Newsletter of The Lost Colony Research Group



The Lost Colony Research Group

Genealogy ~ DNA ~ Archaeology




June 2011


Will the REAL Scarborough, Basnett and Whidbee 

please stand up?  


During 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.


We 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.


We recreated this neighborhood using land grants, deeds and wills.  In doing so, we made an extremely interesting discovery.


Keep 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. 


Some of the property owners whose land abutted that of William Elks had some very unusual wills.


In 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.


In 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. 


In 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.


The 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 relationship.


In 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.


Just 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. 


The 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.


John 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.


So 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.


We 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.


We 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. 


If 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 Percival Dring. 


We 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  

This article about the Pamunkey Indians was found on 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

The 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 northeastern stock.

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 and literature.

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 be ascribed.

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 public.




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 following:

The True Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captain John Smith: Richmond, 1819.
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.


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 historical.


The 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.


No 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 relatives.

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:

King William County, Va., June 26, 1893.  

We, 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 generally.

Council H. W. MILES, Town Clerk JAS. H. JOHNSON, W. T. NEAL, B. RICHARDS, M.D.,

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 of bravery.

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.


One 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:

Tonshee, son

Nikkut, one.

Nueksee, daughter

Orijak, two.

Petucka, cat

Kiketock, three.

Kayyo, thankfulness

Mitture, four.

O-ma-yah, O my Lord

Nahnkitty, five.

Kenaanee, friendship.

Vomtally, six.

Baskonee, thank you

Talliko, seven.

Eeskut, go out, dog.

Tingdum, eight.


Yantay, ten



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