It’s that time again! The third weekend in April is when the annual Haliwa-Saponi Pow Wow takes place in recognition of when the tribe was officially granted “state-recognition” status.
If you plan on being in the area this weekend, stop on by. All are welcome!
The tribal grounds are located in Hollister which is in Halifax County, North Carolina, very close to the Warren County border. The physical address is: 130 Haliwa Saponi Trail, Hollister NC 27844. Please visit the Haliwa-Saponi website or call the tribal office at (252) 586-4017 if you need directions to the tribal grounds and for more info: http://haliwa-saponi.com/
The annual pow wow is a very special event and will be filled with dancing, drumming, singing, art vendors and more. It is also a time for tribal members who live away from home to come back and reunite with family and friends.
Here is a short video provided by videographer David James from last year’s pow wow which highlights some of the sights and sounds that you can expect to see this weekend:
Another short video provided by David James shows one of our top North Carolina drum groups: Warpaint, jamming at last year’s pow wow:
And finally a video provided by the North Carolina Arts Council in which tribal members Marty Richardson and Senora Lynch are interviewed and discuss the connections between the modern pow wow and Native American identity:
So please come on out and enjoy this beautiful event!
1. This is a rural area, so cell phone reception will be spotty. It is a good idea to print out directions beforehand if you are not familiar with the area and make plans ahead of time to meet family/friends.
2. Pow wow tickets are already on sale at the tribal office. Avoid the lines and purchase your tickets ahead of time.
3. Pow wow t-shirts are also already on sale and can be picked up at the tribal office. If you are unable to attend the pow wow, you can still order t-shirts to be sent by mail by contacting the tribal office.
4. Make sure to visit the arts and food vendors at the pow wow. These are all Native American owned and operated businesses and they need your support and patronage.
Unfortunately, I am unable to attend the pow wow, so I am sending all my love and support to my family this weekend for a successful pow wow. I descend from the Haliwa-Saponi Richardson family (my mom’s great-grandma was Virginia Richardson from Hollister) and I will be writing some blog posts that explore the genealogy of core tribal families such as Richardson, Lynch, Hedgepeth, Silver, Evans and more.
The Grandfather Clause was an important component of the 1900 constitutional amendment restricting North Carolina’s class of eligible voters. The disfranchisement amendment provided that voters must be able to read and write a section of the state constitution in the English language and to pay a poll tax. Far from attempting to encourage literacy, however, the primary goal of the amendment, as admitted in the Democratic Party’s pro-amendment campaign in 1900, was to eliminate African American voters as a factor in North Carolina politics. The large number of poor illiterate black males, as well as the bias of white Democratic registrars, ensured that the literacy test and the poll tax would be used to reduce the electorate.
The drafters of the amendment were aware of the politically unacceptable fact that illiterate whites could also be excluded by the literacy test. The answer to this problem was the grandfather clause, which stated that no one should be denied the right to register and vote because of the literacy requirement if he or a lineal ancestor could vote under the law of his state of residence on 1 Jan. 1867, provided that he registered before 1 Dec. 1908. The 1867 date was important because it preceded any federal prohibition of racial discrimination; therefore very few blacks were eligible to vote. In practical terms, it meant that illiterate whites were absolved of the embarrassment of a literacy requirement and blacks were not, thus enhancing the discretionary power of Democratic registrars.
“Free people of color” in North Carolina had the right to vote and hold office until 1835, when North Carolina adopted a new constitution that disenfranchised ALL free people of color. With the new state constitution enacted in 1900, North Carolina adopted a policy of “poll taxes” which essentially made it impossible for people of color to vote. As you read in the above summary, these poll taxes also made it difficult for “poor whites” to vote because many were illiterate and could not afford to pay the poll tax.
As a result, North Carolina adopted a “grandfather clause” starting in 1900 which allowed for men to list themselves or a direct lineal male ancestor who could vote on January 1, 1867 (or earlier). By identifying themselves or an earlier direct ancestor as an eligible voter in 1867, these individuals were exempt from the poll tax.
Free people of color and those descended from free people of color took advantage of this grandfather clause in order to circumvent these literacy tests that were required to become an eligible voter. African Americans descended from slaves however were unable to take advantage of this grandfather clause because their ancestors for the most part were not eligible voters on January 1, 1867 (or earlier). However, free people of color had ancestors who were eligible voters in earlier times, so this grandfather clause provided a way to become registered to vote.
In 1902, 1904, 1906, and 1908, residents of Granville County who were eligible for the “grandfather clause” registered to vote. These lists are available to researchers for every county in the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh. A fellow researcher and friend, Dr. Warren Milteer, provided me with un-transcribed copies of the Granville County list. A huge thanks to Dr. Milteer for sharing this incredibly valuable information. Not only do these lists provide the names of all who applied for the “grandfather clause”, they are also helpful genealogical documents since individuals named earlier direct ancestors. The voter lists are a great way to verify suspected earlier ancestors of the person you’re researching. And if you hit a genealogical road block, these lists may help you push through to identify an earlier ancestor.
WORD OF CAUTION: Just like all historical documents, you may find both intentional and unintentional errors in these documents. So they should be seen as just one of many clues to help you identify earlier ancestors. I have noticed a couple of errors in the lists for Granville County. For example, Hawkins Kersey (also known as Hawkins Tyler) listed his adopted father Baldy Kersey as a direct ancestor. Baldy Kersey was most definitely known as Hawkins’ “father”, but was not his biological father. Another example is found with Sandy Guy. On every census, marriage, and death record, Sandy is consistently identified as “Sandy Guy”. However on his voter registration, he listed himself as “Sandy Chavis”. I have no idea why he used a different surname for his voting application but I can assure you that Sandy Chavis = Sandy Guy.
Below is a table chart which lists all free people of color (and those descended from people of color) in Granville County who registered to vote using the “grandfather clause”. I only transcribed the records for free people of color, so this list does not reflect all people who applied using the “grandfather clause”. The first column is the name of the applicant, the second column is their listed age, the third column is the ancestor they claimed descent from, and the fourth column is the township they resided in. I added an additional column where I provided my own research notes to help you identify exactly who these individuals are. As you will see there are a couple of individuals who I’m still working on researching. I will update this list if I come across additional information. Also please note that this list is only for Granville County. Many people within the Granville County Native American community lived in Kittrell and Henderson townships and those townships became apart of Vance County in 1881. Therefore residents of those townships will be found in the Vance County list. What you will notice is a heavy concentration of individuals living in Fishing Creek township which is where most of the community resided.
After the list, you will see a few photos I added of the people who applied to register to vote under the “grandfather clause”. On a personal note, I was very delighted to see my great-great grandfather James E Howell registered to vote. I hope this information is valuable to your research.
The 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.
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.
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.