Wednesday, July 07, 2010

By Any Other Name...

Hello, fellow genealogists. As an historian who has spent some time studying Native American culture and is currently involved in a research project on natives of Eastern North Carolina, I feel that I must caution everyone on the Indian use of surnames.

Indians of the colonial period were doing their best to cope with many European ways such as the use of alcohol, land ownership, legal rights, firearms, and just a general view of the world that was very alien to anything that Indians were used to. It is easy to assume that Indians behaved like Europeans, but I think you will find that it took a long time before that happened.

An evolving impression of Native American culture must begin with something very much like this excerpt from an introductory textbook on Anthropology:

"All societies regulate the allocation of land and other valuable resources. In nonindustrial societies, individual ownership of land is rare; generally land is controlled by kinship groups, such as the lineage or band. The band provides flexibility of land use, since the size of a band and its territories can be adjusted according to availability of resources in any particular place (Haviland, Prins, Walrath, and McBride, Essence of Anthropology, 2007, 221)."

Renowned Native American scholars, Theda Purdue and Christopher Arris Oakley have recently revised Purdue’s 1985 edition of Native Carolinians. In the 2010 edition, they propose similar anthropological ideas in the context of Native Americans:

"Europeans who came to North Carolina were part of a culture characterized by Christianity, constitutional monarchy, a commercial economy, patriarchal (or male-dominated) households, and considerable freedom for and emphasis upon the individual… Indians had little notion of monotheism, or belief in one god. Led rather than ruled, they governed themselves through open councils that arrived at decisions by consensus. Their religious and ethical systems condemned acquisitiveness and reinforced a subsistence-level economy in which people produced only enough for survival. Women had considerable power and influence within the family and, among some native peoples, within the tribe as a whole. Finally, while Carolina Indians had considerable personal freedom, the well-being of the community normally took precedence over the desires of the individual (Purdue and Oakley, Native Carolinians, 2010, 16)."

You can see that Indians simply thought differently than the European. Their families were matrilineal, meaning that the "surnames" or family identification would come from the line of your mother, and her mother, and so forth. Whereas, in European culture, it is patrilineal. I am a Brooks because my father was a Brooks. However, Red Eagle was of the Wind clan because his mother was Wind clan. He might have termed himself Red Eagle Wind, but that is a European pattern of name-taking in itself and is not consistent with Indian practice.

Indians took European surnames simply as a natural tendency of Indians to take names identified with powerful figures. In colonial times, to speak of an Indian "surname" as we might use one was simply ludicrous.

History shows us that King Sothel of the Bay/Bear River Indians only took that name because he respected Seth Sothel's authority as governor or "chief" of the Europeans in North Carolina. He probably did not pass this name to his children, but rather they took the family names of their mothers when they reached maturity. That was even different... Indians did not have a given name at birth but assumed one after their rite of passage at puberty.  Imagine that Phil wasn't called "Phil" until after his thirteenth birthday!

Other prominent Indian figures from history did likewise: King Tom Blunt of the Tuscarora took his name most likely from Captain Thomas Blount, a member of the Chowan vestry and assemblyman who had direct dealings with Indians during the killings of certain white men by Bay River Indians at the time of Henderson Walker's term as interim-governor at the turn of the 17th century.

Another such example would be William Elks of Hatteras who most likely took his name from Emanuel Elks or that family who lived in northern Currituck County, NC around that same time period, 1700-1730 or so. Understand that Emanuel Elks was a white man, William Elks was not. These Elks did break with Indian custom somewhat. The wife and daughter of William Elks, Mary & Elizabeth, used the name Elks as well... but the son-in-law, Thomas Elks took his wife's family name, Elks. Capt. Job Carr wrote to Gov. Arthur Dobbs about an Indian Elks claim to land on Cape Hatteras:

"I have made diligent inquiry as to the complaint of Thomas Elks Indian and I find the greatest part to be erroneous…the complaint of sundry persons that came and indeavor to disposess him and the rest of the indians which is a small number for there is but (faded) man beside himself and one small boy ... Thomas Elks [is not] intiteled to the royelty for he is but a son in law to the late King Elks desesed and part of the Maromosceat line of Indians for the true line of the Hatteras Indians are mostly dead. Job Carr"

Thomas Elks and two other Hatteras Indian males were left and had moved onward to the Lake Mattamuskeet area. That they might have used the Elks name once there is problematic because it simply was not their custom. European officials are the only ones who recorded any documents about the Indians and they were biased toward the patrilineal custom, referring to the male Indians only, not the females, and assuming that a male must sign a deed to make it legal when the Indians felt that only women had that authority.

It is possible that some females of the line left Hatteras as well (how would we know?), but the males would not transmit the name most likely. Elks all over the eastern North Carolina area are very likely NOT native... the Pitt County Elks have DNA-tested as European. Most of the rest will as well, I'm sure. I'm not saying that it's impossible, just very unlikely. The truth of the matter is that most of us are mutts of many varieties, with European, Native American, and African blood in the mix. Haplogroups will only show the male descent, however. So, if your father was European and your mother was the Indian, you will have a European haplogroup in your DNA test.

Rest assured, however... we all have a little of everything. But, saying that we descend from any particular Indian is nearly impossible to say definitively.

Yes, I targeted the Elks because of the great fervor in eastern North Carolina today over the "Elks line of Indians." I hope Elks families discover some Indian roots, I do. However, there won't be many of you from that line. More likely, you will find some of the clan that King Blunt and King Sothel came from... maybe King Hancock or "John Hoyter King of the Chowan Indyans."

After all, what's in a name?  If you asked a colonial Indian, his response would probably surprise you.

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