Marvin Tupper Jones has deep roots in his home county of Hertford, but part of his legacy is what some historians have described as lost.
Jones is the executive director of Discovery of Chowana Hertford County nonprofit organization that strives to tell the story and heritage of multiracial communities in northeastern North Carolina.
Jones shared her family’s story at a talk on August 17 at the Albemarle Museum in Elizabeth City, putting the stories of her ancestors into the context of the nation’s history. Not necessarily the wars, battles and big events, although there were many, rather his story showed how his family’s history is woven into the fabric of America.
On his father’s side, Jones is descended from William Weaver, a white man who lived in India before coming to North America. Arriving in 1690, he was the father of mixed-race children, none of whom were enslaved.
But on her mother’s side of the family, the story goes even further back to the first inhabitants of northeastern North Carolina, a culture that had “disappeared.”
“I would like to tell you a story over a long period of time here in the Albemarle and this is my family from before the Lost Colony until now,” Jones said as he began his lecture.
His ancestors were from the Chowanoke of the Albemarle area. The Chowanoke, who lived along the banks of the Chowan River, were described by Ralph Lane, military captain of Sir Walter Raleigh’s first exploratory mission in the Albemarle, as the most powerful tribe in the region, with some 19 cities and 700 warriors ready for battle.
In 1585, Lane, in an action that presaged violence against the tribal nations of the region, seized King Chowanoke and interrogated him for days, Jones explained.
“He seized Chief Chowanoke, Menatonon, and interrogated him for three days, leaving with Mematonon’s son as a hostage,” he said.
Jones traces his family’s ties to the Chowanokes back to John Robins. There is no known documentation of Robins’ date of birth, but it is generally listed around 1665. The surname was eventually spelled as Robbins.
Robins lived in a turbulent time. The Chowanokes had made a treaty in 1663 with the lord proprietors who then controlled what would become North Carolina. Under the terms of the treaty, according to the Naive American Projectthe tribe, “have submitted to the Crown of England under the Dominion of the Lord Proprietors”.
But as the colony’s population grew, treaty violations became more prevalent, leading to a largely forgotten 17th-century conflict.
“Because of encroachments in 1676 between the Chowan River and Dismal Swamp, there was the Chowan River War, which is almost never mentioned in North Carolina histories. It was the first colonial war against the Indians. It was sustained. He covered a span of about two years,” Jones said.
The Chowanokes lost the war, and a new treaty relegated them to 12 square miles along Bennetts Creek, a Gates County tributary of the Chowan River. Over time, much of the original plot was sold, presumably to settle taxes and debts.
“Now we’re getting into my mom’s part of the family,” Jones said. “John Robbins, born in 1700, was one of the Chowan County Indians who sold some of their land on Bennetts Creek.”
Land sales continually reduced the size of what was probably the first Native American reservation in North America. By the 1750s almost all the land had been sold.
Jones quotes the Moravian missionary August Gottlieb Spangenberg who wrote in 1752, “the Chowan tribe is reduced to a few families”. Going on to say that their condition was “deplorable” and “their land had been taken from them”.
But Jones clarified that while the land that was once their native soil was no longer theirs, the Chowan people still saw themselves as unique.
“As a collective community when some disappear from the historical record…a lost tribe, the Chowanoke mixed with others on the fringes of colonial society,” he said, quoting Michael Leroy Oberg in his book from 2009, “The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand”. ”
“Hey, I’m here,” Jones said to that, adding that the mingling with others on the fringes of society was “not true at all.”
He cites research done by Forest Hazel, published in North Carolina Archeologywhich showed that the Chowanoke were scattered throughout northeastern North Carolina.
“You had Chowanokes that moved as far east as Currituck County, of course Hertford County and Bertie County, but you still have a core that stayed in Gates,” he said. he declares.
As Jones reviewed his family history, even though the Chowanoke tribe was no longer recognized, the descendants of the tribe were creating their own community in Hertford County.
In 1790 James Robbins, probably the grandson or great-grandson of John Robins, along with other members of his family, sold the last remaining 400 acres of the original parcel granted to the Chowanoke people in 1724.
At that time, any sale of land involving non-white citizens had to be approved by the state legislature and in approving the sale, Jones quoted the legislature as noting that the sale was: is now several free men or blood women mingled as aforesaid are descended from the said Indians and they behave in the last fight with Britain as good and faithful soldiers.
James Robbins had, in fact, been a “good and faithful soldier.” Among the documents Jones found while researching his family history was a 1782 payment voucher for Robbins’ service during the Revolutionary War.
The James Robbins household is also found in the 1790 census. It was a large household, listed as having 15 free people of color and one white wife. The white woman is also listed in the 1800 census. The woman is not named; at that time, only the male head of household appeared in the census records. However, Jones points out, the couple were likely married.
“I have a white great-great-great-grandmother,” he said.
The designation as a free people of color became extremely important after Nate Turner’s rebellion in 1831. The oldest document in his family’s possession is a court declaration from 1831.
“It belonged to my great-great-grandfather, Noah Robins,” Jones said. “The document states: ‘Noah Robins, a colored man, applied to this court to grant him a certificate certifying that he is a free man and a native of this county of Gates County and in the evidence adduced to that effect, it was then and who ordered that the clerk of the said court should deliver to Noah Robins a certificate certifying that he is a free man of color and that he is a native of the said county and that he is entitled to all the rights and privileges of free people of color…’”
“It’s four days after Nat Turner’s rebellion,” Jones explained. “This document was required of all free people of color in North Carolina, but many did not get it until they needed it. He needed it because of the great backlash in Virginia and North Carolina to South Carolina because of Nat Turner’s rebellion. He needed it to save his life, his house and everything.
Although the court document granted Robbins “all the rights and privileges of free people of color” before the war in North Carolina, it is unclear what those rights and privileges were. The state legislature stripped free people of color of the right to vote in 1835, one of a series of increasingly restrictive laws.
The result was that the ranks of the Union Army were filled with members of the Hertford County Robbins family.
In February 1862, the Union Navy took control of the Chowan River and free people of color and former slaves flocked to the Union banner. According to Jones, eight Robbins served in the Union Army. The various members of the Robbins family served in all of the Rebelling States.
“(They) served in Virginia, South Carolina, Florida and Texas,” Jones said.
Sergeant Major Parker David Robbins and his brother, Augustus Robbins, the regiment’s quartermaster sergeant, went on to serve in the North Carolina legislature after the war.
But when Reconstruction ended in 1877, hope that people of color could participate in the political process in North Carolina seemed to fade. The tenuous coalition of Republican lawmakers combining white political leaders and people of color elected to state offices has been shattered. Physical intimidation and laws have made it increasingly difficult for people of color to vote.
Yet nearly a century after Reconstruction ended, Jones’ mother served as Hertford County’s election official.
“Noah Robbins lost the right to vote in 1835,” Jones said, pointing to an image he displayed on the boardroom screen. “This is his great-granddaughter, my mother Pearlene (Robbins) Jones, who was an election judge in 1972.”