Last month, I began a series of blogs on Native American ancestry in the Southern family tree. This blog will continue that series. Maybe I should start by explaining how I express my own Native ancestry. I’ve had my DNA done by several providers and appear to have between 2% and 8% Native ancestry (depending on the provider). While nearly all the stories I grew up hearing about Native people in my ancestry were on my mother’s side, in doing her DNA we found she had less than 2%. Which means most of mine came from my Dad’s side of the family. I was not raised in the lifeways of any Native people. I was raised as a white person in the American culture. While I am deeply interested in the Native cultures of all North and South American indigenous people, I am especially drawn to the Native peoples of the southeast, likely because that is where my Native ancestry probably comes from. With that in mind, let’s explore the theory that Barrow’s Ferry and the Yellow River Baptist Church were both founded by mixed-blood families.
Capt. Barrow’s Company, 2nd Seminole War
Let’s start with the assertions made by Nathan Chessher in his book, Creek by Blood. He hypothesizes as a statement of fact that the company formed by Captain Reuben N. Barrow, in service during the Second Seminole War from May 1837 to January 1838, was mostly mixed-blood men that fought in the War to contribute to their efforts to fit into American culture (my take on his words). I was also left with the sense that he implied that many of their wives were mixed-blood as well. As I mentioned above, I also had my Mom’s DNA done when I did mine. Mother is directly descended from three of these men, and indirectly (sibling or son of a direct ancestor) of nine others (including the Captain). They are all within four generations of her. Close enough that even if they were less than one-half Native American, it would likely appear in her autosomal DNA higher than less than 2%. The three she is related to come from both sides of her primary lines.
Now does that mean that none of these men were mixed-blood? No, it doesn’t. They could have been a very small percentage of Native ancestry themselves, which would have made fitting into the white culture easier but then we would need to ask if they were living as natives on a reservation at the time of the forced migration west or already living off the reservation. Regardless, to make that assertion other records must be checked for any reference to ethnicity. I did not read any indication of that in Nathan’s book.
So far, in doing research for my book on Oak Grove in Okaloosa County, Florida (where the majority of these men were living at enlistment) and my extensive work with the Yellow River Baptist Church records from the first 100 years of their existence, I’ve found no record that would support that hypothesis. Many of these men, or their parents, moved to the area from South Carolina or more frequently from south-central Georgia between 1810 and 1820. Many appear in earlier censuses and in land and tax records which indicates they were not living on reservations. A number of them stopped briefly in south Alabama, waiting for the United States to take possession of Florida as a territory and then moved into the upper Yellow River area. None of their records so far in Georgia, Alabama, or Florida from 1830 until they died indicate a clear connection to the Creek or Cherokee peoples in Georgia, Alabama or Florida. Certainly, more work needs to be done to exhaustively search records for some hint of Creek (or Cherokee, or any other southeastern tribe) ancestry but as genealogists we should not accept statements of fact not supported by anything other than a theory or supposition.
Was Yellow River Baptist Church Started by Mixed-Blood Native Peoples?
In researching both Barrow’s Ferry/Oak Grove and Yellow River Baptist Church, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time identifying the people involved in the settlement of the community and the founding and care of the church over the years. My research includes the 1824 Congressional Record citing land claims for West Florida and the territorial records, census records for the area, military records for as many as I can identify who served in the Seminole Wars, the Civil War, WWI and WWII, newspaper accounts for the area and birth, death, land and probate records.
The early censuses for the area, 1830-1840, would have listed anyone viewed or identifying as a Native person, and NOT living on a reservation as a “free person of color”. That might be through declaration of the person answering questions or observation by the census-taker. To quote the instructions for the census from 1790-1840 “…omitting in such enumeration Indians not taxed (meaning they were on a reservation), and distinguishing free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, from all others; distinguishing also the sexes and colours of free persons, and the free males of sixteen years and upwards from those under that age…” In the 1830 and 1840 census for the upper Yellow River area, I found 8 persons in the 1830 census defined as “free persons of color” all in the same household, that of Rachel Devereaux. There were 10 identified in the 1840 census, six in the household of Betsy Allen; one in the household of William Cawthorn; two in the household of George Free (one male, one female, same age range for both); and one in the household of Moses S. Leger.
The year 1840 was the year that Yellow River Baptist Church was founded by nine members of the community of Barrow’s Ferry. The membership list immediately after the formation of the church and before the end of the year 1840 included three women as members with the last name Devereaux. There were no members with the surname of Allen in the early records. Neither were there any with the surnames of Cawthorn or Leger. The church did have black members up to the end of the Civil War when most black families chose to start their own churches in the area. George Free was one of those members in the subsequent member list from the 1850s. The church did create separate lists for black members so we know that George Free was a free black (or maybe of mixed ancestry) man in 1840. His wife may have been black, native or a mixture but she doesn’t appear as a member of the church, which may mean she died between 1840 and the 1850 member list when George was listed.
In this post I’ve encouraged much better research to honestly draw a meaningful conclusion from both direct and indirect evidence of Native ancestry before floating that idea for ancestors, a community, or a community entity. I would certainly agree that it is anything but easy to do for southeastern Native ancestry. It is frustrating, difficult, and often disappointing. Our White ancestors either ignored or vilified their neighbors who were Native peoples and few records were left that are useful to those of us wishing to establish some documentation for the claim. But there are some out there and that’s what we will discuss next month. What records might be useful and how do we go about collecting indirect evidence that together with other evidence might help to prove the theory of our Native ancestry?
Until Next Time
- Cherokee Proud: A Guide for Tracing and Honoring Your Cherokee Ancestors, by Tony Mack McClure.
- Cherokee Roots, Vol. 1: Eastern Cherokee Rolls, by Bob Blankenship.
- The Northwest Florida Expeditions of Clarence Bloomfield Moore (Classics Southeast Archaeology), by Clarence Bloomfield Moore and Nancy Marie White.
- The Invention of the Creek Nation: 1670-1763 (Indians of the Southeast), by Steven C. Hahn.
- The Native American World Beyond Apalachee: West Florida and the Chattahoochee Valley (Florida Museum of Natural History: Ripley P. Bullen Series), by John H. Hann.
- Southeastern Indians Since the Removal Era, editor Walton L. Williams.
- George Galphin’s Intimate Empire: The Creek Indians, Family, and Colonialism in Early American (Indians and Southern History), by Bryan C. Rindfleisch.