Willis Bass here. Due to conflicting information, I was unclear about the gender of Racey Bass. However I now know Racey Bass was a male because he is named as a free poll in this tax list. (There are some examples where widowed women who act as head of household are taxable, but this is not the case for Racey Bass). Isaac Chavis – Born circa 1766, died before 1831. Son of James Chavis and Elizabeth Evans. Married and divorced Elizabeth Evans. Owned 150 acres of land in Abrams Plains district.
Sherwood Harris – Born circa 1761, died in 1831. Son of Edward Harris and Sarah Chavis. A Revolutionary War veteran and you can read about him here. Resided in the Beaverdam district. (He is my 5th great-grandfather). Daniel Harris – Born circa 1785. Son of Sherwood Harris listed above him. He was likely living on Sherwood Harris’ land in Beaverdam district. (He is my 4th great-grandfather).
James Chavis “Shavers” – Born circa 1786. Son of Anthony Chavis and Betsy Evans. There was an older James Chavis (born circa 1744) living in Granville in the early 1800s. However, in 1810 that older James Chavis was exempt from paying taxes. James Chavis (born circa 1786) and several of his siblings moved to Chatham Co. where he married Nancy Bird. He later relocated to the “Lost Creek Community” in Vigo Co, IN. “Shavers” is an alternative spelling of “Chavis”, and James Chavis is documented in other census records with this alternative spelling.
Thomas Chavis – This is the same Thomas Chavis who was enumerated in the 1810 census in Granville Co, head of a household of 10 “free people of color” and 1 slave. I don’t have solid information that helps to identify more about his life and who his parents may have been. He resided next to Charles Chavis (below) who resided in Abrams Plains. The Chavises living in this area came from across the state border in Mecklenburg Co VA. Charles Chavis – This is the same Charles Chavis who was taxed in the Abrams Plains district in 1788 and enumerated in the Granville Co census in 1800 and 1810. He was married to Nancy Taborn and was the bondsman for the 1802 Granville Co marriage of Evans Chavis and Lucy Smith. Genealogist Paul Heinegg theorizes with no supporting documentation that he may be the “illegitimate” son of Hannah Francis and Philip Chavis. I do not concur and instead believe he is from the Mecklenburg Co, VA Chavises.
James Pettiford – He does not appear in any Granville Co census or marriage records, so I’m unsure of his age and who his parents were. He may have died shortly after this tax list or moved out of the county or state.
Elijah Valentine – Born circa 1770. I do not have parents identified for him. He was married to Polly Bass and lived in the Fishing Creek district.
William Anderson – Perhaps born circa 1789. Enumerated in the 1810 census of Granville, head of household of 7 “free people of color”. He was married to Elizabeth Pettiford. I have not identified his parents but he may have been a grandson of Lewis Anderson Jr (1743-before 1810).
Reuben Day – Born circa 1788. He was the son of Jesse Day and Prissy Bass. He later moved to Orange Co, NC.
Jacob Hawley – Not to be confused with the older Jacob Hawley listed below. I’m unsure of the age and parents of this Jacob Hawley. It’s possible he could be a son or closely related to Jacob Hawley Sr.
John Day – Born circa 1785. He was also enumerated in the 1810 census in Granville, head of a household of 2 “free people of color”. He may be a son of Jesse Day and Prissy Bass.
Jacob Hawley Sr – Born circa 1751, but if he was still considered a tithable in 1810, then he may actually be a few years younger. Died in 1817. Son of Joseph Hawley and Martha Harris. You can read more about the Hawley family here. Lewis Mitchell – This is probably the same Lewis Mitchell who was enumerated in the 1830 census in Granville, head of a household consisting of himself. I have found no marriage records for him and unable to identify his parents.
William Mitchell – Born circa 1775. Son of Archibald Mitchell and Selah Bass. He was married to Bythea Hedgepeth.
Dempsey Bass – Born circa 1781, died by 1828. Son of Edward Bass and Tamer Anderson. He was married to Phoebe Day. In 1810, he resided in the Oxford district and in the 1820 census was in the Ledge of Rock district. You can read more about the Bass family here.
Edward Mitchell – Born circa 1775. Son of Archibald Mitchell and Selah Bass. He was married to Mary Ann/Mariah Bass. He resided in the Tar River district.
If you were to look at my mother’s top DNA cousin matches on Ancestry, 23andMe, and Gedmatch, you would swear she had at least one parent from the Lumbee tribe in Robeson County, NC. Many of her closest cousin matches are Lumbee tribal members whose families have called Robeson county home for many, many generations. Yet, my mother does not have a single documented direct ancestor that ever lived in Robeson. So what gives?
My mother’s North Carolina roots are directly from the Native American community in Granville County and with the Haliwa-Saponi tribal community in nearby Halifax and Warren counties. Though the Lumbees have called Robeson county home since the late 1700s, many of their ancestors came from the North Carolina/Virginia border area. It was in this area that many Native/FPOC lineages diverged, with some families staying put and others moving deeper into North Carolina to Robeson county. These familial connections are known and have been passed down through oral history. A Granville County cousin who is also an elder, has fond memories of traveling with his parents down to Robeson, to visit his Lowry cousins from the Lumbee tribe. So as I have researched the origins of our Granville families, I have always noted the “Lumbee branches” of our family trees.
The growing popularity of DNA testing is also helping to corroborate these documented family connections both within and between tribal communities in North Carolina. I have closely reviewed the DNA test results of dozens of people from the Granville community and from the Lumbee tribe. The DNA cousin matches are so strong and numerous, that the correct question should be “how are we NOT related?”. The endogamy within North Carolina tribal communities, typically means that most of us have multiple lineages from the same family. As a result, our DNA cousin matches often appear closer by DNA than on paper.
So in this blog post, I will look closely at six family connections (Chavis/Gibson, Evans/Locklear, Bass, Goins/Gowen, Kersey/Lowry, and Scott) between Granville and the Lumbee tribe which help explain why we are showing such strong DNA cousin matches with one another. So if you are from the Granville community or a Lumbee tribal member and have done DNA testing, this blog post is for you. I am focusing specifically on lineages that are common/noteworthy in the Granville community. For the sake of space and clarity, I am not including lineages that are specific to the Haliwa-Saponi and Occaneechi-Saponi tribal communities (both communities are geographically next to and have strong, direct ties to Granville). I could write a separate blog post about each of those topics.
A final word on the use of “Lumbee”. I am well aware of the current political disagreements within the Robeson county community about the “authenticity” of the Lumbee tribal name. There are some community members who completely reject the Lumbee name for other tribal identities that they view as more accurate and reflective of the community. By using “Lumbee” in my blog post, I do not mean to take one side over another. My use of “Lumbee” is for genealogical purposes, to able to identify the tight knit interrelated Native American families who have historically resided in Robeson and neighboring counties.
The family connection between Granville County and the modern Lumbee community based in Robeson County is best seen through the Chavis/Gibson family. William Chavis (1706 – 1778) and his wife Frances Gibson (1700-1781) are whom I often refer to as the “founding family” of the Granville community because of their massive land holdings. According to 19th century local historian Oscar Blacknall, William Chavis owned a continuous track of 51,200 acres in Granville County along the Tar River. This was land that he received directly from John Cateret, 2nd Earl Granville himself. William Chavis was likely born in Henrico County, Virginia, because his father Bartholomew Chavis (1685-1750) is documented in Henrico in the early 1700s as well as in neighboring Surry County. By 1719, Bartholomew Chavis moved to North Carolina and owned large amounts of land on both sides of the Roanoke River in what would become Northampton and Halifax counties, North Carolina. So even before accumulating his own land in Granville County, William Chavis inherited a lot of his land from father along the Roanoke River.
William Chavis’ 1778 will filed in Granville County, provides excellent documentation about his heirs. William’s son Philip Chavis (born 1726) was the executor of his estate and inherited a portion of his father’s land. Philip Chavis is also the ancestor of the Lumbee branch of the Chavis family. We learn from a series of land transactions that Philip Chavis was moving back and forth between Granville County, North Carolina and Bladen/Robeson County, North Carolina and Craven County, South Carolina. The last land deeds in Philip Chavis’ name are found in the 1780s and 1790s in Bladen/Robeson Counties (Robeson County was formed from a part of Bladen in 1787). Philip Chavis’ sons Ishamel Chavis (born 1747) and Erasmus Chavis (born 1768) continued to live in Robeson County and their descendants intermarried with other Robeson County Native American/FPOC families such as Lowry, Oxendine, Locklear, Carter, Sweat, and more. In support of the Lumbee Tribe’s federal recognition efforts, Wes White authored the “Saponi Report” in 1985 which documented the Chavis family in the Lumbee tribe descending from William Chavis via his son Philip Chavis who moved from Granville to Robeson. So this is a connection that is formally acknowledged by the Lumbee tribe.
William Chavis (1706-1778) had other children whose descendants remained in Granville (and neighboring counties) and tied into the Native American community in Granville. Descendants of his three daughters primarily remained in the Granville community though their descendants do not carry the Chavis surname because the three daughters were married. Daughter Sarah Chavis (1730-1785) married Edward Harris (born 1730) and their descendants are the FPOC Harris family in Granville and Wake counties. Daughter Lettice Chavis (1742-1814) married Aquilla Snelling (1723-1779) and while some descendants moved away, other descendants remained in Wake and are the FPOC Snelling family found there. Daughter Keziah Chavis (born 1742) married Asa Tyner (born 1740), and her descendants did remain in Granville for the next generation or two, but eventually moved further west to Stokes County, North Carolina. William Chavis also had a grandson named Jesse Chavis (1766-1840) who is referred to as his “orphan” in his estate papers. Jesse Chavis fathered a number of children whose descendants stayed connected to the Granville community and carried on the Chavis surname.
As a direct lineal descendant of Sarah Chavis and Edward Harris, my mother is finding through autosomal DNA testing, an abundance of Lumbee cousin matches who descend from Sarah Chavis’ brother Philip Chavis. By using sophisticated triangulation techniques, I am to determine that many of these Lumbee cousin matches are related through our shared common ancestors William Chavis and Frances Gibson. It should also be noted that the Gibson family of William Chavis’ wife Frances Gibson, moved to the Newman’s Ridge area of eastern Tennessee (Hawkins/Hancock counties) and became the “core” Gibson family of the “Melungeon” community there. Thus being a descendant of Frances Gibson, my mother also has a ton of cousin matches who descend from the Melungeons of Newman’s Ridge.
The Locklears are likely the largest family in the Lumbee tribe today and all descend from a shared Locklear ancestor named Robert Locklear (born 1700) who lived in Halifax/Edgecombe counties. Most of Robert’s children moved to Bladen/Robeson County and their descendants make up the Locklear family found in the Lumbee tribe today. Robert Locklear also had a grandson named Thomas Locklear (born 1750) through his son Randall Locklear (born 1730), whose family remained in the Granville/Wake area. So it is possible to have a Locklear ancestor directly from the Granville community. However a more common link between our community and the Lumbee Locklears is actually through the Evans family.
The large Evans family in Granville are direct lineal descendants of Morris Evans (1665-1739) and his wife Jane Gibson (1660/1670 – 1738) of Charles City County, Virginia. I wrote a blog post about the Evans family genealogy found here. Jane Gibson was the daughter of a woman also named Jane Gibson “the elder” who was documented as a “free Indian woman”. Their descendants moved from the Virginia Tidewater area to the Virginia Southside counties of Brunswick, Lunenburg, and Mecklenburg counties and from there they moved into North Carolina. Morris Evans and Jane Gibson’s grandson Major Evans (born 1733) moved to Granville and the Evans who remained in the Granville community, primarily descend from him.
There are at least two known female Evans ancestors in the Lumbee Locklear family. Wiley Locklear (1780-1865) married Nancy Evans (born 1800) on 25 May 1817 in Robeson County. Nancy Evans was the daughter of Richard Evans (born 1750) who was the son of Morris Evans Jr (born 1710) who was the son of Morris Evans and Jane Gibson.
Joseph James “Big Joe” Locklear (1823-1890) and his wife America Evans/Locklear (1829-1891) are another important Evans/Locklear link. A marriage record for the couple has not been located, so America’s maiden name is not well documented. From the records I have been able to review, there is inconsistent info about the parentage of Joseph Locklear and his wife America Evans/Locklear. For example, on her Find A Grave page found here, the author calls her the daughter of Patsy Evans and James Cricket Locklear. However, according to the 1850 and 1860 censuses, Patsy (Evans) Locklear was born in 1780 in South Carolina. America was born about 1829 in Robeson County, so this Patsy appears too old to be her mother. In the 1850 census, we see a Betsey Evans, age 50, residing in their household. Betsey Evans is the only person in the household whose birthplace is listed as Richmond County, North Carolina. It is not clear to me what relationship Betsey Evans has to either Joseph Locklear or American Evans/Locklear, but it’s quite possible she could be either person’s mother.
I am working on correctly identifying how exactly this Locklear family ties into the Evans family and Betsey Evans is a strong lead. I’ll be sure to update as I obtain more information. As an Evans descendants, I am (through my mother’s test) finding plenty of cousin matches who are Evans descendants and cousin matches who are Lumbees that directly descend from Joseph Locklear/America Evans, matching on the same chromosome segment. So I am certain there is a legitimate Evans connection to this family.
The Nansemond descended Bass family is one of the larger FPOC families in Granville County, as well as one of the larger widespread FPOC families in Virginia, the Carolinas (and beyond). I previously wrote a blog post on the Bass family and so it should be no surprise to learn that there are Bass descendants among the Lumbee tribe. Through land deeds, Frederick Bass (born 1750) is documented with his wife Olive living in Anson County by 1777. Paul Heinegg believes Frederick Bass to be the possible son of William Bass (born 1712) (son of John Bass 1673 and Love Harris) of Granville County. I have not found documentation yet for Frederick Bass in Granville County, so this connection probably needs additional supporting evidence. At least one of Frederick Bass’ sons moved from Anson to Robeson by about 1800. His son Elijah Bass (born 1775) is shown in the Robeson county census beginning in 1800 and his descendants are found in the Lumbee tribe today. Elijah Bass’ descendants intermarried frequently with the FPOC Jones family in Robeson Co. The Lumbee Jones family in Robeson Co, also came from Anson Co, so it appears the Bass and Jones moved together from Anson to Robeson. I have noticed that many of my Lumbee cousin matches are unaware that they descend from the Bass family because they either do not have family trees or their family trees don’t go back far enough to their Bass ancestors. So I recommend building “mirror trees” of your Lumbee cousin matches, to better explore the many possible connections.
The Bass family is one of the largest FPOC families in Granville County that intermarried with just about every other Native/FPOC family in the community. Most Granville Basses descend from Edward Bass 1672 and his wife Lovewell. But there are descendants of his brother John Bass 1673 and wife Love Harris in the community as well. All of these Basses are relatives of Elijah Bass (born 1775) who moved to Robeson County.
Several members of the large FPOC Goins (including spelling variations of Gowen/s, Goings, etc) came to Granville County in the 1740s/50s. Notably Michael Goins (born 1722), his brother Edward Goins (1727-after 1810), along with his cousins Thomas Goins (1732-1797) and William Goins (born 1710) are all documented as enlisted members of Indian trader Col. William Eaton’s colonial regiment. I previously wrote a blog post here, about Eaton’s regiment and its connection the Saponi Indians that were also documented in Granville. Most of the Goins who came to Granville, did not stay in the community and continued to move to western North Carolina and out of state. However descendants of Edward Goins (1727-after 1810) did remain in the Granville community and intermarried with other Granville families such as Bass and Anderson. The Goins surname quickly “daughtered out” in the early/mid 1800s, so Edward Goins’ descendants no longer carry the Goins surname.
As the Goins family spread to other parts of North Carolina, one branch moved from Granville County to Robeson County. Ann Goins (born 1719) was a cousin to the previously mentioned Goins in Granville. The earliest records for Ann Goins are found in Brunswick County, Virginia and by the 1750s, she appears in Granville. By the 1790s, Ann Goins was in South Carolina, but close to the Robeson County border because she appears in the records there as well. Ann Goins’ children continued to live in Robeson County and their descendants today make up the Lumbee tribe.
The Weyanoke (and Nottoway/Tuscarora) origins of the FPOC Kersey family was the topic of a previous blog post that I wrote which can be found here. In addition, Lumbee scholar J. Cedric Woods wrote an article on the early genealogy of the Kersey family which can be accessed here. The Kersey family is significant to the Lumbee tribe because the large Lowry family descends specifically from Sally Kersey who was described as a “half-breed Tuscarora woman” during the Civil War era. Sally Kersey was also the grandmother of famed Tuscarora (later Lumbee) hero Henry Berry Lowrie/Lowry (1845-1872). In his essay, Woods shows through careful analysis that Sally Kersey was a descendant of Weyanoke man named Thomas Kersey (born 1665) of Surry County, VA, who later relocated close to the Tuscarora living in Bertie County, NC.
The Kersey family also moved to Granville County. A man named Thomas Kersey ( born 1735) of Sussex and Southampton Counties, Virginia is the common ancestor of the Granville Kersey family. Paul Heinegg suspects that Thomas Kersey (born 1735) was a descendant of John Kersey (born 1668) of Surry County. John Kersey (born 1668) was a brother of Thomas Kersey (born 1665) who is direct ancestor of the Lumbee tribe’s Kersey/Lowry family.
Thomas Kersey (born 1735) was the grandfather of Benjamin Kersey (1790-1838) who resided in Granville County and whose descendants make up the Kersey family in Granville today. One of Benjamin Kersey’s children was the infamous outlaw Baldy Kersey (1820-1899) who is the subject of a blog post I wrote here.
The FPOC Scott family primarily lived on the Wake County side of the Granville/Wake County border. But there were some members of the family who settled across in Granville and intermarried with other FPOC families in the community.
The FPOC Scott family descends primarily from John Scott (born 1823) and his wife Sally Emeline Taborn (born 1829) who resided in Granville County. Though I have not identified his parents yet, John Scott is likely a descendant of Revolutionary War soldier Exum Scott (1754-1823) who resided in neighboring Wake County. For example, Exum Scott’s son Guilford Scott (1790-1880) was married to Sylvia Taborn, who is from the same Taborn family as John Scott’s wife.
Exum Scott (1754-1823) was the son of Francis Scott (born 1720) of Halifax County, NC. Francis Scott (born 1720) had two brothers named John Scott (born 1710) and Abraham Scott (born 1710) and the three men are the ancestors of the FPOC Scotts found in the Halifax, Northampton, and Edgecombe records with some descendants moving to other parts of North Carolina and South Carolina. The Lumbee Scott family primarily descends from several Scotts who stayed along the North Carolina and South Carolina border in Robeson, Richmond, and Scotland counties in North Carolina and Marion and Marlboro counties in South Carolina. For example, there is David Scott (born 1795) who is found in the 1830, 1840, 1850 and 1860 censuses in Robeson. He married Betsy Morgan on 11 Feb 1822 in Robeson. The Morgan family like the Scott family, was primarily found in Halifax, Northampton and Edgecombe counties. Matthew Morgan (born 1770) was from Halifax County and by 1820, he relocated to Robeson county. Matthew Morgan was most likely Betsy Morgan’s father. So it seems likely that David Scott’s family also originally came from Halifax County. David is also a first name passed down repeatedly in the FPOC Scott family in Halifax.
Another couple that produced a lot of Scott offspring found in the Lumbee tribe today, is James Scott (1836-1888) and his wife Margaret Ellen Chavis (1860-1930) of Richmond and later Robeson county. Census records indicate that James Scott was born in South Carolina, so he was likely from Marion or Marlboro counties and moved a small distance across the border. James Scott’s will filed in 1888 in Richmond County, provides the names of his widow and surviving children and gives detailed instructions about the education of his children.
If you descend from any of these families, these connections that I described should help provide some answers about your DNA cousin matches. Have you noticed other interesting cousin matches from your DNA results? Feel free to comment here.
The FPOC Howell family traces directly back to a young woman named Dorothy Howell who lived in the early 1700s. As a “mixed-race” Pamunkey woman, Dorothy became geographically separated from her people when she had to live across the river from the Pamunkey reservation, as a house servant to a leading colonial family. Consequently, the lives of her descendants followed different paths with some leaving the area to intermarry with other tribes, while others who were determined to stay, continued to intermarry with the Pamunkey. This blog post takes a close look at the branch of the Howell family that stayed closely connected to the Pamunkey tribe and who have descendants enrolled in the tribe today. A great variety of records that I have amassed will be used to help document their lives.
Dorothy Howell (b. 1707) of New Kent County
The earliest documented direct lineal ancestor of the FPOC Howell family was a woman named Dorothy Howell (b. 1707). For me, she is my 7th great-grandmother. What we know about Dorothy Howell comes directly from the Registry Book of St. Peter’s Parish. The parish was formed in 1678 and served New Kent and James City counties. Births, deaths, and marriages are recorded in the Vestry Book, so these records help to establish Dorothy Howell’s approximate birth year, her location, and clues into her ethnic heritage. I know of no surviving records where we get to hear testimony from Dorothy Howell herself to understand her life and identity from her perspective. So this is something important to keep in mind as we review the historical archive.
The earliest record for Dorothy Howell, is when the birth of her daughter Judith Howell was recorded in the St. Peter’s Parish book in 1725:
The next and final record of Dorothy Howell which mentions her specifically by name is for the birth of her son Robbin Howell in the St. Peter’s Parish book in 1730/31:
Given the birth dates of her two documented children, Judith born in 1725 and Robbin born in 1730/31, Dorothy Howell was likely born around 1707 (as genealogist Paul Heinegg suggests). In the birth record of her daughter Judith, Dorothy is referred to as a mulatto and in the birth record of her son Robbin, he is referred to as a mulatto. So we know that Dorothy Howell was considered a person of color with a likely “mixed race” background. We also know that she was a free woman because she is called a servant of a man named Sherwood Lightfoot. Notice that in the record for the birth of her son Robbin, Dorothy Howell is not referred to as a servant. The reason for this is that Sherwood Lightfoot died on 26 April 1730. If Dorothy had not already completed the length of her servitude, the death of Sherwood Lightfoot likely released her from service.
It is important to contextualize how the word “mulatto” was used in Virginia in the 1700s. In October 1705 (just twenty years before the birth of Judith Howell), the Acts of Assembly in Virginia defined “mulatto”, “as the child of an Indian, the child, grandchild or great-grandchild of a Negro”. Therefore the term “mulatto” encompassed many varieties of ethnic admixtures. Thus Dorothy Howell could have been mixed European and African, mixed European and Native American, or mixed European, African and Native American. In consideration of the historical analysis that I will provide over the following sections and given that her descendants are well documented as Pamunkey Indians, I believe that Dorothy Howell was a “mixed race” Pamunkey Indian.
The Pamunkey are one of many tribes that compromise the Powhatan Confederacy which once dominated the Tidewater Virginia area.
Because of the limited documentation on Dorothy Howell, the next section will take a close look at the man whose residence she lived and work in, Sherwood Lightfoot.
Sherwood Lightfoot and St. Peter’s Parish
Sherwood Lightfoot (1686-1730) was the son of Col.John Lightfoot and Ann Goodrich, a wealthy British colonial family. Ann Goodrich’s parents were Major Thomas Goodrich and Ann Sherwood of Old Rappahannock County, VA (present day Essex County, VA). Major Thomas Goodrich played a significant role during a pinnacle event in Virginia colonial history. Goodrich was a top lieutenant for Nathaniel Bacon during a violent episode known as “Bacon’s Rebellion”. In 1676, Bacon and allied colonists, formed an armed rebellion against colonial Virginia Governor William Berkeley. The colonists accused Governor Berkeley of not protecting their interests. During this violent uprising, Powhatan tribal peoples living in coastal Virginia were slaughtered by the rebellious colonists. You can learn more about Bacon’s Rebellion here.
Before becoming a lieutenant in Bacon’s Rebellion, Major Thomas Goodrich was a signatory to a treaty with a Powhatan tribe, dated September 1655 in Old Rappahannock Co, VA. The text reads:
“At a court September 1655 Rappahannock Present Coll Moore Fantleroy Capt Francis Slaughter Majr Thos Goodrich Mr Andrew Gilson Mr. Thos Lucas Senior Mr Richard Loe Capt William Underwood Mr Humphrey Boot The King Masquran Mquanzafsi Caskamino”
Another relevant connection between Sherwood Lightfoot and Native American peoples is through his brother Goodrich Lightfoot. In the St. Peter’s Parish records, Goodrich Lightfoot is documented owning an “Indian” slave named Charles:
Goodrich Lightfoot is also connected to the origins of the “free colored” Evans family of Granville County, who descend from Morris Evans and his wife Jane Gibson the younger. Some of Morris and Jane’s descendants were illegally held as slaves by Goodrich Lightfoot and later sold to other slave owners. The Evans descendants were able to obtain their freedom by proving they descended from a free Indian woman – Jane Gibson the elder who was the mother of Jane Gibson the younger. Unfortunately Jane Gibson’s tribe is not specified in those records, but given the location, it’s most likely she was of Powhatan heritage. I have a blog post where I discuss the Native American origins of the Evans family here. Also descendants of the Evans family and of the Howell family often intermarried throughout Virginia and North Carolina, so it is common to find people who descend from both lineages (self included).
It is important to take a moment to study the geography of where Sherwood Lightfoot and his brother Goodrich Lightfoot lived and how this factors into understanding the heritage of Dorothy Howell. Sherwood Lightfoot’s estate was located on the banks of the Pamunkey River, directly across from the Pamunkey Indian reservation. In 1707, Col. John Lightfoot died and his sons Goodrich and Sherwood Lighfoot inherited his large land holdings along the Pamunkey River which he originally purchased in 1686.
The geographical proximity of Sherwood Lightfoot and his brother Goodrich Lightfoot to the Pamunkey Reservation is also evident in a diary entry from Col. William Byrd. On September 22 and 23, 1712, Byrd described staying at the homes of both brothers before going to the Pamunkey reservation to meet the Governor.
Additionally, Sherwood’s father Col. John Lightfoot who had previously owned the land before Sherwood, is noted for having “difficulties” with the Pamunkey Indians who lived across the river from him.
So what does this tell us so far? We have the Lightfoot family whom in successive generations have a number of notable interactions with Powhatan peoples – Major Thomas Goodrich who was a signatory of a treaty and also fought in Bacon’s Rebellion; Col. John Lightfoot whose estate was across the river from the Pamunkey reservation and had difficulties with the tribe, and brothers Sherwood and Goodrich Lightfoot who inherited their father’s estate from across the Pamunkey reservation and are noted for enslaving local Native American peoples. Dorothy Howell was a free woman living and working as an indentured servant in Sherwood’s household, and I do believe her heritage is from the Pamunkey reservation. Perhaps she or one of her parents was the offspring of a Howell colonist and a Pamunkey Indian woman? Or even a Howell woman and a Pamunkey Indian man?
At this time, Dorothy Howell’s parents are unidentified. Her birth was not recorded in the St. Peter’s Parish records and for Dorothy to be a free-born person means that her mother was also free.
I looked through earlier records to see if I could find any Howells who lived in the area and who had any interactions with Native Americans. It was not uncommon for some Native Americans to adopt the surnames of “friendly whites”, so it’s possible the Howell surname entered the local Native American population through that manner.
In court records for neighboring Charles City County, there was a John Howell who in 1659 received permission from the courts to hire an “Indian”. This person is not identified by name or by tribe.
The John Howell named in this record was a man named Lt John Howell (1623-1679) who was a Welsh-born colonist. Some additional information about him can be found here.
There was also an Edmund Howell who lived in nearby Surry Co, VA who was a participant in Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, just like Sherwood Lightfoot’s grandfather Major Thomas Goodrich. This same Edmund Howell left a 1679 will which named his godson Gibson Gibson. This Gibson Gibson was a mixed race Native American and a relative of Jane Gibson the elder whose Evans descendants were illegally enslaved by Goodrich Lightfoot. Edmund Howell had a son named William Howell who left a 1718 will which named sons William, Thomas, Edmund, and Joseph. Perhaps Dorothy Howell (or one of her parents) was a mixed race offspring of one of these Howell men and she ended up as an indentured servant with Lightfoots who were family friends? You can read more about Edmund Howell and his relationship to the Gibson family here.
I also found another record which offers precedence for Pamunkey Indians desiring to leave the reservation to live with the nearby white population. On 27 Oct 1709, in neighboring James City County, a Pamunkey Indian named Robin asked permission to remain among the white population so that he could continue his shoemaking business. His request was granted:
I also found another record in the St. Peter’s Parish register that could possibly pertain to Dorothy Howell:
Thurs Dec 20, 1722 – Sherwood was paid 500 lbs of tobacco for keeping a “mollatto child of the parish”.
The Sherwood referenced here is Sherwood Lightfoot. Could this mulatto child be Dorothy Howell? In 1722, Dorothy Howell would have been about 15 years old, so still a minor. Because Sherwood Lightfoot was paid for taking in this child, we know that this child was not a slave.
In summary, all of these records present possible scenarios for how Dorothy Howell acquired her Howell surname and how she became an indentured servant for a prominent colonial family.
The Howells Descendants Diverge
As discussed earlier, Dorothy Howell had a daughter named Judith Howell who was born in 1725. 27 years later in 1752, we find Judith Howell a few counties over to the West in the Amelia County, VA records. And the following year in 1753 her son Matthew Howell(1752-1793) was bound out. Judith Howell lived in the Amelia County area at the same time it was reported a group of Saponi Indians lived in a small village built of cabins. I discussed this in an earlier blogpost here. It was in Amelia County that Judith Howell’s branch of the Howell family, first began to intermarry with the Saponi who were gradually moving away from the former Saponi reservation called Ft. Christanna. Matthew Howell continued to move further into the Southside counties of Virginia and his descendants continued to intermarry with the Saponi descendants in the area. Descendants of Matthew Howell’s daughter Elizabeth Howellb. 1783 relocated to Ohio and today are found among the Saponi-Catawba Nation in Ohio. Descendants of his son Freeman Howell (1777-1870) are the North Carolina branch and spread first into Granville County with some moving into Orange, Person, and Alamance counties. This is my branch of the Howell family and you can read more about Freeman Howell’s descendants here.
From the St. Peter’s Parish and Revolutionary War records, we learn that there was a branch of the Howell family that remained in New Kent County and therefore continued to intermarry with the Pamunkey. Please note that the genealogy that I will present here diverges a bit from the genealogy presented by Paul Heinegg about the Howell family. I found additional documents to corroborate the timeline and dates that I am presenting.
Robert Howell(1730/1740 – 1780) and his wife Mary are shown as the parents of several “mulatto” children whose births were recorded in the St. Peter’s Parish registry. I have estimated that Robert Howell was born between 1730 and 1740 based upon the ages of his children and other life events. And given Robert Howell’s approximate age, it makes the most sense that he was a son of Dorothy Howell (Heinegg tentatively believes that Robert Howell is Judith Howell’s son). The maiden name of Robert Howell’s wife Mary is unknown. From the St. Peter’s records, we learn that Robert Howell was the father of John Godfrey Howell born 12 July 1768 and twin daughters named Betsey and Sarah Howell who were born 22 March 1771. We also learn from Revolutionary War bounty land records that Robert Howell enlisted while living in New Kent County and died a year or two into his service. No dates are given, so I have estimated that he died around 1780. Thomas Howell was named as the heir at law of Robert Howell and that his parents were legally married. So this means Robert Howell had another son named Thomas Howell (more on him below). You can read Robert Howell’s transcribed Revolutionary War records and see the original images here.
Thomas Howell b. 1760 who is documented as Robert Howell’s heir, was also a Revolutionary War soldier and there are records from his service which help document his life. Thomas Howell filed for a pension in 1836 while living in the city of Richmond, VA. He stated that he was 76 at the time, thus he was born around 1760. He enlisted while living in New Kent County and said that his birth was registered at St. Peter’s Parish. This is a key detail because it is consistent with Thomas Howell being a son of Robert Howell who we know was living in New Kent County and whose children were recorded in the St. Peter’s Parish records. After the War, Thomas Howell states he resided in the city of Richmond through to the present. You can read a transcribed version of Thomas Howell’s pension application here. Thomas Howell’s testimony is consistent with the census records which show him as the head of a “free colored” household in Richmond in the 1810 and 1820 censuses and in Henrico Co in the 1830 census (Richmond was enumerated in Henrico Co that year). I found no other Thomas Howells living anywhere in the Richmond from this time period, so I’m confident that this is him recorded in the census.
The births of Thomas Howell’s children were recorded in the St. Peter’s Parish records as well, so we are able to continue to trace his line forward. His wife was named Lucy, but her maiden name is unknown. Son Robert Howell was born 20 Feb 1785 and the births of his daughters were recorded: Susannah in born 17 Apr 1787, Rebecca in born 27 Apr 1790 and Elizabeth in born 12 Mar 1794.
Robert Howell b. 1785 married Kitty Didlake on 22 Dec 1810 in Henrico County and that same year is enumerated in the census for Henrico County, head of a household of 2 “free colored” persons. It is his lineage who brings the Howells full circle back into the tight-knit Pamunkey tribal community
The Pamunkey Howell Family From the 1800s Onward
During the 1800s, Pamunkeys who lived off the reservation in neighboring New Kent County, began to emerge as a group referred to as the “Cumberland Indians”. Cumberland is a town in New Kent County where many off reservation Pamunkey families resided. In her book “Pocahontas People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries”, historian Helen Rountree refers to the Pamunkeys residing in New Kent County as “fringe Indians” and includes the Howell family in this group. The term “fringe Indians” seems to imply that those living off the reservation, lost their tribal identity and this is simply not the case. Historian Arica Coleman and others have pushed back against Rountree’s “fringe Indians”, and instead I will refer to the Pamunkeys living in New Kent as the “Cumberland Indians”.
John Howell b. 1822 was the son of previously mentioned Robert Howell b. 1785. It is John Howell’s family who emerges as a leading and integral family among the Cumberland Indians. John Howell was married to Susan Pearman and they are enumerated in the 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 censuses in New Kent County and sometimes classified as “mulatto” and sometimes classified as “Indian”. Susan Pearman was also an Indian woman and the daughter of Michael Pearman and Lucy Jarvis. The descendants of John Howell and Susan Pearman intermarried with just about every other Pamunkey family: Collins, Langston, Cook, Stewart, Dennis, Allmond, Wynn, Dungee, Miles, Tupponce, Adkins, Bradby, Custalow, etc (some of these surnames and families are also found among the neighboring Chickahominy and Mattaponi tribes).
Below is a picture of John Howell and Susan Pearman’s daughter Pinkie Howell b. 1865. She married fellow Pamunkey Simeon Collins b. 1859 and so they are shown here with their children. The photo was taken during an anthropological survey of the Pamunkey reservation.
Simeon Collins and Pinkie Howell’s family were enumerated in the 1900 census, living on the Pamunkey reservation:
Another daughter of John Howell and Susan Pearman was named Lena Lucy Howell (1857-1936). She was married to another Pamunkey named John Solomon Wynn b. 1855. Lena Howell and John Wynn had a daughter named Kate Wynn (1887-1969) who married outside of the tribe to a white man named Otho Floyd Gray.
In 2015, the Pamunkey Tribe became the first tribe in Virginia to receive federal recognition from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In support of their recognition application, the tribe submitted hundreds of pages of documentation to prove their identity and status as a sovereign indigenous nation. Included in these records was interesting information about a member of the Pamunkey Howell family. We learn that John C. Howell (“J.C. Howell”) who lived outside of the reservation in New Kent County, did not want a school built for Pamunkey children in New Kent in 1870, to have a “colored” teacher. John C. Howell (b. 1849) was the son of John Howell and Susan Pearman. For Howell it was important that the Pamunkeys keep their distance from “colored” people in order to maintain their status as “Indian” in the eyes of their white neighbors.
The Pamunkey’s tribe attempt to keep a clear racial distinction between themselves and “colored” people was complicated by Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924. I previously wrote a blogpost about Walter Plecker (1861-1947) who was the Registrar of Vital Statistics in Virginia from 1912 – 1946. He was a proponent of white supremacy, racial segregation and eugenics and believed that only two races of people existed in Virginia: “White” and “Negro”. In his view, Indian peoples no longer lived in Virginia and “Negro” people simply identified as “Indian” as a racial stepping stone towards whiteness. Plecker’s racial policies were in direct conflict with the Indian identity of the Pamunkey and other tribal peoples who still lived in Virginia. In order to combat people from self identifying as “Indian” on vital records, Plecker sent out a list to the heads of vital statistics in counties across the state. On his list, Plecker identified surnames by county, of families whom he felt were trying to “pass” as “Indian” and “White”. The Pamunkey Howell family made the Plecker list:
The fallout from Plecker’s policies, meant that there were some Pamunkey Howells who did “pass” for white instead of suffering the social disadvantages of being identified as “Negro”. Some families in order to avoid being pinned between two racial categories that they did not identify with, simply left the state. The racial identity of one Pamunkey Howell named Herbert Clayton Howell (1916-1979) is an interesting example. Herbert Howell was identified as “white” in the 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses and identified as “white” in his World War II draft and enlistment records, thus it appeared that he had successfully “passed” for white. However it was his marriage to a white woman, that eventually “outed” his identity as a person of color. On 28 March 1945, just 5 years into their marriage, Herbert Howell and his wife Margaret Shadoan received an annulment. The reason for the annulment is stated clearly on the record: “Defendant was a person of the negro race.”
I think it is quite amazing to look back to see that all of us Howells descend from one woman named Dorothy Howell who lived right in the epicenter of a burgeoning colony. I wish there was a way to access more about her life and experiences. I wonder how she felt living so close, yet across the river from her people. In the end, the decisions that she made did result in many of her descendants still staying connected to the tribe and having an integral part in its political and cultural revolution in the 20th and 21st centuries. Modern DNA testing is having a tremendous impact on genealogy as a way of confirming the paper trail with genetic evidence. As a direct lineal descedant of Dorothy Howell’s daughter Judith Howell who moved away from the Pamunkey, I am finding DNA cousin matches who descend from the Pamunkey Collins, Dungee, and Custalow families. The Howells who remained among the Pamunkey appear to be the genetic link. Dorothy Howell’s legacy lives on in the DNA of her many descendants and it is helping us find our way back to one another.
While searching through the Granville County newspaper archives to find news stories related to the Native American community, I came across a very interesting article from 1912. It describes a series of shootings in Hunt Woods which abutted a residential neighborhood. According to the newspaper, the guilty culprit responsible for these late night shenanigans, was a “half-bred Indian woman”:
The “half-bred Indian woman” is never identified by name, so we can’t be sure exactly who she was. From the perspective of the newspaper, it was more important that she was identified by race and not by name. And I find this very telling, because it points to a general negative attitude about Native peoples. “Miss Margarette Scott” was considered an upstanding white resident of Granville County and I found her name mentioned a few times in the society pages of the newspaper. So in this 1912 article, we have a Native American woman accused of disrupting the serenity of a quiet white residential neighborhood. And the only solution that is presented is that the Native American woman must be removed from the area. This scenario sounds like a microcosm of the relationship between indigenous peoples and settler colonialism: Native peoples must be removed from the landscape to make room for “progress”.
The Ridley Park residential neighborhood was located in the southeastern part of the city limits of Oxford. Hunt Woods was located directly to the east of Ridley Park. The Native American community was mostly concentrated directly below Hunt Woods but the families spread out in many directions including the Hunt Woods area. So it is conceivable that this unidentified “half-bred Indian woman” came from the local Native American community.
I found another article published 3 years later in 1915 which provides additional information about Ridley Park and Hunt Woods. We can see that the area is remarkable for its picturesque setting that sounds like it came out of a Bob Ross painting. There are even locations in the woods named after Native American tribes and individuals such as “Hiawatha Rock”, “Seminole Rock”, and “Cherokee Rock”. This I find ironic, given that there was no problem naming places after Native peoples but actual Natives peoples living in the woods was a problem.
It’s that time again! The third weekend in April is when the annual Haliwa-Saponi Pow Wow takes place in recognition of when the tribe was officially granted “state-recognition” status.
If you plan on being in the area this weekend, stop on by. All are welcome!
The tribal grounds are located in Hollister which is in Halifax County, North Carolina, very close to the Warren County border. The physical address is: 130 Haliwa Saponi Trail, Hollister NC 27844. Please visit the Haliwa-Saponi website or call the tribal office at (252) 586-4017 if you need directions to the tribal grounds and for more info: http://haliwa-saponi.com/
The annual pow wow is a very special event and will be filled with dancing, drumming, singing, art vendors and more. It is also a time for tribal members who live away from home to come back and reunite with family and friends.
Here is a short video provided by videographer David James from last year’s pow wow which highlights some of the sights and sounds that you can expect to see this weekend:
Another short video provided by David James shows one of our top North Carolina drum groups: Warpaint, jamming at last year’s pow wow:
And finally a video provided by the North Carolina Arts Council in which tribal members Marty Richardson and Senora Lynch are interviewed and discuss the connections between the modern pow wow and Native American identity:
So please come on out and enjoy this beautiful event!
1. This is a rural area, so cell phone reception will be spotty. It is a good idea to print out directions beforehand if you are not familiar with the area and make plans ahead of time to meet family/friends.
2. Pow wow tickets are already on sale at the tribal office. Avoid the lines and purchase your tickets ahead of time.
3. Pow wow t-shirts are also already on sale and can be picked up at the tribal office. If you are unable to attend the pow wow, you can still order t-shirts to be sent by mail by contacting the tribal office.
4. Make sure to visit the arts and food vendors at the pow wow. These are all Native American owned and operated businesses and they need your support and patronage.
Unfortunately, I am unable to attend the pow wow, so I am sending all my love and support to my family this weekend for a successful pow wow. I descend from the Haliwa-Saponi Richardson family (my mom’s great-grandma was Virginia Richardson from Hollister) and I will be writing some blog posts that explore the genealogy of core tribal families such as Richardson, Lynch, Hedgepeth, Silver, Evans and more.
I was recently contacted by historian Vikki Bynum (“The Free State of Jones” – author of the book which inspired the movie), who was working on updating her research on the “free people of color” from Granville County. Vikki became familiar with my own research through this blog: “Native American Roots” and I was so delighted to work with her on this. The narrative that she presents and how she was able to synthesize and summarize the lives of our ancestors is quite impressive.
I am so proud to descend from such remarkable people and honored that my blog has become a source for others to learn more about our ancestors.
This blog would not be possible without the many people who have shared photos, family stories, and other key family information. Collaboration is vital in telling the full stories of our ancestor’s lives. A heartfelt thank you to all who have contributed!
If you are using marriage records to simply document when and where your ancestors married, you are missing out on so much more information. In this blog post, I will provide some examples and give advice about how to maximize the information contained in marriage records. Granville is a county that thankfully did not suffer from major record loss when compared to other North Carolina counties, so it’s important to take full advantage of the written record left behind. I will also provide some general observations about the marriage patterns of our ancestors that I was able to observe by closely reviewing their marriage records.
Marriage Bonds and the Bondsman
In North Carolina, from the colonial era and up through about 1869, marriages in the state typically required a marriage bond to be posted. Marriage bonds were a formal guarantee between the potential groom and bride and the jurisdictional government that the couple was legally able to marry. The groom was accompanied by a bondsman who both signed their names to guarantee the marriage bond for a specific amount of money. No actual money was exchanged. The Legal Genealogist has a good blog post with additional information about marriage bonds.
Because the bondsman just like the groom, could potentially be legally held responsible if the marriage was unlawful, the bondsman was usually a relative or friend/neighbor of the groom or bride. This means marriage bonds contain potentially additional genealogical information. If the bondsman was a relative, this can help identify other family members of the married couple.
Over the course of my research, I have closely looked at hundreds, probably thousands of marriage bonds for our ancestors in Granville and nearby counties. I have observed that if the bondsman was a relative, he was most often either the father, uncle, brother, or brother-in-law of the groom or bride. I have identified bondsmen who were slightly more distant relatives like first cousins, but these instances were not nearly as common as the father, uncle, brother, and brother-in-law relationship.
Here is an example of a marriage bond:
So my recommendation is that every time you locate a marriage bond of your ancestors, make sure to record the name of the bondsman. After you do that, follow up to see if you can identify exactly who that bondsman was and if he had any family relationship to the groom or bride.
Here is another example of a marriage bond, where the bondsman was an uncle:
Transition to Standardized Marriage Licenses
In the years following the conclusion of the Civil War, North Carolina abandoned the marriage bond system in favor of more standardized marriage licenses. In this section, I’ll document some of the variety of marriage licenses you can expect to see from this time period. These marriage licenses typically offer a lot more biographical information about the groom and bride. Additional information may include: age, race/color, names of parents, witnesses to the marriage, location of marriage, the person who solemnized the marriage, and the residence of the groom and bride.
The Native American community in Granville was very tight knit and this can be seen in the marriage records which record the witnesses of the event. Witnesses were often family members and friends and so these marriage records offer an important insight into these kinship and social circles.
The marriage license for James H Tyler (1852-1919) and Sarah Virginia Scott (1858-1937) shows some familiar names included in the record. The marriage license indicates that both the groom and bride lived in “F.C.”, meaning Fishing Creek township – the heart of the Native American community in Granville. James Tyler was 25 years of age and Sarah Virginia Scott was 17 years of age. A “J.P.” (Justice of the Peace) named L.H. Cannady officiated the ceremony at John Scott’s home. John Scott (b. 1823) was the father of Sarah Virginia Scott. The witnesses to the marriage were David Day, Sarah Tyler, and Hawkins Kersey. All three people were from the community. David Day (b. 1837) was the from FPOC Day family, a core family. By 1879, he was widowed from Nancy Bass who may have been a close family member of Sarah Virginia Scott’s maternal grandmother Henrietta Bass (b. 1800). “Sarah Tyler” was James H Tyler’s mother Sarah/Sally (Kersey) Tyler (1828-1911). Hawkins Kersey (1854-1921) was originally born Hawkins Tyler, and was the son of Martha Jane Tyler (b. 1830) who was James H Tyler’s aunt. Hawkins, was then “adopted” by Baldy Kersey (James H Tyler’s uncle) and his surname was changed to Kersey. Baldy Kersey was the infamous outlaw and the subject of this blog post.
Another example of a marriage license with biographical information:
The 27 July 1872 Granville County marriage record of Lewis H Anderson (b. 1849) and Amanda W Anderson (1856-1920) also shows important biographical information. Lewis Anderson listed as 22 years of age resided in “F.C.” (Fishing Creek) township and Amanda Anderson age 18, resided in “O” (Oxford) township. The marriage took place at the New Hope Church which was one of several churches that serviced the community. Dennis Anderson (b. 1807), a member from the community, officiated the service. While browsing through the Granville County marriage records, I noted that Dennis Anderson officiated numerous marriages for people in the Native American community. Amanda W Anderson’s grandfather Jeremiah “Jerry” Anderson (1794-1875) was the older brother of Dennis Anderson, so Dennis Anderson was also a great uncle of the bride. Witnesses to the marriage were Arthur Bass, James Horner, and David Day. There were two Arthur Basses of adult age living in Granville County in 1872, so I’m uncertain which one is referred to here. James Horner (b. 1842) was not a FPOC. He was born enslaved but married into the Native American/FPOC community which likely why he was a witness. David Day (b. 1837) is the same man who was listed above as a witness to the marriage of James H Tyler and Sarah Virginia Scott.
And here is another example of a marriage record with important biographical information:
The 22 December 1874 marriage between James A Mayo (1847-1910) and Ida Howell (1855-1928) also includes a few notable people from the community. James Mayo is listed as being 22 years of age and residing in “F.C.” (Fishing Creek) township and Ida Howell is 16 years of age and also a resident of “F.C.” (Fishing Creek) township. Cuffy Mayo (1800-1896) officiated the marriage. Cuffy was a very important person not only in the community but was also well respected by his white neighbors. He was a delegate to North Carolina’s 1868 Constitutional Convention. The marriage took place at the home of Jane (Harris) Howell (b. 1817) who was Ida Howell’s mother. Witnesses to the marriage were Edward Allen, James E Howell, and William Tyler. I’m unsure who Edward Allen was. James E Howell (1840-1912) was Ida Howell’s brother and my 2nd great-grandfather. William Tyler (1825-1897) was another well respected member of the community and a cousin and neighbor to the Howell family. It is also worth mentioning that the groom and bride were first cousins. James Mayo’s mother Sally Harris was a sister to Ida Howell’s mother Jane Harris. First cousin marriages were not atypical at all for this very tight knit community.
Military Pension Files
Another excellent resource to use to help document marriages of our ancestors are military pension files. Many of the men in our community were soldiers in the Revolutionary War and if they lived long enough into their elder years, they typically filed applications for military pension benefits. If a soldier died before or while receiving pension benefits, his surviving widow could apply for a widow’s pension to continue to receive those payments.
In order to prove that a female applicant was the legal surviving widow of a soldier, she had to provide a copy of their marriage license as well as witness testimony from friends/relatives/neighbors to confirm the identity of the applicant. If a widow remarried, she was no longer entitled to her deceased husband’s benefits.
For example, my 5th great-grandmother Mary (Bass) Richardson (1757-1844) was the widow of two Revolutionary War soldiers: her first husband Elijah Bass (1743-1781) and her second husband Benjamin Richardson (1750-1809). Elijah Bass died while in service in the Revolutionary War, so Mary Bass remarried Benjamin Richardson at the conclusion of the war. Mary Bass was eligible to receive Benjamin Richardson’s military pension benefits. In order to do that, she applied for a widow’s pension – W.4061. In her application, Mary (Bass) Richardson provides the following testimony about her marriages:
That she was married to Elijah Bass who was a private in the Army of the Revolutionary War in the North Carolina line that he served as such for the period of two and a half years and Enlisted under Captain Bailey of the tenth Regiment. She further declared that she was married to the said Elijah Bass on the 14th day of February 17 hundred & Seventy seven. That her husband the aforesaid Elijah Bass died (or was killed) in the aforesaid War at the Battle of Eutaw Springs on the 8th day of September 17 hundred & Eighty one. That she was afterward (to wit) on the 14th day of February 17 hundred & Eighty three married to Benjamin Richardson who was a private in the North Carolina Militia in the Revolutionary War who served as such for the period of twelve months under Capts. Joel Wren, John White Jordan Harris & other officers.
So in her testimony, Mary (Bass) Richardson gives 14 February 1783 as the date she married Benjamin Richardson. A search of the Granville County marriage bonds, shows that Benjamin Richardson and Mary Bass received a marriage bond on 13 February 1783 with Phillip Pettiford as the bondsman. This is consistent with the testimony that Mary (Bass) Richardson provided – they married the following day after receiving the marriage bond. If this marriage bond was no longer available due to record loss, Mary (Bass) Richardson’s testimony for her widow’s pension, serves as an excellent secondary source substitute record to document her marriage to Benjamin Richardson.
Another example is found in the widow’s pension application of my 5th great-grandmother Martha Patsy Harris (1770-1859). She was the widow of my 5th great-grandfather Sherwood Harris (1761-1833). Martha Patsy’s maiden name is unknown because I have never been able to locate a marriage record for her and Sherwood Harris. However her widow’s pension does provide me with an approximate date of when and where they married. You can read transcribed portions of the application W.3984 here.
Included in Martha Patsy Harris’ widow application, is testimony from several white residents of Granville and Wake Counties who were personal friends of Sherwood and Martha Patsy Harris and attended their wedding. Siblings Stephen Bridges (born 1770) and Frances “Fanny” (Bridges) Cavender (born 1765) remembered attending the wedding and gave 1787 as the approximate year of the marriage. Frances also gave additional information that the couple were married in Granville County by the Justice of the Peace named John Pope. Another personal friend named Nathaniel Estes (1770-1845) also recalled attending the wedding and determined that it happened several years before 1793 (the birth year of his son). Martha Patsy Harris also testified that she recalled the wedding was in 1787, so the information given in all the testimonies is consistent. So without a marriage record, we can give the approximate marriage year for Sherwood and Martha Patsy Harris as 1787. Having an exact date is certainly more desirable but an approximate date at least gives us something to work with.
So definitely make sure to read through the entire Revolutionary War pension files of your ancestors to help document their marriages. I have even found testimony that describes the actual wedding event – a detail that is not conveyed in marriage licenses. I recall reading a description of a wedding service that included fiddling and singing.
Land Deeds and Marriage
If you’ve searched high and low through marriage records and military pension files, and still cannot find leads on the marriages of your ancestors, here’s another source to consider: land deeds. Though land deeds do not specify an exact marriage event between a groom and bride, it does provide some clues about a recent marriage within the family. It was common for the families of the groom and bride to sell and purchase land from one another around the time of the marriage. There are a few possible reasons for this. For one, our community was very tight knit and land transactions were common within these close kinship circles. Marriages extended that kinship network of people to do business with and kept land ownership within the family. Another reason for these land transactions around the time of the marriage was that the groom desired to purchase land near his wife’s family to stay in close contact. If the groom was not already a land owner, his marriage into a new family provided an opportunity to became a land owner.
For example, my 4th great-grandfather Freeman Howell (1777-1870) had a daughter named Julia Howell (1797-1870). Julia Howell was married to Nelson Cousins (b. 1794) but I have never found a marriage record for the couple. I do have confirmation of their marriage through Freeman Howell’s estate records which specify how his estate was divided among his living heirs. Given the approximate ages of Nelson Cousins and Julia Howell’s children, I suspected that they were married around 1820. In 1824 in Granville County, the following land deeds were recorded between Julia Howell’s father Freeman Howell and Nelson Cousins’ brother Robert Cousins:
17 Jan 1824 • Granville County, North Carolina
$150 in hand deed of Gift from Robert Cousins to Freeman Howell
2 Feb 1824 • Granville County, North Carolina
Robert Cozen acknowledges a deed to Freeman Howell for a 120 acres of land which is ordered to be Registered
Source: Land deed notes transcribed by Jahrod Pender
Though these land deeds do not provide me with a date of a marriage event between a member of the Howell family and a member of the Cousins family, it does suggest that there is now a kinship relationship between these two families. This would be especially true if I find additional land deeds between the Howell and Cousins family during this period.
Another example of a land deed tied to a recent marriage is the example of my 6th great-grandparents Edward Harris (b. 1730) and Sarah Chavis (1730-1785). We believe that Edward Harris and Sarah Chavis married around 1750 according to the approximate ages of their children and 1750 being the first year that Sarah was listed as a tithable in Edward Harris’s household.
On 6 September 1756 (about 6 years after they married), Sarah Chavis’ father William Chavis made a deed of gift for 340 acres along Tabbs Creek in Granville County to Edward Harris and Sarah Chavis. (Land deed transcribed and shared by Paul Heinegg). William Chavis (1709-1778) was a man I refer to as a community founder because he originally owned all of the land that makes up the core of the community. According to local historian Oscar Blacknall, William Chavis owned a continuous 16 acres along the North side of the Tar River, going 5 miles inland. The land that William Chavis gifted to his new son-in-law Edward Harris was land which was part of this original plot that William Chavis owned. William Chavis likely wanted to guarantee that his daughter and her descendants would be well taken care of, for generations to come. So keep this in mind as you’re looking at land deeds to connect to marriage events.
Marriage Patterns and Observations
Finally I thought it would be good to create a list of my general observations about the marriage patterns of our ancestors. These are simply general patterns, so there will always be exceptions and variation. But with that said, I think you will find this helpful and a great reminder about the potential information you can gleam by closely observing marriage records.
ENDOGAMY! Our ancestors primarily practiced endogamous marriages, simply meaning that they limited marriages within the local community and people they already regarded as “kin”. As a result, I usually try to figure out if and how the groom and bride are related. It may be a blood connection through a more distant common relative, or it may be that they share cousins in common. But you will typically find some already existing family connection between the groom and bride.
Multiple Marriages. If a man or woman became widowed, you can typically expect for them to marry again. This is especially true if they still had minor children living at home. Another parent was needed to help raise and support those children, so it was not advantageous to remain widowed. These multiple marriages can create some complex family trees but it is important to document all of your ancestor’s marriages.
Keep track of a woman’s name changes. Following up on the point made above – each time a woman married, her surname changed. As a result, a bride’s surname listed on a marriage record may not be her original maiden name if she was previously married. Marriage records typically do not list if the bride was previously married, so it is up to you the research to investigate further.
Not all marriages were recorded. Some of our ancestors may not have went through with obtaining the proper license to legally marry. This means there will be no official record of the marriage. One possible explanation was that some people still married in a traditional, indigenous way. In the rejected Dawes and Eastern Cherokee applications of our ancestors, it’s not unusual to see references of ancestors marrying “the Indian way”, which usually meant not registered with the government. There were some who still adhered to indigenous cultural practices.
Native American/FPOC communities throughout NC were connected via kinship. Though most marriages happened directly within kinship circles of people geographically living within the same community, you will find marriages from people who live in two different neighboring or nearby communities. For example, my 2nd great-grandfather James E Howell who lived in the Granville community married my 2nd great-grandmother Virginia Richardson who lived a couple of counties over along the Halifax/Warren County border in the Haliwa-Saponi community. I found a trend of a few people from the Lumbee and Coharie community in Cumberland and Sampson County, move up to Orange/Alamance Counties and marry people from the Occaneechi-Saponi community. The reason for this is that all of these communities share at least some common ancestors from generations earlier and so they considered themselves all kin and socially acceptable to marry.
Girls who became orphaned, typically married young – in their teenage years. It’s important to remember that European colonists introduced an incredibly lopsided patriarchal society, that our ancestors had to quickly adapt to. Therefore if you were a girl who did not have a father to legally support and provide for you, you could find yourself in a vulnerable situation. Therefore it was in the best socio-economic interest of young girls who did not have fathers, to marry so they could benefit from their husband’s financial standing and land ownership. If you were a young woman still living at home on your father’s land, you had a bit more time before you needed to marry out.
If you have identified more marriage patterns of our ancestors and other ways to document marriages, please comment below.
It is such a rewarding feeling when you are researching what you thought were two unrelated topics which turn out to be directly related to one another. Well that is exactly what happened with research I was doing on two different people: Jesse Chavis and Willis Bass. I had previously corrected the genealogies of both men but upon a recent closer examination of the records, I realized that they were father and son!
In this blog post, I will revisit the research I did on Jesse Chavis and Willis Bass and explain how I came to this exciting conclusion.
Jesse Chavis (1766-1840)
In a previous blog post, I discussed some very important corrections I made to the genealogy of Jesse Chavis (1766-1840) of Granville County. Genealogist Paul Heinegg had incorrectly identified the Jesse Chavis of Granville County as a different Jesse Chavis, who was the son of an Elizabeth Chavis (b. 1751) of Southside Virginia. However, a closer look at the Granville County records revealed that Jesse Chavis was in fact from the family of William Chavis (1709-1778) of Granville County. (William Chavis and wife Frances Gibson are my 7th great-grandparents). Though Jesse Chavis is referred to as William Chavis’ orphan in estate records, Jesse’s approximate birth year of 1766 makes it impossible for Jesse Chavis to be a son of William Chavis’ wife Frances Gibson (1700-1781). Either William Chavis fathered Jesse Chavis with a much younger woman outside of his marriage, or Jesse Chavis is a grandson of William Chavis/Frances Gibson that William Chavis had custody of.
Since I made my blog post, Heinegg has corrected and updated the information on Jesse Chavis on his website, and now has him listed as a son of William Chavis and Frances Gibson.
Jesse Chavis did father a number of children both inside and outside of his marriages. The first child that I am aware of, is the child Jesse Chavis had with Rhody Anderson (b. 1770). They were not married, so their son was named Henry Anderson (1790-1850). Rhody Anderson went on to marry Darling Bass (1771-1845) and so Henry Anderson was raised by his stepfather Darling Bass.
Next Jesse Chavis was involved with a woman named Milly Bass (b. 1772). It is this relationship that I will discuss in more detail below. So let’s move on.
By 1800, Jesse Chavis was married. I have not found a marriage record yet to be able to identify the name of Jesse’s first wife. However with this wife, Jesse Chavis had at least two sons: Redding Chavis (b. 1800) and William Chavis (1801-1854).
On 2 March 1812, Jesse Chavis married a second time to Nancy Mitchell (b. 1775). Jesse likely became widowed which is why he remarried for a second time. I’m unsure if Jesse Chavis had any children with Nancy Mitchell, but Nancy did raise Jesse’s children born to his first wife.
Unfortunately, no estate records have been located for Jesse Chavis so I don’t have an exact year of his death. We learn from census records, that was deceased by 1840. Estate records would also name his heirs which would definitely help to identify more of his children.
But by examining the records more carefully, I was able to identify the children Jesse Chavis had with Milly Bass!
Willis Bass (b. 1792) and Racey Bass (b. 1790)
In another previous blog post, I corrected the genealogical information on Willis Bass (b. 1792) of Granville County. Genealogist Paul Heinegg incorrectly identified Willis Bass of Granville County as the son of James Bass (b. 1760) of Norfolk Co, VA whose family relocated out to Tennessee. I proved unequivocally through Granville Co apprenticeship records, that Willis Bass (b. 1792) and his brother Racey Bass (b. 1790) never lived in Virginia and instead was born out of wedlock to a woman named Milly Bass. Heinegg has since corrected and updated the information about Willis Bass on his website.
Willis Bass and his brother Racey Bass were both bound out as apprentices in the Granville Co courts. Court minutes provided to me by history professor Dr. Warren Milteer, shows that their mother was named Milly Bass. The court minutes also showed that Milly Bass had later married a man named Pearson Hawley, making him their stepfather. Many of Willis Bass’ descendants later relocated out of the state and filed unsuccessful Eastern Cherokee applications.
But this is where I was stuck. I knew Willis Bass and Racey Bass were siblings and children of a woman named Milly Bass, but who was Milly Bass? Not only was I able to identify Milly Bass, but I was able to identify their previously unknown father: Jesse Chavis.
Milly Bass (b. 1772)
It is important to go back and verify records because you may find mistakes and you may also find connections you did not notice before. This is exactly what happened with Milly Bass. One of the initial clues that helped solve the puzzle was looking at the bastard bond filed against Jesse Chavis in August 1794. I noticed that genealogist Paul Heinegg had incorrectly transcribed the information on the bastard bond. Heinegg had recorded the woman’s name as “Nelly Bass”, not “Milly Bass”. So up until that point, I had thought Jesse Chavis fathered a child with a woman named Nelly Bass.
A genealogist named Betty Camin who sadly passed away in 2007, transcribed the Granville Countyn”bastard bonds”. Here is a link to Betty Camin’s website which contains a lot of important material that she worked on during her career. On her website is a link to an index she created for the Granville Co Bastard Bonds that she transcribed. This is the link here. If you are a Granville County researcher, please make sure to bookmark/save that link because it provides invaluable information. So within Betty Camin’s list, it shows that a woman named “Milly Bass” filed a bastard bond in August 1794 and Benjamin Bass and Absalom Bass provided the sureties for the bond. This is the record that Heinegg was referring to in his research, but the woman’s name was Milly, not Nelly! According to the bastard bond, Milly Bass identified Jesse Chavis as the father of her child born out of wedlock.
With the help of a descendant of Milly Bass, we were able to track down a copy of the original bastardy bond that Milly Bass filed on 4 August 1794. In the document, Milly Bass charged Jesse Chavis with having a bastard child with her.
The timing of this bastard bond in 1794 fits perfectly into the timing of the Milly Bass we are looking for, who had children born in 1790 and 1792. And the fact that Paul Heinegg had already connected this bastard bond in August 1794 to Jesse Chavis through the court minutes was also consistent with this being our same Milly Bass.
I then went back and looked at Heinegg’s write-up on the Bass family and found that he had identified a woman named Milly Bass who had a child with Jesse Chavis, in which Absalom Bass and Benjamin Bass were her sureties in November 1794. There it was, staring at me all along! Willis Bass and Racey Bass were the children of Milly Bass and Jesse Chavis. Their mother had filed bastard bonds to receive support and the children were then bound out as apprentices. It all matched up so perfectly!
Milly Bass (b. 1772) was the apparent daughter of Benjamin Bass (1722-1802) of Granville County. I say apparent because there is no direct evidence that names her as a daughter of Benjamin Bass but there are records that strongly infer a relationship. As stated above, Absalom Bass (b. 1760) and Benjamin Bass (b. 1756) were Milly Bass’ sureties when she filed a bastard bond. Usually it was very close family members who provided the sureties for unwed mothers. Most often it was a brother of father. Absalom Bass and Benjamin Bass Jr are documented sons of Benjamin Bass (1722-1802). It’s possible the Benjamin Bass who provided the bond was actually the father and not the son since they share the same name, but for the time being I’m working under the assumption it was the son. Either way, the bastardy bond records show that Milly Bass was from Absalom Bass and Benjamin Bass’ family. In other words, Milly Bass’ brothers provided the surety for her bastardy bond.
Milly Bass’ approximate birth year of 1772 is based upon life events and she may in fact be a few years older. Benjamin Bass (1722-1802) is from the Bass family that I blogged about here. Unfortunately estate records have not been located for him, so not all of his children have been all identified. This is why other primary source records such as court minutes and bastardy bonds are vital to identifying his offspring.
Paul Heinegg believes that Milly Bass is the same woman called “Mildred Bass” who filed a bastard bond in December 1798 which named Clement Bunch as the father. Milly is a nickname for Mildred, so it’s possible it’s the same woman. It’s conceivable that after having two children with Jesse Chavis, Milly Bass had a child a few years later with Clement Bunch. We know that she then later married Pearson Hawley, so any of these relationships cannot be ruled out so easily. Not much is known about Clement Bunch. He was born around 1770 and can be found in a few Orange Co and Granville Co records. Heinegg suspects he may be a son of Micajah Bunch but there are no documents to link the two men.
I have not found a marriage record for Milly Bass and Pearson Hawley but they were married by May 1798, when the court minutes identified her as a wife of Pearson Hawley. So it doesn’t seem likely to me that she was the same woman named “Mildred Bass” who a few months later in December 1798 filed a bastard bond against Clement Bunch. But I cannot rule it out as well, so we need more information.
In the 1800 census for Granville County, Pearson Hawley can be found as a head of a household of 5 people. The census doesn’t give us the age and gender of the members of his household. But one could infer that the household included children, so it’s quite reasonable that Milly Bass had children with Pearson Hawley. Not much more is known about Pearson Hawley because that is the last time he appears in the census.
A Family Reunited
Even though we still have some lingering questions, I feel confident that we have correctly identified two additional children for Jesse Chavis and that we have successfully identified who Milly Bass was. For the many living descendants of Willis Bass (b. 1792), this update should be a welcome addition, so they know exactly where they fit in the large Bass family tree. Descendants of Jesse Chavis (through his son Henry Anderson) and descendants of Willis Bass have taken DNA tests and they do show as close cousin matches, confirming that paper trail that we have discussed above is correct.