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.
If you are using marriage records to simply document when and where your ancestors married, you are missing out on so much more information. In this blog post, I will provide some examples and give advice about how to maximize the information contained in marriage records. Granville is a county that thankfully did not suffer from major record loss when compared to other North Carolina counties, so it’s important to take full advantage of the written record left behind. I will also provide some general observations about the marriage patterns of our ancestors that I was able to observe by closely reviewing their marriage records.
Marriage Bonds and the Bondsman
In North Carolina, from the colonial era and up through about 1869, marriages in the state typically required a marriage bond to be posted. Marriage bonds were a formal guarantee between the potential groom and bride and the jurisdictional government that the couple was legally able to marry. The groom was accompanied by a bondsman who both signed their names to guarantee the marriage bond for a specific amount of money. No actual money was exchanged. The Legal Genealogist has a good blog post with additional information about marriage bonds.
Because the bondsman just like the groom, could potentially be legally held responsible if the marriage was unlawful, the bondsman was usually a relative or friend/neighbor of the groom or bride. This means marriage bonds contain potentially additional genealogical information. If the bondsman was a relative, this can help identify other family members of the married couple.
Over the course of my research, I have closely looked at hundreds, probably thousands of marriage bonds for our ancestors in Granville and nearby counties. I have observed that if the bondsman was a relative, he was most often either the father, uncle, brother, or brother-in-law of the groom or bride. I have identified bondsmen who were slightly more distant relatives like first cousins, but these instances were not nearly as common as the father, uncle, brother, and brother-in-law relationship.
Here is an example of a marriage bond:
So my recommendation is that every time you locate a marriage bond of your ancestors, make sure to record the name of the bondsman. After you do that, follow up to see if you can identify exactly who that bondsman was and if he had any family relationship to the groom or bride.
Here is another example of a marriage bond, where the bondsman was an uncle:
Transition to Standardized Marriage Licenses
In the years following the conclusion of the Civil War, North Carolina abandoned the marriage bond system in favor of more standardized marriage licenses. In this section, I’ll document some of the variety of marriage licenses you can expect to see from this time period. These marriage licenses typically offer a lot more biographical information about the groom and bride. Additional information may include: age, race/color, names of parents, witnesses to the marriage, location of marriage, the person who solemnized the marriage, and the residence of the groom and bride.
The Native American community in Granville was very tight knit and this can be seen in the marriage records which record the witnesses of the event. Witnesses were often family members and friends and so these marriage records offer an important insight into these kinship and social circles.
The marriage license for James H Tyler (1852-1919) and Sarah Virginia Scott (1858-1937) shows some familiar names included in the record. The marriage license indicates that both the groom and bride lived in “F.C.”, meaning Fishing Creek township – the heart of the Native American community in Granville. James Tyler was 25 years of age and Sarah Virginia Scott was 17 years of age. A “J.P.” (Justice of the Peace) named L.H. Cannady officiated the ceremony at John Scott’s home. John Scott (b. 1823) was the father of Sarah Virginia Scott. The witnesses to the marriage were David Day, Sarah Tyler, and Hawkins Kersey. All three people were from the community. David Day (b. 1837) was the from FPOC Day family, a core family. By 1879, he was widowed from Nancy Bass who may have been a close family member of Sarah Virginia Scott’s maternal grandmother Henrietta Bass (b. 1800). “Sarah Tyler” was James H Tyler’s mother Sarah/Sally (Kersey) Tyler (1828-1911). Hawkins Kersey (1854-1921) was originally born Hawkins Tyler, and was the son of Martha Jane Tyler (b. 1830) who was James H Tyler’s aunt. Hawkins, was then “adopted” by Baldy Kersey (James H Tyler’s uncle) and his surname was changed to Kersey. Baldy Kersey was the infamous outlaw and the subject of this blog post.
Another example of a marriage license with biographical information:
The 27 July 1872 Granville County marriage record of Lewis H Anderson (b. 1849) and Amanda W Anderson (1856-1920) also shows important biographical information. Lewis Anderson listed as 22 years of age resided in “F.C.” (Fishing Creek) township and Amanda Anderson age 18, resided in “O” (Oxford) township. The marriage took place at the New Hope Church which was one of several churches that serviced the community. Dennis Anderson (b. 1807), a member from the community, officiated the service. While browsing through the Granville County marriage records, I noted that Dennis Anderson officiated numerous marriages for people in the Native American community. Amanda W Anderson’s grandfather Jeremiah “Jerry” Anderson (1794-1875) was the older brother of Dennis Anderson, so Dennis Anderson was also a great uncle of the bride. Witnesses to the marriage were Arthur Bass, James Horner, and David Day. There were two Arthur Basses of adult age living in Granville County in 1872, so I’m uncertain which one is referred to here. James Horner (b. 1842) was not a FPOC. He was born enslaved but married into the Native American/FPOC community which likely why he was a witness. David Day (b. 1837) is the same man who was listed above as a witness to the marriage of James H Tyler and Sarah Virginia Scott.
And here is another example of a marriage record with important biographical information:
The 22 December 1874 marriage between James A Mayo (1847-1910) and Ida Howell (1855-1928) also includes a few notable people from the community. James Mayo is listed as being 22 years of age and residing in “F.C.” (Fishing Creek) township and Ida Howell is 16 years of age and also a resident of “F.C.” (Fishing Creek) township. Cuffy Mayo (1800-1896) officiated the marriage. Cuffy was a very important person not only in the community but was also well respected by his white neighbors. He was a delegate to North Carolina’s 1868 Constitutional Convention. The marriage took place at the home of Jane (Harris) Howell (b. 1817) who was Ida Howell’s mother. Witnesses to the marriage were Edward Allen, James E Howell, and William Tyler. I’m unsure who Edward Allen was. James E Howell (1840-1912) was Ida Howell’s brother and my 2nd great-grandfather. William Tyler (1825-1897) was another well respected member of the community and a cousin and neighbor to the Howell family. It is also worth mentioning that the groom and bride were first cousins. James Mayo’s mother Sally Harris was a sister to Ida Howell’s mother Jane Harris. First cousin marriages were not atypical at all for this very tight knit community.
Military Pension Files
Another excellent resource to use to help document marriages of our ancestors are military pension files. Many of the men in our community were soldiers in the Revolutionary War and if they lived long enough into their elder years, they typically filed applications for military pension benefits. If a soldier died before or while receiving pension benefits, his surviving widow could apply for a widow’s pension to continue to receive those payments.
In order to prove that a female applicant was the legal surviving widow of a soldier, she had to provide a copy of their marriage license as well as witness testimony from friends/relatives/neighbors to confirm the identity of the applicant. If a widow remarried, she was no longer entitled to her deceased husband’s benefits.
For example, my 5th great-grandmother Mary (Bass) Richardson (1757-1844) was the widow of two Revolutionary War soldiers: her first husband Elijah Bass (1743-1781) and her second husband Benjamin Richardson (1750-1809). Elijah Bass died while in service in the Revolutionary War, so Mary Bass remarried Benjamin Richardson at the conclusion of the war. Mary Bass was eligible to receive Benjamin Richardson’s military pension benefits. In order to do that, she applied for a widow’s pension – W.4061. In her application, Mary (Bass) Richardson provides the following testimony about her marriages:
That she was married to Elijah Bass who was a private in the Army of the Revolutionary War in the North Carolina line that he served as such for the period of two and a half years and Enlisted under Captain Bailey of the tenth Regiment. She further declared that she was married to the said Elijah Bass on the 14th day of February 17 hundred & Seventy seven. That her husband the aforesaid Elijah Bass died (or was killed) in the aforesaid War at the Battle of Eutaw Springs on the 8th day of September 17 hundred & Eighty one. That she was afterward (to wit) on the 14th day of February 17 hundred & Eighty three married to Benjamin Richardson who was a private in the North Carolina Militia in the Revolutionary War who served as such for the period of twelve months under Capts. Joel Wren, John White Jordan Harris & other officers.
So in her testimony, Mary (Bass) Richardson gives 14 February 1783 as the date she married Benjamin Richardson. A search of the Granville County marriage bonds, shows that Benjamin Richardson and Mary Bass received a marriage bond on 13 February 1783 with Phillip Pettiford as the bondsman. This is consistent with the testimony that Mary (Bass) Richardson provided – they married the following day after receiving the marriage bond. If this marriage bond was no longer available due to record loss, Mary (Bass) Richardson’s testimony for her widow’s pension, serves as an excellent secondary source substitute record to document her marriage to Benjamin Richardson.
Another example is found in the widow’s pension application of my 5th great-grandmother Martha Patsy Harris (1770-1859). She was the widow of my 5th great-grandfather Sherwood Harris (1761-1833). Martha Patsy’s maiden name is unknown because I have never been able to locate a marriage record for her and Sherwood Harris. However her widow’s pension does provide me with an approximate date of when and where they married. You can read transcribed portions of the application W.3984 here.
Included in Martha Patsy Harris’ widow application, is testimony from several white residents of Granville and Wake Counties who were personal friends of Sherwood and Martha Patsy Harris and attended their wedding. Siblings Stephen Bridges (born 1770) and Frances “Fanny” (Bridges) Cavender (born 1765) remembered attending the wedding and gave 1787 as the approximate year of the marriage. Frances also gave additional information that the couple were married in Granville County by the Justice of the Peace named John Pope. Another personal friend named Nathaniel Estes (1770-1845) also recalled attending the wedding and determined that it happened several years before 1793 (the birth year of his son). Martha Patsy Harris also testified that she recalled the wedding was in 1787, so the information given in all the testimonies is consistent. So without a marriage record, we can give the approximate marriage year for Sherwood and Martha Patsy Harris as 1787. Having an exact date is certainly more desirable but an approximate date at least gives us something to work with.
So definitely make sure to read through the entire Revolutionary War pension files of your ancestors to help document their marriages. I have even found testimony that describes the actual wedding event – a detail that is not conveyed in marriage licenses. I recall reading a description of a wedding service that included fiddling and singing.
Land Deeds and Marriage
If you’ve searched high and low through marriage records and military pension files, and still cannot find leads on the marriages of your ancestors, here’s another source to consider: land deeds. Though land deeds do not specify an exact marriage event between a groom and bride, it does provide some clues about a recent marriage within the family. It was common for the families of the groom and bride to sell and purchase land from one another around the time of the marriage. There are a few possible reasons for this. For one, our community was very tight knit and land transactions were common within these close kinship circles. Marriages extended that kinship network of people to do business with and kept land ownership within the family. Another reason for these land transactions around the time of the marriage was that the groom desired to purchase land near his wife’s family to stay in close contact. If the groom was not already a land owner, his marriage into a new family provided an opportunity to became a land owner.
For example, my 4th great-grandfather Freeman Howell (1777-1870) had a daughter named Julia Howell (1797-1870). Julia Howell was married to Nelson Cousins (b. 1794) but I have never found a marriage record for the couple. I do have confirmation of their marriage through Freeman Howell’s estate records which specify how his estate was divided among his living heirs. Given the approximate ages of Nelson Cousins and Julia Howell’s children, I suspected that they were married around 1820. In 1824 in Granville County, the following land deeds were recorded between Julia Howell’s father Freeman Howell and Nelson Cousins’ brother Robert Cousins:
17 Jan 1824 • Granville County, North Carolina
$150 in hand deed of Gift from Robert Cousins to Freeman Howell
2 Feb 1824 • Granville County, North Carolina
Robert Cozen acknowledges a deed to Freeman Howell for a 120 acres of land which is ordered to be Registered
Source: Land deed notes transcribed by Jahrod Pender
Though these land deeds do not provide me with a date of a marriage event between a member of the Howell family and a member of the Cousins family, it does suggest that there is now a kinship relationship between these two families. This would be especially true if I find additional land deeds between the Howell and Cousins family during this period.
Another example of a land deed tied to a recent marriage is the example of my 6th great-grandparents Edward Harris (b. 1730) and Sarah Chavis (1730-1785). We believe that Edward Harris and Sarah Chavis married around 1750 according to the approximate ages of their children and 1750 being the first year that Sarah was listed as a tithable in Edward Harris’s household.
On 6 September 1756 (about 6 years after they married), Sarah Chavis’ father William Chavis made a deed of gift for 340 acres along Tabbs Creek in Granville County to Edward Harris and Sarah Chavis. (Land deed transcribed and shared by Paul Heinegg). William Chavis (1709-1778) was a man I refer to as a community founder because he originally owned all of the land that makes up the core of the community. According to local historian Oscar Blacknall, William Chavis owned a continuous 16 acres along the North side of the Tar River, going 5 miles inland. The land that William Chavis gifted to his new son-in-law Edward Harris was land which was part of this original plot that William Chavis owned. William Chavis likely wanted to guarantee that his daughter and her descendants would be well taken care of, for generations to come. So keep this in mind as you’re looking at land deeds to connect to marriage events.
Marriage Patterns and Observations
Finally I thought it would be good to create a list of my general observations about the marriage patterns of our ancestors. These are simply general patterns, so there will always be exceptions and variation. But with that said, I think you will find this helpful and a great reminder about the potential information you can gleam by closely observing marriage records.
ENDOGAMY! Our ancestors primarily practiced endogamous marriages, simply meaning that they limited marriages within the local community and people they already regarded as “kin”. As a result, I usually try to figure out if and how the groom and bride are related. It may be a blood connection through a more distant common relative, or it may be that they share cousins in common. But you will typically find some already existing family connection between the groom and bride.
Multiple Marriages. If a man or woman became widowed, you can typically expect for them to marry again. This is especially true if they still had minor children living at home. Another parent was needed to help raise and support those children, so it was not advantageous to remain widowed. These multiple marriages can create some complex family trees but it is important to document all of your ancestor’s marriages.
Keep track of a woman’s name changes. Following up on the point made above – each time a woman married, her surname changed. As a result, a bride’s surname listed on a marriage record may not be her original maiden name if she was previously married. Marriage records typically do not list if the bride was previously married, so it is up to you the research to investigate further.
Not all marriages were recorded. Some of our ancestors may not have went through with obtaining the proper license to legally marry. This means there will be no official record of the marriage. One possible explanation was that some people still married in a traditional, indigenous way. In the rejected Dawes and Eastern Cherokee applications of our ancestors, it’s not unusual to see references of ancestors marrying “the Indian way”, which usually meant not registered with the government. There were some who still adhered to indigenous cultural practices.
Native American/FPOC communities throughout NC were connected via kinship. Though most marriages happened directly within kinship circles of people geographically living within the same community, you will find marriages from people who live in two different neighboring or nearby communities. For example, my 2nd great-grandfather James E Howell who lived in the Granville community married my 2nd great-grandmother Virginia Richardson who lived a couple of counties over along the Halifax/Warren County border in the Haliwa-Saponi community. I found a trend of a few people from the Lumbee and Coharie community in Cumberland and Sampson County, move up to Orange/Alamance Counties and marry people from the Occaneechi-Saponi community. The reason for this is that all of these communities share at least some common ancestors from generations earlier and so they considered themselves all kin and socially acceptable to marry.
Girls who became orphaned, typically married young – in their teenage years. It’s important to remember that European colonists introduced an incredibly lopsided patriarchal society, that our ancestors had to quickly adapt to. Therefore if you were a girl who did not have a father to legally support and provide for you, you could find yourself in a vulnerable situation. Therefore it was in the best socio-economic interest of young girls who did not have fathers, to marry so they could benefit from their husband’s financial standing and land ownership. If you were a young woman still living at home on your father’s land, you had a bit more time before you needed to marry out.
If you have identified more marriage patterns of our ancestors and other ways to document marriages, please comment below.
Newspaper articles have the added bonus of providing a more intimate look at the ancestor you are researching. Local newspapers especially provide an important social context that allows you to better understand the society your ancestor was apart of. This is why newspaper archives are among my favorite sources to utilize when doing genealogical research.
In this blog post, I offer a couple of examples of what can be found in the newspaper archives. Our ancestors were most commonly classified in census and vital records with racially ambiguous terms whose definitions changed with time and location, such as “free colored”, “mulatto”, “black”, and “negro”. In a previous blogpost, I discuss the writings of local historian Oscar Blacknall who interchangeably used the terms “free negro” and “Indian” to describe the people in our community. Similar to Blacknall’s essays, we see that these newspaper articles reveal a lot more about how society racially classified our ancestors.
From the 12 May 1905 edition of the Warren Record in Warren County, NC, is an obituary for a man named Tom Richardson who died at the age of 70 years. In the obituary, Richardson is described as being “7/8 Indian and 1/8 Negro”. How this blood quantum was calculated is unknown to me. However what we can infer from this description is that Tom Richardson was known a person who mostly “Indian” and some part “Negro”.
The Tom Richardson (1841-1905) named in this obituary is the same man commonly known as Tom Snake Richardson and Tom Hardy Richardson. He was the son of Rheese Richardson (b. 1813) and Emily Richardson (b. 1820). Rheese Richardson was the son of John Richardson (b. 1770) and Sarah Bass (b. 1777). Emily Richardson was the daughter of Hardy Richardson (1788-1855) and Dorcas Boone (1794-1871). John Richardson and Hardy Richardson were half brothers, both sons of Benjamin Richardson (1750-1809). Benjamin Richardson is the main Richardson progenitor of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe. Sarah Bass is from the Bass family I blogged about here. And Dorcas Boone is from the Boone family I blogged about here. (Tom Richardson is also the second cousin of my great-great grandmother Virginia Richardson)
Even though Tom Richardson was known as an “Indian”, in the census he is recorded as “mulatto” from 1850-1880. And in the 1900 census he was recorded as “black”, likely because “mulatto” was removed from the census that year. Tom Richardson is also listed as “colored” in his marriage records. How Tom Richardson was racially classified in the census and vital records holds true for the next two men I discuss below.
This newspaper article I find quite interesting because it uses three different racial terms to describe C.D. Burnett. From the 19 April 1910 edition of the Raleigh Times, we read that a man named C.D. Burnett was held a on a serious charge. We don’t learn exactly why he’s being charged but that there was a rumor that he confessed to killing a white man. The article describes Burnett as a “half breed Indian, but passing for colored”. Though it appears the author of the article is making a distinction between “Indian” and “colored”, the author later contradicts himself. At the end of the article, we read that Burnett, “a negro appears to be from Orange county”. So even though the author states at the begging of the article that Burnett was an Indian, he later describes him with a different racial term – “negro”.
Charles D Burnett (1894-1965) was the son of William Burnett (1876-1938) and Roxanna Hester of Orange/Alamance Cos, NC. William Burnett was the son of Thaddeus Burnett (1853-1917) and Betsey Liggins (b. 1855). His family can be found among the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation.
In this 27 Jan 1873 newspaper article, we read that Jesse Archer (“Arche”) was captured after stabbing another person. Jesse Archer is referred to as an “Indian mixed mulatto”. “Mulatto” infers that someone has a mixed race background and the article specifies that Indian is included in the mixture. But we don’t know what Jesse’s Indian background is mixed with.
Jesse Archer (b. 1840) was from Orange Co, NC and was the son of Stephen and Lydia Archer (Lydia’s maiden name is unknown). Stephen Archer (b. 1815) was the son of Jesse Archer (1780-1855) and Patsy Haithcock (b. 1775). Jesse Archer never married and had no children that I know of, but his closest living relatives can be found among the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation.
The next two articles mention “half breed Indian” women but do not give us their names so I’m unable to identify them. However the articles are interesting and definitely illustrate that Indian people were known and living in these areas.
From the 15 June 1912 edition of the Oxford Public Ledger in Granville Co, we read that there is a “half-bred Indian woman” living in Hunt Woods and is to blame for a series of late night shootings. Hunt Woods lies on the southeastern outskirts of the city limits of Oxford, heading towards the Fishing Creek township. The Native American community in Granville Co was centered in Fishing Creek and then spread out in various directions, including towards the city of Oxford. Is there a connection between the “half bred Indian woman” in Hunt Woods and the Native American community? I cannot say, but it’ is something to look into.
In this 24 June 1871 article from the Semi-Weekly Raleigh Sentinel, we read that a “half breed Indian woman” who resides in Caswell County is 100 years old. The article celebrates her age but fails to mention her name, so I have no way of verifying who she is.
So these are just a couple of examples that illustrate the point that it is imperative to dig deeper beyond the census and vital records, to learn more about your ancestors. The information contained in the newspaper archives may be the missing link you need to take your research a step further.
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.
One of Granville County’s most infamous residents was a member of the Native American community named Archibald “Baldy” Kersey (1821-1899). Baldy showed little regard for the law, as he headed a gang of counterfeiters and thieves who traded stolen goods. Not even a jail cell could prevent Baldy from his life of crime as he would find inventive ways to break out. He also showed little regard for the racially segregated laws of the South. Baldy’s gang was interracial and Baldy had a known relationship with a white woman named Rovella Tanner with whom he fathered numerous children with. However to simply characterize Baldy as a “bad guy” does disservice to the complexity of his life. Baldy had a deep love and loyalty for family as demonstrated by “adopting” the fatherless children of his relatives. He also fought hard to the very end to keep possession of his family’s original land which actually resulted in a major United States Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of North Carolina’s Homestead law. In this blog post, I will document the life of one of the community’s most colorful characters with the help of digitized court records and newspaper articles.
Baldy Kersey’s Lineages and Early Life
Archibald “Baldy” Kersey (1821-1899) was born in Granville County to Benjamin and Sally Kersey. Some family oral history indicates that Sally’s maiden name was Oxendine but I have not been able to locate a marriage record or any record that identifies her maiden name. Through his father Benjamin Kersey, Baldy descends from the Kersey, Evans, and Walden families. Baldy’s paternal grandmother Polly Evans (1765-1840) was sisters to my 5th great-grandmother Margaret Evans (b. 1753). I previously blogged about the Weyanoke and Nottoway/Tuscarora tribal origins of the Kersey family here and the Evans family here. “Kersey” is the standardized and most common spelling of the surname but throughout the documents in this blog post you will see the surname spelled in a variety of ways: “Kearsey” and “Kearzey”.
Baldy had numerous siblings who all lived within and married within the community:
Emily Kersey (b. 1820) married Samuel Richardson
Susan Kersey (b. 1825) married Samuel Johnson
Sally Kersey (1828-1911) married William Tyler Jr. (Baldy’ first wife Francis Tyler was sisters to William Tyler Jr)
Sophia Kersey (1829-1918) married William Anderson
Benjamin Kersey (b. 1831) never married and died young
Baldy Kersey first married Francis Tylerb. 1824 (daughter of William Tyler Sr and Martha Patsy Day) on 11 March 1841. Though they are listed together as a married couple in the 1850 and 1860 censuses, Baldy and Francis did not have any children together. However during their marriage, Baldy did father a child named Mary Jane Chavis (1857-1929) out of wedlock with a woman named Lula Chavis.
Also during his first marriage, Baldy adopted the 4 “illegitimate” children of his wife’s sister Martha Jane Tyler (b. 1830). The four children were: Francis Tyler b. 1850, Elizabeth “Betsy Ann” Tyler b. 1851, Hawkins Tyler (1854-1921), and Amanda Tyler (1858-1955). From that point forward, the siblings interchangeably used the Tyler and Kersey surnames and were commonly known as Baldy Kersey’s children.
Later Baldy Kersey had a relationship with a white woman named Rovella Tanner but could not legally marry her because of laws forbidding interracial marriages. They had numerous children together which I discussed in detail in this blog post.
Baldy Kersey’s Gang
In her book, “Unruly Woman, The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South”, historian Victoria Bynum includes a brief discussion on the illegal activities of Baldy Kersey. During the Civil War, Baldy Kersey was the leader of an interracial gang of people who traded looted goods. It was a very extensive underground network that went from Granville County all the way to the Atlantic Coast. This network included “free people of color”, as well as white men who had deserted the Confederate Army and black slaves.
The Civil War brought about great poverty in the South and poor people especially had a hard time finding goods. Baldy Kersey’s gang filled this void by providing a way for poor people to be able to acquire goods. But it was not just the illegal activities that worried authorities, it was the interracial nature of Baldy’s gang that was a direct slap to the face of the racially segregated South. Granville Co Sheriff William Philpott explained to North Carolina Governor Vance that Baldy was:
the worst rogue and seducer of slaves I have ever known. He has a range from here to the extremity of the state east, as he has been trading that way for years.
In a later newspaper article from 16 Mar 1880, we see that Baldy Kersey and a white man named John Smith were the leaders of a gang that dealt in counterfeit money and horse stealing. We can also see that counterfeiting and stealing was a family affair for Baldy, as his “adopted” son Hawkins (Tyler) Kersey was also a member of the gang:
The more I have learned about Baldy Kersey, the more he reminds me of another contemporary from his time: Henry Berry Lowry. Lowry is the famed ancestor of the Lumbee and Tuscarora of Robeson Co. In fact, Baldy Kersey and Henry Berry Lowry were cousins. Lowry’s paternal grandmother was Sally Kersey who was described as a “half breed Tuscarora Indian”. Like Kersey, Henry Berry Lowry lead an interracial gang of thieves who refused to enlist with the Confederacy during the Civil War. I’m sure the two men crossed paths during their extensive networks throughout the state. And according to Baldy Kersey’s great grand nephew Robert Tyler, the family has always known that they were cousins with Henry Berry Lowry.
In the following sections, I’m going to explore in detail some of Baldy Kersey’s major court cases.
John Crabtree V. Baldy Kersey and the Stolen Wagon Hubs
The earliest court case that I could find where Baldy Kersey was charged with larceny was from an accusation in 1863. It is worthwhile to note that Baldy was already approximately 42 years of age in that year, so it seems unlikely this was his first offense. Familysearch recently digitized a collection called, “North Carolina, State Supreme Files, 1800-1909” and I was able to find a number of cases from our community. One such case was State V. Kearzey 61 N.C. 481 (N.C. 1868). This was an appeals decision from an earlier case that was in the Granville County District Court and North Carolina Superior Court. Both lower courts had previously ruled in favor of the state in the 1863 larceny case. So within this North Carolina State Supreme Court appeal are the transcripts from the the previous courts’ rulings of the 1863 case which provide lots of detail as to what exactly Baldy Kersey was accused of. You can access the entirety of the files for this case here (these are in original handwriting and not transcribed).
The details of the case are quite interesting because they demonstrate the tenacity of Baldy Kersey. On 5 March 1863, John Crabtree came before the court and testified that Baldy Kersey had committed larceny and as a result Kersey was indicted for larceny in May 1863. Crabtree was a wagon maker who had a shop in Oxford. A year earlier in February 1862, Crabtree met a man named Murray (first name not given) who was also a wagon maker who had a shop about 10-12 miles outside of Oxford. Murray was preparing to leave the state and needed to sell his wagon making materials. Crabtree agreed to purchase the materials which included distinctive wagon hubs made from walnut timber.
Because the two shops were 10-12 miles apart, the purchased materials needed to be transferred and this is where Baldy Kersey enters the story. In the spring of 1862, Crabtree was in the process of transferring the goods when he saw Baldy Kersey just outside of Murray’s shop and asked him to assist in transferring the materials to his own shop in Oxford. Crabtree even told Kersey where the key was to his shop so that Kersey could let himself in to unload the goods. (Not to excuse Kersey’s actions but if Kersey was a known thief, why would Crabtree enlist his help?)
Baldy Kersey apparently picked up the materials but never transferred them to the shop. Instead he brought the materials home. Crabtree never realized that Kersey did not transfer the goods to his shop because it appears Crabtree never had a full list of the items he purchased from Murray. Fast forward a year later to March 1863, and Crabtree reported that several individuals were going through Baldy’s house looking for other stolen goods. Crabtree was not the only person who had been wronged by Baldy. While going through his house, these individuals found the wagon hubs that Crabtree purchased from Murray a year earlier. There was little doubt that these were the same wagon hubs because they were made from walnut and had the same distinctive marks. Kersey was present during the search and denied that the wagon hubs belonged to Crabtree and instead insisted he purchased them from a man named Grissom who left the county several years earlier.
Indicted on larceny charges by the grand jury in May 1863, Baldy Kersey decided to leave the county and hide out instead of coming to court and answering the charges against him. In the court records we see that starting in August 1863, Baldy Kersey could not be located. Every two months, the courts would call the case up but it had to be delayed on account of Baldy Kersey being on the run. This continued on until May 1866 when Baldy Kersey finally showed up to court to answer for the charges against him.
During Baldy Kersey’s 3 years on the run, the documentation gets a bit confusing and conflicting. According to the court documents for this larceny case involving Crabtree, Baldy was consistently on the run from August 1863 through May 1866. But it appears that Baldy was picked up by the sheriff at some point and started to serve a 6 month jail sentence on yet another larceny charge. We know this because on 27 October 1864, we see a notice in the newspaper alerting the public that Baldy Kersey had escaped from jail:
We learn from this notice that Baldy Kersey had been sentenced in September 1864 to 6 months of imprisonment for larceny. The notice doesn’t specify the details of this conviction but it does say that there were still 5 outstanding larceny indictments against him. We know one of those five indictments was the theft of Crabtree’s wagon hubs.
To escape from jail is a big deal. According to later witness testimony, Baldy used bribery and the assistance of two white men to escape from jail.
When Baldey Kersey returned to court in May 1866 after 3 years on the run, he entered a plea of “not guilty” and a trial date was set for August 1866. However Baldy was able to convince the court that he was not ready for trial and asked for a delay which was granted for November 1866. And not just one delay, he was able to delay the trial multiple times so that the trial did not take place until May 1867.
For the trial, Kersey hired a defense attorney to argue his side of the case. However a jury found him guilty of larceny. Kersey’s attorney asked for a new trial which was denied. The defense attorney also asked the judge to squash the punishment citing other statues that petty larceny under $25 was not punishable by a criminal court. However the court overruled the defense attorney’s motion.
As a result of the “guilty” judgment, Baldy Kersey was ordered to pay a fine of $25. He was further ordered to be held in the custody of the sheriff until the fine and court costs were paid off. Baldy Kersey appealed the decision and formally asked for his case to be reviewed by the North Carolina Superior Court which was granted. He had to post a bond for $300 and Samuel Richardson, Lewis Evans, and Berry Williams were his sureties. All three men were from the Native community and Samuel Richardson was Baldy’s brother-in-law.
In the fall 1867 term of the North Carolina Superior Court, the jury found Baldy Kersey “guilty” again of stealing Crabtree’s wagon hubs. He was ordered to be held 6 months in jail and to pay a fine of $25. He was further ordered to be held in jail until the court costs were paid off. So this time Baldy Kersey appealed the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court which was granted. He was ordered to post a bond for $500 and this time William Tyler and Lewis Evans were his sureties. Lewis Evans was the same Lewis Evans from the previous $300 bond and William Tyler was also from the community and Baldy Kersey’s brother-in-law.
The North Carolina Supreme Court reviewed the case in the January 1868 term and you can read the court’s transcribed decision here. By citing earlier precedents, Judge Reade found that there was no error in the lower court’s judgments and upheld the ruling. The court ordered that Baldy Kersey and his sureties Lewis Evans and William Tyler pay $17.95 – the amount of the court costs. However on 16 March 1868, a Congressional special order declared that Baldy Kersey and his sureties did not have to pay the judgment and in fact annulled the judgement entirely. All judgments made by any North Carolina court on this larceny case after the date of 29 April 1865 were annulled. This was likely a result of the Reconstruction laws after the Civil War. All of the court judgments against Baldy for this larceny case happened after that date, so Baldy was excused for paying the judgment or going to jail. However if the court wanted to indict him on new charges relating to theft of the wagon hubs, they could do so and start the process over again.
Baldy Kersey V. Avery Taborn, and Horse Thievery
Baldy Kersey was the defendant in yet another case of larceny involving a stolen horse that he “sold” to Avery Taborn. This is another interesting case because the details included in the records speak volumes about Baldy’s character. The records for this larceny case are actually found within the Freedmen’s Commission records and not the court records. After the Civil War, the U.S. formed the Freedmen’s Bureau to assist freed slaves with efforts in rebuilding their lives. Both Baldy Kersey and Avery Taborn were “free people of color” from the Native American community in Granville, but the Freedmen’s Bureau serviced them as well. On Familysearch, you can access these records in the folder “North Carolina, Freedmen’s Bureau Assistant Commissioner Records, 1862-1870.”
You can read the entirety of Baldy Kersey’s case here (a lengthy case with pages in original handwriting). We learn that in August 1868, Baldy Kersey sought out the Freedmen’s Bureau to hold a hearing about an earlier trial, Taborn vs. Kersey, in which Baldy felt the judgment against him was not lawful. A Freedmen’s Bureau agent named E.T. Lamberton took up the case and from his notes, we learn more about what happened.
In 1866, Baldy Kersey stole a horse from the Draughan family in Edgecombe County, NC. He returned to Granville County and traded the stolen horse for a mule owned by Avery Taborn that was worth about $150. Avery Taborn b. 1832 was the son of Littleton Taborn and Charlotte Chavis, who were a prominent family in the Native American community. As you will recall from earlier, Baldy Kersey lead an underground network of traded stolen goods. A few days later when Taborn rode the stolen horse into Oxford, the Draughan family saw Taborn and questioned him about the horse where it was revealed that Baldy Kersey had stolen the horse. Baldy was subsequently arrested by Granville Co Sheriff William Philpott and indicted on larceny charges. We learn that Baldy had the case moved from Granville County court to Franklin County court because he felt he could not get a fair trial in Granville. However there was a technical error with transferring the transcripts to Franklin, so the the case was dismissed. The court did order for the Draughan family to retrieve their stolen horse from Avery Taborn, but now Taborn was out $150 for the loss of the mule because Baldy had already sold it off.
Avery Taborn tracked down a Captain Evans of the Freedmen’s Bureau to seek compensation for his property loss. Capt Evans was able to negotiate a deal in which Baldy was to give one of his own horses and $75 to Taborn to make up for the loss. Baldy did deliver a horse to Taborn but a short while later stole it back from Taborn and sold it to his son-in-law Benjamin Richardson. Benjamin Richardson (b. 1844) was the husband of Baldy Kersey’s “adopted” daughter Francis Tyler. Baldy admitted to taking the horse back from Taborn but did not agree that it constituted theft because he felt that Captain Evans’ ruling was unlawful. Because Baldy had never been convicted of that larceny charge, there was some truth to his protests.
There was another attempt to make Taborn financially whole again. Kersey went to Taborn and in front of several witnesses agreed to pay Taborn $100 plus 300 lbs of meat for 30 cents a pound. A few days later when Taborn agreed to the deal, Kersey reneged and said he already spent the money.
So what does Baldy have to say about all of this? Well, he admitted under oath that he paid Capt Evans $50 to bribe him into ruling in his favor. But despite receiving the money, Capt Evans still ruled in Taborn’s favor and that is why Kersey felt the judgment was unfair. Bribery is also how Baldy was able to escape from jail in 1864, so clearly we see a pattern here where Baldy believes he can pay people off in order to escape punishment.
In the notes from Lamberton, we see that Baldy was quite eager for the Freedmen’s Bureau to look into this case and rule in his favor because of the threat of having to sell his own property to pay Taborn. Clearly, Kersey’s thievery was starting to catch up to him financially. The agent ordered for both parties to gather witnesses and hire legal counsel. Due to his reputation for not paying people, no attorney agreed to represent Baldy in the hearing. On the other hand Avery Taborn hired a white attorney Col. Leonidas C. Edwards to represent him in the hearing. Col. Edwards is a name to not forget because he was the plaintiff in the biggest legal case involving Baldy Kersey that will be discussed in the next section.
Agent Lamberton’s notes shows that he had sympathy for Kersey not being able to hire an attorney, but he could not delay the trial any longer because the witnesses were being inconvenienced. Both Taborn and Kersey brought witnesses to testify but according to Lamberton, Baldy’s own witnesses seemed to side with the plaintiff. In fact Baldy’s sister Emily (Kersey) Richardson and brother-in-law Samuel Richardson provided testimony that supported Taborn.
Lamberton also noted that Baldy did not offer any substantive arguments in his favor, so it was a one sided hearing. Lamberton ruled in Taborn’s favor and ordered that Kersey pay him $89.50. From witness testimony the mule was valued at $125 and Taborn had already been paid $35.50 from the sale of another one of Baldy’s horses. So that left a remaining balance of $89.50. In addition, Baldy was ordered to pay interest on the amount from 1866 to present as well as a fee of $4.97 for securing witnesses to testify.
What is very telling is that at the end of his notes, Lamberton adds in some additional observations about the character of Baldy Kersey. He says before the hearing, he never knew of Baldy but during the hearing he learned a lot about him. Lamberton explains that the community regarded Kersey as:
“notorious and infamous….he is regarded as a most plausible, expert and dangerous thief, who… escaped justice by bribery and appeal”.
Col. Leonidas C. Edwards V. Baldy Kersey and North Carolina’s Homestead Law
The last legal case that I will discuss went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. Edwards V. Kearzey 96 U.S. 595 (1877) has been cited 237 times since its ruling and was cited as recently as 2014. It’s quite an important case involving contract laws and the constitutionality of Homestead laws. But let’s first discuss the beginnings of this important court decision.
The Granville County court had ordered several judgments against Baldy Kersey for larceny. Plaintiffs in these cases that were ordered to receive compensation from Baldy Kersey included: B.L. and D.A. Hunt, Avery Taborn, and William Philpott. Though these judgments came in 1868 and 1869, they resulted from unpaid contracts from several years earlier (this detail is important). As a result of these outstanding judgments that had not been paid by Baldy Kersey, on 18 January 1869 a lien was put against his property.
Let’s take a moment to discuss Baldy’s property. It was 173 acres of land located in Fishing Creek township in the heart of the Native American community founded by William Chavis in the mid 1700s. Adjoining property owners included William Tyler Sr. and Manson Stewart. This land was on the waters of what is called “Hatcher’s Run” (the documented Native American Hatcher family including David Hatcher, described as “half Indian” in his Revolutionary War records are the namesake for this waterway) and had been passed down in Baldy’s family from earlier generations. It was very important for Baldy Kersey to hold onto this land. In addition, it was the only land he owned, so if he lost it, he would be homeless. With young children to raise, there was no way he could risk that. Therefore on 22 January 1869, Baldy Kersey applied to have his land transferred to a homestead.
In 1868, North Carolina enacted a new state constitution that took affect on 24 April 1868. Sections 1 and 2 of Article 10 in the Constitution state that every homestead that was valued at $1,000 or less was exempt from being sold to pay off debt. Baldy’s property fit the criteria so he applied for a homestead. Despite his application, Sheriff William Philpott sold the entirety of Baldy Kersey’s 173 acres of land on 5 March 1869 to Col. Leonidas C. Edwards for $150.
This is the same Col. Leonidas C. Edwards who was the attorney hired by Avery Taborn when he sued Baldy Kersey for the loss of his mule. From what I can surmise, Col. Edwards was familiar with Baldy’s legal troubles and the upcoming sale of his land. He saw an opportunity to purchase prized land for a low price and followed through.
Unsurprisingly, Baldy Kersey protested the sale of his land and refused to turn it over to Col. Edwards. As a result, on 31 March 1869, Col. Edwards, plaintiff, filed suit against Baldy Kersey, defendant, in the Granville County Superior Court. The case was delayed for a number of years for unspecified reasons. And finally in the 1 May 1873, the Superior court ruled in Col. Edwards’s favor in large part because the judge excluded evidence which showed that Baldy filed an application for a homestead. Not only did the court rule that Col. Edwards should recover possession of the land, they ordered Baldy Kersey to pay a fine of $310 and 12.5 cents for punitive damages. As a result, Baldy posted a $500 bond to appeal the court’s decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Edwards V. Kearsey, 74 N.C. 241 (N.C. 1876) is the North Carolina Supreme Court Case resulting from Baldy Kersey’s appeal. You can access the entirety of the case here which includes transcripts from the Superior Court case and ruling (the pages are in the original handwriting). The decision was handed down in January 1876 by Judge Bynum. Citing North Carolina’s Homestead law, Judge Bynum reversed the North Carolina Superior Court’s decision in favor of the plaintiff Col. Edwards. You can read a transcribed version of Judge Bynum’s ruling here. Specifically, Bynum notes that the original judgments against Kersey were docketed after the adoption of North Carolina’s 1868 Constitution, therefore the Homestead law was in affect. This was a big win for Baldy but the fight to keep his land was far from over.
Due to the North Carolina Supreme Court’s reversal, the Granville County Superior Court set aside its judgement against Kersey and ordered a new trial.
The facts of the case were argued once again with the plaintiff Col. Edwards insisting that the Homestead law did not protect Baldy’s land and the defense insisting the opposite. On 24 April 1876, the court issued a judgment in favor of defendant Baldy Kersey and agreed that the Homestead Law was in affect and applied to Baldy’s land. The judge ordered that the plaintiff was not entitled to the land and that Baldy recover court costs. Col. Edwards and his attorney filed to appeal the decision back to the North Carolina Supreme Court and posted a $500 bond.
Edwards V. Kearsey, 75 N.C. 409 (N.C. 1876) is the second North Carolina Supreme Court decision regarding this case. You can read the entirety of the case here which includes transcripts from the Superior Court’s decision (the pages are in the original handwriting). In June 1876, the Judge Reade issued a ruling affirming the Superior Court’s decision in favor of the defendant Baldy Kersey. You can read a transcribed version of Judge Reade’s decision here. Judge Reade agreed that the Homestead Law applied to Baldy’s land. This was a major victory for Baldy Kersey. Not just one, but two North Carolina Supreme Courts agreed that his land was protected and not subject to be sold off to pay debts.
But it was still not over…
Col. Edwards and his attorneys were able to successfully appeal this case to the United States Supreme Court and posted a $1,000 bond. They argued that this case had federal implications because North Carolina’s Homestead law violated the constitutionality of contracts. In other words, they argued that contracts could no longer be enforceable and would lose value due to what they saw as the overreaching retroactive aspects of the Homestead law.
Edwards V. Kearzey, 96 U.S. 595 (1877) is the United States Supreme Court case that issued the final ruling for this case. The implications of the decision were monumental. A newspaper article from the time provides some context:
Justice Swayne delivered the majority opinion of the Supreme Court and he reversed the ruling of the North Carolina Supreme Court. You can read a transcribed version of his decision here. In his opinion, he provides an in depth discussion about contract law and cites previous cases. He points out that the United States Constitution states that:
no State shall pass any . . . law impairing the obligation of contracts.
Justice Swayne also offers a definition for a contract:
A contract is the agreement of minds, upon a sufficient consideration, that something specified shall be done, or shall not be done.
When reading up on Justice Swayne, I can see it is no surprise that he ruled in the favor of Col. Edwards. In an earlier U.S. Supreme Court Case, Gelpcke v. Dubuque 68 U.S. 175 (1864), Justice Swayne also found that Iowa could not enact state laws which retroactively impaired contracts.
Justice Clifford and Justice Hunt concurred with Justice Swayne’s decision, and Justice Harlan dissented. Justice Harlan was known as the “Great Dissenter” because of his famous dissents including two of the biggest Civil Rights cases of his time: Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3 (1883) and Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896). In both cases the majority opinion of the court sided with the states’ segregation laws but Justice Harlan dissented arguing for equal rights for all.
With the United States Supreme Court ordering ruling in favor of plaintiff Col. Edwards and reversing the lower court’s decision, the court then would need to provide direction on how to resolve the case based upon their ruling.
But…did you really think the fight for Baldy Kersey’s land was over yet?
Baldy Kersey’s Land After the Court Cases
Unfortunately I do not have many records that explain in great detail exactly what happened next. However from an 1883 newspaper article we learn that Col. Edwards was in the process of selling Baldy’s land when Baldy’s mother Sallie Anderson, paid off Baldy’s debt and put the land in her name. At that time, Baldy’s mother Sallie was known as “Sallie Anderson” because she had remarried Martin Anderson.
Baldy’s mother Sallie Anderson saved his land and in the 1880 census, Baldy Kersey does appear to be still living on his own land. Though Sallie left the land in his name as specified in her will, we can see from the above newspaper article that her will was being contested on the grounds of insanity.
I found a digitized copy of her will on Ancestry’s North Carolina Probate Records collection. Unfortunately the text is very faded so not all words are legible. However I see her make no mention of disowning any of her children as stated in the above newspaper article. She divided her estate among her children and specifically named her living children at the time: Emily (Kersey) Richardson, Sallie (Kersey) Tyler, Sophia (Kersey) Anderson, and Baldy Kersey. In addition, she left property for Amanda ______ and Mary Jackson. Sallie doesn’t state their relationship to her, but they are named as heirs so perhaps her grandchildren or siblings. In the will, she does leave Baldy her land but also states that he still owed her $50 and that the debt must be paid in order for him to inherit. I wonder if the $50 is related to her paying off his debts to save the land.
Baldy Kersey continued to appear in the newspaper. On 24 Jan 1890, it was reported in the local paper that Baldy Kersey posted a $200 bond for Lem Richardson to be released on bail on account of being charged with larceny. Lemuel “Lem” Richardson (1867-1922) was the son of Benjamin Richardson and Francis Tyler. Francis Tyler was one of the four children of Martha Jane Tyler that Baldy Kersey had “adopted”. In addition, Baldy Kersey was the brother of Lemuel Richardson’s grandmother Emily (Kersey) Richardson.
Beginning in 1895, we see that Baldy Kersey’s land was posted for sale. Because the Granville County Superior Court records are not available online, I cannot see the cause for the judgment which lead to the sale. As reported in that earlier newspaper article from 1883, Sallie Anderson’s will was being contested on grounds of insanity. Perhaps her will was successfully contested and as a result, the land was posted for sale.
Baldy Kersey died on 20 Nov 1899, where his death was reported in the newspaper a few days later:
Baldy Kersey left a will in which he left all of his property to his “wife” Rovella Tanner and children (both biological and adopted):
Though his land was up for sale, it appears that all the way through until his death in 1899, Baldy Kersey never left his land. The following year in 1900, his land was still on the auction block:
Many people remember the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment from the popular film “Glory” (1989) and their courageous stand at the Battle of Fort Wagner in South Carolina. Organized in Boston, MA and commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the son of a wealthy, abolitionist family, the 54th were the first “colored” regiment of the Civil War. The regiment was composed of a diverse set of men – some were free born, some had been enslaved, some were from the North, and some were from the South. But they all shared a common goal of abolishing slavery in the Southern states. Though most of the soldiers of the colored regiments were primarily of African descent, there were “colored” men of other mixed ethnic backgrounds, including Native Americans. In fact you will find many tribes from up and down the East Coast had tribal members who enlisted in the colored regiments. Granville’s Native American community can proudly claim a connection to the 54th regiment because of Varnell Mayo’s (1837-1900) military service.
Varnell Mayo’s Granville Roots:
Varnell W. Mayo was born around 1837 in Granville County, the eldest son of William Mayo (1805 – before 1850) and Joyce “Joisey” Chavis (1816 – abt 1906). William Mayo and Joyce Chavis were married 12 Jun 1834 with Joyce’s uncle William Chavis (1801-1854) as the bondsman. Joyce Chavis (1816-1906) and her brother Anderson Chavis (born 1816) were the children of John Chavis (1790-before 1840) and Sarah Anderson (born 1798). John Chavis (1790-before 1840) was the son of Jesse Chavis (1766-1840) an an unknown wife. Sarah Anderson (born 1798) was the daughter of Lewis Anderson Jr (1743-1805) and Winnie Bass (1752-1809). Thus Varnell Mayo descended from several of the prominent Native American families in Granville: Chavis, Anderson, Bass, Gibson. I’m unsure who William Mayo’s parents were, but he almost certainly descends from the Mayo family who were formerly enslaved by a man named Joseph Mayo who left a 1780 will that freed them. By 1789 Joseph Mayo’s slaves were freed in neighboring Mecklenburg Co, VA and most intermarried with Native Americans/”free people of color”.
In the 1840 census, Varnell’s father William Mayo is shown living next to his brother-in-law William Chavis in Granville County and among members of the Harris/Dew, Anderson, Pettiford, Evans, Richardson and Mitchell families.
In the 1850 census which is the first census in which every household member was enumerated by name, we see Varnell Mayo age 13 years, listed with his parents and siblings:
On June 7, 1858 in Caswell County, NC, Varnell Mayo married Sally Chavis:
In the 1860 census, we find Varnell and his wife Sally (“Sarah”) living all the way out in Hamilton, Ohio. During the decades leading up to the Civil War, many “free colored” families from North Carolina moved to Ohio because of hostile conditions from local whites. In 1835, due to an increased fear of growing abolitionist movements and slave uprisings, North Carolina passed a new constitution that disenfranchised all “free people of color” including Native Americans who fell under this social category. This new constitution took away the right to vote, the right to hold public office, the right to own firearms, and the right to move freely in and out of the state. Even though both Varnell and Sally were free born people, there was still the threat of being stolen and illegally sold into slavery. In Ohio, Varnell would find a growing abolitionist community with people who were committed to ending slavery.
Varnell Mayo Enlists in the 54th Regiment:
The next time we find Varnell is on April 28, 1863 in Boston, MA when he joined the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. He was enlisted by a ” R. P. Hallowell” – this is Richard Price Hallowell (1835-1904) who was in charge of recruiting soldiers for the 54th regiment. His brothers Edward Needles Hallowell(1836-1871) and Norwood Penrose Hallowell(1839-1914) were officers in the 54th. Edward was a lieutenant-colonel and second in command of the 54th (actor Cary Elwes’ portrayal of Major Cabot Forbes in “Glory” was based upon Edward Hallowell). Norwood left the 54th and commanded his own colored regiment – the 55th. The Hallowell brothers came from a prominent Quaker family in Philadelphia who dedicated their lives to abolishing slavery and fighting for equal rights.
In the remarks section we see that Varnell was listed as wounded in action at Morris Island on July 18, 1865 (this should read 1863). Additional muster roll pages clarify these remarks.
In the July/August 1863 muster roll, we see Varnell Mayo was absent because he was “wounded in the attack at Fort Wagner, July 18, 1863”. There it is, Fort Wagner! Just three months after enlisting in the 54th, Varnell Mayo fought in a major battle that would earn the 54th a distinguished place in history noted for their bravery, heroism and sacrifice.
If you’ve studied the Civil War or have even seen the film “Glory”, you will remember that Fort Wagner was the site of a Confederate fort on Morris Island in South Carolina. Colonel Shaw volunteered his 54th regiment to lead the attack despite knowing they would likely sustain a high casualty rate. Though the Union Army in 1863 began organizing colored regiments, most did not see any action on the battle field because of racist views that colored troops were unfit for battle. Instead most of the colored regiments were simply used for manual labor. Col. Shaw recognized that this was an opportunity to show his peers that his troops were no less capable than any other white regiment. 600 men from the 54th lead the charge that historic day on July 18, 1863 with 30 being killed in action (including Col. Shaw), 24 later dying from their wounds, 15 being captured, 52 going MIA, and 149 being injured. This accounted for the nearly 272 total casualties out of 600 men for the 54th regiment.
We learn from additional muster rolls and discharge records that Varnell Mayo suffered a gunshot wound in his left foot at Fort Wagner and he spent the remainder of his time after the battle in a soldier’s hospital in Portsmouth Grove, Rhode Island. He luckily did not succumb to his injuries and he survived the Civil War. Varnell was discharged from active military service on May 13, 1864 at De Camp General Hospital on David’s Island in New York. In the records we see that Varnell indicates a desire to go back to Columbus, Ohio and that is where the military transported him.
I have not located any correspondence between Varnell Mayo and his family during the war. However a fellow solider in the 54th named Lewis Douglass who also survived the Battle at Fort Wagner, penned a letter to his fiancee that I think expresses the sentiment that many soldiers of the 54th felt including Varnell:
This regiment has established its reputation as a fighting regiment not a man flinched, though it was a trying time. Men fell all around me. A shell would explode and clear a space of twenty feet, our men would close up again, but it was no use we had to retreat, which was a very hazardous undertaking. How I got out of that fight alive I cannot tell, but I am here.
My Dear girl I hope again to see you. I must bid you farewell should I be killed. Remember if I die I die in a good cause. I wish we had a hundred thousand colored troops we would put an end to this war.
Lewis Douglass’ wishes for more colored regiments did come to fruition. As a result of the 54th’s actions at Fort Wagner, many thousands more soldiers enlisted in the colored regiments and are credited with turning the outcome of the war to the Union Army’s favor.
Varnell Mayo after the Civil War:
Though he had returned to Ohio, Varnell Mayo’s roots and heritage were in Granville County and he returned to marry a woman from the Native American community. On September 29, 1874 in Granville County, Varnell married Francis Howell(1842 – before 1920), daughter of Alexander Doc Howell and Betsy Ann Anderson. I’m not sure what happened to Varnell’s first wife Sally Chavis, but the last I can find her is in the 1860 census in Ohio. She likely died or divorced Varnell. I also don’t know of any children born to Varnell and Sally.
Sadly it appears the marriage between Varnell Mayo and Francis Howell did not last long because Varnell is shown in the 1880 census living back in Columbus, Ohio without Francis and listed as “divorced”. In today’s society we have a better understanding of how war can mentally and emotionally harm soldiers and have a medical diagnosis “PTSD” – post traumatic stress disorder. I don’t know if Varnell suffered from PTSD because this was not something that would have been diagnosed in the 19th century but I think it is understandable that his experiences from the war may have been too much for him to carry on normal social relations. Varnell was on the front lines of a very bloody battle in which his commanding officer and many of his comrades did not survive. I can’t imagine how he could not have been traumatized by that experience.
Varnell and his second wife Francis did have one son together named Abram Mayo (1870-1945). Abram’s marriage to Julia Harris on January 7, 1891, shows additional evidence that Varnell Mayo was estranged from his family. On the marriage record, Abram’s father is listed as “William Mayo” (Varnell’s middle name was William) and that his location was “unknown”.
Varnell Mayo passed away on March 3, 1900 in Springfield, Ohio. His tombstone is located at Ferncliff Cemetery also in Springfield, and you can see from the photo below, his service with the 54th Regiment is memorialized on his tombstone for all to see.
In 1897, highly acclaimed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens revealed his bronze relief sculpture in honor of Col. Robert Should Shaw and the 54th Regiment. The sculpture sits prominently at the edge of the Boston Common and directly across the street from the state capitol. The relief depicts Shaw and his soldiers when they departed for battle on May 28, 1863. Their march through Boston brought them to the exact same spot where the sculpture is located. One of these soldiers was Private Varnell Mayo of Granville County.
The city of New Bedford, MA on July 18, 2015 unveiled a new public mural dedicated to the memory of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. New Bedford like Boston, was a hot spot for abolitionist activity and many soldiers in the 54th hailed from New Bedford. This beautiful mural is another testament to the bravery and honor of the 54th .
The Boon(e) family in Granville County descends from a woman named Rebecca Boon (born 1805) who moved to Granville in the 1840s. Her Boone family originally came from the Tuscarora “Indian Woods” reservation in Bertie County. In addition to Granville County, there are Boon(e) descendants in the Haliwa-Saponi tribe and the Meherrin Tribe. This blog entry will take a closer look at the historical records that connect the Boon(e) family to the Indian Woods reservation.
Rebecca Boon (born 1805)
Before discussing the Boon family’s tribal origins, I will first provide more background information on Rebecca Boon. She is the most recent common ancestor of every Boon that I have identified from Granville County.
Rebecca first appears in the census in 1840 in Northampton County, NC. She is the head of a household that includes 1 Free Colored Female 24-35; 1 Free Colored Male 10-23; 1 Free Colored Male Under 10; 2 Free Colored Females 10-23; 2 Free Colored Females Under 10. From this census data, we can surmise that Rebecca Boon is the head of a household that includes 6 children (2 boys, 4 girls) that are most likely her children.
The next record for Rebecca Boon is in 1847, when she married Iverson Mitchell from the Native American/”free colored” Mitchell family in Granville County. By marrying Iverson Mitchell, Rebecca relocated her family to the center of the Native American community in Granville. In the 1850 census for Granville County, she is listed as “Rebecca Mitchell” and is living with her husband Iverson Mitchell, and her youngest children Jane Boon and Margaret Boon.
Rebecca last appears in the 1860 census in Granville County, when she is listed in the household of her son-in-law Lewis Anderson who is married to her daughter Ruth Boon.
Below is a list of Rebecca Boon’s children:
1. James Boon (born 1825) – married first Martha Curtis and second Mary Drew
2. Martha Boon (born 1827) – married Cuffy Mayo (this is not the same Cuffy Mayo who was married to Glathy Ann Pettiford-Hawkins and Julia Pettiford- Hawley)
3. Betsy Boon (born 1828) – married John Mills
4. Willis Boon (born 1829) – married Isabella Mayo
4. Ruth Boon (born 1832) – married Lewis Anderson
5. Jane Boon (born 1837)
6. Margaret Boon (born 1842)
and possibly 7. Emeline Boon (birth date unknown) – married Samuel Hawley
The earliest verified records for the Boon(e) family are found in Bertie County in the mid/late 1700s. Unfortunately there are no land records or estate records associated with the Boones during this time period. There are however a number of court cases that involve several Boon(e) children being bound out. In these records, the Boones were labeled as “mulatto” and were free people, not enslaved. Some of the genealogical information on the Boon(e) family comes from Paul Heinegg’s research.
Patt Boone (born abt 1742) and her offspring
The Bertie County court bound out several of Patt Boon’s (born abt 1742) children to James Brown in 1774. These children were: Lewis, Katie, Judah, and Arthur. Patt Boon’s age is unknown and can only be estimated based upon the birth dates of her children. So with that in mind, researcher Paul Heinegg estimated her birth date to be 1742. In 1772, Rachel Boon was a “mollatter” listed as a tithable in the household of a white man named James Purvis. In 1769, it appears Rachel was also in James Purvis’ home because he was charged with a tax for having a free non-white woman in his home. Heinegg believes this Rachel is a daughter of Patt Boon. Two of Rachel Boon’s sons – Willis Boon and Hill Boon, were bound out in 1791 to Richard Veal. A girl named Sarah Boon who Heinegg suspects is a daughter of Rachel Boon’s, was bound out to Thomas Pugh Jr in 1789. Another suspected daughter of Patt Boon’s named Rebeeca Boon (born about 1767) had a son named Cary Boon bound out also to Richard Veal in 1792.
Boon(e) Family and Indian Woods
When we take a closer look at these men from Bertie County who are associated with various members of the Boon family, we start to see the Tuscarora Indian Woods connections.
James Purvis, the man who Rachel Boon was living with in 1769 and 1772, is recorded in 1766 selling land on the north side of Roquist Swamp (Creek).
1765: Deed Book K, 659 (475), 18 May 1765. James Purvis of Bertie Co. to Charles King of same, £33.6.8 proclamation money, 1/3 part of land which MARTIN GARDNER gave to his 3 daughters, on north side of Rockquis Swamp, joining William Sparkman, John Rhoads. Witnesses: William Gouge, James Purvis. June Court 1765. CC: John Johnston.[Deeds of Bertie County, North Carolina, 1757-1785, Part 1, by Dr. Stephen E. Bradley, Jr., page 61]
James Purvis’ wife was Jane (Gardner) Purvis, daughter of the above mentioned Martin Gardner. Jane inherited this land from her father’s 1760 will in Bertie County and so that is why her husband James later sold it.
Recall from my blog post about the boundaries of the Tuscarora “Indian Woods” reservation, that Roquist Swamp (Creek) forms a long natural border of the reservation. The reservation abuts the southside of the creek, and James Purvis’ land that his wife inherited from her father Martin Gardner, abuts the north side of the creek.
Also of important relevance is that Martin Gardner was a close friend of Needham Bryan (1690-1770), who served as executor of Martin Gardner’s 1760 will that granted land to Jane (Gardner) Purvis. Needham Bryan owned Snowfield Plantation located within the Indian Woods reservation and he held a number of important public offices. The location of Needham Bryan’s land within Indian Woods is confirmed in this colonial record from 1773 (Moratuck is the Roanoke River):
Upon a Complaint of the Chief of the Tuscarora Indians that one William King had entered upon and committed waste upon the Lands lying on the North side of Moratuck which lands were granted to Col. Needham Bryan by the Lords proprietors upon the failure of that nation of Indians and afterwards confirmed to him by the Legislature of this Province, it was the opinion of this Board that His Excellency should write a letter to Mr Wm King to remove off the Land or shew cause why he had possession of it.
Then we have Richard Veal – the man who Rachel Boon’s sons Willis and Hill and Rebecca Boon’s son Cary were bound to. Richard Veal purchased land in 1805 next to Roquist Swamp (Creek):
Witnesseth that the said DEMPSEY VEALE hath bargained
sold and put into possession of the said RICHARD VEAL a
certain tract or message of land lying and being in the
State and County aforesaid lying in ROCQUIST POCOSIN, it
being a prt of the land that belonged to MORRIS VEAL
So two men – James Purvis and Richard Veal, both living on land adjoining the Indian Woods reservation, have several members of the Boon family residing in their homes.
There is also James Brown, the man who four of Patt Boone’s children – Lewis, Katie, Judah and Arthur were bound out to in 1774. According to land transactions found here and here, James Brown lived near the fork of the Cashie River, close to the Harrell family that frequently appears in the Bertie County records. This land is not immediately adjacent to the reservation but is still extremely close to the reservation as indicated in the map above.
Thomas Pugh Sr (1728-1806) and Thomas Pugh Jr (1748-1799)
When we closely examine Thomas Pugh Jr, the man who Rachel Boon’s probable daughter Sarah Boon was bound to, we see an even stronger connection between the Boon family and Indian Woods.
In 1778, the General Assembly of North Carolina appointed Thomas Pugh Sr. (1728-1806), William Williams, Willie Jones, Simon Turner and Zedekiah Stone as commissioners for the Indian Woods reservation. Roberta Estes provides additional information about the 1778 act:
It appointed William Williams, Thomas Pugh, Willie Jones and Simon Turner and Zedekiah Stone commissioners for the Indians and empowered the said commissioners to hold courts, etc. for the redress of the grievances of the Indians. It further enacted that the land leased by the Tuscarora Indians to Jones, Williams and Pugh and to other persons prior to ’77 “shall revert to and become the property of the State at the expiration of the terms of the several leases mentioned, if the said Nation to then extinct. And the lands now belonging to and possessed by the said Tuscaroras shall revert to and become the property of the State whenever the said Nation shall become extinct, or shall entirely abandoned or remove themselves off the said lands and every part thereof.
In 1766, Thomas Pugh, Robert Jones, and William Williams had leased 8,000 acres of reservation land from the Tuscarora. The money from this lease was used to relocate some of the Tuscarora to upstate New York to rejoin the Haudenosaunee Confederacy:
Between James Allen, John Wiggins, Billy George, Snipnose George, Bille Cain, Charles Cornelius, Thomas Blount, John Rogers, George Blount, Wineoak Charles, Bille Basket, Bille Owens, Lewis Tuffdick, Isaac Miller, Harry Samuel, Bridgers Thomas, Senicar Thomas Howett, Bille Sockey, Bille Corelius, John Senicar, Thomas Baskett, John Cain, Billy Denis, William Taylor, Owins John Walker, Bille Mitchell, Bille Netop, Billy Blount, Tom Jack, John Litewood, Billy Robert, James Mitchell, Capt. Joe and William Pugh, Chieftains and Principal persons of that part of the Nation of Indians commonly called Tuskarora Indians dwelling in the county of Bertie in the Province of NC on the one part and Robert Jones, Jr., his majesty’s attorney general of the province aforesaid and William Williams and Thomas Pugh of the said province, gentlemen of the second part. Witnesseth that the said Tusckarora Indians as well for and in consideration of the sum of 1500 pounds proclamation money to them in hand paid or secured to be paid for their own use and for the use of the rest of that part of the said Nation of Tuscarora dwelling in the county and Province aforesaid. As for the yearly rents and covenants herein after mentioned have demised granted and to form let and by these presents in behalf of themselves and their said nation to demise ??? and to form let unto the said Robert Jones Jr., William Williams and Thomas Pugh, all that dividend or tract of land lying and being on the North side of Roanoke River in Bertie County and bounded as follows, to wit. Beginning at the mouth of Deep Creek otherwise known as Falling River then running up the sand creek to the ?? or head line thence by the said line south 50 ?? degrees East 1280 poled thence with the course of said Creek to Roanoke River and the River to the beginning….together with appurtenances….unto the said Robert Jones, William Williams and Thomas Pugh….8000 acres of land to be enjoyed severally, each holding one third equal part…for the term of 150 years….to be paid yearly every year one peppercorn if demanded on the feast of St. Michael. This deed was registered in the September Court of 1767.
Again in 1775, Thomas Pugh, William Williams, and Willie Jones leased 2,000 acres of reservation land from the Tuscarora:
298-(316) Whitmell Tufdick, Wineoak Charles Jr., Billie Roberts, Lewis Tufdick, West Tufdick, Billie Blunt Sr., Billie Blunt Jr., John Rodgers, John Smith, Billie Pugh, Billie Baskit, John Hicks, Samuel Bridgers, John Owens, James Mitchell, Isaac Cornelius, Tom Tomas, & Walter Gibson, chieftans of the Tuskarora Indians to Thomas Pugh, Willie Jones & William Williams. 2 Dec 1775. For the yearly rent of 80 Duffield Blankets, 80 Oznatrig Shirts, 80 prs of boots, 50 pounds of powder & 150 pounds of shot. 2000 acres which was part of the land called the Indian Lands, joining Town Swamp, the old path that leads to Unarowick Swamp, James Wiggins, Unrinta Road, Quitana Swamp, Rocquist, Jones, Williams, Pugh, excepting 300 acres Watking now tends. Signed by: Bille(x)Cain, John Hicks, John Rogers, John(X)Owen, James(X)Hicks, Bille(x)Smith, Bille(x)Mitchell, Billie(x)Pugh, Wineoak(x)Chalres, James(X) Mitchell, Bille(X)Blunt, Jr., Saml(X)Bridgers, Tom Roberts.
And again in 1777, Thomas Pugh leased 100 acres of reservation land from the Tuscarora:
297-(315) Whitmell Tufdick, William Roberts, William Blount, Lewis Tufdick, John Randal, William Pugh, James Mitchel, Winoak Charles, William Basket, John Owens, Thomas Roberts, Walter Gibson, Billy Cane chieftans of the Tuscarora Indians in Bertie County to Thomas Pugh Sr. of same. 28 May 1777. The lease for 99 years @ 8 pounds per year of 100 acres, joining Black Gut Neck on Town Swamp, Roanoke River. Signed by: Billy (x) Blunt, Wineoak (x) Charles, Ben (x) Smith, Walter (X) Gibson, Thomas (X) Roberts, John (X) Ra nndel, Whitmell (x) Tuffdick, Billey (X) Cane, Lewis (x) Tufdick, Billey (x) Baskit, William (x) Pugh, Williams (x) Roberts, James (x) Mitchell. WITNESSES: Zedekiah Stone Jr., Thomas Whitmell Jr., May Ct 1777. John Johntston CJC
Thomas PughSr’s son Thomas Pugh Jr, who Sarah Boon was bound out to, was a witness to a reservation land lease between the Tuscarora and Zedekiah Stone (one of the Indian Woods reservation commissioners) in 1777:
296-(314) Articles of agreement between WHITMELL TUFDICK, WILLIAM ROBERTS, WILLIAM CAIN, WILLIAM BLOUNT, TOM SMITH, JOHN SMITH, & LEWIS TUFDICK of Bertie Co., chieftans of the Tuscarora Indians on Roanoke River to ZEDEKIAH STONE of same. 10 Feb 1777. Sd chieftains were desirous that sd STONE should clear land, joining Coniack Neck, TITUS EDWARDS, Cesars Island, the river. Sd STONE agrees not to disturb JOSEPH LLOYD & THOMAS SMITH & SARAH HICKS. Sd STONE will be permittd to occupy the sd land for the space of 99 years. SIGNED BY: William Basket, Molley Smith, Benja. Smith, Sarah Hicks, Sarah Baskett, Watt & Gibson, Whitmell Tuffdick, Thomas (x) Smith, John Rodgers, Samuel Bridgers, William Roberts, Wineoak Charles, ZEdekiah Stone, John Owens, Thomas Baskett, William (x) Caine, Edward (x) Blount, John (x) Smith, James (x) Mitchell, John (x) Randle, William (x) Blount, Lewis (x) Tufdick, William (x) Pugh, West Whitmell (x) Tuffdick. WITNESSES: Thomas Pugh, Jr., Titus Edwards, Thos. Pugh, Sr.. May Court 1777. John Johnston Clerk of Court
You will also notice that one of the Tuscarora chieftans on the land deeds named “William Pugh” likely adopted his Pugh surname from Thomas Pugh Sr. Clearly the Pugh family was closely involved with the Tuscarora at Indian Woods in a formal and personal capacity. Sarah Boon being a Tuscarora girl bound out to the Pugh family who are commissioners and leasers of the Indian Woods reservation makes sense.
I believe a reasonable explanation for all the above historical records is that the Boon family were Tuscarora from the Indian Woods reservation. That is why there are no early land purchases or estate records associated with them because they were living on communally owned reservation land. Due to increasing impoverished and deteriorating conditions and with many of the Tuscarora families moving up North or away from the reservation, the Boon family were forced to place their children as indentured servants in the homes of neighboring white families. This is why the Boones seem to suddenly emerge out of nowhere in the court records in the 1760s/1770s. This was the exact same time that large numbers of Tuscarora were moving North and leasing their reservation land to the same men who many members of the Boon family were bound out to.
Descendants of Patt Boon
Lewis Boone (born 1757-1844):
Patt Boon’s son Lewis Boone (1757-1844) was bound out in 1774 in Bertie County. He then appears in the 1800 census for Northampton County, NC and in the 1810, 1820, and 1830 censuses for Halifax County (his household was enumerated in every census as “free colored”). Lewis filed a Revolutionary War pension application (excerpts found here) in 1843 in Halifax County which confirmed that he was born in Bertie County and lived a short while in Northampton County before relocating to Halifax County. The pension application includes some very important details about Lewis Boone’s service which further verifies the Boone family’s origins with the Tuscarora at Indian Woods.
Lewis Boone enlisted via the draft in 1778 in Bertie County with Uriah Dunning and served under Captain James Blount of the 10th Regiment. Lewis Boone also indicated that Captain William Williams marched him from Bertie County to Halifax which is where he enlisted under Captain Blount. This Captain William Williams is the same William Williams who was appointed as a commissioner of the Indian Woods reservation in 1778 and whose name appears on several Indian Woods land leases with previously mentioned Thomas Pugh. Captain James Blount who commanded Lewis Boone’s regiment, was from the Blount family who was the namesake for Tuscarora chief – “King Blount”. It was not uncommon for Native Americans to adopt the names of “friendly” colonists. The pension application did not list the names of Lewis Boone’s wife or children. However through the rejected Cherokee Dawes and Eastern Cherokee/Guion Miller applications that were filed by Lewis Boone’s descendants, we know who some of his children were. Many non-Cherokee Native American families from North Carolina were often mislabeled and sometimes self-identified as Cherokee, which resulted in these families applying for Cherokee status. This will be a subject of a future blog post. Cherokee anthropologist Robert K. Thomas, who did fieldwork in the mid 1970s to investigate the claims of many of the self-identified “Cherokee” communities of the Southeast, had this to say about the Tuscarora heritage of the Haliwa-Saponi (the tribal community of Lewis Boone’s descendants):
They do not accept the term Haliwa and refer to themselves as Cherokee although the term Haliwa is gaining more acceptance as time goes on. This tribe appears from the research I have done, to be the remnants of the North Carolina Tuscaroras. When the Tuscaroras fled north in the early 1700s they left a large body, of so-called neutral Tuscarora, on a reservation just to the east of the modern Haliwa country near Windsor, North Carolina. There were several hundred Indians left on that reservation after the “hostile” Tuscaroras fled north and became part of the Iroquois League in New York. Slowly throughout the 1700’s, parties of Indians left that reservation and joined their brethren in New York. In the first decade of the 1800’s the few remaining Tuscarora sold their lands at Windsor, North Carolina. It appears they simply moved west a few miles to the present Haliwa area. There were a few other Indians, possibly Tuscarora, already living in that area. In any case, it appears that the Haliwa are remnants of the neutral Tuscarora.
The Haliwa-Saponi tribe officially states to be descended mostly from the Saponi, Tuscarora, and Nansemond tribes. Like Thomas, historian and Haliwa-Saponi tribal member Marvin Richardson also noted the very short distance between the Indian Woods reservation and the Haliwa community:
The Tuscarora Reservation, known as Reskooteh Town and Indian Wood, was located in Bertie County, North Carolina, approximately thirty miles east of the modern Haliwa-Saponi community. The reservation consisted initially of 40,000 acres, bordered eastern Halifax County, and included a village known as the Sapona Town. By 1734 some Nansemond were also living with the Nottoway Indians in Virginia, and other Nansemond had resettled near the Tuscarora in North Carolina.
1. Dorcas Boone born about 1794 was married to Hardy Richardson, son of Benjamin Richardson and Mary Bass (of the Nansemond Bass family). Dorcas Boone and her husband Benjamin Richardson are the progenitors of many of the Richardsons in the Haliwa-Saponi tribe. Dorcas’ Native identity is asserted in the Richardson family’s rejected 1896 Cherokee Dawes applications and rejected 1906 Eastern Cherokee/Guion Miller application, where she is referred to as being an Indian doctor and midwife. Some of Dorcas’ descendants list her maiden name as “Pope” despite Lewis Boone being Dorcas’ father. It is likely that Lewis Boone’s wife/Dorcas’ mother was a Pope.
2. Caroline Boone born about 1810 was unwed and had one son named William Boone. In William Boone’s Dawes application, which can be found fully transcribed on researcher Deloris Williams’ website here, he verified that his mother Caroline was Dorcas’ sister. From William Boone’s 1896 rejected Dawes application, it states:
Your petitioner WM. BOONE the undersigned respectfully states that he is a Cherokee Indian by blood and asks to be enrolled as a member of the Cherokee Nation of Indians in the Indian Territory.
That he derives his Indian blood from his grandfather LEWIS BOONE who was the father of CAROLINE BOONE, who was the mother of petitioner. CAROLINE BOONE and DARCUS RICHARDSON were sisters and both were Cherokee Indians by blood.
3. William Boone was born about 1790 and was most likely a son of Lewis Boon though I’d like additional confirmation of their relationship. William’s descendants ofter intermarried with the descendants of Hardy Richardson and Dorcas Boone. Wife Fanny’s maiden name is unknown.
Arthur Boon (1773-?)
Patt Boon’s son Arthur Boon was born around 1773 and like his brother Lewis Boone, he was also bound out in 1774 in Bertie County. In the 1790 census, Arthur Boon was recorded in Hertford County, head of a household of 6 “Free colored persons”. I cannot locate him in the census again until the 1840 census where he was recorded living alone in Northampton County, head of his own household of 1 free colored male. However directly under Arthur Boon’s name in the 1840 census, is his probable daughter Rebecca Boon (born 1805). This is the Rebecca Boon who is the progenitor of the Granville County Boon family. Arthur most likely had other children but but I do not have them identified at this time.
My great-grandfather was Edward Brodie Howell (1870-1942). He was the son of James E Howell of Granville County and Virginia “Ginny” Richardson of Warren/Halifax Cos. He was born and raised in Granville County’s Native American community in Fishing Creek township. I am looking to get in touch with any descendants of his siblings:
1. Frances Ellen Howell (1872-1923), 2. Lucy J Howell (1873-1952), and 3. William Isaac Howell (1891-?)
I have not successfully found any living descendants, so I’m hoping the readers of this blog will be able to assist in any way. Please share this blog post!
Some background information:
Edward Brodie Howell was born in late September 1870 in Granville Co, NC to James E Howell and Virginia Richardson. James E Howell had first married Betsy Ann Tyler-Kersey, daughter of Baldy Kersey and Frances Tyler. They were wed in 1867 but Betsy Ann died soon after their wedding and they had no children together.
Next, James E Howell married Virginia “Ginny” Richardson, daughter of Nancy Richardson and an unidentified father. Virginia was from the Haliwa-Saponi Richardson family. They wed in 1869 and Virginia moved to Granville County where she gave birth to three children:
1. Edward Brodie Howell (1870-1942) – my great-grandfather
2. Frances Ellen Howell (1872-1923) – my great grand aunt
3. Lucy J Howell (1873-1952) – my great grand aunt
Sadly Virginia (Richardson) Howell died young, leaving her husband James E Howell to care for three very young children on his own. By 1880, James E Howell was listed as “widowed” in the census and had moved into his mother Jane (Harris) Howell’s home. Jane helped raise her grandchildren and the family remained in Granville County’s Native American community in Fishing Creek township.
Later, James E Howell married for a third time – Mary (maiden name not confirmed). They wed in 1887, and had one son together:
4. William Isaac Howell (1891 – ?) – my great grand uncle
James E Howell died in 1912, but by that time his two sons – Edward Brodie Howell and William Isaac Howell had relocated to New Haven, CT and his two daughters Frances Ellen Howell and Lucy J Howell relocated to Washington, D.C.
This is what I know about my great-grandfather’s 3 siblings:
Frances Ellen Howell (1872-1923).
By 1900, Frances relocated to Washington, D.C. where she worked as a nurse. And by the following year she married John B Loftus (1870-1955) who had also moved from Granville County to Washington, D.C. John worked as a policeman in Washington, D.C and the family lived at 1514 Kingman Place. John and Frances (Howell) Loftus had one daughter together: Ruth Loftus (1901-1996).
Frances (Howell) Loftus died young in 1923. Her widow John B Loftus married again to a woman named Essie. John Loftus died in 1955.
John and Frances (Howell) Loftus’ daughter Ruth Loftus (1901-1996) remained in Washington, D.C. Ruth was a public school teacher and was married to Fred Jolie (1886-1979). Fred was from a Louisiana Creole background and worked as a clerk in the War Department. The couple lived at 325 T St and as far as I know they did not have any children. Fred Jolie died in 1975 and Ruth (Loftus) Jolie died in 1996. I hope that I am mistaken about them not having any children and I would welcome any additional information anyone has about John and Ruth.
As Ruth grew older and perhaps lonelier she would regularly send poems to the newspaper in honor of her parents. For example:
Lucy J Howell (1873-1952)
Lucy Howell relocated to Washington, D.C. in 1902 and that same year she married William Sanford (1865-1928). William worked as a clerk in the Post Office and Lucy was a dressmaker who owned her own shop. The couple lived at 1316 U Street. I have no records of William and Lucy having any children. William died in 1928 and Lucy died in 1952.
William Isaac Howell (1891-?)
William Isaac Howell was my great-grandfather’s youngest sibling, and he was biologically his half sibling because William had a different mother. There was also a 21 year age difference between the two brothers, so I’m not sure how close they were growing up. But William did move to New Haven, CT which is where my great-grandfather also relocated. William was in New Haven by 1910 and was married to a woman named Margaret (maiden name not known). William and Margaret had two children together: James Howell (1913-?) and Theda Howell (1919-?).The family resided at 53 Foote St and 1411 Chapel St.
By 1932, William Isaac Howell and Margaret had separated/divorced and William relocated to New York City and Margaret remained in New Haven at 866 Grand Ave. Their son James Howell later followed William to New York City.
As previously mentioned, William’s son James Howell also moved to New York City but I have no idea what happened to him. I do not know if James was married, if he had children or when he died. I also have no idea what happened to William’s daughter Theda Howell. I do not know if she remained in New Haven, moved to New York City, or even moved elsewhere.
However I do know that all 4 Howell siblings were still close and visited each other frequently in addition to visiting their home roots in Granville County, North Carolina. Going from a rural indigenous community where everyone was kin to moving to major urban areas with people from diverse backgrounds must have been quite an adjustment for them. I found several newspaper articles to verify this.
Many of Granville County’s Native American families came to the county from Virginia to escape the intrusions of the British colonists. The Bass,Evans, and Anderson families are just several examples of coastal Algonquian speaking peoples that followed this route. The Kersey family is no exception, and has roots in Surry County, VA among the Weyanoke, an Algonquian speaking people who allied and moved in with Nottoway and Tuscarora on their reservations. In this blog post I will trace the Kersey family from the Surry Co, VA area to Granville Co, NC.
Lumbee scholar J. Cedric Woods published an essay titled, “Lumbee Origins: The Weyanoke-Kersey Connection” in support of the Lumbee Tribe’s federal recognition bid. The full text of the essay can be found here and here (pdf format). The tribal origins of the Kersey family are relevant to the Lumbees because the tribe’s Lowry/Lowrie family of Robeson County, NC descend from the Kersey family – specifically a Sally Kersey who was described as a “half-breed Tuscarora woman” during the Civil War era. Sally Kersey was the grandmother of famed Tuscarora (later Lumbee) hero Henry Berry Lowrie/Lowry (1845-1872). Through careful examination of genealogical and historical records, Woods chronicles how a Weyanoke man named Thomas Kersey (born 1665) from Surry Co,VA resettled close to the Tuscarora “Indian Woods” reservation in Bertie Co, NC. His Kersey family likely intermarried with the Tuscarora before moving down together to Robeson Co. I will be citing Wood’s scholarship for this article as well as Paul Heinegg’s genealogy of the Kersey family.
Who are the Weyanoke?
The Weyanoke are an Algonquian-speaking tribe of the Powhatan Confederacy from the Tidewater area of Virginia. Because of ongoing conflicts between indigenous people and the British colony, the Weyanoke moved around quite a bit to seek shelter, and by the 18th century had integrated onto the Nottoway and Tuscarora reservations. The surname “Wineoak” appears on the land records for both reservations, indicating that these community members were of Weyanoke descent. Cedric Woods describes this movement and integration of tribal people:
As this case study will show, what may be initially viewed as a spin-off of what I maintain as a Weyanoke individual, was actually the continuation of a cross border movement to friendlier social and political environs. These person also did not move in isolated fashion. They are individual faces of historic movements of tribes. Additionally, they did not move to isolation, but maintained contact with their kinsfolks and allies, and recreated their communities as much as possible in new territory. This process created new Native communities in North Carolina with very ancient roots in Virginia.
What Woods is describing is exactly what I’ve noticed in carefully describing the genealogies of Granville’s Native American families. These families moved together from one location to the next, and along the way brought in allied Native families to sustain their Native identity. This is why these families are so interrelated across state and county borders because of centuries of documented intermarriage. For the Weyanoke families that moved out of Virginia and into North Carolina, they did not simply “blend” into African-American or European-American communities like researcher Heinegg suggests, but rather they moved together with other Native American families to form new tribal communities.
Cedric Woods also points to another trend that lead to the “detribalization” of Virginia Native Americans – the indentured servitude system. Young Native Americans were often “bound out” to white families to be servants and by the time their service contract was over, these individuals most often did not rejoin their tribal communities.
The Kersey line that is ancestral to the Lumbee tribe, descends from a man named Thomas Kersey (born 1665) who was an indentured servant of Benjamin Harrison of Surry Co, VA. Harrison was a known Indian trader who traded with the Saponi, Meherrin, Nottoway, and Weyanoke tribes. Cedric Woods also cites several colonial references of Weyanoke villages and cabins in the Surry Co area, to geographically place the Weyanoke people in Surry So in the late 17th century. For example, I found in colonial records from 1707:
…then lived on A Plantation of Collo Benjamin Harrisson on Blackwater and within call of the Weyanoake Indian Forte and consumed there five yeares during which time this Deponent had frequent Discourses with the Indians and was by them informed that they never Claimed to the Southward of the Maherine River But at the time that the Appachoukanough was Routed and taken for the Massacre he had committed the Weyanoakes (being his Confederates and fearing the English) removed themselves from that place which is now called Weyanoake in James River to Warraekeeks on Weyanoake River and after when the Poackyacks killed their King they were by the English brought from thence and placed on the Blackwater aforementioned as Tributarys. where this Deponent lived by them and this Deponent further saith that he was informed by the Weyanoaks that the Weyanoke River now Called Nottoway was their bounds and that they never Seated to the Southward of Warr-a-keeks.
All of this information leads Woods to conclude that Thomas Kersey (born 1665) was a local Weyanoke Indian who was “bound out” to Indian trader Benjamin Harrison.
By 1720, Thomas Kersey (born 1665) left Virginia and resettled in the Chowan/Bertie Co area that later became northeastern Northampton County, NC. His son Thomas Kersey (born 1712) moved to the part of Edgecombe County, NC that later became Nash County, NC by 1743 and in 1764 he moved to Robeson County. Cedric Woods explains why the Weyanoke had such a strong affiliation with Tuscarora people:
Another strong connection that predisposed the Weyanoke to relocate to Tuscarora-controlled territory is their pre-contact relationship with the Tuscarora as ambassadors for Powhatan’s chiefdom (Rountree, 1993). In fact, the Tuscarora queens (clan mothers) are on several occasions documented as entreating with them to relocate to North Carolina. This begs the question, what did the Tuscaroras have to gain by the relocation of the landless Weyanokes to their homeland? A couple of possibilities seem evident. First, this was an infusion of additional Native people in the region that was coming under increasing pressure from the English (pressure that would eventually result in the Tuscarora Wars). The Tuscaroras, clearly an Iroquoian people, had Algonquin speakers as allies, and recruiting others is not surprising. Second, the Weyanokes were Algonquins that had already had extensive dealings with the English, and knew their customs fairly well, particularly as a result of the experience of indentured servitude. They also had connections with the English traders in Virginia, who might be more willing to supply the Tuscarora with guns and powers as opposed to the English traders who lived in their area. Perhaps they were viewed as potential go-betweens with the English. In any case, by the mid-eighteenth century, Weyanokes were very much a part of Tuscarora political structure, as is evidenced by their names on land deeds (Powell, 1758).
Woods cited Helen Rountree’s book “Powhatan Foreign Relations, 1500-1722” (1993), as a reference to the Weyanoke’s relationship with the Tuscarora as ambassadors to the Powhatan confederacy and her book is worth a look to learn more about Powhatan diplomacy.
An unsourced Wikipedia entry also relays the following information about the Weyanoke seeking protection with the Nottoway and Tuscarora:
Despite their many moves, the Weyanoke after 1646 became partly Anglicised, preferring to have some English-style houses built, rather than yehakans, wherever they moved. The colony, in assigning them reserve land on the upper Blackwater in 1650 (from which they were driven by colonists the following year), even expressed a desire to teach the Weyanokes the English concept of property ownership, and this was successful. In their subsequent wanderings, the Weyanoke always made land purchase or rental contracts with the chiefs of the Iroquoian-speaking Tuscarora and Nottoway tribes. By the 18th century, they had fully integrated with the Nottoways, and were speaking their language, their former presence visible only in the surname “Wineoak”.
I did find in the colonial records from 1710, sources that reveal the Weyanoke were making land contracts with the Nottoway:
All our Evidences are unanimous as to the name of Nottoway River which with the Indians account, corroborated by English Evidences of the Weyanoaks paying an acknowledgement to the Nottoways (who lived there long before) for living on that River, makes it seem improbable the name of that River should be changed from their living a few years upon it, at least twenty five miles from the mouth, when they lived much longer upon Blackwater without altering the name of it.
And finally, current Nottoway Chief Lynette Allston in a letter dated 2006 to the Virginia Council on Indians, for the purpose of the Nottoway to be “recognized” as a tribe by the state of Virginia says:
The Nottoway had earlier provided a safe haven for those some historians have labeled (or mis-labeled) a non-Christianized segment of the Nansemond in 1744 through at least 1786 . Segments of the Weyanockes and Meherrins also sought refuge within the Nottoway community.
So with the background information that Woods has provided about the Kersey-Weyanoke connections, let’s take a closer look at the genealogy of Granville’s Kersey family.
Identifying the precise verified earliest member for the Kersey family of Granville is a bit tricky, because Heinegg in his Kersey genealogy, leaves a lot of room for speculation. However I am comfortable saying that Thomas Kersey (born 1735) of Sussex and Southampton County, VA is the earliest verified ancestor. Heinegg suspects that Thomas Kersey is a descendant of John Kersey (born 1668) of Surry Co, VA. This John Kersey is probably a brother of previously mentioned Thomas Kersey (born 1665) of Surry Co, VA who was the subject of Cedric Woods’ essay. I agree that Thomas Kersey (born 1735) descends from the Kerseys next door in Surry Co, but more research is needed to correctly identify his parents. Because there are several different related Thomas Kerseys found in these early records, Heinegg has unfortunately incorrectly attributed records to the wrong Kersey, so below is a corrected version of major life events for Thomas Kersey (born 1735).
Thomas Kersey (born 1735)
The first verified record for Thomas Kersey (born 1735) is when he was sued for debt by David Wiggins in Sussex Co, VA court in 1755. (Sussex Co was formed from Surry Co in 1749). The following year in 1756, Thomas received a plat for 104 acres of land on the southside of the Nottoway River near Ploughman Swamp in Sussex Co. This is in close proximity of the former Nottoway and Weyanoke village called “Warekeck” that was located in the Blackwater River area that Woods describes in his essay. Thomas Kersey then sold this land in 1759 to William Longbottom. Next, Thomas Kersey purchased land in neighboring Southampton Co, VA in 1760 from the previously mentioned David and Elizabeth Wiggins who were residents of Surry Co, VA. This land was situated on Three Creeks and was adjacent to Thomas Wiggins and McLemore (probably a descendant of James McLemore, a Scottish born settler). This Southampton County land owned by Thomas Kersey was also adjacent to the bounded Nottoway “square tract” reservation.
Thomas Kersey’s wife is unknown but I have strong reason to believe she was from the Native American/”free colored” Walden family of Southampton County. Thomas did not leave a will, but the Kerseys who appear in the subsequent Southampton records, are most likely his children. These children include: William Kersey (born 1761), Agatha Kersey (born 1762), Thomas Kersey (born 1767), Walden Kersey (born 1767), Willis Kersey, Delilah Kersey (born 1778), and Loudon Kersey.
Walden Kersey’s name is very revealing because it was common practice for the maiden names of wives to be passed down as first names in their descendants. The Walden family is also ancestral to many Native American families of Granville County (myself included). The Waldens are connected to the Nottoway and there are still Walden descendants among the state recognized Nottoway Tribe of Southampton County. This is why I strongly believe that Thomas Kersey’s (born 1735) wife was a Walden.
William Kersey (born 1761)
From here we turn to Thomas Kersey’s son William Kersey (born 1761). William was a tithable in Southampton County, VA in 1780. In 1786, he married Polly Evans, the daughter of Thomas Evans (1723-1788) and his unnamed Walden wife of Mecklenburg County, VA. Polly Evans was the sister of my 5th great-grandmother Margaret Evans and I discussed their Evans family here. After marrying Polly Evans, William Kersey appears in both Southampton and Mecklenburg records, but Mecklenburg County appears to be his primary residence. This Mecklenburg County property was situated right on the Warren County, NC border because William Kersey was recorded just as frequently in the Warren County records.
In 1832, William Kersey filed a pension for his services in the Revolutionary War. You can find excerpts of his pension application here. From this application we learn many details of his war service. He first enlisted in 1777, survived the disastrous winter camp at Valley Forge, and fought in the Battle of Monmouth. Other important details in the pension application confirm that William Kersey was from Southampton County but moved to Warren County towards the end of the war and continued to live there through to the present because he received 640 acres of land for his war service. William Chavis (not the founder of Granville’s Native American community) provided testimony in support of William Kersey’s pension and stated that he remembered William Kersey’s wedding to Polly Evans because there was lots of “fiddling and dancing”, and the wedding took place at Polly’s father Thomas Evans’ home. From the pension records, we learn that William Kersey later died in 1836 and that his widow Polly (Evans) Kersey died in 1840.
In 1845, William and Polly Kersey’s youngest son Edmund Kersey (born 1805), sought to collect his father’s pension payments and listed the names of William and Polly’s other surviving children. In addition to Edmund, the other surviving children named were: Thomas Kersey (born 1785), William Kersey (born 1794), Nancy Kersey (born 1799) and Barbara Kersey (born 1800). One son was not named and that was Benjamin Kersey (1790-1838). Thomas Kersey (born 1785) and Nancy Kersey (born 1799) remained on the Mecklenburg County side of the border, and Edmund Kersey (born 1805) remained on the Warren County side of the border. However Benjamin Kersey (1790-1838), William Kersey (born 1794), and Barbara Kersey (born 1800) had all moved to Granville County by 1830. William Kersey was married to Margaret Ivey and moved further into North Carolina and settled in Orange County. Barbara Kersey was married to Martin Anderson of the Native American/”free colored” Anderson family. Benjamin Kersey was married to a woman named Sally (maiden name not known). However Benjamin died by 1838, and his widow Sally remarried Martin Anderson who had been widowed when his first wife Barbara Kersey died.
Benjamin Kersey (1790-1838)
As stated earlier, Benjamin Kersey (1790-1838) was not named as a surviving child in William Kersey’s pension record because Benjamin died in 1838, 7 years before Edmund Kersey petitioned to collect their father’s pension payments. And because Benjamin’s widow Sally had remarried Martin Anderson, she was not entitled to any support from William Kersey’s pension. All of Benjamin Kersey’s children and grandchildren intermarried with members of Granville’s Native American community including: Tyler, Anderson, Howell, Harris, Chavis, and Richardson families and continued to live in the heart of the community.
The Adventurous Life of Baldy Kersey (1820-1899)
Baldy Kersey (1820-1899) was a son of Benjamin and Sally Kersey and was a well known person in Granville County whose name made the papers for being on the wrong side of the law. Baldy Kersey was first married to Frances Tyler and they adopted the four children of Frances Tyler’s sister Martha Tyler (their adopted daughter Betsy Ann Tyler was the first wife of my 2nd great-grandfather James E. Howell). In 1864, Baldy Kersey escaped from jail in Oxford and the following notice was published which includes a physical description of him:
In 1880, Baldy Kersey was arrested along with a white man named John Smith. They were accused of being in charge of a gang that was stealing horses and counterfeiting:
Baldy Kersey was also involved in a famous land case that went up all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. Apparently, a man named Col. Edwards was attempting to collect a debt from Baldy Kersey, and Baldy claimed his homestead. Baldy Kersey’s land was in the heart of the Native American community in Granville County, in Fishing Creek township and it was very important for Baldy to hold onto this land. As you’ll recall from earlier, Baldy’s mother Sally (maiden name unknown) remarried Martin Anderson after her husband Benjamin Kersey died. In order to keep this highly valued land in the family, Sally Anderson paid Baldy’s debt and put the land deed in her name. Perhaps to stop her other children (and debtors) from claiming the land, Sally Anderson disinherited her children and left the land solely to Baldy in her will. However after her death, her will was being contested on the grounds of insanity.
So to summarize, the Kersey family came to Granville County in the early 1800s, after the founding members had already established a Native American community. Previous to Granville County, the Kersey’s tribal origins are with the Algonquian speaking Weyanoke tribe who sought refuge and intermarried with the Iroquois speaking Nottoway and Tuscarora tribes. The Kersey lineage that came to Granville, was more closely connected to the Nottoway tribe because of intermarriage with the Nottoway Walden family. The journey of the Kersey family exemplifies how early contact Native American peoples maintained their Native identity in spite of colonial pressures to relocate.
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.