Croatans - Lumbee Indians

Frederick, Maryland
July 2, 1887

LOST IN 1587

Their Descendants Believed to Be the Croatan Indians of 1587--The Facts
in a Very Romantic History-- Condition of the Croatans of the Present Day

In 1587 Sir Walter Raleigh sent John White with three vessels loaded with colonists to found a settlement on the coast of far away and almost unknown America.  White landed on what is now NOrth Carolina, and established his colony on Roanoke island.  A short while after the departure of the fleet for England leaving the colonists behind, a child was born--the first on American soil.  To it was given the name Virginia Dare.  The new country, so suspiciously settled, was named Virginia, after England’s "Virgin Queen, " Elizabeth, and for the same reason the  name Virginia was given the first born.
The colonist, when the fleet sailed, were busy preparing their rude homes, and had thrown up a rough fort, after the manner of the  time, to guard against a danger which must have seemed imaginary, so kind were the Indians who lived in that region.  The friendliness of the latter was so great that they aided the new comers in every way.  The fleet carried to England good tidings of the settlers, "in a land well watered, with great abundance of fish and game, with such grapes and fruits as have not before  been seen by Englishmen."
Three years passed and then the mystery began.  It had been the plan that in a little while the ships would return and that the colonists’ numbers would be  augmented by new arrivals from England.  But i was three years before a relief expedition sailed.  In 1590 it reached Roanoke.  Where were the colonists?  Echo only answered the question.  The people landed, searched the island thoroughly but not a trace was there of the lost colony, save the outlines of the fort and the one word "CROATAN" rudely carved upon the trunk of a tree.  There were no Indians, and the colonists had evidently left in a body.  There were no graves, no evidences of conflict: nothing to tell nay tale of their  whereabouts. The word "Croatan" was more than meaningless.  The ships finally sailed away with this awful story of the unknown.
For three centuries, on both sides of the water, the most melancholy interest has been attached to what came to be known as "the lost colony of Roanoke," an interest which but deepened as the years passed.
* * *
Now where and what was Croatan?  It was in Tyrrell county, on the North Carolina mainland, and across the sound from Roanoke.  It was there the white people went, no doubt as the special request of Indian friends, who promised them a more generous land.
To bridge, in one sentence, the space of three centuries of time, the county of Robeson must be visited, for there rests the other end of the mystery of 1587.  The Croatans are in Robeson.  As the descendants of those older Croatans, whose name was the one link in a chain otherwise lost, and as the descendants also of the lost colonists of Sir Walter Raleigh’s ill fated expedition, they can justly lay claim to  more of romance than any other people on this continent.
During the recent session of the North Carolina legislature, a member from Robeson county, Mr. Hamilton McMillan, started thought in a new direction by asking for special aid for the Croatan Indians.  
He declared that a great injustice had been done them in that they had been classed as negroes.  He claimed that they were Indians, of a high class, and of historic name and fame, and that they desired and deserved separate schools and special aid.  Three hundred years after the colony of White was lost, the descendants of those colonists petition the legislature for aid in educating their teachers--a legislature sitting in a city named after Raleigh, the patron of the colony.
The legislature has hearkened to the matter and has granted separate schools and special aid for normal schools to the Croatans, meanwhile restoring them to their proper position as Indians and as citizens.
The last two ends of the chain were picked up.  It now remained to discover the links between. To do this a visit to the Croatans became necessary, and in Mr. McMillan’s company it was made.  The county of Robeson lies on the state’s southern border, adjoining South Carolina, and a hundred miles from Raleigh.  The land there is fertile, much of it in swamp, filled with luxuriant vegetation, while there are vast stretches of the long leaf pine which formerly yielded the staple of North Carolina’s commerce---tar, pitch and turpentine.  The Croatoans now living there number  3,000.  they have enrolled nearly  1,200 children of school age.  They have twenty-six churches, and are divided into Baptists and Methodists.  They have in the past few months built good schoolhouses.  The very best roads in all the state are found there.  A century or more ago they opened the great Lowry road from Robeson to Cambellton (a historic Scotch settlement) and this was used as a post road until railroads came.  It was along this road that fast riding couriers carried the tidings of the treaty of Ghent to Gen. Jackson at New Orleans in 1815.
Very careful inquiries were made to ascertain the past history of this tribe.  The Croatans came to Robeson county (then Bladen) between 1715 and 1732.  An investigation of land grants in their possession was made.  The oldest grant that could be discovered is dated in 1732 and by it King George II granted a large tract to two chief men of the tribe, names Henry Berry and James Lowry or Lowrie, who "came from Virginia," as tradition has it, for the Croatans yet speak of eastern North Carolina as "Virginia."  There is said to be a grant by George III to John White, but it cannot be discovered.  The name of John White is very suggestive.  Over twenty names of Whites’s lost colonists are today among them.

* * *
Many inquireis were made as to tribal traditions.  The tradition is common that the tribe formerly inhabited the country around Pamlico sound, including portions of what are now Carteret and Hyde counties and all of Tyrrell and Dare.  Among the Lowry family there is a tradition that their  "feythers" (fathers) lived on the shores of Lake Mattamuskeet, in Hyde county, before they came to Robeson county.  The best informed men say that the Croatan was the name of a place, and that the name was later given the tribe by the English.  An intelligent Croatan clergyman says that the true tribal names is Hatteras (or Hattorask, as the Croatans call it.) Now here is another link.  The Hattorask Indians are the ones who were on Roanoke island when White’s colony landed.  No Indians lived habitually on the island: they only went there from the main land to fish or hunt, or perhaps for greater coolness in summer.
Another tradition, well preserved, gives another ? in the chain of evidence.  It is that Lake Mattamuskeet, before alluded to, was a "burnt lake" or "lake burnt out of the ground."  And so it was, wonderful as it may seem.  The soil of Hyde is all peat, and in dry season it occasionally catches on fire.  In such a case the very land itself is consumed and pits or depressions are formed, which presently fill with water.  The best evidence to that in a vast fire, perhaps centuries ago, Lake Mattamuskeet was thus formed.  It is thirty miles long, at no place over eight feet deep, and not a fish of any kind has ever been ? in its waters.
But yet strange facts were discovered.  The language of the Croatans is peculiar  in tone. They use but two sounds of the letter a--a broad sound of a as in father and the sound of a as in date.  Dare is pronounced Derry. the name of Virginia Dare is familiar to their chroniclers.  The Dare family name has disappeared in Robeson county, but is found among a branch of the tribe in Lincoln County, N.C. One of the Dares served as a soldier in the United States army in the war of 1812. Their language is peculiar in that it is strictly Anglo-Saxon.  It contains many words in common use which have been obsolete for a long period in most of England.  For instance, "housen" is the plural of house; "crone" is to push down; for "ask" they say "eks" (old English): for "father" they say "feyther."  Knowledge is spoken of as "wit."
As to family names, over twenty of those held by the  long lost colonists are found.  James (pronounced in the old English way, Jeams) Lowry is a very common name among them.  The name of Locklear is also found, and Cuzzie Locklear is one of the oldest living members.  The name Dial was formerly Doyle.  The name Goins was once O’Gwinn.  Priscilla and Rhoda are the most common name of women, and Henry that of men.  One of the oldest men is Aaron Revels, who is more than 100 years of age.  He is an uncle of Senator Revels, of Mississippi.
The prevalance of the name Lowry has been referred to.  According to tradition a man named James Lowry came from "Chesapeake" and married in the tribe, and became the progenitor of a large and influential family.  That family, at the time the tribe broke up, moved away from the Roanoke section, went to western North Carolina, perhaps to Buncombe.  Lowry’s descendants they say, wee "leaders among men."  Governor James Lowry Swain, who after serving as chief magistrate of North Carolina was for over a quarter of a century president of the State university, was a descendant as was also Lieutenant Governor James Lowry Robinson, of this state.
They have always, their traditions say, been warm friends of the white people.  It is said that long ago they fought under Bonnell (Barnwell) in the wars agains the Indian tribes.  Many of them were in the Continental army in the war of the revolution, and a company was sent to fight the British in the war of 1812.  The English names of men in these companies are remarkable as those of  White’s colonists in many cases.  Some of the Croatans were slave owners, and some kept houses of entertainment for travelers.
Their cleanliness is a characteristic.  Physicians who practice among them speak of this and say they never hesitate about sleeping or eating in the house of  a Croatan.  They are a hospitable people also, and very obliging.  They are proud of their race and have far stronger race prejudices than either whites or negroes.  They are the best of friends, but the most dangerous of enemies.  Indian characteristics are marked.  Their fondness for cloth of a red color is remarkable and in this most of their women are dressed.  They  march in "Indian file" in their travels.  They are reticent, unless one gains their confidence.  They are of all colors, from pure white to copper.  Many of them can with difficulty be distinguished from white people.

Their women are in many cases beautiful with superb figures, as voluptuous in some ?ruses as those of the far famed Hawaiian maidens.  One of their most beautiful women is Rhoda Lowry, who was sometimes spoken of as "Queen Rhoda."  Their movements are grace itself, and the dress is worn in a most becoming way, though simple in texture and design.
* * *
The Croatans were recognized as white people, and attended the same schools with white pupils. But in 1835 another curious thing in their eventful history occurred.  They were deprived of the right to vote, and classed "free persons of color" under an amendment to the state constitution, adopted that year, which prohibited that class from voting or attending school.  The Croatans allege that they were deprived of voting to effect a change in the politics of their country.  They were not allowed to attend schooled from 1835 to 1868.  Since the latter date some of the poorer class attended the public colored schools. but that is at an end.  They are now a race apart, fully recognized and cared for educationally.
Some seventeen years ago a member of the tribe, Henry Berry Lowry, disgraced it by becoming the chief of a band of outlaws which for months terrorized that section and caused a national sensation. Finally they were killed and that blot was wiped out.
Such is the history of the Croatans, from 1587 to 1887.  They were dwellers in Tyrell, Dare, etc., who happened to be on Roanoke island.  They induced White’s colonists to go to the mainland with them. They intermarried and out of regard for the white race the latter’s family names were chosen.  After years of life in eastern Carolina the tribe, after the manner of many other, moved to other places and chose Robeson as its main abiding place.  The rest has been told, part on well-grounded tradition, part on well known facts.  the Croatans of today deserve a double place in history.
It is pleasant to mention that the state of North Carolina, which named its capital Raleigh, after the worthy sir Walter, has named its easternmost county Dare, in honor of that little tribe, whose eyes first saw the light there and whose name has gone down into the romance of history.
F. A. Olds

July 17, 1890
--Red Springs, North Carolina
Hamilton McMillan

'The Croatan tribe lives principaly in Robeson county, North Carolina, though there is quite a number of them settle in counties adjoining in North and South Carolina. In Sumter county, South Carolina, there is a branch of the tribe, and also in east Tennessee. In Macon county, North Carolina, there is another branch, settled there long ago. those living in east tennessee are called "Melungeons", a name also retained by them here, which is corruption of 'Melange', a name given them by early settlers (French), which means mixed.''

Georgia Crotan to be Executed Next Month for Murder.

New York Times
February 28, 1897, Wednesday

ATLANTA, Ga., Feb. 27. -- For the first time in fifty years an Indian is under sentence of death in Georgia. He will be hanged in Glynn County next month.  Marcellus Lowry, the condemned man, is a Crotan Indian from the celebrated band
in North Carolina, many of whom have drifted with the turpentine and timber men into Southern Georgia, where they are called "Melungeons."  Lowery and a white man named Patrick Burns were working in the woods together and Burns went to
Lowery's camp and entered his shanty to get something to eat.  The Croatan Indians are a fierce, treacherous and vindictive race and once their anger is aroused they do not hesitate to commit murder.
The witnesses in the case testified on the trial that as Burns left the shanty Lowery shot him in the back, having concealed himself behind a tree.  As to the origin of the difficulty between them very little was brought out, but so far as
can be ascertained it was simply the ungovernable temper of the Indian

Atlanta Constitution

November 7, 1897


It seems to me that I am haunted by Indians.  The other night as I came from Macon to Atlanta my friend, Judge Hall, introduced me to Dr. Peterson, of St. Louis, a very learned and cultured gentleman who was connected with the ethnological department of the government and was engaged in examining Indian mounds and in writing up the history of the Indian tribes, especially of the five tribes known as civilized. Viz. The Cherokees, Creeks, Chickasaws, Choctaws and Seminoles.  As these were our Indians, I became much interested in this discourse, for he had been careful and diligent in his research, and what he knew, he knew well.  We talked about DeSoto and how, with a handful of brave soldiers, he overran this country and took captive as many Indian girls as his men wanted.

“Why did not these Indians overwhelm DeSoto and his handful of followers and extinguish them?” I asked. “Because," said the doctor, “they were paralyzed with fear of this new and aggressive race of people just as the Peruvians were paralyzed by Pizarro, who overran and conquered Peru with less than a hundred men.”

The doctor had been to eastern North Carolina investigating the tribe of 4,000 Croatans over there. They were originally called Hatteras Indians but about three hundred years ago Sir Walter Raleigh planted a colony of English and Portuguese on Roanoke Island and put them in charge of Governor John White, a very practical and accomplished gentleman. A few days after landing, Governor White’s daughter Eleanor, who had married a Mr. Dare. Gave birth to a child and she was named Virginia and so Virginia Dare was the first English child born on American soil.  Let the boys and girls remember that.  But no man knows anything more about her. 

Governor White and Sir Walter went back to England for supplies and farming tools for the colony and on their return trip got into a fight with some Spanish cruisers and lost their cargo and many of their men and had to go back to England, and it was several years before they made another venture and when they arrived at the island the colony was nowhere to be found and little Virginia has never been heard of.  The colony left some marks on a tree pointing to an Indian town called Croatan, but the town was deserted. 

The doctor’s investigations have satisfied him that the colony did not perish nor were they killed but that the men wanted wives and went into the interior and co-habited with the Croatans- for it was found a hundred years after that, these Indians were of mixed colors and many of them spoke broken or mixed English and Portuguese, although they had no intercourse with white people until the colony came nor for a hundred years after.  He believes that Virginia Dare probably grew up with those Indians and her descendants are now of mixed blood.

It seems that these Croatans were never Americanized until the last civil war when many of them came to the front with their guns and said they wanted to fight some.  They were accepted and enrolled and did fight for the confederacy.  During the war there was an election held in a county where some of them lived. And they were persuaded by an ambitious candidate to go to the polls and vote for him.  Their votes were challenged by the other fellow upon the ground they had some Negro blood in their veins.  They were very indignant and said, “When you want us to fight for you, we are same as white folks, when we want to vote, you say we are negurs.”  And so a committee of four doctors was appointed to examine them and say what they were.  The committee took them out to a sandy place in the road and had them take off their shoes and make tracks barefooted.  Five of them made very fair Anglo-Saxon tracks and were accepted, but of the other two the report was that the hollow of their feet made holes in the ground and they were rejected.  There are some of these Croatoans on Newman’s ridge, in Tennessee.

 I remember that, some years ago, a party of us were riding in the Negro car on the state road, and when we reached Kingston a colored convention of preachers got aboard and claimed the car.  Sanford Bell ordered us out, and we retired, of course, but one man did not move.  He was a dark, cadaverous individual with black eyes and black hair.  “What are you” said Sanford, “are you a white man or a Negro:   He smile and said; ‘Mine fader a Portugee, mine mudder a negur.”  Sanford looked perplexed and turning to one of the colored preachers, said “What must I do with him?” And he said “Let him alone I reckon.”  I learned afterwards that he was a Croatoan.

[This ends the part of the article dealing with Croatan and Newman's Ridge.]

Are These Descendants of Members of the Lost Colony of Roanoke?
November 15, 1894
There live in the swamps of Robeson County, North Carolina, a strange race of people.  Their manners, customs and personal appearance are unlike those of any other race on the American continent.  They live within themselves, and their intercourse with their neighbors, both white and colored, is limited to the extent which necessity demands.  Among the citizens of the county they are called Portuguese and mulattoes.  They are neither.  Recent investigations by antiquarians who have closely studied their characteristics, in cline to the opinion that they are the descendants of the Croatan Indians and the lost colony of Roanoke Island.
It is an historical fact that on the arrival of the relief expedition fitted out by Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Richard Grenville the colony planted on Roanoke Island a few months before had totally disappeared. Years afterward, when the country had become sparsely settled by the English, and when the Tuscorora Indians were the dominant tribe, it was a tradition among them that in the interior there were white men who wee members of a smaller tribe of Indians, and that these men possessed many of the gifts of the English.  It is generally thought that when the English vessels sailed to England for supplies for the infant colony those left on Roanoke Island were too weak to defend themselves against the Croatan Indians, their nearest neighbors, and that in an incursion the men were killed and the women and children carried away into captivity.
Whatever may be the supposition, the fact, nevertheless, remains, that in this remote county of the Old North State, thee exists today a strange and peculiar people.  Their associations have, in the main, been with those who, previous to the war, were known in the Southern States as free negroes.  They inter-married with these free negroes and the majority of them are more or less tinctured with African blood.  this admixture, however, does not change their characteristics.  There are among them certain families who have held aloof  from such alliances, and these occupy a position of superiority.  while they are not, in the strictest sense, tribal in their government, they bow in implicit obedience to their rulers who are always members of the pure blooded families.  These pure bloods in personal appearance resemble the Portuguese, but in every other characteristic they are more like the Indian.  They are brave, generous, natural hunters, fine shots and very truthful.  The swamps abound in game, such as bear, deer, ducks, turkeys and smaller animals and birds.  They never forget an injury and treasure up their feelings of vengeance till they find a way to gratify it.  They live in houses of peculiar architectural design resembling the "dug out" of the primitive Western settler. 
A few years ago these people became a source of terror to their white neighbors. One of their principle men, Henry Berry Lowrey, organized a band of them and wrought as much crime in Robeson and the adjoining counties ad did the James gang in its more extensive field of operations.  This man, on account of a real or fancied wrong, waylaid and murdered a wealthy and influential white man, a Mr. Townsend.  The horrors of an Indian war, except the scalping of the victims, followed.  Women and children were killed as well as able bodied men.  No race was exempt.  It was a war of extermination.  Houses were burned, stock destroyed, and the country laid waste. After committing depredations, the band would return to the swamps, which are almost as impenetrable as the jungles of India.  they are covered with dense underbrush, and only those familiar with their recesses are able to find the hidden paths that lead into their depths.  Lowery possessed considerable intellect, and, being familiar with every inch of the ground, showed himself an adept in the warfare.  His second in command, Stephen Lowery, his uncle, was a capable lieutenant, and was often sent on a marauding expedition with a part of the command, while the chief would strike at a distant Point.
This was continued for several years, and became so disastrous to that portion of the state that the Legislature passed an act granting amnesty to all the desperadoes except Henry Berry and Stephen Lowery, for whose capture of death a reward of $10,000 was offered.  This action of the State had desired effect and the war came to an end.  What became of the leaders is not known. they were never captured and no one ever claimed the reward for killing them. they disappeared, and their followers resumed the even tenor of their way.
These people are legal citizens of the United States, but seldom avail themselves of their privileges.  They take no interest in either local or national affairs.  They have fought against all efforts for their improvement, and live today the same lives their ancestors did.


Atlanta Constitution

July 21, 1901


North Carolina's Croatans, who claim to be descendants pf Raleigh's lost colony are not the only peculiar people among the red inhabitants of theseUnited States. The claim is not new it has been more or less exploited these thirty years, along with that of the still more curious Melungeons of East Tennessee.  Their name, said to come from the French melange, a mixture, must be pre-eminently fit, since they show racial characteristics of the Cherokees, the negroes, the Portugese, and the plain, ordinary poor whites.
Their language is as mixed as their blood, and their civilization is in somewhat the same condition.
Over against them set their neighbors, the Eastern Cherokees, who live in Qualla boundary in western North Carolina, and are so up-to-date they have formed themselves into a regular corporation, so as to share in the government benefits which were in danger ot monopoly by the, rich and out-reaching western Cherokee nation.

Secret of the Croatan Tribe-- The Famous
Roanoke Settlers Were Not Massacred,
But affiliated With a Friendly and Powerful
Nation of Indians
St. Louis Dispatch
Former United States Senator Hiram R. Revels, of Mississippi, has always been classed as a negro.  He was a tall, well-built man, with the chocolate skin and curly hair of the African and the devout bearing of his profession the ministerial.  He served during the reconstruction period, never being known as prominent, but always as a representative colored man.  Rebels was not a negro.  Dr. C. A. Peterson of St. Louis, who had made a study of the lost Roanoke (Va.) colony says that Revels is a descendant of that mystery-shrouded band that Sir Walter Raleigh sent to Roanoke Island in 1587.
..... Now for the facts which the historians have generally so singularly overlooked. In 1710 when the Huguenots and Cavaliers started to penetrate the interior of North Carolina, they found some seventy-vive miles from the coast in what is now Robeson,  N.C.,  a colony of English speaking people,  many of whom had blue eyes and light hair.  They inquired where they came from and they replied.  "From Croatan' How does it come that your speak English!' 'Our fathers were English'
"They wrote one letter about their discovery, a letter by the way, is in the archives of the board of trade of London.
It is evident that a number of the Huguenots remained in a colony and intermarried, as there are a great many names of undoubted French origin to be found among the Croatan names of the present day.
"these people have always been called Croatans.  There are some 4,000 of them living in robeson county, N. C. at the present time, but they have scattered all over the South and West.  I have found Croatan names among all the civilized tribes living in the Indian Territory.
"The Croatans have distinct racial characteristics. They are as black as Portuguese and are different in appearance from either Indians, negroes or Caucasians.  In some instances there has evidently been a mixture with negro blood, and on this account when in 1833 North Carolina and Tennessee disfranchised the negroes, they included the Croatans.
When the war broke out the Croatans were between two fires.  Those who did not enlist in the Southern army were liable to be impressed as negroes for work on fortifications, etc.  From this custom came the cause of the depredations of the Lowry gang which for years spread terror in North Carolina.
"Old man Lowry resisted impressment, declaring that there was nothing but English and Indian blood in his veins and that he was as much an American freeman, and had as good blood in him as the Harrisons, the Randolphs, or any of the descendants of the proudest colonial families.  For this stubborn stand he was shot dead.
"When his son, Henry Berry Lowry reached his manhood he took his gun, organized a band of sympathizers and started out on a mission of extermination.  every man suspected of having had any connection with his father's death was waylaid and killed.  the gang was finally broke up, but not until it had collect bloody interest on old many Lowry's death.
"The most eminent of the Croatans was United States senator Revels, who was elected from Mississippi during the reconstruction days.  he was classed as a negro, but he was in reality a Croatan, one of those with a Huguenot name and ancestry.
"The family names of the Croatans are the same as those of the settlers on Roanoke Island.  They were men from Devonshiren England and furthermore even the broad Devonshire pronunciation is found in certain words as used by the Croatans of today.
"A hundred years ago a colony of Croatans settled in eastern Tennessee, on Newman's Ridge, in Hancock county.  They can't tell today where they came from, for tradition over 50 years isn't worth anything.  These are the people called Melungeons.  They are similar in racial characteristics to the Croatans, and Dr. Swan M. Burnett, a distinguished scholar and scientitst - the husband, by the way, of Mrs. Francis Hodgson Burnett, the novelist - has traced by family names the connection between the Melungeons and the Croatans.
The name Melungeons is accounted for in this wise;  when the new settlers appeared among the mountaineers their unusual looks prompted inquiries as to what they were.  The answer was 'Melange" -- or a mixture -- and the mountaineers at once dubbed them Melungeons."


Hamilton McMillan - Croatans

Lumbee History