Lumbee origins: The Weyanoke-Kearsey connection.

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Woods, J. Cedric. "Lumbee origins: The Weyanoke-Kearsey connection." Southern anthropologist [Southern Anthropological Society] 30.2 (2004): 20-36.


Woods undertook genealogical research to determine whether or not Lumbee families originated in Virginia, rather than in various locations in North Carolina (the Cheraw settlement on Drowning Creek on the Anson/Bladen county border; Croatan (more properly, Croatoan); the Roanoke River; or Lake Mattamuskeet).

His approach was first to examine the records of North Carolina and Virginia for occurrences of surnames that were identified with the Lumbee in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. The primary sources he used were the 1790 and 1900 census of Robeson County, North Carolina; Colonial Records of VirginiaVirginia Magazine of History and BiographySouthside Virginia; Virginia Calendar of State Papers; and Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia.

His next step was to see if any of these names were also tied to the Indian communities of Virginia. The article provides a list of Lumbee surnames from the 1790 census of Robeson County; people with these surnames were identified in this census as free persons of color, since at that time the census did not have an Indian designation. The article also includes a list of surnames of individuals who self-identified as Indian in the 1900 census of Robeson County. Woods's research agrees with the Lumbee Petition that Lumbee ancestors moved from Virginia to North Carolina, but Woods concludes that their point of origin was east of the Cheraw villages along the Dan River.

Using the Virginia sources mentioned above, Woods compiled a list of Virginia tribes that used English surnames. For each tribe, he listed each English surname and the date it appeared in Virginia records, beside it noting whether there was a Lumbee match for the name and, if so, its date of appearance in Robeson County records (usually the 1790 or 1900 census). He discovered fourteen different surnames that appear in both the Virginia and Robeson County records, compared to only one Cheraw name that matched the Robeson County records.

Woods acknowledges that the surname matches, by themselves, are insufficient to prove that the same families were in different locations at different times, since many of the surnames are common in the Southeast. As additional evidence, he points to the research of Michelle Lawing and Virginia DeMarce, as well as Lumbee oral traditions documented by Adolph Dial, Clarence E. Lowery, and Lew Barton. He then discusses the writings that mention the migrations of Lumbee ancestors from Tidewater (whether Virginia or North Carolina) and the historical events that would have precipitated the migrations.

Woods agrees with DeMarce that Lumbee ancestors migrated from Virginia (the Eastern Shore and Richmond) south to coastal North Carolina and then to the North Carolina counties where most Lumbee tribal members now live. He adds that, although this migration path was used in the eighteenth century, migration did not cease then: "These Gingaskin, Pamunkey, Metonkin, and detribalized Indian families followed this path, and joined what was left of the Cheraw community" (p. 28). Woods also believes that other Indian families displaced from their tribes by the Civil War may have moved south and joined the Indian families that became the Lumbee.

As a case study, Woods provides a detailed analysis of the family of Thomas Kearsey. He chose this family because they clearly originated in Surry County, Virginia and also because many Lumbees descend from them. Celia, or Sally, Kersey was the wife of James Lowrie, Sr.; her grandson was Henry Berry Lowrie.

In his Conclusion, Woods makes the following points: (1) the origins of some Lumbee families can be traced to Tidewater North Carolina and Virginia; (2) given the large increase in Lumbee surnames between 1790 and 1900, there was probably more than one migration from Virginia (through the process of spin-off); (3) researchers studying Lumbee origins must be careful not to rely on just one source of information, such as census records—especially for early years, when there was no category for Indians; (4) examining only the geographical areas where an Indian community currently resides is incomplete research; and (5) he considers this paper "just the preliminary groundwork for a much larger undertaking" (p. 34).

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