Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Pee Dee River Colony in SC

This post was first published on my original blog, Attala County Memories, on September 30, 2008. 

Pee Dee River Valley (SC)
Many who settled in the north central area of the Mississippi Territory and later migrated, sometimes en masse, to the counties formed there after statehood from Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Virginia. came from South Carolina. It is a well-known bit of history that many of those who settled in Attala County, Mississippi and in the surrounding area came there from the Pee Dee River in South Carolina. This area is sometimes called "the low country" or the coastal area because of its proximity to the marshlands of South Carolina.

Recently, while reading a book entitled "Black Indians, A Hidden Heritage,"written by William Loren Katz, I found some interesting information about the Pee Dee River area. According to Katz, the story of the Pee Dee River area is quite unique, and he calls it "the first foreign colony on U. S. soil." It seems that Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon, a wealthy Spanish official who lived in Santo Domingo on Hispaniola, founded a colony in the area in June 1526. The settlement, Katz says, was founded "six decades before Roanoke Island, eight decades before Jamestown, and almost a century before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock."

Katz believes that De Ayllon's effort was perhaps overlooked for two reasons: first, because most historians prefer to believe that life in the new world actually began when Anglo-Saxons who were British citizens and spoke English arrived; secondly, Ayllon's settlement suffered a tragic fate, including death, disease, and a slave revolt. Although the settlement"failed" in Ayllon's eyes, the inhabitants who survived these tragedies were reborn as a different people in the woods to which they escaped, and according to Katz, they were "not considered a part of the white U. S. heritage."

The two explorers sent to the New World were Captain Francisco Gordillo, who was charged with locating a suitable landing site and with building friendly relationships with the native inhabitants or local tribesmen, and a slavehunter, Pedro de Quexos. Their efforts during the initial landing included capturing seventy Native Americans, free men and women, and taking them to Santo Domingo to serve as slaves. De Ayllon was not pleased and with the assistance of Diego Columbus, "the Indians were declared free and ordered returned." Spanish records fail to show whether the order was actually carried out. Sometime later, after his explorers landed on the wrong coast and had to return to Santo Domingo, Ayllon formed another crew and sailed with other Spanish citizens who were his followers and settled near a "great river...probably the Pee Dee."

Sailing from Puerto de la Plata were a total of "six vessels carrying five hundred Spanish men and women, one hundred enslaved Africans, six or seven dozen horses, and physicians, sailors, and Dominican priests." As the ships arrived, the Native Americans who lived in the area took to the woods to escape the newly-arrived settlers. The Spanish colonists had difficulty coping with the climate, growing the food they needed, and adverse living conditions quickly caused uprisings within the colony. The discord that resulted caused many of the Africans to flee into the woods and live with the Native Americans. De Ayllon became ill and died, but he had named his nephew, John Ramirez to succeed him after death.

And thus the Pee Dee Colony, or "San Miguel de Gualdape" grew to be an amalgamation of people, Native Americans, Africans, and those who spoke Spanish as their native language.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Genealogy and Adoption

Last year, over 120,000 adoptions occurred in this country, and according to statistics, approximately five million of all U.S. residents are adopted. Of course, this number does not include tens of thousands of other children who have been living without the benefit of adoption in foster care or with close relatives or family friends. Contemporary adoptions, often in concept, seem to be an accepted part of today’s culture. They are celebrated by families and friends with the same fervor and happiness that surrounds the birth of any new baby. 

But this fairly new attitude towards adoption in general was not a societal norm in years past. As those of us who are older can attest, adoptions occurring during our generation, as well as those before, were more likely to be cloaked in mystery, surrounded with silence, whispered about in secret, and sometimes hidden from others, even from the adopted child. Speaking from the standpoint of a family history researcher, this practice, along with few or no available records documenting so-called adoptions, an otherwise uneventful family research event can come to a screeching halt. 

 How to proceed successfully with genealogy research depends on any number of factors, such as the existence of oral history that discusses the adoption, handwritten information, including entries made in a family Bible, personal diaries, or names and details found in wills. But the unavailability of many of these records often causes the researcher to hit what is known in genealogy circles as the proverbial brick wall. More often than not, guardianships and adoptions during the last two centuries resulted when one or both parents died, often from disease, illness, accident, or sometimes war. And in countless situations, other family members may have assumed care of an orphaned child, even changing the child’s surname, with or without the benefit of a legal document. Other adoptions occurred as a result of various societal issues, such as unplanned or unwanted pregnancies, child abandonment, addiction, or incarceration. In these situations, child welfare or other public agencies may have been involved, and laws in place at the time dictated that discretion be used to ensure confidentiality and to protect the identity of the people involved. 

The resulting information, or lack thereof, has created major problems for adoptees, their descendants, and family researchers alike in answering questions about ancestry. If a child was adopted from a children’s home or orphanage, depending on the type of facility, the year, and the state, some records may be available to the researcher. But depending on when, where, and how the adoption actually occurred, particularly if the process was a "closed" adoption, legal assistance may be needed to determine the existence of records and to help obtain copies, if they are indeed releasable. If the surname of the adopted child at birth was the same as that of the adoptive parents, the fact that an actual adoption occurred may be less obvious to the researcher. In this particular situation, oral history and the possible comparison of census records that list names of family members in several households, may be the only available sources of information. 

Without a doubt, connection to family is a vital part of our lives. And the search for our ancestors most often results from our need to be part of a the larger universe, to know more about who we are and from whence we came, and to understand how we fit into a bigger picture. With the concept of open adoptions, maybe it will be easier in the future for those who have been adopted and family researchers alike to obtain parents’ names and relevant family information. 

According to Judith and Martin Land in Adoption Detective: The Adopted Child," secrecy and lack of disclosure in adoptions can result in what has been referred to as "genealogical bewilderment." In their book, published in 2011, the authors point out that discovery of genealogical roots can be a pathway to understanding an individual’s true inner being and the potential source of psychological grounding.  Although the reference is specifically directed to adoptees who are searching for birth parents, the same premise is true for those of us who are not adopted and who search for ancestors from generations past about whom we may know nothing at all.