Cales lose a legend; Dunlows gain the truth (Chief Cucklemaker RIP)

In Pell Mellers I described the research of several collaborating cousins and friends from four states, delving into the origins of the Dunlow/Dundelow clan in Bertie County. Very early in my Dunlow investigations, I learned of a legendary figure in the neighboring Cale family whose conflicting tales suggested that history had been distorted and fictionalized, unless “Chief Cucklemaker” and “John Cale, Indian” were entirely imaginary. Our collateral ancestor Henry Dundelow had been incorporated into one version of the Cales’ legend, making him “Henri Duneleaux,” the husband of a fictional “Elizabeth Marie Calais” who was likewise French and whose next husband was Chief Cucklemaker. Nothing the Cales were imagining about our Henry fit with what we Dunlow descendants knew about him. Our family traditions attributed Native ancestry to the Dunlows’ intermarriages with Butlers in the early 19th century, and not to any legendary 18th century Indian chief or any Cale. And the more we collectively learned, the less credible the Cale legend became to us, as revealed in Pell Mellers. Finally, after many years of analysis, acclaimed historian Gerald W. Thomas has unravelled the story of Charney Cale’s real parentage from the Cale family perspective and in the process cleared up a longstanding mystery about the Dunlows. The chief finding: Charney Cale was the illegitimate younger half-brother of John Dundelow.

Hugh Dundelow was serving in the army in South Carolina when his wife Ann was impregnated by John Cale, a returned soldier, and bore him an illegitimate son. The story of John and Ann is so dramatic and intriguing that I will refer readers to Thomas’s version rather than try to summarize it. Multiple aspects of the Cucklemaker legend are historically implausible or impossible, and the first three chapters of Pell Mellers explore the antebellum Dunlows/Dundelows of Bertie County and tell a very different tale of their ethnicity and Henry’s life, based on documents rather than Cale family legends. All this was the product of collaborative research among Dunlow descendants, who were not out to set the record straight for the Cales, but to clarify the truth about their own ancestors. (I may or may not be a descendant of Charney Cale, depending on whether or not Jersey Cale was his daughter, but grew up knowing many Dunlow relatives and never heard of Cales or Chief Cucklemaker until the 21st century). At the start of my research I thought that we were descendants of Henry Dundelow but was set straight by a cousin from Maryland that all modern Dunlows descended from his brother Hugh, whose wife a Piedmont North Carolina cousin soon identified as Ann, later known as Ann Hale. The greatest collection of Revolutionary War documents we studied was in possession of a Dunlow cousin in my hometown of Chesapeake, Virginia. However, our cousin reseachers kept coming up with more evidence about Henry, finding out very little about Hugh. Elements of the true story of Henry were uncovered in different 18th century documents, by Lisa Perry, Dawn Curl, Suzette Johnson, and me as well as my library colleague Wayne Modlin. At a crucial serendipitous moment, a Pennsylvania researcher Patrick Riley came forth unexpected, to provide us all the truth about Henry Dundelow’s final years.

Early on, we were enthusiastically assisted in research and local explorations by a Cale descendant who was on very close terms with Gerald Thomas and collaborating on his investigations of Cucklemaker over a period of years. In return, we shared everything we we learning about the Dunlows and related lines with him. However, upon reading an early draft of the Pell Mellers manuscript he emphatically ended the friendship over what I could and could not write about my own ancestors’ illegitimacy or possible mixed ancestry. Several years later I stumbled upon the fact in Y-search, the primary online database for Y DNA data, that a lineal Charney Cale male descendant had tested as haplogroup A, which is overwhelmingly subSaharan African. He retested with another company to confirm the results, which also appears in online data. This, as I concluded in Pell Mellers, rules out either a pure Native American or European father for Charney. He may have appeared white or Indian, but had at least one African line of ancestry and thus likely connected to the Cales who were defined as mulatto in colonial Bertie. On page 50 I wrote that “the most obvious possibility is that Charney was the illegitimate son of a Cale woman by a Dundelow man” but on page 95 remarked that “a descendant of Charney Cale on the male line has reported haplogroup A, which is subSaharan African. Therefore whether or not Chief Cucklemaker existed, Charney’s father could not have been either unmixed Indian or white. This also tends to rule out Hugh and Henry Dunlow as fathers of Charney and point to a Dunlow mother as a possible reason for his carrying the surname, while implicating a male in the free mulatto Cale family as a likely father.”

Now historian Gerald Thomas has confirmed my suggestion based on DNA evidence that Charney’s father was a Cale and his mother a Dunlow, through a tour de force of genealogical research. He also gives plausible explanations of how the Indian legend grew up about John Cale. However, he is silent on the main theme of the chapters of Pell Mellers (Part One: Free Mulattoes) that discuss the Dunlows and the Cucklemaker legend, and never acknowledges the existence of any mulatto in the history of Bertie County. Hence he avoids the issue of mulatto designated families in Bertie colonial records, or the presence of Cales lines among those so designated. Thus the “why would an Indian legend have been attached to John Cale?” question in Thomas’s treatment is excluded from considering the most salient of facts about the Pell Mell Pocosin in the 1770s. A sex scandal coverup, the main theme of Thomas’s study, makes perfect sense for why a fictional version of John Cale would be concocted. But as to why he was called Indian when he was not, only an acknowledgment of DNA evidence and mulatto history can illuminate that question—and Mr. Thomas excludes both from consideration.

followup comment– Mr. Thomas’s research is so prodigious and admirable that sight unseen I can recommend Rebels and Kings Men, his new study of Bertie County in the American Revolution which is high on my reading list, just ordered. So I may not have long to wait to find the stories of John Cale and Hugh, Ann and Henry Dundelow told in book form, or new information involving Johnson ancestors. As with the previous War of 1812 and Civil War studies, his county-wide explanation of the war will help put in context all the individual family stories that researchers like me and my cousins have documented. However much Charney Cale may have mythologized his parentage in later life, we owe him a debt of thanks for adopting his father’s surname, without which the work of Dunlow historians would have been even more complicated than it was made by the Cucklemaker legend. Now Cale DNA study can help identify his mixed ancestry, which could well have included Native American via the mother Ann despite the subSaharan Y haplogroup.