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.