An Indian Heritage?
by David S. Clarke, Jr. from information provided by Jonathan and Anthony (Tony) Clarke and Bjorn Larsen
There is speculation within the Physioc family that the family shares some Native American heritage. Some members of the family have what seem to be Indian facial features Ė distinctive angled noses, broad cheek bones. There are birth records and correspondence in which Indian names are assigned to members of the family. Jonathan Clarke has noted that the original first name on the birth certificate dated June 10, 1912 for Nancy McAlpin Physioc was Uiontia, and Uiontia is reportedly an Indian name. Both Nancy and her twin sister Martha were said to have been named after their grandmothers. (Marthaís original name was Ada, apparently derived from Lelia Ada Johnson, her grandmother on her motherís side.) The grandmother on their fatherís side was Martha Ann Elizabeth Johnson, whose Indian name is thought to have been Uiontia. Thus, Martha Physiocís name seems to have been the English name of their paternal grandmother, while Nancyís may have been the grandmotherís Indian. Nancy Physioc is also referred to as "Annie" by her father in a document. This is undoubtedly derived from grandmother Martha Ann. Double naming with English and Indian names was apparently common during this period. Martha A. E. Johnson does not appear to be Indian herself from an existing photo, but she has high cheek bones, and may have been a descendent of an Indian, with her family following the practice of double naming.
The name Uiontia bestowed on Nancy Physioc suggests that the Indian heritage was derived from the Johnson family, the common ancestors of both Willis Johnson Physioc and Nelly Grace Underwood. A William Johnson is said by Anthony Clarke to have been an agent to the Indian tribes of the Virginia region, but the connection to our recorded Johnson family is unknown. This William Johnson is thought to have fathered many children with Indian women. Anthony Clarke reports locating an Ada Johnson currently living (the year 2000) with the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. Captain James Johnson (b. 1746, d. 1802) is the earliest Johnson of whom we have record, and he may be descended from this William Johnson. It is possible that Lewis Johnson, the father of Allen Johnson, great-grandfather of Willis J. Physioc, and great-great-grandfather of Nelly Underwood, is the source of an Indian heritage within the Willis Physioc/Nelly Underwood family. The tradition of bestowing Indian names may have originated in the Johnson family and been passed down to the Underwoods. But these are only speculations without any firm evidence to support them.
Jonathan Clarke has discovered in The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca by Anthony F. C. Wallace (NY: Random House, 1970) a description of a Jimmy (or Jemmy) Johnson, who was active as a religious leader in the early 19th century. This Jimmy Johnson (whose Indian name was Sosheowa) was a grandson of the famous Handsome Lake, a religious prophet and author of a moral code that prevailed for a time within the Seneca and Iroquois nations. Handsome Lake's brother was Cornplanter, another prominent leader. On the left is what is believed to be a portrait of Handsome Lake, who died in 1815. His face can be interpreted (with a little imagination) as exhibiting the famous Physioc nose. Some family members also have a penchant for jewelry that may perhaps be traced to his Native American genes. There is, however, no hard evidence that Jimmy Johnson is related to Allen Johnson and Martha A. E. Johnson. Captain James Johnson is reported in our records as being born in 1746 in Isle of Wight County. Jimmy Johnson seems to have lived to the north in the New York state area. It is possible, however, that there is some common ancestor of both James and Jimmy.
The early history of the Physioc also suggests inter-marriages. The family name is Physick in registers in England, but was changed to Physioc in North Carolina. There is speculation that the change was the result of marriages with Indian wives. The first two generations of Physiocs had wives without recorded last names. In both cases two wives are listed, with the second having a last name but not the first. Thus John Physioc (or Physick) is recorded as having married Susannah
(no last name) and also Elizabeth Carruthers. His eldest son by Sarah was Peter Physioc (born about 1748), who married Abigail (again, no last name) and then Diana Brin Harris. (In her article "The Physioc Family" Elinor Fletcher notes, however, "that I have always thought her [Abigail] to be the daughter of Thomas Davis, because he lived next door and Thomas Physioc got the Davis land somehow.") Peterís third son William (born about 1775) married a Sarah in 1802, who Elinor Fletcher identifies as the "widow Bishop" and then Rebecca Ellis, and here we have last names for both wives. In none of these cases is there a record of the death of the first wife or a reason for remarriage. (It must also be noted, however, that all the records of this early period are fragmentary.) These marriage records may indicate the early Physiocs had two wives, one Native American, the other white. The eldest child of William and Sarah was William Barnes Physioc, the grandfather of Willis Johnson Physioc. A photo of Joseph Edward Physioc, the son of William Barnes and the husband of Martha A. E. Johnson, shows a man without noticeable Indian features, but they may have been masked in his case.
Relevant information has been provided by Bjorn Larsen. He reports learning from his mother Martha about the heritage of Joseph Edward Physioc. Martha "mentioned she had come across this 1957 letter from the grandson of Isaac Partree. At that time his father was still alive. His father was the son Isaac Partree that is buried next to William Barnes Physioc. In the grandson's letter he said Hepsibah Dickinson, the wife of William Barnes Physioc, was thought to be an American Indian." Bjorn adds that the second youngest son of William Barnes and Hepsibah, William Physioc, brother to Joseph Edward Physioc, born in 1858, "was the one our grandfather [Willis Johnson Physioc] said looked just like an Indian." (It must be added that Elinor Fletcher's records show Hepsibah Dickinson as the daughter of John Dickinson Jr. and Ann Norris.) Bjorn reports receiving from Tracy Physioc Brockett, Wray Physioc's granddaughter, the following confirmation that Hepsibah Dickinson was in fact of Indian descent: "Yes, Joseph Edward's mother was Hepsibah Dickinson, half Cherokee from the Okororran tribe. I presume she stayed behind when the Cherokee nation was removed to the west in the 1840s but I know nothing about her." This message was received in December, 2005.
Lee DuBois reports: "My Mom [Elinor Fletcher] searched all of her life for the information about an Indian only because it was said that a great grandfather had mentioned one. Anyway she couldnít come up with any." The search may have been fruitless because relations with Indians were unrecognized by the legal system of the day and not entered in records available to us. The fact that there was an oral account of this Native American heritage passed down in the family is significant.
Then there is a posting at the web site http://genforum.genealogy.com/physioc/messages
from someone identifying herself as "Dela" with reference to Faith Physioc 1926
Rhode Island. Her message reads: "How did the name [Physioc] infiltrate the
American Indian tribes of North Carolina? My grandmother was Faith (b 1926),
her father was Henry (b 1898), I believe. They are brown people." Attempts to
get more information from "Dela" by Bjorn Larsen have been unsuccessful.
This Indian connection thus seems to have occurred as late as the 19th century in the Physioc line and perhaps earlier in both the Physioc and Johnson lines. There was undoubtedly much commerce between Indians and whites in the early period of the settlement of Virginia and North Carolina. There was also probably a shortage of available women for the white male settlers, and inter-marriages may have been convenient to the whites for the purposes of land acquisition and to the Native Americans for purposes of assimilation. Later the whites pushed the Indians to the West into the more hilly and mountainous regions, and contact was diminished. To be sure, there continued to be some contact between the races in Virginia and North Carolina, and there were undoubtedly laisons throughout the 19th century.
**Last revised 12/14/05 dsc**