Tracing my maternal lineage within the “Little Texas” community of the Pleasant Grove township of Alamance County, North Carolina.
RESEARCH OBJECTIVE + BACKGROUND
Ruth Ann (Martin)
These were the only items of information my mother was able to provide when I began tracing my maternal lineage: the maiden name of my maternal grandmother, the name of my maternal great grandfather, and the known location of their family home-base. Her life story is fraught with childhood hardships, abandonment, and abuse, which resulted in a general isolation and estrangement from her biological relatives, into her adulthood. My life-long genealogical interests have been rooted in curiosities surrounding my mother’s ethnic identity and her unknown familial history.
Fast forward to the last few years, I have been living in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, tracing my maternal lineage through half a dozen generations and discovering a rich heritage within the “Little Texas” community of the Pleasant Grove Township in Alamance County, North Carolina. In addition to the archival documentation that substantiates their story, the “Little Texas” Community is referenced in scholarly textbooks about 19th century populations of mixed race peoples, and even given a headlining article in a 1938 issue of the Burlington Daily Times Newspaper.
The Pleasant Grove township of Alamance County, NC was home to the “Little Texas” community, founded in the late-1700s by revolutionary war veterans and their families. “Little Texas” was a tri-racial isolate community whose members were of Native American, African American and European ethnic descent.
While the exact origination of the name “Little Texas” is unknown, there are two popular explanations for the coined phrase: the first being that the settlers of the community appeared to have very tanned complexions, resembling individuals from the Texas area at the time (Mexican or Native American ethnicities), and the second being that the area was initially known for its roughness, reminding visitors of the American wild-west.
Today, many of Alamance County’s residents are descendants of its former “Little Texas” community inhabitants; some of whom identify as members of the Occaneechi Band of Saponi Nation Indian Tribe.
Samuel F. Martin + Harriet A. (Jeffries) Martin
parents of Joseph B.
father of Collie Exodus “Extra”
father of Cuther
father of Ruth Ann (Martin)
mother of Veronica Stephanie
mother of Kimberly (me)
Volume 40 of Southern Indian Studies of October 1991 features an essay by historian Forest Hazel, detailing the history of the Occaneechi-Saponi Descendants in the North Carolina Piedmont: The Texas Community.
Until the 1940s, the area was inhabited almost entirely by related families, most of whom owned their own land and, in some cases, had substantial holdings. Tobacco was the primary cash crop, and it remains important among the community members who still farm. Social life revolved around the churches and community school, and these are still important influences in the community. Research on the history of the Texas community began in 1984, when the author began investigating the possibility that some of the families living in Orange County were, in part, descendants of the Indians who lived at Occaneechi Town and remained in the area. Initially, this research was done through written sources such as county land records, marriage and court records, and the federal census and military records. After the researcher became better acquainted with the families, oral histories were obtained along with family genealogies to round out the picture provided by the written records (Hazel).
The Alamance County Historical Properties Commission - Architectural Inventory highlights architectural attributes of several of the community members’ homes, including those of my 2x great grandfather, Collie Exodus Martin, and other ancestors, along with information on the “Little Texas” Community and Martin’s Chapel Missionary Baptist Church.
“Around the turn of the twentieth century, two churches were formed to minister to the spiritual needs of the community, where formerly circuit riding preachers had provided religious guidance. Jeffries Cross Church and Martin’s Chapel Baptist Church were both churches built on land given by members of the community (Joe and Levi Jeffries, and Sam Martin, respectively). The churches are still strong, although they no longer are attended solely by members of the Texas community” (Hazel).
Samuel F. Martin is my maternal 4x great grandfather, and the namesake of Martin’s Chapel Baptist Church of Alamance County, North Carolina. He donated land and funds to begin the church back in the mid 1800s.
In its heyday, “Little Texas” was a thriving community, mostly known for its agricultural success. In light of their racial ambiguity and the socio-political climate during the late 1800s and early 1900s, members of the “Little Texas” community practiced endogamy, and much of their population was composed of several family groupings with the intent to maintain the exclusivity of their heritage. An article featured in the December 12, 1938 issue of the Burlington Daily Times, praises the “Little Texas” community for their pristine homes, unique craft-making traditions and their involvement in civic affairs. This article clipping is a major resource in that it provides context for those living in the “Little Texas” community, during the early 20th century.
These textbooks about the history of North Carolina make reference to the Little Texas Community and their cultural and ethnic heritage.
- “The Impact of Slavery on the Education of Blacks in Orange County, North Carolina: 1619 - 1970” by Rosetta Austin Moore
- “North from the Mountains: A Folk History of the Carmel Melungeon Settlement, Highland County Ohio” by John S Kessler, Donald B Ball, and Brent Kennedy
- “Arts in Earnest: North Carolina Folklife” by Daniel Patterson
Cook, Staley A. “There is ‘Texas’ In Alamance County And The Area Is Active In Farming, People Prosperous.” The Burlington Daily Times News (Burlington), December 12, 1938: 10. https://newspaperarchive.com/burlington-daily-times-news-dec-12-1938-p-10/
Hazel, Forest. “Occaneechi-Saponi Descendants in the North Carolina Piedmont: Texas Community.” Southern Indian Studies (The North Carolina Archaeological Society, Inc. ) Volume 40 (October 1991): 10 - 29. http://www.rla.unc.edu/Publications/NCArch/SIS_40.pdf
Alamance County Historic Properties Commission. Alamance County Architectural Inventory. Survey, Alamance County: Alamance County Historic Properties Commission, 2014, 221-250. https://www.alamance-nc.com/planning/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2014/04/Architectural-Inventory.pdf
“all the soarings of my mind begin in my blood” - Rainer Maria Rilke