A great new resource, an awful story about one of my direct ancestors

Gerald Thomas has authored several works in print and online that I have praised in previous blog entries. Now he has posted a thorough history of the Tuscarora reservation in Bertie County. I recommend it to anyone interested in Native American history of North Carolina. Having known of no ancestral connections to that part of Bertie County, I was shocked to find a direct ancestor, Luke Mizell, in quite a villainous role:

Altercations between Tuscarora Indians and white inhabitants residing near the Moratock reservation routinely transpired. Luke Mizell, Indian commissioner, in the spring of 1722 assaulted a member of King Blount’s tribe near Quitsna Swamp. According to an account of the incident, Mizell and two other men were in the woods near the swamp when they heard a gunshot. All three headed in the direction of the gunfire and came upon a Tuscarora Indian who had just killed a deer and was reloading his firearm. Mizell “bid” the Indian to go hunt on the other side of the swamp. The Indian’s responding with “some answer” prompted Mizell to snatch away the Indian’s gun and, using it as a club, strike him in the head. Mizell’s dog, agitated by the affray, came at the Indian and bit him on the leg. On June 14, 1722, Mizell was brought before the governor’s council, which, in hearing the complaint submitted by the Indian, ordered a constable to hold Mizell in custody and transport him to King Blount’s town on Tuesday, June 16, where John Lovick, Thomas Pollock, and Robert West (members of the governor’s council) were to examine the Indian’s complaint and render a judgment. No account of the proceedings of June 16, 1722, seems to have survived. Incidentally, Robert West was subsequently appointed as a Tuscarora Indian commissioner.21

Here is a link to the full paper which was presented at the Tuscarora Tricentennial conference in Windsor early this month:


“Genetic Communities” shows 95% confidence re Early Settlers of Eastern NC

Ancestry.com debuted a new feature this year, and my results indicate that their confidence levels are very conservative. With 3 of 4 grandparents with roots in northeast NC it was no surprise to see a 95% certainty of my connection (649 matches out of 79000 members of this “genetic community”) to Early Settlers of Eastern North Carolina. I was surprised that my one northern grandparent caused a mere 20% confidence that I belong to the Early New England and Eastern Great Lakes genetic community, even though there were 140 matches.

Surnames of Mixed Communities on the NC/VA border

In preparation for an upcoming brief talk on the subject, I have made this list showing seven prominent surnames in each of seven groups in northernmost NC and southernmost VA, for comparison with seven prominent surnames among Melungeons. Surnames that appear in more than one list are italicized. Listed in order of italicized names, with Melungeons, Winton Triangle, and Pell Mellers tied at four each that are shared with at least one other group.


Hancock County Melungeons: Bolling, Bunch, Collins, Denham, Gibson, Goins, Mullins
Bertie County Pell Mell: Bass, Bunch, Butler, Cobb, Collins, Mitchell, Pritchard
Hertford County Winton Triangle: Archer, Collins, James, Jones, Mitchell, Robbins, Wiggins


Greensville County VA Portuguese: Dungee, Guy, Heathcock, Jeffries, Jones, Pompey, Stewart


Rockingham County Goinstown: Gibson, Goins, Harris, Moore, Riddle, Ridley, Rickman
Northampton County Portuguese: Bass, Conwell, Jeffries, Newsoms, Peters, Poythress, Scott, Turner


Bertie County Indian Woods: Allen, Bazemore, Bond, Cooper, Rascoe, Smallwood, Wiggins
Person County Sappony: Coleman, Epps, Johnson, Martin, Shepherd, Stewart, Talley

New Evidence of the Lost Colony in Bertie County

While writing Pell Mellers ten years ago, I learned that local folklore included traditions that the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island had relocated to Bertie County. Later, meeting Arwin Smallwood and learning of his Tuscarora research, I found that a tradition of this kind was preserved in the lore of that tribe, now relocated to upstate New York.

The first wave of news that a site near the western shore of Albemarle Sound was being investigated thanks to evidence in an old map came out four years ago. This summer, the Virginian Pilot gave an updated report on all the pieces of physical evidence that had been discovered and cataloged. Excerpt:

Archaeologists have excavated 850 square feet of the tract in question and found dozens of artifacts including bale seals used to verify cloth quality; 16th-century nails; firing pans from snaphaunce guns of the day; aglets used to form tips on shirt lace strings; tenterhooks used to stretch hides; pieces of pottery jars for storing dried and salted fish; and bowl pieces like those found in Jamestown.

2015 a record year for citations in books

Since 1997 there has not been a year in which fewer than nine new books have cited my research. Here is a bar graph showing that 2015, with 16 such citations, is the most encouraging yet:


Another encouraging sign is that The Masters Revealed is back in print from State University of New York Press after a couple of years out of print; it accounts for the great majority of scholarly and popular authors’ citations.

Dna.land and Ambiguity

Having just learned of a new admixture calculator through discussions at Melungeons and Friends, the largest Facebook group devoted to such conversations, I hastened to submit my DNA data to see how it compared to the four major companies’ estimates and the seven offered for free on GEDMATCH.  Here is the result:


Several things about this admixture estimate are interesting as contrasts and comparisons to previous ones. The European percentage in all of them is more than 98%, but the breakdown of the European is all over the map. The high Italian percentage calculated by dna.land echoes the high number of population matches in Italy found by DNA Tribes years ago. But while many other admixture models find substantial amounts of Mediterranean ancestry, WHICH Mediterranean countries are cited ranges from Iberia and North Africa to the Middle East, with no consistency. As for the non-European aspect, I had already concluded it was ambiguous, with different tests yielding all subSaharan African and none, a high amount of South Asian and none, and small amounts of Native American and none. At least dna.land is honest in telling me the evidence is ambiguous, whereas all the other results collectively tell me so but none of them individually has said so– until now.

23andMe Finds 1st-3rd Cousins

Long ago I noticed the “map view” with “clustering” on and off settings that is an option for Relative Finder at 23andMe. Here is the latest update without clustering, each match as a single purple marker, with a geographical breakdown of locations:

Screenshot 2016-03-15 at 5.16.01 PM

This is interesting about the broad geographical range of the hundreds of matches, and suggestive about migration patterns of the last three centuries.  But I just noticed the option to narrow the map down to matches so close as to measure as 3rd cousins or closer.  This brought the total down to 17 from 590, and the map was much more specific geographically.   Here we find a very impressive reliability for autosomal matching. There can be no question about which county was home to more of my 19th century ancestors than any other when you see this map. Three outliers in Connecticut, Texas, and Tennessee were cropped out to focus on main cluster. The blue circle of nine close matches is over Bertie County.

Screenshot 2016-03-15 at 4.58.37 PM

In Search of Lost Communities



“I loved this book” is a feeling often expressed or implied in my blog entries, but normally it is the words of a text that I loved, and not the physical form. Lost Communities of Virginia is extraordinary for the combination of photographs and text and the beauty of the pages and cover. The book is the product of the Virginia Tech Community Design Assistance Center project to identify and tell the stories of vanishing Virginia communities.  The 30 profiled in the book’s chapters were among 2600 surveyed for the project which is ongoing.

Southside Virginia memories

Three of the communities were extremely familiar to me from living along the North Carolina line:  Branchville, Boydton, and Almagro.  Branchville, population 117, a railroad town in Southampton County only two miles from Boykins where I lived in the late 1980s, is near the Meherrin River where I first began canoeing thirty years ago; I drove through it to work daily when a library director in Lawrenceville.  Very little is left of Branchville other than empty buildings, but Boydton, population 431, in Mecklenburg County is much more intact.  As a county seat with government buildings in good repair and many well kept historic homes; what Boydton has lost is its role as a commercial center.  As South Hill, Clarksville, and Chase City all outgrew the county seat in size, businesses were lost to Boydton.  Living in Danville for ten years, I thought of Almagro as a run down neighborhood of the city, and drove through it almost daily without recognizing that it was once a distinct community of its own with self-sufficient African American businesses.  With all these “familiar” places, Lost Communities of Virginia was a revelation allowing me to see them as they were in their heyday and appreciate all that had been lost.

Appalachian explorations

The book inspired me to drive to several communities featured in other chapters, nearer my present home in Martinsville.  Three were recently explored in an early fall trip to Giles County (via Montgomery): Newport, Eggleston, and Riner.  Newport is memorable for its architectural beauty, while Eggleston’s natural setting in view of majestic palisades along the New River is awe-inspiring. Riner is noteworthy for the utter “lostness” of its old main street that is surrounded by modern suburban development spilling over from Christiansburg. On a trip last weekend to Tennessee, I visited Mendota en route and Mouth of Wilson on the way back.  Mendota is breathtakingly beautiful in its mountain valley setting, and its homes and community are very well preserved, whereas Mouth of Wilson has crumbled almost into nonexistence; the book explains that a widening of the road US 58 would wipe out what little is left of its former glory.

The Lost Town of Cashy

Three lost communities of North Carolina featured in Pell Mellers and my chapter of Carolina Genesis , and the lure of nostalgia drew me back there for many visits.  My mother’s family memories reside in  the 19th century farm community Okisko and the 18th century port Nixonton, a few miles apart in Pasquotank County.  Both would be prime candidates for a Lost Communities of North Carolina project, still surviving as residential areas but long since having lost their former business or government buildings.  In Bertie County where my Johnsons lived in the 18th and 19th centuries,  the former county seat “Old Cashy” left only scattered remnants after the seat of government was removed downstream on the Cashie River to its present site of Windsor, then called Gray’s Landing.  The most heartfelt homecomings of my genealogical pilgrimage were those exploring the land along both sides of Will’s Quarter Swamp above its confluence with the Cashie River, where these Johnsons resided since the mid-18th century.  Harry Louis Thompson wrote an excellent brief article about the Lost Town of Cashy in 1961 which is available on the web in full. It summarizes the findings later published in his book with the same topic. This excerpt captures the evanescence of the town:

As far as towns go, Cashy might qualify as one of our present cross- road communities. One major difference existed; however, the bulk of the land on which the town loosely sprawled belonged to one man-James Castellaw. The road into the town area has been referred to as the “Eden House-Murfreesboro Post Road,” and we know that for years the mail traveled by horse back from the Edenton Ferrys to the Court House and on to Hertford and Northampton counties.  As early as 1748, both Cashie and Will’s Quarter were bridged, and represented the first bridges vessels approached as they came up Cashie. Thus, it is only natural that a trading and business area developed there…“Cashy Bridge” was a floating bridge of Cypress sills and plank, with posts and rails. It was chained to trees on each bank to prevent its drifting down river. Across the bridge lay Bertie Court House. The Court, Prison, and Stocks lay on the peninsula formed by Cashie and Will’s Quarter Swamp, facing the fork of the main road as it turned each way to the two bridges. The grounds, as previously shown, were laid on with rail fences, and included a whipping post and stocks.

At Will’s Quarter Bridge to the Swamp side lay Castellaw’s Mill Pond, started prior to 1748 under an act of the Colonial Legislature of 1715. These mills were of such importance and such scarcity that the act made mill sites public property upon which any man might put a water mill if the landowner did not do so. We can presume that in its original state the mill processed meal and flour; but it couldn’t have been many years before a sawmill also existed there, as we find evidence of sawed timber as early as 1800 from the pond.

I am forever grateful to Harry Louis Thompson for his kindness and generosity to me as I worked on Pell Mellers, and more so for his benevolence to Bertie County and Johnsons in particular.  He safeguarded the Johnson family cemetery when the surrounding land was sold to a timber company, and he preserved the site of the old Hoggard’s Mill, where I kayaked in the millpond, with a covered bridge across Will’s Quarter Swamp just above its confluence with the Cashie.  This is an satellite view of the Hawkins-Johnson cemetery, surrounded by planted pines in a tree farm, with Wills Quarter Swamp to the lower right.

johnson cemetery

Newman’s Ridge

But in none of these places have I had the same sense of “lostness” of a community and yet the same overwhelming feeling of the presence of its past that I felt while hiking along the top of Newman’s Ridge with Toby Gibson recently in Hancock County, Tennessee. After decades of pursuing wild and remote corners of Virginia and North Carolina, I confess that east Tennessee outdoes either state in wildness and remoteness. (So does West Virginia.)  Toby’s ancestors on both paternal and maternal lines have lived on Newman’s Ridge for more than two centuries. Today one can drive across Newman’s Ridge on two north-south paved roads, along which people still live.  But across the top of the ridge the old road is long abandoned, and where once dozens of cabins overlooked Blackwater Valley, there are very few signs of past habitation.  The cabin of Mahala Mullins has been reconstructed down in the valley, and can be seen in winter from its former ridgetop site.  Within living memory the portion of the Ridge overlooking Vardy was inhabited but now it is hauntingly empty.  In my mind’s eye the vivid descriptions in Jesse Stuart’s Daughter of the Legend brought the Ridge back to life as he saw it in the early twentieth century. Anyone who loved the novel will be very moved by a hike along Newman’s Ridge.   Experiencing it with a descendant of all the original landowners was a special window to the past that strengthened the sense of time traveling to a Lost Community.

More than once I’ve been perplexed by the proclivity of writers and online commenters far away from Appalachia to define Melungeons as extinct and/or legendary, when I know them to be alive and real.  The community that lived along the road at the top of Newman’s Ridge is indeed “lost” and therefore extinct, every bit as much as the swampland crossroads of “Old Cashy” where I hiked in search of my Johnson ancestors.  But everyone who lived in the 19th century is extinct, and many communities of that era are lost. Their descendants are alive and real, and like all genealogical researchers if they start digging enough, will find that many family and local traditions are legendary with an uncertain basis in fact.  Many lost communities are nearly forgotten, like Old Cashy has been in two and a half centuries after its brief heyday.  But for a variety of reasons Newman’s Ridge haunts the memories of people throughout Appalachia and even the United States.  It is remembered through the haze of legend; fiction books about Melungeons now far outnumber factual treatments. The mountain still stands and the people of the Ridge survive through their scattered descendants;  so all who wish to see the reality behind the legends can do so if they are willing to visit Hancock County.

The Vardy Community Historical Society hosts special events twice a year, homecomings in spring and fall.  Biennially the Melungeon Heritage Association joins VCHS in a celebration in June of every even-numbered year where visitors from many states are welcomed.  I am looking forward to the 2016 gathering already, where dozens of first-time visitors to Vardy and Big Stone Gap will discover Melungeon heritage while meeting dozens of Tennesseans and Virginians who feel drawn to return again and again by ties of kinship or historical interest.


Cited in Sage Encyclopedia of African Cultural Heritage in North America

For years I’ve been maintaining a list of books in which my own are cited as a page on this blog.  There has been such a strange polar opposition between Pell Mellers and my early books on Theosophy that I doubted this would ever happen.  But at last my most recent book has been cited as recommended reading in a reference book, the Sage Encyclopedia of African Cultural Heritage in North America, edited by Mwalimu J. Shujaa and Kenya J. Shujaa.  The citation appeared following an entry about Iroquois-African connections, which were significant in early Bertie County history.

But otherwise, since publication Pell Mellers has sold far more copies than all my earlier books combined, yet has been ignored by scholars.  This Sage reference book is, however, entry #236 in my list, so authors’ interest in my SUNY Press books has been astonishingly consistent and diverse.  Fewer than 35 of these have referred to Edgar Cayce in Context, meaning that more than 200 have cited The Masters Revealed and its sequel Initiates of Theosophical Masters.  Almost once per month for more than 15 years a new book appears citing one or both of these studies of Theosophical history, which appears to be roughly the frequency of sales of them in that time period.  Many are scholarly studies but there are also popular works, most recently Michelle Goldberg’s The Goddess Pose, a very successful biography of yoga pioneer Indra Devi.

What explains this great disparity?  TMR and Initiates focus on an international cast of characters on four continents, containing masses of biographical data about individuals known to history.  Citations come from authors all around the world, whereas Pell Mellers is not a study of even statewide or county-wide range; it’s about one small part of one rural county and all the characters are hitherto unknown.  The Cayce study is an intermediate case in that the subject is at least of national significance.  But the world of academic scholarship in Religious Studies has barely discovered Cayce, whereas Blavatsky and her disciples receive an ever-increasing amount of scholarly attention in many countries.

The rewards and punishments of authorship are equally unpredictable, and thanks to the Melungeon Heritage Association,  Pell Mellers has been the means of getting acquainted with many people who have become lasting friends.   That and the fact that readers continue to discover it and find it relevant to their own family history is reward enough, but seeing it cited in a scholarly encyclopedia is all the more appreciated because so long in coming.

The Hannah Handy Memorial in South Royalton, Vermont


It has been years since I used ancestry.com for my own personal genealogical research, although it has been tremendously helpful with various book projects in recent years.  But this week, one of its features, family tree “hints,” corrected a mistake I made years ago and led to the discovery of the only known public monument devoted to the wartime heroism of one of my ancestors.  (I had guessed the wrong parents for my ggg grandfather Michael Handy, who figures in the story.) Surprisingly, the hero was a heroine, Hannah Hunter Handy, mentioned in the 1934 WPA guide to Vermont.  Wikipedia describes the 1780 Royalton Raid that led to her acts of courage.  Findagrave.com has the above photograph of the monument, shared by Nancy Robison, and gives a summary of the events it commemorates, taken from the History of Royalton by Evelyn Wood:

In the morning of October 16 in 1780, a band of 300 Indians led by British troops raided farms near South Royalton, Vermont, stealing men and boys to sell for the bounty offered by the British. The Hendee family had been warned, and the husband set off to warn others downstream. Hannah picked up her young daughter (Lucretia) and ran to the woods with her 7 year old son Michael. The Indians caught them and took Michael. When she demanded to know what they would do with the boy, one of the Indians who spoke English replied, “make a soldier of him.” As they dragged away her sobbing little boy, Hannah carried her screaming daughter toward the road and headed toward Lebanon, sixteen miles away.  She had not gone far when she was filled with a surge of uncommon resolve, a fierce determination. She returned upriver and found the British and the Indians gathering their captives….

Oblivious of the danger, she demanded her little boy. Capt. Horton said he could not control the Indians; it was none of his concern what they did. She threatened him. “You are their Commander, and they must and will obey you. The curse will fall upon you for whatever crime they commit, and all the innocent blood they shall shed will be found in your skirts when the secrets of men’s hearts are made known, and it will cry for vengeance upon your head”. 
When her young son was brought in she took him by hand and refused to let go. An Indian threatened her with cutlass and jerked her son away. She defiantly took him back and said that she would never give up, they would not have her little boy. 

Finally, when the captives were assembled for the long march to Canada, Mrs. Hendee somehow crossed the river with her daughter and nine small boys…Two of them she carried across. The others waded through the water with their arms around each other’s necks, clinging to her skirts. As the cold October night closed in, Mrs. Hendee huddled in the woods with the soaking-wet little brood she had rescued from certain death. 

It is both sobering and inspiring to realize that I would not likely exist without the tremendous courage and motherly love shown by this woman.  Young Michael would not likely have survived the trip to Canada, and even if he had it is unlikely that he would have returned home, married, moved to New York state, and had children who ended up as pioneers in northwestern Ohio where my great grandmother was born.

What is So Wrong With Being Absolutely Right

This 2009 publication from Prometheus Books is one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking books I’ve read in many years. The first item in the book website q & a is a definition of dogmatism:

Dogmatism is the practice of pronouncing one’s beliefs with rigid, arrogant certainty. Absolute certainty. Psychologically, it is considered a personality trait in which various aspects of evolution, biology, culture, and social learning predispose people to act as if they were the sole expert on a subject. Even in the face of convincing evidence that should give reason to pause, dogmatic people will not, as Churchill said, “change their minds or change the topic.” They simply refuse to see things any other way, and fail to consider the possibility they might be wrong.

Chapter 5, “Black-and-White Thinking,” lists thirteen characteristics of dogmatists:

Cognitive characteristics
1. An Intolerance of Ambiguity
2. Defensive, Cognitive Closure
3. Rigid Certainty
4. Compartmentalization
5. Lack of Personal Insight
Emotional characteristics
1. Belief-associated Anxiety or Fear
2. Belief-associated Anger
3. Existential Despair
Behavioral Characteristics
1. Preoccupation with Power and Status (as evidenced by behaviors)
2. Glorification of the In-group; Vilification of the Out-group
3. Dogmatic Authoritarian Aggression
4. Dogmatic Authoritarian Submission
5. Arrogant, Dismissive Communication Style

Although I read the book mainly in hopes of making sense of some of the challenges and trials of writing about religious history in a scholarly context, the issues of mixed ancestry community history are quite similar. Fortunately there does seem to be marked progress in terms of the openness and friendliness of online discussion of these issues. Slowly but surely the dogmatic voices are being replaced by those of openminded inquiry.

“Easy to read while furnishing credible source information”– thanks!

Reading reviews can be a dicey proposition for any author, but I just read this one for Pell Mellers, and am very appreciative of “Carvet” from Houston’s remarks.

When writing a genealogical memoir of this ilk, one can wonder if it’s an exercise in navel-gazing and if anyone outside one’s immediate family circle will find any value in it. But the years since Pell Mellers came out have more than justified my hopes that some readers might feel this way about the book:

5.0 out of 5 stars is easy to read while furnishing credible source information October 23, 2014
By Carvet
For context, I am a fairly new amateur genealogist. My assessment of this book: FABULOUS. It has a real sense of place, is easy to read while furnishing credible source information, has specifics regarding people and historical background. I felt like I knew these people at the end of the book – and wanted to know them better. I wish that I could find or create just such a book for my family but coming from a nearby area in North Carolina, I am very happy to be able to enjoy this family history as a bit of a proxy. Sign me up for more.

Blog Talk Radio interview with Backintyme Publisher Stacy Webb

This was a lot of fun to do.

Here is the page promoting the interview:

Show Line Up & Talking Points:

Introduction: Author and historian

Associates; MHA, Backintyme.biz,
■Other Publications: Carolina Genesis, Backintyme, chapter “Dismal Swamp Quakers on the Color Line”; State University of New York Press, Edgar Cayce in Context (1998), Initiates of Theosophical Masters (1995), and The Masters Revealed (1994); forthoming in 2015 from Typhon Press, Sarah Stanley Grimke Collected Writings, editor, and Con Artists, Enthusiasts and True Believers (chapter author.)
■Pell Mellers: ■A Genealogical Quest in the Triracial South
■What began as genealogical research into the author’s ancestry soon grew into a fascinating tale with lessons for us all. Among his ancestors, Johnson uncovered: unpunished murderers, infidelities that produced stronger families than formal marriages, entire units of North Carolinians who fought and died to preserve the Union in the Civil War. The tale holds enough plot twists for a half-dozen novels.

But most of all, it reveals in a personal way what molecular anthropologists have been trying to explain all along. The fact is that we are all of multiple ancestries. Inhabitants of the New World are a genetic mix of three great populations, Native Americans, European colonists, and African slaves. Nowhere is this more vivid than in Pell Mellers, the story of one man’s search for his tangled roots.
■“Johnson’s quest to understand his father becomes a discerning and sensitive historical inquiry that roots the near-present organically in the remote past. Johnson’s deeply personal search for his own roots illuminates surprising, forgotten ways of life in a fascinating part of the South.” — Melvin Patrick Ely, author of Israel on the Appomattox
■“This fascinating memoir about the Pell Meller community of northeastern North Carolina reads like a murder mystery. What has been murdered is the truth about their ancestry, and Paul Johnson sets out bravely to discover the corpse, the murderer, and the motives. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the many isolated southeastern groups with odd names, like the Redbones and the Melungeons, who descend from our nation’s earliest settlers, in all their ethnic diversity.” — Lisa Alther, author of Kinfolks: Falling Off the Family Tree
■“In Paul Johnson’s engaging journey into his roots in Bertie County, North Carolina, he discovers an intriguing family of pocosin dwellers who personify the South’s multiracial heritage and its political minorities, including Unionists and the original Buffalo Soldiers. Pell Mellers is a solid contribution to the history of the “other South” that complements the well-traveled mainstream, illustrating our rich and textured past.” — Lindley S. Butler, author of Pirates, Privateers, and Rebel Raiders of the Carolina Coast


■My ancestral families of documented mulatto status in the Pell Mell region of Bertie County: Butler, Pritchard, Cobb, Mitchell, Cale. English families that intermarried with the above: Johnson, Dunlow, White, Miller, Perry.
■There was a persistent legend identifying Charney Cale as son of an Indian chief named Cucklemaker, but varying claims about tribal identity. Bertie County was home to a Tuscarora reservation on the Roanoke River, but the Meherrin tribe was among those located along the Chowan River on the opposite side of the county. Some colonial mulatto surnames of Bertie overlap with neighboring Hertford County’s Winton Triangle Community (James, Mitchell) and others with neighboring Halifax County.

■The couple of greatest interest in Pell Mellers was Josiah Dunlow and Nancy White. Josiah was great-grandson of John Butler and Keziah Pritchard, both of whose families were classified as mulatto in colonial tax lists. Nancy was great-granddaughter of Nathan Cobb and Winifred Mitchell, who had the same status. My paternal grandmother was a Dunlow and granddaughter of Josiah and Nancy. My paternal grandfather was a descendant of the mysterious Charney Cale, subject of a recent breakthrough regarding his legendary Indian chief father.

Future Goals
■Incorporating recent research findings on Sarah S. Grimke and her family from a Mary Baker Eddy Library Fellowship of three weeks in Boston, and a return trip to the Grimke collections at the Moorland-Spingarn Center at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
■Continued updates to my Backintyme blog at http:kpjohnson.backintyme.biz
■Contributing a brief preface to the forthcoming Backintyme collection on the Goins family with demographic information about Goin, Goins, and Goings family migrations and crossings of the color line

Central/South Asian DNA– Another Vendor, Another Twist in the Path

Getting new autosomal DNA results always seems to be one step forward and at least two steps back, in terms of any consistency with the previous results. Having already tested with 23andme and AncestryDNA, I got an offer from the third such vendor of autosomal DNA for a $39 report and family finder matches using the same DNA data. So I took the bait, and found that the good news is that all three agree that my European DNA is 98%. Otherwise, though, there is very little consistency. as FamilyTreeDNA finds no Iberian, Scandinavian, or Jewish elements within the European portion, unlike the last test. As for the non-European aspect, this test finds subSaharan African at a trace level like the last, but unlike either it reports 2% Central/South Asian admixture.

Which takes us back to the Roma or East Indian scenario about possible non-European roots of Pell Meller “mulattoes.” Reviewing the three major autosomal vendors and the four models provided by Gedmatch: FTDNA, AncestryDNA, and 23andme all agree that the European percentage is roughly 98% but vary considerably in the breakdown of European DNA. As for the non-European, none finds any Native American, AncestryDNA finds Central Asian and West African in equal trace amounts of under 1%, FTDNA finds twice as much Central Asian as African (and the latter is mostly South rather than West Africa), and 23andme finds 1.9% combined African and no Asian. Of the four models in Gedmatch, Harappaworld finds about six times as much Asian in various categories as African; Eurogenes finds three times as much Asian as African; MDLP and Dodecad both find four times as much Asian as African; all four show percentages of both far greater than the three main vendors. No model finds a significant amount of Native American. The Asian scores raise the question of whether European/Asian admixture occurred in the New World in the last 400 years, or earlier.

Cora Williford Hoggard and a Grandmother’s Gift

One of the unsolved mysteries described in Pell Mellers has been solved by Mark Bunch, whom I met at the October 2014 reunion and who like me descends from Mary Apply (aka Appie) Johnson Williford, whose portrait he brought to the reunion. Appie survived her husband Jonathan Williford by twenty three years, and in the last year of her life she received a widow’s pension in the amount of $2700 for Jonathan’s Civil War service in the Union army. He had survived the fall of Plymouth but the escape through the swamps and across several rivers was disastrous to his health, and he died in 1870 at age 45. Appie had directed the lawyer handling the pension to “give Cora (a supposed illegitimate child she had raised whose other name is unknown to me) $300… the sons were opposed to her giving Cora any, and she didn’t want them to know anything about it until after she was dead as she didn’t expect to live long.” She died six months later in the spring of 1893, and I never found out the identity of Cora.

Cora Williford married John Hoggard the same year that Appie died, 1893. Mark noted that on the death certificate of Cora Hoggard, widow of John, her father was identified as Bill Williford and her mother was unidentified. Appie was the mother of four sons, one of whom, William, had died before her. He is not on record as having ever married, and the fact that at the time of her death Cora’s mother’s name was given as unknown is indicative that she was raised by someone other than her parents. It was unusual for the paternal rather than the maternal grandmother of an illegimate child to be the one to raise her, but that seems to have been the case with Appie and Cora. Ancestry.com includes a portrait of Cora and her husband John supplied by a descendant, probably from the 1920s, and I think there is some resemblance to her grandmother in the photo. One sad aspect of the death certificate is that Cora’s cause of death was listed as pellagra, (with old age as a contributing factor– at 62!) and she was a widow whose occupation was as a domestic in Hertford County. The ready availability of collards, turnip greens, etc. to poor country people would seem to prevent Vitamin A deficiencies, but pellagra is caused by a Niacin deficiency which means Cora did not get enough poultry, meat, or nuts to keep her in good health. Pellagra was common among populations with a heavily corn-dependent diet.


Johnson reunion DNA report, and a new family portrait

Mary Apply Johnson Williford 001
The Johnson reunion on October 18 was the best attended yet, and the first ever in Edgecombe County. (Hertford, Bertie, and Nash have been sites of the previous ones.) A newly discovered Johnson cousin, Mark Bunch, brought a newly restored historic photo of Mary Apply Johnson Williiford (1830-1893) about whom he has an interesting new theory that I will share in the next blog post. In this one I will share a report on Johnson DNA issues that was written to distribute to interested descendants of Marcus Ryan Johnson.

Genealogy and DNA News for Marcus Ryan Johnson descendants

First, the bad news: in six years since Pell Mellers was published I have not made a single new breakthrough with genealogical research on any of our lines, and neither has anyone else, judging from the information shared on ancestry.com. But the good news is that DNA evidence has resolved several questions and leads in some interesting new directions. So, in Q&A form:

Who is our earliest known Johnson ancestor? Littleton Johnson, Sr., (1780?-1845), grandfather of Marcus Ryan Johnson (1831-1916) was the answer in 2008. But I speculated that Littleton was the son of the John Johnson who bought land on Will’s Quarter Swamp in 1767 from his father Isaiah Johnson, who moved on to Dobbs (now Lenoir) County with his wife Mary Oxley and two younger sons Elijah and Isaiah Jr. and died there in 1799. DNA has confirmed this because my ONLY Johnson match for Y-DNA is from a descendant of the Dobbs County Johnsons. This makes Isaiah now our earliest confirmed ancestor, and Johnsons in Lenoir County and their descendants kin to our line whereas most Bertie County Johnsons are not. The land sold by Isaiah to his son John was on the south side of Will’s Quarter Swamp, hence on what is now Greens Cross Rd. near the site of a mill restored in the 1990s by Harry L. Thompson. (Y-DNA is the same in all Marcus male descendants so everything reported here about it applies to us all. Autosomal matches reflect all my lines so may or may not be relevant to other Johnsons but will be mentioned below.)

Are we kin to Johnsons now living in Bertie County? To some but not to most. All of Marcus’s sons left Bertie County but his younger brother John R. left some descendants and their homeplace near the intersection of US 13 and Governor’s Road (that runs by Hope Plantation) still stands, only a mile or so from Marcus’s homeplace across from Bertie High School on 13, now in ruins. The homeplace of Marcus and John etc.’s boyhood was north of Bull Hill Rd. and is no longer there; the Johnson-Hawkins cemetery is a couple of miles away on the south side of Bull Hill Rd., towards Ross Church. Most Johnsons still in Bertie descend from an unrelated line that lived in what is now Askewville. They may have changed their name from Hawkins as the earliest known member of that clan was John Hawkins Johnson and both his sons had Hawkins as middle names; local folklore says they were formerly Hawkinses and one early record has the name Hawkins writen first and then scratched out and Johnson written instead.

Where did our Johnsons originate? The Y DNA haplogroup is R1b1b2 which is the predominant group in northwestern Europe; Ireland, Scotland, and England especially. DNA matching finds most of our matches reporting being from the British Isles, so along with genealogical evidence of Johnson arrivals in colonial Virginia we can safely say that our Johnsons originated there. But England, Scotland, and Ireland are equally represented in our Y matches so we cannot be more specific about our origin than “British Isles” in recent history. In prehistoric times our subclade of the haplogroup is concentrated on both sides of the North Sea, and therefore associated with Doggerland, a now-submerged land mass that extended from England to Denmark during the Ice Age before rising sea levels and a tsunami made it “Britain’s Atlantis,” now being explored by archeologists.

Who was the father of Jersey Cale Cobb, grandmother of Marcus’s second wife Rutha Cobb Johnson? In Pell Mellers I speculated that she was the daughter of Charney Cale, but now by autosomal matching with multiple Charney descendants can consider this a solid conclusion.

Have there been any name changes in our family history? Out of more than 400 Y DNA matches there is only one single Johnson, so the answer is almost certainly yes, the Johnson name does not go back very far in our history. There are clusters of four other surnames in our matches at one degree of genetic distance: 7 Mayburys, Mayberrys, Mabras, etc. all over the British Isles; 5 Sizemores mostly in Kentucky, 6 Bolins, Bolens, Bowlings from varous places in England and Virginia, 9 Devores mostly from Pennsylvania. At zero distance the only of these clusters that is found is the various Mabry spellings. Three possible reasons for this pattern are a) illegitimacy– a Johnson girl bore a son by a Mabry or Bowling man, and the son carried the Johnson name; b) adoption– which was often informal in the past leaving no legal records; c) name change– which in our case could mean the common ancestor was back before surnames were common. There is a place named Maybury in England, which may play into this Y match if our Johnsons came from there. The multiple spellings of Bolin, Bowling etc. likewise point to a very remote common ancestor. The clusters of Sizemores and Devores in single American states with single spellings suggests more recent kinship.

Are our Johnsons part Indian, as some stories have reported? This is unlikely in any signfiicant amount, from my own autosomal DNA which shows less than one percent Native American admixture by most measures, and several other lines (Butler especially) that are more likely to be sources of it. However, there may well be Johnson connections to Indians through marriage, as I have come up with an autosomal match with a Robeson County Johnson, and the name is found among the Lumbee there. There were Tuscarora Indians in Bertie County who adopted the Johnson name, and the Tuscarora in Robeson migrated there from further north, so this is a possible connection for our having Indian cousins although our own line is not part Indian. My two closest overall DNA matches are a Bowling from NC and a Bass from VA, both names associated with Indian ancestry, another clue that we have some Native connections through marriage without having Native ancestors.

Since we are descendants of Charney Cale, does that make us descendants of “Chief Cucklemaker” who has been discussed in books and articles, and is honored as an ancestor by Cales in Bertie County? I expressed multiple doubts of his existence in Pell Mellers based on Dunlow research that found all the stories of his wife “Elizabeth Marie Calais Duneleaux” to be false. Now, historian Gerald Thomas has definitely proved Cucklemaker to be a fictional character in a 2013 study that established Charney to be the illegitimate son of Ann Dunlow and John Cale. Ann was married at the time to Hugh Dunlow, who died in the American Revolution not long before Charney’s birth. Ann’s older son John Dunlow is the ancestor of all the Dunlows in North Carolina and Virginia, so all Marcus Johnson descendants by his second wife Rutha, a Charney Cale descendant, are also kin to Dunlows through our common ancestor Ann.

Was John Cale simply English, as Gerald Thomas concludes based on proof that he was no Indian chief? If so, why was Charney ever considered to be half-Indian and having the physical appearance of such? A direct descendant of Charney Cale has tested with a rare and ancient haplogroup (A) found mostly in East Africa, not a place associated with the slave trade to Virginia. Experts have advised the Cale descendant in question that his Cale line came to America from England already mixed. Some Bass descendants match the same Y-DNA. In the Pell Meller cousins I am finding online through AncestryDNA, some have a trace of Native American, some have a trace of African, all have a great deal of British Isles– but all have some Iberian as well. This could come from either Spanish military presence in the Carolinas prior to the arrival of the English, leading to offspring by Indian women, or from expulsions by Spain and Portugal of Jews and Muslims after 1492, many of whom ended up in Holland and England and some of whose descendants came to America. My own Iberian (Spanish and Portuguese) DNA amount is 6%, with 2% European Jewish, which leads me to suspect that the Cale ancestor was descended from exiles of the Spanish Inquisition. The direct Cale descendant has also found Jewish matches in his autosomal DNA. Traces of Jewish and African DNA are common in Iberian Christian populations today in light of the Moorish presence for centuries during the Middle Ages.

AncestryDNA profile

Two significant differences between this and the 23andme profile are that non-European is defined as “trace” levels in the new profile, but the Iberian percentage rises to 6 from 0, and European Jewish appears for the first time at 2%. Spanish Jews have occupied a place in Melungeon literature, most recently in Lisa Alther’s novel Washed in the Blood, so I am intrigued that these two elements appear simultaneously in my results.


White free servants and bondservants, mulatto slaveowners

The List of Taxables (1772-1784), Bertie County, NC published in 2010 by Dr. A.B. Pruitt of Enfield, NC, provides a window into the final years of a mulatto slaveowning class that was considered white after the American Revolution. John Freeman’s 1772 tax list included brothers Media (Meedy) and Mordecai White, Jr. as well as Media’s son Ezekiel White who was a landless “white servant.” Later Ezekiel was listed as a “bondservant” in King Freeman’s 1774 list. Neighboring land was owned by Henry Bunch who was classified as mulatto but owned “Negro men Ceser and Fite, Negro woman Clo”; and also by Joseph Collins, owner of “Negro men Brandom & Bob and Negro woman Fillis” but also having in his household white servant David Collins. Joseph Collins was listed as white owner of 1780 acres in Faulk’s 1783 taxables list, but his son by Rachel Bunch, Josiah Collins, Sr., had been classified as mulatto in a 1772 list, reflecting his mother’s status as daughter of Henry Bunch. The surnames Bunch and Collins are both prominent among Melungeons. An excellent page of Bertie Collins data is found here.

The greater wealth of some mulatto landowners, as measured by slaves and acreage, enabled them to hire white neighbors as itinerant farm laborers, which contradicts usual expectations of color and class in colonial NC. After the Revolution, the color difference among these Pell Mell Pocosin families was no longer reflected in different classifications in legal documents.

Goodbye South and Southwest Asia, hello North Africa (via 23andme)

newpercentaggeJust checked my DNA information and found the ancestry composition completely changed in terms of the variety and percentages of various alleged ethnicities. The overall Subsaharan African is the same, and the overall European, but the breakdowns are drastically different. Now the European includes only British Isles, French/German, Scandinavian; gone the trace of South Asian reported in previous calculations. In its place the equally plausible, historically, trace of North African. Who knows what they will say next month or how it compares to the other vendors, caveat lector and emptor.

Gedmatch and four new admixture utilities

I was just informed of this very useful website for analyzing DNA data by my friend Wayne Modlin who is mentioned in Pell Mellers as a Bertie County native who first suggested DNA testing to me ten years ago. Gedmatch, among other things, allows one to upload DNA information from any pay site, 23andme in my case, and analyze it according to four different admixture utilities. To say “comparing applies to oranges” is a real understatement as none of the ethnic categories are the same from one calculator to the next.