One of the joys of genealogy is the thrill of discovery. Unknown corners of the past that involved or affected my family. A good example: my Standifer ancestors initiated the “racing of fine horses” in both Maryland and Virginia. Mint juleps all around!
But I’ve also discovered other kinds of information: A fourth-great uncle who in 1807 Georgia had illegitimate children by two different women two months apart. Or the murder trial that involved several generations of the family’s men, which ended in an Alabama jury’s verdict of “not guilty,” but can’t have been a behavioral high-water mark for the family.
Lately, I pulled it all the scattered mentions of family members’ interactions with indigenous Americans together. It’s not pretty. These interactions were inevitable, because all the lines of my family settled in the New World in the 1600s and 1700s. Settlement led to conflict. While my family members didn’t lead the efforts to displace indigenous people, they certainly benefited from them and, by their presence, helped precipitate them. Some family members benefited from the Georgia and Alabama land grabs, which culminated in the Trail of Tears period; some fought in the Creek War and the Second Seminole War, or participated in local Virginia militias that skirmished with the natives.
Still, several of my forebears were shopkeepers who traded with the Indians, a number learned their languages and served as interpreters, and a few, as Presbyterian ministers, later served the tribes relocated to Oklahoma’s Washita Valley. Three-greats uncle Lemuel Jackson Standifer spoke fluent Cherokee, and was well regarded by them. When he and his wife built their Alabama home, the Cherokees came and filed past her, and each laid a gift at her feet.
Histories of the period point out how sensationalistic and self-serving were stories of “Indian atrocities.” Several of these appear in my family history, with varying validation. The most plausible is the that of Chloe Standifer Van Bibber (my first cousin, 5 times removed), who, stories say, was kidnapped by natives and rescued by her father, John, a friend of Daniel Boone. Chloe later married Jesse Boone, Daniel’s son.
My ancestors encountered the members of a great number of tribes, from the Pequot of Massachusetts to the Susquehannock of Pennsylvania, the Choptank and Nanticoke of Maryland, the Rappahannock, Potomac, and Chesapeake of Virginia, the Chickasaw of Tennessee, the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Seminole of the southeast, the Shawnee raiding parties throughout the east, and the Tonkawa, Kiowa, and Comanche of Texas. When my family migrated toward central Texas from Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi both before and after the Civil War, “Texas remained, for all intents and purposes, a Native American world, inhabited by a constellation of peoples as culturally distinct as the region was vast,” says historian Sam. W. Haynes.
- Claudio Saunt, Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory, a 2020 finalist for the National Book Award
- It’s not all way in the past: David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. New York: Vintage Books, 2018, National Book Award finalist