Thursday, July 3, 2008

Lumbee - Lost Colony Connection

In 1914, the Federal government sent special Indian agent O.M. McPherson to look into the Lumbee band.

After studying historical records and talking to county residents, he wrote, "At the coming of the first white settlers to what is now known as Robeson County (in the early 1700s), there was found located on the banks of the Lumbee River a large tribe of Indians speaking the English language, tilling the soil, owning slaves, and practicing many of the arts of civilized life."

McPherson concluded, "I have no hestitancy in expressing the belief that the Indians originally settled in Robeson and adjoining counties in North Carolina where an amalgamation of the Hatteras Indians with Gov.White's Lost Colony(took place)."

The Lumbees are regarded as Indians in North Carolina, and in previous decades have encountered overt discrimination. In the not-so-distant days of Southern segregation, there were three school systems in Robeson County-for whites, blacks, and Indians-three different washrooms and water fountains in the courthouse and three places for the races to sit in the movie theaters. There has been a long-standing tradition here that Lumbees should marry people of their own race and not "marry white" or marry blacks.

Lumbees say that there seem to be other Indian tribes mixed in their heritage, including Cherokees, Tuscaroras and the Eastern Siouan Indians such as the Cheraw and Keyauwee.

Another advocate of the Lost Colony theory was Caucasian historian Stephen B. Weeks, who wrote in 1891 of the Indians along the Lumbee, that "their language is the English of 300 vears ago, and their names are in many cases the same as those borne by the original colonists."

Proponents of the Lost Colony theory argue that the Indian-white group sought refuge in North Carolina swamps and that the forbidding nature of the landscape helped the group keep its identity.

The Lost Colony theory and the Lumbee seem quite well accepted among most of the 82,000-plus Indians, whites and blacks in Robeson County.

The relationship between Indians and whites seems to have been fairly harmonious here until the decades immediately before the Civil War when restrictive laws were passed against nonwhites in North Carolina. Tensions reached a high during the Civil War and the years immediately following when "the Lowrie War" wracked this Carolina swampland. Henry Berry Lowrie, the leader of the outlaw Lowrie Indian Band of this period, has been regarded as a great hero of the Indians here. He disappeared mysteriously in 1872.

The Lumbees have long disputed the contention of whites and some other Indian tribes that they are a mixture of black and white. While Lumbees acknowledge that there are some black ancestors in the group, they say that the overwhelming majority of Lumbee ancestors were Indian and white.

The Indians here bitterly resisted white efforts to treat them like blacks and refused to go to black schools in the 19th century. In 1887 the Indians opened the Croatan Normal School here.

The Croatan Normal School grew and in 1941 was renamed Pembroke State College for Indians. For a dozen years afterward it was the only state-supported four-year college for Indians in the country. Whites were admitted in the raid-1950s after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregation. The name of the institution has now been changed to Pembroke State University.