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The Lost Colony Research Group

Genealogy ~ DNA ~ Archaeology



November 2011




Beechland: Oral History versus Historical Records  




Samuel Elks in Tyrrell County

A deed was conveyed from Samuel Elks to Isaac Meekins in 1777 for the land known as Buck Ridge.  McMillan sets forth the theory that Buck Ridge is Gum Neck, the Indian village of Tramaskecoock from the White-DeBry map of 1590.  He modified the White map, as shown below, to illustrate the various locations.  It is clear that White or one of men in his party did in fact visit this area or it would not have been labeled with the name of an Indian Village.

The extracted deed says: March 4, 1777 Tyrrell Co., 100 acres of land known by the name of Buck Ridge from Samuel Elks, planter, for 15 pounds, to Isaac Meekins, the land where Samuel Elks now lives.  If this is the same land where Meekins lived in 1786, it fell within the Greater Alligator or Gum Neck districts, but not within the Miltail Lake district.

Where, when and how did Elks obtain that land?  Where did Elks go after he conveyed the title? 

Checking the early militia lists, tax records, petitions, wills, probate, census, marriage, guardian and bastardry bond, we find no Elks entries at all, so apparently Samuel did not live in Tyrrell County for long.  Deed records do not reveal how or when Samuel Elks obtained this land.[1]

There are no Elks listed on the 1786 state census, but in 1790 three Elks families are listed, all in Pitt County, Newbern District, as follows:

William Elks, 1 male over 16, 1 under 16, 2 females and 5 slaves.   Next to him we find Uriah Elks, 1 male over 16, 2 females, 1 slave.  Elsewhere in the same district, Samuel Elks, 2 males over 16, 1 under 16, 2 females no “other free” or slaves.

Pitt was formed in 1760 from Beaufort.

The Elks family is important to the search for the Lost Colony because in 1788 Mary and Elizabeth Elks, “Indians”, on Hatteras Island (previously Currituck, then Hyde County, now Dare) sold the land that was the old Indian town to Nathan Midgett.  King Elks was referred to there as early as 1756 and in 1759 land was granted to "William Elks and the Hatteras Indians” for the “Indian town”.  There is no evidence to connect the William Elks on Hatteras Island with the Samuel Elks family.

The Hatteras Elks family began selling the land in 1770 when William Elks sold 100 acres to Isaac Farrow[2]. In 1771, William sells 50 acres to George Clark[3].  In 1788, Mary and Elizabeth Elks sell 200 acres to Nathan Midgett, including the "old Indian Town"[4]. 

In another 1802 Hyde County deed, Elizabeth Elks, "Indian", deed land to Nath. Pinkham for land known as "Indian Lands".  It states…”and Nath Pinkham shall have this land to use occupy and enjoy all the profits of the said lands and timber without any molestation or hindrance of any White person whatsoever.....during his (Pinkham's) natural life provided my son shall live to the age of twenty one years then and in that case the land shall be at my sons disposal and for his only". The son's name is not given here or later when the deed is registered 21 years later in Currituck County.   The son apparently died, as it was the heirs of Nathaniel Pinkham who registered the deed.

Who is Nath Pinkham?  Nathaniel Pinkham is the son of Nantucket whaler, Zephaniah Pinkham and his paramour, Susanna Hampton, whom he never married because he was already married in Massachusetts to one Mary Coffin.  Susanna used the surname Pinkham, gave her sons the surname Pinkham, but in 1795, she married John Lawrence.[5] 

Nathaniel Pinkham is listed as living on Nantucket Island until about 1770. Nathaniel Pinkham was employed at Shell Castle Island at the Ocracoke Inlet in the employment as a Ship's Captain for John Gray Blount in 1796. He is listed on the census report of 1790 the Carteret County District with one male over 16, one under 16 and one female.  From his age listings in other census records, Nathaniel Pinkham was born between 1756 and 1765.  He lived on Davis Creek in the Straights district. 

Nathaniel Pinkham reportedly died the year before the Elizabeth Elks deed was recorded in 1823. The deed, when recorded, has a sworn witness stating that all the parties to the deed had died.  However, Nathaniel Pinkham had 7 children listed in 1820 in Carteret County, so he assuredly had heirs. It would be extremely interesting to determine what happened to that land, who obtained it, and why.  Was the deed finally filed because it was involved in Nathaniel Pinkham’s estate?

Unfortunately, it connecting the dots because of a common surname is an error made by inexperienced researchers. 

In an article titled, “Disappearing Indians” by Fred Willard, several erroneous statements are made (including incorrect deed dates and conveyances) and invalid conclusions drawn regarding the Elks family.  Willard states that the earliest two Elks found are Richard and John Elks and that  Richard Elks was an indentured servant arriving in approximately 1684 along with his wife, Ann, daughter Margrett, and son Richard Jr.[6] 

In the book, North Carolina Headrights - A List of Names, 1663-1744 by Caroline B. Whitley, we discover the following three records:

Secretary of State Records, Albemarle Book of Warrants & Surveys 1681-1706 [SS.978.1]

Page 32 Certificate of Rights - Albemarle.  Rich. ELKES, 200 acres, for transportation of 4 persons on 29 Mar. 1680.  Rich. Elkes & Anne his wife, Rich. his son, and Margret his daughter.  Assignment by Ann Stuart to Argell Semmons on 4 Sept. 1694.  Warrent given 4 Sept. 1694

Page 41 Warrants for Survey and Returnes - Albemarle ss.  Argill Semons, 400 acres, for transportation of 8 persons.  5 Sept. 1694.  Rich. ELKES, An ELKES, Rich. ELKS JUNIOR, Margrett ELKS, Lawrence Keeton, Edw. London, John King, Wm. Bread, the last four assigned by Wm. Glover.

Page 75 Patents for Land - Albemarle.  Argell Semons, planter, 400 acres in Chowan Precinct for transportation of 1 person for every 50 acres.  Jan. 1, 1694.  The persons importedd are Richard ELKES, An ELKES, Rich. ELKES JUNIOR, Margeret ELKS, Lawrence Keeton, Edw. London, John King, Wm. Bread

We can see from the above records that indeed, Richard Elks was not an indentured servant.  In fact, he was collecting the 50 acres per person that was allotted for all immigrants, for his own passage and that of his wife and children.  Had he been indentured, someone else would have been collecting his 200 acres.  However, Richard assigns those land rights, as was commonly done at that time, to Argill Semons.  Argill Semons obtains some additional land rights as well, from William Glover, and using all 8 individuals' land rights, he applied for 400 acres of land.

Willard also notes that is of interest that "Richard, in 1694, is listed along with Henry, Ruth, Lavern and Mary Keeton; it is noted that the Keetons are Indians from Massachusetts."  The records above clearly show that there is no connection between the Elks group and the second group that includes only Lawrence Keeton, with no mention of Henry, Ruth, Lavern or Mary.  The only reason the second group of individuals, Lawrence Keeton, Edward London, John King and William Bread are listed with the Elks family is because Argell Semons obtains their land rights from William Glover just like he obtained the Elks rights from Richard Elks. 

In yet another record, we find confirmation that the Elks family was indeed from England, and not of Indian origin.

In the book Old Albemarle County North Carolina Perquimans Precinct, Births, Marriages, Deaths & Flesh Marks 1659-1820 by Weynette Parks Haun, we find the following:

Original pg. 5 - Richard Elkes the son _ Roger Elkes & Jane his wife of the County of Sollep [possibly Suffolk Co.?] in Ingland & Ann Belliott the Daughter of John Beeliott & Bridgett his wife of North hampton County in Virginia weare Maried by Mr: Wood in Accomock County in Vergenia the 3d: of Aprill 1671

Regardless of the intended location in "Ingland", the record is clear that they were from England.

Richard Elks' will exists in Raleigh in the North Carolina archives dated 1696; his plantation on the Yeopim River in present-day Pasquotank/Perquimens area was left to William Darby.  John Elks was married to Mary Stroud of Virginia. Five known children are mentioned in his will dated 1708; John who possibly settled in Bertie County, Thomas (his will found in Princess Anne County, Virginia), Amanuel, Marmeduke and Ealse.  John left his land to all of his sons and a cow to his daughter. 

Marmaduke Elks resided on the Perquimans watershed and had a son named Samuel Elks and another son named Jacob.  Samuel and Jacob are probably the grandsons of John Elks, based on the fact that Samuel sold land that he inherited from Marmaduke.

[1] Thank you to Charles Barnes and Kay Lynn Sheppard for assistance with lookups for Elks in Tyrrell County.

[2] Currituck Deed book 2 1756-1773 deed 342, page 256 Oct 10 1770, Dec 1771 William Elks of Currituck, Cape Hatteras, to Isaac Farrow of Cape Hatteras, planter, consideration of one ships boat, 100 ac at Joseph Maskue's corner, sound side, s37e160p, n74e110p, n35w to sound side.  Wit Josiah Nicholson, Thomas Miller, signed William x Elks

[3] Currituck Deed book 3 deed [406], p. 340: 25 July 1771, Dec [--], 177[--]; William Elks of Currituck, planter to Gorge Cleark of Currituck, cons. 50 pounds proc., 50A, on Hatarass Banks, beg at a forked live oak stump, "running ye sd: Courses of the patron;" wit: Thomas Oliver, John Scarborough, Thomas Miller, Junr., jurat; signed: William [E] Elks.

[4] Currituck Deed Book 5 (1785-1789),  pg. 326, Mary & Elizabeth ELKS of Hatteras Banks in Currituck County sold to Nathan MIDYETT of the same place, 200 acres of land on Hatteras Banks bounded by the old Indian town, the Sound, and the Joseph MASKUS land. This indenture was made March 3, 1788. Wit: Christopher O'Neel, Hezekiah Farrow, Jun. /s/ Mary [x] Elks, Elizabeth [x] Elks.   

[5] Additional information about the Pinkham family can be found in the September edition of the Lost Colony Research Group Newsletter in the article titled "Nantucket Whalers in North Carolina - the Pinkhams" by Baylus Brooks.

From genealogy contributed through the Lost Colony DNA project, we find that Samuel Elks was born approximately 1730 and died between 1810-1820.  He sold land in Blackwater Province in Princess Anne County, Virginia in 1762, possibly in the present-day Camden, NC area; land that was inherited from Marmeduke Elks from his father John Elks in his will of 1708.  After 1765 there is no more evidence of Samuel in Princess Anne County, Virginia. In Tyrrell County in 1777, Samuel Elks sells to Isaac Meekins the land known as Buck Ridge, possibly in Gum Neck[1].  In 1781, Samuel begins buying land on and around Chicod Creek in Pitt County, along with his brother Jacob. Samuel had four known children: Samuel II (1763), Jacob (approx. 1770), Uriah (1759) and a daughter that married a Hudson.

We have clarified a great deal about the Elks family.  Samuel Elks was the son of Marmaduke, who was the son of John Elks, who was the son of Richard the immigrant, from England.  Richard was not an indentured servant, nor was he connected with a Keaton family of Indians.  Nathaniel Pinkham was not the son of Elizabeth Elks, and apparently, the son of Elizabeth Elks died between 1802 and when the deed subsequently was filed in 1823 following Nathaniel Pinkham's death. 

We don't know how Samuel Elks obtained his land at Buck Ridge, or when, but he is clearly referenced as a planter, not as an Indian, in the same timeframe that William, Mary and Elizabeth Elks were referred to as “Indians” in their Currituck County land transactions.  Furthermore, the lack of court, marriage or other Tyrrell County records involving Samuel Elks suggests strongly he spent little, if any, time in the county.  He was in Pitt County with the rest of his siblings by 1789.

 Historical Evidence

Some of the Beechwood oral history is supported by facts, and other pieces fall in the light of research.

·        John Paine was in Tyrrell County as early as 1786, approximately age 43 or older, but we find no evidence that he is there earlier.  If John came from elsewhere, his wife would have not been local and therefore not a Beechland Indian.  John is never listed as anything other than “white” and neither are his descendants[2], although they are reported to be “blue-eyed blonde-haired” Indians.  If John lived in Beechland all of his life and was simply recorded for the first time in 1786, then he might well have been considered Native, although that seems unlikely given his ownership of 13 slaves in 1790, indicating a fairly wealthy man.  DNA from this Paine line indicates a European origin which is what we would expect to find if he were either from elsewhere or one of the Lost Colonists.  His children however would have married into the local population, whatever their mixture.

·        Marshall Twiford’s information about the various families living in the Milltail and Beechland area is supported by the 1786 state census, the 1790 census as well as later records.

·        Marshall Twiford’s grandmother, wife of Wallis (Wallace) Twiford (Twyford) is reported to be Nancy Paine.  Both Bible and census records indicate that she is the daughter of Edward Paine and his wife, probably Nancy Owens based on the 1830, 1840 and 1850 census.  There may be two Edward Paines.  A search for land records and wills might prove enlightening as to how many Edwards existed and the confusing 1830/1840/1850 Nancy/Edward/Esther information.  The widow Nancy Paine in 1830 also had a daughter of the right age who may have been Ann, orphan of Thomas, and could have been Wallis’s wife if the names Ann and Nancy were used interchangeably.

·        The commentary that these families were unknown to census takers, tax collectors, etc. is refuted by the 1786 and 1790 census where the families listed by Twiford, including the Paine family who was specifically noted as Indian in multiple sources are listed in the 1786 “Miltail Lake” district.  Gum Neck is also enumerated in 1786, but not detailed.

·        While there may have been an epidemic in the 1840 timeframe, there is no evidence of a massive exodus. Comparing children in families in the area (adjacent families from the 1830 census) show about the same death rate between 1820/1830 as compared to 1830/1840. Comparisons of family groupings in the 1830,1840 and 1850 census show that the same families were still living in adjacent areas.  The 1850 and later census clearly indicates that people are still “swamping” for a living and several families appear on the 1830, 1840 and 1850 census among the same groups of neighbors.  If they moved, it wasn’t far away.  There is no evidence of a large number of people leaving the area in a short timeframe.  Perhaps the children moved away over time until Beechland proper became deserted.   The area may have experienced periodic epidemics given the absence of several groups of children in 1800, 1820, and 1840.

·        According to the 1850 census, some residents of this area did own property, so it was not all owned by John Grey Blount and his heirs or Timmergin Sanderlin or his heirs, Thomas and his sister.  Timmergin was shown in 1850 as a merchant and owned a significant amount of real estate (valued at $3000 in the census), more than most of his neighbors whose land was typically valued at between $100 and $300.  If Trimmergan is a merchant, he is clearly not living alone in a depopulated area.

·        There is little direct evidence that the Europeans were living among the Machapungo, although there are some hints.  One listing for John Braveboy has been found in 1755 on a tax list, followed in Martin County by a 1790 census listing for John Braveboy and Mother[3] showing one free white female and 7 other free persons (not white), implying that John’s mother was probably considered white. In addition, on the same 1755 document a listing for Quomone (single name) is found.  Other than those two 1755 tax list entries and a listing in 1790 for eleven “free colored” families that includes Israel Pierce[4], a man identified as a Pungo River Indian, no other direct evidence of Native people exists. 

The 1790 grouping of “free colored”, including the households of Israel and Thomas Pierce, begs the question of whether this is a group of Indian or mixed race Indian households.  Most are not found again in 1800 and the one that is found in 1800 has moved to Beaufort County.  In 1800 there are a few “other free” listed with white heads of household, but no families consist of entirely “other free” with the possible exception of Celia Hill, although there are also whites in residence.  1810 showed no individual “free other” families.  Most households that included “free other” also included slaves. Ironically, Isaac Meekins had the most, four, plus one slave.  1820 shows no free colored heads of household nor does 1830.  1840 is slightly different, as there are 5 households headed by free people of color, Samuel Bryant, Thomas Bryant, Micajah Bryan (sic), Abner Hill and Nancy Bowser, inferring that the Bridget Bryan family enumerated with only one female in 1790 may have had sons who remained and either were enumerated as slaves, elsewhere or not at all prior to 1840.  Typically people of mixed race are categorized as “free people of color”, regardless of the mixture.  Slavery did exist in this area, but most people had few slaves with a couple of exceptions. 

Another possibility is that the Machepungo and other Indians were among the “black”, presumably enslaved, population.  Aside from the 1790 census, another record that hints at this is the Currituck tax list of 1720 that details the names of (presumed) slaves falling under the heading of the person being taxes (presumable the owner).  This list has several entries that say “Indian” instead of “negro” for both men and women.  In most instances, they are small groups and with one exception, there is only one Indian in the group.  If their movements were restricted by their masters or geographically, their only choices for mates would be from within their own plantation and that would, due to the lack of other available Indians, be either a slave or a family member of the slave owner, an alliance that was typically not encouraged.  If this was the case, by 1786, three generations later, the family could indeed have been considered more “black” than Native.

·        In 1850, Trimmergin Sanderlin has a Methodist Minister living with him, so there is evidence of religion before the establishment of the later churches.  The immediate neighbors are the Owens, Basnights, Sawyers and Edwards, families who did not move away.  The men are still listed as boatmen and fishermen.

·        Malochi Paine’s father was not Henry, as Henry Paine/Payne never appears in the records and Malochi’s father would be present in at least the 1840 census.  His father was most likely Edward Paine, husband of Nancy Owens, based on the most likely candidates for Malochi’s father in 1830 and 1840 and Nancy’s proximity to the same neighbors in 1850 and the Bible record where his name is spelled Mahaley, probably as Malachi was pronounced.  Land and estate records might positively identify Malochi’s father.  His mother was definitely Nancy as Malochi is shown with her in the 1850 census.  We have the genealogy and DNA from a descendant of Holloway Paine, Nancy’s son.  Holloway’s father is shown as Edward, born about 1790 and his mother as Nancy Owens.  The Paine DNA is European, not Native, but if John Paine were a Lost Colonist descendant, this is what we would expect to find.  A second gentleman from this line has tested as well, confirming the genetic signature.

·        The link claimed by inference between the English Elks family and the Native Elks family is claimed is nefarious and with scrutiny, no evidence of the Samuel Elks family or ancestors being Native exists.  Furthermore, there is evidence that the mainland Elks family is not Native and originated in England.  Equally convincing evidence exists that there was a Native Elks family living on Hatteras Island, but there is no evidence whatsoever to connect them.

·        Some of the colonist surnames do appear at Beechland, Gum Neck and the Alligator River area as indicated in the 1790 census chart used to reconstruct the 1786 Greater Alligator and Gum Neck census districts, but they are not clustered in any one area as one might expect if one specific area was an isolated village hidden from the outside world with many colonists (or descendants) as has been suggested. Furthermore, many of the surnames are very common, such as Smith, Jones, Johnson and Brown.  However, a couple of rather remarkable names appear as well.  Pierce for example is noted as “free persons of color” in 1790 and Pratt is included which is rather rare.  Paine/Payne is probably the most outstanding because of the match with the colonist surname and because of their family history of being “blue-eyed, blonde-haired Indians”, an oral tradition that has been passed through many generations in differing lines.

[1] Based on the fact that there is a location in Gum Neck known as Buck Ridge and that the 1786 reconstructed census located Isaac Meekins in either the Greater Alligator or the Gum Neck districts. Of interest, this is the same area noted on the White-DeBry map of 1590 noted as the Indian Village of Tramaskecoock.

[2] Except possibly for Thomas and Beaunathy in the 1850 census, but we cannot attribute those children to John’s lineage without additional information.

[3] Martin was split from Tyrrell in 1779 indicating that John Braveboy probably lived in the Martin portion of 1755 Tyrrell County.

[4] Timothy Pierce was enumerated in 1786 but he had no slaves and was not enumerated in Tyrrell County in 1790.  Israel Pierce, known as a Pungo River Indian, is discussed by anthropologist Frank Speck in 1916.  Israel Pierce is later found in Beaufort County.

Oral History Revisited – Accurate or Myth?

Referring back to the four elements of oral history that we had hoped to prove or disprove, how did we do?

1.  The oral history of Beechland being the first settlement in Dare County

This is in fact confirmed by the White-DeBry map that labeled this general area as the Native village, Tramaskecoock.  In the same general area was located a picture of a sassafras tree, a valuable commodity in England, so this area would indeed have been of interest to the English.  Visitations are confirmed by ballast stones found in Miltail Creek.  The riven coffins found in an Indian mound indicate early European burials, but how early and of whom is unknown.  This area was not as isolated to the Native people as it may have appeared to Europeans, as it was connected through the swamps to the Croatoan area along the seashore across from Roanoke Island and to Lake Mattamuskeet to the south.  Oral history tells of paths to both locations.  We know that Europeans did indeed live in Beechland, as early as 1786 according to the census and in the Gum Neck area earlier according to deeds.  What we don’t know is whether European colonization began as a result of the Lost Colony as local oral history states.

2. An oral history of the inhabitants of Beechland being initially the Lost Colonists.  Their descendants were considered “blue-eyed blonde-haired” Indians.

“Blue-eyed blonde-haired Indians” were reported in the Paine family as descendants of Henry Paine, an incorrect name.  John Paine immigrated from elsewhere, first appearing in his mid-30s or older in 1772 purchasing land.  Unless John simply emerged from the swamps at this time, which is unlikely given his large slave holding in 1786, his wife was likely European as well, or at least was not from this area.  However, his children married into the local population who may well have included individuals of Native heritage. 

John had three known sons.  Edward married Nancy Owens in 1809 and their children, Malochi and his sister, carried the oral history of blue-eyed blonde-haired Indians. Thomas married Ann Carroon in 1792 and John married Polly Moss in 1812.  These women may indeed have been Indian or had Indian heritage.  Their family history needs to be researched.  The Owens and Caroon families were in the Beechland area quite early.  The Moss family is on the earliest Albemarle and Tyrrell documentation.  The history of the three wives families has not been researched.

3.  Oral history that the inhabitants of Beechland deserted the area in the 1840s, or between 1830 and 1840 and that by 1850 there was only one familiy remaining, Trimmergin Sanderlin.

Research and comparison of the records from the 1820, 1830 and 1840 census show no evidence of either a massive depopulation or removal.  In fact, the death rate of children remains constant throughout this period.  The various census records through 1850 show families continuing to live in grouped clusters with the same families and surnames as before, indicating that they did not undertake a massive move.  Perhaps the children moved elsewhere effectively depopulating Beechland within a generation following a particularly heinous epidemic.  At some point the remoteness would have become problematic and the area would not have been able to support the families of all the offspring.

The oral history states that the “black tongue” plague that devastated the area left no family untouched and was the precipitating factor in the depopulation of Beechland.  In 1786 the Miltail the Lake District had 33 households with an average of 8 people in each home, slaves included.  If one person per household died, all households would have suffered, and likely many others would have fallen ill but recovered. 

Regardless of how emotionally devastating concurrent deaths in multiple households would have been, removing one eighth of the population would not depopulate the area and one individual per household could have been numerically replaced with the birth of another child within 2 years.  While these deaths would surely be considered a tragedy, especially since these families were heavily intermarried, the elimination of one eighth of the population would not be enough to significantly affect the population numbers in the area or to depopulate the neighborhood.

Oral history had indicated that Trimmergin Sanderlin was the last person left in a very isolated Beechland in 1850, but according to the census, he was in fact a merchant, an occupation impossible without customers, indicating that in fact there were families living in Beechland since we know via deed records that he did in fact remain in Beechland, passing his estate to his children after his death.

4.  Oral history that the Beechland residents moved away before the census takers, tax collectors or historians knew about them.

The legend of anonymity ascribed to this group of people who were stated to be living among and intermixed with the Machapungo Indians and disappeared before being discovered by the tax collectors and census takers is unfounded. 

The names reported as “Indian” and identified as “Beechland families” by Twiford, Long and others are found on early census documents in 1786 and 1790 and some are found on earlier tax lists and petitions. 

However, some early marriages appear to be unrecorded raising the possibility that unrecorded marriages reflect marriages between whites and partners of mixed race.   North Carolina laws during this time prohibited marriages between whites and anyone with any nonwhite blood to the 4th generation.  It is unclear whether marriages between nonwhite couples would have been recorded.  Clearly the marriage between 1830-1832 of Wallis Twiford and Nancy Payne should have been recorded, raising questions of why it and other marriages were not, or if the records have simply been lost.

In essence, it appears that indeed there was an early group of English who lived in the massive swamplands known generally as the impenetrable Dismal Swamp.  William Bryd in his Histories of the Dividing Line betwixt Virginia and North Carolina written in 1728 tells of coming across “a Marooner that modestly call’d himself a hermit tho’ he forefeited that name by suffering a wanton female to cohabit with him…subsisting chiefly upon oysters” and later “in the woods we encountered a family of mulattoes who called themselves free….their freedom seemed a little doubtful. It is certain that many slaves shelter themselves in this obscure part of the world nor will any of their righteous neighbours discover them.”  Bryd encounters many native families during the surveying of the dividing line and his men enjoy the company of the Native women.  He also mentions that the swamps provide shelter and cover for both criminals and debtors and that North Carolina encouraged such to increase their population.

The Beechlanders retained their English surnames and heritage including quaint customs such as the celebration of “Old Christmas”.  The residents were not however unknown or anonymous.  They apparently did not move away in a mass exodus between 1830 and 1850.  The families identified as living in this area were in fact correct and are confirmed by several sources, but the list of families delivered orally was incomplete based on the 1786 tax list identified as “Miltail the Lake”. 

This area was very inhospitable and the hearty souls who lived there had to be extremely self sufficient.  They had a keen sense of community.  They lived in kinship groups on small knolls of forested “high ground” spread throughout the swamp.  Those knolls supported 33, 49 and 59 homes respectively, based on the 1786 census districts of Miltail, Gum Neck and Greater Alligator.   Miltail, which includes Beechland, included 33 households with a total of 258 people both white and enslaved.


We have confirmed the essence of many stories, but have disproven some of the more specific facts.  Some cannot be proven or refuted.

Perhaps the legend of “white Indians” was partially a function of the remote and self sufficient lifestyle selected by these settlers who wrestled a living from the swamps, similar to how the Indians originally lived, a lifestyle that would have been considered primitive to outsiders.

One scenario is that early English men intermarried with the Native women. 

A second alternative is that the “Indians” at Beechland were part of the slave families and some intermarried with the slaves and others intermarried with the white families in the area.  What happened to the Native men, which surnames they adopted and how they selected them has not been answered.  Early Currituck county tax lists may provide a glimpse into their world.  Several Currituck landowners owned slaves as well.  Some slaves were listed as negro, some as mulatto, and others as Indian.  Whether Indians were enslaved by being captured and sold or simply intermarried with the slaves, functionally becoming enslaved, we don’t know[1].  Both Indian men and women were listed, presumably as slaves, in the tythe lists about 1720.  They may have entered the subculture of slavery and never emerged until generations later when the slaves were emancipated.   Some of the “free negroes” and mulattoes may indeed be Indian or Indian admixed families.  Early records do exist to confirm that Indians were held as slaves in this area as well as elsewhere in Virginia and North Carolina.  We know that the English and other Europeans viewed both the Indians and Africans’ as a “lower class”, in the case of Indians as “savages”, and in both cases, nearly subhuman.

DNA testing of the Beechland families found on the 1786 tax list might prove interesting.  If either the Lost Colony or later English immigrants were inclined to intermarry with, live among or assimilate with the Native people, the Y-line DNA of their male offspring would be English, regardless of when that admixture occurred.  However, the mitochondrial DNA of the maternal lines would still be Native[2]. Finding maternally descended individuals from these early families might well confirm the oral history of Native heritage.[3]  Finding the families of the Colonists in England and obtaining their DNA profile will allow us to compare the DNA of the Beechland and other families on the Eastern Carolina seaboard to see if they are indeed the Lost Colonists of Roanoke.  

[1] We do know that Indian enslavement was prevalent in the 1600s and through the Tuscarora war of 1711-1715.  Many of the captured Indians were sold, but the males in particular were troublesome and were often sold into the West Indies instead of within the colonies.

[2] Several participants in the Lost Colony mitochondrial DNA project carry Native mitochondrial DNA, directly descended from their maternal line.

[3] The paternal DNA follows the surname.  The father passes his Y chromosome to the son intact, who passes it to his son, on down the line.  Today’s descendants should match descendants of a common ancestor hundreds of years ago.   Women don’t inherit a Y chromosome, so cannot be tested.  Maternal DNA is passed from the mother to all of her children, but only the females pass it on.  Children inherit mitochondrial DNA from their mother, who inherits it from her mother, on up the tree.  Both Y-line and mitochondrial DNA can be positively identified as being either European, Native American, African or Asian using DNA testing for genealogy.  The Lost Colony DNA project is at  Enter “Lost Colony” in the search box.



Watch out for Mis-Transcribed Capital Letters !!

by Nancy Frey

Where parish registers are not available, researchers will turn to transcriptions.  In some parishes the only records that remain are very old transcriptions which were published in books.

Paleography is the study of old handwriting.  It is a very important part of becoming a good genealogist and I’ve just started another course because I don’t think I can ever know too much about the various styles of old handwriting.

There are two types of records that you will probably come across, those in early English and those in Latin.  Even those in English are often very difficult to read as there was more than one way of writing.  These documents were often written in what some scholars refer to as a type of ‘shorthand’.  They left out letters, put squiggles on the end of words denoting an ending and used abbreviations.

The most common types of handwriting are Set Chancery, Common Chancery, Court Hand & Secretary Hand.  Here’s an example of the alphabets from those hands.

The capital letter which is giving me a great deal of grief is the Set Chancery capital  (D).  As you can see from the example, it looks like a capital S.  So early on, a lot of my DAVIDGE people were transcribed as SAVIDGE.  To make matters worse some DAVIDGE families were recorded as DAVAGE and transcribed as SAVAGE.  These families, who were illiterate ag labs (agricultural labourers), continued to use the surname SAVIDGE/SAVAGE because that’s what the cleric wrote.  However, there was a very well-known and influential family in England with the surname SAVAGE and I now have to sort out all my DAVIDGE/DAVAGE families who have been transcribed as SAVIDGE/SAVAGE from the real SAVAGE families.

There may be other capital letters that have been mistaken when parish registers were transcribed, so be on the lookout for them.






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