As sure as the wind blows, something was in the air as without warning free families of color living in piedmont North Carolina began their trek north. Much like with the migratory plan of all God’s creatures, something untouchable and yet simultaneously gripping signaled the start of this mass exodus. Born of changes in society, new laws coinciding with the opening of a land of new possibilities cleared the way. Courtesy of a study of the Lick Creek Settlement https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/hoosier/specialplaces/?cid=fsbdev3_017495 located within Indiana’s Hoosier National Forest, the following video created by Daion Morton offers a wonderful introduction of the movement and of the peoples’ journey from Chatham County, North Carolina:
We know Ishmael Roberts was the patriarch of a large family with children once spreading from Robeson to Chatham Counties in North Carolina. Penned in his own hand, on 12 Jul 1826 Ishmael “Robirds” wrote his last will and testament:
Ishmael Roberts – Last Will and Testament
To view larger images, click on one of the images and then in the bottom right side of the page click again on see full size image.
A Chatham County court minute entry for William Avent (Executor of Ishmael Roberts vs. Heirs of Ishmael Roberts) reads: “find that the paper writing offered for probation to the last will and testament of Ishmael Roberts as regards to personal property but not his will as regards his real estate. William Avent Executor of the Last Will and Testament of Ishmael Roberts dec’d came into court and was qualified.” One month later another entry shows that any issues with the will must have been settled as the will was proved for probate by witness of Eli Yarborough.
Following his death in the late 1820’s, Ishmael’s family began selling off land in preparation of their removal to Indiana. Rather than me repeating good work that’s already been published, I recommend and hope that you’ll read the following two pages:
Ishmael Roberts at: http://lost-creek.org/genealogy/getperson.php?personID=i1723&tree=tree2
The Roberts Family at: http://lost-creek.org/genealogy/histories/feature7.php
Several of Ishmael Robert’s children removed to and lived at least for part of their lives in Orange County Indiana. Note the intermarriages with members of the Archer family. It’ll later be shown that their father, Thomas Archer, had lived nearby to Ishmael Roberts at time of the 1810 census:
- Kinchen Roberts married Nancy Chavis and moved to Orange County IN prior to settling in Lost Creek, Vigo County IN.
- Benjamin Roberts married Sally Archer in Orange County NC, moved to Orange County IN and appears late in life in Vigo IN.
- Etheldred Roberts married Dicey Locklear of Robeson County NC and died in Orange County IN.
- Elias Roberts married Nancy Archer and died in Orange County IN.
- Mary Roberts married Moses Archer and moved to Vigo County IN.
- Delphy Roberts married Henry Trevan and moved to Orange County IN prior to settling in Vigo County IN.
- Zachariah Roberts married Mary Newsome.
In 1850, Elias Roberts is living next to Matthew Thomas in Orange County Indiana. Both Elias and Matthew are enumerated as black and their families are considered to be mulatto. They were both born in North Carolina while their children were all born in Indiana. And, notice that Matthew Thomas has a son named Joseph. Elias Roberts is quite well off in terms of worth as his holdings are enumerated to be valued at $1,000.
I’ve yet to find any record clearly connecting Matthew Thomas with the family of Joseph Thomas in Chatham County, North Carolina. That said, coincidences of location, naming and timing leads me to believe it remains a possibility. DNA testing and further studies may uncover the truth one way or the other.
Some of the children of Ishmael and Sylvia Archer Roberts migrated further west to what’s called the Lost Creek Settlement in Vigo County located near present day Terra Haute IN. More on Lost Creek can be found at: http://lost-creek.org/genealogy/histories/feature1.php
One of the strongest connections of this family to Chatham County NC is through the lands of Ishmael Roberts and his son Kinchen. We know that Kinchen Roberts moved to Orange County IN before settling west in Lost Creek. Kinchen’s son Banister is believed to be the first of the immediate family to die in Vigo County and he’s buried in the Roberts Cemetery which is located on lands once belonging to Kinchen Roberts http://lost-creek.org/genealogy/showmap.php?cemeteryID=4. Others in tbe family whose paths led to Lost Creek Indiana include siblings Benjamin, James, and Delphy Roberts whose lives are outlined above.
And in another migratory move, some of Ishmael’s children moved to Owen County IN:
- Pardon Bowen Roberts married and was among the earliest settlers in Spencer, Owen County IN.
- Aaron Roberts married Jany Terry in Robeson County NC and removed to Owen County IN.
- James Roberts married Polly Stewart in Owen County before moving further west to Lost Creek in Vigo County.
And in one other migratory move for the family, some of Ishmael’s children moved to Beech Settlement in Ripley, Rush County IN. They are:
- Richard Roberts married Edith Newsome and moved to Ripley, Rush County IN.
- Aaron Roberts who married Jany Terry in Roberson County.
The map below locates settlements in Indiana whereupon lived the Roberts Family and others of earlier in North Carolina.
Remember that Ishmael Roberts was named in his mother’s last will and testament which was probated ca. 1785 in Northampton County NC? Also from Northampton, several other families of Roberts, Chavis and others made their way to Indiana to a place they called the Roberts Settlement. Located a bit to the north in Hamilton County, this is yet another significant stopping point for free families of color who had once lived in North Carolina. Please take a moment to read through an organizational site for the Roberts Settlement http://www.robertssettlement.org/ where is linked the following PBS program.
In closing, I have to point out that there is so very much on this family and yet it must be so very personally strong for those whose families are descendants. With that in mind, I feel that further discussion of life in Indiana should be told by those within the family. My purpose is merely to point out the possibility that here in North Carolina, the beginnings of the story being told may be similarly rich in context. And, somehow there’s a tie to the Thomas family both here in North Carolina and also in Indiana. I have no proof that Matthew Thomas of Indiana is related to Joseph Thomas of Chatham County NC. However, maybe after reading this, some other person may provide the DNA evidence needed or find some other clue to make the case.
Seeing this broad, deliberate and spreading migration of family in Indiana, let’s turn back to Chatham County to look closer at records there.