Just Bitten by that Old Spider

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    A good many of the Saponi descendants I know also have African descent and I’ve heard many a horror story about the racist dismissals from “white” Indians, who have no greater claim to native blood than their “black” cousins they’re so harshly dismissing. Being “white” myself, I’m generally a bystander to those events.

    Well, I was following a lead on my own family back to Vernon County, WI. Between me and my second cousin I see about eight common Saponi surnames/origins ending up there in WI, in fact, if you follow the trail from the “throwbacks” in his family (the people who looked strongly Indian) it leads straight to our NC/VA Piedmont and common Saponi surnames.

    All this has led me to the theory that Vernon County was another destination for Saponi diaspora. I learned of a lady who still lives there who’s researched the Indian blood there. I called her last night and was reminded why I dislike telephone calls to strangers.

    There were two large philosophical disconnects between us. I asked her what surnames she knew in her area that are suspected Indian. She brought up Revels, Bass and Shivers (which I thought a likely variant on Chavis). While I was getting excited about three more smoking guns she was busy dismissing the Basses and the Shivers because she’s “proven” that they were “just slaves.”

    I tried explaining that many a Saponi was enslaved, all the while realizing that her theoretical grasp of the issue had nothing to do with her opinions on that matter. Her definitions were apparently such that enslavement and African intermarriage banished one from the Indian pantheon.

    She said something about a lot of hard feelings being stirred up because somebody had to come along with some “history” and gotten some black folks thinking they’re Indian alongside the good mixed (Indian/white) people like her who’ve been suffering for generations from aspersions that they were “just niggras” themselves.

    GRRRRRRRRRR. I got off that phone call a bit jangled. I guess it’s not just the upper south, but then I knew that already.

    In truth, I left the Midwest years ago for California because I just couldn’t take how butt-headed most people were on those issues. They were driving me to obsession with their incessant affronts.

    Being a “foreigner” in the south, though, with my “colorful” husband and children, it’s clear to the white people around here that I don’t “belong” to them. Gives me a nice little envelope that shields me. I don’t care what they think, long as I don’t have to hear about it, and they don’t say one word to me on that subject.

    Fell off that wagon last night, though. Ouch.

    Coharie Roy


    I hope your blood pressure’s back to normal. 🙂 Sounds like that phone call to WI raised the old hackles.

    Anyway, I just wanted to make two comments on your post.

    First, Revels is one of my surnames. My gggg grandma Nancy Revell married my gggg grandpa John Mainor around 1795 or so. They lived in Sampson County, and Cumberland County, N.C. And although I have no proof, I believe Nancy was the daughter of the Nathaniel Revell named on the Sampson County 1790 census as a “free person of color” and as head of a household of 13. Now, you may already be aware, but just in case you’re not, Professor Helen Rountree of Old Dominion University, and Professor J. Douglas Deal of Oswego State University of New York, both document one James “The Indian” Revell found in the court records of Accomack County, Virginia between 1667 and 1681. James Revell The Indian was an 11 year old Metompkin Indian boy when he was apprenticed/bound (until he became 21 years old) by his village Werowance/headman to the white English planter, Edward Revell. This was apparently common practice, and from what I understand, Edward Revell may have had as many as nine other Indian children apprenticed/bound to him over the course of 10 or 20 years. These children were usually given an English first name by the court, and they usually took the last name of their master.

    And, (and this leads into the second point I wanted to make) these apprenticed Indian children were not slaves. BUT, I’m sure that alongside these apprenticed Indian children, were the children of Indians who’d been defeated in war and who had been made slaves. Also, by 1690, the Indian Slave trade in Charleston, S.C. was going full bore, and while the Charleston Indian Slaves were sold mostly to the sugar plantations of the West Indies, some of them found their way onto the tobacco plantations of Virginia as well as into the towns of New England. Now, these apprenticed Indian children worked, ate, and slept right alongside white indentured servants as well as black slaves and Indian slaves. And they ran away from their masters together. And they had sex with each other. So, there was an awful lot of racial intermingling. But, children of these mixed unions were free, and, like the white servant who’d completed his indenture, they were free to strike out for the frontier, IF they had a free mother. But, if their mother was a slave, then they and their descendents remained on the plantation as slaves for the next 8 to 12 generations.

    The children of these mixed unions are my ancestors. Sometime between the 1670s and the 1750s, they wound up in Sampson County and Robeson County, N.C. And because the racial discrimination laws of Virginia and N.C. from the late 1600s and early 1700s were becominig increasingly restrictive and draconian, my ancestors huddled together for mutual protection. And by and large, we married only each (hence our current status as a tri-racial isolate). Some of us look Indian. Some of us have more African-American features. And some of us have more European-American features. So, many of us with a mix of predominately Indian and white features (myself included) enjoy the unique position of being able to peek in on the subtle racist attitudes of some whites who have erroneously concluded that we/I are/am white also. My deceased sister had more African-American features and she “peeked in” on the same subtle attitudes of Blacks who assumed she was Black. So, in my family, we’ve been in the “enviable” ?? (I never thought it was particuarly inviable. I always wanted to belong to one race or the other.) position of seeing American racial attitudes as they really are; from behind the curtain so to speak.

    Anyhow, I just thought I’d add my two cents to your own comments.

    p.s. – Shivers probably was Chavis. Next time you talk to that lady, you can tell her that Benjamin Harrison (ancestor of two U.S. presidents) was an interpreter for the Nottoway and the Saponi, and kept in his household, one Will Chavis as an indentured servant. Will Chavis thereafter is found owning land next to a William Eaton, and Eaton not only has Saponis living on his land, but is involved in the Catawba trade. Will Chavis has a son, Phillip Chavis, and all Lumbee Chavis’s trace their ancestry back to Phillip Chavis.


    Great information! My cousin Jim, who’s related by marriage way back, to this lady, says she’s getting a computer. Hopefully she’ll check in on some of this info. (In which case I should probably severely edit my initial post, hahaha.)

    The story of you and your sister reminds me of a story in my husband, Barry’s, family. There’s been a lot of that kind of mixture within siblings in his family too. Back sometime during Jim Crow, he had an uncle who looked distinctly ‘black’ while his sister and brother looked ‘white.’ He was convicted of raping a white lady and executed. His sister and brother took off for New York and were never heard from again, it was presumed they passed for white.

    I’ve wanted to go to Richmond to see if there are any transcripts left of that trial. It’s so evocative. From the stories I’ve heard of those days, a black male could be charged with that for doing no more than looking a white female directly in the eye. Think of what a perilous position a young man would be in if his own sister looked like any other white lady on the street. He wouldn’t be too well conditioned for the times, would he? Chilling.

    Are you still in Robeson County? My husband was just there a week or so ago.


    Speaking of Chavis:

    Arthur v. Chavis, 6 Randolph 142, February 1828 [143] ‘The ground on which the pauper [Milly Chavis} claimed her freedom, was, that she was the daughter of one Winny Chavis, a free woman: that betwen forty and fifty years bfore, when she was a girl of six or seven years old, living with her mother in Brunswick County, she was stolen from her, carried to Pittsylvania by one Davis, and sold by him to Bennett, who gave her to Arthur, his son-in-law.” The deposition of Polly M’Kinney of Brunswick proved that the stolen child had a scar on her thigh. At the trial a scar on the thigh was relied on strongly as identifying Milly with the stolen child. Judgement was for the plaintiff. New evidence discovered including bill of sale to Davis. Judgment reversed.

    [This message has been edited by Linda (edited 08-01-2001).]


    The story of you and your sister reminds me of a story in my husband, Barry’s, family. There’s been a lot of that kind of mixture within siblings in his family too. Back sometime during Jim Crow, he had an uncle who looked distinctly ‘black’ while his sister and brother looked ‘white.’ He was convicted of raping a white lady and executed. His sister and brother took off for New York and were never heard from again, it was presumed they passed for white.


    My Granddaddy Townes’s brother was lynched for “raping” a white woman which was consentual. Reminds me of the story of “Rosswood”.

    My Granddaddy Townes was also accused of “raping” a white woman and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The relationship was also consentual. Granddaddy Townes was released early because of a terminal illness.


    Hey Linda, well you are obviously better than I at those types of conversations.

    I think that most of us on this forum has encountered these types of people, some of us have them as realtives!

    I still think that a map showing some of these migrations would be in these peoples faces!

    Anyway, Best wishes to all!

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