Sunday, October 10, 2021

Similar name, different man: Devereaux Jarratt Bell vs Deveraux J. Bell

“If taken at face value, records and their “facts” can deceive, mislead, or confuse us.” - Elizabeth Shown Mills 


Anyone who has done genealogical research very long is aware of the “mischievous facts” that can sneak into our work and throw us off track. Recently while doing my reasonably exhaustive search for information on a Cherokee man named Devereaux “Jarratt Bell”, I encountered some “facts” that could have misled me if I hadn’t evaluated those “facts” through the lens of their time as well as in comparison with other established facts about Jarratt Bell.

Similar name, but not the same man 

Jarratt Bell, an Indian and citizen of the Cherokee Nation, was well documented throughout his life. Between the years 1837 and 1842, he was found on twenty-two documents. He was an interpreter for U. S. Indian agents before removing from Georgia to Indian Territory in the detachment led by his older brother, John A. Bell. Upon his arrival in Indian Territory, he carried mail for the detachment. Later, he was recorded as working as a blacksmith assistant; writing letters and documents as a clerk for the National Committee of the Cherokee Nation; witnessing claims filed by his father and brother; and acting as a claim’s agent in Flint district.

In a plethora of documents, records, family correspondence, and newspaper articles, Jarratt Bell is never found in the Republic of Texas or the state of Texas. Many in his family settled in the state of Texas shortly before and during the U. S. Civil War. While those relatives are documented as being there, Jarratt is not.

Despite the absence of records of Jarratt Bell in the Republic of Texas and the state of Texas, a different man named Deveraux J. Bell was found on a clerk’s list of those receiving land grant certificates between December 5, 1839 and January 11, 1840. That same man, Deveraux J. Bell, was also listed on the 1840 Tax Roll of Nacogdoches County. He owned one horse and one watch. He was not found in any other records in the Republic of Texas after a reasonably exhaustive search of those records.

While a novice researcher or someone cherry picking “facts” might argue “the name’s the same, so they are the same person”, they are not the same man. First, the names are similar, not the same. We have no indication for what the J in the name of Deveraux J. Bell represents. Second, even if it was an exact match on the name, it doesn’t mean it was the same man. Same name is not always the same person.

During the analysis of the numerous records found on Jarratt Bell, he is never recorded as using the name Devereaux on any document created during his lifetime. As a child, a young man, and to his family, he was “Jarratt.” In his legal and professional life which started in 1837, he was D. J. Bell. This is a key factor in his identity. His given name appears to have been Devereaux, but he was never known by that name, and he never used it on documents. “Devereaux” does not appear in records as his name until forty years after his death when his siblings, nieces, and nephews filed Eastern Cherokee applications and claimed through him. The two records in the Republic of Texas for a man named “Deveraux J. Bell” do not match the well-established identity of Jarratt Bell.

Some might believe the name “Devereaux” is too unique to belong to two different men, but it wasn’t unusual or rare in the early 1800s. A highly respected minister throughout Virginia and North Carolina was named Devereux Jarratt. He died in 1801 and some devout parents may have named their sons after him. An examination of the U. S. censuses of 1830-1850 on Family Search revealed over 100 men named Devereux (various spellings.) Because Bell* is a common surname, it would not be beyond the realm of possibilities to find other men with the same or a similar name to the Cherokee man named Devereaux “Jarratt Bell”.

Though one might be tempted to stop the evaluation of evidence after establishing the differences in the identities of Jarratt Bell and Deveraux J. Bell, it’s not enough to review only “facts” attached to names. We must also analyze “facts” within the context of the place and time they occurred. When comparing the two men, it is important to remember the bitter climate that existed in the Republic of Texas toward Cherokees in 1839. The Bowl and his followers were nearly annihilated by the Texans in July that year. Those that survived either fled to the Cherokee Nation or they tried to get to Mexico for safety. Cherokees were not trying to get into the Republic of Texas that year. They were trying to get out. It was not safe for them there.

To reiterate that point, in December 1839, soldiers encountered the Cherokee remnant trying to get to Mexico. They killed John Bowles, son of The Bowl, and captured other Bowles family members. The few remaining survivors of that attack managed to escape and cross into Mexico where they remained until 1843 when Sequoyah found them.

In stark contrast, while Cherokees were fleeing from the Republic of Texas in 1839, white settlers were flooding into the area chasing free land. The Republic was awarding land grants to those who qualified. A single man named Deveraux J. Bell arrived December 16, 1839 and was granted a certificate for 320 acres by the Board of Land Commission Office. He received a third-class headright grant. Only free white men were eligible for those land grants.

Clearly there were two men, one Indian and one white, with similar names. Only one was eligible for the land grant in the Republic of Texas. It was not the Cherokee man named Devereaux “Jarratt Bell”. Inept analysis of the “facts” on one man or the other could deceive a researcher, leading them to believe all the “facts” apply to only one man. Unfortunately, in research involving Cherokees, there are also some people who carelessly or intentionally combine “facts” from more than one person to create the ancestor they want. Whether accidental or deliberate, playing with “facts” in such a way would be an injustice to the legacy of both men.

We, as genealogists and researchers, are the only voice people from the past have today. They are not characters in a fictional story we want to tell, but instead, real people who lived upon this Earth and left their mark in some way or another. If we are going to tell their story, the least we can do is tell it correctly. It’s important to be aware that “facts” can mislead us if we don’t carefully examine and evaluate each piece of data we find, ensuring those “facts” belong in the narrative of another person’s life.

Those are my thoughts for today,

Polly’s Granddaughter 


*Bell is the 67th most common surname in the United States

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