I must have been sleepy when I posted before -- James, not John. Found an image of his original land grant -- the name on that is James Litteral Briggs.
I thought James Litteral might be the name of his maternal grandfather, but there's no Briggs-Litteral marriage to be found on Ancestry.com.
There are lots of James Litteral/Littrells in Virginia before James' birth in about 1808, but I haven't found a connection with a Briggs family. Maybe he was a war buddy or just a good neighbor.
I know lots of people have researched this man before, but there must be a key somewhere. Maybe I'll have to pack my bag and go to Mississippi!
I've got two brick walls: Merritt Duke, b. NC 1784, married NC 1802; and James Litteral Briggs, b. VA 1808. Maybe they were deliberately disguising where they came from???
They don't seem to ever have had relatives living with them beyond their nuclear families, unlike other branches of my family. That is the way I usually make connections.
Merritt Duke's granddaughter married James L. Briggs' son. My grandmother, who was their daughter, is said to have been half Indian, and she definitely looked Indian. Is that related to the mystery?
I've often wondered if they were Black instead of Indian. Merritt Duke had one male slave when he was up in years (they were the same age), but that doesn't necessarily mean he wasn't of mixed race himself. It also seems odd that Merritt was apparently not a War of 1812 veteran or a veteran of the Indian wars in the South.