Croatan presentation draws 75 to Southside

Washington Daily News, Washington, NC, May 19, 2002
Written by Lawrence Keech, Staff Writer

Dr. Carolyn Mahoney, ECSU

    Chocowinity - Fred Willard captured the attention of the 74 people who attended hs seminar on Saturday at Southside High School -- from the time he said hello until he started asking for questions.

    "What I'm going to do today is show you 10 facts and a lot of hypotheses to show you how, in my lifetime, I'm going to try to prove that 90 percent of the people in this room are descendants of the Croatan Indians and the lost colony," Willard opened.

    Through the use of a PowerPoint presentation, Willard gave background into research he and 70 volunteers are doing on the 1587 Roanoke Colony, the Croatan Indians and a series of paper trails.

    As he progressed, Willard showed maps, drawings and photos to explain why he thinks certain families in the Chocowinity and Blounts Bay area are descendants of the Croatan Indians. He said part of the tribe ended up in the Free Union community, near Pinetown.

    The key point of his demonstration focused on property deeds that he used to link about eight families to a period in the mid 1700s. As he established the family lineage, through the use of five other speakers, those in attendance began nodding and murmuring, "Yes," and one said, "That's my grandmother's cousin."

    Some of those in attendance may be related to one another, according to Willard.

    "I had not fully understood what Fred was talking about until today," said Carolyn Mahoney, dean of mathematics and science at Elizabeth City State University, where Willard is a graduate student. "This really brought it all together."

    Among the guest speakers was Charles Shepard, a descendant of the Mattamuskeet Indians. Shepard told how his ancestors came to live on the Mattamuskeet land, from Massachusetts and Long Island via Cape Hatteras, then later migrated to Free Union and Welch's Creek.

    "I came to help my people learn more about their tradition and their heritage," Shepard said. "I think people know about having Indians in their family, I just don't think they realize what that means. People have a very low self-esteem of the Indian ancestry. I think it's because it was never proclaimed, partly because there was a fear in North Carolina that if you said you were an Indian, they would take your land."

    Near the end of his speech, Mahoney explained how DNA testing could prove Willard's hypotheses.

    "We don't know how they learned about Fred Willard," she said about JWM Productions, an English video company which is considering a 90-minute documentary on Willard's work. "One of the things they bring to the table is (DNA testing) to triangulate everything together."

    Willard interjected, "And they are writing the check for it."

    In answering a question, Willard explained how a DNA researcher working for the company had "identified nine of those families" of the "lost colony living today in England."

    Hopes are that testing those descendants against some of those attending Saturday's speech will show that they are related.

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