Sandy Bluff and Indian Trade Routes

Regarding the last several posts, various sources appear to treat the Poythress, Epps (also Eppes) and Reeves (also Reaves, Rives, etc.) families as closely interrelated.  In addition, here and there, now and then, sources without citing specific documentary evidence have suggested that some of the Reeves family were Indian traders.

Is there any possibility that early merchant and trade impulses, sometimes involving Caribbean trade, eventually led to Indian trade endeavors involving some of the Phipps/Fips family? And, if so, could this explain some of the frontier involvement as well as the various claims to intermarriages with Native Americans and/or Melungeons?

One online article (which won’t be linked here due to nefarious advertising) appears to cite or quote from a journal article which had appeared in the North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal. That article discusses the enigmatic and controversial designation or potential designation of certain families as Native American, Melungeon, or so-called “tri-racial isolates.”

In that context, the article discusses the Turbevilles (a surname to which an unusually large number of spelling variations seems to apply). The Turbervilles or Turbyfills, etc. have been discussed at various times in the past in this blog in connection with the Phipps family.

Connections with the Turbervilles seem to suggest an interrelationship between the Phipps family of Virginia and that of Constantine John Phipps of England. The Turberville presence seems to also perhaps suggest a link between the Brunswick County Phipps family and that of Westmoreland and Richmond Counties, and perhaps even Norfolk as well.

A major stumbling block to studying the Phipps family in the past has been the assumption that this family operated like most other American immigrant families. One research finding that has been highly surprising has been the number of connections back to southeast Virginia, around the Hampton Roads, Surry/Sussex and Brunswick Counties area.

Another has been the frequent connections to the Caribbean, especially Jamaica and St. Kitts. Another has been the jarring and disparate social and environmental groupings and contexts in which this family has found itself. Those socioeconomic groups and contexts can perhaps be informally placed into three broadly defined categories:

  • High society in England, Ireland, and Wales, with social and trade connections with the North American coast as well as the Caribbean
  • A bold early presence in frontier areas in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, sometimes even involving settlement in areas which apparently were officially off-limits
  • An eventual identification of parts of the family in social circles which were anything but high society; by the first half of the 19th century some family members were among the most notorious outlaws of the era, with an extensive interstate criminal network involving counterfeiting, horse stealing, and the like

This is not your typical run-of-the-mill family with an immigrant landing, settling near the landing spot, timidly moving into perhaps the next county, with eventually descendants becoming brave enough to venture into the Midwest.

Instead, it appears that not all, but many, of the Phipps, Fips, Phips, etc. family more or less exploded out of southeast Virginia, like being shot out of a cannon, with those members fanning out into various parts of Virginia and North Carolina, in various directions.

Their motivations did not always appear to be connected with just simply acquiring a bit of farm land, as was probably the case with most immigrant families. What exactly their motives were isn’t always entirely clear.

Early on, sometimes the motivation appears to have been to make a lot of money from surveying, from buying and selling rum and sugar and slaves from the West Indies, and from buying and selling land. It may also have been, at least in part, to become engaged in Indian trade, something that doesn’t always seem to have been documented.

One reason Indian trading doesn’t always seem to have been documented is because it involved white men entering what was still, usually, a paperless and recordless society, but where trading licenses were required if the government should get wind of it. We don’t know everything the early Phipps family did, and there are probably good reasons for that.

A family story among descendants of Samuel and Betty (Reeves) Phipps of Ashe County, North Carolina, as has been mentioned before, is that the immigrant came to American because he killed someone in England in a fight. One printed source shows Samuel living in an area of the frontier, at one point, where another printed source says hardly any whites were living except for those trying to hide out from the law.

Clearly something must have happened to morph some parts of the family from high society and highly respected to more or less the opposite. We don’t know all the stories, and perhaps never will.

The Turbervilles, again, appear in connection with the family in a high society context. So does the Reeves or Reaves or Rives family, to probably a lesser degree. Various Indian traders lived around the Roanoke River in North Carolina. A section of the same river in Virginia is still locally referred to as the Staunton. The river also went, at times, by the Indian name, Morratuck (with variant spellings).

In fact, that was what it was called around where the Pigg River joined the Roanoke. We’ve extensively discussed recently the Phips or Fips families who lived in the Pigg River area. Were they Indian traders?

In fact, could that possibly explain the eventual intermarriages involving the Phipps and Reeves families which resulted in the later Reeves “Portuguese Indian” claims and in the Eastern Cherokee applications involving members of the Phipps family?

Sources suggest that white men who were so-called Indian traders tended to have Native American wives. One, James Logan Colbert (discussed in a 1994 article in the North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal) is said to have had three.

It’s said that Indian traders in this family were often Melungeon or from so-called “tri-racial isolate” families. Intermarriages were evidently common, both around the Roanoke/Staunton River and in Native American villages where trade was carried on..

Many of these traders appear to have made the trek into South Carolina, often using Sandy Bluff near the Pee Dee River as a sort of “squatter” rallying point or rest stop. We’ve discussed the mysterious South Carolina relatives of Benjamin Phipps of Grayson County, Virginia, the one who filed a Revolutionary War pension application.

He was captured by the Tories and put with the British army, but escaped. At that time, he tried to reach relatives in South Carolina. The assumption has been that these relatives lived there, but they could, conceivably, have simply been trading there. He was at least in central South Carolina; Sandy Bluff is in Horry County in eastern South Carolina.

Secondary sources have suggested that George Reeves (Samuel Phipps’s father in law, with Samuel becoming a Reeves heir), or someone in an earlier generation, was an Indian trader. No proof is known, however.

Some of the Turbevilles were high society people in southeast Virginia. Some of the Turbeville were also, however, known to have been Indian traders and to have been at Sandy Bluff. Even some of the Turbevilles who were in Brunswick County, Virginia owned land on the Roanoke River near an Indian path.

Some of the Turbevilles lived on the Roanoke in Northampton County, Virginia and then moved to Halifax County, Virginia, the same Halifax County which we’ve been discussing in recent posts in connection with the Phips/Fips family and possibly the “Phillips” family.

The journal article cited earlier refers to friction around Sandy Bluff because of various “outlaws and fugitives,” as they were termed in 1739, coming into that area from Virginia and North Carolina. One complaint was that they were of mixed race.

This sounds like a complaint against the Indian traders, some of whom evidently started out as of mixed race, others of whom appear to have intermarried with Native American women. The Melungeon or assumed Melungeon identity of some of the Phipps family of the Ashe County area could possibly have stemmed from involvement of the family in trade that took them from the Roanoke River area of Virginia and North Carolina into the Sandy Bluff area of South Carolina, where they easily could have intermarried with those of mixed descent.

We know of a certainty that some of the Phipps family of the Ashe County, North Carolina were often regarded as outlaw types and social undesirables by the time they moved out of their existing social environment in North Carolina and into Indiana in the 1830s. An outlaw identity seems to have been associated with at least some of the Indian traders.

We recently discussed the Chavis family and its connection with the Burtons, Christophers, and Marables. Chavis is cited as one of the families formerly associated with the Roanoke River who moved to Sandy Bluff, along with the Turbevilles. Another one of these Sandy Bluff surnames was the Longs, who were closely identified with the Phipps family in Ashe County (and intermarried with them).  Traders associated with Sandy Bluff did not necessarily stay in that area, but often only came there seasonally, then returned to North Carolina.

Recent posts brought up the speculation that some of the early Phipps, Fips, etc. family could have been land speculators.  Certainly the Mumfords were, and they were Indian traders, and they were closely associated with the Turbevilles.

Others of these traders included members of the Poythress and Bolling families. We’ve focused specifically on the Poythress families in very recent posts, including the last couple posts. Bolling comes up as a potentially Melungeon surname associated with the Phipps family and has been spotted elsewhere in connection with the family, in other contexts.

Although we can’t seem to prove at the moment that the Reeves family was involved in Indian trading, William Reeves was among those who received North Carolina patents to Plumtree Island and Plumtree Swamp in 1720. The Turbevilles moved there a bit later. Various Chickasaw traders lived along the Roanoke near Plumtree Island, including various traders who were of mixed race.

Keep in mind that if any mixed race or ethnicity did become involved in the Phipps/Fips etc. family at some point (and it almost certainly did), this could have led to social stigma, especially considering the family’s former social rankings at, apparently, near the pinnacle of society. An outlaw association connected with at least some of the traders surely didn’t help.

If so, that could possibly, just possibly, account for the family’s later covert, almost secretive ways, as well as the mysterious lack of clear records and clear references to origins.

In closing, it should be noted that an online secondary source refers to several other surnames in association with the Indian trader Colvert mentioned above. Those names include Toliver, Long, Turbevell (Turbeville), Turbefield, Cox, Chavis, Jones, Eppes (Epps), Reeves, and Poythress. These are names all of which should be very familiar if you’ve been reading other recent posts. Toliver in particular, along with Reeves and Long, stand out as intensely associated with the Phipps family in Ashe County, North Carolina.




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