Family Legend – Rumors of Native American Ancestry

It seems that every family has a family legend about Native American ancestry, that some several times great grandmother was Cherokee. Well, my family is no exception. One side of my family has such a legend about my 5th great grandmother, Nancy Schultz Fisk (abt. 1790-1854). Very little reliable information is known about Nancy. According to the 1850 census, she was born about 1790 in Virginia, and her tombstone gives her surname as Schultz. She died in 1854 and was buried in the Fisk Cemetery. It is probably because her descendants know so little about her that there are so many stories about her origins.

Story 1: Nancy was the daughter of a Cherokee woman and a German trapper (hence the last name Schultz), and her future husband, Moses Fisk, saw her with her Cherokee grandmother one day. He fell in love with her, sent her back east to be educated, and when she returned, he married her.

Story 2: Nancy was the daughter of a Cherokee woman and a German trapper, and she was traveling with her brother when she met Moses Fisk. They asked for a drink of water, which he gave them, and he fell in love with her and married her.

Story 3: She was the daughter of German immigrants. Moses Fisk met her and sent her and her two sisters back east to be educated. When she returned, he married Nancy.

Sadly, none of these rumors have been substantiated. There is a possibility that she was part Cherokee, even more likely that she was of German extraction because of her last name. She and Moses lived in Overton County, Tennessee, whose courthouse burned during the Civil War, along with many of the records. So any information that could have shed some light on her background was likely destroyed.

There are a few things I do know about Nancy. She and Moses married around 1813, as their oldest daughter was born in 1814. She was also quite a bit younger than Moses, 30 years younger to be exact. He was 53 and she was 23, and he had a very strong personality, so it is not surprising that after their last child was born, they separated. They did not divorce, but she moved out of their house and into a smaller house next door. They lived that way until Moses died in 1840.

Moses Fisk house at the entrance of Standing Stone State Park

There is another indication that the Cherokee story might possibly be true. Moses was very interested in Native American artifacts and history, especially in Tennessee. He advocated for Native American rights and documented archeology sites in the Upper Cumberland. Moses was interested in history, but it makes me wonder if his interest in Native Americans stemmed from being married to a lady who might be part Cherokee, or if his interest in Native Americans influenced his choice of wife. Or maybe it is all unrelated, but I’d like to think there was some connection.

If a portrait was ever done of Nancy, it no longer exists. No description of her personality exists, and very few public records mention her name. As far as I know, our DNA does not substantiate that she was Native American, unless of course, that did not get passed down to us so it doesn’t appear in the test. I think she will always be somewhat of a mystery, and who knows, maybe some source will appear and it will give me all the answers I need!