Azariah Dring of Rhode Island and the Drings of Hatteras Island, NC
Thomas Dring was born in 1666, presumably in Little Compton, Rhode Island. This part of Rhode Island was most certainly a maritime province as can be seen in the picture below.
Thomas married on May 21, 1696 to Mary Butler, born about 1670. Together they had eleven children. In order of appearance, they were John, Mary, Mercy, Thomas, Elizabeth, Priscilla, Asariah, Ruth, Bathsheba, Freelove, and Nathaniel. The naming pattern is common and may indicate that Thomas’ father was John.
Thomas Jr. became a gunner on the sloop “Success,” and was captured by the British during the Revolutionary War (See” Recollections of the Jersey Prison Ship” by Albert G. Greene). He stayed in Little Compton and died there in 1782. His brother, Asariah was born March 28, 1710 and was destined to become a merchant mariner, working between New England and the West Indies for most of his career. On February 28, 1732, Asariah (spelled Azariah later) left Boston harbor for Barbados, according to the New-England Weekly Journal. By June 2nd, the Boston Gazette records him returning to Rhode Island from Antigua. In four days, he was again headed for Barbados, from Boston harbor (New-England Weekly Journal).
By that November, the Rhode-Island Gazette records this news: “ Capt. Dring from Barbados, who sail’d on the 30th of September last, the next Day met with a violent hurricane, which he supposed did considerable Damage in Barbados and the adjacent islands.” The dangers of a Caribbean career revealed themselves in less than a year. The same paper’s December 21st issue showed Dring leaving that port for Jamaica, however, showing quick recovery.
There seems to be a break in Dring’s record until July 4, 1734 when the New-England Weekly Journal records him returning from Jamaica to Rhode Island. It is difficult to say if anything happened to him or his ship during that time. A lack of reporting may be responsible. Still, just prior to Azariah’s departure for Jamaica, trouble began with slaves on Jamaica, to which Major General Hunter, Governor of Jamaica, in mid-1732 passed the “Negro Act,” which tightened restrictions on slaves and passed duties on them, making owners even more protective of their property.
Jamaica has long had a unique history regarding African slaves. Escaped slaves known as “Maroons” established independent communities in the mountainous interior, away from the coast. British authorities were unable to suppress them, despite major attempts in the 1730s and 1790s. African slaves imported during the Spanish period may have provided the first runaways. These Africans apparently mixed with the Native American Taino or Arawak people that remained in the country. Some may have gained liberty when the English attacked Jamaica and took it in 1655. But, many continued to rebel, causing more trouble for the British than on any other Caribbean isle of which there were other Maroon communities. Maroons stubbornly resisted conquest for about 52 years, until the 1737 peace treaty with the British rulers of the island – which is still in force.
Several rebellions had broken out since September 1728, when more troops arrived to upset the balance against the escaped Maroons. A slave rebellion broke out again in 1733, and in June of that year, several attempts were made to enslave the “rebellious negroes” which resulted in Maroons having “driven away the party sent against them.”
1728 Jamaica by Herman Moll
A further attempt was made under General Hunter that August for three raids, all without effect. In November, Jamaica was divided into two districts to facilitate the forces. By December, the Council of Trade and Plantations sent to the Duke of Newcastle a letter stating the following, “which all relate to the ill state of Jamaica with regard to the negroes in rebellion,
weak condition of the inhabitants and the apprehensions they are under of a general insurrection of their slaves.”
Governor Hunter sent to them on December 24th, “I can not without breach of duty conceal my opinion that this island is in a very defenceless condition in case of a war. The slaves in rebellion, who give us work enough, in that event are not the most dangerous ; here are men of desperate fortunes and more desperate principles who have too much influence on the majority, are gaping after change, and if I may judge from their pass’d conduct would readily joyn with any such.” He was concerned for more than just a Negro rebellion, but for a general rebellion as well.
A pamphlet titled, “The State of the Island of Jamaica, addressed to a Member of Parliament” was published in which the writer urges the “necessitty there is, that not only a revenue be settled equal to the annual expence of the Government, but also a provision be made by some new laws for the better recovery of just debts, and the better peopling and settling of the island, at the same time that the body of laws are re-enacted or confirmed by the Crown.” The problem became a fiscal one for the British which resulted in a treaty with the Maroons that lasts until this day.
Two British regiments arrived by 1734, probably relieving conscription of ordinary seamen. Thus, Dring may well have returned to Rhode Island by that time. Did Azariah Dring get caught up in this uneasy state of affairs? Did he fight against the Maroons? Quite possibly, he did. His sons would later demonstrate zero tolerance against escaped slaves in the colony of South Carolina.
Still, Dring’s activities demonstrated a change in his routine toward Jamaica, perhaps supplying the continual effort against the Maroons.
By October of 1734, he left Newport bound again for Jamaica (Weekly Rehearsal of Boston, Mass.). The Boston Post-Boy of October 27, 1735 told of his departure from Rhode Island three days earlier bound again for Jamaica. New-England Weekly Journal of May 18, 1736 shows him arriving in Boston from Jamaica and leaving again on May 24th, bound for Rhode Island (Boston Evening-Post).
On the 3rd of May, 1737, Azariah Dring was made a freeman for the province of Rhode Island by the Proceedings of the General Assembly for Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations. He was again outbound for Jamaica in July 1737, according to the Boston Post-Boy.
The first deviation in the Jamaica pattern occurred in February 1738, when the American Weekly Mercury recorded him as inbound from Honduras, just after the 1737 treaty was signed with Jamaican Maroon rebels. By this time, presumably, the British on Jamaica needed no further supplies from Capt. Dring. Perhaps he carried war materiel.
The next year, in March 1738, Dring cleared out of Boston harbor again for Rhode Island and then left there for the Leeward Islands in April (Boston Gazette). Very few reports reveal his activity after this, for no Dring is recorded as mariner until May 1746, leaving from New Providence, the Bahamas. Only one other notation further, the New-York Mercury records on December 10, 1753, “Novem. 12. (Charlestown, South Carolina) Monday last put into this port a Schooner bound from Winyah for Boston, Dring Master, that had been out three Weeks, and had met with very bad Weather.”
Azariah Dring must have been worn out by his hapless arrival in Charlestown, for there he stayed, dying three years later in Craven Precinct, in 1756 (SC Colonial Probate 464). The year before this, his legal dispute with James Baber occurred.
South Carolina marriage records show a (Mrs.) Margaret “Dringat,” possibly Azariah’s widow marrying on October 30, 1757 to a John Andrews Dehay. Those records also show a Percival Dring (bachelor of Prince George Parish, born about 1741-1744) marrying on March 18, 1761 to Elizabeth Crook(s) (spinster of Prince George Parish) and an Elizabeth Dring marrying May 19, 1764 to Charles Coulbourn.
Percival Dring became a constable in charge of hunting down escaped slaves in South Carolina. In 1765, he earned the most of ten such constables, £56 17 06 for four separate accounts. No one else had more than a single account. Two years later, the number of constables increased and Percival Dring only made £14 15. By January 2, 1771, Percival Dring, a carpenter by trade, had passed away and his personal effects given to his next of kin, Margaret Dring. This note is fascinating since his wife of ten years should have been Elizabeth. Margaret should have been his mother. Indeed, it may have happened this way.
Elizabeth could have passed away between 1761 and 1771, when her husband died. This could easily be accounted for by childbirth, deadly for females in the eighteenth century. It is quite likely that there were two children born to Percival and Elizabeth, Percival Dring Jr. and Azariah. Both of these men appear in the records of Currituck County, North Carolina and on deed records associated with Hatteras Island, remarkably as “free persons of color.” This enigma must be explained somehow. For the children and grandchildren of men who fought fervently against slaves to appear as “colored” individuals in the census records, one or both must have married a black, mulatto, or as the case may be best defined on Hatteras, an Indian… or, Elizabeth was already an Indian. In that case, she may have found herself unable to inherit her husband’s estate. She turns up again.
This interesting will appeared in Abstracts of Currituck Co Wills 1760-1800:
Josiah Basnet, Oct 9 1782, oct 10 1785, will bk 1, planter, son Alexander Scarborough, Jr, Letisby Scarborough. Wit Azariah Dring, William Whidbee.
Azariah Dring… of witness age in 1782? He must have been at least sixteen, which puts his birth at no later than 1762. Following common naming practices of the time, the first male child is usually named for the male’s father… in Percival of SC’s case, Azariah. He very well could have been the first child born to Percival and Elizabeth Dring. Josiah Basnett’s will is interesting enough because it seems to reflect matrilineal naming patterns with Basnett’s children all possessing the mother’s name of Scarborough, a possible indication of Indian heritage. Still, they could be step-children, but Alexander appears to later take the name of Basnett.
The second Dring Hatteras occurrence is 1783, in which Shibboleth Dring (by his father)sues Joseph Stow for “with force and arms he made an assault upon the said Shibboleth Dring and did beat wound and evilly treat so that his life was despaired of.” Who was the father? Percival or Azariah? Unfortunately, none of the court records, lasting until November 1784 tell his name. The only Dring later recorded with children was Percival, but since the 1810 and 1820 census recorded no Drings, the appearance of Azariah and his wife in 1830 at age 50-60 (births 1770-1780) indicate no children. Drings do not seem to last on Hatteras.
The first census for the United States in 1790 recorded a “Price” Dring in Currituck County, on Hatteras Banks. There were four people in his household, all “free persons of color” or FPC. In 1797, Cornelius Howard sells to Percival Dring, two pieces of land that fell to his wife, Elizabeth (Smith?) from the will of John Smith Senr.
One parcel is very close to the land the Elizabeth Dring sells to John Clark in 1798, land on the sound bordering Isaac Brooks. This land is east of Brooks Point and west of Wahab’s new grant. Percival sells 62.5 acres of this same land to Francis Farrow in 1799 while he buys land from Willoughby Basnett (son of another FPC who became “white” in 1800, Robert Basnett) who also obtained property through the John Smith estate the same way as Reuben Burrus. (Currituck County Deed Records).
Then, in 1800, a “Prissilor Dring” is enumerated as a white man with a white family of three male children, born between 1774-1784, four female children born between 1784-1790, a wife the same age as “Prissilor” and an older woman, born before 1755. He himself is born between 1755-1776.
Elizabeth Crook(s) Dring is still alive in 1800 and living with her son and his family on Hatteras Banks in an area known for its peculiar “free persons of color” who suddenly become white by 1800. She is probably the “Elizabeth” who sold John Clark the land in 1798.
Then, in 1809, William Clark sells land bordering Francis Farrow to Percival Dring in about the same area on the sound side of Hatteras Island. Percival had already made his will by 1807, however, naming his brother Azariah and his executors, wife, Amy and friend Willoughby Basnett. Witnesses are Daniel Stow and Sarah Brooks.
As indicated previously, 1810-1820 show no Drings enumerated, but 1830 shows only one, Azariah and his wife, both listed as “white” as expected by 1830. The discrimination against anything other than “white” became unusually strong in North Carolina, finally culminating in the 1835 North Carolina Constitution that made everyone but whites a second-class citizen. It was much more favorable to be white than Indian or black. No other clues exist for what became of the Drings of Hatteras except another Azariah Dring appears in Caswell County, North Carolina, born between 1800-1810, a young lad starting a new family with a wife, a young son and two little girls. At least the name lived on.
The story of Azariah Dring from Rhode Island made a startling turnaround from a mariner who made a name for himself fighting black/Indian Jamaican Maroons in the Caribbean, then crash landed in Charlestown, South Carolina, and died there three years later. Then his son, Percival obviously marries an Indian or black woman in 1761 and has two sons who later come to Hatteras. But, if Elizabeth Crook(s) Dring had been born black or mulatto, her chances of being recognized as “white” in 1798 enough to sell land and in 1800 to be enumerated as “white” are not good. She must have been Indian. Combined with the family’s association with other families known to follow the same change from 1790 when they were found as FPCs until their miraculous transformation in 1800 to “white,” these Hatteras Islanders may very well have collected on Hatteras for the sole purpose of enjoying the anonymity.
Hatteras must have become a home for Native Americans that asked no questions. For many, Hatteras remained a place inured by outside influence, possessing their own unique colloquialisms/language, and preferring a high level of independence. It still is like that today.
You can follow Baylus Brooks and his maritime research by visiting his blog.
B.C. Brooks ~ A writers hiding place