The Metis Heritage of the Sizemore Family

 

The Metis Heritage of the Sizemore Family

…and the oft-mentioned Whitetop Laurel Band of Cherokees

an effort at rediscovery and reconnection

Jason Adams

by Jason Adams
October/November 2001


Sally Sizemore and her husband William “Blackhawk” Sizemore.
Throughout history, our Sizemore family of southern Appalachia has been variably referred to as Melungeon, Mestee, Metis, Indian, part-Indian, mulatto, Stick People, white and in one branch of which I am aware, black. Most Sizemores have wondered which one is true for a long time, and just recently the answer has presented itself complete with some documentable proof.

The answer came out of a recent movement of mixed-ancestry people in this region who are reclaiming the epithet “Melungeon”. Gatherings have brought to to light a large number of Sizemore-related people who want to know who they are, and why they have been labeled so many things throughout history. Most have never really known what they were, other than a generic sense of being “Indian”. It was from this Melungeon movement that many of us discovered finally, some documentable proof of our mixed Indian/non-Indian heritage.

Being a mixed-Indigenous people, we do of course, have the right to self-identify as we choose. Having been exposed to the proof of our heritage, some of us recently have begun to identify as Metis once again. Additionally, this is a nation which seeks specifically to bring together the various Melungeon -type groups throughout the South. These groups, which would be encouraged to maintain their unique history within the nation, include Redbones, Brass Ankles, and Guineas. We who joined would like to share with you why we chose to do this, and encourage other Sizemore descendants who feel an affinity to this move, to join us.

For those unfamiliar with the term Metis, the word is defined as anyone of mixed ancestry that includes an Indian component. Usually, and in the Sizemore case in particular, it is the founding one. The term also describes people who cannot join federally recognized tribes for whatever reason. Although the term “Métis” is certainly French, and Métis is the term most often applied to Indian/French mixtures, it has also been applied, historically and in modern times, to anyone of mixed Indigenous and non-Indigenous ancestry. Similarly, the plural French term Mélangeon has been used historically to describe us.

Sizemores have been called Melungeons and Cherokees at various points throughout history, but we chose to join the Metis because it presents us with the opportunity to be who we are. Sizemores who have joined the Metis are not “wannabe” Indians. As one Metis explained, to the contrary, we “havetobe” Metis because our ancestors did not register with the U.S. Government. As a result most of us are culturally white, and ancestrally Indian and European. We see ourselves as neither European or Indian but as a Metis people, of Indigenous origin. As you read, you will find that our Metis ancestors had good reason not to register with the White Government.

All Sizemore histories and old family photos of which I am aware share two things: a strong Native American heritage and a visibly Native American appeance. The three most likely tribes of origin are remnant tribes of the Powhatan Confederacy, the Creeks, the Catawbas, and at one point in our history, the Cherokee. I also know that Sizemores have been labeled “Melungeons” at various times throughout history, a testiment to our historical Metis heritage.

The presence of the Sizemore name at the British empire’s Jamestown colony, listing a “Portuguese-Jewish” indentured slave suggests an admixture of bloodlines that was not entirely Native. A few other Sizemores are said to have been Scots-Irish though I have not found evidence of this. Therefore, I would guess that most are the mixed-blood descendants of remnant tribes of the Powhatan – pronounced “poh-haw-tin” – which was a confederacy of many smaller tribes, and of Portugeuse, Jewish, English, Scottish and Irish indentured slaves. One Sizemore family tree shows direct descent from the Powhatan princess Matoaka (Pocahontas) and John Rolfe through the Bowling family, in six different family lines. I have my doubts as to whether we are descendants of Matoaka, as I think people generally like to be of some type of “royal” ancestry, but I strongly believe that this story is evidence that Sizemore Metis were founded and nurtured into existence by a number of different Powhatan women and their communities.

 

The Story of the Whitetop Laurel Band of Cherokees


Whitetop Mountain, located at tristate VA, NC, TN border.

 

In the late 1830’s, Sizemores are said to have taken in Cherokees who escaped the Trail of Tears. This is the point at which many may have literally become Cherokee. Mom Feather, Chief Elder of the Southern Band of Cherokees informed me that Sizemore is a well-known Cherokee name and that the Sizemores and other Indian families in Eastern Kentucky were known as the Stick People. This name was given, according to legend because large piles of sticks high in the Appalachian ridges were used by Sizemores to hide large numbers of Cherokees who escaped the horrible Trail of Tears in the 1800’s. Evidently they later mixed with these Cherokees, which may have been the founding of the Whitetop Laurel Band of Cherokees.

This legend is evidenced by the fact that many of our family stories and trees trace back to a 2,000 member “Whitetop Laurel Band of Cherokees”, which existed for at least a decade. The band was founded sixty years after the Trail of Tears, and nine years before the Eastern Band of Cherokees in 1905. The same number of Sizemores, 2,000, applied en masse for membership in the Eastern Band of Cherokees in the early 1900’s but were denied for various reasons. Those who made the decision to reject the Sizemore claims were clear in their statement that Sizemores were Indians, but since none of their ancestors had willingly registered in any Cherokee census, they were not accepted.

The multi-volume book series, Cherokee By Blood documents this story which appears to be the primary source of the “White Top Cherokee” oral tradition in our family. Vol 1 page 171 bears the testimony of Whitetop Chief William H. Blevins:

“The word ‘Chief’ in my application, means that I am chief of the White Top Band of Cherokee Indians, an organization of the principal Cherokee Indians living about White Top, and was perfected about ten years ago. We organized so as to demand our rights in a body. We thought we had not been getting them before. In 1896, we wanted to go to the Indian Territory, and organized for that purpose. When the band was first organized there were about 2175, I believe. They were all Sizemore descendants. No one else was allowed to become a member if it was known. I have read the Decree of the Supreme Court of the United States referred to in my application, and have it at home. My father, Armstrong Blevins, I do not think was a party to the treaty of 1836 and 1846. I am putting my own interpretation on the decree.”

(Thanks to our relation Bill Fields, editor of Under One Sky, the Melungeon information magazine for contributing this)

This documentation does not however, explain the later infusion of the word “Laurel” into our modern Sizemore family trees. But we do know that the Whitetop Laurel Creek runs off of Whitetop Mountain, and is a favorite recreational spot of fly fishermen and kayakers.

One claim for membership in the Eastern Band of Cherokees stated that Sizemores were their own tribe in and of themselves, known as “Sixemore” – probably due to the Whitetop membership requirement that one should be of Sizemore relation. Another said that “Old Ned” Sizemore came from the Catawba Nation, a claim that would not preclude his descendants from later becoming Cherokees, as Cherokees took in the remnants of many defeated bands and tribes.

Another family tradition in one of our lines says that the surname was created due to poor translation (or anglicization) of the Cherokee word “Esiyah”, which means literally “large child”. The name was given to a Cherokee man who was very good with children, and is reportedly found on the Dawes Rolls. The same family line is related to Sizemores in South-Central Ohio, near the town of Pedro, that still speak fluent Cherokee and take part in the traditional corn dance.

Some family trees indicate Whitetop Cherokee roots as early as the time of Cheif Redbird (whom Redbird Creek and the Redbird Mission is named after), George “All” Sizemore, Aggy Shepherd, Rhoda Sizemore, and “Old Ned” Edward Sizemore, all of who lived in the 1800’s in Leslie, Maggofin and Clay County, Kentucky. These Sizemores migrated from Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina prior to this time, and many lived in the Whitetop Mountain border area of Virginia/North Carolina. But for the most part the time period in which they lived does not coincide with the stated lifespan of the Whitetop band.

Following is an excerpt from an article on the George All Sizemore and Aggy Shepard connection to the Creeks and the Whitetop Laurel Band of Cherokees. <BR

“The marriage of George “ALL” Sizemore to Aggy Shepard originated from a raid of Indiams on the white mans camp where they captured a white girl. In retaliation, the white men followed and rescued the girl and captured an Indian girl who was later given to a white family to raise (Aggy). Aggy is thought to have been a Creek Indian. George lived in both the white man’s world, and the Whitetop Cherokee tribe throughout his life.”

“The Indian Chief for whom Red Bird Creek in Clay County was named is known as member of the Whitetop Laurel Band of Cherokees from North Carolina. He was a great hunter and allured by the game in this remote region. He finally took up residence on the creek that bears his name at the mouth of Jacks Creek in this county. He came to his death by the abarice of the “pale face”. There lived with him a crippled Indian named Willie. This man dressed the skins which Red Bird brought to their wigwam and looked after the culinary department of their house. Some hunters from North Carolina, greedy and unscrupulous, came to the wigwam and murdered Willie. Then they secreted themselves and awaited the return of the brave chief who had long before buried his tomahawk and for years had been living in peace with the white man, and as he approached his crude castle the bullet of an assasin laid him in the dust. They threw his body into a hole of water nearby which is still called “Willie Hole”, and from which John Gilbert and others took him and buried him. One tradition is that he was sitting on the bank of a creek fishing when he was shot and that he fell into the creek.”

(Reprinted in Kentucky Explorer, Volume 11, March 1997. Recorded in the 1870s.)

 

 

Identifying as Metis


Sizemores also live(d) near Sneedville, TN; Wise, VA; and Hyden/Stinnett, KY
 

 

In their testimony to join the Eastern Band of Cherokees, Sizemores said that they were of Indian blood. But either not of what particular tribe, or of tribes that were not Cherokee. A census of the Creek Nation of 1832 shows a Sam Sizemore as full blooded Creek, and one woman has told me that after Sizemores were rejected from the Cherokee, they applied to join the Creek and were accepted – how many I am not sure. At some point a group of Creeks named Sizemore were dislocated into the region of South Florida, where some Sizemores still live today. Another claims that “Old Ned” Sizemore came from the Catawba reservation. But most of our Sizemore ancestors are not found on many of the old Indian census rolls. It appears that Sizemores had Indian blood from several different tribes, as well as European blood. This of course could have made it harder to be accepted in any one tribe, not to mention among the “white” community.

This variability could mean many things, but given the simultaneous movement of Sizemores, and intermarriage with Melungeon communities around Sneedville, TN; Hyden, KY; and Wise, VA. I would guess it meant they had been labeled Melungeons in the past by census takers, had self-sufficient, prosperous farms stolen as a result and therefore avoided censuses.

Sizemore descendants decided to identify as Metis once again because we are tired of being what we are not: white. We don’t wannabe anything, just what we actually are and that is mixed, or Metis. We chose that path because we see alot of possibility in being considered a Metis citizen. The biggest possibility is that we will have a greater degree of self-determination for ourselves and our descendants as a result. If you are a Sizemore descendant, or any person of mixed ancestry that includes an Indigenous component, I would encourage you to reconnect with your Metis roots. Another good group of folks that Sizemore descendants would want to hook up with are the Melungeons. Personally, I see Melungeons as the southern Appalachian version of the Metis, a story that played itself out all over the Americas. The Melungeons hold a national gathering bi-annually in Wise, Virginia on the campus of the University of Virginia at Wise. When I attended in May 2000, I met dozens of Sizemore descendants looking to recconect with their ancestry. The Melungeon websites are also linked below.

 

 

Metis Nation, Sizemore, and Other Links

 

Sizemore sites on the Web

 

 

25 comments

  1. My grandmother was a Sisemore, Bertha Mae Sisemore Teague. Are the Sisemore the same as Sizemore?

    1. Bertha Mae was a relative of mine…

      Bertha Mae Sisemore (1899 – 1981)
      wife of 5th cousin 3x removed
      William H. “Bill” Teague (1884 – 1958)
      husband of Bertha Mae Sisemore
      John Calvin Teague (1841 – 1914)
      father of William H. “Bill” Teague
      Aquilla Teague (1814 – )
      father of John Calvin Teague
      Jacob Teague (1768 – 1839)
      father of Aquilla Teague
      Abraham Teague Sr (1745 – 1795)
      father of Jacob Teague
      Moses Teague Sr (1718 – 1799)
      father of Abraham Teague Sr
      William Abel Teague Sr (1695 – 1762)
      father of Moses Teague Sr
      Joshua I. Teague (1732 – 1804)
      son of William Abel Teague Sr
      William James Teague (1761 – 1848)
      son of Joshua I. Teague
      John Carter Teague (1786 – 1873)
      son of William James Teague
      Henry M. Teague (1824 – )
      son of John Carter Teague
      James Joseph Teague (1861 – 1928)
      son of Henry M. Teague
      James Henry Teague (1895 – 1974)
      son of James Joseph Teague
      Raymond ‘Ray’ Linberg\Linburg Teague (1928 – 2007)
      son of James Henry Teague
      David Eugene Teague (1954 – )
      son of Raymond ‘Ray’ Linberg\Linburg Teague
      Andrea Teague
      You are the daughter of David Eugene Teague

    1. I am Dellia Smith Sizemore my Grandfather was Ephform Sizemore marred to Pearl Smith Sizrmore . Grandmother was quarter Indian . WOULD LOVE FOR YOU TO POST THAT PICTURE . I HAVE A PICTURE OF MY GRANDFATHER AND GRANDMOTHER I WILL SEND TO YOU IF YOU WOULD LIKE. IT IS VERY GOOD.

  2. I was told years ago that the Sizemore’s had a feud and split up. Half kept the name Sizemore and the others went to Sisemore’s. Don’t know how true that is, but I would like to know. I know of the men on my Dad’s side are William Whealer Sisemore, William Honest Sisemore, William Benjiman Sisemore, Clarence William Sisemore, myself (William Jeff Sisemore), and then my son (William Zachery Sisemore)

    1. no.. the change in sizemore name most likely came from typo… many could not read or spell correctly or misspelled it. We know this because THEIR ancestors prior to Geoge all linked to London, where is it spelled sizemore on gave plots in and the st katherines church registry..

  3. You may want to look at the Catawba connection again thru the Saponis of NC and Virginia. I believe Ned Sizemore was born in Mecklenburg County Va and later lived in Pittsylvania County, Va both Saponi, Tutelo and Occaneechi homelands. My family is tied to the Occaneechi Band of Saponis located in Alamance, Orange and Caswell Counties NC. There were mulatto Sizemores that lived in both Pittsylvania and Orange counties in the 1700’s and my Jackson line seems to have intermarried with the Pittsylvania County Sizemores. Some of our Saponi Guy family also moved west to Macon County, NC and applied to the Cherokee nation who denied thier claims based on they thought they were Catawba. The Catawba and Saponi Nations were allied tribes who spoke the same dialect and related to one another. When the reservation at Fort Christanna was closed down in Brunswick County, Va many of the Saponi families moved south to live among their cousins before moving back into Virginia.

  4. My grandmother was a Sizemore from clay county Kentucky married to Daniel jackson my dad was born at the redbird mission could you help me with any information about my family.

  5. I’m attempting to build a history of my lineage for my 76 year old father, Walter Sizemore. If anyone has information, please share. We are from Wyoming county, WB

    1. Please call me my grandmother is Florence May Sizemore she and her family are from Wyoming County West Virginia. Delores 407 715 7500 Thanks

      1. I am related to the Sizemore family in Wyoming County, WV via marriage to Barney Lee Whaling. We have reunions in Summersville, WV in August each year. y name is Barb Skidmore and phone: 423-371-0334.

  6. There is information on the Sizemore family at Dan Mohn’s Highland HomePage:
    http://highlandhomepage.danmohn.net I am descended from Edward (Ned) Sizemore , born 1775, son of George Edward Sizemore and Agnes Shepherd. Ned and Martha Fields had one child, between last 2 children with wife Louanna Bowling. Some Sizemore family information says their child was Isaac Newton Fields Sizemore. However, his last name was just Fields. That is why I am a Fields, not a Sizemore. Ned was my great, great grandfather, Leroy Wilson Fields, my great grandfather, and Ambrose Jackson Fields, my grandfather.

  7. My maternal Grandfather was James Claude Sizemore whom died when I was 5 y/o in 1965. He was in his 80’s at his death. Married to my Grandmother, 20 years younger, Della Wagnon Sizemore who lived in Gadsden, AL know had black slaves because my mother told me stories of them sleeping in kitchen floor in winter also had Indian lineage, Cherokee and Navajo. I would love know more of my heritage. I feel like the Sizemore women were cursed somewhere down the line between mother and daughter, which is another story, but I would love to find out

    1. How could Debra Walker O’Briens’ grandfather have slaves ? If he died in 1965 and he was in his 80’s,slavery was long abolished when he was even born. Perhaps they were employed by him instead.

  8. Does anyone know of Nellie Sizemore–[1903]–William Haggard Horn—Chaney[china] Sizemore–lula waas–all of Beattyville ky.[all deceased] or any Indian Heritage ??????Or Florence [Horn?]–or- Sizemore–possibly daughter of Nellie Sizemore ?????Interested in the possible Indian Heritage..Thanks…..

  9. I am trying to find information on my great grandfather James Henry Sizemore of Upstate South Carolina. I can find nothing on my family prior to him. He was born on June 26, 1889

  10. I would like to talk to someone about my family heritage. I will not post on here what is written in our family Bibles. My uncle is close to 80 and he can remember going to Kentucky in the 1950s to visit his Sizemore relatives. I need someone that I can trust to tell our story to.

  11. We are trying to see if we have a Cherokee descendant. Julius E. Sizemore from around Waycross, Ga. is my grandfather. Can anyone help us?

  12. James B Blevins and Lydia Sizemore are my 4g grandparents.
    Your article was very interesting i have been researching my family for a while now. Thanks for sharing the information.

  13. I am from George All Sizemore and Aggie Shepard line they are from my Mothers lintage she was a. Nemah Ruth Rucks her mother was Sarah Talitha Josephine Nott, they called her Lyda she is burried in Telliquah OK, in a native American grave yard next to Chief sixkiller. Please contact me.

  14. My Great Grandma is Rhoda E Sizemore (Lowe). She married my great grandfather Robert S Lowe and they had a son Clayde Lowe and lived in Arkansas for a while thru the 1910 Census. At that time I know she was born in 1859 in Georgia and he was born in 1852 in Crawford Oklahoma and died before the 1920 census cuz it shows Rhoda as a widow. I know Robert S Lowe’s Parents where born in Tennessee and Rhoda’s where born in North Carolina but that is all I know. I am doing a lot of research but have hit a road block at this info. If anyone can help me please let me know.

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