History of Cheraw Indians of North Florida and their Origins in the Carolinas
CHAPTER 1 “A Very Large Nation”
The Colonial Period
Little is known about the Catawba Tribe prior to their first encounters with Europeans. They were known to the Cherokee as "Ani-Suwa'li", or "the Suwali people." The Catawba Tribe was actually a loose confederation of tribes who all spoke a version of the Siouan language. Known by such general names as the Cheroenhaka, Esaw, Isaw, Sara, and Saraw, this confederacy of eastern Siouan peoples included the Kadapau, Sugaree, Coree, Coharie, Manahoac, Hassinunga, Shakori, Eno, Occaneechi, Saponi, and Tutelo. Encountering them in 1701, explorer John Lawson described them as
"the Esaw Indians, a very large Nation, containing many thousands of people."
In the early 1600's many important historic incidents occurred which would affect the Catawba descendents for generations. Already suffering from constant raids from the Iroquois and Tuscarora on their northern border, and the Cherokee to the west, the Catawba now faced a new threat, European colonists pushing inland from the east. Catawba Indians being taken captive by raiding parties of Iroquois and Cherokee were being sold as slaves to the colonists and this did nothing to better the situation. From 1616 to 1630, Opechancanough, successor of Powhatan, and chief over all the Algonquin speaking tidewater tribes, expressed his displeasure with the encroaching white men by waging a bloody war. Indian captives were taken in increasing numbers from the tidewater tribes during this time and forced into slavery. Those Indians not taken as slaves were forced to wander the
"The Monacan, along the James; the Saponi along the Rivana and James Rivers and Otter Creek; the Tutelo in the Roanoke Valley; and the Occaneechi on islands at the confluence of the Roanoke and Dan Rivers."
Arguably the most influential event to occur in the 1600's happened in 1660 when Virginia determined that "…an Indian sold by another Indian or an Indian who speaks English and who desires baptism will now receive his or her freedom." This allowed many Algonquin and Siouan war captives held in slavery in the colonies to regain their freedom, but it also provided incentive for their masters to downplay the Indian ancestry of those in servitude in order to retain them. These former slaves quickly rejoined their tribesmen bringing with them their acquired skills as carpenters, wheelwrights, and ferry operators. Most importantly, these newly freed Indians brought with them their new English names and Christian religion. Unfortunately they also retained the stigma of being former slaves, a condition which would cause their white neighbors to eye them with suspicion for generations.
In 1713, the confederated eastern Siouan Nations signed a Treaty of Peace with the Virginia Colonial government at Williamsburg. Among the different Nations represented were the Occaneechi, the Stuckanok, the Tottero, and the Saponi. At the invitation of Governor Spottswood of
Because of the continued hostilities between these Nations and the Iroquois to the north, the governors of New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia held a conference at Albany in September of 1722 to hammer out a peaceable agreement between the Tribes on their borders. Governor Spottswood undertook negotiations for the "Christanna Indians" whom were composed of "the Saponies, Ochineeches, Stenkenoaks, Meipontskys, and Toteroes."
In addition to their traditional native enemies, it is obvious that the remnant tribes considered the encroaching white settlements as an almost equal threat. It also appears that, on the subject of trespassing whites, even the Algonquin and Siouan peoples could agree and cooperate. On October 24, 1723 the Virginia Government spoke out on behalf of the Meherrin and Nansemond Nations and warned the
"Whereas, the Maherin and Nansemond Indians have this day complained that notwithstanding the repeated orders of this government for security to them the possession of their lands, whereon they have many years past been seated, between the Nottoway and Maherine Rivers, divers persons under pretense of grants from the Government of North Carolina surveyed the lands of the said Indians and begun to make settlements within their cleared grounds."
This report is especially interesting as it implies that portions of the Nansemond had obviously moved west of their ancestral homes around Norfolk, Virginia, and were living with the Meherrin between the Nottoway and Meherrin Rivers. Peace with the tribes to the north allowed the remnant Eastern Sioux to live in peace and relative obscurity for several years. All was not completely serene, however, as a letter to the governor from one R. Everand, a settler living near the Meherrin Indians, refers to disturbances involving the Meherrins and Nottoways in 1727. Everand says that the Meherrins denied any attacks on the Nottoways, stating
"..they lay the whole blame upon the old Occaneechy King and the Saponi Indians."
It is evident that Virginia continued to trade with these Nations and found the trade relations lucrative enough to employ an interpreter to "the Saponi and Occaneechi Indians" as late as 1730. After 1730, a group of Saponi undertook one of many trips south to take up residence among the Catawba. Conditions must not have been to their liking, as they soon returned to the Virginia-North Carolina border accompanied by "some Cheraws." Upon arriving at their old lands between the
Possibly because of the inability to posses communal lands, or most likely because of acculturation, it is apparent that the eastern Siouan remnants began to live as individual landowners during the 1730 to 1740 period. It is also during this period that land deeds begin appearing under the names of such "Other Free Persons" surnames as Scott, Chavis, Goings, Bunch, Collins, and Gibson. With each new land patents by a concentration of these families, a report of eastern Siouan people would be generated. For example, after William Chavis, Thomas Parker, Gideon Gibson, and Henry Bunch recorded their land grants on the Eno River in Orange County, North Carolina adjoining the lands of William Eaton, a report from the Colonial Records of NC identifies a group of 30 to 40 Saponi had settled on the lands of William Eaton. The Siouan identity of these persons is further bolstered by reports such as one originating in Orange County in 1742 regarding some Saponi Indians accused of hog stealing:
"Alexander Macharton, John Bowling, Manicassa, Captain Tom, Isaac, Harry, Blind Tom, Foolish Jack, Charles Griffin, John Collins, Little Jack, Indians, giving security for good behaviour."
Governor Clarence Gooch of
"Saponies and other petty nations associated with them…are retired out of Virginia to the Cattawbas."
This time period corresponds to the appearance of such English surnames as Harris, Stephens, Scott, Brown, and Canty among the Catawba. A 1761 report counted 20 Saponi warriors in the area of Granville County, NC and this corresponds to the "Mulatto, Mustee or Indian" taxation in Granville of such families as Anderson, Jeffries, Davis, Chavis, Going, Bass, Harris, Brewer, Bunch, Griffin, Pettiford, Evans, and others in the 1760's.
In 1757, the
This date corresponds to military and land records of "free persons of color" such as William Allen, Adam Ivey, James Evans, Benjamin Chavis, Allen Sweat, James Jones and Isham Scott who were residing in the ancestral Siouan areas of Halifax County, NC along the banks of the Roanoke River. John R. Swanton also reports that the Meherrin Indians
"..were living on Roanoke River in 1781 with the southern bands of Tuscarora and Saponi, and the Machapunga."
In addition to the Siouan people, there were also remnants of Algonquin tribes residing in the North Carolina-Virginia border country. Near
"The Court doth certify upon satisfactory evidence of white persons Produced before it, that Asa Price, Wright Perkins, Nathan Perkins, Pricilla Perkins, Nelson Bass, Willis Bass, Andrew Bass, William Bass son of William Bass, Joseph Newton, and Henry Newton, & Allen Newton, Polly Newton, Sally Newton, & Hestor Newton are not free-Negroes or Mulattoes, but are of Indian descent and that each of them have a certificate separately thereof …"
Again on July 20, 1833, the same Court again addressed the issue of certain persons' race:
"The Court doth certify upon satisfactory evidence of white persons Produced before it that Andrew Bass and Lavina his wife, Elizabeth Bass wife of William Bass son of William Bass, Jemima Bass Sr., Peggy Bass, Jemima Bass Jr., Elizabeth Lidwin, Mary Anderson, Priscilla Flury, Jerusha Bass the wife of William the son of Willis, Frances the wife of James Newton, Lucy Trummel wife of William Trummel, Andrew Bass Jr., Patsy Bass, William Bass, William Newton, Betsy Weaver, Nancy Weaver, and Sally Weaver, that they are not Free Negroes or Mulattoes, but are of Indian descent and that each of them have a certificate separately thereof…"
These two reports are quite significant in the documentation of the eastern Siouan people, as the Bass, Anderson, Perkins, and Weaver surnames appear frequently among the mixed-blood communities spread from Virginia to Florida.
Just south of the Nansemond of Norfolk, across the border in
In 1758, "James Bennett, John Robbins, Chief men of the Chowan Indians" sold 300 acres of Indian land by deed proved in Gates County, and again in 1763 there appears a record of "James Bennett, James Bennett jr., Amos Bennett, being Bennett's Creek Indians" sold land acknowledged in
In 1790 a petition was submitted form
"The petitioners request the legislature to pass a law validating acquisition by a group of descendants of Indians and blacks. In 1724 the Chowan Indians received 11,360 acres of land in Chowan County, later Gates County. The Indians sold most of the land. The Indian men all died, and the women mixed with Negroes. The free blacks and their mixed-blood children served as soldiers for the colonials in the Revolution. Supported by William Lewis, Samuel Harrell, and other white men, they seek title to small remnants of the aforesaid tract of land."
Disguised as an attempt by charitable citizens to assist a poor, desolate people, was a dark conspiracy to liquidate any future land claim by these descendants of the Chowan Nation. Asserting that the Indian men had died and the women had "mixed with Negroes" served two purposes; first claiming that all the Indian men had died would effectively negate the land title, and second, claiming Negro ancestry for the group would deny them further legal recourse. Records clearly prove a direct male descendant line from the James Bennett, John Robbins, Jeremiah Perkins, and John Reed of 1734 to many of the families mentioned in 1790, yet this glaring fact was ignored. Censused as part of this community of Chowan Indian descendants in 1790 were the Reed, Robbins, Blanchard, Bennett, Cuff, Weaver, Mitchell, and Hunter families, surnames which had already begun appearing in other mixed-blood communities before 1790. Military, land, and tax records reveal that the eastern Siouan remnant families continued to concentrate their settlements in their ancestral lands around the Eno, Tar, Roanoke, Meherrin, and Nottaway Rivers at the border of North Carolina and Virginia. In addition to these settlements and the well-known one on the Catawba reservation, other smaller bands had also spread further into Virginia, south to the Drowning Creek area of mid-southern NC, and along the Wateree and Pee Dee Rivers of South Carolina. Referring to Indians in
"There are some of the Nottoways, Meherrins, Tuscaroras, and Saponys, who tho' they live in peace in the midst of us, lead in great measure the lives of wild Indians."
The North and South Carolina border became a favored haunt of the Eastern Sioux as early as the 1730's. In addition to the previously mentioned Saponi "retired out of
Beginning in the 1790's many of these families from the Roanoke area began to assert their Indian ancestry in courts across South Carolina. In 1794, the South Carolina Legislature received a petition from Isaac Linagear, Isaac Mitchell, Jonathan Price, Spencer Bolton, William N. Sweat, and 29 other "free persons of color" seeking to repeal the "Act for imposing a poll tax on all free Negroes, mustees, and mulatoes." On April 6, 1832 a certificate was issued to
"she appears to be of Indian descent."
A petition to the Legislature in 1859 inquiring if "persons of Indian descent are considered to be free persons of color and liable for the poll tax." caused a determination that Frederick Chavis, Lewis Chavis, Durany Chavis, James Jones, Mary Jones, and Jonathan Williams "do not qualify under the term 'free person of color' as they are of Indian ancestry."
When the Gibson family arrived in
"I have had them before me in Council and upon examination find that they are not Negroes nor slaves but Free People, that the father of them here is named Gideon Gibson and his father was also free, I have been informed by a person who has lived in Virginia that this Gibson has lived there several years in good repute and by his papers that he produced before me that his transactions there have been very regular, That he has for several years paid taxes for two tracts of land and had seven Negroes of his own, That he is a carpenter by Trade and is come hither for the support of his family…I have in consideration of his wife's being a white woman and several white women capable of working and being Serviceable in the county permitted him to settle in this Country."
30 years later, incidents would occur which would, no doubt, cause the Governor to regret his decision. Gideon's son, Gideon Gibson jr., was living on the south side of the
"…gang of banditi, a numerous collection of outcast mulattos, mustees, free Negroes, etc. all horse thieves from the borders of Virginia and northern colonies…headed by one Gideon Gibson.."
Henry Laurens, a prominent
"Reasoning from the colour carries no conviction…Gideon Gibson escaped the penalties of the Negro law by producing upon comparison more red and white in his face than can be discovered in the faces of half the descendants of the French refugees in our House of Assembly."
A comparison of the "Other free persons" head of households who appear in the early 1800's at the NC/VA (Halifax area) border and the NC/SC (Dillon and Sumter area) border reveal an obvious parallel of eastern Siouan families. Surnames shared between these two groups include Scott,
With the influx of Catawba, individuals on the reservation began adopting military titles such as 'Captain' and 'Major', a phenomenon which occurred at the same time among the reservated Catawba and the Pamunkey on their King William County reservation. Some of these newly united families were not long to stay, however, and Gov. Gooch again reported in 1743 that some of them had left to rejoin the Catawba on their reservation. In 1792, the Virginia General Assembly ordered that the Gingaskin Indian Town land be divided up. The 690-acre tract was split into 27 lots that were allocated to the surviving tribal members, among whom appeared the surname Driggers and Francis (both surnames which occurred with frequency among the 'other free persons' of Halifax, NC in 1790). Twenty-one years earlier South Carolina Regulators reported that they had tracked a convicted felon named Winslow Driggers (who had earlier escaped from a jail in
"near Drowning Creek, in the Charraw settlement."
By the 1850's the Driggers surname was also common among another remnant Indian group, the Nanticoke of Maryland. Interestingly enough, the
A relative of the two men, Lydia Clark, claimed to be the last full-blood Nanticoke. She testified that Harmon's ancestor was an enslaved African who had married his mistress. The half-breed offspring of this union, Lydia Clark testified, had intermarried with some of the remaining
After peace was made between the Virginia tribes and their ancient enemy, the Iroquois in 1722, a band of Siouans traveled north and settled on the Susquehanna at Shamokin, Pensylvania, under Iroquois protection. Their chiefs were allowed to sit in the great council of the Six Nations, and the political status of the tribe was described as "that of a 'prop', or 'support', between the logs in the wall of the Long House." In 1771 these eastern Sioux, now lumped together under the name of "Tutelo", were settled on the east side of Cayuga inlet, about 3 miles from the south end of the lake. In the 1880's, Horatio Hale interviewed Nikonha whom he described as the last full-blood Tutelo living among the Iroquois. Nikonha informed Hale that his Tutelo name was "Washinga" and gave Hale lengthy description of the Tutelo dialect, which upon later examination, proved to be clearly Siouan and closely related to the Catawba language. Nikonha died in 1871.