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Delaware's Invisible Indians

During 1994 and 1995, the authors directed excavations in Duck Creek Hundred, Kent County, Delaware, on a property known historically as Bloomsbury. The tract was being converted into a Delaware Department of Transportation wetland replacement site, part of the mitigation associated with Delaware Route 1. The Department engaged Heite Consulting to prepare cultural resource studies of the property. The archaeology of this site was interesting in itself, but the historical research uncovered a fascinating example of the survival of social groups despite the loss of material and institutional identification symbols.

At least two Bloomsbury tenants, John Sisco and Thomas Conselor, bore surnames associated with a local population often called "moors" historically centered around the town of Cheswold in Little Creek and Duck Creek hundreds of Kent County. These people have a tradition of Indian descent, and have been recognized by previous researchers as a Native American remnant community (Weslager 1943). Two of the European-American landlords, Patrick Conner and Francis Denney, were identified in other documents with these people through close business and personal relationships. Another family on the property, the Loatmans, also are related to the local Indian remnant community. Official records of the time, however, were ambiguous (at best) regarding the racial and cultural origins of the people we studied.

From the end of the seventeenth century, until the closing decades of the nineteenth century, no Indians were legally recognized in Kent County. Census, tax, and school records contain no record of any races other than white or colored during nearly two centuries (Heite and Heite 1985). In most records, racial designations are applied only to nonwhites or persons who were perceived to be "inferior" to whites. Those without racial designations are generally assumed to be white, or to have social and economic position similar to that of whites.

Before the United States census of 1790, there was no legal requirement in America to classify everyone by race, and there was no generally-accepted standard for determining or recording a person's racial identity. Racial designations appear in the record only on an ad hoc basis, determined for each occasion. The Constitution changed this practice because it required a decennial census, that would identify whites, slaves, and free persons of color, including everyone except "Indians not taxed." For the most part, untaxed Indians were residents of reservations.

For purposes of census and enforcement of discriminatory laws, race in America has been defined, throughout the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth, by the subjective opinion of the white record keeper, who can be expected to have been ignorant of the nuanced meanings of race terminology and often uninterested in ethnic origins.

Taxed Indians were enumerated in the census together with African Americans under the classification of "free persons of color." Some Indians were classified as white, especially if they were financially well off. The 1800 census of Delaware (the 1790 returns having been lost) did not identify any person as an Indian. Because there were then no reservations in Delaware, where untaxed Indians would reside, an Indian could be classified as either "colored" or "white," but not "red." Many were called "mulattoes," an ambigous term that encompassed any nonwhite person, regardless of ancestry.

At the same time, different enumerators were counting the same households for county tax purposes. In some years the tax assessors identified Indian-descended families as "mulattoes" and reserved the term "negro" for any person of African descent, regardless of mixture. In other years, every nonwhite was classed as " negro." Race depended entirely on the collector's perception.

For thirty years leading up to the Civil War, increasingly strict laws controlled all nonwhites, including blacks and mulattoes, who were considered likely to foment rebellion against slaveowners. A few well-off Indians challenged the restrictions in court, but failed. Others moved to Canada or to free states, including New Jersey, Ohio, and Indiana. Some appear to have joined Indian reservations.

Indian families have continued to live in the area, their ethnic identity concealed from the public record. Today about 1,500 families claiming Native American descent belong to a regional Nanticoke-Lenape organization in Kent County and across the river in New Jersey (Nanticoke-Lenape 1996: 9).

Official silence concerning ethnicity during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries has complicated the task of making historical racial or cultural identification of these people during the time when the Bloomsbury site was occupied

While the house at Bloomsbury was standing, the economic, legal, and social status of the local Native American community was slipping from merely "not white" to a status indistinguishable from free Negroes. Partly as a consequence of this changed designation, native people became poorer, less literate, and almost invisible. Nonetheless, they were able to maintain a sense of ethnic identity and unity that is now a source of pride to their descendants.

In this paper, we will begin with a discussion of issues in researching the history of Indian groups in the eastern United States. Next we will summarize current research on similar Eastern communities of people with a tradition of Indian descent, and then present more specific information on the Indian communities of Delaware. It is not primarily our purpose to "prove" that the people who lived at Bloomsbury and their descendents are (or are not) Indians, but rather to explore the nature of communities that have maintained a separate identity and a traditon of Indian descent over the last 300 years.

Historical Invisibility

Historians have tended to uncritically accept old racial labels, so that the history of these people has been masked. Some writers, notably Deal (1988) and Davidson (1991), have swept the study of local Native Americans into "free black" history, continuing a long tradition of misperception.

There is, clearly, a need for in-depth revisionist histories of the Native American remnants. A few steps have been taken along this path, by genealogists, by tribal organizations, and by a few academic historians whose points of view are neither afrocentric nor eurocentric (Rountree 1990).

Our study of the Bloomsbury site and its residents provides an opportunity to study in detail the domestic situations of people who may or may not have inherited their Native American ancestors' food preferences, hunting methods, handcraft skills, or religious beliefs. The project also provides an opportunity to examine the society of a neighborhood where people from three racial backgrounds met and interacted.

Arch¾ologists often are reluctant to seek evidence of ethnicity in material remains. Small tools and other surface indications of culture may or may not betray deeper-held beliefs and inheritances.

Community is an equally elusive concept, not necessarily visible in the physical record. One mark of community might be similarity of housing, as was demonstrated in the Mosely community on McKee Road (Heite 1993). Other marks of community may include residential proximity, intermarriage, institutional membership, and other social and legal relationships.

While genealogy is an excellent tool for defining community, other historical research methods can be employed. For example, probate records contain names of witnesses, bondsmen, and people who bought items at the estate sale. These individuals, in the aggregate, are part of the community, who reappear in association with a defined group of other individuals. These techniques were employed to define the social context for Bloomsbury's inhabitants.

This community was, and still is, a tightly-woven self-selecting web of kinship, social obligations, patronage, and solidarity that survived without an institutional focus, or even a proper collective name, through more than two centuries (Heite and Heite 1985).

What is a Community?

A community is more than a mere collection of people and real estate. A community is more correctly described as a collection of relationships among people who are somehow connected by proximity, origin, blood, language, or some other tie, tangible or intangible, expressed or tacitly assumed. Some communities are easily recognized; a town, or a professional society, or a church are obvious communites that declare their own definitions for all to see.

But a community may also exist beyond public view, or it may be invisible even to its own members. Because they can be both ambiguous and ubiquitous, communities must first be defined, before they can be examined. The Kent County remnant Indian community falls into this category. For more than two centuries, the community existed without formal organization, and without more than tacit recognition from the society at large. Within the past few generations, the community has achieved organization and popular recognition as an Indian tribe and has retrospectively defined itself as a continuing community.

Since it historically issued no membership certificates or kept a tribal roll, or even named a recognized leader, the "Cheswold community" defies definition in the rigidly formalized, and essentially non-Indian, environment of state or federal tribal recognition. Admission to Delaware Indian corporate bodies today is achieved by demonstrating genealogical connection to people who are generally accepted as being past members of the community.

The nearest approach to a published roster has been the genealogy of early descendants of William Handsor, published in an earlier report in this series (Heite and Heite 1985) and a useful but anecdotal community history published more than a half-century ago (Weslager 1943).

In order to provide solid documentation of the community, it was necessary to adopt proven techniques. To find evidence beyond the traditional narrative sources, social historians draw inferences from vital statistics, genealogies, tax, probate, and similar aggregated records.

Community historians in other localities have developed methods that involve new approaches to the historical records. In their pioneering study of relationships, researchers at the St. Mary's City Commission in Maryland compiled biographies of the county's earliest settlers by "stripping of relevant record series" for all proper names. This technique allows the researcher to identify each individual's personal relationships at all levels, and to place him in a community context (Walsh 1988:219). A similar approach is being used by the Delaware Bureau of Museums and Historic Sites for their seventeenth-century project (Charles Fithian, personal communication). A much less ambitious approach was used to define the local Native community during the period when Bloomsbury was occupied.

Who is an Indian?

Cultural disappearance seems to have been a survival strategy for remnant communities throughout the east during the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries.

In Virginia, Indians gradually adopted an Anglo-American way of life, native languages died out, and most of the community members were living off the few reservations. The Virginia off-reservation communities kept to themselves and were lumped for government purposes with other "free persons of color" until after the Civil War (Rountree 1990, 1996: 187-189).

Precisely the same course of events occurred in Delaware. With the exception of a sailor named John Dean, no individual in the Kent County community was identified in the official record as an Indian. The first recorded recognition did not appear until 1892, and then only in a newspaper article.

It isn't easy to hide an entire ethnic group, but for the Indian population, the process of joining European society included renunciation, or at least subordination, of Indian identity. In the minds of many settlers, one could not be a Christian Indian, or a civilized Indian. Those who converted became mulattoes in the eyes of law and society. This is well demonstrated by the descendants of John Puckham of Maryland, the Christianized Indian, and his wife, Jone Johnson, "mulatto," granddaughter of Anthony Johnson, a possibly Iberian nonwhite whose race is unknown. Anthony, originally called Antonio, appears to have been an indentured servant of Iberian origin whose descendants merged into both black and Indian communities. Even though his actual racial origin is indefinite, Anthony Johnson has become a sort of poster child for "free black" studies, celebrated on national TV as the first landowning freedman.

Race and status are indefinite and internally contradictory in colonial records. John Oakey is an illustrative example. He patented a tract he suggestively named "Mulatto Hall" on Blackwater Creek in Sussex County in 1684. Oakey had served as a county constable, indicating that he was recognized as a full member of European-American society, whatever his racial origin.

He was in Somerset County, Maryland, as early as 1662, when he was was claimed as a headright in a land claim (Shearer and Schaeffer 1993). He was associated in many of his legal and business dealings with members of one of today's recognized Nanticoke families in Sussex County, but we still do not know his origins; his wife was an English woman but his "mulatto" descendants are generally recognized as Indians.

The best-documented seventeenth-century Indians in lower Delaware were the ones who sold the territory to European settlers. Between Duck Creek and the St. Jones, land was sold by an Indian with the curious name of Christian, also known as Petticoquewan, who claimed to be lord, owner, and chief sachem of Mitsawokett. Between 1677 and 1684, he conveyed thousands of acres to settlers, often in trade for powder and shot or for drink, or for clothing (Kent County Deed Books A-1: 10, 14; B-1: 2, 8 10-13, 20-21, 36).

The territory of Mitsawokett became northern Kent County, encompassing the hundreds of St. Jones, Little Creek and Duck Creek, but the name of Christian or Petticoquewan is missing from the records after about 1684.

An Indian named Samuel Boarman was bound by the Kent County court in 1719 to serve three years as payment for medical care following a gunshot wound (Hancock 1974:49). He may have been the last officially identified Indian in the county records for another two centuries.

Some people in the community have borne family names that are firmly documented as Indians, but Kent County residents did not claim that heritage in any public document. People named Francisco (Sisco), Norwood, Cambridge, and Puckham are known from records elsewhere to have been recognized as Indians during their lifetimes, but their relatives in Mitsawokett did not press the claim.

Legal Race Definitions

During the entire first half of European-American history, there was little or no incentive to legally define the precise racial origin of a person who was otherwise culturally indistinguishable from the European-American community. Before the Revolution, only Virginia and North Carolina legally defined a person's race in terms of ancestry.

Although it is today taken to mean mixed black and white, the word "mulatto" in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries generally applied to anyone with dark skin who was not a Negro. In the West Indies, the term was applied also to mixed black-Indian individuals. Another meaning was a person who was "half-Christian," born of a union between a Spaniard and a non-Christian. Definitions in Delaware official documents were no more precise (Heite and Heite 1985).

A Virginia law of 1705 defined the child of a white and an Indian as a mulatto, but it stated that the child, grandchild, and great-grandchild of a Negro would be a mulatto legally. For Indian/white unions, the mulatto status would disappear when the issue of such a union married a white person. For Negro/white unions, the designation was effectively permanent. While the progeny of Indian/white unions mated among themselves, Virginia law would identify the offspring as mulatto. Maryland had a similar definition, which was not explicitly stated (Cissna 1986:204-205). The Oxford English Dictionary cites an example from 1709 in which a person was both a mulatto and an Indian.

The Pennsylvania Assembly set terms of service for [white] indentured servants whose indentures could not be found. Those who came into the colony without papers would be assumed to serve five years if they were between seventeen and twenty-two years old [later changed to sixteen and twenty-one] , or until the age of twenty-two if they were under seventeen (Linn 1879:153, 237).

The law, which at first was disallowed by the Crown, would not apply to Africans. African descent would therefore significantly alter a servant's status. In this regard, "mulatto" status was legally independent of any African connection, as the case of Jacob Frederick illustrates.

In June 1698, a "Molattoe Boy" named Jacob Frederick complained to the Sussex court that "hee Came Not of nigroe Parentage," and therefore could not be held as a slave for life. Frederick argued that he had been bound as an apprentice for a term, and could not be held as a slave for life under Delaware law. He succeeded in his plea, but in 1704 he was again in court, sentenced to twenty lashes and six weeks of additional service to his mistress for beating John Morgan. Frederick was a witness in 1709 for the defense when Samuel Dickinson, a white, was accused of horse stealing (Horle 1991: 1049, 1195, 1291).

The Maryland state historic preservation plan assumes that Native Americans ceased to exist in the colony at some time. A research questions in the plan is, "Why did indigenous Native American populations largely disappear from Maryland after European settlement began?" In fact, they are still there, but they were consistently missed by contemporary authorities and later historians, largely because of the misleading "mulatto" tag (Maryland Historical Trust 1986:282).

Modern historians have retroactively applied the narrower modern, black-mixed, definition of "mulatto" to historical records that in fact describe Indians (Davidson 1991). They were encouraged in this misperception by the essentially biracial nature of the southern legal system.

One was either white or nonwhite, which in the popular mind meant black. Native American remnant groups struggled to distinguish themselves as a separate race outside the biracial system throughout the segregation era, sometimes successfully (Williams, ed., 1979:23).

Between the Revolution and the Civil War, racial definitions became more detailed and more important, as legal restrictions on nonwhites became progressively more oppressive (Mencke 1976:8). Those who were defined as Negroes or mulattoes found their civil rights eroded, while those who were identified as Indians were forced off their land and into the west. After 1831, in response to the perceived threat of the Nat Turner rebellion, the slave states, including Delaware, passed restrictive laws forbidding nonwhites to own arms, to congregate, or even to attend church, except under white supervision. Racial definition became a matter of survival.

There are today many legal and traditional definitions of the term "Indian." A Census Bureau definition calls anyone an Indian who is registered in a recognized tribe, or who is one-fourth Indian. The Bureau of Indian Affairs defined an Indian as a person entitled to its services, and the Public Health Service definition is different still. As little as 1/256 Indian blood has been recognized as conferring tribal rights (Berry 1963: 7). Each state and locality where Indian remnant groups reside has produced a local solution to the problem of defining them.

A Native American remnant on Indian River in Sussex County, Delaware, formed a tribal corporation in 1921, and laid claim to the name of Nanticoke (Weslager 1953:30), even though they probably include descendants of many groups, including the Assateagues.

New Jersey legally recognizes Lenape organizations in Burlington and Cumberland counties. (Kraft 1986:241-243). A group known as Nanticoke-Lenape Indians of New Jersey, incorporated in 1978, includes many families from Kent County, Delaware. (Leni-Lenape Council 1996). The organization includes about 1,500 families today.

Many attempts at defining race are legally obsolete, of course, because race no longer defines a person's access to voting, schooling, marriage partner, or public facilities. Released from the spectre of legal repercussions, researchers can now ask questions that previously would have been taboo, even inside the community. More importantly, however, it is now possible to focus on the primary issue--that the existence of these communities has an historical validity that can be extracted from historical documents.

Isolate Communities

During nearly three centuries, Indian remnant communities, like the one in Kent County, managed to retain separate identities, a tight community social structure, and the oral heritage of native ancestry.

Racially ambiguous communities, sometimes collectively called isolates or, in former times, tri-racial isolates, are found throughout the United States, but they are best known in the upper South. These groups typically are self-defined and are recognized by the larger communities that surround them. Sociologists, anthropologists, historians, and genealogists have studied these "small races" from several complementary points of view.

The first published overall survey of isolate groups in the upper South was a sociological study by Brewton Berry (Berry 1963). The most recent scholarly study is a genealogical survey by an historian (DeMarce 1992, 1993). Published scholarly accounts of individual communities are appearing regularly (Cissna 1986). Some studies are fragmentary and others remain unpublished (such as Segal 1976), leaving the field wide open for future researchers.

Genealogical and anthropological scholarship has shed light on the origins of isolate communities, but researchers generally recognize that much more basic data must yet be gathered before the subject can be adequately understood (DeMarce 1993:39).

Before the advent of modern DNA studies, there were several attempts to quantify in genetic terms the racial makeup of the isolate groups (Pollitzer 1972) by analysing blood proteins and by looking at gross perceived racial characteristics. These outdated studies remain in the literature, but are generally discredited today, except by a few authors with racial agendas (Heinegg 1995, for example). It is our position here that the actual genetic makeup of the members of these communities is less important than the fact that they can be traced through time as separate social units.

As details have fallen together, it has become apparent that isolate groups are, in fact, remnant Native American communities outside the official system of recognized tribes that was largely created by the United States Army in the West. Because eastern Indian communities were not herded around the country by the Army, they have not reaped the "benefits" of recognition rendered by its successor agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The irony of this situation is not lost on Eastern Indian organizers, whose struggle for the dignity of recognition is frustrated simply because they never suffered the indignity of forced relocation that brought recognition to their western cousins.

Almost immediately after the beginning of colonialization, European and Native traditional communities recognized the need to keep space between themselves. Prejudices on both sides dictated separation. Among the first laws issued by the English under the Duke of York reflected distaste for Indian institutions (Linn 1879:33):

"No Indian whatsoever shall at any time be Suffered to Powaw or performe outward worship to the Devil in any Towne within this Government."

In spite of their aversion to Indian forms of worship, colonial leadership was sensitive to negative effects of colonization on Indian subsistence. The same law required settlers to help fence Indians' corn fields against settlers' wandering cattle, and to compensate Indian farmers for crop damage. Strong liquor was not to be given to Indians, except for medicinal purposes. As the European population increased, Indian removal became the inevitable method of separating the two populations.

By about 1718, a sizable portion of the Southern Maryland Piscataway had moved north and established Conoy Town on the Susquehanna, near the present Bainbridge, Maryland. To this location came other Piscataway from the present Washington metropolitan area, as well as Eastern Shore Indians. They began to join other tribes in doing business with the Pennsylvania colonial government as a single bloc under Five Nations oversight. By 1742, there is mention of Nanticokes among them (Cissna 1986:192-193).

1742 may have been the defining moment in the history of Native Americans on the Delmarva. In that year, a group of traditionalists gathered in the Pocomoke swamp at a place called Winnesockum to plan a massacre. The plan was thwarted by vigilant officials. Within a few years, traditional Indian towns and their inhabitants had "disappeared" from the Delmarva landscape. Faced with further restrictions on their traditional activities, many of the Nanticokes decided to move north. Eventually a Nanticoke remnant settled among the Six Nations in Canada, where they retain an identity today (Porter, ed., 1986: 139-147).

The next year emigrant Conoy and Nanticoke moved upriver to the mouth of the Juniata, following advice from the Iroquois with whom they had become associated. By 1753, the Nanticoke and Piscataway (Conoy) were being treated as a single people. During the Revolution, 120 Nanticoke and 30 Piscataway took refuge at Fort Niagara.

Thereafter some went to Canada, while others left to join the Lenape in the Old Northwest on the trek that eventually took them to Oklahoma (Cissna 1986:193-200). Lenape emigrants took the traditional religious practices with them, and some of these traditions survived into the twentieth century (Kraft 1984) in Canada and Oklahoma. During the migration period, people moved back and forth, between the emigrant communities and the East Coast homelands. Limited communication was sustained, along the route, certainly for several generations after each move.

Some Kent County community members evidently retained connections with the Indian families that had moved away. In 1892, a Philadelphia newspaper reported that a man of the Cheswold community born in 1811 had lived as a young man among Lenape emigrants then residing in Indiana. A few years after that visit, some Kent County families, including the son of the last Bloomsbury tenant, moved to Indiana.

Today's isolate communities descend from the people who lived along the East Coast when the first Europeans arrived, although the tribal labels attached to groups today are not necessarily the ones their ancestors carried. Today's Sussex County Nanticoke, for example, may in fact contain significant numbers of Choptanks, Assateagues and Gingaskins.

Most surviving Native Americans along the eastern seaboard live outside the "recognized" or "reservation" system. Such "citizen" or "non-reservation" Indians probably number more than 115,000 (Porter, ed., 1986:2). Those who stayed behind adopted charactertistics of the dominant society. The rate of acculturation never has been measured. Nor have scholars been able to determine how much of Native culture survived, or for how long (Porter, ed., 1986: 27).

Because no words existed in the vocabulary of the time to designate Native peoples who had adopted European material culture, it was not legally or socially possible to proclaim Indian identity. As a result, members of remnant communities were called "mulatto" or even "negro," but more often merely "colored." In the following sections, we will discuss a number of remnant communities that have been identified in the Middle Atlantic region.

Connecticut's Lighthouse

In Connecticut, there is a small remnant group whose ancestors were called the "Lighthouse" people. They trace their ancestry to an eighteenth-century Narragansett man named Chaugham and his English-American bride who fled to the mountains to avoid her parents' displeasure (Feder 1994). Their descendants formed a distinct group that did not fit into the neat racial categories demanded by government statistical tables.

During the generations when the Chaugham family lived together in a community, they were called by a variety of ethnic labels.

Lighthouse descendants no longer reside in a closed community, but they continue to recognize their separate nature. After merging into the larger community nearly a century ago, descendants kept the stories alive, assisted by occasional press and literary attention. Because race was not a legal issue in Connecticut, segregation laws did not affect the dynamics of Lighthouse history. Like other eastern non-tribal Indians, the Lighthouse people became "other free persons" for the census. In their case, however, they were able to assert and keep their Indian identity because they were free of legal stigma.

In the South, thedifferent legal situation forced the Indian families to maintain a much more seprate identity. The Cheswold community and its cousins across the Delaware River are the northernmost of the Southern isolate groups.

Adjacent communities intermarried to the extent that they became virtually a single extended family. The nearest group to central Delaware is located in Cumberland and Salem counties, New Jersey. For centuries, families have moved and married easily across Delaware Bay, so that today they are genealogically a single community. New Jersey member families are descended in part from Sussex County Nanticokes who moved across the bay to escape Jim Crow laws. Among the emigrants was Levin Sockum, whose trial had first legally labelled the Nanticoke as mixed with the Negro (Fisher 1895). Other families moved from Delaware to Canada around this period and intermarried with local Native families.

North Carolina Lumbee

The experience of a North Carolina Indian remnant community closely parallels the history of Delaware's remnant groups. The Lumbee, centered in Robeson County, now have a population estimated at nearly forty thousand (DeMarce 1993).

During the Colonial period, the Lumbee were occasionally referred to as Indians and treated as whites. Indistinguishable from their neighbors, they were half-hidden to history.

In north-central North Carolina, the racial designation of several related families has been traced. In 1750, they were generally listed among the white settlers, although other families were listed also occasionally as mulattoes. By 1762, closely related people were shown on the same lists as either white or mulatto. By 1771, a member of the group was identified as black, while others were not identified racially, which usually meant white (DeMarce 1992:21). In none of the cases were individuals identified in the public record as Indians.

From 1835, North Carolina Lumbee were legally defined as "free persons of color." Soon after the Civil War, the North Carolina Lumbee publicly insisted upon their Indian designation, which they received and continue to defend. During segregation, the Lumbee of Robeson County were entitled to a separate school system (Sider 1993:32).

Like the Delaware community, opinion among the North Carolina group is divided on the subject of historical tribe names that should be used. They are divided between people who call themselves Lumbees and others who call themselves Tuscarora, even though they might be closely related, even siblings (Sider 1993:4). In both states, modern tribal names reflect different historical notions of identity that may or may not be totally grounded in fact.


In the Southern Appalachians, from West Virginia to Georgia, are dark-skinned people called Melungeons, whose eighteenth-century ancestors reportedly claimed to be Portugese, even though they bore English and German surnames.

Like the other isolate groups, these people first became evident as a distinct community in the public records during the middle years of the eighteenth century. They are found throughout a wide region, and a few have tried to identify themselves as Indians. Most have tended to merge into the European-American community.

The group's home territory is in East Tennessee, along Newman's Ridge in Hawkins County, where they lived forty years or so before 1844 (DeMarce 1993:31).

Certain Melungeon family names came from other areas. The Bowling and Collins families, for example, may descend from Saponi families of the same names that lived in Orange County, Virginia as late as 1742-1743 (DeMarce 1992:11).

Some have joined the Lumbee or the Cherokee, and in some localities are recognized as Indians. In the current generation, a Melungeon research group has formed to seek answers to questions about origins (Kennedy 1994). The notion of Portugese ancestry, formerly dismissed as folkloric, has recently been reexamined with more respect (Deal 1993). Surnames with known Iberian connection are found among other isolate communities, but no genealogical connection of these families to the Melungeons has been documented.

Northampton County, Va

Racial segregation and legal nuances of race played a major role in the history of minority populations in Northampton County, Virginia.

Northampton is the southerly of the two Eastern Shore Virginia counties. Its racial history is unique. By the first decade of the nineteenth century, politicians were circulating claims that all the Indian blood had dissolved into the black population. This argument was politically necessary to force dissolution of the local Indian reservation, but it has been repeated uncritically by historians for two centuries.

Ralph Whitelaw, historian of land titles in the Eastern Shore counties, concludes for example, that "Today, their blood remains only as a mixture with that of the Negro race." (Whitelaw 1968:20). This statement is repeated as a cultural and genealogical epitaph for the Indians of the Eastern Shore of Virginia (Rountree 1972:3). The truth may not be so simple.

All three races lived intimately together, both inside and outside bondage or wedlock, during the seventeenth century in Virginia's Eastern Shore. Servants or former servants, who might have been either African, Native American, or some mixture, not infrequently mated across racial lines. White servant women often married or bore children by fellow servants of other races (Deal 1993).

In the Eastern Shore counties of Virginia, settlers' relationships with the natives differed from the rest of the colony. Debedeavon, the "laughing king" of the Accomack, welcomed young Thomas Savage and granted him a substantial tract in 1620 near the present county seat town of Eastville.

In 1640, the tables were turned, and surviving Virginia Eastern Shore Indians were given a 1500-acre reservation, which shrank to 650 acres when it was actually conveyed to them. The tract, Gingaskin, apparently included some of the acreage that had been given twenty years earlier to Thomas Savage (Whitelaw 1968: 281-286).

The Gingaskin tribe of Indians dwindled and became destitute. Their neighbors considered them a nuisance, and charged that they had become mixed with the local black population. Trustees were appointed to protect them, and finally in 1786 the tribe petitioned the Virginia legislature for relief against encroachments. In 1792, the Virginia General Assembly ordered the Indian town land to be divided among surviving members of the tribe. This was finally accomplished in 1813, after a second law was passed. The 690-acre tract was divided into 27 lots that were allocated to the surviving tribal members, among whom were people named Drighouse and Francis, which may be corruptions of Driggus and Francisco (Whitelaw 1968: 286).

A few allotments were sold immediately, but by 1830, half the reservation remained in the hands of the tribal members. That year, the Nat Turner rebellion occurred in Southampton County; the remaining Gingaskin sold their land and some joined the northward migration (Rountree and Davidson 1997:166).

Maryland Indian Families

The Cheswold community during the late eighteenth century was in touch with Native families from the Eastern Shore counties of Worcester and Somerset. One known contact, the Puckhams, is one of the few surnames that can be identified with a seventeenth-century Maryland Native American ancestor.

John Puckham, an Indian, was baptised in 1682 and married a "mulatto" named Jone [Joan] Johnson shortly thereafter. The name Puckham may be an anglicized version of the name of his village, in northern Somerset County, probably now Sussex County, Delaware. Their sons, John and Richard, aged 13 and 10, were bound as apprentices in 1699.

During the eighteenth century, Puckhams appear without racial designation on the public records in Stepney Parish of Somerset County. Abraham Puckham was called a "planter" in 1723 and was married to a transported white felon named Honor Norgate. This was not the family's only documented white liaison; at least two Puckham females had illegitimate children by white men in Somerset County. It can be determined from the tax rolls that Richard Puckham's wife was either white or mulatto, and not black (Davidson 1991:32 - 37). A George Puckham was among the "Indians" named in connection with the Winnesockum conspiracy of 1742.

Based on their documented non-white liaison with the "mulatto" Joan Johnson, eighteenth-century Puckhams have been grouped by twentieth-century historians with free blacks, possibly because more recent members of the family were classified as free persons of color.

Matthew Puckham, called a carpenter, sold his Maryland farm in 1771 (Davidson 1991: 37). Matthew apparently moved to Kent County and joined the Native American remnant. A Matthew Pucherm, "free negro," appears in the St. Jones Hundred tax records in 1782, while Matthew and Richard Puckham were listed in Broadkill Hundred without racial designation. These almost certainly are the Matthew and Richard who were in Somerset County a few years earlier, and who were identified as free blacks by Davidson (1991).

Puckhams joined the Kent County Indian community at about the same time. Among the accounts in the 1782 estate settlement of Thomas Murphey [a white who also had married into the Kent County mixed-blood community] were Ellinor and Ephraim Puckham. Ellinor Puckham witnessed John Durham's will in 1788.

In 1815, Hugh Durham administered the estate of Rachel Hansor in Kent County. The sureties for his bond were Angelica Loockerman and Susan Durham, who was Rachel's daughter. The two heirs, who shared equally, were Susan Durham and George "Pookham," an heir-at-law who must have been either a son or a son-in-law.

Some Puckham descendants, commonly identified as black by the surrounding community, continue to assert their Native ancestry (Roth 1997: 14-22)

In 1748, according to Davidson, a free "mulatto" named William Cambridge Hunt, later known as William Cambridge, patented land that had been part of the Askibinakansen Indian town near the present settlement of Taylor Gate in Worcester County. The Indian town tract had been occupied during the same decade, and may still have harbored some Indian remnants; another patentee on the town lands was Samuel Collick, also identified as a "mulatto" (Davidson 1991:82).

William Cambridge died in 1787, leaving a widow, two sons and a daughter. The family sold their Worcester County farm in 1801. People named Cambridge were part of the Cheswold community by 1813, when Mary Cambridge received a payment from the estate of Benjamin Durham. A miller named Frederick Cambridge is recorded in a probate account doing business with members of the community about 1841.

Benjamin Cambridge of Worcester County is an example of the racial ambivalence of the 1800 census enumerators. He is listed in 1800 as a white person with one juvenile white male and a slave in the household. In the 1810 census he was identified as a free Negro with three free nonwhites in the household. By 1820 the Cambridge family is missing from county census returns.

Even though Davidson included the Cambridge, Collick and Puckham families in his study of "free blacks" on the lower Eastern Shore, circumstances indicate a probable Indian origin for all three families. Some descendants of these families today consider themselves to be African-American, further complicating genealogical attempts to isolate their Indian ancestors.

Small patents to "mulattoes" for former Indian land may actually represent unidentified distributions of assets among resident Indian families who were legally "mulattoes" under Maryland law. Further study of the dissolution of the Askibinakansen Indian town may provide insights into the origin of remnant communities.

A person of Native American descent was an "Indian" as long as he lived on a reservation, or stalked deer in the forest for a living. Once the "Indian" took up a regular land holding, went to church, and used money, he became a "mulatto," as these cases demonstrate. The best illustration of this perception is the 1758 muster-roll reference to James Westcote, whose occupation was listed as "indian," without racial reference in his description.

The name Driggus, associated with people of color throughout Delmarva, provides an example of the racial confusion in the records. Today many people named Driggus classify themselves as African-American, but historically the name has occurred among all races.

A Driggus family is reported as white, or at least not nonwhite, in the 1800 census for Murderkill Hundred, Kent County, Delaware. Davidson lists the Driggus family of the lower Maryland shore as blacks, but the same name, spelled Drighouse, was a major component of the Northampton Indian tribe when the reservation land was distributed in 1812.

All probably were descended from Emanuel Driggus (Rodriguez). He and his first wife, Frances, came into the Virginia colony as bondservants. She died before attaining her freedom and he was free in 1660. His second wife, Elizabeth, was white. Emanuel's pedigree is unknown, but his name suggests he may have come from a Portugese or Spanish colony. He certainly was never considered to be a slave for life, which was becoming the common status for black servants at that time.

His grandson, Azaricum, died a well-off slave-owning planter in 1738. Azaricum, or Rica, Drighouse was apprenticed to a farmer who was obliged by the indenture terms to pay for two months of schooling a year; such provisions were common in white children's indentures. Clearly, Rica was not treated as a Negro by the local officialdom, even though later historians have labelled him as a Negro (Deal 1988: 289).

The name evolved into Drighouse in some areas, including the Indian reservation, and into Driggus in other areas. Members of the family, including the ones who lived on the Indian reservation, were called mulattoes or negroes in Virginia and Maryland records, and recent historians have chosen to identify all as black (Deal 1988: 275-283). The family later is found in the Cheswold community, after being identified as white in the 1900 census.

Other Maryland Remnants

South of Washington, D.C., in the Maryland countryside, is a community formerly known as "Wesorts" or the Brandywine community, who may descend from the indigenous Piscataway, Accokeek, Wisoes, Wannys, or Moyaone (Segal 1976:15, 16). They claim mostly Native American ancestry and carefully avoid social relationships with blacks, as do most remnant groups.

Unlike most isolates, Wesorts are traditionally Roman Catholic. Among the first white settlers of the area were Jesuit priests whose mission was devoted largely to converting the natives. English communicants of St. Ignatius Church during the seventeenth century bore surnames, such as Proctor and Harlan, found today among the "Wesorts." The history of this community repeats, in remarkable detail, patterns observed among the Cheswold group and others.

The six "core" family lineages already were thoroughly intermarried by the end of the eighteenth century. During the early period of their recorded history, Brandywine families were associated with distinct localities, mostly swamplands around the fringes of European communities. Another nine family names joined the group after 1870 (Sawyer 1961:2).

Documentary research has linked the modern colony with the Piscataway remnants who stayed behind during the removal period. The Piscataway, as an organized tribe (sometimes called the Conoy), moved away from Southern Maryland and joined the Nanticoke. Those who remained in Southern Maryland did not reappear on the record immediately. When they reappeared, they were identified not as members of a tribe but as individuals (Cissna 1986).

Piscataway removal began around 1699, with a move to Conoy Island, on the upper Potomac, whence they moved up the Susquehanna, deep into the Pennsylvania frontier. Thereafter they were identified with the migrant Nanticoke faction, eventually settling in Canada.

Like so many similar groups, modern Wesort families appear first as a recognizable population in the records by 1720, when they were identified as mulattoes. They also found themselves, during segregation, assigned to Negro schools, which they frequently refused to attend. In order to maintain the boundary between themselves and surrounding populations, Wesorts condoned marriages among relatively close relatives as preferable to exogamy (Sawyer 1961:57).

Names found among the Piscataway people are not repeated among the other isolate groups, although there are Proctors among the related families in Canada. Some common names are Proctor, Savoy, Harlan (Harley), Swann, Newman, Linkins, Gray, Mason, Queen, Thompson and Butler, who refer to the whole population sometimes as a "family" of people (Cissna 1986).

Their group name is said to derive from a statement that there was a difference between "we sort" and "you sort" of people (Segal 1976:85). Public self-identity as an Indian remnant group has come gradually. Phillip Proctor, who took the name Turkey Tayac, worked to gain recognition for his people as Indians; he lived an outdoorsman's life and discussed his heritage with whomever would listen (Hurley 1979). Today two groups of related people are competing for state recognition as the modern representatives of the historic Conoy people.

Maintaining Indian Identity In Delaware


Surnames in the Delaware community
Bass Han[d]sor Puckham
Butcher Harmon Ridg[e]way
Cambridge Hughes Read (Reed)
Carney Jackson Sammons (Salmon)
Carter Johnson Saunders
Clark Kimmey Seeney
Coker LaCount Sisco(Francisco)
Conselor Loatman Sockum
Cott(e) Miller Songo
Dean Morgan Spark[s]man
Drain Mosely Street[t]
Durham Munce[y] Thompson
Greenage Norwood Wright

Delaware recognizes the Sussex County Nanticoke tribal association, which contains individuals with near relatives in Kent County and New Jersey communities that are not recognized. The three communities are genealogically indistinguishable, but internal distinctions are not obvious to non-Indian outsiders. The Nanticoke leaders insist that their near relatives in Kent County are not Indians.

A new wave of Indian awareness in Kent County has been enhanced by the organization of a tribal corporation. Group members have responded by researching their family histories and their ethnic identity. They even have a home page on the Internet.

The first hurdle facing researchers is the issue of historical, legal, and documentary ambiguity. Racial isolate groups share a lack of documentary history, a legendary past that is impossible to verify, and a tradition of reticence about their true origins. All these problems will confront anyone studying the Kent County "moor" community.

The name "moor" is abhorrent to the community it designates, since it denotes North African or Iberian origins for people who consider themselves both culturally and genealogically Native Americans.
A separate identity for the Kent County community can be documented genealogically as early as the first half of the eighteenth century. Progenitors of the community appeared in the Kent County records without racial identification, generally literate and financially well off, by 1693.

Over the next century and a half, their descendants declined in wealth and status. Perhaps most significant was the decline in literacy. Male literacy was a powerful indicator of a household's economic prospects. In those days before free public education for all races, literacy was a commodity that required disposable income and, preferably, access to schools. A poor family, unable to reach or afford access to private schools, had few prospects of improvement.

Racial Labelling Through Time In Delaware

When racial labels began to appear consistently in the public record, early in the nineteenth century, members of the community were arbitrarily assigned such labels as "mulattoes" or "free persons of color" and sometimes "Negroes." There was absolutely no consistency among the record keepers when it came to reporting race.

Members of Delaware's Kent and Sussex "moor" or Indian racial isolate communities have been known by a bewildering variety of labels over the years. Labels have shifted, depending upon the era and individual points of view. It is useful to analyse the meaning behind these labels, remembering that they reflect observer bias.

When Delaware began offering free public education in 1829, it was reserved for the white population. Beniah Tharp was engaged to set up the districts, and his field notes have survived at the Delaware Archives. Tharp counted the households and allocated them to districts, each of which was to be served by a one-room school. No black households were counted, and neither were the Native American families.

Creation of a public school system led to a monopoly of literacy reserved for whites alone, while private schools were dissolved or absorbed. Academies in Dover, Camden, Newark, Middletown, and other towns became public schools with a strict color line. There was no longer employment for private teachers or for the less formal schools that might have been less racially exclusive.

Apprenticeship was traditionally a way to ensure that a son would be taught a trade as well as basic arithmetic and literacy. The exact terms of an apprenticeship indenture depended upon the child's parentage. When a poor orphan child was bound by court order, the master was nominally obliged to provide education. On the other hand, well-off parents often negotiated apprenticeships with education included for their children. Girls and black boys seldom were privately indentured with an education requirement. Eventually Delaware law allowed masters to pay their black apprentices a fee in lieu of education (Hancock 1974).

Clearly, even though Delaware did not have a law against educating nonwhites, there was an assumption that education would be rationed on a racial basis. The trustees of the poor of Kent County, before passage of the 1829 free school law, required eighteen months of education for male apprentices placed from the poorhouse, regardless of their race. Girls were to receive a year's schooling.

For whatever reason, the Cheswold community declined in status, wealth and literacy during the first half of the nineteenth century, as measured by signatures on official documents. Literacy is important for a family's short term and long term economic survival. Male literacy is vital in a business and legal environment, but female literacy ensures a family's future because mothers teach reading and writing to children when schools are not available (Murray 1996). Thus paternal illiteracy may limit a family's immediate prospects, but maternal literacy determines the next generation's prospects.

After the Civil War, Delaware reluctantly instituted free public education for nonwhites on the biracial model, which originally excluded the possibility of a third racial school system. Public education in Delaware for blacks began in 1868, over bitter white objections. A separate system for blacks emerged after a segregationist white element threatened to keep their children from school rather than attend classes with nonwhites (Hoffecker 1974:52-63).

A few "moor" or "Indian" schools eventually were established within the colored system, but only at the elementary level. Some went without education rather than attend segregated black schools; others moved away to less segregated states, or sent their children to schools in unsegregated jurisdictions (Heite and Heite 1985).

Circulation among communities

"Isolate" groups have not been isolated from one another. Circumstantial and anecdotal evidence, not yet verified by broad-scale research, points to a long interrelationship among the various groups over centuries. Some migrations can be traced in the documentary record (Deal 1988:299), connecting communities across the Delmarva Peninsula.

Members of the same lineages, settled in different areas, were known by different racial labels. Even inside the small state of Delaware, descendants of the same individuals might be categorized in several racial communities (Blakey 1988), depending upon their ancestors' perceived willingness to intermarry with white or black neighbors.

Recent researchers have tallied family names among the various isolate groups in the South (DeMarce 1992; Kennedy 1994), in attempts to roughly assess the amount of intermarriage among them. Since these surnames may be relatively common in the community at large, it is dangerous to identify them as evidence of interrelationship. However, they may serve as clues for future migration research. Nearly every work on racial isolates contains surname lists, which are useful for searching the genealogical literature. As the stigma of "inferior" racial status has waned, and concurrently Indian ethnic pride has increased, there has been considerable genealogical work directed toward identifying the Native American remnant groups.

Sussex County Nanticoke

On Indian River in Sussex County, Indian awareness has a longer history among a community closely related to the Cheswold group. Even though the original Nanticoke tribe of Sussex County is said to have emigrated to Pennsylvania and eventually to Canada after 1742, a remnant group claims to be a branch still in place on Nanticoke ancestral ground. These people are historically and genealogically identical to the Kent County remnant around Cheswold who choose to identify themselves as Lenape.

The Nanticoke during the seventeenth century were a powerful tribe, who received tribute from communities as far afield as Northampton County, Virginia. In times of unrest, they appear to have been a magnet for refugees and malcontents of all races from other parts of Delmarva and beyond.
Maryland colonial authorities established reservations in the present western Sussex County, Delaware, and nearby Dorchester County, Maryland. Nanticoke and Choptank people complained that these reservations did not actually protect them against encroachment from land seekers and wandering livestock. Eventually the friction became too great; seasonal subsistence migrations were not compatible with the more sedentary European ideas of land ownership and subsistence.

Frank Speck, an anthropologist who studied the Nanticoke in Delaware and Canada, concluded that in 1748, when the traditionalist members of the Nanticoke tribe supposedly emigrated, they left behind some of their people in Delaware. He identified the Sussex County remnant as an authentic Nanticoke community, even though their documented connection with today's Canadian Nanticoke tribe is tenuous (Cohen 1974:219). Only one family name [Street] is found both among the remnant groups in Delaware and the emigrant community.

In April 1762, Maryland officials reported that about 120 Indians still lived on reservations. These people, almost certainly Nanticokes, reportedly lived in good relations with their European-American neighbors, and no longer traded with other Indians. This is the first documentation to indicate that the people who stayed behind were merging into the larger population (Cissna 1986:209).

Their public identity as an Indian tribe was relatively recently revived; indeed, a member of today's Nanticoke chiefly family was the first to challenge in court their right to be identified as Indians.
In 1855, Levin Sockum sold powder and shot to his son-in-law Isaac Harmon, another "person of color." Sockum was charged with violating a law that forbade supplying firearms to Negroes and mulattoes. Harmon and Sockum both denied any Negro ancestry. The prosecuting attorney confirmed that the two men had no hint of Negro appearance (Fisher 1895, 1929). The charges may have been politically motivated, since the two men were the wealthiest members of their community, and among the largest landowners in the hundred. (Porter, ed., 1986: 154-156). Harmon left 700 acres when he died.

A relative of the two men, Lydia Clark, claimed to be the last full-blooded Nanticoke. She testified that Harmon's ancestor was an enslaved African who had married his white mistress. The half-breed offspring of this union, Lydia Clark testified, had intermarried with some of the remaining Nanticoke. As a result of her testimony, the "moor" and "Nanticoke" communities were subsequently identified as tri-racial (Berry 1963:135-138). After the damage was done, Lydia Clark is said to have admitted that she lied in return for payment from a jealous white neighbor whose store competed with Sockum's.

Judge George Purnell Fisher, who as a young lawyer prosecuted Harmon and Sockum, wrote an article titled "The So-Called Moors of Delaware," for a newspaper in 1895, which was reprinted by the Public Archives Commission in 1929. This article supported the Lydia Clark testimony of a tri-racial origin, even though he declared from his own observation that Harmon was "a young man, apparently about five and twenty years of age, of perfect Caucasian features, dark chestnut brown hair, rosy cheeks and hazel eyes; and by odds the handsomest man in the court room, and yet he was alleged to be a mulatto."

He also described Noke Norwood, an old man who had lived north of Lewes during the third decade of the nineteenth century, as "a dark copper-colored man, about six feet and a half in height, of splendid proportions, perfectly straight black hair (though at least 75 years old), black eyes and high cheek bones." According to Judge Fisher, Noke Norwood was held in high esteem by his community. He was also Lydia Clark's brother (Weslager 1943:35).

"Noke" Norwood may have been the same person as "Noble" Norwood, who is listed in the 1800 census of Indian River Hundred as having three "colored" in his household.

The Nanticoke descendants around Indian River Hundred, led by the Clark family, formed the present tribal corporation in 1921 (Weslager 1943:91).

Origins of Documented Sussex County Indian Families

During the seventeenth century, there were families in Delmarva identified as "colored" whose backgrounds and surnames appear to indicate Iberian cultural, if not racial, origins. Among these "Negro" families were people named Rodriggus (Driggus or Drighouse), Ferdinando, and Francisco (Sisco), as well as such non-Iberian names as Payne and Harmon. The possibly Portugese surnames have been interpreted to indicate a Dutch connection, since the Dutch were contending with the Portugese in Brazil and Angola. The name Francisco also was found in the "Negro" population of New Amsterdam (Breen and Innes 1980: 69).

Historians have never definitively established the origins of the families. Weslager (1943:74-78) traces the Hansor family to Aminidab (born 1688), son of Aminidab (born c.1664) and Rose Hansor. His will, dated 1717, mentions his brother Samuel and his daughters Ann and Mary. His aged parents were still living, and his father was his executor. William is presumed to be his son, but this presumption is based only upon later documents in which he is associated with Samuel.

In 1716, a William Handsor owned land in Indian River Hundred, and was listed as white, or at least not black. If this is the same William who later lived at Jolley's Neck, he could not have been the son of the younger Aminidab, who was only 29 in 1716.

The elder Aminidab Hansor is said by some sources to have been the illegitimate son of Mary Vincent (born c. 1650), an English girl of fourteen, and a servant called Aminidab "Haw" of Nandua Creek, Virginia (Deal 1993). Actually, they appear to have been unrelated. Mary and her husband John Oakey of Mulatto Hall (born c. 1640) had a son named John, born about 1669, and a daugther Mary, as well as a son named Aminidab Oakey.

Aminidab [Hanger or Hamsworth] the elder was a witness in 1685 to a power of attorney that was part of the conveyance of 775 acres called "Cheat" on Indian River to William Burton of Accomac County, Virginia. The Oakeys and the Handsors helped John Barker bring Burton's cattle from Virginia to the Sussex County Burton property in 1687, and testified at length when there were allegations of rustling (Horle 1991:433, 606-608). Mary Oakey was also a witness of the will of John Burton, who left a legacy to Aminidab Handsor. Descendants of the Oakeys and the Handsors were uniformly identified as "mulattoes" in the eighteenth-century church and civil records, and all the Indian remnant population in Delaware are descended from them.

Other "core" families appear in the Kent County record around the same time, about a generation after some of the same names first appear in Sussex County documents. Where origins can be traced, each original "core" family can be identified as coming from Sussex, or having close relatives there. Even in Sussex, less than a third of the community surnames appear in the court records before 1710 (Horle 1991).

Origins of the Cheswold Indian remnant Community

In spite of the official denials of Indian populations, a tight-knit community began to develop in Kent County during the first half of the nineteenth century. Because genetic background was not an issue, nobody bothered to identify these people by race, even though they obviously identified one another. Scharf's History of Delaware states that group members claimed that the Kent County community began about 1710, maintaining a separate society from the start. (Scharf 1888: 1124).

During the seventeenth century, landowning families named Butcher and Conselor (Gonsela, etc.) settled in Little Creek Hundred. In 1686 Adam Butcher recodred an earmark in Kent County, which indicates that he was farming and had livestock running on the common. In 1693, Thomas Conselor (Gonselah), already a resident of the county, occupied 120 acres on the north side of Little Creek, in Little Creek Neck. He died in 1720.

Francisco (Sisco) is the only surname among the early Kent County generations that was then associated in other contemporary documents with Native Americans. Specifically, the surname appears among the Nanticoke leadership when the tribe was living on the upper Susquehanna. The name appears in the Kent County community before 1739, already intermarried with Conselors and Butchers.

Daughters of the second Thomas Conselor married a Butcher and a Francisco. A third daughter had a son, named William, who became the chief beneficiary of the grandfather's will. This William Conselor probably was to become the grandfather of the Thomas Conselor who later lived at Bloomsbury.
When William Handsor moved to the neighborhood in 1735 he brought a Sussex County Indian connection. William Handsor left grown sons in Sussex. In Kent County, he was married at least once, possibly twice again. One wife was John Durham's sister. He patented Jolley's Neck, on Chance's Branch of St. Jones River, in 1737. When he died in 1768, he left effects that speak of a decidedly prosperous life, including a sword, a fiddle, shoemaker tools, and carpentry tools.

John Durham and William Handsor controlled some of the best farmland in the county. Most of their grandchildren were identified as mulattoes when racial designations began to appear regularly in the record. Some of John Durham's descendants, however, were identified as white, which has led some researchers to speculate that the Native American element entered his family through some of his children's marriages into the existing community of interrelated families who were, by implication, nonwhites.

Some families who later joined the community had primarily Native American ancestry. Members of the Puckham, Norwood, Ridgeway, Oakey, and Cambridge families, for example, from Sussex or from Eastern Shore Maryland, intermarried with the Kent County community during the antebellum period. The Sparksman family are identified in New Jersey as Indians. According to a tradition in the modern Morris family, members of the Owens family of Lenape Indians moved to Kent County from Delaware Water Gap.

Descendants of the eighteenth-century Kent County community are today generally acknowledged to be Indians, even though none were legally recognized as such until quite recently. Proving Indian ancestry is very different from merely "knowing" that one is Indian.

Archaeology can provide hints concerning the Indian strain, as demonstrated in the study of worked glass at Bloomsbury, but the key to legally acceptable documentation is genealogy. Other tribal groups have successfully documented their Indian origins to the satisfaction of public agencies. The Nansemonds, in Virginia, constructed a genealogy of the Bass family back to documented Indians in the seventeenth century that irrefutably proved their ancestry (Rountree 1990:267). On Delmarva, the task has been less simple because of the official silence during the eighteenth century. A few families, notably descendants of Nanticoke chief Tom Coursey, can construct a lineage that connects them with people who lived openly as Indians during the eighteenth century. Such lineages are rare and often questionable.

Indians from Delaware in Sea Protection papers

Indirect references to "Indian" origins are found in personal physical descriptions, including the narrative of Judge Fisher. A James Dean of Smyrna was described in an affadavit filed in 1853 as "of Indian descent" as part of the program of seamen's protective papers (Macdonald 1992). Other people with surnames found in the community were identified as Indians, or persons appearing to be Indians, in these papers .

Between 1790 and 1862, American seamen could protect themselves against British impressment by carrying protective papers issued by the federal government. These papers included physical descriptions. Betty Harrington Macdonald has abstracted Delaware entries (Macdonald 1992).

TABLE 2: Indians described in protective papers

Nathaniel Clark 1827 23 1804 Sussex Co. a colored man of
the Indian race
James Lord
James Hansor 1831 17 1814 Sussex Co.Indian complexion Cary Hansor
Elihu Ridgeway1846 281818Indian RiverIndian complexionWilliam Shorter
Benjamin Norwood 1853 30 1823 Indian River Indian complexion Capt W. H. Lingo
John Dean 1853 27 1826 Smyrna of Indian descent Capt W. H. Lingo
Eli Herman (Harmon?) 1853 24 1829 Indian River Indian complexion
Indian, black straight
hair (crew list)
George Brown
T. Robinson Hanzar 1858 19 1839 Indian River Indian complexion
Charles Dunning 1859 28 1831 Dagsboro Indian complexion
Stephen Morris 1860 21 1839 Lewes Indian complexion
Thomas Harmon 1860 28 1832 Sussex Co. Indian complexion

It is apparent from such documents that remaining Indians quietly merged into the surrounding populations, without raising a fuss. Only on rare occasions do we have information about the mechanics of their transition into the new economic and social system.

Some people, classified as "mulattoes," struggled to retain Indian identity after their ties to tribes had been cut. In 1747 and 1792, individuals named William Bass obtained certificates from Virginia courts to the effect that they were descended from whites and Indians, and not from Negroes (Rountree 1990: 160). The Bass who married into Kent County's Durham family soon thereafter made no such declaration and cannot be tied genealogically to William. As traditional Indians died off or moved away, their acculturated cousins tried to melt into the dominant Christian white culture without acquiring the perceived "taint" of African admixture. Instead of being called Indians, they called themselves "colored." Some fell off this racial-perception tightrope into the black population, but a surprising number kept their balance.

A Delaware law of 1740 (13 George II Chapter LXXIV) acknowledged that Indians were still present, since they were exempted from deer-hunting regulations. Implicit in the exemption was the proposition that an Indian was, among other characteristics, a non-Christian person who depended upon wild deer meat. A Christian farmer who kept livestock and ate beef and pork presumably could not be an Indian, regardless of ancestry.

In 1770, the Delaware legislature declared (MinutesÉ: 270), in response to a letter from other colonies about regulating Indian trade:

"ÉUpon which we beg Leave, to observe, that the Inhabitants of this Government have at present no Commerce or Intercourse whatsoever with the Indians, and from their Situation cannot expect to have any with them hereafter; É"

The official position, then, was that there were no Indians in or near the three Delaware counties by 1770. Two years earlier, the legislature had appropriated £16/6/1 to pay for accommodating "a Parcel of Indians." (MinutesÉ: 151) who were just visiting.

The 1770 communication reflects a further definition of an Indian, not only as a non-Christian person subsisting on wild meat, but as a person living in a "Situation" far from Delaware, on the frontier.
Settlement of the disputed boundary with Maryland in 1760 had brought into Sussex County areas where the last official Maryland Eastern Shore Indian towns had existed, but the Delaware legislature ignored any remaining Indians in the new territories.

Factors in Race Perception in Delaware

During the period when race designations became mandatory, late in the eighteenth century, many factors contributed to race perception, or to the lack of pejorative designation. Rich folks could be defined as white, or at least not called mulattoes, regardless of their appearance or ancestry. John, Charles, and Lydia Francisco are a case in point. They were well-off and literate. John Francisco was the son-in-law of John Durham the elder. Both appear in the 1782 census and assessment without racial designation. When John Francisco died in 1791, his movable estate was worth nearly a thousand pounds.

John's son Charles lived in a six-room house and left an inventory worth more than £700 when he died in 1800. John's daughter Esther called herself a "free woman of color" in her 1810 will. His sister Lydia left silver spoons and an indentured boy's time. These are all decidedly indicators of substantial middle-class economic status indistinguishable from their well-off white neighbors.

Other Francisco family members, who were not so well off, were treated as mulattoes and looked down upon. Another descendant of John Durham, who apparently was regarded as white, died and left a substantial estate. When his widow remarried a poor and illiterate Sisco, the person who had signed a bond for the estate administration was able to get his bond cancelled because the widow had married a "mulatto," who probably was a first cousin of her "white" first husband. County tax collectors, on the other hand, identified both husbands as negroes or mulatto. Elijah Conselor, another well-off member of the family, is listed in the 1800 census without "n" after his name, in a household of 11 free nonwhites.
These apparent contradictions provide a clue to the racial nature of the community at the end of the eighteenth century. The interrelated community consisted of lines with varying degrees of white and Indian lineage, and race perception was tempered by a certain deference to wealth and status.

TABLE 3: Race Perception among remnant communities

Year Name identified as source
1684 John Oakey mulatto? his patent to Mulatto Hall
1747 John Ridgway mulatto St. George Chapel baptism
1758 Daniel Norwood brown Indian muster roll
1758 Nathan Norwood brown muster roll
1758 James Westcote brown,
occupation "Indian"
muster roll
1760 Abraham Siscoe Nanticoke delegation to Pa Governor
1768 Bowen son
Nathan Norwood
mulatto St. George Chapel baptism
1771 Saunders & Mary Oakey mulatto St. George Chapel baptism
1773 Joseph & Ann Sammon mulatto St. George Chapel baptism
1782 Charles Francisco (Sisco) white state of Delaware census
1800 William Durham white Little Creek Hundred census
1806 John Francisco (Sisco) mulatto court petition
1810 Esther Francisco(Sisco) free woman of color self declared in her probate
1813 Thomas Consealor mulatto Benjamin Coombe accounts
1820s Noke Norwood copper-colored Judge Fisher's article
1827 Nathaniel Clark Colored man of
Indian race
Passport declaration
1831 James Hansor Indian complexion Passport declaration
1839 Jesse Dean colored man his will
1841 Daniel Coker free yellow man his deed to land
1853 John Dean of Indian descent Passport declaration
1892 John Sanders self-identified
as an Indian
newspaper interview
1895 Cornelius Hansor Indian or Moor Judge Fisher's article

Confused Race Terminology

Some recorders, notably the census taker in 1800, identified virtually every nonwhite as a Negro. The 1805 tax assessor was similarly inclined. Aside from Negro, the only nonwhite category available for listing in state records was "mulatto," which has evolved through several different meanings over time (Heite and Heite 1985: 18).

The ambiguous term "mulatto" is the most frequent term used to describe the people of the Indian remnant communities throughout the Middle Atlantic. While each colony had its own racial definititons, there was a certain consistency among them.

An exception was on a militia muster roll (McClughan 1858), where two members of the Norwood family are listed, one of them as an Indian, and another person's occupation was given as "Indian." A decade later, an "Indian" Norwood became a "mulatto" when his child was baptised at St. George's Chapel, the home church to many in the community. The "mulatto" label is consistently applied in the records of this church to the Indian community.

All free nonwhites were classified in the 1800 census as free persons of color, lumping blacks, mulattoes, Indians all together in a category that subsequent historians have erroneously chosen to lump together as "free blacks." The fallacy of interpreting entries labelled "mulatto" as synonymous with "African" has led to serious misperceptions among scholars, up to and including the present generation (Davidson 1991: 7), who have cited Indian examples to illustrate statements about free blacks.

In 1740, the Delaware legislature declared that "Éit is found by experience, that free Negroes and Mulattoes are idle and slothful, and often prove burthensome to the neighbourhood wherein they live, and are an evil example to slaves;É" (13 George II Chapter LXXVII).

A member of this community, Stephen Sparksman, otherwise described as a mulatto, was classified as a Negro by modern historians on the basis of his inclusion in the nonwhite census category and his identification as a mulatto (Grettler, Miller, Catts, Doms, Guttman, Iplenski, Hoseth, Hodny and Custer 1996: 104).

Another historian, laboring under the same misperception, counted the entries for free persons of color in the 1800-1850 census, and presumed that all were black. He then used these totals to derive statistics regarding freedom and slavery, and the relationship of free versus slave blacks (Bendler 1993). So universal is this misperception that it casts doubt on any compiled historical statistics dealing with race in Delaware, and any conclusions derived from such statisically derived reports.

In another recent report, a historian described a household as containing whites and African-Americans in the 1840 census, when in fact the entry described whites and free persons of color, without specifying the color. This misinterpretation masked not only the true ethnic nature of the mixed-race household but the racial dynamics of a family's evolving racial history (Andrzejewski 1995:75).

Discovering a Community

The Pumpkin Neck community around Bloomsbury can be characterized in terms of proximity, genealogy, and commercial relationships. The social and economic dimensions of the community are fairly clear and well documented. Essentially the Pumpkin Neck community structure was imposed by the white landowning class who decided everyone's place of residence and defined the economic structure within geographical boundaries. But the people who lived at the Bloomsbury site were not landowners.

The original objective of this exercise was to categorize John Sisco, Thomas Conselor, and Agness Sappington in terms of ethnicity, and then to place them within their own ethnic community. Conselor and Sisco were called "mulatto" in contemporary records, which then effectively meant "not-white-not-black" and nothing more. The first job was to trace their genealogies, to find their relatives. This done, a community could be inferred. Unfortunately, the eighteenth-century history of the community did not exist, even though many genealogists had traced lineages through it.

During the period studied, only one community member, John Lockerman, appears to have been regarded by his wife's relatives as a Negro, and he left no descendants. None of the group's legal documents were witnessed by blacks. While black admixture can never be denied, there is no evidence that it took place in Kent County's "Cheswold" community after the beginning of the eighteenth century. As Blakey (1988) has pointed out, other similar related communities, including some of those living in Milford Neck, have not followed this exclusionary practice so rigidly.

Institutional Continuity

After the seventeenth century, there is no record of an organized Native American body in Kent County. About 1850, Rev. Silas Murray of the Smyrna circuit of the Methodist Episcopal Church organized a class at duPont's Mills, with eleven members. Robert Carney, who is said to have come from Sussex County, was the class leader. From a slab shanty, the group moved to a log church and finally to a frame chapel, which opened in 1883 (Scharf 1888:1087). This church, known as Little Union or Fork Branch, still stands.

A short distance away, at Bishop's Corner, Sutton's Chapel was built about 1830. This church was regarded as "African," by white contemporaries, including the Beers Atlas of 1868. It was part of the "Delaware" conference of nonwhite churches established by Bishop Levi Scott in 1864 to serve congregations within mainstream Methodism who felt that they were treated as second-class citizens, but did not wish to join the black Methodist bodies. A new church was built in 1876 and renamed Manship in honor of a popular white bishop.

A congregation of Seventh-Day Adventists was later organized in the community, and some of its members moved to the Battle Creek area of Michigan, a center of that denomination.
Native American people were excluded from the free universal public school system established in 1829, even though all races had attended the previous, less universal, free schools (Hancock 1971:210). They eventually were able to establish public schools for their own people, separate from both blacks and whites. The 1921 school code recognized "moors" as separate group, without identifying them as Indians. With integration, such legal distinctions were wiped out.

Bloomsbury in this Context

Material culture from the Bloomsbury site suggests some of the downwardly-mobile forces that were acting upon the community around the end of the eighteenth century.

Decline of the community's status was documented by Louise Heite in her study of Fork Branch (Heite and Heite 1985: 16-23). During the middle years of the eighteenth century, the core families were prosperous and literate. The generation that died around 1800 included several well-off and literate individuals, who represent a high point in the community's history. By the time of the Civil War, their economic and social status had dropped significantly.

John Sisco and Thomas Conselor, the tenants at Bloomsbury, were sons of well-off farmers, who undoubtedly had been raised in middle-class surroundings at the beginning of the race-perception slide. Conselor enjoyed good store credit but was identified as "mulatto" in the merchant's accounts.
Stylish shell-edge pearlware plates were on the table, but only a few. Stylish shoes with pointed toes were mended at home, and there were a few silver spoons. The assemblage speaks of a family with a landowning background, reduced to farming the land of a wealthy family friend and patron. Ultimately, Thomas was evicted by the next generation of Francis Denney's heirs and moved to New Jersey where the racial climate was more benign.

Elsewhere, the second and third generation heirs of William Handsor and John Durham were losing their ancestral lands by subdivision and sale, without acquiring new property. When the free school act was implemented, they were denied public education, and were further marginalized as race codes became more strict on the heels of slave rebellion after 1830. The law that snared Levin Sockum and Isaac Harmon was only one of the racist regulations that lumped the "mulatto" Indians with the blacks.
Some voted with their feet against these laws, moving to New Jersey, Indiana, Ohio or Canada as well as to other parts of the north. Those who stayed would wait another century before the first glimmerings of public recognition separated them from the larger nonwhite community. Their perseverence through this period before they were "rediscovered" by twentieth-century anthropological researchers has never been publicly documented, but its results can be seen today in the form of a homogenous community in which the same families continue to live together and intermarry, although to a lesser extent than before.
Ironically, it was the end of legally-sanctioned segregation that caused the community to begin dispersing and losing definition. As housing, marriage, and employment opportunities expanded, externally imposed reasons to band together faded away. In response to a perceived loss of enforced community, descendants have organized corporate bodies with the avowed purpose of uniting into a recognized tribe.
On the Internet, a nationwide community of Mitsawokett descendants have been sharing genealogical notes, creating a body of documentation that crisscrosses the United States and Canada.