Brass Ankles of Summerville South Carolina



Mud chimney on home of Indian mixed breed brass ankles family near Summerville, South Carolina 2 Mud Chimney on home of Indian Mixed breed Brass Ankles near Summerville, South Carolina.

The Brass Ankles of South Carolina are a large and well-known group. Nothing is known of their origin, except they are in an area where the Indians were all enslaved and kept with African slaves and Irish indentured servants. They are considered by local legend to be the descendants of white slaves (supposedly forced to wear leg chains, hence the name) with only small amounts of Indian and African ancestry, but their status is very low, perhaps even lower than the local black population. Their type names, such as Chavis and Goins, tie them to the Lumbees and many other Mestee groups of the Carolinas. Note that the new president of the NAACP is named Chavis, which is a name thought to have originated among the South Carolina Mestees as a modification of Shavers, with Shavis and Chavers as other forms. The Cajans of Alabama were founded by a Jamaican man married to an American mulatto woman, but have been joined by many Mestees from South Carolina, and can be considered part of this group. Although the Cajans and Creoles of Alabama have rarely claimed not to have black ancestry, during segregation southwestern Alabama had separate school systems for whites, blacks, Indians and Mestees (Creoles and Cajans). There has been some mixing between these two groups and between the Redbones and ‘colored’ Creoles of Louisiana, so French names are now found in the Cajans and the Redbones. The Dead Lake People of Florida came from South Carolina, as did most of the founders of the Louisiana Redbones. The Smilings of South Carolina recently moved to Robeson County, North Carolina and tried to join the Lumbees. They have not been welcomed, as the Lumbees fear adding a less Indian group would erode their efforts to be accepted as Indian.

Mud chimney on home of Indian mixed breed brass ankles family near Summerville, South Carolina

The Turks of Sumter County, South Carolina, have been accepted as entitled to the rights of white people longer than any other Mestee group. This does not stem from their physical appearance, as they are less white than Brass Ankles or Melungeons, but from the connivance of one influential white man. General Sumter hired some of the Turks who had served under him in the Revolutionary War to work on his plantation and apparently found them more productive than slaves. Fearful of losing them as they were unhappy with their treatment by neighboring whites, he took action to have their status as whites recognized. He presented an affidavit to the authorities that they were indeed Turks which he had personally imported from the Ottoman Empire as contract labor.


  • Title: Indian (mixed breed–“brass ankle”) family near Summerville, South Carolina
  • Creator(s): Wolcott, Marion Post, 1910-1990, photographer
  • Date Created/Published: 1938 Dec.
  • Medium: 1 negative : safety ; 3 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches or smaller.
  • Reproduction Number: LC-USF34-050605-D (b&w film neg.)
  • Rights Advisory: No known restrictions. For information, see U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs(
  • Call Number: LC-USF34- 050605-D [P&P]


Home of Indian Family Brass Ankles, Mixed breed near Summerville, South Carolina, with sorghum cane grinder in foreground.


Indian mixed breed brass ankle family near Summerville, South Carolina Home of Indian family brass ankles, mixed breed near Summerville, South Carolina, with sorghum cane grinder in foreground

One of the founders of the Turks was a Lumbee named Oxendine. This and Benenhaley, a specifically Turk name, are the two most common names.
The Florida Melungeons or Dead Lake People are attested by several authors, but apparently no longer exist as an identifiable group. Checking the telephone book for Bay and Calhoun Counties (Telephone Directory: St. Joseph Telephone and Telegragh Company) seems to confirm Brewton Berry’s assertion that they were connected to the South Carolina groups such as the Brass Ankles and not to the Melungeons of Tennessee. The original form of the main type name for the Brass Ankles, Shavers, is found in Wewahitchka on the west side of Dead Lake. No Shavers are found in the other towns around the area, though the more common modern form Chavis is found in Panama City and Tallahassee. Checking Wewahitchka and Blountstown, the other town in the Dead Lake area, against the neighboring cities shows little evidence of any Melungeon, Lumbee or Alabama Creole and Cajan presence, so the Brass Ankle connection would appear to be the only one demonstrated (Melungeon names have nearly twice the expected frequency in Wewahitchka, but in a sample this small, that is far from significant). The Mr Shavers I spoke with in Wewahitchka confirmed having relatives in the Carolinas, though he thought the name came to Florida from Alabama.

Mestees, Brass Ankles, and Turks[/]

Repository: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540



THE Ocean Highway
Compiled and written by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration
SPONSORED BY CHARLES L. TERRY, JR., Secretary of State of Delaware and published by MODERN AGE BOOKS, INC. NEW YORK
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning.
Publication information: Book title: The Ocean Highway:New Brunswick, New Jersey to Jacksonville, Florida. Contributors: Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration – OrganizationName. Publisher: Modern Age Books. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1938. Page number: i

Right from Summerville on State 64 to PINEHURST TEA FARM (open usually Mar. 31 and Apr. 1). Planted in 1890 by Dr. Charles U. Shepard for experimentation in commercial tea growing, it was the first place in the United States where tea was grown for profit. Tea plants remain as hedges and ornamental shrubs. Doctor Shepard became interested in the “Brass Ankles” of Dorchester County, founding a mission school for the children about 1900.
The “Brass Ankles” are a racial group resulting from the intermingling of white, Negro, and some Indian blood. They are a people apart, unwelcome in white society and shunning Negro companionship. Their skins are usually darker and muddier than that of whites, but their hair and eyes vary in color.
The name is said to have come from the fact that Negro slaves with Indian blood were made to wear brass rings about their ankles. DuBose Heyward novel Brass Ankle deals with them.


Born: Charleston, South Carolina Died: Tryon, North Carolina
Date: August 31, 1885 Date: June 16, 1940
NOVELS: Porgy, 1925; Angel, 1926; Mamba’s Daughters, 1929; Peter Ashley, 1932; Lost Morning, 1936; Star Spangled Virgin, 1939.
SHORT STORY: The Half-Pint Flask, 1929.
POEMS: Carolina Chansons: Legends of the Low Country, 1922 (with Hervey Allen ); Skylines and Horizons, 1924; Jasbo Brown and Selected Poems, 1931.
PLAYS: Porgy, 1927 (with Dorothy Heyward); Brass Ankle, 1931; Mamba’s Daughters, 1939 (with Dorothy Heyward).
DuBose Heyward was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on August 31, 1885. His formal schooling ended when he left high school to work. After an attack of poliomyelitis at eighteen, he worked as a cotton checker on the Charleston waterfront. At twenty-one he established with a boyhood friend a fairly prosperous insurance firm in Charleston. About this time Heyward began to write short stories and poetry, and in 1920, with John Bennett and Hervey Allen, he organized the Poetry Society of South Carolina. Heyward edited the Year Book ( 1921- 1924) of the society and was elected its president in 1924. Allen and Heyward collaborated in the verse collection, Carolina Chansons and the latter published a second volume of poetry, Skylines and Horizons, in 1924. Heyward had begun to attend the MacDowell Colony in 1921 and there he met and married Dorothy Hartzell Kuhns, herself a playwright, in 1923. Their only child, Jenifer, was born in 1930.
In 1924 Heyward relinquished his insurance business in Charleston and undertook a series of lecture tours. His first novel, Porgy, was based on Negro life in Charleston and published in 1925. The hero is a crippled beggar who defends Bess, his woman, from her former lover, Crown, and eventually kills him, only to lose her to a drunken sport who abducts her to Savannah. A second novel, Angel, had a background of the North Carolina mountains. A long short story, “The Half-Pint Flask,” was published in the Bookman ( 1927) and reprinted in book form two years later. Mamba’s Daughters was a more ambitious novel of white and colored people in Charleston. Next came Peter Ashley, a historical novel of South Carolina before the Civil War. In these works Heyward became the first white author to treat Negroes honestly, sincerely, and sympathetically, and to represent the Gullah dialect of the sea islands authentically.
With the assistance of Dorothy Heyward , Porgy was considerably tightened, dramatized, and produced in 1927 in New York and later in London. Mamba’s Daughters was similarly produced in 1939. An original play, Brass Ankle, appeared in 1931. He also wrote two less successful novels, Lost Morning, and Star Spangled Virgin.
The story of Porgy first caught the attention of George Gershwin in 1926, but it was not until 1935 that the opera Porgy and Bess, based on the play, reached the stage. Gershwin wrote the music, the Heywards the libretto, and the Heywards and Ira Gershwin the lyrics. This was the first and has been the most successful serious American folk opera. DuBose Heyward died at Tryon, North Carolina, June 16, 1940.BIBLIOGRAPHICAL REFERENCES: The chief study of Heyward is Frank Durham, DuBose Heyward, 1954. See also Emily Clark, Innocence 1931.

South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948
By David Duncan Wallace
The Free Negro–Race Mixture. –Free Negroes, though emerging early, did not become numerous until after the Revolution. In 1790 there were in South Carolina 1,801; in 1800, 3,185; in 1820, 6,826; in 1860, 9,914. Charleston district contained a disproportionate number (43 per cent of all in the State in 1850), the city a still larger proportion. City life offered them better opportunities. One kept a good hotel for whites. Many owned slaves. One was estimated to be worth $80,000. “The free Negroes, with the exception of those in Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and New Orleans, were worse off in most other states than in Virginia.”8
Despite the warning of several examples before and after the Revolution, South Carolina did not, before her “Black Code” of 1865, define
Cf. Thos. L. Williams, “Methodist Missions to the Slaves,” Yale Ph.D. thesis of 1943, MS.
C. G. Woodson, in Am. Hist. Rev., XLVIII ( July, 1943), 812.
by statute the term Negro, or forbid intermarriage between the races. The prohibition of interracial marriage and the definition of a Negro as a person of one-eighth or more of African blood enacted in the “Black Code” of 1865 ended almost at once with the repeal of the code under Northern pressure. They were re-enacted in 1879, and were inserted in the Constitution of 1895.

The master’s affection for his mulatto children, rewards for extraordinary fidelity, and a slave’s purchase of his own or his wife’s freedom mainly accounted for the free Negroes. Following the Revolution, a brief liberalism, and the mean desire to put off old slaves on the public during the comparative unprofitableness of slavery between the time that indigo was lost and cotton culture developed, operated perhaps in importance progressively in the order named. The law of 1800 made manu- mission difficult; that of 1820 forbade it; and that of 1841 forbade even sending the slaves abroad to be freed. Despite their general good behavior, the free Negroes were feared as an impeachment of some of the pro-slavery arguments. Clearly much of the denunciation of the class in 1840’s and 1850’s was a reaction against permitting any confirmation of the abolitionists’ contention that Negroes were fit for freedom.

The tragedy and menace of the “brass ankles” (persons of slight Negro blood seeking to pass as whites), long widely known and occasionally mentioned in print, was in 1930 drawn into publicity in Mr. DuBose Heyward’s drama Brass Ankle, and Mrs. Gertrude Shelby and Mr. Samuel G. Stoney’s novel of the Hell Hole Swamp section, Po’ Buckra. An occasional tolerance or semi-tolerance of Negroes in white society in the low country before and just after the Revolution, seeming now almost inconceivable, produced results for the elimination of which we must trust to Mendel’s law and the strictest care instead of a squeamish conspiracy of silence. The loyalty of these mixed bloods as Confederate soldiers secured them a respect that made the problem still more difficult.9

Influence of Slavery on Southern Character. –The influence of slavery on Southern character was profound and contradictory. A recent South Carolina writer says that “The institution of slavery was largely responsible for the acute sensitiveness to criticism, restlessness under opposition or interference, and the promptness in meeting obligations which were marked traits in the planters of Edisto (Island) and the coast generally. As children playing with the young slaves, the foundation was laid.
Professor F. A. Porcher, “Upper St. John’s Berkeley. A Memoir,” in Transactions of the Huguenot Society of South Carolina, November 13, 1906, p. 35, relates the case of a rich mulatto woman, educated and able, the wife of Dr. Hardcastle, widely accepted by those who accepted her hospitality (apparently about 1800-20) and futilely hoped to inherit her wealth.
They began ‘bossing’ those under them with an authority coexistent with their ability to stamp their little feet and shout their commands in half- articulated words. This domineering spirit increased with their years.”10
Chancellor Harper in 1837 eulogized slavery as the buttress of morals. Our thieves and prostitutes, he held, were usually imported from the North. He traced the nobility of Southern manhood and the extraordinary chastity of Southern womanhood to the facts that men scorned every trait of the menial and that the women were protected by the welcome which slave women offered their masters. Edmund Burke’s reference to certain influences of slavery on the character of the masters is to the same effect.

William Gilmore Simms acknowledged that there were great abuses in the easy gratification of white men’s lust with black women–“illicit and foul conduct of many among us, who make their slaves the victims and the instruments alike of the most licentious passions.”

The slave economy brought easy immediate profits, but was doomed to decline. Said General Johnson Hagood to the State Agricultural Society in 1870: “Cherishing his [the planter’s] costly and highly prized labor, which was also, under the laws of the land, the largest part of his capital, his whole efforts were given to its increase, and the land bore the penalty of the favoritism–cut down, skimmed of its fertility, and thrown out to the recuperative efforts of nature, while the generous produce of its virgin soil was invested in additional laborers, and the planter and his gang passed on to other fields. There was prosperity under the system. . . . Yet was there not in all this as much of the prosperity of the Arab sheik passing . . . from oasis to oasis, as the prosperity of the agriculturist? But little improvement attached to the land. Few buildings were reared which were expected to last beyond the life of the tenant; . . . and seldom was any meliorating process vouchsafed to the soil. ‘New grounds,’ in plantation parlance, was the equivalent of productiveness, and ‘old field’ of sterility.”
The reproach of Southern statesmanship is its failure, even its refusal, to attempt any solution of the slavery problem. Measureless energy was expended in proving what the South had a right to do instead of what she had better do. Few more barren fields of intellectual effort exist than the volumes of defense of the constitutional right to continue a system that the whole course of civilization had doomed. Yet solution of some kind there had to be, and it came at last, in the worst possible manner except servile insurrection, to a people who would not solve it for themselves.
I. Jenkins Mikell, Rumbling of the Chariot Wheels, p. 204.
The mistake of the South was natural, and it was made the more so by the abolitionists. The South, in its belief that emancipation would Africanize the country and that the Negro was incapable of labor except under slavery, revealed an ignorance of the fundamental character of the Negro as great as that of the abolitionist, who thought the Negro merely a black white man.
But there was another problem, more difficult than that of slavery– the question of race. But for this, slavery would have vanished before economic and moral forces as did serfdom in Europe and indentured servitude in America. The problem of slavery was at last solved, but the problem of black and white remains.