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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Saponi Indians

by Michael D. Green, 2006

See also: American Indian Tribes in North Carolina; Sappony Indians

The Saponi Indians were a Siouan-speaking people who lived in the Virginia Piedmont near present-day Charlottesville. John Smith found them there, in a region he broadly labeled Monacan, in 1607. Sometime during the next several decades they moved south, seldom remaining stationary until the mid-eighteenth century. A small group of corn farmers and hunters, the Saponi moved to find protection from more powerful enemies.

In 1670 German explorer John Lederer found the Saponi among the Nahyssan on the Staunton River in Virginia. In the 1680s, they were on the upper Roanoke River, living adjacent to the Occaneechi. When John Lawson visited them in 1701, the Saponi were on the Yadkin River near present-day Salisbury, along with the Tutelo and Keyauwee. The Saponi chief told Lawson that the three tribes were planning to join and move again. In 1714 the Saponi, Occaneechi, Tutelo, and other small tribes concluded a treaty with Virginia governor Alexander Spotswood to return to that colony and settle on a six-mile-square reservation laid out on the Meherrin River. Named Fort Christanna, the reservation was to be a refuge for Piedmont Indians willing to serve the Virginia settlements as frontier scouts. In 1729 the Saponi and their friends abandoned the fort and headed for the Catawba River, where the Catawba Nation offered sanctuary.

In 1731 growing dissatisfaction with their situation caused the Saponi to fragment. A few remained with the Catawba, but most left. Some moved north to join those Tuscaroras who remained in North Carolina after the Tuscarora War (1711-13); others migrated to New York, where the Cayuga, one of the Six Nations of Iroquois, adopted them. Still others drifted toward the English settlements, where they were ultimately absorbed into the general population. By the early 2000s the Haliwa-Saponi tribe was a small, state-recognized tribe with headquarters in the town of Hollister in Halifax County.

References:

James H. Merrell, The Indians' New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal (1989).

Douglas L. Rights, The American Indian in North Carolina (2nd ed., 1957).

 

Comments

Comment: 

I'm trying to find information regarding a few surnames in Virginia. One of my great aunts told me that the family was "Blackfoot". Her sister told me we are Cherokee. I did research on the area where my family (maternal line) came from and came across the Saponi. The surnames are Johnson (Campbell County), Pannell (Halifax County), Bennett (Campbell County) and Tinsley (Lynchburg). Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Comment: 

I have been trying to find info on my gggrandmother who may have been Saponi. Her name was America Combs ( or Collins). She may have been married to Sander Vardy. I have always been told I had Native American in my blood line but can’t find any info.

Any help would be much appreciated.

Comment: 

Hello, 

I am sending your question to our reference librarians who can assist you. 

Thanks, 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

I am searching for my family's identity. I was told by my grandmother whose name was Mary Moore Rice and my father James Irvin Rice that we are Saponi, Cherokee and Monacan Indian which meant we were many colors. They are labeled as colored on their birth certificates. I was called "Half-breed or Issue and was labeled colored yet I have all Indian features. I know my birth certificate was changed by Walter Plecker who worked for the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Amherst County. He died in 1947.I have felt and claimed Indian as my race all my life, but have no documentation. Can anyone help me?

Comment: 

My grandfather was Saponi, Cherokee, and Monacan. Also Melungeon. He passed away last July, 2020. My ancestors fled North Carolina during Jim Crow. There were schools for whites, and schools for "blacks", I hate that. There were no schools for Indians. So my great grandparents fled to Arkansas, Texas, and then to the lands of their old friends.... the Cherokee in Oklahoma. You will never have documentation. That concept is European. Where you come from is in your soul.

Comment: 

Hi Lillie!

Thank you for your comment! That is an excellent question! I am forwarding your inquiry to our library's Reference Team so we can give you some further suggestions for your research. You should hear back from a member of our staff via e-mail soon.

Taylor Thompson, Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

Do you have any records verifying that a Thomas Helton who married Betty Helton, daughter of Beecham Helton, was actually an American Indian named Lithfuss Orlefus Creebeck? He was born about 1730, VA and lived in Surry
county North Carolina through 1800.

Comment: 

Good Day,
I hope someone can possible help me, i'am doing my children family history an
they father is a Holder, appoint doing the research on the family tree it has lead me to this, i hope someone can help me .

Comment: 

Hello, 

I have passed your question the reference staff at our library. You should hear back soon via email. 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

Looking for Ruth Russell Bullock...married Louis Bullock...gave birth to Nellie...around 1910...Warren County...trying to trace Nellie who married Collie Wyche, from Oxford,NC

So hard to research records...

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