Will the REAL Scarborough, Basnett and Whidbee
please stand up?
our work with the Hatteras neighborhood project last year, we discovered
a wonderful mystery. You
may have the answer, and the answer could be extremely important.
have located the land of three Indian villages on Hatteras Island.
Two of those villages are very important to the Lost Colony and
the Croatoan/Hatteras Indians as well.
One of those two villages was abandoned, we believe, by 1760.
The other village, however, was not, and a deed was actually
granted to William Elks and the Hatteras Indians for a parcel of land
which contained the remaining Indian village.
recreated this neighborhood using land grants, deeds and wills. In doing so, we made an extremely interesting discovery.
in mind that in North Carolina in the 1700s, it was illegal for a white
person to marry a 'person of color', which included Indians as well as
mixed race individuals who were then called mulattoes.
of the property owners whose land abutted that of William Elks had some
very unusual wills.
1782, the will of Josiah Basnett leaves to his son, Alexander
Scarborough, 100 acres of land, to daughters Nancy Scarborough and
Cassia Scarborough personal belongings, and then to Letishy Scarborough,
15 hogs. Letishy is
actually mentioned first in the location in the will normally occupied
by a wife. Later in the
will, Josiah Basnett appoints Letishy Scarborough and William
Scarborough, Sr. as the executors of his estate.
1790, there are two Basnett individuals who are shown in the census as
heads of individual households, Robert and Mary, and both are free
people of color. Mary lives
beside William Scarborough.
light of the will of Josiah Basnett, and the law preventing the marriage
of white people to people of color, this strongly suggests that Josiah
Basnett too was likely a person of color, and therefore could not marry
Letishy Scarborough. But he
could own land and he could leave his worldly belongings to Letishy and
his children by her.
Basnett and the Scarborough families both abutted the land held by the
Hatteras Indians. Were the
Basnetts Native, or part native? If
so, not all Basnett lines may be Native.
After all, Native people had to adopt surnames at some point, and
many adopted the surnames of their neighbors, people they admired, or
white people that they had a kinship with, either blood or via a marital
1791, the will of John Whidbee leaves to his son, Elijah Basnett, land
joining Robert Basnett's line. Again,
we have a situation where a man leaves land to an illegitimate son, this
time Elijah Basnett. In
this case, it would appear that John Whidbee is white and Elijah
Basnett's mother is probably not. If
this is the case, this certainly suggests, twice, that the Basnett
family is considered "of color", and that heritage is not just
in the current generation, but stretches back at least one generation in
order for 4 individuals in the current generation to be considered of
color. Elijah may be the
son of Mary Basnett, shown as a head of household in the 1790 census.
a few doors away from the Scarborough and Basnett families we find an
Elizabeth Whidby, so we know the family was living in the neighborhood.
There is a John Whidbey shown in Perquimans County.
Later this land owned by Elijah Basnett is shown to abut the land
of Robert Basnett, so apparently John Whidbee was an adjoining neighbor
to Robert Basnett. It
causes one to wonder if that is where Mary Basnett was living, on John
Whidbee's land. By leaving
his land to his son, he would assure his son's mother a place to live
for the duration of her life.
first evidence of Basnett, by any spelling, is an entry for both a
Joseph Basnett and a Robert Basnite on the 1779 Currituck tax list.
Josiah was shown as "single", which, were he living
unmarried with a female, he would be considered as single.
Whidbee is listed on the 1755 tax list and is involved with the families
who live in the neighborhood with the Basnett family before 1768. He also has another son, Major Whidbee (Whidbey), who he also
remembers in his will.
what we have here is a Scarborough male, Alexander, who is apparently a
Basnett genetically. However,
he may have at some point in his life decided to use his father's name,
so we might be looking for an Alexander Basnett.
In fact, that's exactly what we find in the 1810 census.
The 1820 census is missing for Currituck County, and by 1830, he
is no longer listed by either surname.
However, in the same vicinity we find an Alexander, Elisha and
James Scarborough, men who are certainly of the age and in the right
location to be the sons of Alexander Basnett Scarborough.
Conversely, in the 1850 census, we find a a Zachariah and a
Willoughby Basnett who are both born in 1804, living in very close
proximity to each other, and also in the same location as these other
families. One of these men
could be the son of Alexander Basnett Scarborough.
The last "sighting" we have of Alexander in 1810, he
was using the Basnett surname.
also have a Basnett, Elijah, who is probably a Whidbee genetically.
Similarly, he could have at some point decided to use the Whidbee
surname, so we could be looking for Elijah Whidbee. Elijah Basnett died in 1805, but we don't know if he had any
children, in particular, male children who could have descendants whose
DNA could be tested.
have not been able to track Alexander (Basnett) Scarborough forward in
time, so we don't know much about his line.
We need to find a will, estate or court papers for Alexander
Basnett or Scarborough in Currituck or Hyde Counties sometime between
1810 and 1830, assuming he died and didn't move away, and hope that
there will be some hint given as to his heirs.
you descend from any Whidbee, Scarborough, or Basnett...this is the
story of your family on Hatteras Island.
Do you have any information that might help unravel this story?
It's very likely that the Basnett line (not genetically
Scarborough or Whidbee) is admixed in some way.
Interestingly enough, the only other "person of color"
household in the area is another neighbor, Percival Dring, who owned
land, made his will in 1807 and died in 1814.
He had witnessed the will of Josiah Basnett.
Willoughby Basnett, son of Robert Basnett, witnessed the will of
very much would like to find descendants of the Whidbee, Basnett and
Scarborough families to DNA test. The
answer to the questions of who might be Native, or a colonist, is held
in the DNA.
The Pamunkey Indians of Virginia
article about the Pamunkey Indians was found on http://www.bigorrin.org/archive73.htm
and was originally published by the Bureau of Ethnology of the
Smithsonian Institution in 1894. To the best of our knowledge it is in
the public domain, so it is being reprinting it here. Note that this
text is quite dated and contains some insulting stereotypes. The text is
reproduced here for historical and linguistic purposes. The spelling has
not been standardized.
By W. J. McGee
most conspicuous stock of American Indians in early history is the
Algonquian. Not only was the area occupied by the Algonquian peoples
larger than that of any other stock, but the tribes and confederacies
were distributed along the Atlantic coast and the rivers, estuaries, and
bays opening into this ocean from Newfoundland to Cape Hatteras. The
Pilgrim Fathers of New England, the Dutch traders and merchants of
Manhattan island and the Hudson, the Quaker colonists of Pennsylvania,
the Jesuit missionaries and Cavalier grantees of Maryland and Virginia,
all encountered the native tribes and confederacies of this great stock.
Further northward and in the interior Champlain, le Sieur du Lhut, Pere
la Salle, and other explorers, came chiefly in contact with related
peoples speaking a similar tongue. So the American Indian of early
history, of literature and story, is largely the tribesman of this great
One of the most prominent among the confederacies of Indian tribes
belonging to the Algonquian stock, in the history of the settlement of
our country, was the Powhatan confederacy of tidewater Virginia and
Maryland. The prominence of this confederacy in our early history is
partly due to the fact that Capt. John Smith was writer as well as
explorer, arid left permanent records of the primitive people whose
domain he invaded; but these and other records indicate that Powhatan
was a chief of exceptional valor and judgment, and that the confederacy
organized through his savage genius was one of the most notable among
the many unions of native American tribes; also that Powhatan's
successor, Opechancanough, was a native ruler of remarkable skill and
ability, whose characteristics and primitive realm are well worthy of
embalming in history. Capt. John Smith was followed by other historians,
and England and the continent, as well as the growing white settlements
of America, were long interested in following the fortunes of the great
tribal confederacy as the red men were gradually driven from their
favorite haunts and forced into forest fastnesses by the higher race;
and in later years Thomas Jefferson and other leaders of thought
recorded the movements and characteristics of the people, while John
Esten Cooke and his kind kept their memory bright with the lamp of
literature. So the native king Powhatan, the ill-starred princess
Pocahontas, and the people and the land over which they ruled, are well
known, and the Powhatan confederacy has ever been prominent in history
The leading tribe of the Powhatan confederacy was that from which
Pamankey river in eastern Virginia takes its name. Strongest in numbers,
this tribe has also proved strongest in vitality; a few trifling
remnants and a few uncertain and feeble strains of blood only remain of
the other tribes, but the Pamunkey Indians, albeit with modified
manners, impoverished blood, and much-dimmed prestige, are still
represented on the original hunting ground by a lineal remnant of the
original tribe. The language of Powhatan and his contemporaries is lost
among their descendants; the broad realm of early days is reduced to a
few paltry acres; the very existence of the tribe is hardly known
throughout the state and the country; yet in some degree the old pride
of blood and savage aristocracy persist-and it is undoubtedly to these
characteristics that the present existence of the Pamunkey tribe is to
By reason of the prominent and typical place of the Powhatan confederacy
in history and literature, it seems especially desirable to ascertain
and record the characteristics--physical, psychical, and social--of the
surviving remnant of the men. It was with this view that John Garland
Pollard, esq., of Richmond, a former attache' of the Smithsonian
Institution, was encouraged to make the investigation recorded in the
following pages; and it is for this reason that the record is offered to
THE PAMUNKEY INDIANS OF VIRGINIA.
By Jno. GARLAND POLLARD
The information here given to the public concerning the present
condition of the Pamunkey Indians was obtained by the writer during
recent visits to their reservation. He wishes to acknowledge his
indebtedness to the tribe for the kindness with which they have treated
him, and to make special mention of Mr. Terrill Bradby, Mr. William
Bradby, and Chief C. S. Bradby, who have made a willing response to all
of his inquiries.
As to the past condition of the tribe, the authorities consulted were
The True Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captain John Smith:
Notes on the State of Virginia, by Thomas Jefferson: Philadelphia, 1801.
Historical Recollections of Virginia, by Henry Howe: Charleston, 1849.
Virginia, by John Esten Cooke: Boston, 1883.
RICHMOND, Va., October 5, 1893.
EARLY HISTORY OF THE PAMUNKEY INDIANS.
At the time of the settlement of Jamestown, in 1607, that region lying
in Virginia between Potomac and James rivers was occupied by three great
Indian confederacies, each of which derived its name from one of its
leading tribes. They were (1) the Mannahoac, who lived on the headwaters
of Potomac and Rappahunnock rivers; (2) the Monocan, who occupied the
banks of the upper James, and (3) the Powhatan, who inhabited all that
portion of the tidewater region lying north of the James. The last-named
powerful confederacy was composed of thirty warlike tribes, having 2,400
warriors, whose disastrous attacks on the early settlers of Virginia are
well known to history. The largest of the tribes making up the Powhatan
confederacy was the Pamunkey, their entire number of men, women, and
children, in 1607 being estimated at about 1,000 or one-eighth of the
population of the whole confederacy.
The original seat of the Pamunkey tribe was on the banks of the river
which bears their name, and which flows somewhat parallel with James
river, the Pamunkey being about 22 miles north of the James. This tribe,
on account of its numerical strength, would probably front the beginning
have been the leader of its sister tribes in warfare, had it not been
for the superior ability of the noted chief Powhatan, who made his tribe
the moving spirit of attack on the white settlers.
On the death of Powhatan, the acknowledged head of the confederacy which
bore his name. he was succeeded in reality, though not nominally, by
Opechancanough, chief of the Pamunkey. John Smith, in his history of
Virginia (chapter 9, page 213), gives an interesting account of his
contact with this chief whose leadership in the massacre of 1622 made
him the most dreaded enemy which the colonists of that period ever had.
In 1669, 50 persons, remnants of the Chickahominy and Mattapony tribes,
having been driven from their homes, united with the Pamunkey. The
history of these Pamunkey Indians, whose distinction it is to be the
only Virginia tribe1 that has survived the encroachments of
civilization, furnishes a tempting field of inquiry, but one aside from
the writer's present purpose, which is ethnologic rather than
Pamunkey Indians of to-day live at what is known as
"Indian-town," which is situated on and comprises the whole of
a curiously-shaped neck of land, extending into Pamunkey river and
adjoining King William county, Virginia, on the south. The
"town" as it is somewhat improperly called, forms a very small
part of their original territory. It is almost entirely surrounded by
water, being connected with the mainland by a narrow strip of land. The
peculiar protection which is afforded in time of war by its natural
position in all probability accounts for the presence of these Indians
in this particular spot; and, indeed, I doubt not that to this
advantageous situation is due their very existence.
Indiantown is about 21 miles east of Richmond immediately on the line of
the York river division of the Richmond and Danville railroad. It
consists of about 800 acres, 250 of which are arable land, the remaining
portion being woodland and low, marshy ground. This tract was secured to
the Pamunkey Indians by act of the colonial assembly, and they are
restrained from alienating the same.
From a census taken by the writer in 1893 there were found to be 90
Indians then actually present on the reservation. There are, however,
about 20 others who spend a part of the year in service in the city or
on some of the steamers which ply the Virginia waters. There are,
therefore, about 110 Pamunkey Indians now living.
The population of the "town" has varied little in the last
century. Jefferson, writing in 1781, estimated their number to be 100,
and Howe, nearly seventy years later, placed it at the same figure.
member of the Pamunkey tribe is of full Indian blood. While the
copper-colored skin and the straight, coarse hair of the aboriginal
American show decidedly in some individuals, there are others whose
Indian origin would not be detected by the ordinary observer. There has
been considerable intermixture of white blood in the tribe, and not a
little of that of the negro, though the laws of the tribe now strictly
prohibit marriage to persons of African descent.
No one who visits the Pamunkey could fail to notice their race pride.
Though they would probably acknowledge the whites as their equals, they
consider the blacks far beneath their social level. Their feeling toward
the negro is well illustrated by their recent indignant refusal to
accept a colored teacher, who was sent them by the superintendent of
public instruction to conduct the free school which the State furnishes
them. They are exceedingly anxious to keep their blood free from further
intermixture with that of other races, and how to accomplish this
purpose is a Serious problem with them, as there are few members of the
tribe who are not closely related to every other person on the
reservation. To obviate this difficulty the chief and councilmen have
been attempting to devise a plan by which-they can induce immigration
from the Cherokee Indians of North Carolina. The Indian blood in the
Pamunkey tribe is estimated at from one-fifth to three-fourths.
The Pamunkey, as a tribe, are neither handsome nor homely, long nor
short, stout nor slim; in fact, they differ among themselves in these
respects to the same degree found among the members of a white community
of the same size. They are not particularly strong and robust, and their
average longevity is lower than that of their neighbors. These facts are
perhaps in a measure attributable to the frequent marriages between near
The average intelligence of these Indians is higher than that of the
Virginia negro. With a few exceptions the adults among them can read and
write. In view of their limited advantages they are strikingly well
informed. A copy of one of their State papers will serve to give an idea
of the maximum intelligence of the tribe. It reads as follows:
PAMUNKEY INDIAN RESERVATION,
King William County, Va., June 26, 1893.
the last descendants of the Powhatan tribe of Indians, now situated on a
small reservation on the raintinkey river, 24 miles from Richmond, Va..
and one mile east of the historic White House, where Gen. George
Washington was married to his lovely bride in the St. Peter's Church. We
are now known as the Pamunkey tribe of Indians, following the customs of
our forefathers, hunting and fishing, partly with our dugout canoes.
We hereby authorize Terrill Bradby to visit the Indian Bureau in
Washington and in all other Departments and Indian tribes, and also to
visit the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
We, the undersigned, request that whenever this petition is presented,
the holder may meet with the favorable approbation of the public
C. S. BRADEY, Chief,
J. T. DENNIS,
W. G. SWEAT,
R. L. SIMPSON,
H. W. MILES,
JAS. H. JOHNSON,
W. T. NEAL,
B. RICHARDS, M.D.,
E. R. ALLMOND,
A. J. PAGE, G.M. COOK,
W. A. BRADBY,
T. T. DENNIS
Members of the Tribe
The Pamunkey Indians are temperate, moral, and peaceable. Ill feeling
between the tribe and their neighbors is almost unknown. They are
exceeding proud of their lineage, and love to tell how bravely and
stubbornly their forefathers resisted the encroachment of the whites.
Opechancanongh is their hero. They take special delight in relating the
familiar story of how this noted chief; when old and infirm, was carried
on a litter to battle, that his presence might inspire his well to deeds
It may not be amiss to give here a tradition concerning this tribe,
which is related as explanatory of the name of a certain ferry that
crosses Pamunkey river about ten miles above the reservation. The name
of the ferry is Pipe-in-tree, now spelled Pipingtree. The tradition runs
thus: On one occasion the Pamunkey braves met a committee of white
settlers at this place and negotiated a treaty. When all the terms had
been agreed to, the consummation of the treaty was solemnized in usual
Indian fashion by handing around the same pipe to the representatives of
both nations, each taking a puff as indicative of friendship and good
faith. The pipe was then deposited in a hollow tree near by, and ever
afterward, when the colonists disregarded their agreement, the poor
Indians would remind them of "pipe-in-tree."
Aside from their mode of subsistence there is nothing peculiar in the
manners and customs of these people, except, perhaps, an inclination to
the excessive use or gaudy colors in their attire. Their homes are
comfortable and well kept. The houses are weatherboarded, and are, as a
rule, one-story-and-a-half high, and consist of from one to four rooms.
The best structure on the reservation is their church building, where
services are held every Sabbath. The church receives the hearty support
of the whole tribe, the membership of the church and that of the tribe
being almost coextensive. As to their creed, they are all of one mind in
adhering to the tenets of the Baptist denomination.
visiting Indiantown at the present day would not find a vestige of the
Pamunkey language, even in the names of persons or things. In 1844 Rev.
E. A. Dalrymple collected the following seventeen words,2
which, so far as the writer can ascertain, are all that remain of the
language of the Pamunkey Indians proper:
O my Lord
go out, dog.