Tag Archives: K. Paul Johnson

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.

What’s new in the new edition of Pell Mellers?

Just released by Backintyme Publications is the Second Edition of Pell Mellers, including a 12 page addendum entitled “Melungeon Heritage Meets North Carolina history.”  It  documents my experiences in the five years following publication of the first edition, largely involving the Melungeon Heritage Association, and the scholarly and popular authors encountered at its annual Unions in Tennessee, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Virginia. I have gotten acquainted with scholars from the University of Memphis, Elon University, Vanderbilt University, Concord University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Rutgers University, King College, and East Tennessee State University.  Not one of them would support the notion, recently disseminated in national media, that Melungeons are nothing more than deceitful mulattoes pretending to have Native American and Mediterranean ancestry, whose delusions need to be exposed by science and genealogy for the  public good.  This was precisely the line of argument that Virginia Registrar of Vital Statistics Walter Plecker used in his crusade against Virginia Melungeons, who constituted a significant  proportion of the 150,000 “Mongrel Virginians” he sought to identify.  The 1943 official list of “mongrel” surnames produced by Plecker includes these 21 surnames in the southwestern counties of the Commonwealth that are not considered “Core Melungeons” by standards centered on Hancock County, Tennessee.  By county they are, as listed in the original document: Beverly, Barlow, Thomas, Hughes, Lethcoe, Worley (Washington County); Moore, Ramsey, Delph, Freeman,  Barlow, Bolden (Bolin), Hawkins (Lee and Smyth counties); Dingus (Scott County); Keith, Castell, Stillwell, Meade, Proffitt (Russell County);and Hammed, Duncan (Tazewell County). Anyone with these surnames was under a cloud of suspicion during the Virginia Racial Integrity Act, in effect from 1924 through 1971. Although recent media reports have focused on the extreme reluctance of a member of the Goins family to accept evidence of a sub-Saharan haplogroup, this is not at all representative of Melungeons of my acquaintance. The journalist Will Allen Dromgoole, first to record results of extensive interviews in the Vardy Valley, reported her informants as saying that the Goins line was African, the Collins line Native American, the Denham line Portuguese, and the Mullins line English, and that the latter had predominated over the rest numerically by 1890. She also said that while Goinses were of African origin and claimed to be Portuguese to deny it, this deceived no one but themselves.