The Melungeon Historical Society was formed in 2008 to promote factual Melungeon research and dispel the many myths and false statements found on the Internet about this intriguing group of dark skinned persons who lived in East Tennessee and nearby regions.
William Eaton's Muster Roll - Granville County 1754
by Roberta Estes
The Saponi Indians were allied and grouped with the Eno, the Shakori, the Totera and others especially after their time at Fort Christanna in from 1714-1716. William Eaton was a well known trader and he obtained land in Granville County. The smaller eastern tribes were quite unsettled after Fort Christanna was closed and tried living in different locations. Eventually, all of these people were simply called the Saponi. In 1730 the group went to live with the Catawbas in South Carolina on the North Carolina border, but in 1733, they were back in Virginia again. In 1742, they returned to the Catawba, but returned a second time in 1748. During this time, the Catawba were absorbing a number of remnant tribes who were not strong enough to protect themselves. Indian numbers were dwindling due to constant warfare and disease. Unlike the English, with a new supply of colonists constantly arriving from Europe, there was no replacement mechanism for the Native people.
By 1754, William Saunders in the "Colonial Records of North Carolina" report that a group of 30-40 Saponi had settled on the lands of William Eaton in Granville County, NC.
As luck would have it, Janet Crain discovered the "Muster Roll of the Regiment of Granville County under the command of Colonel William Eaton as taken as a general muster of the said Regiment October 8, 1754."
On that list are several surnames that are recognizable as families associated with Native heritage such as Harris, Chavers, Alford, Cade, Nichols, Hedgeparth, Gowen and others. Several are also associated with Melungeon heritage such as Gowen, Mullins, Collins, Bolton (Bollin) and Moore.
However, the question is whether or not there is anything on the muster list that might identify who is Native and who is not, and indeed, there is. Several people are noted at either negro or mulatto, as follows:
·Edward Harris, negro
·William Chavers, negro
·William Chavers Jun., Mul.
·Gilberth Chavers, Mulatto
·John Smith Nut Bush (I'm just going to leave this alone)
·Thomas Gowen, mulatto
·Mickael Gowen, mulatto
·Edward Gowen, mulatto
·Robert Davis, mulatto
·William Burnel, mulatto
John Smith's note of "nut bush" could be an indication of a location. One man is noted by a creek name and one says "up the river". Or it could possibly be an indication of a Native group association. If we exclude this individual, as he is not noted as being negro or mulatto, there are a total of 9 men "of color." Only free people could serve in the militia, so we know these men weren't slaves.
If each man had a wife and one child, that would be 27 people, 2 children would be 36 people and 3 children would be 45 people. This fits the 30-40 Saponi stated to have gone to live on William Eaton's land. Of these, the Chavers and Gowen families are known to be Lumbee as well as Tuscarora. Harris is the primary Catawba surname, although being a very common surname, may not be related. Gowen (Goins) is a Melungeon surname as well.
Perhaps, using the muster roll and the NC colonial records, in combination, we've just identified a number of Saponi families. By this time in the historical record, the name Saponi could represent any of the eastern remnant tribes' members.
I would preface my comments below with this statement;
I love and respect Jewish people everywhere. I have absolutely no animosity toward them, but rather I sympathize with everything they have been through. I'm sure some did come tothe New World and hide their heritage. But not in the droves suggested by certain writers. And nothing in any historical nor DNA evidence indicates they contributed any genes to the Melungeon population.
Several so called "proofs" of Jewish practices have been offered up on the Internet and in certain books.
One of the examples offered as proof is refuted by this information;
"having the Star of David inscribed on gravestones."
If the Crpyto-Jew's ancestors truly left as long ago as purported, there was no "Jewish only association" with the Magen David (Star of David) at that time for them to unconsciously remember and perpetuate for 600 hundred years. This was an ancient symbol that has only become strongly associated with Jews in the last hundred years. It is probably deeply rooted in our collective ancient human memories.
There are 2 articles in the just published issue of Appalachian Quarterly (available from the Wise County, VA, Historical Society) which you might find of interest. The first is called "Burial Practices in Souther Appalachia";
It is based on a thesis by Donna Stansbury. Accompanying it is an editorial on Appalachian burial practices by Rhonda Robertson. Both cite several rituals that are likely Jewish in origin (and are currently practiced by some Jews).
Among these are:
1. Burying the body within one day of death, facing the east.
2. Waving a candle over the body and placing three handfuls of salt in a wooden bowl on the deceased's chest.
3. Stopping all clocks at the time of death
4. Covering all mirrors at the time of death
5. Placing silver coins over the eyes of the deceased.
1. This is so simple I won't even offer a source. Common sense tells us that in a time before embalming and the availability of metal coffins, the dead were buried as soon as possible. And, yes, a Christian would want to be facing East.
2. Again common sense tells us that candles are burned to reduce bad odors. Flowers were placed nearby if in season for the same reason. Salt and earth either separate or mixed placed in a dish on the body is an ancient practice probably going back to paganism.
3. & 4. Stopping all clocks at the time of death:
"The Victorians had a lot of superstitions associated with death. When there was a corpse in the house you had to cover all the mirrors," she said. "And if a mirror in your house was to fall and break by itself, it meant that someone in the home would die soon. When someone died in the house and there was a clock in the room, you had to stop the clock at the death hour or the family of the household would have bad luck. When the body was taken from the house, it had to be carried out feet first because if it was carried out head first,
it could look back and beckon others to follow it into death."
(According to Albion's Seed these practices predated Victorian time.)
5.Placing silver coins over the eyes of the deceased:
In Roman times coins were placed in the eyes or mouths of the dead so that the person could pay Charon, the ferryman, to row them across the river Stix. It is easy to see how that custom entered British sensibilities as Rome ruled Britain for over 400 years. Many soldiers retired there with a villa and an English wife. The custom had plenty of time to spread throughout Europe and beyond, extending into every place the Romans occupied.
There are several other Appalachian practices that some have contended are Jewish. These beliefs have spread all over the Internet. I will list those that come to mind.
Endogamy or cousin marrying. This is certainly a way to keep a line pure and protect land and money from
dissipating to outsiders. That is why so many groups the world over have employed this practice. It is certainly not confined to Jewish people.
Marrying at home or at a close relative's house instead of in a Church. This is a common practice among many people, especially settlers in frontier areas where the nearest church may be very far away. A traveling minister might find himself performing a dozen weddings of young lovers anxious to tie the knot while an official was available.
Abstaining from eating meat not properly bled out. This is forbidden in the New Testament. Acts 15:20
I am sure I have missed a few things, but I will close with this one;
Sweeping the corners of a room toward the center. This is one that puzzles me. Who would sweep from the middle of the room toward the corners? That would accomplish nothing and just be moving dirt around. LOL
Remember Melungeons were first found in a Christian Church; Stony Creek Baptist church. Some people have even tried to say the Primitive Baptist Church was a cover for Crypto (hidden) Jewish people. This is also said about the Quakers and possibly others. Free Masonry is likewise implicated. None of this makes any sense.and reflects these writers' lack of familiarity with the subject.