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.
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 sister 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 sister 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 married a man named Pearson Hawley. 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!
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, 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 and Benjamin Bass’ family.
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.
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.
In this blog post, I will use a combination of genetic genealogy, paper based genealogy, and family oral history to confirm a genealogical relationship within the Saponi/Catawba Guy family of Granville County. By utilizing different techniques, I present a strong case for identifying Miles Guy and Delila Guy of Granville County as siblings. I especially hope the genetic genealogy section of this blog post will help readers better understand how to use cousin matches to confirm genealogical relationships.
The Guy family is a core family of the Native American community in Granville County. I have not written a blog post discussing their early tribal origins yet because I’m still in the process of verifying research. However, there is a key primary source that is vital to documenting the origins of the Guy family that I will briefly discuss here. In 1872, a white man named Joseph McDowell of Fairmount, GA who had married a Guy woman, collected the names of 84 descendants of Buckner Guy who desired to be recognized as Catawba Indians by the United States and sought financial relief. In the early 1800s, Buckner Guy (b. 1789) relocated his family from Orange County out to the far western part of the state in Macon County.
There was no action from the 1872 list that Joseph McDowell submitted. As a result, he submitted the list and letter again in 1897 when the United States Senate was holding a session about the Catawba Indians. Unfortunately not much came from this action, but it does show an early direct attempt by the Guy family to not only be recognized as Native Americans, but specifically as Catawba. In my research, I identify the Guy family as “Saponi/Catawba”, that is I believe they were Saponi who took refuge with their closely related cousins, the Catawba.
The Guys were “free people of color”, so there is good documentation on them. However the paper record doesn’t always clarify exactly how all the “free colored” Guys are related to one another. In particular, I’ve had questions about Miles Guy (b. 1827) of Granville County and the identity of his siblings and parents. I had long suspected that a Delila Guy (b. 1819) of Granville County was his sister but still needed records to verify my suspicions.
The Paper Trail
In order to learn more about Miles Guy’s family, I located the earliest primary source record on him. On 5 May 1842, Miles Guy (b. 1827) was apprenticed out to William Chavis in Granville County. Miles’ age was given 14 years as of 15 Nov 1841, which would indicate that Miles Guy was born on 15 Nov 1827. It is not common to be able to establish a precise birthdate for ancestors from this time period, so this is excellent documentation to have. Miles Guy was to be taught the trade of carpentry and to remain with William Chavis until 21 years of age. The document unfortunately does not name Miles Guy’s parents. He is referred to as an “orphan”, but this term can be a bit misleading as it doesn’t necessarily mean both of his parents were deceased. The Granville County Court Minutes may have recorded the names of Miles Guy’s parents but those records are not digitized online.
So who was William Chavis? William Chavis (1801-1854) was the son of Jesse Chavis (1766-1840) who I previously blogged about here. On 16 Oct 1834, William Chavis married Delila Guy (b. 1819) and she was the mother of his children. This means that eight years after getting married to Delila Guy, William Chavis formally takes in “orphan” Miles Guy as an apprentice. This is certainly not a coincidence. This is why I believe Miles Guy was Delila Guy’s younger brother, and that she and her husband took him in when he became “orphaned”.
William Chavis and Delila Guy had the following children together:
Harriet Chavis (b. 1837)
Nelly Chavis (b. 1840)
William Chavis (b. 1841)
Julia Chavis (b. 1845)
Edna Chavis (b. 1847)
Silvanus Chavis (b. 1850) *died in childhood*
Patrick Chavis (b. 1852)
The documentation that identifies William Chavis and Delila Guy’s children is quite solid because William died relatively young in 1854 and so there are probate records concerning his estate and named heirs.
Miles Guy was married a few times and had several children. Before marrying, Miles Guy had a child out of wedlock named Emily Curtis (1853-1925) with a woman named Nancy Curtis (b. 1835). Emily Curtis’ death record identifies her father as Miles Guy.
He then married Henrietta Dunstan on 19 Oct 1854 in Granville County. It must have been a short marriage that likely ended with Henrietta’s death because in the 1860 census, Miles Guy is shown with no wife or children.
On 13 Sep 1865, Miles Guy then married Susan Taborn (1846-1879). Together Miles Guy and Susan Taborn had the following children:
Mary Etta Guy (b. 1866)
Robert Guy (b. 1869)
Jana Guy (b. 1872) *died in childhood*
Cora Guy (b. 1873)
Delia Guy (b. 1877)
Miles Guy’s wife Susan Taborn was deceased by 1879 because on 2 Sep 1879 he married for a third time to Sarah Burnett. Miles Guy last appears in the 1900 census for Granville County and he registered to vote in 1902, so he died sometime after that date.
So we have good documentation on Miles Guy and Delila Guy which show their families living close to one another in the Fishing Creek community in Granville County. And we have documentation that shows that Miles Guy was brought up in Delila Guy’s household. But is there anything else we can do to verify their relationship?
When I recently showed the picture below to a great-grandson of Miles Guy, he immediately recognized the elderly woman seated in the middle and exclaimed “that’s aunt Julia!”. This great-grandson of Miles Guy identified Julia Chavis, daughter of Delila Guy, as his “aunt”. The term “aunt” when used in our communities does not necessarily mean a literal “aunt” or “great aunt”, but is also used to describe a close relationship with an elder female relative. Also because Miles Guy was raised in Delila Guy’s home, he likely viewed her children as his “siblings”.
With fairly good paper trail documentation firsthand testimony from a living person, what would DNA testing reveal about the relationship betweenn Miles Guy and Delila Guy?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you most likely at some point have encountered advertisements for DNA tests that will predict your ethnic composition. The three leading companies that offer DNA tests to consumers are 23andMe, AncestryDNA, and FamilyTree DNA. The ethnicity estimates offered with these tests are interesting and perhaps revealing but if you’re looking to take a DNA test to confirm Native American heritage for example, it’s not so straight forward. I’m not going to take the space here to discuss the many complications and limitations of DNA testing to confirm Native American identity but I suggest following the research of scholar Dr. Kim Tallbear.
However where I see the biggest strengths in these DNA tests, is the cousin matching feature. The DNA company that you test with, will pair you with other individuals who have also tested and share a segment of DNA with you. A free genetic genealogy website called Gedmatch, allows users from the three companies mentioned above to upload their DNA data and utilize the website’s more sophisticated tools. And because anyone from the three companies can upload to Gedmatch, it significantly opens the pool of potential cousin matches. In other words, Gedmatch is a genetic genealogist’s best friend.
Within the past year, four direct lineal descendants of the Guy family from Granville County have done DNA tests. All four have also uploaded their results to Gedmatch which has allowed me to take a closer look at their DNA. And to top it all off, all four individuals have very well researched and documented family trees.
To preserve anonymity, I am using initials to discuss these 4 Guy descendants.
RT = His great-grandfather was Miles Guy (b. 1827)
SH = Her great-great grandfather was Miles Guy (b.1827)
WD = Her great-great-great grandfather was Miles Guy (b. 1827)
CL = Her great-great-great grandmother was Delila Guy (b. 1819). Also note that CL is my (Kianga’s) second cousin.
RT, SH, WD, and CL are all cousin matches with one another on Gedmatch. This is not surprising because all four individuals have deep roots within Granville’s Native American community and so they have several lineages in common in addition to the Guys. The heavy endogamy within our community creates a major challenge with genetic genealogy because it’s not immediately clear when looking at cousin matches, which shared common ancestor is reflected in that chromosome match. What also complicates matters is that your DNA will not always match all of your known cousins. With each generation that passes, there is a greater chance for the recombination process to diminish that shared DNA. So the further back in time that common ancestor is, the greater the chance that you will not match cousins from that ancestor. So this is where the “triangulation” process helps us identify the common ancestor of all four individuals.
What I found when comparing the Gedmatch kits of RT, SH, WD, and CL is that all match one another on overlapping segments on Chromosome 5. In other words, all four people share a common ancestor whose DNA they have inherited on their Chromosome 5. Below are “One to One” comparisons between the four Gedmatch kits. Please note that I have blocked out their Gedmatch kit numbers and user names and have replaced them with initials:
Though there are other chromosome segments that some of the individuals share, the only overlapping segment that all four individuals shared was on Chromosome 5. If you look at the start and end point numbers, that is the measurement of where on the chromosome that matching segment occurs. Not all four individuals match on the exact start and end points and that is due to recombination and inheritance (we do not inherit exact replica copies of our ancestors’ DNA). But I think it is clear that all four individuals inherited overlapping large segments that indicate a shared common ancestor.
Another important feature on Gedmatch is the “Most Recent Common Ancestor” (MRCA) number. This is exactly what it sounds like – Gedmatch predicts how many generations back that most recent common ancestor was. But a very strong word of caution: the number is an estimation and the extreme endogamy of our community amplifies cousin matches so that they sometimes appear closer than what they really are. With that said, the MRCA’s predicated on the Chromosome 5 matches are consistent with Miles Guy and Delila Guy being siblings.
SH is the niece of RT, so there is no question as to their biological relationship. They share lots of DNA in common and their MRCA is predicated at 1.5. This means they share common ancestors between 1 and 2 generations ago. This is spot on because for RT, his parents (1 generation ago) are the MRCA and for SH her grandparents (2 generations ago) are the MRCA. You also see that SH and RT share a very long segment on Chromosome 5, starting and ending at approximately 29,000,000 to 83,000,000.
SH and WD are third cousins, once removed. That is, SH‘s great-great grandparents are the same as WD‘s great-great-great grandparents (Miles Guy and Susan Taborn). This puts their MRCA between 4 and 5 generations ago. However when you look at Gedmatch’s predicated MRCA, it states 3.4. This is likely a result of endogamy and sharing multiple sets of common ancestors.
CL who is a direct lineal descendant of Delila Guy is predicated to share a MRCA to SH, RT, and WD, in the 5 range (5.9, 5.4, and 5.1 respectively). 5 generations from CL goes back to her great-great-great grandmother Delila Guy. And because these MRCA numbers are above 5, it suggests that CL is sharing a MRCA one more generation back from Delila Guy.
In other words, the parents of Miles Guy and Delila Guy are the shared common ancestors for all four individuals. This of course means Miles Guy and Delilah Guy were siblings. I did even consider the possibility that Delila Guy was Miles Guy’s mother, but she is only roughly 8 years older than him, making her way too young to be his mother.
So in summary, the overlapping segments shared by all four individuals on Chromosome 5 appear to come from the parents of Miles Guy and Delila Guy.
So we have a paper trail showing that Miles Guy was raised in Delila Guy’s home. We have family oral history from a living person who knows the two families are related. And finally we have DNA tests which are consistent with descendants of both Miles Guy and Delila Guy sharing common ancestors within the correct Guy family genealogy timeframe. It feels satisfying to have three different categories of evidence to align so perfectly because often times this is not the case.
However, the big remaining question is who are the parents of Miles Guy and Delila Guy?
There was an earlier Miles Guy (b. 1797) recorded in the Granville records. This Miles Guy married a Betsy Bonner on 22 May 1817 in Granville Co. Betsy Bonner was likely a white woman and the sister of Neverson Bonner who provided the bond for the marriage. By 1820, this Miles Guy moved to Caswell Co where he is recorded as the head of a household of three “free colored” males. That is the last time I find Miles Guy in the records. Sharing a name with Miles Guy (b. 1827) certainly indicates a close relationship but it does not necessarily mean they were father and son. They may have an uncle/nephew relationship because parents often named their children after their siblings. So it’s possible that Miles Guy (b.1827) and Delila Guy’s (b. 1819) parent may be a sibling of this older Miles Guy (b. 1797).
It is noteworthy to mention that this elder Miles Guy in the 1820 census is listed next to Vines Guy. The census was recorded alphabetically so this does not mean that the two men lived next to one another. But the two men lived in Caswell Co at the same time, which may indicate that they were brothers. Vines Guy (1785-1836) settled in Orange Co and some of his descendants are enrolled members of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation in Orange/Alamance Cos. Vines Guy is believed to be a son of William Guy (1763-1837), the Revolutionary Soldier who lived in Granville County and filed a military pension. However I’m still looking for proof to verify this relationship, so I do not consider it fully confirmed.
My suspicion is that most if not all of the Guys who appear in the Granville Co records are direct lineal descendants of William Guy (1763-1837), the Revolutionary War soldier. He is the earliest known Guy to move to Granville Co in 1803 and remained in Granville until his death in 1837. William was originally from across the state line in Mecklenburg Co, VA and had at least two brothers – Christopher Guy (b. 1766) and John Guy (b. 1758) who were also Revolutionary War soldiers (but died before filing pensions). Though neither Christopher or John moved to North Carolina, many of their descendants did which is why there is much confusion with identifying the correct lineal descendants of each brother.
I’m hoping that by using a combination of different sources including the paper trail and DNA, we can begin to correctly map out the Guy family tree. If there is anyone reading this who descends from William, John, or Christopher Guy and has done DNA testing or plans to do so, please get in touch with me.
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.
During the Reconstruction era, two orphanages were built in Granville County within a few miles of each other. In 1873, the “Oxford Orphans Asylum”, today known as the “Masonic Home for Children”, was established in the town of Oxford, to house and educate orphaned and less fortunate children. The orphanage however was only for white children. Children of color were not admitted into the school which left them without proper care. In 1883, concerned citizens of color in the Granville County area helped to establish the “Grant Colored Asylum” with the help of Congressional funding. Just outside of the town limits of Oxford next to Fishing Creek township, is where the orphanage was built. It went through numerous name changes over the years and today is known as the “Central Children’s Home of North Carolina”. In this blog post, I will discuss the close relationship between families of the Native American community in Granville and the Colored Orphanage, including a set of Cherokee twin boys who were sent to the orphanage and then adopted into the community.
Orphaned Children Before Orphanages
Before the establishment of the two local orphanages, most orphaned and less fortunate children were typically “apprenticed out” (also called “bound out”) by the county court. This process involved sending a child to live in the home of a family where that child would be housed, fed and taught to read and write. In exchange, that child was taught a trade and used those services to work for the family until a specified age (typically 21 years of age). Boys were often taught the trade of being a planter, blacksmith, or carpenter and girls were often taught the trade of being a domestic. Free children of color were commonly apprenticed out and throughout the blog posts on this site, I have used apprenticeship records as primary source records to establish genealogical connections. And it was not only just orphaned children who were apprenticed out. Free children of color born out of wedlock (in those days they commonly used the phrase “base born child”) were typically apprenticed out if the mother could not properly provide for the child.
The apprenticeship system was quite common starting in the colonial era and officially came to an end in North Carolina in 1913. But I have noticed that for Granville County, the Reconstruction Era saw a rapid decline in the apprenticeship system and this created a need to house orphaned and less fortunate children. We also have to remember too that before the Civil War, enslaved children were the property of their slave owners, so it was not the county’s responsibility to house enslaved children. But after emancipation, there was a sudden jump in the orphaned population due to the high number of orphaned children who were emancipated. This growing and urgent need to address this crisis is what lead to the establishment of the first iteration of the Colored Orphanage called the “Grant Colored Asylum”.
Establishment of the Colored Orphanage
Reverend Dr. Augustus Shepard (1846-1911), a concerned local African-American resident of Raleigh, presented the idea of establishing an orphanage as a way to allieviate the growing orphan crisis. With the assistance of Henry Plummer Cheatham (1857-1935) who was a local African American politician from the town of Henderson, they secured Congressional funding to establish the Grant Colored Asylum. For $1,565, 23 acres of farm land just south of Oxford was purchased to house the new orphanage.
Historian Dr. Bernetta McGhee White has written about the history of the orphanage and you can read some of her research here. Dr. White cites an unknown author who wrote the following about the founding of the orphanage which helps us identify additional key players:
The colored orphanage association was formed in August, 1882, in Henderson, North Carolina, by members of the Shiloh and Wake Associations [of the Baptist denomination]. The idea was presented by Dr. Augustus SHEPARD who noticed in his travels throughout the state that there was a large number of homeless and neglected children.
In October, 1883, a farm of twenty-three acres, located one and one-half miles from Oxford, on the Raleigh Road, was obtained… The orphanage was named the ‘Grant Colored Asylum.’
The ‘Grant Colored Asylum’ ceased to exist in 1887 when the ‘Colored Orphan Asylum of North Carolina’ was incorporated. The members of the board were Rev. Augustus SHEPARD, Rev. Joshua PERRY, Rev. M. A. PATILLO, Rev. Isaac ALSTON, Rev. J. W. LEVY, Mr. M. T. THORNTON, Mr. H. E. LONG, Mr. Henry LESTER, and the Honorable H. P. CHEATHAM.
The orphanage was incorporated as a non-denominational institution to receive children deprived of their parents and means of support, and to train them along religious, moral and industrial lines in order to fit them for useful, law-abiding citizen[ship].
The first superintendent of the ‘Grant Orphanage’ was Rev. Joshua PERRY. Rev. W. A. PATILLO was named General Agent. The Rev. PERRY served for one year and was succeeded by Miss Bessie HOCKIN, a Canadian woman who not only served without pay, but also donated her furniture to the orphanage… During this time Mr. Henry HESTER, of Oxford, volunteered to pay all bills contracted in providing food for the orphans. Mr. HESTER acted as treasurer of the orphanage until his death in 1901.
Rev. W. A. PATILLO served as Superintendent for the year 1886-87. It was during his administration that Mrs. Adline COGWELL became connected with the institution as matron. Mrs. COGWELL not only received no pay, but worked to help support the children of the institution.
In 1887, the board of directors elected Rev. Robert SHEPARD superintendent without promise of remuneration. Rev. M. C. RANSOM gave board to the new superintendent until a three room house could be enlarged. The enlarged building served as the superintendent’s home, boys dormitory, dining room and kitchen. A few years later a girls dormitory was built, and near it a laundry building was built.
As you can read from the above text, among the founding board members was Reverend James W Levy (1852-1936) of the Native American community. I previously blogged about the Levy family here and did mention Rev. Levy’s connection to the orphanage. Levy served on the board of the orphanage for most of his life.
Miss Bessie Hockin of Nova Scotia, Canada
I would like to take a moment to discuss a woman who played a very important role in the foundation of the orphanage. Bessie Hockin (1850-1925) was not a local woman, but was rather a white woman from Nova Scotia, Canada who came to Granville County to assist in the Reconstruction efforts. She actually served as Superintendent of the orphanage in its very early years. Because she was a missionary, she refused to be paid for her services and instead donated her time and possessions to the orphanage.
Bessie Hockin continued to live right in community in Fishing Creek township and must have been a beloved neighbor. When my great-great grandfather James E Howell (1840-1912) remarried in 1887, Bessie Hockin was a witness to the wedding as documented on the marriage certificate:
Bessie Hockin continued to live in and work for the community until her death in 1925. Her estate specified that her personal property was to be turned over to the Colored Orphanage.
The Colored Orphanage and the Native American Community in Fishing Creek
It is important to remember that the orphanage was built a very short distance from the tight cluster of Native American families that had been living in Fishing Creek township since the days of William Chavis (1709-1777). (See this blog post about historian Oscar W. Blacknall who wrote about the Native American community in Fishing Creek). Because of this close proximity, these families were able to assist the orphanage by donating services and goods.
The annual Board of Directors reports for the Colored Orphanage are digitized on UNC’s “Documenting the American South” website found here. The board reports have also been transcribed so that you can search by keyword for text in the document. The reports offer an interesting insight into the daily operations of the orphanage. What is especially interesting to see is which individuals and organizations donated to the orphanage.
For the 1909/1910 report, we learn a group of individuals helped to transport building materials to the orphanage:
One of the strong tokens and indications that we are to have continued success in our effort to build up and maintain the home is the kindly sympathy and approval of our neighbors both in the country and in the city of Oxford on the part of both races. There is not a business man or firm in the city of Oxford who has ever denied us a favor when it was in his power to grant it. One of the most pleasing and encouraging things I have ever seen here was to behold during the month of last August the big Christian-hearted friends of this community, Messrs. Robert Glover, Sam Morton, Sidney Taylor, John A. Kittrell, Jas. E. Howell, Andrew Howell, Davie McGhee, Jas. A. Howell, J. Thomas Tyler, H. Howard and others in line with their one and two-horse wagons hauling brick from our brick-yard to the new building without any charge whatever, and without their most timely and valuable help just at that time we could not have so successfully managed our farm, as this, was in the heart of the busy farming season of the year.
I underlined the names of four individuals listed above who were part of the Native American community. James E Howell (1840-1913) I already mentioned was my great-great grandfather. His first cousin was James A Howell (1846-1934). The middle initials are important to distinguish between the two men since they were first cousins, close in age, and lived on adjoining properties. Andrew Howell (1876-1951) was James A Howell’s son. And J(ohn) Thomas Tyler (1862-1943) was a cousin to the Howells. Tyler’s son George Huley Tyler was married to Bessie Levy, daughter of Reverend James W Levy who was on the board of the directors of the orphanage. All four men were farmers who owned extremely large plots of land and thus had large equipment at their disposal to help the orphanage.
Orphaned Children in the Community
Finally I would like to discuss something else that many Native American families in Fishing Creek did to assist with the orphanage and that is actually bringing home orphaned children to raise them. In the census records, you will occasionally see children who are non-family members listed in the household as a “lodger”. Sometimes these children are actually listed as “adopted child” though they usually were not legally adopted. How and why some children were selected to go live with families in the community is not clear to me. The 1890 census is destroyed, so the 1900 census is the first census after the establishment of the orphanage.
In the 1910 census I found my great-great grandfather James E Howell enumerated with his second wife Mary E (McGlemdon) Howell and with an “adopted son” named Arthur Bryant, age 13. As far as I know, Arthur was not from our family so he most likely came from the Colored Orphanage.
Another interesting example comes from my great-great grandfather’s first cousin James A Howell. James adopted twin brothers Samuel Donald (1885-1960) and David Donald (1885-1951) who were Cherokee Indians from the far Western part of the state in Asheville. In the 1900 census they are shown living in his household:
Samuel Donald’s great-grandson Christopher Williams located the twins’ orphanage records which clarify how they became orphaned and when they were sent to the orphanage. Unfortunately their parents’ names are not listed and that is something we are still researching:
Record of Children Received into the Colored Orphan Asylum
Name: David Donald from the town of Asheville, County of Buncombe
Admitted: November 1892; Born [blank]; Age when admitted: 6 years 6 months
Father’s name: [blank], member of [blank] Church
Mother’s name: [blank], member of [blank] Church
If one or both parents are dead, so state: Father died 1885, Mother died 1886
State cause of death, if possible: [blank]
Application made by: Eliza Donald (sister); Approved by: C.G. Aston
Recommended by: [blank]
Description: Light in color, Slight in form
Character: Good character generally, though mischievous
History: These two boys twin brothers were adopted in 18[blank] by James Howell, Fishing Creek, Granville Co. where they remained until of age giving great satisfaction. They both went to Salisbury, but the health of Samuel failing. He returned to Jas. Howell and at this date in 1907 is still with him. David is foreman for some white man in Salisbury and giving satisfaction. Samuel now married.
So from the above records we learn the twin boys were orphaned when they were infants and were admitted to the Colored Orphanage in November 1892. Sometime in the 1890s, James Howell adopted the boys where they were raised in his home. David Donald moved away to Salisbury, NC where he married and had children. He remained in Salisbury until his death in 1951.
Samuel Donald remained in Fishing Creek and married the great niece of his “adopted” father named Mamie Anderson (1891-1965) who was the daughter of Herbert Junius Anderson and Nancy Howell.
One of Granville County’s most infamous residents was a member of the Native American community named Archibald “Baldy” Kersey (1821-1899). Baldy showed little regard for the law, as he headed a gang of counterfeiters and thieves who traded stolen goods. Not even a jail cell could prevent Baldy from his life of crime as he would find inventive ways to break out. He also showed little regard for the racially segregated laws of the South. Baldy’s gang was interracial and Baldy had a known relationship with a white woman named Rovella Tanner with whom he fathered numerous children with. However to simply characterize Baldy as a “bad guy” does disservice to the complexity of his life. Baldy had a deep love and loyalty for family as demonstrated by “adopting” the fatherless children of his relatives. He also fought hard to the very end to keep possession of his family’s original land which actually resulted in a major United States Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of North Carolina’s Homestead law. In this blog post, I will document the life of one of the community’s most colorful characters with the help of digitized court records and newspaper articles.
Baldy Kersey’s Lineages and Early Life
Archibald “Baldy” Kersey (1821-1899) was born in Granville County to Benjamin and Sally Kersey. Some family oral history indicates that Sally’s maiden name was Oxendine but I have not been able to locate a marriage record or any record that identifies her maiden name. Through his father Benjamin Kersey, Baldy descends from the Kersey, Evans, and Walden families. Baldy’s paternal grandmother Polly Evans (1765-1840) was sisters to my 5th great-grandmother Margaret Evans (b. 1753). I previously blogged about the Weyanoke and Nottoway/Tuscarora tribal origins of the Kersey family here and the Evans family here. “Kersey” is the standardized and most common spelling of the surname but throughout the documents in this blog post you will see the surname spelled in a variety of ways: “Kearsey” and “Kearzey”.
Baldy had numerous siblings who all lived within and married within the community:
Emily Kersey (b. 1820) married Samuel Richardson
Susan Kersey (b. 1825) married Samuel Johnson
Sally Kersey (1828-1911) married William Tyler Jr. (Baldy’ first wife Francis Tyler was sisters to William Tyler Jr)
Sophia Kersey (1829-1918) married William Anderson
Benjamin Kersey (b. 1831) never married and died young
Baldy Kersey first married Francis Tylerb. 1824 (daughter of William Tyler Sr and Martha Patsy Day) on 11 March 1841. Though they are listed together as a married couple in the 1850 and 1860 censuses, Baldy and Francis did not have any children together. However during their marriage, Baldy did father a child named Mary Jane Chavis (1857-1929) out of wedlock with a woman named Lula Chavis.
Also during his first marriage, Baldy adopted the 4 “illegitimate” children of his wife’s sister Martha Jane Tyler (b. 1830). The four children were: Francis Tyler b. 1850, Elizabeth “Betsy Ann” Tyler b. 1851, Hawkins Tyler (1854-1921), and Amanda Tyler (1858-1955). From that point forward, the siblings interchangeably used the Tyler and Kersey surnames and were commonly known as Baldy Kersey’s children.
Later Baldy Kersey had a relationship with a white woman named Rovella Tanner but could not legally marry her because of laws forbidding interracial marriages. They had numerous children together which I discussed in detail in this blog post.
Baldy Kersey’s Gang
In her book, “Unruly Woman, The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South”, historian Victoria Bynum includes a brief discussion on the illegal activities of Baldy Kersey. During the Civil War, Baldy Kersey was the leader of an interracial gang of people who traded looted goods. It was a very extensive underground network that went from Granville County all the way to the Atlantic Coast. This network included “free people of color”, as well as white men who had deserted the Confederate Army and black slaves.
The Civil War brought about great poverty in the South and poor people especially had a hard time finding goods. Baldy Kersey’s gang filled this void by providing a way for poor people to be able to acquire goods. But it was not just the illegal activities that worried authorities, it was the interracial nature of Baldy’s gang that was a direct slap to the face of the racially segregated South. Granville Co Sheriff William Philpott explained to North Carolina Governor Vance that Baldy was:
the worst rogue and seducer of slaves I have ever known. He has a range from here to the extremity of the state east, as he has been trading that way for years.
In a later newspaper article from 16 Mar 1880, we see that Baldy Kersey and a white man named John Smith were the leaders of a gang that dealt in counterfeit money and horse stealing. We can also see that counterfeiting and stealing was a family affair for Baldy, as his “adopted” son Hawkins (Tyler) Kersey was also a member of the gang:
The more I have learned about Baldy Kersey, the more he reminds me of another contemporary from his time: Henry Berry Lowry. Lowry is the famed ancestor of the Lumbee and Tuscarora of Robeson Co. In fact, Baldy Kersey and Henry Berry Lowry were cousins. Lowry’s paternal grandmother was Sally Kersey who was described as a “half breed Tuscarora Indian”. Like Kersey, Henry Berry Lowry lead an interracial gang of thieves who refused to enlist with the Confederacy during the Civil War. I’m sure the two men crossed paths during their extensive networks throughout the state. And according to Baldy Kersey’s great grand nephew Robert Tyler, the family has always known that they were cousins with Henry Berry Lowry.
In the following sections, I’m going to explore in detail some of Baldy Kersey’s major court cases.
John Crabtree V. Baldy Kersey and the Stolen Wagon Hubs
The earliest court case that I could find where Baldy Kersey was charged with larceny was from an accusation in 1863. It is worthwhile to note that Baldy was already approximately 42 years of age in that year, so it seems unlikely this was his first offense. Familysearch recently digitized a collection called, “North Carolina, State Supreme Files, 1800-1909” and I was able to find a number of cases from our community. One such case was State V. Kearzey 61 N.C. 481 (N.C. 1868). This was an appeals decision from an earlier case that was in the Granville County District Court and North Carolina Superior Court. Both lower courts had previously ruled in favor of the state in the 1863 larceny case. So within this North Carolina State Supreme Court appeal are the transcripts from the the previous courts’ rulings of the 1863 case which provide lots of detail as to what exactly Baldy Kersey was accused of. You can access the entirety of the files for this case here (these are in original handwriting and not transcribed).
The details of the case are quite interesting because they demonstrate the tenacity of Baldy Kersey. On 5 March 1863, John Crabtree came before the court and testified that Baldy Kersey had committed larceny and as a result Kersey was indicted for larceny in May 1863. Crabtree was a wagon maker who had a shop in Oxford. A year earlier in February 1862, Crabtree met a man named Murray (first name not given) who was also a wagon maker who had a shop about 10-12 miles outside of Oxford. Murray was preparing to leave the state and needed to sell his wagon making materials. Crabtree agreed to purchase the materials which included distinctive wagon hubs made from walnut timber.
Because the two shops were 10-12 miles apart, the purchased materials needed to be transferred and this is where Baldy Kersey enters the story. In the spring of 1862, Crabtree was in the process of transferring the goods when he saw Baldy Kersey just outside of Murray’s shop and asked him to assist in transferring the materials to his own shop in Oxford. Crabtree even told Kersey where the key was to his shop so that Kersey could let himself in to unload the goods. (Not to excuse Kersey’s actions but if Kersey was a known thief, why would Crabtree enlist his help?)
Baldy Kersey apparently picked up the materials but never transferred them to the shop. Instead he brought the materials home. Crabtree never realized that Kersey did not transfer the goods to his shop because it appears Crabtree never had a full list of the items he purchased from Murray. Fast forward a year later to March 1863, and Crabtree reported that several individuals were going through Baldy’s house looking for other stolen goods. Crabtree was not the only person who had been wronged by Baldy. While going through his house, these individuals found the wagon hubs that Crabtree purchased from Murray a year earlier. There was little doubt that these were the same wagon hubs because they were made from walnut and had the same distinctive marks. Kersey was present during the search and denied that the wagon hubs belonged to Crabtree and instead insisted he purchased them from a man named Grissom who left the county several years earlier.
Indicted on larceny charges by the grand jury in May 1863, Baldy Kersey decided to leave the county and hide out instead of coming to court and answering the charges against him. In the court records we see that starting in August 1863, Baldy Kersey could not be located. Every two months, the courts would call the case up but it had to be delayed on account of Baldy Kersey being on the run. This continued on until May 1866 when Baldy Kersey finally showed up to court to answer for the charges against him.
During Baldy Kersey’s 3 years on the run, the documentation gets a bit confusing and conflicting. According to the court documents for this larceny case involving Crabtree, Baldy was consistently on the run from August 1863 through May 1866. But it appears that Baldy was picked up by the sheriff at some point and started to serve a 6 month jail sentence on yet another larceny charge. We know this because on 27 October 1864, we see a notice in the newspaper alerting the public that Baldy Kersey had escaped from jail:
We learn from this notice that Baldy Kersey had been sentenced in September 1864 to 6 months of imprisonment for larceny. The notice doesn’t specify the details of this conviction but it does say that there were still 5 outstanding larceny indictments against him. We know one of those five indictments was the theft of Crabtree’s wagon hubs.
To escape from jail is a big deal. According to later witness testimony, Baldy used bribery and the assistance of two white men to escape from jail.
When Baldey Kersey returned to court in May 1866 after 3 years on the run, he entered a plea of “not guilty” and a trial date was set for August 1866. However Baldy was able to convince the court that he was not ready for trial and asked for a delay which was granted for November 1866. And not just one delay, he was able to delay the trial multiple times so that the trial did not take place until May 1867.
For the trial, Kersey hired a defense attorney to argue his side of the case. However a jury found him guilty of larceny. Kersey’s attorney asked for a new trial which was denied. The defense attorney also asked the judge to squash the punishment citing other statues that petty larceny under $25 was not punishable by a criminal court. However the court overruled the defense attorney’s motion.
As a result of the “guilty” judgment, Baldy Kersey was ordered to pay a fine of $25. He was further ordered to be held in the custody of the sheriff until the fine and court costs were paid off. Baldy Kersey appealed the decision and formally asked for his case to be reviewed by the North Carolina Superior Court which was granted. He had to post a bond for $300 and Samuel Richardson, Lewis Evans, and Berry Williams were his sureties. All three men were from the Native community and Samuel Richardson was Baldy’s brother-in-law.
In the fall 1867 term of the North Carolina Superior Court, the jury found Baldy Kersey “guilty” again of stealing Crabtree’s wagon hubs. He was ordered to be held 6 months in jail and to pay a fine of $25. He was further ordered to be held in jail until the court costs were paid off. So this time Baldy Kersey appealed the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court which was granted. He was ordered to post a bond for $500 and this time William Tyler and Lewis Evans were his sureties. Lewis Evans was the same Lewis Evans from the previous $300 bond and William Tyler was also from the community and Baldy Kersey’s brother-in-law.
The North Carolina Supreme Court reviewed the case in the January 1868 term and you can read the court’s transcribed decision here. By citing earlier precedents, Judge Reade found that there was no error in the lower court’s judgments and upheld the ruling. The court ordered that Baldy Kersey and his sureties Lewis Evans and William Tyler pay $17.95 – the amount of the court costs. However on 16 March 1868, a Congressional special order declared that Baldy Kersey and his sureties did not have to pay the judgment and in fact annulled the judgement entirely. All judgments made by any North Carolina court on this larceny case after the date of 29 April 1865 were annulled. This was likely a result of the Reconstruction laws after the Civil War. All of the court judgments against Baldy for this larceny case happened after that date, so Baldy was excused for paying the judgment or going to jail. However if the court wanted to indict him on new charges relating to theft of the wagon hubs, they could do so and start the process over again.
Baldy Kersey V. Avery Taborn, and Horse Thievery
Baldy Kersey was the defendant in yet another case of larceny involving a stolen horse that he “sold” to Avery Taborn. This is another interesting case because the details included in the records speak volumes about Baldy’s character. The records for this larceny case are actually found within the Freedmen’s Commission records and not the court records. After the Civil War, the U.S. formed the Freedmen’s Bureau to assist freed slaves with efforts in rebuilding their lives. Both Baldy Kersey and Avery Taborn were “free people of color” from the Native American community in Granville, but the Freedmen’s Bureau serviced them as well. On Familysearch, you can access these records in the folder “North Carolina, Freedmen’s Bureau Assistant Commissioner Records, 1862-1870.”
You can read the entirety of Baldy Kersey’s case here (a lengthy case with pages in original handwriting). We learn that in August 1868, Baldy Kersey sought out the Freedmen’s Bureau to hold a hearing about an earlier trial, Taborn vs. Kersey, in which Baldy felt the judgment against him was not lawful. A Freedmen’s Bureau agent named E.T. Lamberton took up the case and from his notes, we learn more about what happened.
In 1866, Baldy Kersey stole a horse from the Draughan family in Edgecombe County, NC. He returned to Granville County and traded the stolen horse for a mule owned by Avery Taborn that was worth about $150. Avery Taborn b. 1832 was the son of Littleton Taborn and Charlotte Chavis, who were a prominent family in the Native American community. As you will recall from earlier, Baldy Kersey lead an underground network of traded stolen goods. A few days later when Taborn rode the stolen horse into Oxford, the Draughan family saw Taborn and questioned him about the horse where it was revealed that Baldy Kersey had stolen the horse. Baldy was subsequently arrested by Granville Co Sheriff William Philpott and indicted on larceny charges. We learn that Baldy had the case moved from Granville County court to Franklin County court because he felt he could not get a fair trial in Granville. However there was a technical error with transferring the transcripts to Franklin, so the the case was dismissed. The court did order for the Draughan family to retrieve their stolen horse from Avery Taborn, but now Taborn was out $150 for the loss of the mule because Baldy had already sold it off.
Avery Taborn tracked down a Captain Evans of the Freedmen’s Bureau to seek compensation for his property loss. Capt Evans was able to negotiate a deal in which Baldy was to give one of his own horses and $75 to Taborn to make up for the loss. Baldy did deliver a horse to Taborn but a short while later stole it back from Taborn and sold it to his son-in-law Benjamin Richardson. Benjamin Richardson (b. 1844) was the husband of Baldy Kersey’s “adopted” daughter Francis Tyler. Baldy admitted to taking the horse back from Taborn but did not agree that it constituted theft because he felt that Captain Evans’ ruling was unlawful. Because Baldy had never been convicted of that larceny charge, there was some truth to his protests.
There was another attempt to make Taborn financially whole again. Kersey went to Taborn and in front of several witnesses agreed to pay Taborn $100 plus 300 lbs of meat for 30 cents a pound. A few days later when Taborn agreed to the deal, Kersey reneged and said he already spent the money.
So what does Baldy have to say about all of this? Well, he admitted under oath that he paid Capt Evans $50 to bribe him into ruling in his favor. But despite receiving the money, Capt Evans still ruled in Taborn’s favor and that is why Kersey felt the judgment was unfair. Bribery is also how Baldy was able to escape from jail in 1864, so clearly we see a pattern here where Baldy believes he can pay people off in order to escape punishment.
In the notes from Lamberton, we see that Baldy was quite eager for the Freedmen’s Bureau to look into this case and rule in his favor because of the threat of having to sell his own property to pay Taborn. Clearly, Kersey’s thievery was starting to catch up to him financially. The agent ordered for both parties to gather witnesses and hire legal counsel. Due to his reputation for not paying people, no attorney agreed to represent Baldy in the hearing. On the other hand Avery Taborn hired a white attorney Col. Leonidas C. Edwards to represent him in the hearing. Col. Edwards is a name to not forget because he was the plaintiff in the biggest legal case involving Baldy Kersey that will be discussed in the next section.
Agent Lamberton’s notes shows that he had sympathy for Kersey not being able to hire an attorney, but he could not delay the trial any longer because the witnesses were being inconvenienced. Both Taborn and Kersey brought witnesses to testify but according to Lamberton, Baldy’s own witnesses seemed to side with the plaintiff. In fact Baldy’s sister Emily (Kersey) Richardson and brother-in-law Samuel Richardson provided testimony that supported Taborn.
Lamberton also noted that Baldy did not offer any substantive arguments in his favor, so it was a one sided hearing. Lamberton ruled in Taborn’s favor and ordered that Kersey pay him $89.50. From witness testimony the mule was valued at $125 and Taborn had already been paid $35.50 from the sale of another one of Baldy’s horses. So that left a remaining balance of $89.50. In addition, Baldy was ordered to pay interest on the amount from 1866 to present as well as a fee of $4.97 for securing witnesses to testify.
What is very telling is that at the end of his notes, Lamberton adds in some additional observations about the character of Baldy Kersey. He says before the hearing, he never knew of Baldy but during the hearing he learned a lot about him. Lamberton explains that the community regarded Kersey as:
“notorious and infamous….he is regarded as a most plausible, expert and dangerous thief, who… escaped justice by bribery and appeal”.
Col. Leonidas C. Edwards V. Baldy Kersey and North Carolina’s Homestead Law
The last legal case that I will discuss went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. Edwards V. Kearzey 96 U.S. 595 (1877) has been cited 237 times since its ruling and was cited as recently as 2014. It’s quite an important case involving contract laws and the constitutionality of Homestead laws. But let’s first discuss the beginnings of this important court decision.
The Granville County court had ordered several judgments against Baldy Kersey for larceny. Plaintiffs in these cases that were ordered to receive compensation from Baldy Kersey included: B.L. and D.A. Hunt, Avery Taborn, and William Philpott. Though these judgments came in 1868 and 1869, they resulted from unpaid contracts from several years earlier (this detail is important). As a result of these outstanding judgments that had not been paid by Baldy Kersey, on 18 January 1869 a lien was put against his property.
Let’s take a moment to discuss Baldy’s property. It was 173 acres of land located in Fishing Creek township in the heart of the Native American community founded by William Chavis in the mid 1700s. Adjoining property owners included William Tyler Sr. and Manson Stewart. This land was on the waters of what is called “Hatcher’s Run” (the documented Native American Hatcher family including David Hatcher, described as “half Indian” in his Revolutionary War records are the namesake for this waterway) and had been passed down in Baldy’s family from earlier generations. It was very important for Baldy Kersey to hold onto this land. In addition, it was the only land he owned, so if he lost it, he would be homeless. With young children to raise, there was no way he could risk that. Therefore on 22 January 1869, Baldy Kersey applied to have his land transferred to a homestead.
In 1868, North Carolina enacted a new state constitution that took affect on 24 April 1868. Sections 1 and 2 of Article 10 in the Constitution state that every homestead that was valued at $1,000 or less was exempt from being sold to pay off debt. Baldy’s property fit the criteria so he applied for a homestead. Despite his application, Sheriff William Philpott sold the entirety of Baldy Kersey’s 173 acres of land on 5 March 1869 to Col. Leonidas C. Edwards for $150.
This is the same Col. Leonidas C. Edwards who was the attorney hired by Avery Taborn when he sued Baldy Kersey for the loss of his mule. From what I can surmise, Col. Edwards was familiar with Baldy’s legal troubles and the upcoming sale of his land. He saw an opportunity to purchase prized land for a low price and followed through.
Unsurprisingly, Baldy Kersey protested the sale of his land and refused to turn it over to Col. Edwards. As a result, on 31 March 1869, Col. Edwards, plaintiff, filed suit against Baldy Kersey, defendant, in the Granville County Superior Court. The case was delayed for a number of years for unspecified reasons. And finally in the 1 May 1873, the Superior court ruled in Col. Edwards’s favor in large part because the judge excluded evidence which showed that Baldy filed an application for a homestead. Not only did the court rule that Col. Edwards should recover possession of the land, they ordered Baldy Kersey to pay a fine of $310 and 12.5 cents for punitive damages. As a result, Baldy posted a $500 bond to appeal the court’s decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Edwards V. Kearsey, 74 N.C. 241 (N.C. 1876) is the North Carolina Supreme Court Case resulting from Baldy Kersey’s appeal. You can access the entirety of the case here which includes transcripts from the Superior Court case and ruling (the pages are in the original handwriting). The decision was handed down in January 1876 by Judge Bynum. Citing North Carolina’s Homestead law, Judge Bynum reversed the North Carolina Superior Court’s decision in favor of the plaintiff Col. Edwards. You can read a transcribed version of Judge Bynum’s ruling here. Specifically, Bynum notes that the original judgments against Kersey were docketed after the adoption of North Carolina’s 1868 Constitution, therefore the Homestead law was in affect. This was a big win for Baldy but the fight to keep his land was far from over.
Due to the North Carolina Supreme Court’s reversal, the Granville County Superior Court set aside its judgement against Kersey and ordered a new trial.
The facts of the case were argued once again with the plaintiff Col. Edwards insisting that the Homestead law did not protect Baldy’s land and the defense insisting the opposite. On 24 April 1876, the court issued a judgment in favor of defendant Baldy Kersey and agreed that the Homestead Law was in affect and applied to Baldy’s land. The judge ordered that the plaintiff was not entitled to the land and that Baldy recover court costs. Col. Edwards and his attorney filed to appeal the decision back to the North Carolina Supreme Court and posted a $500 bond.
Edwards V. Kearsey, 75 N.C. 409 (N.C. 1876) is the second North Carolina Supreme Court decision regarding this case. You can read the entirety of the case here which includes transcripts from the Superior Court’s decision (the pages are in the original handwriting). In June 1876, the Judge Reade issued a ruling affirming the Superior Court’s decision in favor of the defendant Baldy Kersey. You can read a transcribed version of Judge Reade’s decision here. Judge Reade agreed that the Homestead Law applied to Baldy’s land. This was a major victory for Baldy Kersey. Not just one, but two North Carolina Supreme Courts agreed that his land was protected and not subject to be sold off to pay debts.
But it was still not over…
Col. Edwards and his attorneys were able to successfully appeal this case to the United States Supreme Court and posted a $1,000 bond. They argued that this case had federal implications because North Carolina’s Homestead law violated the constitutionality of contracts. In other words, they argued that contracts could no longer be enforceable and would lose value due to what they saw as the overreaching retroactive aspects of the Homestead law.
Edwards V. Kearzey, 96 U.S. 595 (1877) is the United States Supreme Court case that issued the final ruling for this case. The implications of the decision were monumental. A newspaper article from the time provides some context:
Justice Swayne delivered the majority opinion of the Supreme Court and he reversed the ruling of the North Carolina Supreme Court. You can read a transcribed version of his decision here. In his opinion, he provides an in depth discussion about contract law and cites previous cases. He points out that the United States Constitution states that:
no State shall pass any . . . law impairing the obligation of contracts.
Justice Swayne also offers a definition for a contract:
A contract is the agreement of minds, upon a sufficient consideration, that something specified shall be done, or shall not be done.
When reading up on Justice Swayne, I can see it is no surprise that he ruled in the favor of Col. Edwards. In an earlier U.S. Supreme Court Case, Gelpcke v. Dubuque 68 U.S. 175 (1864), Justice Swayne also found that Iowa could not enact state laws which retroactively impaired contracts.
Justice Clifford and Justice Hunt concurred with Justice Swayne’s decision, and Justice Harlan dissented. Justice Harlan was known as the “Great Dissenter” because of his famous dissents including two of the biggest Civil Rights cases of his time: Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3 (1883) and Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896). In both cases the majority opinion of the court sided with the states’ segregation laws but Justice Harlan dissented arguing for equal rights for all.
With the United States Supreme Court ordering ruling in favor of plaintiff Col. Edwards and reversing the lower court’s decision, the court then would need to provide direction on how to resolve the case based upon their ruling.
But…did you really think the fight for Baldy Kersey’s land was over yet?
Baldy Kersey’s Land After the Court Cases
Unfortunately I do not have many records that explain in great detail exactly what happened next. However from an 1883 newspaper article we learn that Col. Edwards was in the process of selling Baldy’s land when Baldy’s mother Sallie Anderson, paid off Baldy’s debt and put the land in her name. At that time, Baldy’s mother Sallie was known as “Sallie Anderson” because she had remarried Martin Anderson.
Baldy’s mother Sallie Anderson saved his land and in the 1880 census, Baldy Kersey does appear to be still living on his own land. Though Sallie left the land in his name as specified in her will, we can see from the above newspaper article that her will was being contested on the grounds of insanity.
I found a digitized copy of her will on Ancestry’s North Carolina Probate Records collection. Unfortunately the text is very faded so not all words are legible. However I see her make no mention of disowning any of her children as stated in the above newspaper article. She divided her estate among her children and specifically named her living children at the time: Emily (Kersey) Richardson, Sallie (Kersey) Tyler, Sophia (Kersey) Anderson, and Baldy Kersey. In addition, she left property for Amanda ______ and Mary Jackson. Sallie doesn’t state their relationship to her, but they are named as heirs so perhaps her grandchildren or siblings. In the will, she does leave Baldy her land but also states that he still owed her $50 and that the debt must be paid in order for him to inherit. I wonder if the $50 is related to her paying off his debts to save the land.
Baldy Kersey continued to appear in the newspaper. On 24 Jan 1890, it was reported in the local paper that Baldy Kersey posted a $200 bond for Lem Richardson to be released on bail on account of being charged with larceny. Lemuel “Lem” Richardson (1867-1922) was the son of Benjamin Richardson and Francis Tyler. Francis Tyler was one of the four children of Martha Jane Tyler that Baldy Kersey had “adopted”. In addition, Baldy Kersey was the brother of Lemuel Richardson’s grandmother Emily (Kersey) Richardson.
Beginning in 1895, we see that Baldy Kersey’s land was posted for sale. Because the Granville County Superior Court records are not available online, I cannot see the cause for the judgment which lead to the sale. As reported in that earlier newspaper article from 1883, Sallie Anderson’s will was being contested on grounds of insanity. Perhaps her will was successfully contested and as a result, the land was posted for sale.
Baldy Kersey died on 20 Nov 1899, where his death was reported in the newspaper a few days later:
Baldy Kersey left a will in which he left all of his property to his “wife” Rovella Tanner and children (both biological and adopted):
Though his land was up for sale, it appears that all the way through until his death in 1899, Baldy Kersey never left his land. The following year in 1900, his land was still on the auction block:
The Bookram family of Granville Co, NC descends directly from a man named Elias Bookram (b. 1790). Though his descendants intermarried with most of Granville’s Native American families, Elias Bookram was a somewhat latecomer to the community. The reason is that Elias was not a local man and instead was from Maryland. Even more fascinating, “Bookram” is a corrupted and Anglicized name derived from the Algonquian language. Elias’ very own surname was a testament to his indigenous tribal identity. Originally known as “Elias Puckham”, he came from the well known and documented Puckham family of the Nanticoke tribe. In this blog post I will discuss the Puckham family’s Nanticoke lineage as well as trace the descendants of Elias Bookram.
Puckham Family and the Nanticoke Tribe
The Nanticoke tribe are an Algonquian speaking people, originally from the upper Eastern Shore area that is today Maryland and Delaware. The earliest colonial records for the Nanticoke are found in Maryland in Somerset, Dorchester, and Wicomico counties. As coastal people, they had early contact with European colonists and as a result were affected immensely by European colonization. An initial reservation was set up for the Nanticoke people on the Nanticoke River in Somerset Co, Maryland in 1698:
At the same time the Lord Proprietor of Maryland issued a proclamation recognizing two Nanticoke towns of Chicone on the west bank of Nanticoke River and Puckamee on the east bank as well as a three-mile buffer zone around it in which Englishmen were prohibited from settling. Notwithstanding this proclamation an English trader named Thomas Taylor was allowed to buy a patent to land within the boundary of the Chicone Indian town named Handsel. In 1698 a formal Nanticoke reservation was created by the Maryland Assembly and the boundaries of Chicone were surveyed.
Source: Cohen, David. The One-Drop Rule in Reverse: The Nanticoke-Lenni Lenape, the Delaware Indians, and the New Jersey Indian Commission.
However due to European encroachment, the tribe purchased another tract of land off of Broad Creek in what is today Sussex Co, DE. According to Nanticoke tribal member Kenneth Clark, this was their seasonal”summer residence” which they made their year round home because of the hostility of the Maryland colonists.
Continued colonial intervention lead to many Nanticoke leaving their homelands and joining other tribes. Some Nanticoke joined the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and descendants today can still be found in the Six Nations Reserve. The Nanticoke were also very close to the Lenape tribe and the two tribes frequently intermarried. When the Lenape were removed to Oklahoma, many Nanticoke joined their kinsfolk and Nanticoke descendants can be found among the Lenape in Oklahoma today. However many Nanticoke remained in their homelands and today there are two “state recognized” Nanticoke tribes: the Nanticoke Indian Association located in Delaware and the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Tribe in New Jersey. During the turn of the 20th century, the Nanticoke in Delaware were visited by some noted anthropologists including Frank Speck, Mark R. Harrington, and William Babcock. You can read Frank Speck’s research here and William Babcock’s research here.
So where do the Puckhams fit into this? The earliest verified direct ancestor of the Puckham family was a Nanticoke Indian named John Puckham born about 1660. A number of texts cite John Puckham as the progenitor of the family, including Helen Rountree’s book found here, a well researched essay authored by the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Tribe of New Jersey found here, the Eastern Shore Indian genealogy website found here, and genealogist Paul Heinegg’s research found here.
The Nanticokes like many other tribes up and down the East Coast went through extensive periods of being racially misclassified by the colonial and U.S. government, often as “mulatto”, “free colored”, “negro”, “black”, and “Moor”. However earlier colonial records reveal the indigenous identity of the tribe’s forebearers. On 25 Feb 1682/3, John Puckham married a woman named Joan Johnson and the official record of their marriage, identifies John Puckham as an Indian:
John Puckham an Indian baptised by John Huett minister on 25th day of January one thouseand six hundred eighty two And the said John Puckham & Jone Johnson negro were married by the said minister ye 25th February Anno Do./ Maryland.
You can see that John Puckham was baptized a month before he married Joan Johnson. During this baptismal, he was likely given the first name “John”. But where did the Puckham surname come? Many researchers believe that the Puckham surname is derived from the former Nanticoke village called Puckamee which was located in Somerset Co, MD. Given that John Puckham lived in Somerset Co, it’s quite likely he came from Puckamee village and that is how he acquired his last name. “Puckamee”, according to fellow researcher Duane Brayboy Williams, is likely derived from the Lenape dialect of the Algonquian word “puccoon” which means “red ochre”. The suffix “mee” refers to a place. So “Puckamee” means “a place to source red ochre”. Duane also explained that in the Renape dialect of Algonquian, the word for “ochre” means “ancestors”. Traditionally, people adorned themselves with red ochre as a way to represent the ancestors and acknowledge their ever presence. So when we think about John Puckham and his descendants, I think it’s quite amazing that their surname truly represents their Nanticoke ancestors.
After John Puckham’s death, his widow Joan bound out their sons to be apprentices and so we are able to trace John’s lineage forward. By the mid 1700s, some of John Puckham’s descendants were still in Somerset Co, MD but several had also moved up to Sussex Co, DE. As discussed above, the Nanticoke tribe moved up the river, across the state line into Delaware so that is likely why some of the Puckhams moved that way.
We also have a colonial record of another Puckham identified as an Indian. The tensions between the European colonists and tribes on the Eastern Shore peninsula escalated to the point where in 1742 representatives from a number of Eastern Shore tribes met with the Shawnee tribe at a place called “Winnasoccum” in Maryland to strategize. The colony found out about the meeting and rounded up a number of the individuals to sign a peace treaty including a George Puckham who was identified as one of the signatory “chiefs” of the treaty. George Puckham is believed to be a grandson of John Puckham (b. 1660). You can read more about the Winnasoccum meeting here.
So there is very good primary source documentation showing the Puckham family originated in Somerset Co, MD with a Nanticoke man named John Puckham. From here we’ll turn our discussion to Granville Co and Elias Bookram.
Elias Puckham aka Bookram in Granville County
I remember when I first started my genealogy research and learned about the Bookram family. Though I’m not a direct descendant of the Bookram family, I’m related to most of them through other shared common ancestors. The surname always stuck out to me because it was rare and quite unusual. The pronunciation of the surname sounded like the Algonquian language, so I had suspected that “Bookram” could be some sort of Anglicized version of an Algonquian word. Therefore you can imagine my excitement when I finally made the connection between Elias Bookram and the Nanticoke Puckham family. I’ll explain below how I did it.
The first record I have for Elias Bookram in Granville Co is the 1820 census. He is the head of a household of 8 “free colored” people living in Hatch’s District which is in southern Granville Co. The household looks to include himself, a wife, four sons and two daughters. So we can surmise from this record that Elias Bookram was first married before 1820 and had at least 6 children born before 1820. But what is very telling is how his surname is spelled in this census record – “Elias PUCKINS”. It is quite noteworthy that his name was spelled this way, the first time that he appears in the Granville records.
On 24 Jun 1824, Elias Bookram married for a second time to Chashe Scott. So we know any children born to Elias on or after 1824, were from his second wife. The Scotts are a Saponi Indian/”free colored” family that came to the Granville area in the mid/late 1700s. But again what is important about this record is the spelling of Elias’ surname – “Elias PUCKRAM”. These first two records for Elias Bookram in Granville Co clearly show his surname was spelled with a “P” and not a “B” and I think it’s understandable how one letter could be confused for the other because they sound similar.
In the 1830 census for Granville Co, Elias Bookram is the head of a household of 14 “free colored” people. The household looks to include Elias, his second wife Chashe, six sons and six daughters. For this census record his name is spelled “Elisha BUCKRAM”. This is the first time that his surname was spelled with a “B”. I can also tell by his neighbors that Elias Bookram was still residing in the southern part of Granville County and living among other families from the Native American community: Chavis, Guy, Pettiford, Jones, Anderson, Harris, Bibby, Taborn, Evans, Bass.
Elias Bookram still had a large household in the 1840 census for Granville Co. He was the head of a household of 12 “free colored” people that look to include Elias, second wife Chashe, three sons and seven daughters. His name in this census is spelled “Elias BOOKRAM” which became the most common standardized spelling of the name.
As you know, censuses before 1850 only list the name of the head of household and don’t include other important information like birthplace. Thankfully Elias Bookram lived long enough to be counted in the 1850 census and you will see why this is important. In the 1850 census for Granville Co, Elias was enumerated as the head of a household with his wife Chashe and 7 daughters. He was counted in the Dutch(ville) district which is still southern Granville Co. Now here’s the crucial piece of evidence: Elias Bookram’s birthplace is listed as Maryland. You can see his wife, children, and neighbors were all born in North Carolina. So the enumerator wrote in Elias’ out of state birthplace which lets us know that is was not likely an error. In addition to the unusual surname, Elias’ birthplace of Maryland in the 1850 census was also very odd to me because nearly everyone in the community was born in North Carolina. And if not North Carolina, then Virginia. It was rare to see someone born outside of North Carolina and Virginia. So from this census record we have confirmation that Elias Bookram was from Maryland.
Elias Bookram died sometime between the 1850 and 1860 censuses because his widow Chashe (Scott) Bookram is enumerated in the 1860 census without her husband.
I should also mention that I have identified a couple of other families in Granville Co that came from Native American tribes in Maryland and Delaware. A Revolutionary War soldier named Joseph Proctor (1759-1843) who was born in Maryland and from the Piscataway Tribe’s Proctor family, relocated to Granville Co in the late 1790s. There was also Joseph Okey b. 1725 who was from Sussex Co, Delaware and of the Lenni-Lenape Okey family. He relocated to Granville Co by about 1765. In the 1840 and 1850 censuses, Elias Bookram is in fact living in the next household over from the Okey family. I don’t believe the Puckhams/Bookrams, Proctors, and Okeys moved to Granville Co together because they all first appear in the Granville records at different times. However, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that several people from Maryland/Delaware tribes relocated to Granville Co.
I think I effectively have shown in previous blog posts that there was a network of Native American communities throughout North Carolina and Virginia that are related by kinship. But these networks did not stop at the state borders. Clearly there was a network up and down the east coast of kinship circles. It is no coincidence that Elias Bookram from the Nanticoke tribe in Maryland happened to relocate to another Native American community in North Carolina. He had prior knowledge of the community and likely knew that some of his closer tribal relations in Maryland and Delaware (Proctor and Okey families) had already relocated down there. And it is very much worth mentioning that displaced Saponi, Tuscarora and other NC/VA tribal peoples who relocated to the upper midwest and Canada during the early 1800s, intermarried with displaced Maryland/Delaware tribes like the Nanticoke, Lenape and Piscataway who also relocated to the upper Midwest and Canada. So Granville Co was by no means the only place where a diverse set of tribal peoples came together. This is one of many reasons why I reject the antiquated anthropological term “tri-racial isolate” to describe our communities. Yes these were people that for tribal kinship purposes practiced heavy endogamy which is no different from tribal peoples elsewhere (and there were laws forbidding them to marry free whites and black slaves), but they weren’t ignorant of the world around them and weren’t cut off from other peoples.
I would still like to know more about why Elias Bookram seemingly on his own, traveled to Granville Co to settle down. I think the Revolutionary War played a factor in this. The Nanticoke tribe sided with the British during the War and as you can imagine, the newly formed U.S. government did not take kindly to that. The post Revolutionary War era saw a major exodus of Nanticoke peoples away from their homelands. Perhaps Elias thought it would be safer for him to move to a very tight knit Native American community which interestingly boasted a large number of Revolutionary War veterans of the Continental Army. In addition, Granville Co at this time had a reputation for being “liberal” with its “free colored” population. Having “friendly whites” as your neighbors versus antagonizing ones, is certainly a draw.
At this time, I’m not able to definitively state who Elias Bookram’s parents were. If his approximate birth date of 1790 is correct and all of his life events are consistent with that being his approximate birth year, then he would be a minor around 1800 and living with his family in Maryland. I have identified three men who are brothers who could possibly be Elias’ father. First we have George Puckham born around 1766. He was a tithable across the Maryland border in Kent Co, DE in 1788 and 1789. In the 1800 census he is in Somerset Co, MD the head of a household of 5 “free colored” people. The census doesn’t break down the age and gender of the household members. And in the 1820 census George Puckham is the head of a household of 5 “free colored” people in Somerset Co, MD.
Second we have Levin Puckham born around 1768. He was also a tithable in 1788 and 1789 in Kent Co, DE and a tithable in Sussex Co, De in 1790. He doesn’t seem to appear in the 1800 census, but he is captured in the 1810 census in Somerset Co, MD the head of a household of 3 “free colored” people and 1 white woman over the age of 45. The white woman was most likely Levin Puckham’s wife. Levin was counted in the 1820 census, head of a household of 4 “free colored ” people. And third we have John Puckham born around 1770 who was a delinquent tithable in Sussex Co, DE in 1790. On 7 Apr 1804, John purchased 32 acres of land in Somerset Co, MD. These three brothers: George, Levin, and John Puckham were great-grandsons of John Puckham b. 1660 the documented Nanticoke Indian.
Elias Bookram’s Descendants
As can be seen from his census household numbers, Elias Bookram had a very large family. His was married twice and most of his children were born to his second wife Chashe Scott. The name of Elias’ first wife is not known. She may have also been Nanticoke and came with Elias Bookram to Granville Co. Or she may have been from the Native American community in Granville and Elias married her when he relocated here. All of Elias Bookram’s children that I have documented appear to have been born in North Carolina but I wouldn’t completely rule out that some of the eldest children could have been born in Maryland. Elias Bookram migrated to Granville Co in the 1810s and because he lived in the southern part of the county, his children and descendants can also be found in the records of counties bordering to the south such as Wake, Franklin, and Orange (later Durham) counties. The big challenge with researching this family is the many various spellings of the surname. In the Granville, Wake, Franklin, and Orange Co records, I have found their surname spelled: Bookram, Bookrum, Pookram, Buckram, Bookrun, Bookriam, Bookhum, and more. So if you are researching this family, you will need to be quite creative when thinking about spelling variations in order to locate records.
*1. Walter Bookram (1810-1893): married Nancy Copeland on 28 Nov 1841 in Wake Co. Appears in the 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses with his family in Franklin Co. Descendants intermarried with the Outlaw, Ransom, and Hawkins families.
*2. William Bookram (b. 1812): appears in the 1850 Orange Co census with first wife Betsy (maiden name unknown) and children. He married for a second time on 17 Jan 1852 in Wake Co to Susan Mitchell. He then appears in the 1860 census for Wake Co with his second Susan and children. Most of his children either died young or did not marry, but one daughter named Frances Bookram married a Burnett. Very noteworthy is his son Henry Haywood Bookram who actually reverted to the “P” spelling of the surname and can be found in the 1870 and 1880 censuses as “Haywood Pookrum”. His descendants continued to use the “Pookrum” spelling of the surname.
*3. Gavin Bookram (b. 1815): appears in 1850 Granville Co census with wife Patsy Evans and children. He married first wife Patsy Evans on 3 May 1842 in Granville Co and married second wife Polly Chavis on 19 Feb 1854 in Granville Co.
4. Emaline Bookram (b. 1826): married Jesse Hedgepeth on 10 May 1845 in Granville Co. She appears in the 1850, 1850, 1870, and 1880 censuses in Granville Co. She had a lot of children who also continued to intermarry into the community with families such as Howell, Brandon, Evans, Kersey, and Jones.
5. Sally Bookram (b. 1827): married Moses Hedgepeth on 4 Sep 1845 in Granville Co. She appears in the 1850 census with her husband and children.
6. Dilly Bookram (b. 1831): married Paul Taborn on 15 Feb 1854 in Granville Co. She appears in the 1850 census for Granville Co and the 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, and 1910 censuses for Wake Co. Descendants intermarried with the Boswell/Braswell and Allen families.
7. Alfred Bookram (b. 1833): married Anna Peed on 10 Dec 1852 in Granville Co. He appears in the 1860 and 1870 censuses for Granville CO and the 1880 census for Orange Co. In the 1900 census he was back in Granville Co and in that census record, his father’s birthplace is listed as “Maryland”, again confirming Elias Bookram’s Maryland roots. Descendants intermarried with the Evans and Harris families.
8. Betsy Bookram (b. 1834): married Thorton Pettiford on 13 Sep 1852 in Granville Co. She appears in the 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, and 1900 censuses for Granville Co. She left no surviving children.
9. Solomon Bookram (b. 1836): married Sallie Ann Pettiford on 11 Sep 1859 in Granville Co. He appears in the 1850 census for Granville Co and the 1860 census for Franklin Co. Solomon died young and his widow and children relocated to Oberlin, Ohio in the 1870s.
10. Nancy Bookram (b. 1837): married Paul Weaver on 23 Sep 1857 in Granville Co. She appears in the 1850 census for Granville Co. I cannot find Nancy after she married Paul Weaver, so I’m unsure if she moved away or died young. I do find her husband Paul Weaver in the 1880 census in Orange Co listed as “single” and living with his sister.
11. Rena Bookram (b. 1840): appears in the 1850 and 1860 censuses in Granville Co. I have no record of her marrying and can’t find her in later censuses, so she may have died young.
12. Frances Bookram (b. 1841): appears in the 1850 and 1860 censuses in Granville Co. I also have no record of her marrying so she may have died young. There was another Frances Bookram (b. 1850) who was the daughter of the above William Bookram (b. 1812). This second Frances Bookram married William Burnett on 4 Jan 1868 in Wake Co. I mention this because it is easy to confuse the two women.
13. Mary Bookram (b. 1843): married William Foster Chavis on 19 Dec 1862 in Granville Co. She appears in the 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 censuses of Granville Co.
* Indicates children of Elias Bookram who were born to his first unknown wife
Unlike most other surnames found among Granville’s Native Americans, “Bookram” is not a European name. Our European surnames usually came via intermarriage with whites, slavery, apprenticeship, and adoption. So this makes the Bookram surname unique in our community because it is somewhat of an artifact, connecting the present to the past. All Bookram descendants should feel proud to carry on this name that comes from our pre-colonial past.