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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Family Myth? Were any of our ancestors Native American?

Growing up I had heard on several occasions that we had Native American ancestry. While the source was usually from my father (JD) I now I heard it from others too, I cannot recollect who but I'm sure he was not the loan source.

Since beginning the family research I have also been asked this question several times and usually the cousin asking it affirmed that they had heard the story too.

Seldom has the discussion resulted in any details or cited a firm source for the story, but over the years it seems to have centered around the Cherokee tribe and the most common lineage that has been suggested was from Kizzie Comer's line.

Having done first hand research or at least studied multiple second hand sources I can say with certainty:

Littrell line – Our direct Littrell line is traced back to the original immigrant stepping off the boat in Virginia circa 1670. From that Luttrell to John Daniel Littrell there are 4 marriages where the wife(mother) has only been identified by there first name. The three most recent marriages (John's, his father and grandfather) involve Kizzie (see below) Eli's wife (Mary Cox), and Timmons wife (Mary Catherine Urban)

  • We have identified Mary's parents and the general belief is that they were first or second generation immigrants.

  • Both sets of Mary Urban parents go back at least two generations. Her father was possibly born in Germany, we know he spoke German and his father was an immigrant. Any introduction of Native American ancestry on her mother's side would have had to have occurred prior to 1800.

Comer Line – Her direct Comer line goes back to the birth of her great-grandfather in 1780. Her grandfather's wife is identified as a Springer, a common family in their county in1821.That leaves her mother and the spouses of her her great-grandfather, Susannah Belue.

  • Susannah's grandfather, Rennie Belue, is believed to be a French Huguenot immigrant from the northern colonies. Rennie's tentatively identified wife's ancestry can be traced back another two more generations to 1737.

  • Kizzie's mother, Ollie Ezell, can trace her mother's ancestry back two more generations to William Poteet and his wife Jemina ?? to circa 1800s. Ollie's fathers line can be traced back to Timothy Ezell, born before 1628. Of those 6 generations there is only one unidentified wife and she was born before 1689.

As we can see there are several opportunities for one of those unidentified wives, or those male lines that do not originate with an identified immigrant, that would allow the introduction of an unidentified Native American. On the other-hand our ancestral lines present an above average line of ancestry. Throughout all my research, the research of others, and accepted historical research there is nothing to establish the existence of a Native American ancestry, but...

Where does the story come from?

Every family has stories that get passed down for generations. Over time these stories outgrow their originators and like a child’s game of 'telegraph' they take on facts and fictions that were absent in their original form.

In addition there are stories that are so common that they appear in the mythology of most families. Nearly every family has the brother vs brother conundrum of the civil war, or the family splitting-up or disowning each other over the spelling of the family name. Every southern family has a story about sons having to hide in the woods, getting fed through the floorboards and having to work the fields at night to avoid impressment gangs who roamed the countryside looking for deserters or eligible males trying to avoid conscription into the war. This last one is so prevalent that one has to wonder who was available to fight for the south. Our family has a version of all three of these stories.

The last point of origination for unconfirmed stories often lies with those like myself who, while trying to discover the facts of a family history, sometimes fall into the trap of trying to rationalize an explanation for every anomaly or un-provable fact. A perfect example is this article itself. While attempting to disprove or prove the family story I will do one of four things:

  1. Prove it totally unfounded, without merit and stamp it with an adamant denial.

  2. Declare it as unfounded, but not beyond being possible.

  3. Find proof and establish the story as true to some degree or in some form.

  4. Dispel the myth but find a logical explanation for how it came to exist, entered our family history, or speculate about possibilities.

Number 1 is virtually impossible to do, quite simply proving a negative is always difficult, but in genealogy it is inadvisable. Closing the door completely is contrary to the never ending mystery of solving the next problem.

Numbers 2, 3, and 4 will always have the effect of at the most clearing up the truth behind the myth, but with time the corrected story will be passed on and with each telling the facts will be forgotten, misstated or ignored until the story will return to the original, cloudy version we set out to prove or disprove.

So with that soon to be useless explanation let me clear the air, for the moment.

Our Native American Ancestry: The Descendents of John and Kizzie Littrell.

In 20 plus years of researching our ancestry I have not come across one reference to our direct ancestors being Native American. But I believe I have found a credible source for the stories origination and an explanation of how it was passed down and absorbed into our heritage.

As mentioned earlier the story as told sometimes referenced Kizzie's family line as the source of our suggested Native American ancestry.

At this point that does appear to be the case. At one point there a marriage to a Native American in her ancestral families, just not in her direct line, which means it isn't our ancestor. To wit:

  • Samuel Belew was the brother of Susannah Belew who married Daniel Comer. Susannah and Dan were Kizzie Comer's great-grandparents.

  • Samuel, born about 1795, married Mary Polly Bryant about 1813 in Union Co., SC. Mary was the daughter of John Bryant, a Cherokee Indian, born in Pendleton, Va.1

  • Susannah's migration to Lawrence Co., Tn occurred when her son Jesse was about 9 years old. The wagon train included Susannah's aged father and other family and neighbors, so it is reasonable that Jesse would be aware that his 1st cousins were part Native American.

As the story gets handed down from a young Jesse to his son Dan, to Kizzie and her siblings and half-siblings it would be natural for the details of an Uncle who was part Indian becoming an ancestor who was part Indian. Or as Dad would put it “We have Indian blood somewhere.”

More on Mary Polly Bryant Belew's 2 ancestry:

Mary's father, John Bryant was the son of Zachariah and Lucy Bryant. Zachariah was killed in the War of 1812. In 1817 Lucy is on the Reservation Indian Rolls and was granted 640 acre of land in Helen, Ga.3

“In 1826, after gold was discovered along Dukes Creek on her property, her home was taken from her by the laws of the land at that time. Indians were considered savages if not of the Caucasian race thus on census reports many hid the very fact that they were Indian. This is were we get the saying to day of "Black Dutch" many that claimed to be "Black Dutch" were really of mixed bread Indian or some other race. We don't know if Lucy was in the Trail of Tears or not but we do know her heart must have been heavy and she must have shed tears at the loss of her beautiful mountain land, all she owned, and the hatred that now spread across the land.”   http://www.oocities.org/guledisgohnihi91/Chunannee.html 

Because of the Gold that was found on her land and the waterfall thereon Lucy's land is now a tourist attraction. At the foot of the path that leads to the Chunannee Falls is a plaque that reads:

Chunannee Falls Land Lot 91: The 640 acre Reservation formerly known as Chunannee, was originally the home of Lucy Bryant/Briant. She was a Cherokee Indian widow, as shown on the Reservation Roll of 1817, who was granted this land under the provisions of article 8 in the Treaty of July 8,1817. It was here on Duke's Creek that gold was first discovered in 1828.”

Glenn Littrell: 2013

1Assuming that John was full blooded, and his wife Fanny was not, then Samuel Belews children would be 1/4 Cherokee and Susannah's children would be 1st cousins.

2The story and details of Mary come from several citable sources, but the source that pulls all the details together comes from Bill Sherrill in the form of an untitled document that list no author or resources.

3 Turkey Town Treaty 7-8-1817

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