Newspaper Article - 1948
THE INDIANS OF PERSON COUNTY NORTH CAROLINA
HISTORY OF A PROUD AND HANDSOME TRIBE OF INDIANS NEAR ROXBORO MAY BE CONNECTED WITH LOST COLONY MYSTERY; ABOUT 70 FAMILIES LIVE IN EXTENDED FARMING COMMUNITY
By Tom MacCaughelty
Durham Morning Herald, March 21, 1948
Straddling the North Carolina border in the secluded hills east of U.S. Highway 501 is a community of American Indians whose history has remained as much a mystery as the fate of the Lost Colony. Commonly termed a "mixed-blood" group, these proud people are probably the product of marriages long ago of whites and Indians, and, in fact, have a tradition among themselves which says they are remnants of the Lost Colony. In color they vary between blondes and even red-heads with grey or blue-gray eyes to tawny and sometimes swarthy brunettes with hazel, brown, or black eyes. Some have the straight black hair associated with pure Indian, while others have differing shades of brown hair, either straight or wavy. In general appearance they are well- dressed and clean. They are a handsome people. Their history is mysterious. As Indians, they never have been positively identified. Can they be, as their tradition holds, the long sought descendants of the friendly Indians who received the colonists of John White? Strangely enough, among the approximately 350 people in the scattered farming community, only six family names are represented: Johnson, Martin, Coleman, Epps, Stewart (also spelled Stuart), and Shepherd. Stranger still, three of these names correspond closely with those among the list of Lost Colonists: Johnson, Coleman, and Martyn. But theirs are common English names long familiar in North Carolina, and intermarriage with the proximity to whites would be expected to extend such names among them. (A seventh prominent name among this group is Tally.) As far back as anyone knows, these people have displayed the manners and customs of white settlers, but in this they don't differ from identified Indians.
Unfortunately, as far as settling the question goes, not a single Indian word had been passed down to the present group. If their former manner of speech could somehow be resurrected, there would be a good clue to their identity; for then experts could judge with some degree of accuracy whether they indeed originated among the coastal Algonquin language tribes. If so, there would be a good argument for the Lost Colony theory. If their language were Siouan or some other branch of the inland tongues, the score would be against the Lost Colony tradition.
Dr. Douglas LeTell Rights, author of "The American Indian in North Carolina," (published by Duke University Press in 1947) says that there is a possibility that the people, officially designated as Person County Indians, are descendants of the Saponi, originally a Siouan tribe. He notes that Governor Dobbs reported in 1755 that 14 men and 14 women of the Saponi were in Granville county. Person County was once a part of Granville county. ( Dr. Rights also suggests that these Indians in Person County may be a branch of, or have mixed with, the Indians of Robeson County. The people themselves deny being a branch of the Robeson County Indian, but say that there have been a few marriages between members of the two groups.)
The Person County Indians, if they are of the Saponi, couldn't choose a more highly regarded tribe. (Col. William Byrd, in his History of The Dividing Line describes this tribe.) Whether a remnant of the Lost Colony, or of the proud Saponi, or of some other group, these people have lived in the rolling hills and high plains northeast of Roxboro for countless generations. No one knows how long. According to E. L. Wehrenberg, for 17 years principal of the community school, it was not until 1920 that they were officially recognized by act of the North Carolina legislature as Person County Indians. Before that, however, they had always insisted upon being treated either as Indians or whites. Back in the days of subscription schools, they hired their own white teachers; and under the present county school system have always had white or Indian teachers. Wehrenberg estimates that there are about 70 families in the group. and that about two-thirds of the people live in Person County and the rest across the line in Virginia. This proportion has changed from time to time he says.