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!
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.
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.
The Levy family came to Granville County well after the Native community had been established. Before that we find ancestors of the Levy family in Fayetteville, Wilmington, Guadeloupe, London, and Holland. The reason for this is that although the Levys were Native American/”free colored” people, they also were of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. This unique and fascinating aspect of their heritage will be documented in this blog post.
Jacob Levy (1780-1850)
The story of the Native American Levy family in North Carolina begins in Wilmington. But the Ashkenazi Jewish origins of this Levy family take us back to Holland. It is there that Jacob Levy , progenitor of the Native American Levy family, was born. We know a bit about Jacob Levy’s life from the biography of his great nephew Confederate Statesman Judah P. Benjamin (1811-1884) found here. Additionally, Jacob Levy is discussed quite a bit in this text about Jewish American history in North Carolina, so I have also used this for source information as well.
Jacob Levy was living in Holland in the late 1700s when his sister Eva Levy married a Sephardic Jewish man named Solomon de Mendes. They had a daughter named Rebecca de Mendes and the family moved with Jacob Levy to London, England soon after 1790. In London we learn that Rebecca de Mendes married a Sephardic Jewish man named Phillip Benjamin by about 1807. The following year, Phillip and Rebecca Benjamin moved to St. Criox, now part of the U.S Virgin Islands, in the Caribbean and that is where their son Judah P. Benjamin was born in 1811. This was during the Napoleonic Wars and St. Criox which was Danish territory yet British occupied, was under heavy guard by British war ships. As a result, the Benjamin family moved to the United States in 1813.
Rebecca (de Mendes) Benjamin’s uncle Jacob Levy was already situated in Wilmington, North Carolina and it was probably he who persuaded the Benjamins to leave St. Criox. I do not know the exact year Jacob Levy left London to come to the United States and I have reason to believe he also likely came to the West Indies before coming to the U.S. The first records for Jacob Levy in the U.S. are in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1799 when it was published in the paper that he was dissolving his business relationship with Abraham Isaacs. Wilmington was home to a small yet thriving community of Jewish (Ashkenazi and Sephardic) merchants who mostly dealt with West Indian trade goods (nearby Charleston, SC had the largest Jewish population in the U.S.).
In 1819 a fire destroyed Jacob Levy’s store, so he moved up to Fayettville and his niece Rebecca Benjamin, along with her husband Phillip Benjamin and son Judah Benjamin (and siblings) relocated to Fayetteville as well. Jacob Levy opened a store there and the Benjamins resided on the second floor. Jacob Levy paid for Judah Benjamin to attend Fayetteville Academy and Jacob was a well respected member of the community who was praised for his skills as an auctioneer:
We learn first hand from a letter written by a childhood friend of Judah Benjamin, that Jacob Levy, along with his sister Mrs. Wright (this was actually Phillip Benjamin’s sister Harriet Wright) left Fayetteville around 1826 and relocated to New Orleans so that Jacob Levy could expand his business:
I found additional corroboration in a newspaper ad from 1827 which shows Jacob Levy’s trust selling off his Fayetteville property:
Jacob Levy died on July 19, 1850 in New Orleans and he is buried at the Dispersed of Judah Cemetery where his tombstone still stands:
From the above records we know much about Jacob Levy’s business life but his personal family life is not as well documented. According to one text, Jacob Levy’s wife was “Maria”, daughter of his Sephardic Jewish business partner Aaron Lopez. I did find family trees which indicate that this Maria died in 1812 back when Jacob Levy was still living in Wilmington and it does not appear they had any children that lived to adulthood. And in reviewing all the biographies about Judah Benjamin, there is no mention of Jacob Levy having children of his own living in the household with the Benjamin family.
However there is one woman who is known to have had at least one son with Jacob Levy, and she was commonly known as “French Mary”. Mary’s origins though are not so transparent and I found numerous conflicting stories about her heritage. In consideration of the many documents I looked over, I believe “French Mary” was Native American (Carib Indian) and was enslaved in Guadeloupe and later freed by Jacob Levy in North Carolina. Below I’ll present the source material for “French Mary” and how I came to this conclusion.
On 4 December 1876, Jacob Levy’s son Lewis Levy submitted a claim to the Southern Claim Commission to be compensated for his losses during the Civil War. He provided testimony that he was a free born person, born to an Indian woman from Guadeloupe who came to this country in 1794:
We learn from several newspaper articles starting in the 1890s, that “French Mary” was a well known local woman because she had famously served dinner to General Marquis de Lafayette (namesake of Fayetteville) when he visited Fayetteville in 1825. De Lafayette, a Frenchman, was so impressed with the dinner that he was served, that he knew the cook must have been French. We learn from one article that Mary was a small, dark skinned woman with straight hair and usually wore a turban style head handkerchief:
Mary’s ethnic origins differ with each retelling of the infamous story of her famous meal to General de Lafayette. In the above newspaper article, she is described as being “Moorish” and that she was kidnapped and sold into slavery, where she was first brought to France, then to a West Indian island, and then brought to Charleston, S.C. and finally Fayetteville. I have found that “Moor” when used in the context of the United States does not always mean the historic Moors who were an Arab/Muslim population that inhabited and controlled Spain over many centuries. Instead it usually is meant to signal someone’s non-European physical appearance. I think in the context of “French Mary”, she may have been referred to as a Moor due to her dark physical appearance and her relationship with the Sephardic Jewish Benjamin family. Also, “French Mary” was noted as wearing a “turban” which may have also contributed to the lore that she was a Moor.
In a 1903 newspaper article authored by Mary’s grandson John Sheridan Leary, he described her as a woman named “Mary Ann Willette” who came from France to America and was well regarded as a good cook. Guadeloupe was at that time and still is a French territory, which is why it was referred to as “France”:
And in a 1921 newspaper article, “French Mary” is said to have not been born a slave, but was a free woman who came to Wilmington on a sailing vessel and the captain then sold her into slavery. What’s also interesting about this article is that the author thinks that General de Lafayette visited Phillip Benjamin’s family (including Jacob Levy) and that is why it was “French Mary” who cooked the meal:
What is consistent about “French Mary” is that she had three known documented children: 1. Lewis Levy (who is the subject of the next section); 2. Juliette Memorell who married Matthew Leary and was the mother of Lewis Sheridan Leary (1835-1859) who took part in John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859, and 3. John Ochiltree. The fact that her three children all had different surnames suggests that each child had a different father.
We know that Jacob Levy was a slave owner and we even know the names of some of his slaves from legal transactions. From the Wilmington records we learn that on 28 March 1817 Jacob Levy manumitted his “mulatto” slave named Margaret Allan and her child Jacob. The same year, Jacob Levy purchased a “negro” slave named Isaac. And in the Fayetteville records, we learn that in 1819 Jacob Levy had a “mustee” slave girl name Maria that he deeded to his newborn great nephew Jacob Levy Benjamin (son of Jacob Levy’s niece Rebecca Benjamin). This last record is especially interesting because the slave’s name is “Maria” and she’s described as “mustee” meaning very specifically of mixed Native American/African descent. This slave girl could be related to “French Mary” or could possibly be “French Mary” herself. The newborn baby Jacob Levy Benjamin did not survive childhood, so I’m not sure where the enslaved “Maria” ended up. And when we consider that Jacob Levy was a merchant of West Indian goods, it stands to reason that his slaves also came from the West Indies.
So if Lewis Levy was born to Jacob Levy and his freed slave “French Mary”, then that would explain why neither “French Mary” or Lewis Levy went with Jacob Levy to New Orleans in 1826. We saw that Jacob Levy sold his real estate in Fayetteville in 1827 and I wonder if he left behind any money or property to his son before taking off.
Out of all the evidence presented about “French Mary”, I think the statement made by her son Lewis Levy back in 1876 that she was an Indian woman from Guadeloupe is the most credible. Not only is that the earliest document that speaks directly to “French Mary’s” heritage but it was information given from her own direct son, who would be most familiar with his mother’s heritage. Guadeloupe was during that time period and still today, a French territory and would explain the “French” aspect of Mary’s cultural background and culinary skills. The indigenous people of Guadeloupe are the Carib Indians and there are still recognized Carib people on the island today. So taking all the above information into consideration, I do believe that “French Mary” was a Carib Indian woman from Guadeloupe. She was most likely born a slave and freed at some point by the Levy/Benjamin family where she continued to work and have a child by Jacob Levy.
Lewis Levy (1820-1899)
This brings us to Lewis Levy, whose Southern Claims Commission record we reviewed above. Lewis Levy identifies himself as the son of Jacob Levy the auctioneer from Fayetteville and an Indian woman (“French Mary”):
The first record I have for Lewis Levy is when he married Sarah Jane Scott(1825-1898) on 24 Apr 1843 in Cumberland Co, NC with Abram Scott paying the bond. Abram Scott was Sarah Jane Scott’s father who resided in Cumberland Co by 1830. Sarah Jane Scott was a Native American woman of Saponi/Catawba heritage.
We first find Lewis Levy with wife Sarah Jane Scott and children living in Fayettville, Cumberland Co in the 1850 census. The entire family was enumerated as “mulatto”” and Lewis is listed as a saddler and harness maker. In 1844, Lewis Levy opened his shop in Lumberton and advertised it in the newspaper:
However something serious must have happened to the family because in 1851 Lewis Levy announced via the newspaper that he was trying to leave Fayetteville as soon as possible and so he was hoping to wrap up all outstanding business. I don’t know exactly why Lewis Levy suddenly decided to leave but it could be that the “Free Negro” laws were ruining him financially. After the Nat Turner slave rebellion in Southampton Co, VA, North Carolina in 1835 passed a new constitution that rescinded the rights that “free people of color” had and instead began to strictly enforce “Free Negro” laws. The last couple of decades leading up to the Civil War were incredibly oppressive times for all “free people of color” in North Carolina.
But, Lewis Levy did not leave Fayetteville and in the 1860 census, his family was enumerated again in Fayetteville. This means Lewis Levy stayed in the South during the Civil War and we learn a little bit about his experiences during the War from his Southern Claims Commission (#16083) record from 1876. The full file is available on fold3.com. Lewis Levy stayed loyal to the Union and aided General Sherman’s troops with food and transportation so he sought to be compensated for his expenses. He filed a claim for $1592.65 and supplied a detailed list of exactly what he provided to the Union soldiers and the associated cost. In return, the commission allowed him to claim $723. Within the 75 pages of this claim, Levy provides testimony that he was assaulted and abused by the Confederate soldiers and because Levy himself was so fair skinned and could “pass” for white, the Confederacy tried to force him to enlist. Friends and family of Lewis Levy provided additional testimony to corroborate his claims.
Lewis Levy made his mark during the post-Civil War Reconstruction politics of the South. Unlike most “people of color” (both free-born and freedmen) who were members of the Republican Party (the “Radical Republicans”), Lewis Levy was a member of the Democratic Party – specifically the “Colored Democratic Club of Wilmington”. And this put him at odds with his neighbors and community as seen in this news article:
Cumberland County continued be Lewis Levy’s home until his death in 1899. A newspaper article relays the news that Lewis Levy’s died en route while visiting his son Matthew Levy in Virginia:
Lewis Levy and Sarah Jane Scott had the following children (some may have been grandchildren):
1. Eiza Levy (b. 1842) Died in childhood.
2. Robert Levy (b. 1844) married Celia Scott and continued to live in Cumberland Co. Descendants enrolled with the Lumbee Tribe.
3. Lewis Levy Jr. (1846-1945) married Josephine Holliday and later settled in Philadelphia.
4. Matthew Levy (1850-1913) married Elizabeth Merrick and moved to Virginia.
5. ***James W. Levy (1852-1936) married Martha Freeman and moved up to Granville Co. He is the subject of the following section.
6. (William) Henry Levy (1854-1938) married Tempie Young and remained in Cumberland Co. Descendants enrolled with the Lumbee tribe.
7. Edward Levy (b. 1858) Died in childhood.
8. Mary Jane “Jennie” Levy (b. 1861) married James Pearce
9. William L. Levy (b. 1863) Died in childhood.
10. Charlotte Levy (b. 1870) Died in childhood, birth date suggests granddaughter not daughter.
11. Anna Levy (b. 1872) Died in childhood, birth date suggests granddaughter not daughter.
12. Aurelia Levy (b. 1876) Died in childhood, birth date suggests granddaughter not daughter.
James W. Levy (1852-1936)
So this brings us to the Granville County part of the Levy history and that begins with James W. Levy, son of Lewis Levy and Sarah Jane Scott. James was the only child of Lewis Levy that moved up to Granville Co. I don’t have an exact year for this move but it occurred in the mid 1880s because James is last enumerated in Cumberland Co in the 1880 census. James moved to to the township of Kittrell, which is situated right next to Fishing Creek. Up until 1881 Kittrell was part of Granville Co and due to political maneuvering, Vance Co was created in 1881 from a small section of Ganville Co which included Kittrell.
It is there that James married a woman from the Native community named Martha Freeman (1865-1944). Martha was the daughter of John Freeman and Elizabeth Hayes and is descended from the Native American Freeman, Hayes, Taborn, and Epps families. Though she was raised in Kittrell, most of Martha’s family came from neighboring Person Co in the High Plains community that is today the Sappony Tribe of Person County. I have not located James Levy and Martha Feeman’s marriage record yet but according to census info, they married around 1887.
James Levy was a popular minister at A.M.E. Zion Church and was active and well known in the Native community and throughout Granville/Vance Co. James served on the Board of Directors for the Colored Orphanage in Oxford, Granville Co. The orphanage was situated a very short distance from the Native community, so community members took a strong interest in the institution and did a lot to support its efforts. For example, I’ve found that my 2nd great-grandfather James E Howell and his first cousin James A Howell volunteered their services and often took in children from the orphanage.
James Levy remained in Kittrell until his death in 1936. His wife Martha (Freeman) Levy also remained in Kittrell until her death in 1944. And what I think is a bit uncommon for the times, James Levy and Martha Freeman only had two children: a son named Dr. James W. Levy Jr and a daughter named Bessie Levy.
Dr. James W. Levy Jr. (1893-1975) – Medical Doctor, Bureau of Indian Affairs
James Levy Jr was the son of James Levy Sr. and Martha Freeman and early in his life, left North Carolina to assist other Native American communities. James was born and raised in Kittrell and enrolled in Winston-Salem State University, a historically black university in Winston-Salem, Forsyth County. He earned his medical license in 1915 as seen in a newspaper article that listed people who passed the North Carolina medical examination:
In Winston-Salem, NC he met and married a woman named Christina Dykes on 21 Jan 1916. They had one son together named Ulysses Levy (1916-2003) but it appears the couple divorced soon after they wed.
We next find Dr. James Levy Jr in 1917 living all the way out in Minnesota. According to his WW1 draft record, James was working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (then called the U.S. Indian Service) as a medical doctor on the Leech Lakereservation. He is described as single, Indian, and that his mother was his dependent:
The Leech Lake reservation is the reservation for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota where the Bureau of Indian Affairs is responsible for carrying out treaty obligations between the United States government and the tribe. These treaty obligations include access to healthcare and so Dr. James Levy’s patients were all from the reservation.
Dr. James Levy also developed a relationship with a woman from the Leech Lake reservation named “Marie”, her surname is unknown. She accompanied Dr. James Levy on a trip back home to Kittrell, NC to meet his parents:
American Indians served in high numbers during World War 1 and a result many returning Indian veterans of the World War came back to the U.S. with little support from the federal government. Thus in 1920 Dr. James Levy along with several other American Indians from other tribes formed the “American Indians of the Wold War” (AIWW) in Minneapolis:
Unfortunately I have not found Dr. James Levy in the 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses. I get the feeling he moved around a bit, likely working on different projects for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. And if he was living on reservations, he may not have been counted in the general U.S. census. If the Bureau still has records of James Levy’s employment, that would be worthwhile to look at.
By 1931, James Levy was living in Miami, OK and married an Arkansas-born woman named Dorothy O’Connor. By the 1950s onward, the couple is consistently listed in the Sioux City, Iowa city directories where James Levy is listed as a medical doctor.
James Levy died in September 1975 and is buried in the Calvary Cemetery in Sioux City, IA in the same plot as his wife Dorothy who predeceased him in 1969:
Bessie Levy (1888-1980)
Bessie Levy was the daughter of James Levy Sr. and Martha Freeman, and sister to Dr. James W Levy. Unlike her brother, Bessie stayed local and married within the community.
On 24 September 1913 in Kittrell, Bessie Levy married George Huley Tyler from Fishing Creek of the Native American Tyler, Guy, Kersey, Day, Anderson, Bass, Evans, Walden, Taborn, Chavis families.
In the 1920 census we find Bessie Levy with her husband George Tyler and their children, living with Bessie’s parents in Kittrell. She is listed as a teacher so we know she was an educated woman like her brother Dr. James Levy. Her husband George Tyler was a photographer who had his own studio. They had 8 children who lived into adulthood (including 1 who is still living) and at least 2 children who died in infancy.
In 1948, Bessie Levy and husband George Tyler moved up from Granville/Vance Cos to Boston, MA where some of their children had already settled. They both remained in Boston until their deaths – Bessie died in 1980 and her husband George predeceased her in 1961.
By taking a close look at the Levy family, we see that the European heritage of some Native American families did not just include Christians. European Jews were also settlers in the Carolinas where they had many opportunities to intermarry with local Native Americans and blacks. As “minority” populations in Europe, it stands to reason that in the Americas they may have also faced discrimination from their Christian European counterparts, thus at times placing them on a social level that was in close proximity to that of “free people of color”. So as we explore the diverse heritage of these families, we should keep an open mind about the contribution of other “minority” European groups.
For the 1820 census of Granville County, the enumerators did something unusual – they enumerated every household by district. Most censuses of rural counties during this time period, simply enumerated every household in the county without dividing them among the districts within the county. For reasons unknown to me (perhaps the 1820 census was based off of a tax list?), the enumerators did something different for the 1820 census. What they did is a tremendous help to researchers because we can geographically locate where in Granville, a family was living. Though it was a noble effort, it was unfortunately executed poorly. Many of the census pages for the 1820 census for Granville County were not properly labeled, were sequenced out of order and some pages were erroneously mixed in with the census for Guilford County, creating quite a confusion. But do not fear – I correctly resequenced the 1820 census by district.
The 1820 census for Granville County is divided into the following districts with the corresponding page numbers:
Oxford – pages 3, 4, 33, 34
Henderson – pages 5, 6, 46 (46 mixed in with Guilford County)
Epping Forest – pages 7, 8
Fishing Creek – pages 9, 10
Tabbs Creek – pages 11, 12
Fort Creek – pages 13, 14, 49 (49 mixed in with Guilford County)
Beaverdam – pages 15, 16, 47 , 48 (47 and 48 mixed in with Guilford County)
Ledge of Rock – pages 17, 18, 41 (41 mixed in with Guilford County)
Tar River – pages 19, 20, 39 (39 mixed in with Guilford County)
Goshen – pages 21, 22, 37 (37 mixed in with Guilford County)
Abram Plains – pages 23, 24
Island Creek – pages 25, 26
Nutbush – pages 27, 28
Napp (Knapp) of Reeds – pages 29, 30
Raglands – pages 31, 32
County Line – pages 35, 36 (36 mixed in with Guilford County)
Hatch District – pages 43, 44, 45 (all pages mixed in with Guilford County)
Pages 38, 40 and 42 are blank
The following is a list of every household headed by a “free person of color” in the 1820 census for Granville County. Most but not all of these families were part of the Native American community.
Ledge of Rock:
John Silvy/Silva/Silver (incorrectly indexed in Guilford County)
Napp (Knapp) of Reeds:
Collins Pettiford (incorrectly indexed in Guilford County)
Abram Smith (incorrectly indexed in Guilford County)
Hatch District (all incorrectly indexed in Guilford County):
Elias Bookram (enumerated as “Elias Puckins”)
There were no “free colored” head of households in the Epping Forest, Fort Creek, and Island Creek Districts.
If you located your research subject in the list above, then you now know what district of Granville County in 1820 they were living in. Many of these district names have changed over the years and their boundaries have changed as well. For example, I have found that what was considered Oxford in 1820 included large sections of Fishing Creek.
To aide in identifying where these districts are located, I labeled the following map:
Given the frequency of racial mislabeling of Granville County’s Native Americans, how exactly can we be sure we’re correctly identifying “Indian” people? This is a fair and common question. Identifying Native Americans in the colonial and historical records throughout the Southeast is very challenging because Native Americans were seldomly identified individually by name and all free non-whites fell under the politically created term “free colored”. In addition, any real or perceived African racial “admixture” usually meant Native Americans with any African ancestry, were often not enumerated in official government documents as “Indian”. In spite of these challenges, there are still ways to correctly identify Native American communities.
This is why the writing of local Granville County historian Oscar W. Blacknall (1852-1918) is crucial in understanding the identify and social life of Granville County’s Native American community. As a white man, he provides an outsider perspective of the community but because of his family’s deep colonial roots in the area, he was intimately familiar with the community’s families. And one very important and consistent description in Blacknall’s writing about the “free colored” community is that although he includes the term “free negro” to describe the people, he is absolutely certain of their “Indian” racial identity.
Background Information on Oscar W. Blacknall aka David Dodge
Before we explore his writings, here is some background info on Oscar W. Blacknall (1852-1918). He was the son of fallen Confederate soldier Col. Charles C. Blacknall and Virginia Baskerville Spencer. His paternal great-grandmother was Mary “Polly” Kittrell, whose Kittrell family is the namesake for the town of Kittrell where her family has pre Revolutionary War roots. Blacknall wrote in many newspapers and magazines, sometimes under the pseudonym “David Dodge”. His life ended in a murder-suicide tragedy in 1918 when he killed his wife, his daughter, and then killed himself. This was after the devastating deaths of several of his children.
“The Free Negroes of North Carolina” from January 1886, The Atlantic Monthly
The first Blacknall writing that we will discuss is titled, “The Free Negroes of North Carolina” in the January 1886 edition of The Atlantic Monthly. Blacknall wrote this article under his pseudonym “David Dodge”. It is a long article and I will not be reposting the entire text, but you can access the full text here. Instead I will repost important excerpts, starting with this one:
The other factor in their decadence — or perhaps more correctly, another cause of their torpor and inelasticity —is the considerable infusion of Indian blood generally diffused by exclusive intermarriage in their own class, and which has unduly asserted itself owing to their irregular mode of life for many generations. From the nature of the case, the extent of this infusion is of course hard to approximate. If the account of the free negro himself is to be received, it is large, though his anxiety to disown all negro affinity causes one to receive his statement with caution and allowance. But, tradition aside, many, if not the larger part, of the free negroes whose freedom dates back further than this century show traits of mind and body that are unmistakably Indian. In many instances, long, coarse, straight black hair and high cheek-bones are joined with complexions whose duskiness disclaims white blood and with features clearly un-African. True, these extreme types are the exception; but the majority shade up to it more or less closely. These traits are more noticeable among women, forming no exception to the usual accentuation of racial characteristics in the female. The mental qualities of unrecuperativeness and transcendent indolence of a drowsy, listless type, coupled with lurking vindictiveness, all point the same way.
This excerpt shows that Blacknall is unequivocal in his statement that the “free negroes” of the area he lived in are Native Americans. He even describes how the people strongly self-identify as “Indian”, perhaps at times over-stating their Indian identity. Blacknall believes the people to be not only Indian in their appearance but also in their personality and lifestyle. He uses the common racial tropes of “high cheekbones” and “straight hair” to describe the women as “Indian”. And Blacknall also points out what he perceives to be the community’s anti-modern, backwards, suspicious, and lazy demeanor as characteristically “Indian”. Something that he eludes to but discusses in more detail in the subsequent excerpt, is the extremely endogamous marriage patterns of the community – i.e., people almost exclusively marry their own kin.
My neighborhood contains an “Ol’ Isshy” town, a petrified remnant of the past, hardly an exaggeration of the general type, in which the above race marks are to be seen in their full development. It stands about five miles from the railroad station, and consists of some half a dozen families, scantily provided with fathers, crowded into as many little huts scattered here and there on a “slipe” of very poor, rocky ridge. Here they have vegetated for several generations since their ancestors immigrated from Virginia, early in the century. They are intensely clannish and loyal to each other, timid and suspicious of the outside world, of which they are incredibly ignorant. Many of the women have grown old without ever seeing the cars or having been in a town, although almost within sight of both.They still cherish boundless respect for the class that are to them, and to them alone, “rich folks,” coupled with an abiding dislike of the “New Isshy,” especially if he is black. A marriage, even a liaison, with one would be instantly fatal to the reputation of any female among them, though, excepting the African, the children of many, in point of variety of color at least, might serve to illustrate the five races of mankind.After their own immediate class, they associate almost wholly with the poorest whites, though not quite as equals.
We see Blacknall describe in more detail why members of the Native American community exclusively married their own kin because it was socially unacceptable for them to marry blacks or whites. He does concede that the community would sometimes intermarry with “poor whites” because both groups occupied similar social standing. Even though most members of the Native American community had varying amounts of both African and European ancestry, Blacknall shows that they still self-identified as “Indian” and were identified as “Indian” by their black and white neighbors.
The term “Old Isshy” referred to the “free-born” status of the Native American community, whereas “New Isshy” referred to the “freed slave” status of the black community. This distinction was apparently important for both communities to make which resulted in the use of this terminology. Blacknall also describes a particular cluster of families from the Native American community living a few miles from his home that I have pointed out on the map:
As you can see, 5 miles from the Kittrell train station is the precise location of the Native American community that is mostly centered around Fishing Creek and then expands in various directions including Kittrell, Oxford, and Brassfield. Native Americans families lived in tight clusters throughout the county, but the Fishing Creek area is the oldest area with the highest concentration of Native American families. The Native American families who most commonly lived in tight clusters in the Fishing Creek/Kittrell area that Blacknall described include: Chavis, Harris, Pettiford, Anderson, Bass, Mitchell, Parker, Howell, Boon, Scott, Brandon, Evans, Guy, Richardson, Taborn, Tyler, Hedgepeth, Jones and Hawley.
The “poor whites” that the Native American community intermarried with, were most often white women. Blacknall further explains here:
Indeed, of all the hundreds of free negroes that I have known from childhood, I cannot now recall a dozen black or very dark ones. Hardly a neighborhood was free from low white women who married or cohabited with free negroes. Well can I recollect the many times when, with the inconsiderate curiosity of a child, I hurriedly climbed the front gate-post to get a good look at a shriveled old white woman trudging down the lane, who, when young, I was told, had had her free-negro lover bled, and drank some of his blood, so that she might swear she had negro blood in her, and thus marry him without penalty. Since I became a man I have heard it corroborated by those who knew, and I still occasionally see the children of this tragic marriage, now grown old men.
From looking at census records and marriage records for members of the community, I as well noticed a pattern of poor white women who lived among and had children with men from the community. For example:
What I find also very informative about this article is that Blacknall discusses the changing attitudes that whites had towards the Native American community. Before and right after the Revolutionary War, whites looked at the community favorably. But due to increasing fears of slave revolts, whites began to distrust all “free people of color”:
The attitude of the races towards each other was widely different from what it afterwards became. But about 1830, a growing mistrust on the part of the whites manifested itself. Abolitionism, hitherto the hobby of visionaries and isolated philanthropists, had now grown to be the watchword of a militant, uncompromising party. Its subtle leaven permeated the whole country, encouraging the slave, exasperating the master.
Blacknall later references the 1831 Nat Turner slave rebellion in Virginia, which prompted the North Carolina legislature to completely disenfranchise the rights of “free people of color” in 1835. This included taking away the right to vote and the right to own firearms. As a result, attitudes towards the Native American community greatly shifted during the decades leading up the Civil War and the community suffered for it. Blacknall echoes this sentiment:
There is still a tradition among them in Granville County that they lost the franchise on account of their persistent support of the notorious Potter. Potter, though a man of parts and a natural orator, was a consummate demagogue and a violent, unscrupulous man, whose new departure in iniquity evoked special legislation. Toward the last, the free negroes falling more and more into disrepute, their support carried such a stigma with it as to be an element of weakness rather than of strength to a candidate. More than one candidate of those days, twitted by his opponent on the stump about this element of his constituency, retorted by declaring his willingness to throw out every free-negro ballot, if his assailant would do likewise. After this period, the life of the free negro grew unspeakably harder. Not so much that the laws were harsher, but because the attitude of the whites became and continued more hostile.
And Blacknall continues:
It is not to be wondered that the free negroes, unelastic and prone to unthrift, underwent still further deterioration. Cowed, perplexed, and dispirited, they huddled together on any scant, sterile bit of land that they were fortunate enough to be possessed of, erected clusters of their frail little huts, and like oppressed, hopeless classes the world over sunk into profound listlessness and sloth. The women grew unchaste, the men dishonest, until in many minds the term “free negro” became a synonym for all that was worthless and despicable.
Oscar W. Blacknall’s Letters to the Editor in 1895
Though the 1886 Atlantic Monthly article is full of rich description, Oscar Blacknall failed to provide any specific names of people from the Native American community. In this published letter from 1895 he did provide names, but he mixed up their identities:
In this letter, Blacknall cites a man named “Chavers” who was a school teacher that taught white students. (“Chavers” is a common spelling variation of “Chavis”). He says this same man owned a huge tract of land along the Tar River and that there is still a bridge and road named after him. Though, Blacknall did not give the man’s first name, there is no doubt he is referring toJohn Chavis (1763-1838), a Revolutionary War soldier who famously became a Presbyterian preacher and taught white students. However John Chavis was not the owner of the large tract of land along the Tar River. That was William Chavis (1709-1778), founder of Granville County’s Native American community. And it is William Chavis, not John Chavis, who is the namesake for the road and bridge. It is not known if the two men were related. John Chavis (1763-1838) was born in Mecklenburg Co, VA and was the son of a Jacob Chavis and Elizabeth Evans. Blacknall mistakenly conflated the two men but a couple of weeks later, Blacknall corrects his mistake in another letter to the newspaper:
Immediately, Blacknall admits his mistake in conflating the two men and says that it is William Chavis (1709-1778) who was the large land owner. He refers to Chavis’ land as the “old Chavis tract” and describes it as beginning at Lynch Creek and going 16 miles upstream to Fishing Creek. His land then extended continuously a full 5 miles inland from the banks of Tar River. I have outlined William Chavis’ land tract below:
51,200 acres is an enormous amount of land and is far beyond the Chavis land that was described in Wes White’s write-up for the Lumbee Tribe’s federal recognition. (The Lumbee Chavis family descends from William Chavis’ son Phillip Chavis). Blacknall believes that Chavis came to own such a large, continuous tract of land directly by way of John Cateret, 2nd Earl of Granville (1690-1763). As I discussed in an earlier blog post, the entire upper half of North Carolina was owned by John Cateret and was known as “Granville District”. The Blacknall Family property was originally part of the old Chavis land tract, so that is why Oscar Blacknall was intimately familiar with the history of who owned the land before his own family. This expansive tract of land that William Chavis owned, formed the land base for Granville County’s Native American community. So when I refer to the original land base for the community, you now know exactly what I’m referring to. Also note that this land was not “communally owned”, but rather privately owned by William Chavis and later divided into smaller plots privately owned by other community members. So it was not a bounded reservation, and increasingly over time as land was sold off, many unrelated families both white and black, came to reside in this location. (Note: William Chavis and his wife Frances Gibson are my 7th great-grandparents).
In this article, Blacknall also discusses William Chavis’ son Gibson “Gibbs” Chavis (1737-1777) who he says is the namesake for Gibb’s Creek (part of the original Chavis land tract). Gibson Chavis was the owner of a racing horse named “Black Snake” who won Gibson a lot of money. However one night, Gibson Chavis was killed by a group of men he had won money off of from his racing horse. The fact that Gibson named his horse “Black Snake” is very culturally relevant. Black snakes are common in the area and traditional indigenous belief is that the snake holds a lot of power and medicine. The black snake is even featured on the Haliwa-Saponi tribal seal:
As the letter continues, Blacknall reiterates many of the points he raised in the 1886 Atlantic Monthly article. Here is an excerpt:
“Excepting Wake county, I found them far more numerous in Granville County as well as much more characteristic of the type…I found that many of the families denied that their ancestors had ever been slaves. This denial I naturally attributed to their pride or ignorance. But it turned out they were right. An investigation as far as practicable of their genealogy SHOWED THEM TO BE LARGELY OF INDIAN BLOOD……Their prejudices against the slaves were so strong that nearly all the affinity of the free negro was with the lowest class of whites. As this exclusiveness still prevails, many known as free negroes probably have not one drop of negro blood.”
In the article, he also discusses slave ownership among the “free negro” population. Blacknall found that some of the “free negroes” were themselves slave owners. This is true – for example William Chavis (1709-1778) the community’s founder, did own slaves. Though by the early 1800s, nearly all of the community members no longer owned slaves.
As the letter goes on, Blacknall again emphasized the division between the Native American community and the black freedmen community, saying that intermarriage and socialization between the two was so frowned upon that members of the Native American community likely had little to no African blood. It is difficult to discern how true this statement is because of the way all non-whites were classified using the same racial terms. So “degrees of Indian blood” for members of the community were not historically recorded. It is very much worth mentioning that it may have been true that intermarriage between members of the free-born Native American community and freedmen black was nearly non existent during Blacknall’s lifetime, but starting in the early-mid 20th century, the communities did begin to intermarry and socialize much more.
I’ve come to learn that much of Oscar Blacknall’s writing and research was destroyed in a house fire. This is truly unfortunate because as you can see, Blacknall’s insights offer a rare glimpse into a community that few of his contemporaries had any interest in. However, if you come across more of his writing that is relevant to the Native American community in Granville County, please leave a comment.
The Native American/”free colored” Evans family of Granville County directly descend from Morris Evans (1665-1739) and Jane Gibson (1660/1670 – 1738) of Charles City County, VA. The Evans family resettled in and became a core part of Granville County’s Native American community in the 1760s immediately following the initial settlement of the founding Chavis, Harris, Hawley, Pettiford, Anderson, Bass, and Goins families. In this blog post I will document the Evans family from their earliest documented origins from a “free Indian woman” known as Jane Gibson the elder, to their settlement in Granville County. A word of caution: “Evans” is among the most common surnames dating back to colonial times, therefore not all “Evans” families are genealogically related. There were a few “free colored” Evans families originating in Virginia and it is not known if an how they may all be related. The focus of this blog post is about documenting the branch of the Evans family that begins with Morris Evans and his wife Jane Gibson. I do discuss two additional Evans families at the end, that may or may not be related.
Jane Gibson the Elder, “a free Indian woman”
Morris Evans’ (1665-1739) wife Jane Gibson (1660/1670-1738), had a mother also named Jane Gibson. To distinguish between the two women, the mother is referred to as Jane Gibson the elder (born 1640/1650). The elder Jane Gibson was called “a free Indian woman” by some of her descendants who were illegally enslaved. Though the Evans and Gibson families were free-born, that did not prevent some colonists from illegally enslaving them. Apparently, some of the descendants of Morris Evans and Jane Gibson’s daughter Frances Evans (1700-1771) were enslaved by a colonist named Goodrich Lightfoot. They were originally “bound out” to Lightfoot to be indentured servants but he instead enslaved them and after his death, they were subsequently sold to several slave owners. The enslaved Evans later sued for their freedom and provided information that they descended from a free Indian woman – Jane Gibson the elder.
The petition of Charles Evans, Amey Evans, Sukey Evans, Sisar Evans, Solomon Evans, Frankey Evans, Sally Evans, Milly Evans, Adam Evans and Hannah Evans holden in slavery by Lewis Allen, of the County of Halifax humbly sheweth: that your petitioners are descendants from Jane Gibson, a free Indian woman..
You can review the documentation on Deloris Williams’ website where she has graciously transcribed the chancery court documents and it is really worth a read, if you’re not familiar with these records.
I also found in the Saint Stephen’s Parish records for New Kent County, that Goodrich Lightfoot (the man who enslaved the Evans) owned an “Indian” slave named Charles who died on October 9, 1722. I’m unsure if this Charles is from the Evans family, but it certainly appears Goodrich Lightfoot enslaved multiple Native Americans.
Also noteworthy, the Native American/”free colored” Howell family of Granville County descends from a woman who was a servant in the home of Goodrich Lightfoot’s brother Sherwood Lightfoot of Saint Stephen’s Parish in New Kent County, VA. And after both the Evans and Howell families came to Granville County, they intermarried.
The exact tribal origin of the Evans family has also been a subject of a lot of debate among researchers. Morris Evans was noted as being a free person of color and we know from DNA testing that he was of at least partial African descent. It is unknown if his background included any Native American ancestry. Although he was born around 1665, the first confirmed records for him were at the end of his life in 1738. So there is a lot about Morris Evans’ early life that we do not know about.
However Morris Evans’ wife’s mother Jane Gibson the elder and thus his wife were noted as being “Indian”, yet no tribe specified. Charles City County, VA which is where Jane Gibson the elder resided, is located in the heart of Powhatan territory and perhaps that is where her tribal ancestry comes from. There is another Powhatan (specifically Nansemond) descended family of Granville County – the Basses, that I blogged about previously and the Evans intermarried with them in Granville. There was also a Walter Gibson recorded as a chieftan in the Tuscarora “Indian Woods” reservation land deeds in Bertie County, NC in the 1770s. However, I have not seen any credible information that names his parents or children, so I’m not sure if he is at all connected to Jane Gibson of Charles City County. Another matter to consider is that Morris Evans and Jane Gibson’s son Charles Evans moved to southside Virginia by the 1730s, about a decade after the Saponi reservation at nearby Fort Christanna was closed. Charles Evans and his family intermarried with the Saponi descendants residing in Virginia. The maiden name of Charles Evans’ wife is unknown, so more research into her identity is needed.
The Evans Move from the Tidewater to Southside Virginia
The Evans family line that came to Granville were not enslaved and as a result, they are well documented. Morris Evans and Jane Gibson also had two sons named Charles Evans (1696-1760) and Morris Evans Jr (1710-1754). Charles and Morris Jr were born in the Tidewater area of Virginia (York County) like their parents, but relocated to the southside Virginia counties of Brunswick, Mecklenburg, and Lunenburg (Lunenburg was formed from Brunswick in 1746 and Mecklenburg was formed from Lunenburg in 1765). Charles Evans moved first in the 1730s and his younger brother Morris Evans Jr moved later in the 1750s. Living next to the Evans families in Southside Virginia during this time period were other notable “free colored”/Native American families such as: Walden, Kersey, Harris, Brandon/Branham, Stewart, Chavis, Guy and Corn. I point this out because the Evans intermarried with most of these Southside families and they then moved together into the North Carolina border counties, including Granville.
Morris Evans Jr (1710-154) was married to a white woman named Amy Poole, who was the daughter of William Poole. After Morris Evans’ death, Amy remarried a John Wright and became known as “Amy Wright”. Her father William Poole in 1753, gave land in Lunenburg Co, VA to Morris Evans Jr and Amy Poole’s son named Richard Evans (1750-1794). This same Richard Evans later moved to Robeson Co, NC and is the most likely ancestor of the Evans family found within the Lumbee Tribe of Robeson Co.
Charles Evans (1696-1760) remained in southside Virginia until his death in 1760 and we have a good record of who his children were through land transactions and wills. Unfortunately not much is known about Charles Evans’ wife aside from her first name being Sarah. Charles Evans’ children were:
Thomas Evans (b. 1734) – tithable in his father’s 1751 Lunenburg Co household. Was in very poor economic standing as his children were bound out because he could not provide for them. Thomas only received one shilling from his father’s will because he was “undutiful”. His wife may have been a Stewart. Some of his children intermarried with the “free colored”/Native American Jeffries family and moved to Orange Co, NC. This is the same Jeffries family that is a core family of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation.
Major Evans (1733-1814) – moved to Granville Co, NC and is the primary ancestor of the Evans of Granville Co. Will be discussed in the next section.
Charles Evans (b. 1737) – remained in southside Virginia. In 1782, he was compensated for beef he provided to the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. His daughter Nanny Evans married Eaton Walden.
Richard Evans (b. 1740) – remained in southside Virginia. He did not leave a will, so his apparent children are not verified. He may be the father of Richard Evans b. 1772 who relocated to Chatham Co, NC. An earlier Isaac Evans (b. 1735) was the first “free colored” Evans to appear in the Randolph Co (which borders Chatham) records, so some of the apparent descendants of Richard Evans may in fact be the descendants of Isaac Evans. And it is not currently known if and how Isaac Evans may be related to the family of Morris Evans/Jane Gibson.
Sarah Evans (b. 1742) – mentioned in her father’s will but unknown what happened to her next
Joyce Evans (b. 1743) – mentioned in her father’s will but unknown what happened to her next
Erasmus Evans (b. 1745) – had two sons named Anthony and Isham who were bound out. Anthony was called “Anthony Chavis”, so Erasmus’ wife was likely a Chavis. Anthony Evans/Chavis moved around a bit before settling in Chatham Co where he left a will but apparently no heirs.
From here, we will focus our discussion on Charles Evans’ son Major Evans (1733-1814) who is the main progenitor of the Evans in Granville County.
Major Evans (1733-1814) comes to Granville County
Charles Evans’ son Major Evans (1733-1814) who is the direct lineal ancestor of the vast majority of the Granville County Evans first appears in the Granville tax lists in the 1760s. By the 1780s and 1790s he had recorded several land transactions in Granville and short-lived Bute County (modern Franklin and Warren). Notably in 1780, he purchased 100 acres of land from Phillip Chavis off the Tar River in an area known as the Buffalo Race Path near Buffalo Creek. Phillip Chavis also sold Major Evans an additional 500 acres along the Granville/Franklin line. Phillip Chavis (b. 1726) was the son of William Chavis (1706-1778) – the original Granville land owner and founding community member. Phillip Chavis had numerous land transactions with his father William Chavis around Buffalo Creek and he also settled his father’s estate. In fact, Major Evans’ wife Martha Ann (maiden name unknown) may have been a Chavis given the close relationship between Major Evans and the William Chavis family.
It’s also important to remember that William Chavis’ wife was Frances Gibson was the daughter of Gibson Gibson (1660-1727) of Charles City County, VA. Perhaps Jane Gibson the elder and Gibson Gibson were related, given the shared Gibson surname in the same location. We know from witness testimony that Jane Gibson the elder had two children – Jane Gibson the younger who married Morris Evans and a son named George Gibson (born 1665) who died without having children. So William Chavis’ father-in-law Gibson Gibson could not have been a son of Jane Gibson the elder, but perhaps a brother or nephew. This is only speculation at the moment and hopefully some more documentation may confirm these suspicions.
Whatever the exact relationship between Major Evans and the Chavis family turns out to be, these land transactions placed Major Evans and his family in the heart of the Granville County Native American community. It’s also important to note that Major Evans still owned land in Mecklenburg County, VA and appears on the tax lists there in the 1780s, so he likely was moving back and forth (a very short distance) between his Mecklenburg County property and his Granville County property. This close relationship between the two locations explains why many other the Native American/”free colored” families from the Mecklenburg area including the Howell, Guy, Kersey, Brandon/Branham, Cousins, and Mayo families (most of whom had intermarried with the Evans) continued moving into Granville up through the first couple of decades of the 1800s. There was a Major Evans recorded in the Warren County tax list for the Six Pound District in 1814 and if this is the same Major Evans which it likely is, then it shows he moved yet again in his final years.
Nearly all of Major Evans’ children and descendants intermarried with families from the Granville Native American community. Below is a list of his children and their spouses:
1. *Morris Evans (1750-1834) married second Lydia Anderson, his first wife is unknown.
2. *Gilbert Evans (1757-1827) married Phoebe Lumbley. Phoebe was apparently white, and Gilbert appears in tax and census records as white as do their children. Because of strict laws forbidding interracial marriages, it could be that Gilbert “passed” for white in order to have a white spouse. This is a pattern that I have seen before.
3. Burwell Evans (1758-1820) married Mary Mitchell.
4. *John Evans (1759-1781) unwed and died in battle during the Revolutionary War.
5. Elizabeth Evans (1780-before 1860) married Isaac Chavis but they later separated.
6. Nelly Evans (1762-1849) married William Taborn
7. *William Evans (1764-1823) married Sarah Hays who was apparently white. Like his brother Gilbert, William “passed” for white and it was likely because he had a white spouse.
8. Sarah Evans (1770 – before 1860) married George Anderson.
* Paul Heinegg in his Evans family sketch on his website freeafricanamericans, lists the brothers Morris, Gilbert, John, and William Evans as the *possible* sons of Gilbert Evans b. 1730. However genealogist Deloris Williams has more up to date research on the Evans family and I agree with her conclusions.
Most of these families resided in Granville and Wake Counties. It is likely Major Evans’ land purchase in Newlight Creek which borders Wake County, precipitated the movement of many of his descendants into Wake.
The interconnectedness of the Evans family to the Granville County Native American community is also evident in the division of the estate of William Evans(1789-1871), a resident of Fishing Creek, Granville County. Deloris Williams has transcribed his estate record here. William was the grandson of Major Evans. Though William Evans had been married to Frances Anderson, by the time of his death he was widowed and had no living heirs. So instead he divided his estate among some members of the Native American community including the Anderson, Boon, Pettiford, Hawley, Mayo, Curtis, Taborn, Jones, and Evans families.
Below are some pictures of Granville County Evans who are directly descended from Major Evans (and further back descended from Morris Evans and Jane Gibson):
Pantheyer Brandon’s lineage back to Major Evans is as follows:
Pantheyer Brandon; Hilliard Evans; Thomas Evans; Morris Evans; Major Evans.
She is also descended from the Brandon, Bass, and Anderson families.
John Evans’ lineage back to Major Evans is as follows:
John Evans; Polly Evans; Thomas Evans; Morris Evans; Major Evans
John Evans is also descended from the Bass and Anderson families.
What about the families of Thomas Evans (1723-1788) and James Evans (1720-1786)??
So as I mentioned at the beginning of the blog post, there were other early “free colored” Evans families in Virginia that may be related to Morris Evans/Jane Gibson. In particular, there are two two early Evans’ ancestors that need to be discussed.
Thomas Evans (1723-1788):
One family begins with a Thomas Evans (1723-1788) who lived in the southside Virginia counties of Lunenburg and Mecklenburg. His parents at this time are unknown. His wife’s name is also unknown but she was a Walden. Thomas Evans and his descendants usually lived close to the known descendants of Morris Evans/Jane Gibson. In fact, this Thomas Evans (1723-1788), Charles Evans and Major Evans (grandsons of Morris Evans/Jane Gibson) all together on 9 April 1782 in Mecklenburg County court proved their claim to be paid for 225 lbs of beef they each supplied the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. This suggests a close relationship between the three men (two of whom are documented siblings).
All of Thomas Evans’ children married other closely related Native American families of the area including Chavis, Brandon, Drew and Kersey. Thankfully Thomas Evans left a 1787 (proved 1788) Mecklenburg County will that named his heirs. His heirs were also named in a subsequent lawsuit. Many of Thomas’ descendants moved into and intermarried with the Native American community in Granville including his grandson Isaac Chavis who married and later separated from the previously mentioned Elizabeth Evans who was the daughter of Major Evans. Additional surnames that Thomas Evans’ descendants married into when they moved to North Carolina include: Locklear, Ivey and Hawley. All of this suggests a close relationship between Thomas Evans and the descendants of Morris Evans/Jane Gibson but I’m not sure what it is. I feel fairly confident that this Thomas Evans is related to Morris Evans/Jane Gibson but I’m still working on seeing where exactly he fits in.
James Evans (1720-1786):
And second there isJames Evans(1720-1786) who first appears in the records in Surry County, VA in 1746. In that year he was charged with adultery for living with Eleanor Walden. Eleanor is presumed to later be his wife and mother of his children. Unfortunately, Surry County suffered major record loss, so further details on James Evans’ early life may have been destroyed. Such records may have named his parents, because James’ parents are unknown. By the 1750s, James Evans was living in Edgecombe County, NC as indicated by land purchases and militia records. Notably James Evans is listed next to several members of the “free colored”/Native American Scott family that was of Saponi descent and these families later intermarried. This part of Edgecombe became Halifax County in 1758, and James Evans continues to appear in the Halifax records. By 1786, his wife Eleanor (Walden) Evans was listed as a head of household in the Halifax records, indicating that James had died some time previous to that date.
James Evans’ descendants continued living in the Halifax County area. Again, please note that Paul Heinegg has different information for the descendants of James Evans. Instead I’m using the genealogy provided by Deloris Williams which I believe is more accurate. James Evans had a son by the same name James Evans Jr (1750-1830) who lived in Halifax Co. James Jr had a son named Leven Evans (1775 – before 1850) who is the main source of the Evans found within the state-recognized Haliwa-Saponi tribe in Hollister. Leven Evans’ first wife was Kizzie but her maiden name is unknown. His second wife was Harriet Scott (b. 1811). Harriet was from the same Scott family that her grandfather James Evans (1720-1786) enlisted in the Edgecombe Co militia with. Leven Evans’ descendants continued to intermarry with “core” families of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe including Richardson, Lynch, Silver, Mills, and Copeland.
Recent DNA testing suggests that Leven Evans (1775-before 1850) is not a descendant of Morris Evans/Jane Gibson. At least 7 direct male lineal descendants of Morris Evans have done yDNA testing and their haplogroup is E-M2 which is a sub Saharan African haplogroup. At least one direct male lineal descendant of Leven Evans has done yDNA testing and his haplogroup is R1b which is Western European (most commonly Irish). This means we know that Leven Evans and Morris Evans do not share a common male Evans ancestor. But it’s possible that the Leven Evans branch may descend from a female Evans ancestor which would account for the different yDNA haplogroups. Like the paper trail, DNA results can offer a clue but not the full story about one’s heritage.
Welcome! The following is a list of surnames of closely related Native American families of Granville County. Please note that all the families are “free people of color”, meaning they were not enslaved and generally not recorded as “white”.
It is these families that most of the content of this blog is about. I have documentation on all of these families, so if you believe you are also researching the same families, please do get in touch.