Note: The following is one of a series of columns looking at places and events of interest in Bulloch County history.
Captain John White dropped off Sir Walter Raleigh’s famous Roanoke Island colonists in 1587 and then went back to Britain. When he returned with supplies and more colonists, the colonists were gone.
They found only two signs giving them a clue as to what had happened: the letters “CRO” were carved into a tree; and the word “CROATAN” was carved into a fence.
Scottish settlers arrived on the Lumber (or Lumbee) River in Robeson County, North Carolina some 200 years later. To their amazement, they found blue-eyed Indians wearing European clothing, speaking English and practicing Christianity.
Most curiously, these Indians had assumed at least 40 of the family names of the “lost colonists” — names such as Barton, Bell, Cooper, Dare, Emanuel, Jacobs, Lockhart, Lowry, Oxendine and Sampson. Many Lumbees (as the Croatans are also known) were rewarded with land grants for their services in the American Revolution by the North Carolina state government.
Some feared the Lumbees might organize slaves to resist the whites. Therefore, the 1835 North Carolina constitution classified them as free persons of color, which put them somewhere between the black slaves and the white freeman, with few rights. Certain elements of the North Carolina State Guards began attacking the peaceful Lumbees.
Because of these attacks, many Lumbees left Robeson (and Sampson) Counties, following turpentiners Capt. Graham McKinnon and Sion A. Alford to the Adabelle, Georgia area.
Washington Manassas Foy bought several turpentine operations in the Undine and Adabelle areas. He then built the town of Manassas. It had the largest sawmill and still in the county, which employed about 125 people. In addition to manufacturing turpentine and gum resin, it cut about 40,000 feet of lumber per day.
While North Carolina produced 62 percent of the nation’s naval stores in 1880, by 1890 Georgia had surpassed North Carolina, producing 52 percent of the nation’s naval stores.
After the Foy families purchased the Carr’s Turpentine Still in 1902 and moved to Statesboro, the operation of the Adabelle Trading Company was taken over by Dr. and Mrs. J. E. Donehoo.
According to official records, many Lumbees were hired to show Georgians the best way to grow their new tobacco crop. The Lumbees also grew cash crops such as corn, peanuts and cotton. Some Croatan Indians, such as Ashly and Will Jacobs, ran large farms (theirs was over 600 acres) in Bulloch County.
After the Croatans built the Mount Zion Baptist Church, which doubled as their Indian school, Bulloch County began giving them $25 a month for supplies. The Croatan cemetery is located on what is now the Wiregrass Plantation.
There are at least 35 Croatan Indians buried here. Frank Simmons, Lowrie’s grandson, and his wife Dorothy maintained the cemetery for many years. There is an annual gathering of Croatans every year at the cemetery for a recognition ceremony.
North Carolina first identified the Croatans as Cherokees of North Carolina (1915), and then as Lumbees (1953). In 1956, the U.S. federal government formally recognized their tribe, but withheld benefits from the Bureau Of Indian Affairs. Congress awarded them full Indian status in 1989. Dr. Arthur Sparks, Bill Locklear, Clark Collins and Betty Lowery Reagan are several of the better-known modern-day Croatans in Bulloch County.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. E-mail Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org.