Amherst County Indians

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Amherst County Indians


In a newspaper article headlined "Amherst County Indians" and published in the Richmond Times on April 19, 1896, Edgar Whitehead describes the history of Virginia Indians in Amherst County.


Edgar Whitehead


The Richmond Times


The Richmond Times


April 19, 1896


Courtesy of the Monacan Indian Nation


Amherst County

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Highly Interesting History of an Old Settlement of Cherokees.




In Days Gone By They were Isolated, Being Too Proud to Associate with Negros and Denied Social Intercourse with Whites—How They First Heard the Gospel


            It is to be regretted that so little is known and so little has been published by the present generation of the history of each county in our state, so full as they are of historic interest and so replete with facts in regard to their agricultural and mineral wealth.

            The failure many years ago by the Legislature of Virginia to purchase from Prof. W. B. Rodgers, then of the University of Virginia, his Geological Report of the State, put us nearly a half a century in the rear, while adjoining states saw the importance of such as move and availed themselves in time of the opportunity to reap the results of prompt action.  If the same effort had been made by historical societies, or other organizations after the Revolutionary war, that is now being made to get a correct history of the Confederate war, the effort would have brought out facts about our ancestors that would challenge the admiration of all who feel an interest in Virginia history.  One instance may serve to illustrate my view of the subject in regard to important facts that still remain unpublished about prominent actors in the Revolutionary war.

            Major Thomas Massle, of Nelson County, a distinguished soldier on the staff of General Washington, was the bearer of the order from Gen. Washington to then Gen. Charles Lee to attack the British at the battle of Monmouth Courthouse, and failure, at a certain time in the day, to execute the order, led to his court-martial, and the cloud which subsequently rested on his life.  The writers of the life of Gen. Lee, I think, have generally denied that he received such an order, but in 1832, about a year before his death, Major Massie wrote out a certificate (now in the possession of his family) stating that he delivered in person the order from Washington and was a witness at the court-martial.  Until last summer, this fact has never been referred to in any publication.

            The recent notices of the book of Mr. Philip Alexander Bruce, of Richmond, “The Economic History of Virginia,” has more than ever convinced me of the importance of such work being done now, when it can be done, and that some one should be found with county and state [knowledge?] enough to furnish facts to aid in the continuance of such work for every portion of Virginia.


            In this county it is not generally known that we have had a settlement of Cherokee Indians for many years.  A few, and a very few, of the oldest remain to tell the story and the younger portion who know it only as a tradition, are passing from observation by the mingling of races, one of the results of the great upheaval produced by the war. 

            In that portion of the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains in Amherst County, known as the Tobacco Row mountain, Bear mountain, Stinnett’s and Paul’s mountains, from five to eight miles south of the courthouse, a race of people exists today claiming to be Cherokee Indians, and not without satisfactory proof.  The older part were typical Indians, of a rich copper color, high cheek bones, long, strait black hair, tall and erect [of?] form, stolid and not emotional like the African, but of as manly bearing as come of Buffalo Bill’s best specimens.  The original settlers came to the county at an early period.  William Evans, a Cherokee Indian first resided, about the time of the Revolutionary war, on Buffalo river, in Amherst County.  His daughter Mollie Evans married one, William Johns, son of Mallory Johns, an Indian, sometimes called a Portuguese, who lived to an advance age, said to be 114 years, and died at the house of his grandson William B. Johns, in the “Indian Settlement,” as it was called, and by which it was known when I first knew them.  There exists a tradition to this day, amongst these Indians that Mallory Johns, William Evans, and John Redcross, all came from the south, and it may be that they belonged to the Cherokee of North Carolina, who found their way here in the visits of the Indians then made on foot along the air line from North Carolina, to Washington to see the Great Father as they do now on the railroad, and that either in going or returning they stopped by the way and took up their abode here.  Beyond the tradition I know nothing reliable, but my theory as to why they were here is doubtless the correct explanation. 


            About the year 1825 William Johns purchased of Landon Cabell, 500 acres of land on Bear mountain, and on this tract, known as the “Johns settlement” he built an humble dwelling in a little cove making out from the east side of Bear mountain, not far from where Mr. John Hamilton now lives a short mile west of Berkley M. E. church, South, which is on the road leading from Amherst Courthouse to Pedlar Mills.  Here he lived and died “a worthy and peaceable citizen” following farming as a business and raised a large family of sons and daughters—dying about 1855.  Some of his descendents moved to Ohio and West Virginia, but 258, by a count recently made for me, remain in Amherst at this day.  They are engaged in farming in a small way, or working on shares with the owners of adjoining lands.  One of his sons, Tarlton Johns, married Eliza Redcross, a daughter of John Redcross, a well known Cherokee Indian, and by Billy Evans, Mallory Johns, William Johns, and John Redcross, this colony was started.  Two of them, Wm. Johns and John Redcross, were known to the writer, who in early life held an office that brought him in contact with all classes of citizens.  John Redcross died about 1861, at the house of Tarlton Johns, on the summit of Bear mountain.  Previous to the late war, these people were isolated and practically shut out from contact and intercourse with the outside world, owing to the fact that their color precluded intercourse with the whites, who were the land and slave owners, and they on the other hand held themselves above the slaves.  In this way, there seemed to be no place for them, and no provision in the law for such as race as to schools as there is now, and to some extent, they were cut off from church privileges.  The state law forbid the assembling of colored people unless specially permitted by the county court, and under control of the whites, who had to be present.  Indignantly rejecting the idea that they had African blood and scorning the term of “free niggers,” but earnestly to this day claiming to be pure Indians, they could not enter the white churches and distained to worship with the slaves.  They became for the time, as they really were, a separate and distinct race and colony, and remained so until a few years before the late war.  It is greatly to their credit that under such peculiar circumstances they did not become a settlement of thieves and murderers and their colony a hiding place for fugitives from justice.  Shut out and hidden in the little coves of Bear mountain, where hunting and fishing, gambling and drinking amongst the [“bucks”?] was the Sabbath amusement, without schools and a gospel, and where “no Sabbath’s heavenly light” ever came for 25 years, could anything else have been expected but heathenism?  Strange as it may seem it was not the case, but a new era was about to dawn on them, for in the year [1858?], the late Judge Samuel H. Henry, and Col. Thomas Whitehead, one a lay preacher in the Baptist Church and the other a class leader in the Methodist Church, South, determined to obtain from the county court of Amherst permission to use the courthouse on Sunday afternoons for preaching of the slaves, and using for that purpose one Addison Washington, an eloquent negro preacher, a slave, a born orator, gifted in prayer.  They commenced religious services and had large and successful meetings, which soon were noised about in the county.  During this period one day these evangelists, Henry and Whitehead, of whom it was sometimes said by narrow minded people of that day were moving ahead of the times in which they lived, received a message from the Indian settlement from an old woman saying she lived there and had three children living in the colony; that she was old and that her life was coming to a close; that she had not heard the gospel preached nor hymns sung for 25 years; she had been a member of the Methodist Church at Rocky Seats (now Smyrna) from 1830 to 1835; that the white people had asserted that her people, the Indians, were “free niggers” and must sit with the slaves in seats provided for them.  That this move offended the Indians, who left, vowing they would never enter a church again, but she felt a great desire to hear the gospel preached once more, and begged that singing and prayer be had at her house. 



            They complied with her request and appointed a day for preaching.  A few days after this her son returned and said that they had built an arbor with seats and a stand for preaching in the Indian reserve.  He stated that many of them had never heard prayer, a hymn, or the scriptures read, because they were steadfastly kept the views their fathers had made.  These men preached according to their promise, carried on their meetings, had revival services, buried the dead, and established a joint church in which Henry procured a Baptist minister to immerse those who preferred that mode, and Whitehead brought the Methodist minister to those who preferred the Methodist Church.  And thus it continued until the war carried the evangelists into the Confederate army.  Soon after the war, the Northern Methodist Church sent to them one E. W. Pearce, a preacher, who remained with them for one year, and after he left the Rev. W. C. Clements of the Northern Methodist Church came and remained three years, collecting a congregation and starting the building of a church, but his death from heart disease put an end to his labors.  In the last two years, the Rev. J. W. Johnson, of the Baptist Church, a colporter, has preached to them and in his work has been assisted by Mr. S. H. Walkup, an elder in the Presbyterian Church, and the teacher of the public school for them.  It is evident that much good is being done by these gentlemen.  Her is today an opportunity for the Indian school at Hampton, to accomplish great good amongst the 258 descendants of these original Indian settlers.  There are a number of bright youths amongst them, who would gladly welcome the chance to get an education at the Hampton school and who would, in a few years return home to lift their people to a higher plane of moral and religious life.  Let this good work begin at once and let this neglect and the errors of the past that were born of prejudice against these sons of the forest be wiped out and forgotten.


            One of the sons of William Johns, Charles Johns, was a soldier in the war of 1812, and during the late war, many of their young men were drafted and carried to Petersburg and Richmond to work on the Confederate fortifications.  From another son of William Johns, Wm. B. Johns, born 19th February, 1799, now living on the farm of Mr. Adolphus Coleman, I have been enabled to get much information about their history and to verify much that I had already heard about them.  On a recent visit to him, while I noted down his answers to my questions in my memorandum book, I glanced at this man of ninety-seven years and as he stood before me with his well-defined Indian color and features erect in form, with his white locks hanging down to his shoulders, a vulnerable relic of the past, standing on the threshold of the 20th century, a representative of a race soon to be “numbered with the things that were,” I was forcibly reminded of Campbell’s “Last Man:”

“I saw a vision in my sleep

That gave my spirit strength to sweep

Adown the gulf of time.

I saw the last of human mould

That shall creation’s death behold

As Adam saw her prime.”


                                                                                                            EDGAR WHITEHEAD



1896, 04-19 Richmond Times.jpg


Edgar Whitehead, “Amherst County Indians,” Virginia Indian Archive, accessed July 6, 2022,

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