The James Surname

One prominent Piney Woods surname is James.  According to William James Barber in “Disciple Assemblies of Eastern North Carolina”  Bethany Press, 1966:

 Several families bore the same name but were not always of the same family.  For instance, there are two lines of Pierce’s (or Pearce’s, according to the various spelling), and three lines of James’ (formerly sometimes spelled and pronouncedJeams)in the community.  In the the case of the latter, one line of James originally lived in “The Islands.”  Reference to them is found in the Bertie County records as early as 1810.  Also listed for the year 1810 in Martin County under “all other free persons ” (i.e., except whites and free Negroes) except non-tax paying Indians” is David James, his family of six and Pattey James with her family of four.  This group of James claimed Indian ancestry.  They probably took their name (and its pronounciation) from the town of Jamesville, formerly “Jamestown,” (North Carolina) and then pronounced “Jeamston.”

The second set of James came to the community via Hertford County (Ahoskie and vicinity).  Sometime during the mid-19th century, one Heywood James came to Free Union from Hertford County and married into the Free Union Community family.  His people claimed to be descendants of some of the early manumitted Negroes of the Jamestown (Virginia) colony.  There is partial basis in the claim inasmuch as there was one David James, a free mulattto boy, liviing in Norfolk County, Virginia, as early as 1727.  This county took up at the times what is now Norfolk, Suffolk, and Southampton Counties and included the territories now around Jamestown.  Southampton County adjoins Northampton County, NC, which in turn joins Hertford County (which adjoins Bertie County, which  adjoins Martin County).  Thus, it is both possible and probable that the tradition is true.  Heywood james had two sons, Heywood, Jr., and James.  Heywood, Jr., married a Free Union girl and his descendants still live in the community.  James (Jimmy) James firs moved to Tyrell County, North Carolina, and then to Norfolk, VA.

Nizer James, the father of William Anthony James, belonged to the first set of James….  According to accounts handed down by Henry James, eldest son of W.A. James, Nizer .  James acted as an espionage agent for the Federal troops during the Civil War. The Federals occupied Martin County and the Confederate Washington County.  Nizer James was captured by the Confederates as he was entering Washington County near his home at Warren Neck and he was hung by them.  After the war, his widow married Hector Moore, former personal servant of Clayton Moore, the pre-Civil War Government Commissioner.  The children of Nizer James were so incensed over their mother marrying a former bondsman that some of the children resulting from the union also resented the supposed stigmag attached to their father’s name and they refused to use the name Moore but went by the name James instead.  Thus, a third set of Jameses came into existence in the history of the community.  It must be said here, that Moore proved a good provider and this unreasonable exhibit of prejudice was uncalled for, but that it generally true of all prejudice.


The Boston Family

The founder of the Piney Woods community is generally said to be David Boston (born about 1787), the son of a woman named Da-ke.

According to William James Barber in “Disciple Assemblies of Eastern North Carolina”  Bethany Press, 1966:

 The community dates at least back to the late 1700s or early 1800s.  Its original population was an admixture of Indian and Free Negro.  The Indian heritage is Croatan and possibly Tuscarora, with the latter probably dominating.  One of its early founders was David Boston, probably Tuscarora descent.  This has been handed down by traditional account to his descendants.  Added to this is the fact that the name of David Boston does not show up on the census records until 1860 and then in the column designated mulatto or other…” and that prior to this time, the census records specifically mention two categories for non-whites.  The first of these is “Free Negro” and the second is “Mulatto or other, excepting non-tax paying Indians.”  David Boston resided in Martin County and owned property during this period for county records show that on December 12, 1816, in the County of Martin, there was a certain parcel of land bough from one Francis Ward for “one hundred dollars paid to me in hand by David Boston….”  Between 1816 and 1843, David Boston made about 10 other such transactions.  Yet his name does not appear on the census records*.  This leaves one to assume that tradition is correct in classifying him and his mother as Indian.  It must be stated, however, that the name Boston shows up in 1830 census records both in Bertie and Washington County records — though not the name David Boston (nor that of his brother of which indications are his name was Robert Boston.) (Land transactions were also made during this period by one Robert Boston.)

*However, I believe that David Boston does appear in census records prior to 1860:

The 1830 census shows a David Boston (transcribed as “Barton”, but the actual handwritten record looks like Boston to me) as head of a household of 11 “free colored” people .

The 1850 census shows a 63 year-old David Boston as the head of 27-person household (!!!) full of Bostons, Pierces, and Corden/Cordins.

Please let me know if you have any additional or clarifying  information.

What Race Was David Boston?

My brother Billy recently asked me about the race of  David Boston, who is considered to be the founding father of Piney Woods.  It is an interesting question.

Many people believe that he was a Native American. There is a lot of good supporting evidence for this; if you’re interested, you can get started exploring it online.  Some people have a related theory that he was related to the Croatan or Tuscorora Indians, who some believe include the descendants of The Lost Colony of Roanoke.

Another possibility is that David Boston and/or his mother, Dake, descended from a white woman who had offspring with a black man, since that was a common source of free colored communities in the upper south. See below for an excerpt from a Wikipedia article (yes, Wikipedia is not always accurate, but this does echo other things I’ve read.)

By the 19th century, there were flourishing families of free coloreds who had been free for generations. In the United States many of the “old issue” free people of color (those free before the Civil War) were descended from African Americans born free during the colonial period in Virginia. Most of those were descendants of white servant women who entered into relationships with African men, indentured servant, slave or free. Their relationships demonstrated the fluid nature of the early working class, before institutionalized slavery hardened lines between ethnic groups. Many of their descendants later migrated to the frontiers of North and South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee, and west, as well as further south. Sometimes they formed isolated settlements in the frontier where they were relatively free of racial strictures common to the plantation areas. In many cases they were well received and respected on the frontier. Sometimes they identified as Indian or Portuguese, or their neighbors classified them that way, in an attempt to explain their physical characteristics that were different from northern Europeans.

All I know for sure is that David Boston was free and not white.

So, here’s a picture of David Boston’s daughter, Elizabeth “Betsy” Boston Brooks:

Elizabeth "Betsy" Boston Brooks, daughter of David Boston

She looks a lot like the popular image of a Native American.

But genetics are tricky, and you really can not always tell what a person’s genetic background is from the way they look.  My sister Liz, for example, is occasionally mistaken for an Asian Indian by other Indians.

Indian model

Non-Indian Liz








But she is not Indian.  She is of African, European, and possibly, as we’ve been discussing, Native American  descent.  So, although I will never likely be sure of David Boston’s ethnic and/or genetic background, I am happy to know that he existed, and was the father of a large and thriving group of 21st century Americans.

Lawrence Pierce’s Service During the Civil War

A page from Lawrence Pierce's (b. 1824) Enlistment Record

Lawrence Pierce (grandfather 0f Cottie Pierce Peele), born about 1824 in North Carolina, enlisted in the Union Army — in the U.S. Colored Troops — on August 1, 1864, at the age of 39.

He was assigned to the 14th United States Colored Heavy Artillery with the rank of Private.  Most of the 14th’s service was in garrison duty at New Berne, NC. According to veteran pension records from the 1880’s, Lawrence Pierce survived his enlistment without notable physical injury.

Lawrence’s enlistment and muster roll document (one page is shown at left), indicate that he was 5’9″, with black eyes, a light complexion, and light hair.

Apparently, he was to be paid $300 for his enlistment.  It’s interesting to wonder if that was his primary reason for enlisting.  He was nearly 40 years old,  had almost certainly been born free,  and had a wife and very young son (Lawrence Pierce, Jr., Cottie Pierce’s father) at home.  The war would be over about 8 months after his enlistment, and Lawrence may not have gotten more than 50 miles from home, but I am impressed with his choice, and proud to be  one of his many descendants.