I wish I had a unique legend but, like about half the genealogists I know, there is a Native American in the woodpile. A good number of people I know are flabbergasted to learn that they’ve been hoodwinked by family lore.
According to my mother, for as long as I can remember, my great-great-grandmother was said to have been half Cherokee, a granddaughter of Pocahontas.
Her name was Lucy Green and she lived in Shawnee, Potawatomie, Oklahoma, and she ran a restaurant. And one of,her parents was a Cherokee. That’s all we knew.
I met my cousin Kim while hunting for Lucy Green. Kim had been adopted at birth and was using her DNA to find her biological family. Kim and I were connected in a Lucy Green circle on Ancestry, along with my mother, and one other person. I sent Kim a message and asked if she knew anything about Lucy Green. When she told me her story, it quickly became apparent that Kim knew less about Lucy Green than I did. We did figure out that we were third cousins: her great-grand grandfather Henry Doniphan Hewlett and my great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Hewlett were siblings, born in Ray County, Missouri.
Kim and I started sharing what bits and pieces we’d discovered in our research. Although Lucy appeared on a lot of Ancestry trees — she had six children who survived to adulthood and each of whom also had numerous children — not one of the Lucy Green trees had verifiable ancestral lines. We believed that Lucy was born to Catherine (no last name) and Erasmus “E.H.” Green in Mercer County, Kentucky.
Kim and I lived closed to each other and decided to meet at the Midwest Genealogical Center in Independence Missouri. The Genealogical Center is the nation’s largest public genealogy library. I had never been there before — or to any genealogy lilbrary — but Kim was an old pro.
We started looking at marriage records in Mercer County, Kentucky, and fairly quickly found one Catherine Moore’s marriage to Erasmus Green, signed by Sarah Moore. We also found Catharine’s sister’s marriage record within the same time frame. And we discovered that her father, John Moore, had died shortly before her marriage. But about John, we knew nothing. Was he an American Indian? Kim didn’t think so, and I was becoming more skeptical by the minute.
My mother had always told me that the family lineage to Pocahontas was contained in a family history book written by Jean Hamacher and housed at the Ray County History Museum. Of course that was our next trip.
I’d been to the Museum previously with my mother but the library had been closed that day. Kim and I dug into the stacks and found a bound book authored by Mrs. Hamacher. The book was actually about the Hewlett family that Lucy had married into.There, in one small paragraph, it said “Family legend says that Lucy’s father, Erasmus Green, was descended from the Cherokee tribe, but this author has found no evidence of that statement.”
Wait, THAT was the incontrovertible evidence to which my mother had referred? It was … nothing.
The day turned out to be fantastic nonetheless. We made a trip to the Courthouse and dug through the real estate records to see where Erasmus and Catherine had lived. We found the original land grant, and a number of transfers to Erasmus and later his children. We found Erasmus’s Last Will and Testament, unlikely to have been touched since he died in 1890. (His estate was worth a little less than $7.)
The very kind and patient County Assessor looked at a little hand-drawn map we had and used images from Google Earth to identify the tract. We found Erasmus’s farm about ten miles north of town, with a barn that looked like it had existed in Erasmus’s time. The property was surrounded by overgrown trees and cluttered with rusted old trucks. It didn’t look like a friendly place, but it was where we began.
But … back to my legend.
One day on Ancestry, I ran across a tree that said Catherine’s father was John Moore, born in Maryland. This information was different than anything I’d ever seen before. I contacted the user and the floodgates opened. She had actually been to Mercer County, Kentucky and had unearthed the mysterious John Moore.She provided me with his Revolutionary War pension record. John had been revolutionary war soldier who had been captured by the Indians, and kept captive for three years. John Moore knew the native language because he’d been constantly threatened with Indian attack growing up on the frontier in Maryland. During his captivity, John was tasked with serving as an interpretor between the Natives and the British. He he arrived in Harrodsburg with his father, Simeon Moore, and Daniel Boone. Simeon’s sister had been married to James Harrod. John’s ancestry? Not Native American.
Was it possible that the legend arose due to John’s capture by the Native Americans? That’s possible But if Jean Hamacher’s notes are correct, the Pocahontas line ran through Erasmus, Lucy’s father.
I’m still working on him. He’s my brick wall. His father, John Green, was raised in Culpeper, Virginia. At the time of his birth, there were no fewer than twelve “John Green”s in Virginia, and mine doesn’t fit into any of the known family trees, But it’s fairly safe to assume that John Green was somehow related to the Duff Greens who immigrated from Scotland in the late 1600s, and very unlikely to be a Native American.
My mother refuses to trust my research. Her Aunt told her we were Cherokee, and by golly, we’re Cherokee. I have another cousin who visited our Oklahoma ancestors in the late 1960s, and she swears they were living on the reservation. I can’t hold anything against Elizabeth Warren. She had no reason to disbelieve her family lore either.
Whenever I make a genealogy trip, my mother’s first question is always “Did you find the Indian?” I sent her this photograph from the Kentucky Museum of History. It’s the closest I’ve come.
Continue to Part 2. Pocahontas.