My ancestors who were early landowners in Isle of Wight County, Virginia account for a very large proportion of my 23K matches on Ancestry. Using the trees of these matches, I was able to identify books that mention and journal articles about these European ancestors.

I have poured over dusty fragile tomes and read journal articles so old that JSTOR offers them free. Unfortunately, these works from the 1930s and 1940s offer a “whitewashed” view of Colonial American history. If you did not already know that Africans were present, you would not learn that they were from reading these works. These works include “abstracts” of wills rather than complete listing of estates. I think that additional study requires a visit to the County Clerk’s office, which I am unable to make.

The County Clerk’s office has found records related to the enslaved unbound in boxes. These records have supposedly been digitized. However, I have not yet found records online that provide information on the enslaved prior to the late 1700s. The ancestors that I am able to follow moved from Isle of Wight County Virginia to North Carolina. They did not move far from the ocean. Therefore, I am switching my focus from the Tidewater and coastal plain of Colonial Virginia to the coastal plain of Colonial North Carolina (1).


“When King Charles II conveyed the Carolina grant by a charter to the eight Lords Proprietors in 1663, the Albemarle region had been settled for at least five years by planters, who had on their own initiative traversed the Dismal Swamp and created a backwoods frontier settlement patterned on tidewater Virginia” (Butler, 1998)


The European ancestors that I am following did not move from Isle of Wight County Virginia into the Albemarle region of the North Carolina Coastal plain before 1700. I am following a set of my fourth great grandparents who were born in Bertie, North Carolina around 1730 (2). They left North Carolina around 1790 (3). This means that my initial focus has both geographical and chronological limits: the North Carolina Coastal Plain between 1700 and 1790 (4).


It appears that there were relatively few Africans, enslaved or otherwise, in North Carolina during the 1600s. It has been estimated that in 1700 there were fewer than 500 African Americans in North Carolina. By the time of the 1790 census that number had grown to more than one hundred thousand slaves (Butler,1988).

I don’t know if I had ancestors among the estimated 500 in 1700. I believe that some of my unidentified African fourth great grandparents were in North Carolina by 1790. I believe this based on the fact that several of my African American third great grandparents were born in North Carolina.


I have identified an African American third great grandfather, Henderson Rivers, who was born in North Carolina about 1814. His wife Jane, one of my third great grandmothers, claimed in the 1880 census that she was born in North Carolina and so were her parents. On another line my African American third great grandmother, Clarissa Rodgers, was born in North Carolina about 1815.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Ancestry estimates connect me with the African American population of the North Carolina coastal plain (which includes parts of Virginia and South Carolina (5). I tend to believe, as in tentatively hypothesize, that it was on the North Carolina coastal plain that my European and African ancestors first encountered each other.

I have wondered if any of them traveled together into Clarke County, Alabama where most of my second great parents, my grandparents, my parents, and I were was born. Did my slaveholding ancestors and my enslaved ancestors travel together or separately.

The first chronological conundrum is clear. My European American fourth great grandparents left North Carolina around 1790 and my African American third great grandparents were not born until 1814-1815. If the enslaved traveled as part of a household migration, then it was with people who left after 1815.

I am fascinated by the fact that these three African American third great grandparents were born in North Carolina around the same time. I am learning some interesting things about the enslavement of Africans in North Carolina. The first thing I learned is that North Carolina had no natural harbors like Virginia and South Carolina did. So the enslaved were either brought up from South Carolina or down from Virginia or they were North Carolina born. I have a great deal more to learn.

Butler, L. S., & Watson, A. D. (1988). The North Carolina experience: An interpretive and documentary history. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

Kay, M. L. M., & Cary, L. L. (1995). Slavery in North Carolina, 1748-1775. University of North Carolina Press.

Powell, W. S. (1990). North Carolina through four centuries. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Crow, J. J., & North Carolina. (2001). The Black experience in revolutionary North Carolina. Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, N.C. Dept. of Cultural Resources.

(1) “The North Carolina Coastal Plain is bordered on the ocean side by its drowned partner, the submarine Continental Margin, and on the inland side by the fall line that separates the Coastal Plain from the Piedmont and Appalachian provinces.” Riggs, S.R. and Ames, D.V. NORTH CAROLINA’S “LAND OF WATER” COASTAL SYSTEM in Tise, L. E., & Crow, J. J. (2017). New voyages to Carolina: Reinterpreting North Carolina history. The University of North Carolina Press.

(2) You can locate Bertie on the map by looking in the northeast. It is just west of the Tidewater.

(3) They were not alone in leaving North Carolina. “North Carolina was the third most populous state in the Union in 1790, but by 1860 it had dropped to twelfth in population. Hundreds of thousands of White North Carolinians fled the state during those years, seeking cheap, fertile land in Tennessee, western Georgia, Indiana, Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi, and other trans-Allegheny states and territories. Thirty percent of North Carolina’s native-born population, amounting to more than four hundred thousand persons, was living outside of the state in 1860. NORTH CAROLINA MUSEUM OF HISTORY

(4) The North Carolina Museum of History offers an online geography workshop that I found very helpful.

(5) There is no overlap between the North Carolina coastal plain and Georgia. So the long lived border disputes between the two are not an issue in this discussion. They are interesting –


“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 – 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. 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 –

The components of the line I am studying came together in Isle of Wight County, Virginia

“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.”

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 – – to Edgecombe/Halifax –

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 – – 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”

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

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

Isaac, R. (1999). The transformation of virginia, 1740-1790. Retrieved from

Samford, P. (2011). Subfloor pits and the archaeology of slavery in colonial virginia. Retrieved from

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)

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

__. Pope Ancestry. The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Jan., 1916), pp. 194-198. Stable URL:

__ Isle of Wight County Records.The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Apr., 1899), pp. 205-315.


(1) The Settling of Indian Ridge: Thinking –, The Old Federal Road in Alabama has been surveyed –, In 1814 We Took a Little Trip –

(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.

Spring 2018 Alabama History Reading List

My homeplace is in Clarke County, Alabama. The specific location is known to residents as Indian Ridge. I was taken away from my homeplace at age seven. I became a refugee child in Chicago, Illinois. I have lived and been educated in three other states in which little was taught of the history of the Mississippi Territory or the part of that Territory which became Alabama.

In 2016 I decided to study my family history and to join a group working to construct a community wide genealogy. I eventually figured out that I could not work effectively without filling in some of the gaps in my historical knowledge. This is a partial record of the works that I have used to reduce the size of my historical knowledge deficit.

Clarke County, Alabama

Knowing nothing of the history of the county, I started with this work, which is now in the public domain and therefore freely available to anyone with an internet connection. It is more of a reference than a read.

BALL, T. H. (1882). A Glance into the Great South-East, or Clarke County, Alabama, and its surroundings, from 1540 to 1877. [With a map.]. Grove Hill, Ala.

My Assignment

The DNA cousin who leads our working group gave me the assignment of learning how “our ancestors” reached the location on which I was focusing. I found that assignment to be overwhelming, at least partially because as a professor of comparative family systems, I have issues with identifying “our kin” in a bilateral kinship system.

Therefore, I starting working on the narrower goal of discovering how my ancestors arrived on Indian Ridge. To date, I have only identified ancestors who were of African descent and enslaved and ancestors who were white slaveholding settlers. Therefore, I started with a focus on these two population groups. People with Native American ancestry or a history of descent from free people of color will need to consider different population subgroups.

The Internal Trade in Enslaved Africans and Forced Migration

There are a number of books that helped me to understand the general forced migration patterns of the internal slave trade from the eastern seaboard of the US into the Mississippi Territory.

Pargas, D. A. (2015). Slavery and forced migration in the antebellum South. New York, NY: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Baptist, E. E. (2014). The half has never been told: Slavery and the making of American capitalism, New York, NY: Basic Books.

Deyle, S. (2006). Carry me back: The domestic slave trade in American life. Oxford, U.K: Oxford University Press.

Some of the ancestors that I have successfully identified entered the area around the time of the Creek Civil War and the War of 1812. I have already focused on the importance of the Old Federal Road for those who came to my homeplace from or through Georgia.

Hudson, A. P. (2010). Creek paths and federal roads: Indians, settlers, and slaves and the making of the American South. Chapel Hill (C.: University of North Carolina Press.

My childhood fascination with a marker on Old Line Road led me to focus on Andrew Jackson’s line of March from Tennessee to the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson’s line of march demonstrates how those who followed him from Tennessee could have ended up in my homeplace.
Remini, the most widely known of his biographers, mentions that Jackson’s troops widened the roads through the mountains and that some of them were scouting Alabama lands for themselves. This is not the first time in history that “war roads” became settler roads.

The Rivers

One of the reasons that Jackson was so determined to take Alabama from the so called “Creeks” was the richness afforded by its rivers. The borders of my home county are formed by the Alabama river on the east and the Tombigbee on the west. My home place is to be found in the triangle formed by these two rivers before they merge to form the Mobile River. They are a reminder of what it means to be “sold down the river.”

Sledge, J. S. (2015). The Mobile River. Columbia, S.C.: University of Carolina Press.

Ward, R. (2010). The Tombigbee River steamboats: Rollodores, dead heads, and side-wheelers. Charleston, SC: History Press.

While some of my ancestors arrived in the area of my homeplace around the time of the Red Stick War (Creek Civil War) and the War of 1812, others did not arrive until It was possible to travel more easily “up the river” or after October 22, 1820.

October 22: The steamboat Harriet reaches Montgomery after ten days of travel from Mobile. This was the first successful attempt to navigate so far north on the Alabama River, and it opened river trade between Montgomery and Mobile.



Population of Ala

I have reason to believe that these figures represent an important undercount of the African American population The figures do not include those who lived in Alabama as runaways or maroons and they do not include those who lived among Native Americans.

The Maroons

It is possible for ships designed to sail the ocean to go up river, but in the case of the Mobile River, it makes much more sense to not do so. Some of the problems with trying to sail up this river were brought to my attention when I read Sylviane A. Diouf’s Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America.

Reading Dreams of Africa in Alabama is what brought Diouf’s work on marronage in the United States to my attention. This work forced me to wonder why there were few documented cases of long settled maroon communities in the swamps of Alabama. It also reminded me that the campaigns led by Andrew Jackson prevented the British from becoming a choice in the gulf borderlands the way they had in the Chesapeake.

Africans and Native Americans

From the expedition of Hernan de Soto until the present, the relationships between Native Americans and people of African descent in the Southeastern United States have been dynamic and complex. In order to increase my ability to understand that dynamic, I added works published in different time periods by those with diverse theoretical and philosophical orientations.

I added works that deal with the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, as well as Seminole Nations. These groups were once referred to by historians as the “Five Civilized Tribes.”
I think for me the largest “take a ways” were how the concept of slavery and the relationships with people of African descent changed in these groups over time. I know that enslaved Africans used wars among whites as opportunities to steal themselves. I have read about how some of them used this opportunity during the War of 1812.

I now have a better understanding of why my African descended ancestors who came late to the Mississippi Territory could not runaway from enslavement by whites to freedom among Native Americans. By 1860 even the Seminoles who lived in “Indian Country” were holding African descended people as slaves. It is a complex story beyond my current explanatory goals.

Doran, M.F. (1978) Negro Slaves of the Five Civilized Tribes. Annals of the American Association of Geographers , 68(3), 335-350.

Jeltz, W.F. (1978) The Relations of Negroes and Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians. The Journal of Negro History, 33( 1), 24-37.

Snyder, C. (2007). Conquered Enemies, Adopted Kin, and Owned People: The Creek Indians and Their Captives. The Journal of Southern History, 73( 2), 255-288.

Twyman, B. E. (2001). The Black Seminole legacy and North American politics, 1693-1845. Washington, D.C: Howard University Press.

Krauthamer, B. (2015). Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South. University of North Carolina Press.

Katz, W. L. (2012). Black Indians: A hidden heritage. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Miles, T. (2015). Ties that bind: The story of an Afro-Cherokee family in slavery and freedom. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Zellar, G. (2007). African Creeks: Estelvste and the Creek Nation. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Littlefield, D. F. (1979). Africans and Creeks: From the Colonial period to the Civil War. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

Wasserman, A. (2010). A people’s history of Florida, 1513-1876: How Africans, Seminoles, women, and lower class whites shaped the Sunshine State. Sarasota, Fla.: A. Wasserman.

Giddings, J. R. (1858). The exiles of Florida, or, The crimes committed by our government against the maroons, who fled from South Carolina, and other slave states, seeking protection under Spanish laws. Columbus, O: Follett, Foster and Co.

Belko, W. S. (2015). America’s hundred years’ war: U.S. expansion to the Gulf Coast and the fate of the Seminole, 1763-1858.

Guinn, J. (2005). Our land before we die: The proud story of the Seminole Negro. New York: J.P. Tarcher/Penguin.

Frontiers and Borderlands

I admit to becoming fascinated with historians defining and debating the concepts of “frontiers” and “borderlands.” I added a few books that allowed me to look at my homeplace from that perspective.
When I return to the study of Alabama history, I will start with modern text that reflects the changes in models of historiography since I was in school.

Dupre, D. S. (2018). Alabama’s frontiers and the rise of the Old South. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

For the time being, I am reading some science fiction and taking my historical study over into Mississippi.


Beyond Jackson: Enslaved African Americans Make Choices

Reading works about the War of 1812 as it played out in the Mississippi Territory did take me back to 1959-1960 middle school social studies in Chicago. Reading the works of Robert V. Remini, however, took me back to the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC). When Remini published the first volume of his three-volume biography of Andrew Jackson he was on the faculty of the history departments at UIC and I was a doctoral student in the UIC sociology department. I did not know of Remini and his research.

While I have always adopted a sociohistorical approach, I needed to prioritize the history of the 20th century over that of earlier centuries when selecting electives. Some of the history courses that remain important to me included the Forced Migration of Africans, the History of American Cities, and Black Chicago. (I also had to be very judicious about electives in anthropology and biology.)

If I had taken a course with Professor Remini, I would have been extremely frustrated by the fact that his coverage of the War of 1812 and the “Indian Wars” did not provide insight into the African American presence in the Old Southwest during this time.  In most of the books that I read on that war in the Mississippi Territory, race was treated as a binary variable. There were Native Americans or Indians (Jackson’s red skinned “children”) and European Americans or whites.

Some of these works did discuss men who were the products of Creek/white unions with a focus on the extent to which they wanted to adopt white ways of life or remain more traditionally Creek. These men were presented as playing important roles in the Creek Civil War (Red Stick War) which segued into the War of 1812 in this region.  People of African descent, when they were discussed at all, were usually nameless, faceless, slaves.

The Enslaved Had Options

I had read enough history to know that some enslaved African Americans had used the chaos of war to try and improve the quality of their lives. I selected for my reading list two recent works that provided more vivid presentations of African Americans during this time.

Smith, G. A. (2013). The slaves’ gamble: Choosing sides in the War of 1812. New York, NY: Algarve.

Taylor, A., & Pinchot, B. (2014). The internal enemy: Slavery and war in Virginia, 1772-1832. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.


The slaves’ gamble: Choosing sides in the War of 1812.

An undergraduate student asked Dr. Smith why some slaves fought with the Americans while others fought with the British during the War of 1812. He answers the question 15 years later in this book. One of the central themes of this book is that the enslaved had more options than the British or the Americans and that they made choices.

With the intent of gaining freedom for themselves and their kin the enslaved made the choice to fight with the Americans, the British, the Spanish, the Native Americans, or runaway and join maroon communities. Smith says that he set out to write a book about the War of 1812 and ended up with a book about freedom.

Smith highlights the choices made by individual people through a series of mini-biographies of African Americans who were military combatants during the War of 1812. Each of these people took a gamble when they made their choice. For some the wager resulted in the desired outcome. Others “crapped out.”

People who are interested in genealogy will find Smith’s methodology worth studying. For me he unravels the link from the Chesapeake to Canada, especially Halifax and Nova Scotia, and Bermuda, Jamaica, and other islands in the Caribbean

In addition to being an excellent researcher, Smith is also a great story teller.  I watched several of his presentations because even though he presents the same vignettes, some of his remarks vary based on the audience. I have chosen to highlight his lecture at the United States Naval Academy Museum, but I also provide a link to his presentation at the Fort Worth Library

Dr. Gene Smith Lecture at the USNA Museum


The internal enemy: Slavery and war in Virginia, 1772-1832

The slaves of Virginia are the “internal enemy” in the title of this Pulitzer Prize winning book. Dr. Alan Taylor tells the story of about 3,000 enslaved African Americans from the Chesapeake region who escaped slavery by fleeing to the British.  Some of them were resettled in Bermuda, Trinidad, and Nova Scotia.  Some enlisted in the British Navy and participated directly in waging war on the United States during the War of 1812.

Taylor sets the story in the context of the shifting nature of slavery after the American Revolution. He also highlights the sectional conflicts that were strengthened partially because of this war and how it shaped the future of slavery in the United States.

This book will have you thinking more deeply about the Star-Spangled Banner.



Diouf, S. A. (2016) Slavery’s Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons, New York, NY: NYU Press.

Sayers, D. (2014). A Desolate Place for a Defiant People: The Archaeology of Maroons, Indigenous Americans, and Enslaved Laborers in the Great Dismal Swamp. University Press of Florida.


Diouf presents the history of those who escaped slavery yet remained in the South, sometimes creating self sufficient communities in desolate areas. In this 10-minute interview with Eric Foner she explains how she came to write this book and provides her definition of the concept.

Watch “Book TV: Sylviane Diouf, “Slavery’s Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons”

While the historian Diouf has attempted to study marronage across the United States, Sayers, an archeologist, has focused on the Dismal Swamp. The Smithsonian provides an interesting article on the project  in what was once “.. a thriving refuge for runaways.”  For those with a deep interest in this topic the book presents the work in exacting detail.


To Be Continued