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!
The Grandfather Clause was an important component of the 1900 constitutional amendment restricting North Carolina’s class of eligible voters. The disfranchisement amendment provided that voters must be able to read and write a section of the state constitution in the English language and to pay a poll tax. Far from attempting to encourage literacy, however, the primary goal of the amendment, as admitted in the Democratic Party’s pro-amendment campaign in 1900, was to eliminate African American voters as a factor in North Carolina politics. The large number of poor illiterate black males, as well as the bias of white Democratic registrars, ensured that the literacy test and the poll tax would be used to reduce the electorate.
The drafters of the amendment were aware of the politically unacceptable fact that illiterate whites could also be excluded by the literacy test. The answer to this problem was the grandfather clause, which stated that no one should be denied the right to register and vote because of the literacy requirement if he or a lineal ancestor could vote under the law of his state of residence on 1 Jan. 1867, provided that he registered before 1 Dec. 1908. The 1867 date was important because it preceded any federal prohibition of racial discrimination; therefore very few blacks were eligible to vote. In practical terms, it meant that illiterate whites were absolved of the embarrassment of a literacy requirement and blacks were not, thus enhancing the discretionary power of Democratic registrars.
“Free people of color” in North Carolina had the right to vote and hold office until 1835, when North Carolina adopted a new constitution that disenfranchised ALL free people of color. With the new state constitution enacted in 1900, North Carolina adopted a policy of “poll taxes” which essentially made it impossible for people of color to vote. As you read in the above summary, these poll taxes also made it difficult for “poor whites” to vote because many were illiterate and could not afford to pay the poll tax.
As a result, North Carolina adopted a “grandfather clause” starting in 1900 which allowed for men to list themselves or a direct lineal male ancestor who could vote on January 1, 1867 (or earlier). By identifying themselves or an earlier direct ancestor as an eligible voter in 1867, these individuals were exempt from the poll tax.
Free people of color and those descended from free people of color took advantage of this grandfather clause in order to circumvent these literacy tests that were required to become an eligible voter. African Americans descended from slaves however were unable to take advantage of this grandfather clause because their ancestors for the most part were not eligible voters on January 1, 1867 (or earlier). However, free people of color had ancestors who were eligible voters in earlier times, so this grandfather clause provided a way to become registered to vote.
In 1902, 1904, 1906, and 1908, residents of Granville County who were eligible for the “grandfather clause” registered to vote. These lists are available to researchers for every county in the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh. A fellow researcher and friend, Dr. Warren Milteer, provided me with un-transcribed copies of the Granville County list. A huge thanks to Dr. Milteer for sharing this incredibly valuable information. Not only do these lists provide the names of all who applied for the “grandfather clause”, they are also helpful genealogical documents since individuals named earlier direct ancestors. The voter lists are a great way to verify suspected earlier ancestors of the person you’re researching. And if you hit a genealogical road block, these lists may help you push through to identify an earlier ancestor.
WORD OF CAUTION: Just like all historical documents, you may find both intentional and unintentional errors in these documents. So they should be seen as just one of many clues to help you identify earlier ancestors. I have noticed a couple of errors in the lists for Granville County. For example, Hawkins Kersey (also known as Hawkins Tyler) listed his adopted father Baldy Kersey as a direct ancestor. Baldy Kersey was most definitely known as Hawkins’ “father”, but was not his biological father. Another example is found with Sandy Guy. On every census, marriage, and death record, Sandy is consistently identified as “Sandy Guy”. However on his voter registration, he listed himself as “Sandy Chavis”. I have no idea why he used a different surname for his voting application but I can assure you that Sandy Chavis = Sandy Guy.
Below is a table chart which lists all free people of color (and those descended from people of color) in Granville County who registered to vote using the “grandfather clause”. I only transcribed the records for free people of color, so this list does not reflect all people who applied using the “grandfather clause”. The first column is the name of the applicant, the second column is their listed age, the third column is the ancestor they claimed descent from, and the fourth column is the township they resided in. I added an additional column where I provided my own research notes to help you identify exactly who these individuals are. As you will see there are a couple of individuals who I’m still working on researching. I will update this list if I come across additional information. Also please note that this list is only for Granville County. Many people within the Granville County Native American community lived in Kittrell and Henderson townships and those townships became apart of Vance County in 1881. Therefore residents of those townships will be found in the Vance County list. What you will notice is a heavy concentration of individuals living in Fishing Creek township which is where most of the community resided.
After the list, you will see a few photos I added of the people who applied to register to vote under the “grandfather clause”. On a personal note, I was very delighted to see my great-great grandfather James E Howell registered to vote. I hope this information is valuable to your research.
The Boon(e) family in Granville County descends from a woman named Rebecca Boon (born 1805) who moved to Granville in the 1840s. Her Boone family originally came from the Tuscarora “Indian Woods” reservation in Bertie County. In addition to Granville County, there are Boon(e) descendants in the Haliwa-Saponi tribe and the Meherrin Tribe. This blog entry will take a closer look at the historical records that connect the Boon(e) family to the Indian Woods reservation.
Rebecca Boon (born 1805)
Before discussing the Boon family’s tribal origins, I will first provide more background information on Rebecca Boon. She is the most recent common ancestor of every Boon that I have identified from Granville County.
Rebecca first appears in the census in 1840 in Northampton County, NC. She is the head of a household that includes 1 Free Colored Female 24-35; 1 Free Colored Male 10-23; 1 Free Colored Male Under 10; 2 Free Colored Females 10-23; 2 Free Colored Females Under 10. From this census data, we can surmise that Rebecca Boon is the head of a household that includes 6 children (2 boys, 4 girls) that are most likely her children.
The next record for Rebecca Boon is in 1847, when she married Iverson Mitchell from the Native American/”free colored” Mitchell family in Granville County. By marrying Iverson Mitchell, Rebecca relocated her family to the center of the Native American community in Granville. In the 1850 census for Granville County, she is listed as “Rebecca Mitchell” and is living with her husband Iverson Mitchell, and her youngest children Jane Boon and Margaret Boon.
Rebecca last appears in the 1860 census in Granville County, when she is listed in the household of her son-in-law Lewis Anderson who is married to her daughter Ruth Boon.
Below is a list of Rebecca Boon’s children:
1. James Boon (born 1825) – married first Martha Curtis and second Mary Drew
2. Martha Boon (born 1827) – married Cuffy Mayo (this is not the same Cuffy Mayo who was married to Glathy Ann Pettiford-Hawkins and Julia Pettiford- Hawley)
3. Betsy Boon (born 1828) – married John Mills
4. Willis Boon (born 1829) – married Isabella Mayo
4. Ruth Boon (born 1832) – married Lewis Anderson
5. Jane Boon (born 1837)
6. Margaret Boon (born 1842)
and possibly 7. Emeline Boon (birth date unknown) – married Samuel Hawley
The earliest verified records for the Boon(e) family are found in Bertie County in the mid/late 1700s. Unfortunately there are no land records or estate records associated with the Boones during this time period. There are however a number of court cases that involve several Boon(e) children being bound out. In these records, the Boones were labeled as “mulatto” and were free people, not enslaved. Some of the genealogical information on the Boon(e) family comes from Paul Heinegg’s research.
Patt Boone (born abt 1742) and her offspring
The Bertie County court bound out several of Patt Boon’s (born abt 1742) children to James Brown in 1774. These children were: Lewis, Katie, Judah, and Arthur. Patt Boon’s age is unknown and can only be estimated based upon the birth dates of her children. So with that in mind, researcher Paul Heinegg estimated her birth date to be 1742. In 1772, Rachel Boon was a “mollatter” listed as a tithable in the household of a white man named James Purvis. In 1769, it appears Rachel was also in James Purvis’ home because he was charged with a tax for having a free non-white woman in his home. Heinegg believes this Rachel is a daughter of Patt Boon. Two of Rachel Boon’s sons – Willis Boon and Hill Boon, were bound out in 1791 to Richard Veal. A girl named Sarah Boon who Heinegg suspects is a daughter of Rachel Boon’s, was bound out to Thomas Pugh Jr in 1789. Another suspected daughter of Patt Boon’s named Rebeeca Boon (born about 1767) had a son named Cary Boon bound out also to Richard Veal in 1792.
Boon(e) Family and Indian Woods
When we take a closer look at these men from Bertie County who are associated with various members of the Boon family, we start to see the Tuscarora Indian Woods connections.
James Purvis, the man who Rachel Boon was living with in 1769 and 1772, is recorded in 1766 selling land on the north side of Roquist Swamp (Creek).
1765: Deed Book K, 659 (475), 18 May 1765. James Purvis of Bertie Co. to Charles King of same, £33.6.8 proclamation money, 1/3 part of land which MARTIN GARDNER gave to his 3 daughters, on north side of Rockquis Swamp, joining William Sparkman, John Rhoads. Witnesses: William Gouge, James Purvis. June Court 1765. CC: John Johnston.[Deeds of Bertie County, North Carolina, 1757-1785, Part 1, by Dr. Stephen E. Bradley, Jr., page 61]
James Purvis’ wife was Jane (Gardner) Purvis, daughter of the above mentioned Martin Gardner. Jane inherited this land from her father’s 1760 will in Bertie County and so that is why her husband James later sold it.
Recall from my blog post about the boundaries of the Tuscarora “Indian Woods” reservation, that Roquist Swamp (Creek) forms a long natural border of the reservation. The reservation abuts the southside of the creek, and James Purvis’ land that his wife inherited from her father Martin Gardner, abuts the north side of the creek.
Also of important relevance is that Martin Gardner was a close friend of Needham Bryan (1690-1770), who served as executor of Martin Gardner’s 1760 will that granted land to Jane (Gardner) Purvis. Needham Bryan owned Snowfield Plantation located within the Indian Woods reservation and he held a number of important public offices. The location of Needham Bryan’s land within Indian Woods is confirmed in this colonial record from 1773 (Moratuck is the Roanoke River):
Upon a Complaint of the Chief of the Tuscarora Indians that one William King had entered upon and committed waste upon the Lands lying on the North side of Moratuck which lands were granted to Col. Needham Bryan by the Lords proprietors upon the failure of that nation of Indians and afterwards confirmed to him by the Legislature of this Province, it was the opinion of this Board that His Excellency should write a letter to Mr Wm King to remove off the Land or shew cause why he had possession of it.
Then we have Richard Veal – the man who Rachel Boon’s sons Willis and Hill and Rebecca Boon’s son Cary were bound to. Richard Veal purchased land in 1805 next to Roquist Swamp (Creek):
Witnesseth that the said DEMPSEY VEALE hath bargained
sold and put into possession of the said RICHARD VEAL a
certain tract or message of land lying and being in the
State and County aforesaid lying in ROCQUIST POCOSIN, it
being a prt of the land that belonged to MORRIS VEAL
So two men – James Purvis and Richard Veal, both living on land adjoining the Indian Woods reservation, have several members of the Boon family residing in their homes.
There is also James Brown, the man who four of Patt Boone’s children – Lewis, Katie, Judah and Arthur were bound out to in 1774. According to land transactions found here and here, James Brown lived near the fork of the Cashie River, close to the Harrell family that frequently appears in the Bertie County records. This land is not immediately adjacent to the reservation but is still extremely close to the reservation as indicated in the map above.
Thomas Pugh Sr (1728-1806) and Thomas Pugh Jr (1748-1799)
When we closely examine Thomas Pugh Jr, the man who Rachel Boon’s probable daughter Sarah Boon was bound to, we see an even stronger connection between the Boon family and Indian Woods.
In 1778, the General Assembly of North Carolina appointed Thomas Pugh Sr. (1728-1806), William Williams, Willie Jones, Simon Turner and Zedekiah Stone as commissioners for the Indian Woods reservation. Roberta Estes provides additional information about the 1778 act:
It appointed William Williams, Thomas Pugh, Willie Jones and Simon Turner and Zedekiah Stone commissioners for the Indians and empowered the said commissioners to hold courts, etc. for the redress of the grievances of the Indians. It further enacted that the land leased by the Tuscarora Indians to Jones, Williams and Pugh and to other persons prior to ’77 “shall revert to and become the property of the State at the expiration of the terms of the several leases mentioned, if the said Nation to then extinct. And the lands now belonging to and possessed by the said Tuscaroras shall revert to and become the property of the State whenever the said Nation shall become extinct, or shall entirely abandoned or remove themselves off the said lands and every part thereof.
In 1766, Thomas Pugh, Robert Jones, and William Williams had leased 8,000 acres of reservation land from the Tuscarora. The money from this lease was used to relocate some of the Tuscarora to upstate New York to rejoin the Haudenosaunee Confederacy:
Between James Allen, John Wiggins, Billy George, Snipnose George, Bille Cain, Charles Cornelius, Thomas Blount, John Rogers, George Blount, Wineoak Charles, Bille Basket, Bille Owens, Lewis Tuffdick, Isaac Miller, Harry Samuel, Bridgers Thomas, Senicar Thomas Howett, Bille Sockey, Bille Corelius, John Senicar, Thomas Baskett, John Cain, Billy Denis, William Taylor, Owins John Walker, Bille Mitchell, Bille Netop, Billy Blount, Tom Jack, John Litewood, Billy Robert, James Mitchell, Capt. Joe and William Pugh, Chieftains and Principal persons of that part of the Nation of Indians commonly called Tuskarora Indians dwelling in the county of Bertie in the Province of NC on the one part and Robert Jones, Jr., his majesty’s attorney general of the province aforesaid and William Williams and Thomas Pugh of the said province, gentlemen of the second part. Witnesseth that the said Tusckarora Indians as well for and in consideration of the sum of 1500 pounds proclamation money to them in hand paid or secured to be paid for their own use and for the use of the rest of that part of the said Nation of Tuscarora dwelling in the county and Province aforesaid. As for the yearly rents and covenants herein after mentioned have demised granted and to form let and by these presents in behalf of themselves and their said nation to demise ??? and to form let unto the said Robert Jones Jr., William Williams and Thomas Pugh, all that dividend or tract of land lying and being on the North side of Roanoke River in Bertie County and bounded as follows, to wit. Beginning at the mouth of Deep Creek otherwise known as Falling River then running up the sand creek to the ?? or head line thence by the said line south 50 ?? degrees East 1280 poled thence with the course of said Creek to Roanoke River and the River to the beginning….together with appurtenances….unto the said Robert Jones, William Williams and Thomas Pugh….8000 acres of land to be enjoyed severally, each holding one third equal part…for the term of 150 years….to be paid yearly every year one peppercorn if demanded on the feast of St. Michael. This deed was registered in the September Court of 1767.
Again in 1775, Thomas Pugh, William Williams, and Willie Jones leased 2,000 acres of reservation land from the Tuscarora:
298-(316) Whitmell Tufdick, Wineoak Charles Jr., Billie Roberts, Lewis Tufdick, West Tufdick, Billie Blunt Sr., Billie Blunt Jr., John Rodgers, John Smith, Billie Pugh, Billie Baskit, John Hicks, Samuel Bridgers, John Owens, James Mitchell, Isaac Cornelius, Tom Tomas, & Walter Gibson, chieftans of the Tuskarora Indians to Thomas Pugh, Willie Jones & William Williams. 2 Dec 1775. For the yearly rent of 80 Duffield Blankets, 80 Oznatrig Shirts, 80 prs of boots, 50 pounds of powder & 150 pounds of shot. 2000 acres which was part of the land called the Indian Lands, joining Town Swamp, the old path that leads to Unarowick Swamp, James Wiggins, Unrinta Road, Quitana Swamp, Rocquist, Jones, Williams, Pugh, excepting 300 acres Watking now tends. Signed by: Bille(x)Cain, John Hicks, John Rogers, John(X)Owen, James(X)Hicks, Bille(x)Smith, Bille(x)Mitchell, Billie(x)Pugh, Wineoak(x)Chalres, James(X) Mitchell, Bille(X)Blunt, Jr., Saml(X)Bridgers, Tom Roberts.
And again in 1777, Thomas Pugh leased 100 acres of reservation land from the Tuscarora:
297-(315) Whitmell Tufdick, William Roberts, William Blount, Lewis Tufdick, John Randal, William Pugh, James Mitchel, Winoak Charles, William Basket, John Owens, Thomas Roberts, Walter Gibson, Billy Cane chieftans of the Tuscarora Indians in Bertie County to Thomas Pugh Sr. of same. 28 May 1777. The lease for 99 years @ 8 pounds per year of 100 acres, joining Black Gut Neck on Town Swamp, Roanoke River. Signed by: Billy (x) Blunt, Wineoak (x) Charles, Ben (x) Smith, Walter (X) Gibson, Thomas (X) Roberts, John (X) Ra nndel, Whitmell (x) Tuffdick, Billey (X) Cane, Lewis (x) Tufdick, Billey (x) Baskit, William (x) Pugh, Williams (x) Roberts, James (x) Mitchell. WITNESSES: Zedekiah Stone Jr., Thomas Whitmell Jr., May Ct 1777. John Johntston CJC
Thomas PughSr’s son Thomas Pugh Jr, who Sarah Boon was bound out to, was a witness to a reservation land lease between the Tuscarora and Zedekiah Stone (one of the Indian Woods reservation commissioners) in 1777:
296-(314) Articles of agreement between WHITMELL TUFDICK, WILLIAM ROBERTS, WILLIAM CAIN, WILLIAM BLOUNT, TOM SMITH, JOHN SMITH, & LEWIS TUFDICK of Bertie Co., chieftans of the Tuscarora Indians on Roanoke River to ZEDEKIAH STONE of same. 10 Feb 1777. Sd chieftains were desirous that sd STONE should clear land, joining Coniack Neck, TITUS EDWARDS, Cesars Island, the river. Sd STONE agrees not to disturb JOSEPH LLOYD & THOMAS SMITH & SARAH HICKS. Sd STONE will be permittd to occupy the sd land for the space of 99 years. SIGNED BY: William Basket, Molley Smith, Benja. Smith, Sarah Hicks, Sarah Baskett, Watt & Gibson, Whitmell Tuffdick, Thomas (x) Smith, John Rodgers, Samuel Bridgers, William Roberts, Wineoak Charles, ZEdekiah Stone, John Owens, Thomas Baskett, William (x) Caine, Edward (x) Blount, John (x) Smith, James (x) Mitchell, John (x) Randle, William (x) Blount, Lewis (x) Tufdick, William (x) Pugh, West Whitmell (x) Tuffdick. WITNESSES: Thomas Pugh, Jr., Titus Edwards, Thos. Pugh, Sr.. May Court 1777. John Johnston Clerk of Court
You will also notice that one of the Tuscarora chieftans on the land deeds named “William Pugh” likely adopted his Pugh surname from Thomas Pugh Sr. Clearly the Pugh family was closely involved with the Tuscarora at Indian Woods in a formal and personal capacity. Sarah Boon being a Tuscarora girl bound out to the Pugh family who are commissioners and leasers of the Indian Woods reservation makes sense.
I believe a reasonable explanation for all the above historical records is that the Boon family were Tuscarora from the Indian Woods reservation. That is why there are no early land purchases or estate records associated with them because they were living on communally owned reservation land. Due to increasing impoverished and deteriorating conditions and with many of the Tuscarora families moving up North or away from the reservation, the Boon family were forced to place their children as indentured servants in the homes of neighboring white families. This is why the Boones seem to suddenly emerge out of nowhere in the court records in the 1760s/1770s. This was the exact same time that large numbers of Tuscarora were moving North and leasing their reservation land to the same men who many members of the Boon family were bound out to.
Descendants of Patt Boon
Lewis Boone (born 1757-1844):
Patt Boon’s son Lewis Boone (1757-1844) was bound out in 1774 in Bertie County. He then appears in the 1800 census for Northampton County, NC and in the 1810, 1820, and 1830 censuses for Halifax County (his household was enumerated in every census as “free colored”). Lewis filed a Revolutionary War pension application (excerpts found here) in 1843 in Halifax County which confirmed that he was born in Bertie County and lived a short while in Northampton County before relocating to Halifax County. The pension application includes some very important details about Lewis Boone’s service which further verifies the Boone family’s origins with the Tuscarora at Indian Woods.
Lewis Boone enlisted via the draft in 1778 in Bertie County with Uriah Dunning and served under Captain James Blount of the 10th Regiment. Lewis Boone also indicated that Captain William Williams marched him from Bertie County to Halifax which is where he enlisted under Captain Blount. This Captain William Williams is the same William Williams who was appointed as a commissioner of the Indian Woods reservation in 1778 and whose name appears on several Indian Woods land leases with previously mentioned Thomas Pugh. Captain James Blount who commanded Lewis Boone’s regiment, was from the Blount family who was the namesake for Tuscarora chief – “King Blount”. It was not uncommon for Native Americans to adopt the names of “friendly” colonists. The pension application did not list the names of Lewis Boone’s wife or children. However through the rejected Cherokee Dawes and Eastern Cherokee/Guion Miller applications that were filed by Lewis Boone’s descendants, we know who some of his children were. Many non-Cherokee Native American families from North Carolina were often mislabeled and sometimes self-identified as Cherokee, which resulted in these families applying for Cherokee status. This will be a subject of a future blog post. Cherokee anthropologist Robert K. Thomas, who did fieldwork in the mid 1970s to investigate the claims of many of the self-identified “Cherokee” communities of the Southeast, had this to say about the Tuscarora heritage of the Haliwa-Saponi (the tribal community of Lewis Boone’s descendants):
They do not accept the term Haliwa and refer to themselves as Cherokee although the term Haliwa is gaining more acceptance as time goes on. This tribe appears from the research I have done, to be the remnants of the North Carolina Tuscaroras. When the Tuscaroras fled north in the early 1700s they left a large body, of so-called neutral Tuscarora, on a reservation just to the east of the modern Haliwa country near Windsor, North Carolina. There were several hundred Indians left on that reservation after the “hostile” Tuscaroras fled north and became part of the Iroquois League in New York. Slowly throughout the 1700’s, parties of Indians left that reservation and joined their brethren in New York. In the first decade of the 1800’s the few remaining Tuscarora sold their lands at Windsor, North Carolina. It appears they simply moved west a few miles to the present Haliwa area. There were a few other Indians, possibly Tuscarora, already living in that area. In any case, it appears that the Haliwa are remnants of the neutral Tuscarora.
The Haliwa-Saponi tribe officially states to be descended mostly from the Saponi, Tuscarora, and Nansemond tribes. Like Thomas, historian and Haliwa-Saponi tribal member Marvin Richardson also noted the very short distance between the Indian Woods reservation and the Haliwa community:
The Tuscarora Reservation, known as Reskooteh Town and Indian Wood, was located in Bertie County, North Carolina, approximately thirty miles east of the modern Haliwa-Saponi community. The reservation consisted initially of 40,000 acres, bordered eastern Halifax County, and included a village known as the Sapona Town. By 1734 some Nansemond were also living with the Nottoway Indians in Virginia, and other Nansemond had resettled near the Tuscarora in North Carolina.
1. Dorcas Boone born about 1794 was married to Hardy Richardson, son of Benjamin Richardson and Mary Bass (of the Nansemond Bass family). Dorcas Boone and her husband Benjamin Richardson are the progenitors of many of the Richardsons in the Haliwa-Saponi tribe. Dorcas’ Native identity is asserted in the Richardson family’s rejected 1896 Cherokee Dawes applications and rejected 1906 Eastern Cherokee/Guion Miller application, where she is referred to as being an Indian doctor and midwife. Some of Dorcas’ descendants list her maiden name as “Pope” despite Lewis Boone being Dorcas’ father. It is likely that Lewis Boone’s wife/Dorcas’ mother was a Pope.
2. Caroline Boone born about 1810 was unwed and had one son named William Boone. In William Boone’s Dawes application, which can be found fully transcribed on researcher Deloris Williams’ website here, he verified that his mother Caroline was Dorcas’ sister. From William Boone’s 1896 rejected Dawes application, it states:
Your petitioner WM. BOONE the undersigned respectfully states that he is a Cherokee Indian by blood and asks to be enrolled as a member of the Cherokee Nation of Indians in the Indian Territory.
That he derives his Indian blood from his grandfather LEWIS BOONE who was the father of CAROLINE BOONE, who was the mother of petitioner. CAROLINE BOONE and DARCUS RICHARDSON were sisters and both were Cherokee Indians by blood.
3. William Boone was born about 1790 and was most likely a son of Lewis Boon though I’d like additional confirmation of their relationship. William’s descendants ofter intermarried with the descendants of Hardy Richardson and Dorcas Boone. Wife Fanny’s maiden name is unknown.
Arthur Boon (1773-?)
Patt Boon’s son Arthur Boon was born around 1773 and like his brother Lewis Boone, he was also bound out in 1774 in Bertie County. In the 1790 census, Arthur Boon was recorded in Hertford County, head of a household of 6 “Free colored persons”. I cannot locate him in the census again until the 1840 census where he was recorded living alone in Northampton County, head of his own household of 1 free colored male. However directly under Arthur Boon’s name in the 1840 census, is his probable daughter Rebecca Boon (born 1805). This is the Rebecca Boon who is the progenitor of the Granville County Boon family. Arthur most likely had other children but but I do not have them identified at this time.
Given the frequency of racial mislabeling of Granville County’s Native Americans, how exactly can we be sure we’re correctly identifying “Indian” people? This is a fair and common question. Identifying Native Americans in the colonial and historical records throughout the Southeast is very challenging because Native Americans were seldomly identified individually by name and all free non-whites fell under the politically created term “free colored”. In addition, any real or perceived African racial “admixture” usually meant Native Americans with any African ancestry, were often not enumerated in official government documents as “Indian”. In spite of these challenges, there are still ways to correctly identify Native American communities.
This is why the writing of local Granville County historian Oscar W. Blacknall (1852-1918) is crucial in understanding the identify and social life of Granville County’s Native American community. As a white man, he provides an outsider perspective of the community but because of his family’s deep colonial roots in the area, he was intimately familiar with the community’s families. And one very important and consistent description in Blacknall’s writing about the “free colored” community is that although he includes the term “free negro” to describe the people, he is absolutely certain of their “Indian” racial identity.
Background Information on Oscar W. Blacknall aka David Dodge
Before we explore his writings, here is some background info on Oscar W. Blacknall (1852-1918). He was the son of fallen Confederate soldier Col. Charles C. Blacknall and Virginia Baskerville Spencer. His paternal great-grandmother was Mary “Polly” Kittrell, whose Kittrell family is the namesake for the town of Kittrell where her family has pre Revolutionary War roots. Blacknall wrote in many newspapers and magazines, sometimes under the pseudonym “David Dodge”. His life ended in a murder-suicide tragedy in 1918 when he killed his wife, his daughter, and then killed himself. This was after the devastating deaths of several of his children.
“The Free Negroes of North Carolina” from January 1886, The Atlantic Monthly
The first Blacknall writing that we will discuss is titled, “The Free Negroes of North Carolina” in the January 1886 edition of The Atlantic Monthly. Blacknall wrote this article under his pseudonym “David Dodge”. It is a long article and I will not be reposting the entire text, but you can access the full text here. Instead I will repost important excerpts, starting with this one:
The other factor in their decadence — or perhaps more correctly, another cause of their torpor and inelasticity —is the considerable infusion of Indian blood generally diffused by exclusive intermarriage in their own class, and which has unduly asserted itself owing to their irregular mode of life for many generations. From the nature of the case, the extent of this infusion is of course hard to approximate. If the account of the free negro himself is to be received, it is large, though his anxiety to disown all negro affinity causes one to receive his statement with caution and allowance. But, tradition aside, many, if not the larger part, of the free negroes whose freedom dates back further than this century show traits of mind and body that are unmistakably Indian. In many instances, long, coarse, straight black hair and high cheek-bones are joined with complexions whose duskiness disclaims white blood and with features clearly un-African. True, these extreme types are the exception; but the majority shade up to it more or less closely. These traits are more noticeable among women, forming no exception to the usual accentuation of racial characteristics in the female. The mental qualities of unrecuperativeness and transcendent indolence of a drowsy, listless type, coupled with lurking vindictiveness, all point the same way.
This excerpt shows that Blacknall is unequivocal in his statement that the “free negroes” of the area he lived in are Native Americans. He even describes how the people strongly self-identify as “Indian”, perhaps at times over-stating their Indian identity. Blacknall believes the people to be not only Indian in their appearance but also in their personality and lifestyle. He uses the common racial tropes of “high cheekbones” and “straight hair” to describe the women as “Indian”. And Blacknall also points out what he perceives to be the community’s anti-modern, backwards, suspicious, and lazy demeanor as characteristically “Indian”. Something that he eludes to but discusses in more detail in the subsequent excerpt, is the extremely endogamous marriage patterns of the community – i.e., people almost exclusively marry their own kin.
My neighborhood contains an “Ol’ Isshy” town, a petrified remnant of the past, hardly an exaggeration of the general type, in which the above race marks are to be seen in their full development. It stands about five miles from the railroad station, and consists of some half a dozen families, scantily provided with fathers, crowded into as many little huts scattered here and there on a “slipe” of very poor, rocky ridge. Here they have vegetated for several generations since their ancestors immigrated from Virginia, early in the century. They are intensely clannish and loyal to each other, timid and suspicious of the outside world, of which they are incredibly ignorant. Many of the women have grown old without ever seeing the cars or having been in a town, although almost within sight of both.They still cherish boundless respect for the class that are to them, and to them alone, “rich folks,” coupled with an abiding dislike of the “New Isshy,” especially if he is black. A marriage, even a liaison, with one would be instantly fatal to the reputation of any female among them, though, excepting the African, the children of many, in point of variety of color at least, might serve to illustrate the five races of mankind.After their own immediate class, they associate almost wholly with the poorest whites, though not quite as equals.
We see Blacknall describe in more detail why members of the Native American community exclusively married their own kin because it was socially unacceptable for them to marry blacks or whites. He does concede that the community would sometimes intermarry with “poor whites” because both groups occupied similar social standing. Even though most members of the Native American community had varying amounts of both African and European ancestry, Blacknall shows that they still self-identified as “Indian” and were identified as “Indian” by their black and white neighbors.
The term “Old Isshy” referred to the “free-born” status of the Native American community, whereas “New Isshy” referred to the “freed slave” status of the black community. This distinction was apparently important for both communities to make which resulted in the use of this terminology. Blacknall also describes a particular cluster of families from the Native American community living a few miles from his home that I have pointed out on the map:
As you can see, 5 miles from the Kittrell train station is the precise location of the Native American community that is mostly centered around Fishing Creek and then expands in various directions including Kittrell, Oxford, and Brassfield. Native Americans families lived in tight clusters throughout the county, but the Fishing Creek area is the oldest area with the highest concentration of Native American families. The Native American families who most commonly lived in tight clusters in the Fishing Creek/Kittrell area that Blacknall described include: Chavis, Harris, Pettiford, Anderson, Bass, Mitchell, Parker, Howell, Boon, Scott, Brandon, Evans, Guy, Richardson, Taborn, Tyler, Hedgepeth, Jones and Hawley.
The “poor whites” that the Native American community intermarried with, were most often white women. Blacknall further explains here:
Indeed, of all the hundreds of free negroes that I have known from childhood, I cannot now recall a dozen black or very dark ones. Hardly a neighborhood was free from low white women who married or cohabited with free negroes. Well can I recollect the many times when, with the inconsiderate curiosity of a child, I hurriedly climbed the front gate-post to get a good look at a shriveled old white woman trudging down the lane, who, when young, I was told, had had her free-negro lover bled, and drank some of his blood, so that she might swear she had negro blood in her, and thus marry him without penalty. Since I became a man I have heard it corroborated by those who knew, and I still occasionally see the children of this tragic marriage, now grown old men.
From looking at census records and marriage records for members of the community, I as well noticed a pattern of poor white women who lived among and had children with men from the community. For example:
What I find also very informative about this article is that Blacknall discusses the changing attitudes that whites had towards the Native American community. Before and right after the Revolutionary War, whites looked at the community favorably. But due to increasing fears of slave revolts, whites began to distrust all “free people of color”:
The attitude of the races towards each other was widely different from what it afterwards became. But about 1830, a growing mistrust on the part of the whites manifested itself. Abolitionism, hitherto the hobby of visionaries and isolated philanthropists, had now grown to be the watchword of a militant, uncompromising party. Its subtle leaven permeated the whole country, encouraging the slave, exasperating the master.
Blacknall later references the 1831 Nat Turner slave rebellion in Virginia, which prompted the North Carolina legislature to completely disenfranchise the rights of “free people of color” in 1835. This included taking away the right to vote and the right to own firearms. As a result, attitudes towards the Native American community greatly shifted during the decades leading up the Civil War and the community suffered for it. Blacknall echoes this sentiment:
There is still a tradition among them in Granville County that they lost the franchise on account of their persistent support of the notorious Potter. Potter, though a man of parts and a natural orator, was a consummate demagogue and a violent, unscrupulous man, whose new departure in iniquity evoked special legislation. Toward the last, the free negroes falling more and more into disrepute, their support carried such a stigma with it as to be an element of weakness rather than of strength to a candidate. More than one candidate of those days, twitted by his opponent on the stump about this element of his constituency, retorted by declaring his willingness to throw out every free-negro ballot, if his assailant would do likewise. After this period, the life of the free negro grew unspeakably harder. Not so much that the laws were harsher, but because the attitude of the whites became and continued more hostile.
And Blacknall continues:
It is not to be wondered that the free negroes, unelastic and prone to unthrift, underwent still further deterioration. Cowed, perplexed, and dispirited, they huddled together on any scant, sterile bit of land that they were fortunate enough to be possessed of, erected clusters of their frail little huts, and like oppressed, hopeless classes the world over sunk into profound listlessness and sloth. The women grew unchaste, the men dishonest, until in many minds the term “free negro” became a synonym for all that was worthless and despicable.
Oscar W. Blacknall’s Letters to the Editor in 1895
Though the 1886 Atlantic Monthly article is full of rich description, Oscar Blacknall failed to provide any specific names of people from the Native American community. In this published letter from 1895 he did provide names, but he mixed up their identities:
In this letter, Blacknall cites a man named “Chavers” who was a school teacher that taught white students. (“Chavers” is a common spelling variation of “Chavis”). He says this same man owned a huge tract of land along the Tar River and that there is still a bridge and road named after him. Though, Blacknall did not give the man’s first name, there is no doubt he is referring toJohn Chavis (1763-1838), a Revolutionary War soldier who famously became a Presbyterian preacher and taught white students. However John Chavis was not the owner of the large tract of land along the Tar River. That was William Chavis (1706-1778), founder of Granville County’s Native American community. And it is William Chavis, not John Chavis, who is the namesake for the road and bridge. It is not known if the two men were related. John Chavis (1763-1838) was born in Mecklenburg Co, VA and was the son of a Jacob Chavis and Elizabeth Evans. I authored a blogpost you can read here about this John Chavis to help clarify his identity in the historical archive. Blacknall mistakenly conflated the two men but a couple of weeks later, Blacknall corrects his mistake in another letter to the newspaper:
Immediately, Blacknall admits his mistake in conflating the two men and says that it is William Chavis (1706-1778) who was the large land owner. He refers to Chavis’ land as the “old Chavis tract” and describes it as beginning at Lynch Creek and going 16 miles upstream to Fishing Creek. His land then extended continuously a full 5 miles inland from the banks of Tar River. I have outlined William Chavis’ land tract below:
51,200 acres is an enormous amount of land and is far beyond the Chavis land that was described in Wes White’s write-up for the Lumbee Tribe’s federal recognition. (The Lumbee Chavis family descends from William Chavis’ son Phillip Chavis). Blacknall believes that Chavis came to own such a large, continuous tract of land directly by way of John Cateret, 2nd Earl of Granville (1690-1763). As I discussed in an earlier blog post, the entire upper half of North Carolina was owned by John Cateret and was known as “Granville District”. The Blacknall Family property was originally part of the old Chavis land tract, so that is why Oscar Blacknall was intimately familiar with the history of who owned the land before his own family. This expansive tract of land that William Chavis owned, formed the land base for Granville County’s Native American community. So when I refer to the original land base for the community, you now know exactly what I’m referring to. Also note that this land was not “communally owned”, but rather privately owned by William Chavis and later divided into smaller plots privately owned by other community members. So it was not a bounded reservation, and increasingly over time as land was sold off, many unrelated families both white and black, came to reside in this location. (Note: William Chavis and his wife Frances Gibson are my 7th great-grandparents).
In this article, Blacknall also discusses William Chavis’ son Gibson “Gibbs” Chavis (1737-1777) who he says is the namesake for Gibb’s Creek (part of the original Chavis land tract). Gibson Chavis was the owner of a racing horse named “Black Snake” who won Gibson a lot of money. However one night, Gibson Chavis was killed by a group of men he had won money off of from his racing horse. The fact that Gibson named his horse “Black Snake” is very culturally relevant. Black snakes are common in the area and traditional indigenous belief is that the snake holds a lot of power and medicine. The black snake is even featured on the Haliwa-Saponi tribal seal:
As the letter continues, Blacknall reiterates many of the points he raised in the 1886 Atlantic Monthly article. Here is an excerpt:
“Excepting Wake county, I found them far more numerous in Granville County as well as much more characteristic of the type…I found that many of the families denied that their ancestors had ever been slaves. This denial I naturally attributed to their pride or ignorance. But it turned out they were right. An investigation as far as practicable of their genealogy SHOWED THEM TO BE LARGELY OF INDIAN BLOOD……Their prejudices against the slaves were so strong that nearly all the affinity of the free negro was with the lowest class of whites. As this exclusiveness still prevails, many known as free negroes probably have not one drop of negro blood.”
In the article, he also discusses slave ownership among the “free negro” population. Blacknall found that some of the “free negroes” were themselves slave owners. This is true – for example William Chavis (1706-1778) the community’s founder, did own slaves. Though by the early 1800s, nearly all of the community members no longer owned slaves.
As the letter goes on, Blacknall again emphasized the division between the Native American community and the black freedmen community, saying that intermarriage and socialization between the two was so frowned upon that members of the Native American community likely had little to no African blood. It is difficult to discern how true this statement is because of the way all non-whites were classified using the same racial terms. So “degrees of Indian blood” for members of the community were not historically recorded. It is very much worth mentioning that it may have been true that intermarriage between members of the free-born Native American community and black freedmen was nearly non existent during Blacknall’s lifetime, but starting in the early-mid 20th century, the communities did begin to intermarry and socialize much more.
I’ve come to learn that much of Oscar Blacknall’s writing and research was destroyed in a house fire. This is truly unfortunate because as you can see, Blacknall’s insights offer a rare glimpse into a community that few of his contemporaries had any interest in. However, if you come across more of his writing that is relevant to the Native American community in Granville County, please leave a comment.
Welcome! The following is a list of surnames of closely related Native American families of Granville County. Please note that all the families are “free people of color”, meaning they were not enslaved and generally not recorded as “white”.
It is these families that most of the content of this blog is about. I have documentation on all of these families, so if you believe you are also researching the same families, please do get in touch.