“Carry me back” to the coastal plain

My homeplace is in the Alabama Blackbelt (1). According my DNA story, as told by Ancestry estimates, many of my African ancestors started the American leg of their journey on the coastal plain of North Carolina (that includes parts of Virginia and parts of South Carolina). I share a North Carolina connection with more than 1000 of my 23,000 matches on Ancestry (2). It is my intent to share this “interim report” and reading list with those matches who are interested in the journey.

I am interested in learning more about the experiences of my African ancestors in the English colonies and in the United States. Some of my DNA Cousins share this goal. In order to achieve this goal, I must learn more about the Europeans who enslaved them, including those Europeans who are also my ancestors.

I have, of course, studied Colonial Virginia. I have read books and articles and I have spent great days in Virginia’s historic triangle – http://www.history.org/foundation/historic_triangle.cfm?showSite=mobile-regular. While I have stood on Point Comfort, looked at the Atlantic, and contemplated what the voyage in the hold of a slave ship meant for my African ancestors, I have never looked at the history of Colonial Virginia from a personal perspective. Beyond Richmond, beyond Nat Turner, I have never focused on any location in Virginia that did not make it into the tourist attractions (3).

That is changing. Using data from DNA to help construct my “family tree,” I have followed one European ancestral line back to Colonial Virginia. The earliest English immigrant in the line that I am following arrived in Virginia in the 1630s. Being a descendant of these early arrivals in Virginia, who came from Scotland as well as England and Wales, helps to explain why I have so many DNA matches. It also explains why such a large proportion of these matches are connected to me through a specific line.

One estimate is that an immigrant to Colonial America who was born in 1650 had 67,108,864 descendants by 1980. https://www.wikitree.com/g2g/438140/how-many-descendants-does-a-pre-1700-ancestor-have-67-108-864. I will never know how many of my “distant cousins” are connected to my family tree and I am content with that. Calculating the estimated number of a descendants an ancestor is likely to have me to understand the difficulty of that task – https://oureverydaylife.com/estimate-number-descendants-8564835.html.

The components of the line I am studying came together in Isle of Wight County, Virginia https://archive.org/details/jstor-1916111/page/n0.

“Isle of Wight County was established in 1634. Much of its history can be traced because its records were not destroyed during the Civil War. Charged by the Clerk of Court to take the records into hiding, Randall Boothe, an African-American slave, took them by wagon to Greenville & Southampton. After the war he returned them, was freed, and asked to serve as Caretaker of the Courthouse.” https://www.virginia.org/listings/SuggestedItinerary/TheContributionofAfricanAmericansinSmithfieldIsleofWightCounty/

The lines from which I am descended moved from Isle of Wight County, Virginia to that part of Edgecombe County, North Carolina that became Halifax County. I know even less about Colonial North Carolina than I do about Colonial Virginia. I have started to read.

It was interesting to look at maps of the two states and see that it was a relatively short distance from Isle of Wight – https://goo.gl/images/vidhHj – to Edgecombe/Halifax – https://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/namerica/usstates/counties/nccountymap.htm.

It was even more interesting to read Boddie’s (1938) claim that the first permanent settlement in North Carolina was established by people from Isle of Wight County and Nansemond County, Virginia in 1660 or 1661. Boddie describes one of the early North Carolina settlements as including 27 families and 427 servants. I really want to learn more about the “servants.”

It appears that the primary line I am following moved to Edgecombe/Halifax after 1699. This suggests that by the time I had European ancestors born in Edgecombe/Halifax, the pathway from Isle of Wight was well worn. After I have studied the records of Isle of Wight County, Virginia and Edgecombe/Halifax, North Carolina, I will follow the migration of this line into Georgia and the Mississippi Territory.

The earliest African ancestored person with whom I am connected, thanks to my DNA COUSIN Angelis Robinson-Smith – https://angelissmith.com/ – is Clarissa, my third great grandmother, who was born in North Carolina about 1810.

Cousin Angelis tasked me with understanding how my ancestors traveled to Indian Ridge. I have now done enough reading to say with confidence that many of my African American ancestors walked from North Carolina to the Mississippi Territory. They traveled the “Slave Trail of Tears” https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/slavery-trail-of-tears-180956968/

Several questions about my African American ancestors’ journey from the east coast remain.

For how many, did the trip take place over generations and for how many did it occur over a few months?

How many traveled west from North Carolina to Georgia and then to the Mississippi Territory with white settler families and how many came in coffles?

I don’t know if I will find the answers to these questions in the documents that I plan to study. I do know that I will learn a great deal in the process (5).


Billings, W. M. (Ed.). (2007). The old dominion in the seventeenth century : a documentary history of virginia, 1606-1700. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.library.vcu.edu

Boddie, J. Seventeenth century Isle of Wight County, Virginia. (1938). Wilmette, Ill: Wilmette Press.

Kulikoff, A. (1988). Tobacco and slaves : the development of southern cultures in the chesapeake, 1680-1800. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.library.vcu.edu

Isaac, R. (1999). The transformation of virginia, 1740-1790. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.library.vcu.edu

Samford, P. (2011). Subfloor pits and the archaeology of slavery in colonial virginia. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.library.vcu.edu

Tise, L. E., & Crow, J. J. (2017). New voyages to Carolina: Reinterpreting North Carolina history.

McIlvenna, N. (2009). A very mutinous people: The struggle for North Carolina, 1660-1713

Butler, L. S., & Watson, A. D. (1984). North Carolina Experience: An Interpretive and Documentary History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina

Beale, G. Nathaniel Pope and his descendants. The William and Mary Quarterly 12(3) https://www.jstor.org/stable/40193541

Heath, O.A. The Popes of Northumberland County The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Jan., 1914), pp. 209-215 Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/

__. Pope Ancestry. The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Jan., 1916), pp. 194-198. Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1915129

__ Isle of Wight County Records.The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Apr., 1899), pp. 205-315. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1919740


(1) The Settling of Indian Ridge: Thinking – https://anncreightonzollar.com/2017/05/09/the-settling-of-indian-ridge-thinking/, The Old Federal Road in Alabama has been surveyed – https://anncreightonzollar.com/2018/03/22/the-old-federal-road-in-alabama-has-been-surveyed/, In 1814 We Took a Little Trip – https://anncreightonzollar.com/2018/04/19/in-1814-we-took-a-little-trip-down-the-alabama/.

(2) Soon after I started studying my family history, my DNA Cousin with expertise in this area used Gedmatch to estimate my Native American ancestry. She discovered that I shared slightly more than 5 cMs with the Lumbee reference group. The Lumbee are also associated with North Carolina. One of the surnames associated with the Lumbee is the surname of my maternal grandfather. The Lumbee are not important to my identity and I am definitely not interested in being a member of the tribe.

(3) This does not mean that my perspective on Colonial Virginia is romanticized. I know that around 1660, chattel racial slavery was codified in Colonial Virginia and Maryland through court decisions. When I visit Colonial Williamsburg, I think about the Founding Fathers who sat in a tavern and talked and wrote about the equality of all men while denying the humanity of my African ancestors. When I visit the battlefield at Yorktown, I think about how the hopes of Africans who fought with the Colonials in the war were betrayed.

(4) I have traced a second European line that entered South Carolina more than a century after those who entered Colonial Virginia and converged in Isle of Wight County. This line entered through Charleston, but before moving westward to the Mississippi Territory, settled in Kershaw County, South Carolina, which is on the coastal plain and closer to North Carolina than to Charleston.

(5) I can no longer afford my book habit. Each of these books was borrowed from a library. The early articles are in the JSTOR free online collection and/or the Internet Archive.


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  1. Pingback: INTO THE NORTH CAROLINA COASTAL PLAIN | Ann Creighton-Zollar, PhD, MHNE

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