The Mattamuskeet Documents
A Study in Social History
By Patrick H. Garrow


The Mattamuskeet Descendants in the Nineteenth Century


The Mattamuskeet Descendants in the Nineteenth Century

The trend towards the loss of group identity that characterized the descendants of the Indians of Mattamuskeet during the eighteenth century intensified during the century that followed. There is no doubt that virtually all traces of the Indian identity of the Mattamuskeet descendants were lost during the nineteenth century. The available archival material offers a rather clear explanation for that loss of identity, and perhaps the events evident from the documents also explain a similar loss of identity by other groups during the same time period. Two primary factors for the identity loss emerge from a study of the documents. The initial, and perhaps most important factor, was the disintegration of the nuclear family among the descendants. The second factor was a product of the unstable times preceding the Civil War in North Carolina. This was the apprenticeship policy that sprang up in Hyde County from 1834-1865. That policy may have been an attempt by the white planters to neutralize the free nonwhite population.

As previously noted, the last major document concerning the Mattamuskeet descendants in the eighteenth century presented a rather uncertain future for the descendants as a group. Supportive documents for apprentice requests entered in the Hyde County Records in 1804 (see appendix 36) offer other evidence of the social situation at that time. These documents were submitted by Captains Stephen Fletcher and Little John Pugh in an attempt to convince the court that the apprenticeships they proposed were in the public interest. Captain Fletcher proposed taking Joshua Longtom as an apprentice, and pointed out that Joshua Longtom was the illegitimate son of Jenny Longtom and an unknown white father. He stated that Joshua Longtom, aged ten, was "going at random with out that control and nutrition So Essential to his own future good and that of the Community at large..." The supportive document stated that Jenny Longtom was an Indian. It is presumed that she was the Jane Longtom mentioned in the 1792 deed. The second supportive document, entered by Captain Little John Pugh, proposed the indenture of Jordan Longtom, aged 9. According to this document, Jordan and his brother, Price Longtom, were the illegitimate sons of an Indian woman named Mary Longtom and an unnamed black father. Mary Longtom was also listed on the 1792 deed, and may have been an indentured servant in her childhood. The supportive document declared that the father of the two boys did not consent to care for them, but desired that they be apprenticed. Joshua and Jordan Longtom were apprenticed to their respective masters in 1804, and were to be taught the trades of blacksmith and seaman. Two other Mattamuskeet descendants, Shadrach and Simpson Mackey, were bound to masters in that same year. Both were described as being illegitimate (see appendices 36 & 37).

The 1804 apprentice bonds and supportive documents confirmed the impressions created by the 1792 deed. It is quite obvious that the family groups recorded in the documents were female centered and unstable. The available documents indicate that the nuclear family had completely broken down by 1804, and that some Mattamuskeet descendants could not even provide minimal care for their children. Surnames during this period were passed on from the mother, and a considerable amount of miscegenation apparently took place. The Mattamuskeet descendants were not mentioned in the Hyde County Records for thirty-two years following the 1804 apprentice bonds. Individuals with Mattamuskeet surnames were occasionally mentioned in the Federal Census Records of the intervening years. None of the records after 1804 referred to individuals with Mattamuskeet surnames as Indians, but instead included them in the category "free persons of color." The Mattamuskeet descendants thus became part of a group that enjoyed a social status only slightly higher than slaves. Furthermore, the extant records of the early nineteenth century indicate that the Mattamuskeet descendants may have enjoyed low relative status within the "free persons of color" group.

The "free persons of color" in Hyde County were largely ignored in official county records until the last thirty years before the Civil War. They did not own land and, for the first time in the history of Hyde County, blacks and Indians were no longer being apprenticed because of their social status. The only apprentice bonds that appeared in the Hyde County records from 1804 to 1834 dealt with the apprenticeship of orphans. That situation changed dramatically during the 1830's. The last thirty years before the Civil War were marked by social upheavals created by a series of slave uprisings in the southern states, and the growth of the abolitionist movement in both the North and the South. The famous Nat Turner Rebellion took place in southern Virginia in 1831. A much less serious "slave uprising" took place in Hyde County in the same year (see appendix 38). The Hyde County "slave uprising" took the form of a slave assaulting a white man. This event appears to have been the act of a single slave. The situation was made more serious by the later reports of an outside agitator in the form of one Rev. Thompson, who visited Hyde County in 1834 (see appendix 38) and supposedly encouraged slaves to rebel against their masters. These were rather trivial events, but in the context of their times were fully sufficient to arouse the fear and indignation of the Hyde County slave holders. Furthermore, the North Carolina General Assembly had stripped the "free persons of color" of most of their rights by 1835 (Dial and Eliades, 1975, 39-41). The events that took place in Hyde County from 1834 to the Civil War must then be considered as products of their time and were in no measure unique to that county.

The "free persons of color" were apparently viewed as potential allies to the slaves in Hyde County during this period. Also, it was apparently becoming more difficult to acquire new slaves. The Hyde County Records do not contain a formal statement of the rationale for what followed, but the records contain ample evidence that the children of "free persons of color" were apprenticed en masse from 1834 to 1865. A total of one hundred and thirteen "free persons of color" were apprenticed in Hyde County during that time. This represented a significant proportion of the potentially available children of this category. The 1850 Federal Census indicates that there was a total of 256 "free-persons of color" in the county at that time. Two hundred and twenty-seven "free persons of color" were listed in Hyde County in the 1860 Federal Census. Most of the apprenticeships were drawn up from the mid 1840's to the mid 1850's (see figure 3). It is probable that well over half of the children of the "free persons of color" became apprentices during this period. These children were as a rule apprenticed at an early age, and remained apprentices until their twenty-first year (see figure 4). Most of the males apprenticed during this time were bound as farmers. The females were bound as seamstresses or house servants. Few of these children were taught specialized trades, and no provisions were made by their masters to teach them to read and write. The apprenticeship system, as implemented for the children of "free persons of color," offered the participants little in exchange for their labor.

Children with surnames attributable to the Mattamuskeet were well represented among the apprentice bonds of this period. Twelve persons with the surname of Longtom, and twelve with the Mackey surname were apprenticed (see appendices 40 and 41). Other families of probable Indian descent are also represented in the records. The Collins family was represented by apprentice bonds on ten different individuals. One member of the Elks family was apprenticed. The Barber family, which had at least partial Indian descent, was represented by eleven individuals, and the Chance family was represented by a single bond. It is probable that other "free persons of color" families were descended from Indians, but no level of proof exists to prove that supposition.

The results of the apprenticeship policy were simple and direct. The Longtom family rapidly declined in number, and according to the 1870 Federal Census had totally disappeared from Hyde County by that year. There is no hint in the Hyde County Records concerning their fate, and as yet, no data has been developed from other sources to explain their demise. It is probable that the Longtoms left Hyde County during this period, but it is certainly possible that this family lost its members to other causes. The Mackey family became dispersed over a wide area of the county. By 1870 the Federal Census indicates that there were Mackeys living in Currituck Township in southwest Hyde County, as well as Fairfield Township on the western side of Lake Mattamuskeet (see appendix 44).

A more insidious result of this apprenticeship policy was the loss of Indian identity. Since many of the children of the Mattamuskeet descendants had been removed from their homes and families at a young age and placed under the care of whites, there was little opportunity for the older generation to pass on whatever elements remained of their Indian heritage.

There was little to distinguish the former "free persons of color" and the newly emancipated blacks in Hyde County following the Civil War. Although a few of the former "free persons of color" of Hyde County had received specialized training for skilled professions, most had not been taught professions that placed them in a position to successfully compete with the former slaves. Former slaves had been trained as farmers practically from birth. Their former masters were more likely to utilize them as tenant farmers because of that training and possibly because of a paternalistic interest in their welfare. The former "free persons of color" were thus placed in a disadvantageous position. They were, as a group, both illiterate and propertyless.

All of the "free persons of color" had been classified as mulattos in the 1850 Federal Census, but were distinguished as blacks or mulattos in the following census. Marriages between "free persons of color" and slaves had been prohibited by North Carolina statutes well before the Civil War, but the "Unlawful Negro Marriages" file in the Hyde County Records (see Appendix 39 for an example) indicates that mixture between the two groups was indeed taking place during this period. A study of the marriage records of the Mackey family of Hyde County points out that mixture between those Mattamuskeet descendants and blacks increased tremendously following the Civil War. A family of black Mackeys moved to Hyde County from South Carolina following the Civil War (Hyde County Marriage Records and Personal Interviews with Napoleon Mackey and Janey B. Mackey). This represented the first instance in which a family with the surname of Mackey who were not Mattamuskeets had resided in Hyde County. Their presence obscured the relationship of the contemporary Mackeys with the Mattamuskeets of that surname. These relationships were further obscured by the fact that the two Mackey families intermarried rather freely (Hyde County Records, Marriage Bonds). The same course of events took place in regards to the other families in Hyde County who were of at least partial Indian descent, and culminated in a complete loss of any Indian identity among most of those families.

One family of Mackeys has retained firm knowledge of their partial Indian descent, although they have no awareness of the group identity of their Indian ancestors. The contemporary spokesman for this family is Napoleon "Poley" Mackey who resides in Fairfield, North Carolina. Napoleon Mackey traces his Indian descent to his great-grandfather, Benjamin Mackey, who was supposedly a "pure-blooded" Indian. The Hyde County Records do offer data concerning Benjamin Mackey and his household in the nineteenth century. Benjamin Mackey was born, presumably in Hyde County, between 1825 and 1830 (See appendices 43 and 44). He married Mary Jane Barber of Hyde County in 1853 (Hyde County Marriage Records). Mary Jane Barber was apparently the daughter of Bartie and Morena Barber (Federal Census, 1850) and was about fifteen years old at the time of her marriage. Miss Dessie Barber, granddaughter of Benjamin and Mary Jane Mackey, has stated that Mary Jane Mackey's mother was white, but this was not indicated in the available records (Miss Dessie Barber, 1975). Benjamin and Mary Jane Mackey had two sons and three daughters aged one to seven years by 1860 (Federal Census, 1"0'60), but the 1870 census listed only two daughters remaining in the household (Federal Census, 1870). Napoleon Mackey's grandmother was Clarissa Mackey and his grandfather was Washington Hearse. Nothing could be determined from the Hyde County Records concerning Washington Hearse. Napoleon Mackey's parents were Benjamin J. Mackey and Laura Lu Mackey. Laura Lu Mackey was the daughter of Henry Barber and Hettie Mackey (Hyde County Marriage Records). Napoleon Mackey married Geneva Burrus in 1921. His wife apparently has no claim to Indian ancestry. Napoleon Mackey, when interviewed in 1975, asserted his knowledge of his Indian ancestry, and named several other Hyde County families which he believed could also claim at least partial Indian descent. Prominant among those were the Collins, Barber, Chance, Clayton and Bryant families (Napoleon Mackey 1975).

It is significant that Benjamin Mackey passed on some knowledge of his Indian ancestry to his descendants. Benjamin Mackey was never apprenticed, and was apparently able to go through a type of enculturation denied to many of his relatives. Benjamin Mackey's work history apparently varied little from the other Indian descendants. Benjamin Mackey began his work career as a laborer, and worked as a logger in the swamps around Fairfield, North Carolina. Later he became a tenant farmer, and worked land near Fairfield that belonged to a Mr. Carter. He died around the turn of the century (Mackey 1975).

It may already be too late to gather much in the way of oral history from the Mattamuskeet descendants. The trend among those families since the Civil War towards increased mixture with black families, as well as the apprenticeship policy in the early nineteenth century has effectively destroyed all but a very dim awareness of their "Indianess." It is unfortunate that Frank Speck did not visit Hyde County when he came to North Carolina in search of descendants of the Machapunga Indians in 1916. His search took him instead to Roanoke Island in Dare County where he reported the existence of four families which claimed Indian descent. The surnames mentioned by Speck were Pugh, Daniels, Berry, and Wescott. Speck claimed that the individuals he met traced their ancestry to Israel Pierce, who had lived near the Pungo River west of Lake Mattamuskeet in Hyde County. Speck further remarked that no vestige of their Indian culture remained, and that they did not know to what tribe their ancestors had belonged (Speck 1916, 272). Speck did assert that those individuals were descendants of the Machapunga tribe, but offered no proof to substantiate his claim (Speck 1916, 272).


The history of the Mattamuskeets and their descendants may be typical of small fragmented triracial groups in other areas of the eastern United States. The Mattamuskeets lost their land very early. The key to that loss evidently was a combination of small group size and lack of adequate leadership. These factors were probably compounded by pressure from white settlers, and the ready market for land that those settlers provided.

The population of the Mattamuskeets was augmented by the addition of a few of the surviving Indians from Hatteras and Roanoke Island in the mid-eighteenth century, but the group that resulted lacked cohesiveness and property.

The Mattamuskeets and their descendants were not represented in the Hyde County Records during period in which they owned little or nothing of value that was desirable to the whites. The Indians of Hyde County never held public office and were not even represented on the tax lists. Therefore, little was preserved in the records concerning the Indians from the time they sold their reservation in 1761 until they sold it again in 1792. It is quite evident from the available material that the Hyde County Indians declined in both population and social cohesiveness during the second half of the eighteenth century. It is unlikely that much of their original Indian culture survived to 1800. There is ample evidence that this trend continued into the nineteenth century, and was accelerated through mixture with both whites and blacks. The Mattamuskeet descendants were not referred to as Indians after 1804, and were generally grouped with the free blacks in Hyde County under the title of "free persons of color."

The policy of mass apprenticeships of the children of "free persons of color" in Hyde County from 1834 to 1865 undoubtedly destroyed what vestiges of Indian culture remained among the Mattamuskeet descendants. This effect culminated in the almost total lack of Indian identity evidenced by the contemporary Mattamuskeet descendants in Hyde County.

Indians in the eastern United States who have retained their identity as Indians had histories that were significantly different from the Mattamuskeet descendants. The Pamunkey and Mattaponi of Virginia, as examples, both retained at least portions of their reservations and much higher populations than the Mattamuskeets (see Garrow 1974). Other groups, such as the Lumbees of Robeson County, North Carolina, although lacking knowledge of their origins, retained well developed knowledge of their Indian ancestry. The Lumbees never had a reservation, but do have a very large population (see Dial and Eliades 1975 for a good account of the Lumbees and their history).

The major methodological hypothesis presented in this paper has been proven for the Mattamuskeet example. It was obviously possible in the case of the Mattamuskeet to begin with an historically documented group, research county records, and eventually identify contemporary descendants where none were previously known. The general applicability of this methodology remains untested. Future research projects of this type will have to be done on other North Carolina groups to determine whether or not this technique can be projected beyond the boundaries of the Mattamuskeet.

The working hypothesis that it is possible to extract particular social data from documents that were not designed to reflect that data could not be adequately tested in this paper. Supportive evidence from archaeological research must be developed in order to validate that hypothesis for the Mattamuskeet example. Well planned and implemented archaeological research could certainly provide insights into the settlement pattern, population, social change, and perhaps even the kinship patterns of the Mattamuskeet. Hopefully this paper will provide the needed impetus for that archaeological research.

Copyright 2001
Carolina Algonkian Project