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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.


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).





Looking to verify relatives claim to be in the bloodline of Hannah Honor Love. My G grandmother was Martha Alice Hollifield who appears to come from Loves daughter, Mary Valentine Austin side. Any help?


Related to Hannah Honor Love also. Married to John Austin. my ancestor is Lucinda Austin (1725 - 1790)


I second what Dr. Tia Buchanan has said about how the head of vital statistics in Va., Walter Plecker, forced all birth certificate information essentially into only 2 categories, white and non-white. I discovered this when I was researching the Monacan Indians who I used to see as a child. With respect to Native Americans, I found that Plecker took a personal interest in 2 tribes, the Pamunkey (the tribe of Powhatan and Pocahontas in early Va.); and the Monacan tribe many of whom were still living in Amherst and Rockbridge counties of Va. Plecker was said to come to hospitals in Amherst and Rockbridge to review and change birth related documents. For a quick lesson on this, go to Walter Plecker on Wikipedia. Many other sources are also available.


I am a direct descendent of the Saponi Indian John Valentine born 1721. Now what?


I am looking for my family who were supposed to be Saponi. The last name was Hicks. They were taken with my other grandma Rebecca Bunch. Also Saponi. Their originial last names were supposed to be hicks or hill. Her name is Nancy E Hicks she comes from the bunch/porter families


Hello couz! You’re probably having trouble finding your Hicks ancestors because most Native Hicks had a spelling of Hix or Hicks. More specifically, you’re probably looking for Chief Robert (Robin) Hicks (1700-1735).

If you Google that name and birthdate, you will find the Native Hicks line.


I recently got my results back and Hannah Honor Love is my 5th grandmother on my dad's side, through Stephen Austin. I have looked her up and there seems to be a lot of information out there but none that really seems to tell me anything about her and her family's involvement in the Saponi Tribe. Being from NC, my family and I would really love more information if anyone can pass it along. Thanks!


I just got my results back and she is my 9th great grandmother down the same line to Boswell and I came across your question while also try to research that's crazy stuff so we are related somehow I'm glad that I'm not the only one racking their brain trying to connect all the dots



Thanks for visiting NCpedia and asking your question.

I am forwarding your query to our Reference services who can assist you:

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library


I have recently traced back my lineage and found out that my family comes from the Saponi tribe in VA for generations. When I first looked I encountered generation after generation listed as "Mulatto" and I found it strange. I believed that mulatto meant you had one black parent and one white. And if this was the case why would it say Mulatto for generation after generation? Well I did my homework on Native history, learned about paper genocide and the recategorization of the Indians who did not wish to live on the reservation to Mulatto and eventually Negro. My grandmother told me stories of her mom having long straight hair past her waist... How can I go about claiming my identity and joining my fellow Saponi members? I saw an application of the Occaneechi-Saponi of NC. But none associated with VA. Funny enough on my fathers side I have traced back his side to the Occaneechi tribe in NC and I am sure I can submit an application based off of his lineage. However. my mom is so happy and excited to claim her(our) heritage and I don't want to let her down!! Any suggestions?

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