AfriGeneas Free Persons of Color Forum
Re: Does Croatian=Croatan?
In Response To: Re: Does Croatian=Croatan? ()
During Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 and for many decades afterwards thousands of Indians were enslaved as the colonists expanded their lands to include more of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Over 30,000 Indians were sold into slavery in South Carolina alone, mostly to the West Indies and New England. But some were also held in the same households as African slaves in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Maryland--many as small children. I imagine this was because they would not have been able to escape or know where to escape to.
Virginians were already bequeathing Indian slaves to their heirs for life before 1682 when Virginia passed a law which allowed masters to purchase Indians from neighboring Indian tribes and others and hold them as slaves. Thus, when Indian children were brought to court in Henrico County, Virginia, a year after the law’s passage in 1683 (to record their age in order to know when their masters should start paying taxes on them), the court noted whether they had “Come in Amongst the English” before or after the 1682 law “making Indians slaves.” Thirty-one Indian children who came in after the law were treated as slaves and 22 who came in before were treated as servants to serve until the age of 30 years.
Another 34 Indian children were brought to court in Charles City County as slaves between 1687 and 1695 and another 30 in Henrico County as slaves between 1691 and 1712. About 1% of the taxable slaves in Surry County, Virginia, were Indians between 1680 and 1700. And Indian slaves were listed in the inventories of the estates in Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland throughout the colonial period.
However, about the year 1772, Virginians came to have a different view of Indians. They were not equal to whites, but they were not as inferior as Africans and thus should not have been enslaved. Only Africans were of such a low class that they deserved slavery. This was conveniently at a time when there were no Indians available to be enslaved and they were no longer a military threat to the colonists. This also helped confirm in the minds of the colonists the justification for enslaving Africans.
The courts took the view that anyone who could prove descent from an Indian woman, should, therefore, be set free. The Coleman family was probably the first family to be freed under this new interpretation of the law. They were described as having dark brown complexions with short bushy hair when they obtained certificates of freedom. After three or four generations of living with African slaves, descendants were far more African than Indian.
This concept of Indians being superior to and a separate group from African Americans re-emerged in 1885 when the segregationists were trying to take political control of North Carolina and make it a Jim Crow state.
The state was about equally divided on the issue, as was Robeson County, so the large, former “free person of color” community there had a pivotal role to play. They were, at the time, attending school with the former slaves. Unfortunately, they so hated the idea of losing social status by attending segregated schools with former slaves that they voted for the segregationists in exchange for having their own schools and thus helped make North Carolina a Jim Crow state.
In order to explain the new rules for the school system, in 1885 the head of the segregationist party (then Democrats) in Robeson County invented the story that the former “free persons of color” were actually Indians who descended from a lost colony of Englishmen who arrived on Roanoke Island in present-day Dare County, North Carolina, 300 years previously in 1587, and mixed with a group of friendly Indians.
This simple statement changed the history of Indians and free African Americans in the Southeast. This is where many myths about Indian ancestry originated. This Robeson County segregationist started a belief which still continues today and has become so entrenched in Southern culture that it will probably last forever.
The Jim Crow period is like a brick wall through which no information can pass.
However, it does not appear that anyone in Robeson County believed the story at the time. The politician called the free person of color community “Croatan Indians” after the name of the local Indian tribe in Dare County which the colonists were supposed to have mixed with. Whites taunted the free person of color community by shortening the name to “Cros” after Jim Crow. And ten years later a woman wrote a book in which she called them “Mulattos” and surmised that runaway slaves had taken "up their abode in this large free negro settlement."
They changed the name of their "tribe" from Croatans to "Cherokee Indians of Robeson County" in 1913, to Siouan Indians Of Lumber River in 1934, to Lumbee Indians in 1956.
There is no mystery about their origins. The former free person of color community can be traced through their genealogies to free people of African descent in Virginia, such as the Chavis family.
Fifty years prior to 1885, in 1835, two of the leading members of the Robeson County free colored community, Charles Oxendine and Alfred Lowry, were called “free Negroes” when Lowry accused Oxendine of assaulting him. Oxendine was fined $15 by the court but could not pay. So, under the then discriminatory North Carolina law, Oxendine was ordered to be sold or hired out to someone to pay his fine. He appealed, acknowledging that he was a “free Negro” but claiming that the law was unconstitutional. (Oxendine had a relative who was held as a slave in Mississippi). In a similar case to Oxendine’s in 1838 another member of the “free colored” community named William Manuel was hired out to pay his fine, and he also appealed, claiming the law was unconstitutional. Oxendine was the descendant of a "Mulatto" man who had a child by a white woman in Northumberland County, Virginia. Manuel descended from a "Negro" slave freed in Virginia.
During the Jim Crow Period Robeson County had three separate sets of water fountains, theater seating, rest rooms, etc., for whites, former slaves and former free persons of color--who were then called Indians.
Over many generations the members of this community have developed an Indian identity.
However, modern-day DNA testing indicates that they have European and African ancestry with little or no Indian ancestry at all.