Sunday, October 28, 2007

Can DNA Solve "The Lumbee Problem"?

How does a group of people who have American Indian ancestry but no records of treaties, reservations, Native language, or peculiarly "Indian" customs come to be accepted--socially and legally--as Indians?

That question is asked on the jacket of the 2001 printing of The Lumbee Problem--The Making of an American Indian People by anthropologist Karen I. Blu (University of Nebraska Press, 2001; copyright 1980, Karen I. Blu). And that's just the surface of "the Lumbee problem."

Suppose Scots-Irish settlers in North Carolina in the early eighteenth century came upon a group of people who in some ways seemed to be indigenous, but spoke seventeenth century English and had English names. History or an episode of the Twilight Zone?

Indeed, this seems to be the history of the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina. But who are they really? Are they Indians? What is their origin?

A prominent theory is that the Lumbees are descendants of Native Americans and survivors of the Lost Colony of North Carolina.

In 1587, a group of colonists under Sir Walter Raleigh's charter landed in the Outer Banks of what is now North Carolina. This was the second or third group of colonists in the area. One group had returned to England with Sir Francis Drake. The latter group was headed by Governor John White. White returned to England to re-supply the colony; his voyage back to America was delayed by the complications of the English war with Spain and the winter weather. When White did return in 1590, the colonist were gone, but strange "clues" were found. The word "Croatan" was found carved in the wall of a structure that had been built by the colonists. The colonists were never found.

In the early 1700's, Scots-Irish settlers came upon English-speaking people in the interior of southeastern North Carolina. These people appeared to be of mixed race. It is said that in the early censuses, these people were enumerated as "mulattoes" or "free Negroes." The people themselves claimed to be Indians. They waged a legal and political struggle in t he nineteenth century for recognition as Indians.

The federal government never has recognized the Lumbee as tribal Indians. In the late 1800's, the state of North Carolina recognized them as the "Croatan Indians." This name was not fully satisfactory to the people so designated and in the 1950's, the name was changed to Lumbee.

The truth of the origins and identity of the Lumbee has been complicated by a number of political and sociological problems. Among these problems would be the fact that there were black people in the area where the Lumbees were found and it may be difficult to tease out which of the "mulattoes" or "free Negroes" were Indian and which were of African descent.

There are several distinct surnames that occur among the Lumbee. These include Oxendine, Chavis, Locklear, Dial, Lowry, and Brayboy, among others. Some of these surnames occur with high frequency among Africian-Americans. Brayboy, for instance, is one of the surnames in my family tree.

My Brayboy ancestors lived in Louisiana and South Carolina. They had been taken to Louisiana in bondage from South Carolina. The question, however, is whether they are related to the Lumbees. Perhaps DNA can solve my Lumbee problem.

I understand that DNA generally cannot pinpoint a specific Native American tribe. But the Lumbee are an especially insular people, thought to number about 40,000, mostly in Robeson County, North Carolina. Under these circumstances, perhaps DNA can tell us about links to the Lumbee.


Janice said...


This is fascinating stuff! Are you going to participate in either the Lumbee Tribe DNA Project or the Lost Colony DNA Project?


Craig Manson said...

Yes, I'm looking into both right now. More news as things develop!

KMalfi said...

My love is of Lumbee descent, though I do not know all the names involved. His name is Gilford Stanley Wilson. He was born and brought up in Baltimore, and his maternal grandmother was Native Lumbee. He would know more, but I am fascinated, as I am partially of Scottish/Irish descent myself, fromboth Hoynes( County Cavan) and Bascom /baticomb descent.)
Thank you soo much for any info., as I am entranced by family heritage:)

Anonymous said...

Yes, I have checked out the Lumbee Dna project at and although there is information that self-labels the Lumbee as indian i guess thats self-identifier because the Dna results show almost all Lumbee examined as R1(european) or (african) haplo type which neither is Indigenous Native american dna types. so why are the Lumbee claiming Indian heritage. among so many people,you expect there should be more a,b,c, Indian haplos but the Lumbees show almost no more Indian Dna than the average Euro or african american does. So how has Dna analys helped to further the Lumbee indian ancestry claim when indian Dna is almost non-existant among the Lumbees and they have no indian culture or language,Historicaly,genealogy and The Dna evidence seems to point to the Lumbee not being Native Americans at all but possibly some portuguese and scot-irish african mix.The Dna shows Lumbees to be European/arab/African only with no evidence of any great Indian admixture at all !! It seems Indian ancestry exist only in Lumbees minds only.Possibly from old passed down storys that have been confused and mis-interpeted over the years in error.

Joanne Pezzullo said...

Anonymous - No matter what their DNA is they are culturally Native Americans. I recently read a report that the tribal Cherokee DNA so far tested is majority R1b, European.

"While much skepticism has accompanied the growth of direct-to-consumer genetic testing, there has been less public discussion about the significant concerns stemming from genetic tests claiming to reveal information about consumers' ancestral origins, which are often interpreted as tests of racial purity and mixture. Genetic ancestry tests are gaining popularity, especially among African Americans, who often have these tests pitched to them as a way to make an end run around the genealogical dead end produced by the slave trade. But in examining less than 1 percent of a person's genetic background, these companies often overstate their tests' ability to say anything significant about a person's heritage, giving the impression that social categories of race and ethnicity are somehow genetically verifiable."

Anonymous said...

How are Lumbee culturally native American when they have no indian language or cultural traits,no indian names or customs ! they claim to be Indians so is claimind=g to be indian qualify one as having indian culture by itself without any cultural archaic customs so does claiming without culture make one an Indian by culture even if you lack any cultural practices like the lumbee have none they haven't copied off the plains tribes recently.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. My ancestor, William May Hammond was on Lumbee descent. He had seven daughters; six with my Great Grandmother Sarah P. Carawan. Your article was interesting. I've done some dna testing for fun / genealogy on and so has my paternal uncle (son of one of those six daughters). The result is fun / interesting and I've actually been able to match cousins found on to The blog was well written and I appreciate all the comments - devils advocate and not. Gives a full picture and much food for thought.

Anonymous said...

Lumbees are the fakist slickist scam tribe ever !!!

Anonymous said...

I discovered through dna testing that I have the genetic mutation causing Native American Myopathy. I also have a birth defect believed to be related to that. Several of my ancestors on both sides originated in North Carolina and Virginia, and several of the surnames are on the Lumbee surname list, notably Jacksons and Youngs. Enjoyed your article, thanx.

Dixie said...

Anonymous - No matter what their DNA is they are culturally Native Americans. I recently read a report that the tribal Cherokee DNA so far tested is majority R1b, European.

Not sure about the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, but you can't say that about the Oklahoma Band of Cherokees, for sure. One must be at least 1/4 Cherokee to qualify. The Lumbees PLAY at being culturally Native American. But any discerning person who has seen their "powwows" and so-called Native American dances can see that they are trying to copy the dress and dances and mannerisms of bonafide Native Americans. Funny, and pathetic, really. So they are actually COPYING the cultures of Native Americans rather than BEING culturally Native American.

Jack@QualityPetSupplies said...

The best true history, as best I can tell, on the Lumbee Indians is at this website:

Origins of Lumbee No Mystery

The Lumbees are a Tri-racial group composed of "isolate" eastern coastal plain American Indians from VA, Northeast NC and SE NC and SC; English whites from primarily NE North Carolina, and African Americans. "Isolate" Indians are Indians who early on lost their tribal identity through decimation by disease, inter-tribal warfare, and war with invading English settlers. Following that destruction of tribal identity individual families of mixed blood Indians remained around the growing White community but did not fully assimilate. Most of that problem happened to the tribes of NE North Carolina and SE VA in the late 1600s to early 1700s. At some point these individual families began to move to Robeson County. This can all be ascertained by written records in places like Bertie County and Northhampton County, NC, and some eastern VA counties. Deeds, court cases, letters, etc. The site mentioned above is well-documented. The mystery is solved.

Jack@QualityPetSupplies said...

See this website:

Origins of Lumbee No Mystery

The Lumbees are a Tri-racial group of Isolate Indian families of mixed Indian, English, and Black Africans, most of whom migrated to Robeson County in the mid 1700s, from SE VA and NE North Carolina, mostly Bertie and Northampton Counties. This is well-documented in written records from those counties: court records, deeds, letters, announcements of births, etc. See the website I list above.

Some of the Lumbees are also from Isolate Indian families from SE South Carolina and parts of SE North Carolina. "Isolates" are, as the name implies, people who have become isolated from their tribe, lost their tribes due to warfare and disease, and consequently totally lost their tribal identities and often their knowledge of the history of the tribe they once belonged to as they broke up into individual families.

Unknown said...

Patience Brayboy (birth year 1750) is in my family tree she was Married to Horatio Hammonds 1744 I can't find anything on her and was hoping you could help.

Ancient Indigenous Warrior said...

Wow Lumbees are not really Natives, that's a serious shocker.

Ancient Indigenous Warrior said...


Unknown said...

Try patience braveboy who was married to Horatio resha ratia hammonds my great grandparents down the line of lumbees patience parents are David braveboy and Lydia lvey-braveboy

susembe said...

Cherokee have R1b because they have mixed with the euro the whole time. And that is a very well known fact. But still there's half or more than half blooded people among them. They have a language a history and culture. Unlike Lumbee

Anonymous said...

Lumbee people are NON INDIAN They are BLACK/Mulotto People plain and simple

April Neville said...

I took and ancestry DNA test and put my raw DNA into GEDMATCH and my DNA came back as having lumbee DNA. My family is from western nc-Burlington, alamance, Greensboro and southern Virginia (Halifax) and South Carolina. I am African American with significant European and Asian ancestry possibly due to my Puerto Rican and Afro carribean roots. However I did show as having .02% native DNA which was lumbee and went as far back as 8 generations. This potentially proves that lumbee may have genetically been natives and just mixed in with groups over time. This DNA was undetectable through ancestry DNA due to the small amount but it's there and I think it shows they potentially were triracial people.