OUT OF ISLE OF WIGHT
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).
THE NORTH CAROLINA COASTAL PLAIN
“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 NORTH CAROLINA COASTAL PLAIN
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).
AFRICANS IN NORTH CAROLINA 1700-1790
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.
NORTH CAROLINA BORN AFRICAN AMERICAN THIRD GREAT GRANDPARENTS IN THE ALABAMA BLACKBELT
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. https://www.ncmuseumofhistory.org/workshop/nc-geography/introduction
(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 – https://www.ncpedia.org/boundaries-state.