Who Are The Redbones

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The origins and ancestry of Redbones continues to be debated.  The families appear to have inherited English surnames both matrilineal and patrilineal. The most common surnames having originated via the British Isles rather than being wholly acquired on these shores. Redbones can trace some of their families ancestral surnames back to early Virginia court, taxation and census records commonly classifying them as “African Americans”, “Free people of color” as well as “mulatto”, “Mustee”, “Mixt blood”,” Mestizo”, “Caste and half caste.” More on the Casta system can be read at Casta Paintings.

Common Surnames include: Nash, Perkins/Pickens, Johnson, Gibson, Goins/Going/Goyen/Gowyen and many other deviations, Willis, Ashworth, Sweat, Bass, Allen, Doyle/Dial, Chavis, Bunch, Drake, Thomas, Cherry, Droddy, Baggett, Ford, Bunch, Collins, Mullins, Hoosier, James, Anderson, Gibson/Gipson, Gibbs, Jackson, Orr, Strother/s, Lee, Stringer, Lyons, Dean, Wise, Valentine, Cumbo ( I have never found a researcher who descended from this surname however it is included on many other lists), Jeffries/Jaffrey, Townsend, Ball, Mayo, and others mentioned below. The above is by no means a completed list and not all lines of these surnames were “mixedbloods” Redbones.

Colonial Taxation Cases

  • Beginning about 1700, the records of the Virginia colony began to record any Indian not in a tribal context as “Negro”. Laws were passed which disadvantaged and restricted the civil rights and freedoms of any and all non-white peoples. The disadvantaged peoples occur in Virginia law as “Moors, Mohammedans, Infidels, East Indians, Indians, and Negroes”. Historians have carried this bizarre concept forward, and with political incorrectness transformed these generic non-whites into African Americans. A primary reference tool employed by 20th century historians to transform non-Africans into Africans is the “Registry of Free Negroes and Mulattos” commonly referred to as the Free Negro Register. If the investigator begins their research with 17th century Indian genealogy, a more clear and very different picture emerges in which the most accurate definition of “Negro” is “anyone not-white. The Free Negro Registers are full of revealing examples.
  • Residents of Northampton County, Virginia, petitioned the county court on 26 November 1722, complaining, “That the great number of Free Negros Inhabiting within this County are great Grievances most particularly because the Negro Women pay no Taxes” [Orders 1719-22, 192-3]. Virginia passed a law in May 1723, “That all free negros, mulattos, or indians, (except tributary indians to this government) male and female, above the age of sixteen, and all wives of such negroes, mulattos, or indians shall be accounted tithables [Hening IV:133].
  • A 1738 North Carolina defined tithables as, “every white Person Male of the age of Sixteen Years and upwards all Negroes Mulattoes Mustees Male or female and all Persons of Mixt Blood to the fourth Generation Male and Female of the Age of Twelve Years and upwards”
  • Only isolated Redbone cases such as Reverend Joseph Willis were ever known to have been enslaved or born into slavery. Some Redbone families are listed among Negro slave owners.
  • The Redbone was born from the unions of native & endogenous people who mixed with and absorbed the white indentured element, runaway slaves, outcasts and other undesirable peoples upon arrival to these shores and continued into the 20th century.
  • White Slavery came before African slave importation into the colonies in the guise & cloak of “indenture”.  African slave importation is outlawed, as a result, white slavery was encouraged through selective/forced breeding plantations, Indians, whites (Irish/Welsh convict & indentured/orphans, etc.) & Negro, in an effort to; enslave the offspring through the “one drop rule” therefore usually resulting in the parent remaining in semi state of slavery forever, strengthen the Indian slave (physically & immunity), and Negro to ensure slave status. This breeding became such a common breeding practice in the 18th century, so much so there were laws and notices enacted to stop the practice. The offspring of these unions become a caste worth of white watchfulness. Slavery follows the maternal lineage. Read More here..White Slavery
  • The Redbone people trace familial relationships to many clans and tribes  including the Saponi, Oceenechi, Moors of Delaware, Cheroenhaka (Nottoway), Meherrin, Tuscarora, Cheraw, Smiling Indians, Brass Ankles of South Carolina, The Melungeons Carolina’s to Tennessee, Lumbee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, Cherokee, Shawnee, Kiowa and Coushatta. Redbone
  • DNA results prove the most prevalent admixtures, White (European), Native American (varying degrees), sub-Saharan African (varying degrees), South Asian matches  with the Rom “Gypsy” Hindu Kush of North India Punjabi, Middle Eastern (varying degrees), Spanish (Varying degrees). Example DNA report.
  • Somewhere along the not so distant genetic tree, Redbones mixed heavily with the Rom Gypsy People, likely of the Old Colonial families brought to this country as religious and undesirable exiles from Europe the Spanish/French/Portugal/Italy & other European/Mediterranean Countries to the new world as outcasts and or slaves. Weaver, Cooper, Banks surname to name the few we suspect. Inquisitional Exile Gypsy’s Alabama & Louisiana
  • Hunted and haunted by their dark complexion and swarthy appearance the Redbones migrated westward into uncharted territories as encroaching European settlers pushed through the wildernesses imposing racial integrity and miscegenation laws.  In an attempt to prevent the mixing of races and preserve “racial integrity” many states passed laws against racial intermarriage. Society encourages homogony (marriage between people who are alike with regard to race, ethnicity, religion social class background) through informal norms, and in some cases, formal norms (laws). Miscegenation laws also refused blacks the opportunity to attain the cultural status of whites. White colonists also were fearful of an alliance between African Americans and American Indians and the strength in numbers that such a union of oppressed peoples could produce. Whatever the motivation for miscegenation policy, in 1661 Virginia passed legislation prohibiting interracial marriage and later passed a law that prohibited ministers from marrying racially mixed couples. The fine was ten thousand pounds of tobacco. Then, in 1691, Virginia required that any white woman who bore a mulatto child pay a fine or face indentured servitude for five years for herself and thirty years for her child. Similarly, in Maryland, a woman who married a Negro slave had to serve her husband’s owner for the rest of her married life. Over time, Maryland’s laws became increasingly strict, and in 1715 and 1717 Maryland’s legislature made cohabitation between any white person and a person of African descent unlawful. As the number of colonies grew, miscegenation laws became increasingly commonplace; by the time of the American Civil War, at least five states had enacted anti-miscegenation laws .
  • The Redbone who by the turn of the 19th century were well established as privateers, traders, interpreters and guides migrated from the Upper South traveling and settling in family clans. Most were seeking freedom, trade and survival.  A rugged, tenacious people with a pioneering spirit and wandering nature they settled and established  communities in Natchez district , Mississippi Territory, Louisiana and Spanish Texas.
  • On Barrowed Ground-Mixedblood Life-Colonial


Many of the original families are listed among FREE AFRICAN AMERICANS OF VIRGINIA,  NORTH CAROLINA, SOUTH CAROLINA, MARYLAND AND DELAWARE. This is a very good source but it has been proven time and time again that many of the families were not, indeed African origins but lumped into this category in the record link attached.

Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina
Foreword by historian Ira Berlin

Maryland and Delaware

Colonial Tax Lists, Virginia personal property tax lists, Census, and Court Records for Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennesse and Virginia

19th century photos of free African American and Indian families

List of Indian Slaves, Free Indians, and Free African Americans identified in Colonial Records Without Last Names

Service in the Revolutionary War

Recent updates:

April 2012: Norfolk County Register of Free Negroes & Mulattoes 1809-1852

December 2011: Nelson County Personal Property Tax Arnold family

October 2011: List of Free Negroes & Mulattoes in the lower district of Lunenburg County, 1802-1803 (Library of Virginia)

Free and American, A study of Eleven Illinois Families of Colour, by Darrel Dexter (Updated November 2004)

Tennessee & Indiana
The Lyles Family by Arlene B. Polk

Virginia Slaves Freed After 1782

East Indians in Colonial Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina

Slaves named in colonial Halifax County, North Carolina, and King George County, Virginia wills

Hard copies of Free African Americans of Maryland and Delaware and Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina can be purchased from the publisher:

The Carolina’s:


[New York] 11/28/1890 SOUTH CAROLINA’S REDBONES There are a singular race of people in South Carolina called the Redbones. Their origin is unknown. They resemble in appearance the gypsies, but in complexion they are red. They have accumulated considerable property and are industrious and peaceable. They live in small settlements at the foot of the mountains and associated with none but their own race. They are a proud and high spirited people. Caste is very strong among them. They enjoy life, visit the watering places and mountain resorts, but eat by themselves and keep by themselves. When the war broke out several of them enlisted in the Hampton legion, and when the legion reached Virginia there was a great outcry among the Virginians and the troops from other states because we had enlisted Negroes. They did not resemble the African in the least, except in cases where Africans had amalgamated with Indians. This intermixture, which is common in the Carolinas, produces marvelous results. It takes the kink out of the hair of the African, straightens his features and improve him in every way except in temper—Interview with Senator Hampton.————-

Marion “The Swamp Fox” American Revolutionary Hero-Redbone Connection? Coming soon a curious connection between “his men” & The Redbones.


Early Trade Routes Early Trade Routes


South Carolina’s “Red Bones.”

Have you ever heard of a class of people called “red bones?” said Lewis Marshall, of Charlston, S. C.  “They are the most peculiar people in the United States.  No one living absolutely knows the race from which they sprang or whence the original settlers came.  They live very nearly on the boundary line between South Carolina and Georgia, in the northwesternn part of the first-names State.  They are very clannish, mix very little with people not of their race, and in a manner are quite thrifty.  I am of the opinion that they are descendants of the Basques of Southern France.  They do now lack courage, for a company of them served in Hampton’s legion during the late Civil War, and bore themselves bravely at the first Manassas.  Their skin is of a swarthy red, resembling that of the Indian, but at that point all resemblance ceases, except to be that they are very hot of temper.  I have often wondered why the  ethnologists of this country have not studied these people.  Surely a monograph on them would be highly interesting.

Migration Routes

Fur Trade141

Georgia & Alabama

  • RED BONE, Talbot County. (Georgia) This community was located at the site of the present YPSILANTI. The name is taken from an old Indian chief, Red Bone, who was born here.
  • “When the Indians ruled the land all over Alabama back in 1720, the Chickasaw Indians took a trapper prisoner. The white trapper was placed in a cave for a short period of time. The cave is said to be Redbone Cave which can be found on the north bank of the Tennessee River close to Muscle Shoals in Colbert County. While the trapper was held in the cave, as he reported later, the cave was full of gold and silver bars that went from the floor of the cave to the ceiling, along with chests overloaded with golden figurines, jewels, and gold coins. A couple of finds have been discovered throughout the region and the quest for this treasure increased with each of these discoveries. Close by the Natchez Trace Bridge in Colbert County, in 1971, two men discovered a gold ingot about the size of a brick, a farmer working a field south of Smithsonia in Lauderdale County found a gold bar that had either Indian or Spanish markings. Many people believe that both of these discoveries were from the treasure in Redbone Cave; however, there are many others that believe they came from different sources. If there have been any other finds no one is talking about them. As far, as anyone can tell, the treasure the trapper saw back in 1720 is still hidden away in Redbone Cave.”

Mixedblood Communities Map

Ethnic Racial isolates of Reputed Partial Indian Origins

Mississippi Territory & Natchez District


  • Laffitte, Valentine, Meteoyer, Villars/deVillars, Grainger, Gibson Johnson, James Going, Thomas Nash, Betsy Nash, Nimrod Perkins, James Ashworth, Jeremiah Bass, and other Redbone related families begin to appear, prior too 1800 in an area known for smuggling of pirate loot & slaves stolen from Spanish Gallon Ships throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Redbone families begin arriving into the disputed region known as The Rio Hondo “Arroyo Hondo” Neutral Zone & No Man’s Land or Sabine Free State  between the Calcasieu River and the Sabine Rivers. The area became known for it’s outlawry & violence, smuggling & slave smuggling. Babit Laffitt owning what later became Gaines Ferry on the Sabine selling goods and hostelries to the travelers on the great El Camino de Real de Las Tejas. between Nacogdoches and Natchitoches, 17th Century capital of Spanish Tejas. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the territory lying between the Sabine and the Calcasieu, called by the Spaniards the Rio Stondo, or Deep River, was known as the Neutral Strip. Spain had claimed the Calcasieu River as the boundary; the question again arose between the governments of the United States and Mexico. In 1819, a final settlement placed the boundary at the Sabine. 

War of 1812- Jean Lafitte’s Men…..Who Were The Baratarians? 

The Baratarian pirates played a key role in the important Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. It is possible that without their assistance the Americans might have lost that battle and it is probable that had the Baratarians aided the British in the fight that the Americans would probably have been defeated. Barataria Bay (Lake Barataria) in Louisiana lies south of the city of New Orleans on the Gulf of Mexico. During the War of 1812, it was considered one of the possible British invasion routes to the city, although the lakes and bayous from Barataria Bay could be navigated only by flat boats of very shallow draft, save for Barataria itself, which afforded a good harbor for gunboats. On Grand Terre Island at the mouth of the bay, a community of slave runners, smugglers, and pirates had established themselves. They claimed legitimacy on the basis of letters of marque purchased from the government of Cartagena, the first city of New Grenada (Columbia) to declare its independence from Spain. Sailing under Cartagenian colors, fast Baratarian ships captured a number of Spanish vessels in the Gulf of Mexico, including slavers from Africa. On occasion the Baratarian pirates also attacked ships of other nations, including those of the United States. The Baratarians were led by Jean and Pierre Laffite. While Jean Laffite operated chiefly from the pirate stronghold, Pierre Lafitte looked after Baratarian business dealings in New Orleans. Dominique You was another important Baratarian leader & uncle to Jean & Pierre. Bablo Lafitte ran the most important settlement on the Sabine River, father of Jean & Pierre Lafitte. All of whom were early settlers in the Neutral Zone and who later made Spanish Land Claims to the US. / Claimants 101-280

Redbone Fued’s & Fights Louisiana

The RawHide Fight-Vernon Parish La.

Sabine Free State “No Man’s Land”

Settlers of The Rio Hondo Region, Spanish Land Claims

•1803 Louisiana Purchase. The Neutral Territory or “No Man’s Land”  Before there was a Texas, both France and Spain claimed the region on both sides of the Sabine River–an area known as the “neutral ground“, “no man’s land“ or “Sabine Free State”  because of early explorations by both nations. French explorers claimed all land drained by the Mississippi River and its tributaries as Louisiana Territory. Spain claimed all southern lands beginning with the first watershed west of the Mississippi. The dispute arose over claims that the “first watershed” was the Sabine or the Atchafalaya River. As a result the land between the two rivers was claimed by both nations. When the U.S. purchased the Louisiana territory in 1803 and inherited France’s claims, the U.S. and Spain agreed that the disputed strip would be neutral territory until an agreement could be reached by the two nations. Men of intrigue, desperation or adventure came to the neutral ground for their various purposes. The strip soon became a refuge for outlaws and deserters seeking to avoid the laws of any government, leading to the violent Regulator-Moderator War in Shelby and surrounding counties. GTT ‘Gone To Texas’ was a contemporary term for fugitives from justice.
  • 1807 Thomas Nash aka Ash progenitor of many Redbones settled in Nuetral Zone or No Mans Land, Rio Hondo Lands Joseph Grubb of Thomas Nash on Bayou Kisatchi.
  • 1826 Atascosita District of Austin’s Colony, Mexico 1826 militia against insurgents at Nacogdoches
  • 1826 The Atascosita District bounded on the west by Austin’s Colony by the north Nacogdoches, on the east by reserved lands on the Sabine, on the south by by the Gulf of Mexico including all Islands and Bays within 3 leagues of sea shore. Listed as inhabitants include Redbone families, Benjamin, Micheal, Thomas & William Nash families, George Orr, John & William Cherry, James Griffin John Cotton, James Drake William H Taylor, George White, WM, Hugh B & John Johnson.
  • 1827 Joseph Willis, Apostle The Apostle to the Opelousas, The First Baptist Preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ West of the Mississippi River. He went “far and wide” establishing a church October 21, 1827, just seventeen miles from Orange, Texas, and the Texas State line near Edgerly, Louisiana named Antioch Primitive Baptist Church.
    April 1830–Relations between the Texans and Mexico reached a new low when Mexico forbid further emigration into Texas by settlers from the United States.
  • 1830 A large group of Redbones settled on the west side of the Sabine River in what is today Newton County, Texas. Some of the family names in that area were Adams, Bass, Bennett, Bond, Brack, Brown, Clark, Coleman, Cole, Collins, Davis, Droddy, Hall, Harper, Hart, James, Johnson, Knight, Lee, Lewis, Martin, Mattox, Moore, Nash, Page, Parker, Perkins, Powell, Smith,  Stringer, Taylor, Thompson, Weeks, West, White, Willis, Williams, Woods, Wright, and Young.
  • 1831 William Ashworth had emigrated from Louisiana and many of his Redbone families followed him. The Ashworths immigrated to Louisiana from South Carolina in 1799. During the Revolution against Mexico, William and Abner Ashworth paid Gipson Perkins and Elijah Thomas to take their places in the Texas Army. The Ashworths were classified as “free blacks” and were land and slave owners.
  • History, we have been taught, says that the right to vote for Black Americans came with the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, after the Civil War. In New England, several states had given the right to vote to free men well before this law. After the Revolution some New England states took away the right to vote from many Blacks.
    • But did you know in the Slave South that in some places free Blacks could vote?
      There were nearly 150 in Herford County and 300 free black voters in Halifax County, North Carolina, until 1835.In 1856, voting by the free black people (present day Red Bones) of Ten Mile Creek Precinct in what is now Allen Parish, Louisiana, became a source of public concern. Several were tried for illegal voting for free Negroes did not have the franchise but they were acquitted when their colored ancestry could not be proven and the judge would not permit the jury to evaluate them by their appearance.In one parish in Louisiana, free blacks went to the polls from 1838 to 1860.Roger W. Shugg, “Negro Voting in the Antebellum South,” Journal of Negro History, XXI, (1936)’In 1856, voting by the free black people of Ten Mile Creek Precinct (Redbone Settlement) in what is now Allen Parish, Louisiana, became a source of public concern. Several were tried for illegal voting for free Negroes did not have the franchise but they were acquitted when their colored ancestry could not be proven and the judge would not permit the jury to evaluate them by their appearance.’
  • Historic Redbone Riot at Ten Mile, Calcasieu Parish, Christmas Eve 1881

Gone To Texas

Spanish Tejas

  • Thomas Nash & Anna Goins and other Redbones move into Spanish Texas a few families are enumerated at Atascotia District.

Redbone Cattle Ranching

cattle culture

The multiethnic character of early Texas cattle ranching is suggested by the diverse origins of the major stockmen. James Taylor White (Leblanc), a Cajun from Louisiana, owned the largest herds east of the Trinity River by 1830, though he was soon rivaled by the “redbone” Ashworths, Perkins, Dials and Johnsons  who moved in  from South Carolinian via Louisiana. The families of mixed white, black, and Indian ancestry. Thomas O’Connor, an Irishman from Wexford County, became the leading rancher in the Coastal Bend country north of Corpus Christi in the 1840s, and the German Klebergs later helped build the famous King Ranch in South Texas.

Among the early Angelina County stockmen were pioneering settler and cattleman James Ashworth and his wife Mary (Polly) Perkins and their son-in-law Patrick Johnson, who married their daughter Mary Vianna.
They arrived from Southwest Louisiana. The Ashworths and Johnsons as well as others such as Dials and Goins were members of a Southwest Louisiana group of Redbones. The Redbones are a dark-skinned people with Europen features who emigrated from the Pee Dee region of South Carolina to South Louisiana about 1810.  The Redbones brought their cattle culture with them, and University of Texas geographer Terry Jordan credits the Redbones as inventing the Texas cattle industry in Louisiana and bringing it to Texas. James Ashworth’s brother, Aaron, was an early settler in the Orange area and supplied beeves to feed Sam Houston’s army. It is said that Aaron Ashworth had over 3000 head of cattle in the woods.

Nash-Keifer Fued-East Texas

Ashworth Act

The Ashworth Act, passed by the Texas Congress on December 12, 1840, came in response to an act passed on February 5, 1840, which prohibited the immigration of free blacks and ordered all free black residents to vacate the Republic of Texas within two years or be sold into slavery. The earlier act was designed to make color the standard mark of servitude in Texas by eliminating the free black population. It repealed all laws contrary to its provisions and nullified the act of June 5, 1837, which permitted the residence of free blacks living in Texas before the Texas Declaration of Independence. On November 9, 1840, the Hardin and Richardson petitions were referred to the Committee on the State of the Republic. A bill exempting Samuel McCulloch, Jr., and some of his relatives passed its first reading the same day.

On November 10, 1840, the Ashworth bill passed the House, and the McCulloch bill was read a second time. At this reading attempts were made to amend the bill by adding the names of William Goyens, who was supported by Thomas J. Rusk, and two other parties. The amendments lost, but the original bill passed.

Frederick Law Olmsted, in Texas, 1857

A Journey through Texas ( New York, 1857).

  • A characteristic of vigilantism often is that it is hard to tell the vigilantes from the desperadoes. So it was in the “guerrilla of skirmishes and murders” that developed in east Texas in the 1850’s. An issue of racism was present, there was feud like involvement of entire families, and the victims included not only the sheriff and deputy sheriff, but a couple of strangers caught in the cross-fire. Guerrilla, feud, battle–it was also vigilantism. The account that follows is by a noted traveler and reporter on Texas and the antebellum South.
  • This county has been lately the scene of events, which prove that it must have contained a much larger number of free negroes and persons of mixed blood than we were informed on the spot, in spite of the very severe statute forbidding their introduction, which has been backed by additional legislative penalties in 1856. Banded together, they have been able to resist the power, not only of the legal authorities, but of a local “Vigilance Committee,” which gave them a certain number of hours to leave the State, and a guerrilla of skirmishes and murders has been carried on for many months, up the banks of the Sabine, with the revival of the old names of “Moderators and Regulators” of the early Texans.
  • Upon this the Vigilance Committee was organized, and the sheriff, who was suspected of connivance at the escape of Ashworth, and all of the Ashworth family with their relatives and supporters, summoned to leave the county on pain of death. On the other hand, all free men of color on the border, to the number of one hundred and fifty, or more, joined with a few whites and Spaniards, formed an organized band, and defied the Committee, and then ensued a series of assassinations, burnings of houses and saw-mills, and open fights. The Moderators, or Committee-men, became strong enough to range the county, and demand that every man, capable of bearing arms, should join them, or quit the county on pain of death. This increased the resistance and the bloody retaliation, and, at the last accounts they were laying regular siege to the house of a family who had refused to join them. The feud appears to have commenced with the condemnation, by a justice of the peace, of a free mulatto, named Samuel Ashworth, to receive twenty-five lashes, on a charge of malicious killing of his neighbor’s hogs, and of impertinent talking.
  • Late in May, 1856, Jack Bunch and Sam Ashworth, members of the Mulatto families known as “Redbones” collaborated in the murder of Dep. Sheriff Samuel Deputy as he rowed a boat on the Sabine River. Ashworth escaped capture for five years, and was subsequently killed at the Battle of Shiloh while he was in the Confederate Army. Bunch was captured and on a change of venue, was convicted and hanged at Beaumont in Nov., 1856, in an execution so barbarous that the 18-year-old youth was strangled after mounting a ladder which was then twisted and pulled out from under him.

metapth36665_xl_hhm_01348[Hanging Tree – Orange, Texas], Photograph, August 18, 1888; digital image, ( : accessed October 09, 2013), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Heritage House Museum, Orange, Texas.


By W. T. Block Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, May 30, 1978.

On the afternoon of July 7, 1892, two men wielding a cross-cut saw hurried to fell the mighty pin oak tree which shaded the front entrance of D. Call and Sons Grocery at Fourth and Front Streets, on the waterfront at Orange, Texas. The opprobriously-heralded “Hanging Tree,” as it was widely renouned, was not diseased or in anyone’s way. No tree worms or borers had weakened its trunk or limbs, nor was it bound for the sawmill or fireplace. In fact, as far as pin oaks go, it stood as healthy, stately, and proud as any, its myriad of mighty branches and green leaves crowfooting out in all directions.

The disease was in the minds of men, and Orange was announcing to the world that it no longer needed a monument of derision, commemorating that frontier era of justice, or injustice would be more fitting, that for so long had been dispensed by “Judge Lynch.”

During the decade of the 1880s alone, the citizens along the Sabine River ignored the same laws they had helped enact, and the lives of three men were snuffed out on the “Hanging Tree.” And some claimed that the “Gibbet Limb,” that giant branch which projected its greenery in the general direction of the store, was purposely endowed by nature to become a “trail’s end” for murderers.

At that moment, Orange’s first convicted murderer was awaiting legal execution at the county jail, and even the sight of the gibbet limb by some inflamed mob might be a sufficient catalyst to incite a lynch party into action.

The tree’s notoriety had already spread far and wide. Visitors from Houston and New Orleans came to see it, and others pointed to it as the eventual reward for wayward sons who refused to obey their parents, or who flouted the laws of the land. Often rail passengers expressed their anger upon learning that the Southern Pacific passenger trains would not stop anywhere near the tree. And sightseers visiting Front Street were sometimes disappointed when no pair of limp legs were dangling from the pin oak’s greenery.

But times had changed, indeed, and Orange, bursting at the seams with new industry, population, and pride, felt its earlier penchant for frontier justice had changed as well. For the first time, the citizens of the town seemed content to let the laws of Texas prevail. Archie Washington, the condemned axe murderer of his wife, had just been refused a stay of execution by the governor, and no where in the streets or saloons, not even in the Casino Saloon frequented by the border rowdies, was there any clamor for a “necktie party.”

From the beginning, Southeast Texas and the “Neutral Strip,” principally Calcasieu Parish, in Southwest Louisiana were collecting points for the killers, brigands, social outcasts, and outlaws of every hue in the export-import trade in human garbage. And Orange became the crossing point for the nefarious traffic in undesirables. Under the Texas Republic, murderers fleeing American justice crossed the Sabine River, whereas other, running from Texas murder warrants, fled eastward. In 1856, Jack Cross was one Texas killer in that category, fleeing eastward from the Bexar County sheriff, proud to stop at Orange and ‘fan’ his gun, as a member of a Moderator mob, on the side of ‘law and order’ for a change. But just retribution sometimes lurks stealthily in waiting, and after gunning down another man at Lake Charles, Cross eventually ‘stretched hemp’ in 1857 from a cypress tree on the bank of the Calcasieu River.

Whenever law enforcement broke down or ceased to function on the frontier, it seemed an inevitable or unwritten law of nature that “justice” would then be meted out by vigilante groups, who often called themselves ‘Regulators” or “Moderators.” And although a sizeable percentage of ‘Judge Lynch’s’ victims were white, the inequity of lynch law, inflamed as it usually was by racial overtones, fell most heavily upon Negroes.

The first record of vigilante action in Jefferson and Orange counties occurred in Sept., 1841, when Regulators broke up the infamous Yocum’s Inn murder ring near Pine Island Bayou, northwest of Beaumont. Forewarned of their advance, Thomas D. Yocum, the alleged killer of twenty men, escaped to Spring Creek, Montgomery County, where the vigilantes eventually captured him. After giving him 30 minutes to “square accounts with his Maker,” they then shot him five times through the heart.

His son, Chris Yocum, was an honorably-discharged Texas veteran from Capt. Franklin Hardin’s company and was described by Frank Paxton in 1853 as being “the best of the Yocums.” Some believed that he had not been implicated in the murders at all. But bearing the Yocum name and aware of the public lust for retribution, he fled from Beaumont anyway. After a four-months absence and possessing a false belief that the vigilantes’ clamor for revenge had subsided, Chris Yocum returned to Beaumont on January 15, 1842, to visit his young wife.

That night Sheriff West locked up young Yocum for his own protection in the county’s log house jail. The next morning, West found him swinging from an oak limb on the courthouse lawn, with a 10-penny nail driven into the base of his skull.

Also in 1841, vigilante justice struck most heavily in neighboring Shelby County, where several persons were killed by vigilantes. The details of that Regulator-Moderator war would fill a book, brought stringent denunciations from President Sam Houston, and lack of space will allow no greater elaboration of it.

In June, 1856, law enforcement not only broke down completely in Orange County, but was indeed a part of that county’s crime-ridden element. The sheriff, Edward Glover, and his uncle, John Moore, were perhaps the most notorious counterfeiters in frontier Texas history, and the violence ended when the Moderators, by self-election the side of ‘law and order,’ captured and executed them. In addition to the criminal sheriff, the six weeks’ reign of terror featured the notorious killer, Cross, who was fighting with the Moderators, and a number of wealthy Mulatto cattlemen, who were allied with their white neighbors through marriage.

At the end, twelve people, most of them innocent victims, were gunned down; free black families were stripped of their land and cattle; and thirty Mulatto families were driven permanently from the state. Jack Cross gunned down one man on the streets of Orange, and when a young doctor knelt to treat the wound, Cross held his gun to the doctor’s head and killed him. Underlying causes of the violence were deeply rooted in racism, jealousies, and economics, but the immediate cause of the conflict was to account for the only legal execution in either Orange or Jefferson Counties prior to 1886.

Late in May, 1856, Jack Bunch and Sam Ashworth, members of the Mulatto families, collaborated in the murder of Dep. Sheriff Samuel Deputy as he rowed a boat on the Sabine River. Ashworth escaped capture for five years, and was subsequently killed at the Battle of Shiloh while he was in the Confederate Army. Bunch was captured and on a change of venue, was convicted and hanged at Beaumont in Nov., 1856, in an execution so barbarous that the 18-year-old youth was strangled after mounting a ladder which was then twisted and pulled out from under him.

In the fall of 1861, Tom Magnes and G. H. Willis, both of them white men, were lynched at Old Hardin, then the county set of Hardin County, for the robbery of Major Joe Dark of Batson’s Prairie and for the wounding of Dark’s wife.

If post-Civil War letters from this area were any indicator, the Reconstruction years saw no improvement, and if anything a worsening, in the volume of lawlessness and the general laxity of law enforcement. For ten years, Beaumont, Sabine Pass, and Orange were under Federal troop occupation, and the “Ironclad Oath” requirement, forbidding public office to those who had served or sworn allegiance to the Confederacy, proscribed nearly all adult males from any law enforcement assignments.

In 1866, one letter, signed by 36 Beaumonters, warned all potential malefactors that any acts of resistance or violence against the U. S. Government or its officers would not be countenanced, nor remain hidden, by the civilian populace. In May, 1869, a letter, signed by 33 Orange County citizens, read as follows:

“We the undersigned citizens of Orange County, feeling that our community and our laws have been outraged by the late cruel murders of Newton and Erastus Stephenson at the jands of — Gill, — Wilson, and ‘Yellow Bill,’ . . . do agree and form the following resolution, to wit:”

“RESOLVED, . . . that we are determined to look to the safety of our neighbors during the absence of officers in the county; and for the aforementioned purposes, we agree and bind ourselves together in making the following declaration to all the parties concerned, to wit:”

“If any further violence is committed in our midst, we will take the matter into our own hands and visit merited vengeance on all who may be guilty, and hereby warn all aiders, abettors, and coadjutors to look well to their own skirts for they shall not go unscathed . . .”

Only the Orange County district court minutes for 1869 might reveal if any of the Stephenson murderers were ever caught, for most area newspapers, including those of Galveston and Houston, did not survive for that year.

On April 8, 1874, Turner Ardasal, who was alleged to have been an Italian ship captain, raped and murdered Mrs. John Jett and her two children who lived near Orange. Ardasal was captured by neighbors as he attempted to burn the bodies of his victims. While the offender was in jail that night, a lynch mob overpowered the guard and riddled the prisoner’s body with 100 bullets.

Despite four decades of such unsettled social conditions, the “Hanging Tree” in Orange was not used until Aug., 1881. The sheriff, George W. Michael, was a popular, efficient, and brave officer, but he had acquired a few enemies as a result of his upholding the law and corralling the saloon rowdies, one of whom was a white man named Charles Delano.

In order to conceal his role in the sheriff’s attempted assassination, Delano paid two black men, Samuel and Robert Saxon, to engage Michael in a saloon brawl and kill him. During the resulting affray, both Sam Saxon and Michael were severely wounded, the latter with buck shot, but the sheriff miraculously recovered.

A mob took Robert Saxon, who confessed to the plot with Delano, to the “Hanging Tree” and lynched him. Delano was arrested and released on $2,000 bond for his role in the crime, but no attempt was made to lynch him, perhaps because he and other white families equally implicated had already agreed to leave Orange and never return. On Aug. 26, 1881, the Galveston “Daily News” reported: “He (Delano) is connected by marriage and blood kin with several prominent families, strong numerically and financially, and should the Citizens’ Party lynch him, it is believed there will be bloodshed.”

For a week, the town was under martial law, patrolled by Capt. B. H. Norsworthy and his militia company of Orange Rifles, and several white and black families again deserted the county permanently.

In September, 1885, Sheriff J. C. Fennell of Orange was killed while attempting to arrest a railroad transient, Dave Anderson, who was wanted on a murder warrant from Tennessee. The city marshal and a posse tracked down the killer and lodged him in the county jail. After dark, a torch-light mob of masked men marched to the jail, and “at the point of 100 cocked revolvers,” forcibly removed the prisoner. He was quickly carried to the oak tree and hanged on Front Street, after which the mob quickly dispersed, leaving Anderson’s body “literally riddled with bullets.”

On August 14, 1889, Jim Brooks, a black man accused of rape, was removed from the Orange County jail by a “masked mob, variously estimated from 300 to 500 men,” and was lynched on the same old pin oak. Again the Galveston editor noted that, “at least 100 shots were fired at his body.”

Between 1892 and 1895, Orange County finally succeeded in executing on the gallows its first two men convicted of murder and condemned to death. On January 15, 1886, Jefferson County executed its second condemned man, Bill Madison, a young Negro convicted of killing an elderly black logging contractor, Elbert Smith, during a dispute over wages.

The sawing-down of the “Hanging Tree” did not end lynch law in Southeast Texas, but the infamous practice became much less frequent. In February, 1900, a Port Arthur mob, supposedly friends of the victim, hanged Peter Sweeney, a white man, to a telephone pole after the man had already been acquitted by a jury of his peers in Beaumont. And well within the memories of many persons still alive, an incited and vengeful mob at Honey Island, Hardin County, lynched a young black man about 1938.

Lynch law was a holdover from frontier days before state or territorial governments were organized and no elected law enforcement officers existed. Unfortunately, due to rural and racial attitudes, it lingered on in many areas for decades after any need for it may have existed.

Perhaps it is too early to predict that that unsavory institution is gone forever, particularly when some individuals and vigilante-prone organizations seem to esteem vigilante misrule as preferable to all constitutional avenues of justice. At any rate, the latter is the utopian state of social justice that one must hope for and work for. Whatever one’s race, anyone who today conspires or reacts violently against the civil rights of another can expect swift and stringent retribution for his crime.

Walter Plecker

the first registrar of Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, starting in 1912, forced Indians to classify themselves as black. The tribes, he said, had become a “mongrel” mixture.

walterplecker letter


Albemarle: Moon, Powell, Kidd, Pumphrey.

Amherst (Migrants to Alleghany and Campbell): Adcock (Adcox), Beverly (this family is now trying to evade the situation by adopting the name of Burch or Birch, which was the name of the white mother of the present adult generation), Branham, Duff, Floyd, Hamilton, Hartless, Hicks, Johns, Lawless, Nuckles (Knuckles), Painter, Ramsey, Redcross, Roberts, Southards (Suthards, Southerds, Southers), Sorrells, Terry, Tyree, Willis, Clark, Cash, Wood.

Bedford: McVey, Maxey, Branham, Burley. (See Amherst County)

Rockbridge (Migrants to Augusta): Cash, Clark, Coleman, Duff, Floyd, Hartless, Hicks, Mason, Mayse (Mays), Painters, Pultz, Ramsey, Southerds (Southers, Southards, Suthards), Sorrells, Terry, Tyree, Wood, Johns.

Charles City: Collins, Dennis, Bradby, Howell, Langston, Stewart, Wynn, Adkins.

King William: Collins, Dennis, Bradby, Howell, Langston, Stewart, Wynn, Custalow (Custaloe), Dungoe, Holmes, Miles, Page, Allmond, Adams, Hawkes, Suprlock, Doggett.

New Kent: Collins, Bradby, Stewart, Wynn, Adkins, Langston.

Henrico and Richmond City: See Charles City, New Kent, and King William.

Caroline: Byrd, Fortune, Nelson. (See Essex)

Essex and King and Queen: Nelson, Fortune, Byrd, Cooper, Tate, Hammond, Brooks, Boughton, Prince, Mitchell, Robinson.

Elizabeth City & Newport News: Stewart (descendants of the Charles City families).

Halifax: Epps (Eppes), Stewart (Stuart), Coleman, Johnson, Martin, Talley, Sheppard (Shepard), Young.

Norfolk County & Portsmouth: Sawyer, Bass, Weaver, Locklear (Locklair), King, Bright, Porter, Ingram.

Westmoreland: Sorrells, Worlds (or Worrell), Atwells, Gutridge, Oliff.

Greene: Shifflett, Shiflet.

Prince William: Tyson, Segar. (See Fauquier)

Fauquier: Hoffman (Huffman), Riley, Colvin, Phillips. (See Prince William)

Lancaster: Dorsey (Dawson).

Washington: Beverly, Barlow, Thomas, Hughes, Lethcoe, Worley.

Roanoke County: Beverly. (See Washington)

Lee and Smyth: Collins, Gibson (Gipson), Moore, Goins, Ramsey, Delph, Bunch, Freeman, Mise, Barlow, Bolden (Bolin), Mullins, Hawkins. — Chiefly Tennessee “Melungeons.”

Scott: Dingus. (See Lee County)

Russell: Keith, Castell, Stillwell, Meade, Proffitt. (See Lee & Tazewell)

Tazewell: Hammed, Duncan. (See Russell)

Wise: See Lee, Smyth, Scott, and Russell Counties.