Verry Slitly Mixt":
Tri-Racial Isolate Families of the Upper South-
A Genealogical Study
Virginia Easley DeMarce*

Not all bearers of the family names mentioned here are of tri-racial
many of the names were common among white settlers in the Upper South. Yet,
a PATTERN OF NAME DISPERSAL among a limited population may indicate which
groups were affiliated with others in a migration pattern and may truly be

Since the eighteenth century, communities with a mixed ancestry and an
uncertain ethnic identity have been scattered across the Upper South.
Originating in Virginia1 and North Carolina, they spread significantly into
South Carolina,2 Kentucky, and Tennessee, then developed offshoots into the
Deep South3 and states north of the Ohio River.4 Journalists in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries have called them "mystery people" and
advanced incredible legendary stories to account for their origins
Anthropologists usually refer to them as tri-racial isolates. Who are they
when the ideology and mythology are eliminated?

This essay has a dual purpose. First, it will attempt to survey what is
currently known, pointing genealogists to preliminary research already
completed by workers in other fields. Second, it will indicate how
genealogical research on specific families and groups can contribute to a
more-accurate understanding of their origins and development than has been
obtained by sociologists, anthropologists, and other social scientists.


Academic Limitations
Thirty years ago, this article could not have been written because the
necessary reference material was not available.s The new social history of
the American South that has been conducted since the 1960s had not yet
accomplished the spade work of discovering the living conditions of ordinary
people or the settlement and migration patterns that point to solutions for
identity problems. While even social historians rarely answer the ultimate
question that genealogists pose (Tell me! What were their names?), the
pioneers of social history and related humanistic fields have contributed
much more that is of use for this study than traditional historians, whose
emphasis has been on politics.

In spite of working with far-fewer resources than are now available, a
geographer suggested in 1953 the basic pattern that still holds:

The relationships mentioned suggest the hypothesis of a colonial mixed-blood
society having origin in Virginia and the Carolinas, consisting of a number
of localized concentrations as well as floaters who served to maintain or
affect both blood and social ties between the sedentary groups. Though the
early groups certainly grew by accretion, chance colonization of a few
members of this society in a new location may have been the neccesary
condition for a new localization of the same type. They seem to have moved
westward into and across the Appalachians with the general strern of
population. It is difficult to trace specific parenthood of one group by
another, but numerous interrelationships are indicated by the records.'

Social Rejection
Even if the article had been written thirty years ago, it could not have
been puplished. To do so might have exposed descendants of these families to
the racially biased social opprobrium that then prevailed.7 Much of the
earlier research was puplished in highly specialized academic journals, in
which authors assumed that only professional scholars would read it. As late
as the mid- 197Os, in a series of research reports prepared for the
Smithsonian Institution, one grant recipient emphasized over and over the
sensitivity of the material he was submitting. Indeed, he stated thatin
preparing papers for public distribution, he was careful always to use
Indians as a descriptive term for the group. Privately, then, he submitted a
list of other terms he would have employed if he had not been afraid of
offending his informants.

Traditionally, one of the major contentions of tri-racial Americans (whether
living in isolate groups or merged into the general population) has been
that they were more likely bi-racial that is, Indian and white.
African-American ancestry was acknowledged, then it was, at the most, very,
very little (and always in some other families of the community, of course)?
The reason why tri-racial ancestry has been downplayed is clear. Throughout
most of American history, the legal, social, educational, and economic
disadvantages of being African-American were so great that it was preferable
for a person to be considered almost anything else. 10

Duihg the height of segregation, apprehensions were justified. In 1811, for
example, the Gingaskin tribe of Virginia's Eastern Shore had its existence
legally terminated by the state, largely because its white neighbor claimed
that the tribe had "at least half,' African-American blood. In 1824, the
Nottoway of Southampton County, Virginia, were similarly terminated.11 An
attempt was made in 1843 to deprive Virginia's Pamunkey of their reservation
on the grounds that the population had a Negro admixture. On a personal
level, legal discrimination also occulted. An attempt was made to subject
South Carolina's Elijah Bass and his daughter, Mrs. Thomas White, to the
capitation tax imposed upon free persons of color. Witnesses testified that

the family was believed to have mulatto ancestry but had intermarried with
white families, had never been compelled to have white guardians as
required for free persons of color, and was received in the homes and at the
tables of white neighbors.13 A suit was pressed in Claibome County,
Tennessee, l853-58, by the schoolteacher Elijah Goins, who alleged that the
brother of his daughter's husband "spoke... fasse, malicious, scandalous and
defamatory words... [alleging] the plaintiff [to be] a mulatto, meaning a
person of mixed blood one degree removed fiom a full blooded negro
as reason of which said several grievances the plaintiff hath been greatly
damaged and subjected to the suspicion [sic] disgrace and in family of a
person of mixed blood."14


Formally, American law did not differentiate between the status of tri-
racial, mulatto, and Negro, as did that of some other countries.'5 Some
scholars have attempted to distinguish tri-racial groups by labeling them
metis, but that term is more commonly applied to the New World areas whose
cultural origins are French (e.g., Canada, the Old Northwest, the
Mississippi Valley, and the Gulf Coast). Mestizo, used widely in South and
Central America, has been rejected by tri-racial groups of the U.S., along
with the derivative English word mustee.
U.S. censuses since 1790 have used a variety of terms for Americans of mixed
ancestry. Pre-1850 censuses favored freepersons not white and freepersons of
color (usually abbreviated as f .p.c. or f.c.). After 1850 the census
takers were expected to judge race pragmatically; some recorded as "mulatto"
anyone who seemed to them to appear physically to have some nonwhite
An exclusive focus upon legal definitions rather than social realities can
be misleading. Upon differing occasions, because of the nature of the
evaluation, the same person may be recorded as white or labeled with any of
the designations denoting color. Frequently, there is no mention at all of
racial identification except in censuses or tax rolls. 16 No researcher
should conclude that a "mulatto" in one record and a "white" of the same
name in another must be two different people; they often turn out to be the
same "verry slitly mixt" tri-racial person. Genealogists and historians also
should not assume that all persons classified as "free persons not white,"
or "f.p.c.," or "mu" belonged to tri-racial groups-,or conversely, that
they were black. There are occasions when free-mulatto communities and
tri-racial communities existed contemporaneously in the same county.17
Furthermore, most communities of free blacks and mulattoes did not advance
the tri-racial claim prior to the Civil War. 18


Etlinologists have identified approximately thirty-five tri-racial isolate
communities in the eastern half of the United States (or up to two hundred,
if one counts small groups).19 The larger enclaves and their primary
locations are as follows:

Brass Ankles 20
Carmel Indians/Darke County group 21
Cubans or Person County Indians 22
Guineas 23
Haliwas 24
Lumbees (formerly Croatans)25
Melungeon 26.
Ramps (var. Melungeons)
Red Bone27
Turks 28

South Carolina 20
Ohio 21
Virginia; North Carolina 22
West Virginia 23
Halifax and Warren counties, NC 24
Robeson County N.C.; upper S.C. 25
Tennessee; Kentucky 26
Westen Virginia 26
South Carolina; Louisiana 27
South Carolina 28
Typical lofthe smaller clusters are the following groups inNoith Carolina (a
state that has an exceptional share of these enclaves) :29

Sampson County Indian's (var. Coharie Indians), who may be an offshoot of
the Lumbees.

Smilings (var~ Independent Indians) of Robeson County~ Numbering between I5O
and 500 people, they moved there from Sumter County, South Carolina, in the
early-twentieth century but did not amalgamate fully with the Lumbees.

Columbus County Indians (var. Waccamaw-Siouan).

Laster Tribe of Perquimans County, which seems unconnected to the general
pat-tern of other tri-racial families in the state.

None of the "established" Indian tribe~such asthe Eastern Band of the
Cherokee, the Catawba, or the Seminole are viewed as tri-racial isolates, no
matter whom their members married over the course of time.~

Objectively, the census numbers are not large. Excluding the groups north of
Virginia and southern groups such as the Issues of Amherst County,
Virginia,31 and the Coe Clan/Pea Ridge Group of Kentucky, which have other
known origins and no overlapping surnames---the groups discussed in this
paper numbered about 70,000 in the 1950 census.33 Still, two facts
ascertained by demographers and anthropologists are of significance to
genealogists. First, the isolate communities had one of the highest
fertility rates of any U.S. population category. Second, the population of
the identified isolate communities remained essentially stable from 1790 to
1970. The surplus members will be found outside the specific communities, a
phenomenon referred to as spin-off.

One anthropologist has noted that as far back as the 1790 census, "the
ancestors of these [East Coast] groups seem to have been living in the same
locations as we find them today and were classified as mixed-bloods then
also. The family names of the groups in 1790 were practically the same as
they are today" . This was true for those people who stayed in the 1790
settlement locations; the family-name patterns remained stable. However,
this anthropological author made no attempt to follow individual family
members who left their birth group to join another or who merged into the
general population. This is the sphere of the genealogist.

If researchers encounter certain patterns of surnames in certain geographic
locations, they should he alert . Of course, not all bearers of the family
names mentioned here are of tri-racial ancestry; many of the names were
common among white settlers in the Upper South. Yet, though every
genealogist knows that "the name's the same" does not necessarily mean a
relationship exists, apattern of name dispersal among a limited population
may indicate which groups were affiliated with others in a migration pattern
and may truly he isolates.


One of the major mid-1700s concentrations was in south-central ~Virginia and
north-central North Carolina~particularly the area that was originally
Granville County, North Carolina, and later was subdivided into Orange,
Person, and Caswell counties.37 By the 1790s, the center was drifting toward
southwestern Virginia and northwestern North Carolina, with wider
dispersal.38 Numbers of these families lived in places that were
economically marginal: swamps and marshes, or his and hollows. They
preferred to settle areas in which they were welcomed, or at least
tolerated. Falling this, they tended to head for the frontiers, where their
origins would not he well known.

In one sense, the modern ethnological word for these groups-isolates-is
misleading. It reflects conditions observed by anthropologists in the
late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, rather than the much more
fluid and flexible situation of the colonial period. In the eighteenth and
early-nineteenth centuries, free mulattos (of black-white descent)
intermarried not only among themselves, but also with families of known
Indian-white descent. Such was the case with the Basses of Norfolk County,
Virginia as well as the Tennessee Melungeons, in which a Goins man married
an Indian-white woman of the Bihee/Biby family, whose ancestry supposedly
ran to Goochand County, Virginia.39 In addition, throughout the eighteenth
century and into the nineteenth century, members of all types of racially
mixed families continued to intermarry with the surrounding white
communities, in spite of the fact that many states had passed laws
forbidding such unions. Because locating a suitable marriage partner could
be difficult, young people frequency migrated from one settlement to
another. For example, the name Baltrip or Boltrip is found in connection
with a Going/Goins in central North Carolina but is also found as a "free
colored" family to the west in Wilkes County, North Carolina, a generation
later.41 Similarly, Locklear is a name associated with the Bladen and
Robeson settlements in North Carolina but also found further north in the
Granville and Halifax counties.42

ORIGINS UNDER The MICROSCOPE ---HISTORY AND Sociology The Iindian Component
Early Virginians made a lot of hopeful statements about "Indian extinction,"
which more-recent historians have repeatd. According to one modem scholar,
"in 1700 the colony of Virginia had a total population of about 60,000,
distributed on the shores of the Chesapeake and the three 'necks,' or
peninsulas, between the great rivers that open off the bay itself The
Indians being almost gone, the population was sharply divided between the
85--90 percent who were free or servant Anglo- Virginians and the 10-15
percent who were Afro-Virginian slaves."43 His is a typical statement, and
there can be no doubt that in the seventeenth century the diseases
introduced by European settlers brought about a great depopulation of the
East Coast Indian tribes. But the Indians would have been very surprised to
hear that they were almost gone-particularly the ones who were busy making
wills, deeds, and complaints to the county courts about the things that new
inhabitants from Europe were doing to (or not doing for) them, contrary to
agreements that had been propedy made."

Few tri-racial isolate groups today have a colonial-period tribal
identification, having lost altogether lndian languages and traditions
during acculturation and assimilation. Several of these groups have worked
very hard to attain legal recognition as Indian tribes in the twentieth
century, and some are still not recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Historical records document that many Indians in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries adopted English names; for example: Tom Blunt, Robin
Thucker, James Revels, Peter Harris, and John Nettles. Thus, a major
contribution to the study of tri-racial groups could be made by a carelul
combing of colonial records to identify as many as possible of the newly
assumed names. Some of the recent ethnohistorical studies that treat tribes
retrifling some sort of identity into the nineteenth or twentieth centuries
have done spade work in this area. Rountree's study of the Nottoway, for
example, identifies members bearing such "white" names as Rogers and Turner
(predominandy), as well as Bartlett, Gabriel, Scholar, Step, Woodson,
WynoaklWineoak, and Wott.46

Many tribes on Virginia's Eastern Shore dealt daily with seventeenth century
white settlers. Each is likely to have made major contributions to the
ancestral formation of the modern Upper South tri-racial isolate groups.
Principal among these would be the following coastal Algonqulans:47

Chickahominy , who were reported "extinct" by 1760 but are still there."
Gingskins, in Accomack and Northampton, who lost state recognition in 1812."
Mattapony, who managed to keep their land
Nansemond , who were reported extinct by.-1786 but are still there.51
Nanticoke, who are said to have moved (in part) to Canada and to have been
absorbed (in part) by the Delaware but are still there.52

Nottoway who were "terminated" in 1824 but are still there.53
Pamunkey, who managed to keep their land.54
Rappahannocks, who were reported extinct in 1722, although modern
descendants still live in the vicinity of the original tribal territory.55
Saponi, who appeared in Orange County, Virginia, on the lands of Governor
Spotswoed as late as l742-43~-including Bowling and Collins names later
found among the Tennessee Melungeons.
Weanock, who were terminated in 1824 with the Nottoway.57
Werowocomo, who were still on Virginia's York River in l9l9.

In the Carolinas, remnants of historic tribes still linger- or they
persisted long enough to suggest a probable link to modern people. Coastal
tribes of North Carolina, such as the Machapunga, did not become extinct.59
Saponi from Virginia were also reported in north-central North Carolina in
the 1730s and 1755, in an area where some of the tri-racial isolate groups
later appear. In South Carolina, there were the so-
called "Settlement Indians," who remained behind on the coast when the
Catawba and others wishing to retain tribal autonomy withdrew into the
Pied-mont. Illustrative of these Settlement groups are the Pedee known as
"Captain Coachman's Indians," because they lived "on or near" the land of
James Coachman, a prominent planter near Charleston. Accotding to one
writer, "Coachman was so pleased with the arrangement that in 1738 he sold
the colony one hundred acres of land to set up a small reservation for the
Natchez refugees wishing to join the Pedee." The Natchez soon left Coachman,
however, to attach themselves to a neighboring planter.61

It is probable that much of the difficulty journalistic writers have had in
identifying the Indian component in tri-racial isolate groups has been of
their own making. Almost routinely, they attempt to link these enclaves with
either the North Carolina Roanoke (and the romantic Virginia Dare story) or
the larger "historical" tribes, such as the Tuscarora and Cherokee. These
writers might more profitably look at the off-reservation remnant groups of
the Tidewater tribes that the English encountered during the earliest period
of settlement.

That the Indian and white races of the Anglo-South amalgamated with one
another is indisputably true-both in and out of marriage.62 Careful
genealogical research reveals that there were, indeed, more marriages (under
white law and custom) than have been identified so far. Such unions tend to
be disguised in the records, because of the Indian assumption of English
names. After all, there is no reason for a historian unfamiliar with a
particular Tucker family to assume that a bride named Keziah Elizabeth
Tucker was a Nansemond.63 Similarly, we might never have known that William
Clawson married the daughter of the king of the Nanticoke if his English
wife had not divorced him for bigamy in l655.

It should be unnecessary for a genealogist to say that marriage is not
required for the production of offspring. However, the reading of much of
the nineteenth- and early-twentieth - century - literature on this topic
indicates that certain writers were immune to realism. Those so-called
"abominable mixtures" did occur both in and out of white society, among both
the enslaved and the free-Indian populations. What happened to all the
young Indians whom tributary tribes brought in by the dozen as
hostages ---children who were then placed out in white families to be
brought up and taught a trade?" Some of them died, to be sure, but all of
them? Indians were also brought in from other areas further west and sold
into servitude." One study of Accomack County identifies thirteen Indian
children held as slaves there between 1684 and 1688 and cites the white
maidservant Elizabeth Lang, who in 1671 bore an illegitimate child to an
Indian father named Kin."

More-frequent amalgamation occurred within the Indian villages themselves.
Few Virginians and Carolinians involved in the Indian trade expressed any
qualms about accepting the 'hospitality" of the "trading girls," and the
custom did not stop in the seventeenth century. In 1808, there was a
Nottoway Indian with a white father, who sometimes called himself Biliy
Woodson (for his mother) or William G. Bozeman (for his father).~Among the
numerous lines of white ancestry claimed by Virginia's extant tribes,
another researcher cites Bradbys among the Pamunkey, both Bradbys and Winns
among the Chickahominy, and Nelsons among the Rappahonnock.70

The African Component
That black-white and black-Indian amalgamation also occurred, among both
free persons and slaves and both in and out of wedlock, is unquestionable.
Various statutes were passed to inhibit or prohibit such mixed-race
marriages and liaisons; but assuming they were effective certainly implies
that colonial settlers were more law-abiding in this area than in any other.
Illustrative of the colonists who formed interracial relationships are the

Elizabeth Key, who was born about 1630 as the mulatto daughter of a white
planter, Thomas Key. After establishing her freedom in 1656, she married her
lawyer, William Greensted.

Francis Stripes, who in 1671 was ordered by the Lower Norfolk County court
"to pay leavyes and tythes for his wife (shee being a negro)."72

John Puckham, a Monie Indian, who in 1682-83 was baptized and married in
Somerset County, Maryland, to one Jone Johnson of the Accomack County,
Virginia, free-black family of Johnsons.

Edward Hitchens, a mulatto man of Northampton County, Virginia, who (after
1705) was named in the court record of a white woman who served the prison
term and paid the fine prescribed by law, so that she could marry him.

Social historians who have studied the seventeenth-century Eastern Shore
have documented extensive tri-racial amalgamation-particularly among
families bearing such surnames prominent in isolate communities as Carter,
Driggers, Mongon, and Payne.75 One study of seventeenth-century Accomack
cites two Indian women with African husbands, two marriages between free
black men and white women in the 165Os, and three more of the latter in the
1660s.76 Illustrative of the records that exist to document original
incidences of black-white amalgamation is one of 1640 pertaining to the
well-known tri-racial isolate family of Sweat:

"Where as Robert Sweat hath begotten with child a Negro woman belonging unto
Lieutenant Sheppard," Sweat should do public penance at James City Church
during service on the following Sabbath, and the woman should he "whipt at
whipping post .77
Discussing the dispersal of the free-black families from Tidewater Virginia,
one historian reports "at least some . .. intermarried with whites and
Indians and founded triracial communities in southern and northern Delaware,
known subsequendy as the Nanticokes and Moors."'78
Approaching the subject from inside tribal nations, rather than white
society, another historian addresses the extensive black-Indian
intermarriage that took place within the Gingaskin reservation on Virginia's
Eastern Shore.79 Discussing the dispersal of the Nottaway, Rountree writes:
"in all probability. . . spinoff occurred in both directions [i.e., into the
black community and the white comrnunity) though records [to document this]
are almost entirely lacking. Indian orphans could be adopted by whites,
Indian adults could remain among whites to practice trades they had learned,
and Indian adults could marry non-Indians and leave the tribe.... The
non-Indians who married into the Nottoway included both whites and blacks,
according to the census of 1808 that was made by tribal trustees with
first-hand knowledge. 80

The mixture of these three races has created many genealogical
uncertainties. Illustrative of the problem might be the historical confusion
published in two older standard" studies by prominent scholars, Russell's
Free Negro in Virginia and Franklin's Free Negro in North Carolina. 81
Franklin, for example, gathered all individuals labeled free persons not
white or free persons of color on the censuses and relabeled them free
Negroes. His discussions of court cases pertaining to "free Negroes"includes
both Chavers and Oxendines. Amore-recent scholar studied these same cases
(particularly those for Oxendines, Manuels, Newsoms, Mainors, Revels, and
Locklears) and observed: "Many of the surnames in other prominent 'free
Negro' legal cases in North Carolina are associated with Lumbee ancestors,
or with groups very like them in other parts of North Carolina (e.g., the
names Freeman, Jacobs, Chavers, Martin, Ransome, and Bell).82