A Genealogical Journey About the Family I Never Knew

Some of the Chavers ancestors, Angish and Melissie.

My Chavers family started in Surry County, Virginia in 1645.

Elizabeth Gibson was born that year and married William Chavis, or Chavers. In South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, the term “free persons of color” could have meant an Indian, a mulatto, or a free Negro. I don’t know which one she was. But she was partly Indian, I think, and partly Black, and partly white. Her husband William was either white or had white owners.

But within three generations her descendants had moved to the Tuscarora Indian Reservation that was called “Indian Woods.” The reservation had been created by the North Carolina legislature after the Tuscarora Massacre of 1715. It was located just south of the Virginia line, northeast of Raleigh. They stayed there for about three generations.

Some of the surviving Tuscarora had stayed in North Carolina after the massacre. About 700 of them were loaded on boats and taken to the West Indies, where they were sold into slavery. A third group went north to Tonawanda, New York and got recognition as the sixth nation of the Iroquois Confederacy. They had moved south several generations before, possibly as much as 300 to 500 years earlier. But they had maintained contact all those years with their cousins in the North. All the six languages of the Mohawk Confederacy are related, much like French, Spanish, and Portuguese are related.

But by 1810 the reservation was closed. The legislature declared it void of Indians that year. The white settlers had illegally taken over the lands and made the Indians leave. The last Indian left the reservation in about 1806.

Elizabeth’s son Bartholomew moved to Chowan County, North Carolina. Her grandson William moved to Tabbs Creek in Vance County, North Carolina. Her great-grandson Philip moved to Shoe Heel Creek in Robeson County in 1779. His son Ishmael, born in 1750, was one of the five founders of the Lumbee Tribe, according to Malinda Maynor Lowery. Thus eight of the 12 generations from Elizabeth to me lived in Robeson County, where I was born.

The sixth generation was Thomas Chavers. Thomas’s daughter Rachel was the mother of the Carter clan and the Chavers clan. She first married Thomas Sampson, who died less than three years later. She then married James Carter, who was the father of the Carter clan. Zelma Jones and Lula Lockee were sisters and some of the descendants of the Carter clan. Their mother was Gabriel Carter. Uncle Mabe Sampson, who married Aint Gabriel, was their stepfather. He was the last man who drove a horse and buggy around Pembroke. And he told funny jokes.

Rachel’s first son Thomas F. Chavers was my great-great-grandfather. He was born in 1809 and his mother never married his father. When he died in 1898 he owned 412 acres of land north of the Seaboard Railroad and east of the Coast Line. His land went almost all the way to Moss Neck. He divided it into 13 farms, and I was born on the farm next to the old home place. All those farms are gone now. His oldest son Angus got the home place, across the road from the old tribal council office on the Union Chapel Road. The road in front of it is now called Wardell Road, for the son who inherited it, along with his sister Aint Margaret.

Thomas married Avrabella Ransom in 1844 and they had 13 children, including my great-grandfather Angus Chavers. Angus was born in 1847 and got drafted in the Confederate Army in 1862 at the age of 15. He was captured at Fort Fisher at Wilmington and taken to the prison camp in Elmira, New York. Over 25 percent of the prisoners at “Hellmira” died. He was freed at the end of the war in June 1865 and had to walk home with Mr. Odom; it took them six weeks. Mr. Odom, a white man, later founded the Odom Home in Pembroke.

My grandma Jessie Florence Chavers Godwin had half a dozen uncles. She had fond memories of all of them. And she knew them all, even though one of them died when she was only 15 years old.

William Ransom (also called William Robert and William Richard) was one I never met and heard nothing about. And I knew nothing about his family. But his great-great-granddaughter April Locklear Whittemore was the national Indian princess in 1998, which I just learned.

In 1998, at 24 years old, April Whittemore was Miss Indian World.

He married Catherine Jacobs on May 24, 1879. Neil Townsend JP was the official who married them. Enoch Barnes, Elias Locklear, and Henry Hunt were the witnesses. Barnes and Hunt may have been white, and Locklear was Indian. I suspect he was my Grandpa Isiah Locklear’s father “Lars,” but don’t know.

They lived on Pine Street in Pembroke. They had four kids, James Guthrie (August 16, 1886-February 8, 1943), Bessie Jane (November 1, 1888-January 15, 1940), Lisbeth (Lizzie) (November 15, 1893-May 19, 1965), and Golden M. (February 15, 1895-December 21, 1964). I knew Bessie, Lisbeth, and Golden, but did not know Guthrie or any of his kids. He died in 1943; I was 2.

Catherine died several years later, about 1894, my cousin Florence Moore (FloMo) says. The lady who also raised me and my daddy, Luther Chavers, Aint Arrie (Ora Frances Chavers) raised these three younguns for several years, and then they went back with William and his second wife, Liza Jane Cummings, until she died a few years later.

William R. married a third wife, Sarah Oxendine, on January 2, 1902, with W. L. Moore, MG, as the justice. He was 39 and listed as white; she was 22 and listed as white. Witnesses were Angus Chavis (my great-grandfather), A. Oxendine, and R. Cummings. By the 1910 Census they had seven children in the household. They were Bessie 21, Oliver 19, Lizzie 16, Golden 14, Avey 7 (b. 1903), Furney 4 (b. 1906), and Eva 2 (b. 1908). Our best genealogist, Kathy Mitchell, says they also had a son named Granford (b. 1910, possibly after the Census count.)

James Guthrie married Blanchie Oxendine. She was born June 13, 1927 and died on June 30, 1998. They are both buried at Berea Cemetery. Lizzie married my grandpa Purcell’s uncle, John Godwin, and they had 10 kids. They are both buried at Mount Airy. I never knew either of them.

Bessie married Charles D. Brewington and both of them are buried in the family cemetery; they had a son named Wilton. Charlie was the principal of the Haliwa Indian School in Wake County in the 1950s, Jeff Knowlton tells me; my momma taught there for one year after she got her license in 1957. I was 16 when she got the license, and I left for Virginia before she actually started teaching. She taught at the Indian school in Sampson County the first year, riding to work every morning with Horace Howington. The second year she taught at Haliwa, boarding in the house of the chief, W. R. Richardson, who became my friend 30 years later.

Golden was Luther’s twin they looked so much alike. He used to visit us quite a bit, and usually wore overalls. He worked for the railroad for years. One time he came over and had a pistol in his overalls pocket; he called it a lemon squeezer. He and Daddy went down to the graveyard and Golden practiced shooting the pistol there. He and his wife Eula had one son named Eugene. I never knew any of Golden’s brothers and sisters except Aint Lizzie, Uncle John’s wife, and Aint Bessie.

The 1940 Census has Golden married to Eula M. Chavers, a pretty brown woman that I knew well. He was living in Pembroke and the spelling of his name was Gelden M. Chavers. Their son Eugene Chavers finished college with an AA degree at Pembroke State in 1939. He then finished again with a BA degree in 1942. He married a pretty brown woman named Fanny Dial. He used to haul our tobacco to market in Fairmont or Lumberton. Both Eula and Gene were beautiful brown-skinned people. Gene had a son, Ertle Knox Chavis, and a daughter Jackie, who married my second cousin Donald Godwin, Aint Steller’s oldest child. Gene died early, and Fanny married Les Locklear. Les had first married Gladys Oxendine, whose brother was Dr. Herbert Oxendine, the first Indian dean at the university. But Gladys died young.

Thomas F. and Angus gave the land for the First Baptist Church in Pembroke. A few people still call it the Chavis Church. People always wanted to call us Chavis, but Momma insisted our name was Chavers. There are 11 buried in the family cemetery. Nine are named Chavers, and two are Chavis.

The Chavers family has had a tremendous influence on me my whole life. They were proud people, proud to be Indian. They were hard workers, raising tobacco, cotton, corn, and vegetables on their family farms. They were religious people, observing the Sabbath every week. They believed in education, the strength of families, and in raising strong families.

I was amazed that I could trace my family back 12 generations, almost 400 years. But I’m glad I did.

Dr. Dean Chavers is the director of Catching the Dream, a national scholarship organization for Native American college students. Catching the Dream has made grants to Indian schools to help them improve since 1991. CTD has led the Exemplary Programs in Indian Education (EPIE) movement since 1988. His next book is “The American Indian Dropout.”

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