Monday, December 26, 2011

Genealogical Records are Abused by Historians!

1780 George Clark Survey 342.75 acres Hatteras Island
Genealogical records take such abuse!  Amateur genealogists misquote and repeat them without checking sources; professional historians simply ignore them.  On the island of Hatteras, even history itself has been ignored.  Allegedly, a lack of available records exists.

Traditionally, this is true.  Records that are often explored by historians are diaries and documents that contain rich data concerning people, places, and events of significance.  

That word, "significance," carries a plethora of meanings.  What makes a subject significant?  For us at the Lost Colony Research Group, people are significant and their equally rich lives are detailed in genealogical sources like this George Clark survey from 1780.  This survey details a 342.75 acre plot of land on the tiny island of Hatteras on North Carolina's Outer Banks.  It not only shows a drawing of the land and lists landmarks by which to find boundaries, it also tells about Stephen Brooks, a mariner who lost a ship during the revolution and shipped goods for John Gray Blount of Washington, North Carolina.  Blount was a famous entrepreneur and statesman in the burgeoning mercantile state of North Carolina in the early United States.  He had partnerships such as the Shell Castle lightering operation at Ocracoke Inlet, owned land in western North Carolina and even Tennessee, served on the state legislature, and "shopped" in Philadelphia, Bermuda, and the West Indies.  He also held land on Hatteras in partnerships with men like "Governor" John Wallace who ran a porpoise oil processing refinery on Indian land on Hatteras Island in 1803. The oil was used to power the light station at Shell Castle, built by Henry Dearborn who built the Cape Hatteras lighthouse that same year. 

John Gray Blount
 Other names on this survey include Thomas Robb, a Jacobite rebel who was one of "104 Rebel prisoners shipped on board the 'Susannah' Capt. Thomas Bromhall Commander, in order to be transported to South Carolina"  according to British Treasury Warrants of March 1717.  Robb moved to North Carolina's Currituck County where he met the young daughter of Henry Davis, a European settler on Hatteras in 1716 who died in a land dispute in 1720 with Patrick Callahan.  Callahan lost his Hatteras property in that balmy August scuffle in which he killed Davis and "did beat cutt & bruise by giving and striking him two Mortall blows and cutts on the head with a certain weapon called a Cymeter or Cuttlash."  This comes from a standard historical source, "Minutes of the General Court of North Carolina," North Carolina Colonial Records, Vol. 2, pages 463-473.  

 Henry Davis is well known to LCRG researchers for the fact that his property on Hatteras rested next to the "Indian Town" that was probably found by John Lawson when he visited c1701 and described Indians with "gray eyes" who had ancestors who could "talk in a book," which started quite a legend on Hatteras as the final abode for many of Sir Walter Raleigh's "Lost" or "Abandoned Colony of Roanoke."  John Lawson wrote of his visit with these Hatteras Indians in his book, A New Voyage to Carolina, published in London, in 1709.  

William Quidley Will 1807
Who else was mentioned in this record?  The next name we find is that of William Quidley, "Pilot of Cape Hatteras," whose only daughter, Elizabeth married another pilot on Hatteras by the name of William Rolinson.  Quidley died in 1807.  This information came from two wills in Currituck County, genealogical records of enormous significance.  

Are we through with this survey yet?  Not exactly.  Place names like "Great ridge," details such as "old patten line" and a "switch hazel in Robb's corner" to a "forked murtle in a swamp" before running onto the boundary line of William Elks all help to identify particular places.  

William Elks is a special man.  In 1756, the colonial government responded to a dispute between Thomas Robb Jr. and Thomas Elks, a son-in-law of William Elks.  They have the same last name because that's the way Indians took surnames, from their wives' families.  So, when the Indian, Thomas married William Elks' daughter, he got the name Elks.  The dispute was over land.  The Indian Town was "incroaching" upon Robb's land and he filed suit. 

The government's decision in this dispute was to grant "William Elks and the Rest of the Hatteras Indians" a grant of 200 acres, later bordered by Robb, Clark, Quidley, and the former lands of Stephen Brooks.   Robb's grant was readjusted to accommodate William Elks, the Indian, and his family.  The land they gained contained land that they had formerly held under King Tom Elks.  This information comes partly from a land grant, “File No. 264, William Elks and the Rest of the Hatteras Indians” (March 7, 1759) in the Secretary of State's records in the North Carolina Archives.  It also comes from Job Carr's “Letter to Arthur Dobbs” (August 10, 1756).  

Portion of Job Carr letter to Gov. Arthur Dobbs in 1756
 So, what did we learn from genealogical records?  Quite a bit.  We mixed them with conventional records and certainly enriched the written history.  A public historian, Wilcomb Washburn, once stated that we could learn so much more by mixing artifacts with manuscripts in what he called "Manufacts."  Genealogical records are not exactly artifacts.  Still, that's the way that they are treated by many historians today.  If we take just one "manufact" survey such as George Clark's piece of property bordering on the Elks Indian grant on Hatteras Island and analyze it in detail, there's no wonder what we might find.  For instance, I did not know that I would find the Hatteras Indians visited by John Lawson, but there they were!

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