The Piney Woods community may be what is known as a “tri-racial isolate.” In addition to its status as a free community of non-whites during the antebellum era, they shared many of the traits of tri-racial isolates, including high rates of intermarriage, a limited number of surnames, and a self-reported mix of European, African, and Native American descent.
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 censis 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 sho 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 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.
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 “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