Scotts Ferry History: the ‘Dead Lakes People’
For 20 years my cousin Steven Pony Hill and I have researched the origins of the mixed-blood communities our ancestors come from in the panhandle of Florida, communities which were considered “Colored” by local officials and many local Whites during the segregation era from the 1860’s to the 1960’s, and which after desegregation saw a massive decline in population. Today the descendants of these several unique communities live throughout the US, with only a small set of descendants still living in or near the original community. Some of the surnames associated with the community are Ammons, Ayers, Barnwell, Bass, Blanchard, Boggs, Brown, Bullard, Bunch, Bryant, Chason, Chavis/Chavers, Conyers, Copeland, Davis, Doyle, Goins, Hall, Harris, Hicks, Hill, Holly, Ireland, Jacobs, Johnson, Jones, Kever, Long, Lovett, Mainer, Martin, Mayo, Moses, Oxendine, Perkins, Porter, Potter, Quinn, Scott, Simmons, Smith, Stafford, Stephens, Sweat, Thomas, Whitfield, and Williams, among many.
As we documented in our book “The Indians of North Florida”, The history of the mixed-blood settlement at Scotts Ferry and nearby areas (Scott Town, Woods, Mount Zion) was that of Carolina mixed-blood Indians from among the Catawba Indians of Rock Hill in South Carolina, Robeson County North Carolina, and Sumter County South Carolina migrating to the panhandle of Florida throughout the 1800’s and into the 1900’s. These families were sometimes called the “Dead Lakes People” due to the nearness of the Dead Lakes of Wewahitchka Florida. In the Carolinas many of these families were viewed as Indian but in Florida racial identity was contentious and often community members were actively persecuted and prosecuted by authorities under the infamous ‘miscegenation” laws of the Jim Crown south.
“Anti-miscegenation laws, also known as miscegenation laws, were laws that enforced racial segregation at the level of marriage and intimate relationships by criminalizing interracial marriage and sometimes also sex between members of different races. Such laws were first introduced in North America from the late seventeenth century onwards by several of the Thirteen Colonies, and subsequently by many US states and US territories and remained in force in many US states until 1967. After the Second World War, an increasing number of states repealed their anti-miscegenation laws. In 1967, in Loving v. Virginia, the remaining anti-miscegenation laws were held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. Similar laws were also enforced in Nazi Germany as part of the Nuremberg laws, and in South Africa as part of the system of Apartheid. In the United States, interracial marriage, cohabitation and sex have been termed "miscegenation" since the term was coined in 1863. Contemporary usage of the term is less frequent, except to refer to historical laws banning the practice.”
An excerpt from our research on the origins of Scotts Ferry Community
“A settlement or Town of their own”
After 1850 at least six of the original fifteen Catawba households had resettled at the newly acquired land of Jacob Scott. Jacob owned and operated a ferry service and mill (just as the Catawba had done on the Catawba River), and became quite prosperous, even in comparison to his white neighbors.
The movement of the Catawba into southern Calhoun can be tracked by the written history of the local Stone family. In the book “History of Jackson County” it is recounted that:
“Lackland M. Stone, whose father was Colonel Henry D. Stone, one of
Jackson County’s first settlers, was also an Indian trader. His family
settled on the upper Chipola, near the future town of Webbville. When
the Indians were moved to Ocheesee, he followed them, as he did later
The Stone family had apparently continued to carry a family legacy of Indian trading, because as early as 1691 the Council of Colonial Virginia had recorded:
“Thomas Blunt is appointed interpreter to the Indians on the south side
of the James River, David Whitley to the Indians at the head of Rapp’a
River, and William Stone to the Indians on the head of Yorke River.”
And also in 1778, The North Carolina General Assembly enacted that,
“Be it enacted, that Willaim Williams, Thomas Pugh, Willie Jones, Simon
Turner, and Zedekiah Stone, be, and they are hereby appointed
commissioners for said Indians..”
The reference to the Indians being moved to Ocheesee, does not describe any documented Creek band, as they had never maintained a village on the Chipola, did not have a village at Ocheesee, and had emigrated to Texas or Indian Territory before the Stone family moved to southern Calhoun at Iola. Bird Attaway (first husband of Elizabeth Perkins) and Horace Ely were contracted by the Jackson County Commission to build the first bridge across the Chipola at a location described as “Near Webbville.” Combine all of the above with the fact that the 1840 census of Calhoun County records Joe Scott as a family of 17 free colored persons living next to John Chason and Henry D. Stone at Iola, and there can be no doubt as to this identification of the Catawba.
The Scott’s Ferry settlement was located at Range 9 west, 2 south, section 21, adjoining the Chipola River. This was the route used to travel from any spot in eastern Jackson or Calhoun Counties along the Apalachicola over land to Port Saint Joe. The Scott’s Ferry settlement appears on the 1860 census as a clearly defined separate community, and the families living there were recorded on a special census page, though the racial identification of them was confused and clearly tainted by racial prejudice. The 1860 federal census was performed during the height of the racial tensions between the pro-slavery South and the abolitionist North. On this census families which had been previously identified as “free persons of color – non Negro” or “Mulatto” are suddenly reclassified as “free Negro” (though they were still ‘white’ or ‘free persons of color’ on local tax records).
In 1848, legislation was passed in Florida which required free Negroes to have white guardian appointed by the local Courts (no Catawba was assigned a guardian), free Negroes and mulattoes could not legally own land (Jacob Scott and Absalom Scott held clear title to their land), and in 1861, legislation passed which required free blacks to register with a probate judge or be classified as a slave and claimed by a white person. It is clear that none of these laws were ever applied to the Apalachicola Catawba. An 1840 perspective jury list included Robert and Joseph Blanchard (originally of Gates County, North Carolina), Joseph Montford, Jonathan Jones, and Robert Scott. John Chason and Jaspers Scott were called as witnesses in the Jackson County Court case, State V. James Butts in 1857 (Butts had been living with Mary Ann Jones since at least 1850), and Martha Hill Minton was reimbursed for traveling 24 miles in 1863 in order to testify for Sherrod Scott. Samuel Scott was even an eligible voter in Jackson County in 1869.
In 1860 the census reflects the Scott’s Ferry settlement as consisting of six households. Living there at that time was Jacob Scott and his nephew Joe living in one household along with Joe’s wife Sarah Brown Castelberry, and Sarah’s daughter Emiline Brown. Francis “Frank” Hill and his wife Elizabeth Perkins Attaway held one home, and William Stafford and his wife Polly Harmon Scott (former wife of Jacob Scott) held another. Jack Howard inhabited a household along with Lofty Bunch as his wife, along with his two sister-in-laws Betty Bunch and Molly Thompson (who later married Shurard Scott). Paschal Loftis and Olive Jones shared a home along with her granddaughter, Jane Scott. The last remaining household was that of Isham Scott and his wife Jane Manuel who shared their home with her father, Edmund Manuel (originally of Sampson County, North Carolina and a veteran of the Sampson County Regiment 4th Company in 1812).
1860 CENSUS OF CALHOUN COUNTY….SCOTT’S FERRY…SPECIAL CENSUS PAGE
“ “ , Sarah
“ “ , William
“ “ , Polly
“ “ , Ellen
“ “ , Jack
“ “ , Jacob
“ “ , Eliza
“ “ , Delila
“ “ , Ann
“ “ , Joe
“ “ , Quinn
“ “ , Bob
“ “ , Blunt
“ “ , Green
“ “ , Polly
“ “ , Jim
“ “ , Lofty
“ “ , Olive
“ “ , Jane
At the bottom of this special census page, John G. Smith, the census taker, added his own personal opinion of the racial make-up of this settlement. Either Smith had never personally traveled to the settlement and gathered his information from other citizens (as was sometimes the case when census takers were trying to list far out settlements), or Smith was given misleading information by the settlement citizens themselves, because almost all of the information other than the actual names of the community members was wrong. The age and birthplace of almost every community member does not compare to that listed for the 1850 or 1870 census. The only justice performed by Smith with this document is held in the second sentence of his commentary where he bears witness that these Indians lived in a settlement separate from white or black persons:
“The Free Negroes in this county are mixed blooded almost white and have
intermarried with a low class of whites – Have no trade, occupation or
profession they live in a settlement or Town of their own their personal
property consists of Cattle & Hogs, They make no produce except corn &
peas & very little of that, They are a lazy Indolant & worthless race.”
Back on the Catawba reservation, the annual report of Catawba Agent J.R. Patton to the South Carolina Senate uses, strangely almost exactly, the same wording to describe the Indians still residing there:
“…they are a somewhat indolent & careless people living in small Log Houses
or cabins covered with boards & are not settled together in a Town or village
but scattered over a considerable portion of the land they occupy they own but
little furniture of any value a portion of them work small farms or patches of
corn but as a general thing do not make anything like a support they own some
Horses a few Cattle & some Hogs. This seems to sum up the amount of what
Oral history of the Apalachicola Catawba reflects that Eliza Scott Hill had been educated as a child in South Carolina, taught basic education to all the children of the Scott’s ferry community, and also traveled briefly back to “the reservation” to teach school but was not well received, and soon returned to Florida. The 1861 Annual Report of Catawba Agent J.R. Patton seems to verify this oral history as it reflects that “Eliza Scott (Indian)” was paid 20 for “Teaching” during that year.
Elsewhere in the southeast, Indian communities were being described in almost exactly the same words. In 1840, thirty-six white residence of Robeson County, North Carolina appealed to the Legislative Assembly to regulate the sale of ‘spirits’ to the Lumbee Indians (who are also of Cheraw ancestry):
“The County of Robeson is cursed with a free-coloured population that
migrated originally from the districts round the Roanoke and Neuse Rivers.
They are generally indolent, roguish, improvident, and dissipated. Having
no regard for character, they are under no restraint but what the law imposes.”
The fact that Smith classified the Catawba in Florida as “free Negroes” with no trade or occupation, and in general being lazy and worthless, betrays his racist views. He could not have been completely blind to the fact that these people operated a mill and ferry, because even Smith took note that the colony’s total worth was over $4,000 (which in 1860 made it one of the wealthiest small towns in Calhoun County).
Scott’s Ferry’s founder, Jacob Scott, passed away by 1862 and Joseph Scott held the property title. Penny Scott was taxed for 200 acres she supposedly owned across the river in what would become Liberty County. In 1858, Joseph Scott was assessed for taxes at $100 for real estate, $525 for cattle, and $30 for household furnishings.
When the War closed in 1865, the Catawba citizens apparently paid dearly for their change of sides. The local whites apparently decided that the County Court would be the vehicle they would use to facilitate their harassment. In the fall term of 1862, Francis Hill was brought up on charges of “Fornication with a Mulatto”, but was found not guilty. In 1866 a series of charges were pressed against the Catawba, beginning with Gilberry Scott being charged with “Open State of Fornication” and Sabra J. Register with “Attempting to Marry a Mulatto.” John M. Scott, a Union veteran, was also charged with “Open State of Fornication” in the fall term. All of these charges were discharged with ‘not guilty’ verdicts at the close of the fall term in 1866.
Either due to the crisis level post-War economy, or legal harassment, it is clear that the Scott’s Ferry Town had begun a downward spiral. By 1870 the total households had increased to nine, but the total worth of the settlement had decreased to $1,440.
1870 CENSUS OF CALHOUN COUNTY – PAGE # 20
“ “ , Eliza
“ “ , John
“ “ , Martha
WILLIAMS, Thomas W.
“ “ , Jane
“ “ , Beady
“ “ , William
“ “ , Jack
“ “ , Emily
“ “ , Martha
“ “ , Delia
“ “ , William
By the time of the 1880 census, Scott’s Ferry appeared to be making a comeback. The settlement now contained eleven households and the compact town seemed to suffer some drift, as a few families were listed as living a few miles up the Chipola River in the Abe’s Springs area. This small splinter settlement contained five households beginning with the home of Henry Johnson who had W.D. Williams living there as a boarder. Penny Scott maintained a household as well as William Scott. Nancy Montford was keeping her own house now, and the final home was Enoch Wells. A significant clue as to the temporary split off of these families could be the fact that those at Abe’s Springs listed their occupation as “Logging.”
Back at the original settlement, we find eleven homes starting with Benjamin Beauchamp and his wife Ellen Scott who had his stepdaughter, Sallie Washington living as his servant, and Richard Nixon as an orphan. George Green had settled here with his wife Dora Butts. Elizabeth Scott Hill shared a home with her stepdaughter, Nancy Quinn, her son Joseph Quinn, and her son Frank Hill. William Quinn and his wife, Rena were living here, as well as Henry Johnson (this is a repeat of the Henry Johnson household from Abe’s Springs). John “Jack” Jones and his wife Beady Mainer were still here in 1880 living next to Mary Scott, who was sharing a home with her daughter-in-law, Julian Scott and her grandson, William Scott. New resident Sam Washington held a home next to Olive Scott Jones who shared her home with her daughter, Martha Jones, a servant named Mary Linton, a boarder named T.C. Shelby, and another servant named Hester Brouchard. Ruben Blanchard and his wife Jane Stone were still living at Scott’s Ferry at this time, and the final home was held by David Martin (originally from Person County, North Carolina) along with his wife Amanda Scott. Living with David Martin was a servant, Polly Gibson, and David’s daughter Mary (who would later marry Barney Locklear).
Nearly 40 years later the name of T.C.Shelby would be brought up again in reference to Scott’s Ferry, but this time in his home state of Kentucky. An excerpt of the 1918 Kentucky case of McGoodwin v. Shelby, ruled over by Judge Sampson of the Marion Circuit Court, stated that,
“In May, 1915, Miss Florrie Hood, a most eccentric and peculiar woman,
died intestate, childless,and unmarried, at her home in Lebanon, Kentucky,
she being about seventy years of age, and the owner by inheritance of several
houses and lots and some acreage property in the city of Lebanon, and quite
an amount of personal property…There were no close relatives living so far
as known, however, that one Thomas C. Shelby, a nephew of Miss Hood, had
many years before left Marion County on account of trouble and had gone
After dispatching investigators throughout Florida and mailing 1,500 postcards to different post offices in search of Thomas Shelby or his descendants, the estate administrators located Shelby’s widow and two minor children—sole heirs to the Hood fortune. The problem was that Shelby’s widow “was the daughter of William Scott, and William Scott was the son of Joe Scott, and Joe Scott was supposed to be a mulatto, so that the mother of the children of Thomas C. Shelby was not a pure-blooded white woman.” This would make the parents’ marriage illegal and render the children bastards incapable of inheriting. Instead of trying to prove that the family of Shelby’s widow did, or did not, have negro blood, the parties reached an out-of-court settlement to distribute the property among themselves. The case then wound its way through the Kentucky court system for the next 3 years. First, the original probate court disallowed the agreement as “being unconscionable since the children could not be considered anything but White, their forefathers having not associated with negroes, but with Whites.” In the end, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled that regardless of the ancestry of the children, all witnesses agreed they could not possibly bear enough negro blood to be considered mulatto as described by Kentucky law.
By 1885 the timber industry had taken root along the Apalachicola and Chipola Rivers, and had assisted the Scott’s Ferry settlement to swell to seventeen households. Eight persons listed their occupation as “logman”, seven as “farmer”, and three as “laborer.” The drift present in 1880 is not noticed in 1885, and most of the families had returned to the original settlement site. The town still consisted of Scott, Quinn, Williams, Hill, Green, Johnson, and Martin households, but also now held the homes of Edmon Davis, Henry Mainer, and William Perkins (son of Elizabeth Perkins and half brother of Mary Attaway Scott) who had been living in Jackson County.
Logging operation on the Apalachicola River, 1896
Some surviving court records from this time period provide an excellent example of the depth of interrelation and cooperation that existed in the settlement at this time. When Louvinia Martin Brown (wife of Tom) was charged in 1904 with “Assault With Intent to Murder” and “Carrying Winchester Rifle Without Permit,” her defense witnesses included Thomas Ash, Dave Martin and Linnie Davis. Henry Atkins was charged with “Murder” in 1907 and Wesley Williams, M. Mainer, Tom Scott and Jeff Scott were called as witnesses to the event. Reuben Blanchard, Bill Jones, Mary Blanchard, and Rosa Quinn were brought to court to answer charges of “Larceny of a Bateau” (bateaus are small carved wooden boats, the name and original design of which was founded on the James and Roanoke Rivers in the early 1700’s and are stilled referred to as such in the Florida Catawba language). After the death of Martha Jones, Thomas Butts was appointed administrator of her estate and most of her property was distributed between John Howard, Rueben G. Blanchard, and George Green. When John Howard was appointed guardian of Margaret Bunch in 1890, John Williams was appointed as surety. Thomas M. Scott was left parentless in 1893, George Green was appointed guardian of the 15 year-old boy, and Francis M. Williams and Joseph Quinn were sureties. In 1894 Beady Mainer Jones approached the Court to administer the estate of her deceased husband, Jack Jones. William Quinn was listed as her surety while J.W. Blanchard was appointed by the Court to appraise Jack Jones’ personal property. When David Martin was appointed legal guardian of his half brother’s and sisters (after the death of his mother, Annie Scott Hunter), Sandy Davis was listed as surety.
After 1910, Catawba citizens began to make claims for pensions based on their Confederate service. Letters from other settlement members supported almost all of the Catawba in Calhoun County who filed their claims. Rueben G. Blanchard enlisted the support of W.M. Ayers, Elizabeth McDaniel Jones had help from Lawrence and Sarah Williams, and Charles E. Scott received support from Nathaniel Scott, J.M. Atkins, and Cornelius Stephens.
The 1917 Civilian Draft Registrations provide as much, if not more, valuable information as the earlier Civil War records. At least nine individuals within Calhoun County were listed as “White-Indian Citizen.” These included members of the Whitfield family (descendants of George Whitfield who married a Scott woman), Herbert Boone (son of Henry Boone and Anna Scott), Lemuel Moses, and John Moses (relatives of Elizabeth Moses Conyers). Another individual, Willie Porter (son of Mathias Porter of Scott Town) was recorded as being “Indian Creole” and described as having blue eyes and light colored hair. General Quinn of Scott’s Ferry was listed as self-employed in farming, having a dependent mother, and also described as having blue eyes and light colored hair. No race was listed for Quinn, however his death certificate issued in Bay County stated that the mortician considered him to be “White.”
The year 1917 also marked a series of yearly floods on the Chipola and Apalachicola Rivers, which caused the abandonment of the original settlement site. Later census records show that community members had established home sites due northwest of the Scott’s Ferry site, at an area now known as Marysville. Land titles to the original settlement were maintained, however, as was the old cemetery.
Flooded farm on the Chipola, 1917. Pictured also is
a bateau piloted in the rear by Dave Martin.
In October of 1920, Samuel F. Scott and Elizabeth Scott were both recorded as “C.I.” in the race category on the Shiloh District voter’s registry book for Calhoun County. This is the same Samuel and Elizabeth Scott who appear on the 1920 census of Shiloh Precinct, Marysville to Scott’s Ferry Road. Samuel Frank Scott was the son of Samuel Scott and Jane Ayers of Scott Town settlement in Jackson County. Samuel Scott senior was the son of Absolom Scott and Gilly Stephens, the founders of Scott Town. In 1929, Samuel F. Scott was appointed as executor of the estate of his cousin, John Williams, in Calhoun County.
Education for their children would also force the Catawba out of their self-imposed isolation, and provide for the only documents pertaining to them during this time period. In 1938 David Martin, trustee for the Marysville school, had a letter written to Calhoun County Clerk of Court J.A. Peacock which stated:
“There are men who would knife us out of having our own school
saying that we are negroe. You know our character that we are
of white and Indian blood…”
In reference to a 1944 investigation by the Jackson County School Board, the Board members made inquiry regarding “Sweetie Blanchard from Scott’s Ferry”, whose sons were the students whose ancestry had been called into question. The Board members solved the dispute by suggesting that the two Johnson boys should attend school in Calhoun County.
Some more recent documents continue to identify a community of persons living within Calhoun County who had a strong Indian identity. In the 1948 annual report of the Smithsonian Institution, William Harlen Gilbert Jr. published a compilation entitled “Surviving Indian Groups of the Eastern United States.” Though Gilbert never visited north Florida himself, he did visit the so-called “Creeks” at Atmore, Alabama (whose Hathcock, Gibson, Allen, and Taylor ancestors were Cheraw). It is apparent that during one of these trips to Alabama Gilbert gathered second hand information regarding a group of mixed-blooded Indian persons in Calhoun (Daisy Porter Nichols was living in Flomaton near the Creek reservation at that time, and may have been the source of this information). In the last paragraph of the Florida section of Gilbert’s report he states:
“Aside from the Seminoles there are other small mixed groups of possible
Indian descent in Florida. Around Pensacola are to be found the Creole
mixed people of Escambia County and in the same area are certain groups
of Creeks from across the border in Alabama. Some 100 miles to the east
near Blountstown in Calhoun County there is said to be a colony of
Melungeons from Tennessee.”
The “Melungeons from Tennessee” of whom Gilbert speaks are an ethnic group of mixed-blood persons in the area of eastern Tennessee whose main family surnames were Gibson, Collins, Goins, and Bunch. These persons also descended from Siouan Indian ancestors who had spread westward from the Virginia/North Carolina border. Since none of the Apalachicola Catawba reported Tennessee as their birthplace, and they were not locally known as ‘melungeon’, Gilbert either relied on a second hand opinion, or maybe even made his own personal judgment based on the Bunch and Goins ancestors of some of the Florida Catawba. Gilbert did do justice, however, by identifying the fact that the Apalachicola River Catawba lived in a colony, separate from their white and black neighbors, well into the mid 20th Century.
The identification of a separate Indian community in the area of Calhoun and Jackson County of northwest Florida was repeated by Brewton Berry in his book “Almost White” published in 1963.
Copyright ©2006 by Steven Pony Hill, all rights reserved.
References to Scotts Ferry/Dead Lakes People
v The group in Gulf and Calhoun counties, Florida, was called Melungeon as long as they were identified as a separate group but was also known as the Dead Lake People. This last group does not trace back to the North Carolina - Virginia border, but to a very similar mixed race group in South Carolina, probably the Brass Ankles or the Red Bones. Each group has its own history and its own special mix of new additions
v ” The Dead Lake People of the Florida panhandle (Wewahitchka-Blountstown) have been called Melungeons and identified with them, and the Redbones of Louisiana do partly derive from this range. http://www.geocities.com/melungeonorigin/maomg2.html”