Lost Colony ?
Lumbee Indians of N.C. Think They Have Answer.
By BRYCE NELSON
The Los Angeles Times
PEMBROKE, N.C. - "We're an anthropological delight -everybody comes to study us," said Bruce Barton, a Lumbee Indian who edits the weekly Carolina Indian Voice here.
Taking note of his own appearance, Barton added, "And you can see with these curly locks and pale complexion, that something strange has been going on here."
Most Lumbee Indians believe that the complexion of many members of their tribe provides the answer to the riddle of what happened almost four centuries ago to Sir Walter Raleigh's "Lost Colony" of settlers.
The Lumbee Indians, whose home for centuries has been the swamps of southeastern North Carolina, have no federal reservation of their own, but an estimated 40,000 of them live here in Robeson County and surrounding couities. Thousands more live in other parts of the United States.
The Lumbees are by far the largest Indian group east of the Mississippi, one of the largest tribes in the nation, and, by all recent accounts, one of the most successful economically.
"I have seen tremendous accomplishments here I would never have believed possible in an Indian community in the United States," said Vine Deloria Jr., a Standing Rock Sioux and an acclaimed writer on Indian topics.
Deloria, who grew up on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota,
spoke recently to a Lumbee group here on a humid, Southern spring day.
He called upon'the Lumbees to produce the historians and communicators
to tell the story of American Indians to the rest of the world. He
said only the Lumbees and the Iroquois have the educational base to produce
a large number of such specialists.
Though little noticed, the Lumbees have started to make
dramatic improvements in the last few years in their ecotiomic, political and eductional position.
The Lumbees, who never engaged in large-scale battles with the whites and who were never conquered by whites or put on reservations, adopted the white man's language, lifestyle and Baptist and Methodist religions so long ago that no one remembers when anything was different.
Jimmy Carter would feel right at home listening to the soft, Southern accents of Lumbee tobacco farmers or attendIng the well-built churches of the Lumbee Baptists.
And, in fact, most Lumbees think there is good reason for Southern families descended from English settlers to feel right at home with them.
The firm belief of many Lumbees, and a fair number of Indian and white historians, is that the Lumbee people are the descendants of an amalgam of the Hatteras Indians and the 117 English colonists who vanished late in the 16th century from Sir Walter Raleigh's "Lost Colony" on Roanoke island off the coast of North Carolina.
The colonists, including Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the new world, disappeared between 1587 and 1590, the years it took Gov. John White to sail from the colony to England and return.
Two historians who propound the "Lost Colony" origin of the Lumbees teach at Pembroke State University here.
Adolph L. Dial, a Lumbee, and David K. Eliades, a Caucasian, are the authors of "The Only Land I Know: A History of the Lumbee Indians," published in 1975 by the Indian Historian Press in San Francisco.
They have evidence for their argument. They write that the "lost colonists" had talked with Gov.White in 1587 about the possibility of moving 50 miles inland and that White was not worried that they had left the island when he returned in 1590. The colonists had carved "Croatoan" on a gate post. Croatoan was a place inhabited by friendly Indians, and, the historians write, White was confident that the colonists had gone to live with the Hatteras tribe under the Indian leader Manteo.
The belief among many Lumbees is that the Indians freely accepted the colonists as full partners.
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(tooKplace)."
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
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