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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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Saura Indians

by Lindley S. Butler, 2006

"Lower Saura Town", NC Historical Marker. Image courtesy of the NC Office of Archives & History, Marker: J-44. The Saura Indians, also known as the Cheraw, were one of a number of small Siouan tribes in the colonial backcountry (the modern-day Piedmont) of North Carolina. The ancestors of the Saura are believed to have migrated to the region many centuries prior to European contact, which first occurred with the sixteenth-century Spanish incursions into the Southeast. Hernando De Soto's expedition entered Saura country in 1540, and in 1566 Juan Pardo left a garrison commanded by Hernando Moyano in the Indian town of Joara, which may have been located on the upper Catawba River. Probably because of the Spanish intrusions, the Saura moved northeast across the Piedmont to settle in the Dan River Valley on the Virginia line by the early seventeenth century, establishing at least two large village complexes, Upper Sauratown and Lower Sauratown.

Upper Sauratown was on the west bank of the Dan River north of Town Fork Creek, and Lower Sauratown was on the south bank just below the confluence of the Dan and Smith Rivers. The towns were occupied in the second quarter of the seventeenth century and were abandoned in the early eighteenth century. While surveying his "Land of Eden" grant in North Carolina in 1733, William Byrd of Virginia visited the location of the former Lower Sauratown. The towns' names appear on the 1751 Fry-Jefferson map of Virginia and on the 1770 John Collet map of North Carolina. In the late eighteenth century, Lower Sauratown was a small frontier settlement and a plantation site. In the twentieth century the two town sites became important sources of archaeological information, with excavations beginning in 1938 and continuing into the 1970s and 1980s.

German explorer John Lederer, moving south from Virginia, visited the Saura in 1670. Three years later the Saura were encountered by Virginia Indian traders James Needham and Gabriel Arthur, the latter of whom returned to a Saura village in 1674. By the early eighteenth century the dwindling tribe, decimated by epidemic diseases, moved south to unite with the Keyauwee in the Yadkin-Pee Dee River Valley in South Carolina. Their village was situated near the present town of Wallace, S.C.

Some Sauras joined Col. John Barnwell's expedition against the Tuscarora in 1711-12 but did not complete the campaign. After the close of the Yamassee War, a 1715 South Carolina census numbered the Saura at 510 people settled near the North Carolina-South Carolina border (adjacent to modern-day Anson and Richmond Counties). That same year the Saura, who were trading with Virginians, were involved in raids against settlers, but by 1718 it appears they were at peace with the South Carolinians. Approximately three-quarters of the greatly reduced Saura, now known as the Cheraw, eventually went west to join the Catawba Nation, although they maintained much autonomy and political independence. The Cheraws who remained on settlements in the east along Drowning Creek (the modern-day Lumber River) are believed by some historians to have given rise to the Lumbee tribe.

After devastating smallpox epidemics struck the Catawba and their satellites in the late eighteenth century, the Cheraw as a separate tribe disappeared from history. Their name is perpetuated in the Sauratown Mountains of Stokes County and in the town of Cheraw, S.C.

Additional information from NCpedia editors at the State Library of North Carolina: : 

Although historians and archaeologists believe that the historical Saura tribe became extinct, with some members absorbed into the Catawba and others into what became the Lumbee Tribe, today there are many individuals and communities who trace their heritage to the historical Saura tribe and who identify themselves as descedants of the Saura.

-- Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library

References:

Lindley S. Butler, Rockingham County: A Brief History (1982).

Richard A. Seybert, "'Curiosities Worthy a Nice Observation': Archaeological Investigations of Siouan Village Sites in the Dan River Drainage," Journal of Rockingham County History and Genealogy 15 (June 1990).

Seybert, "A History Unwritten: The Colonial Period Saura Indians of the Carolina Piedmont," Journal of Rockingham County History and Genealogy 13 (December 1988).

Ruth Y. Wetmore, First on the Land: The North Carolina Indians (1975).

Additional Resources:

Lower Saura Town: https://www.ncdcr.gov/about/history/division-historical-resources/nc-hig...

Image Credit:

"Lower Saura Town", NC Historical Marker. Image courtesy of the NC Office of Archives & History, Marker: J-44. Available from https://www.ncdcr.gov/about/history/division-historical-resources/nc-hig....

Origin - location: 

Comments

Comment: 

There seem to be those who claim that the Saura Indians were Siouan without any scientific or historical basis for this assumption. In 1948, Virginia archeaologists wrote reports about the Cornett and Martin sites in Virginia which stated that they were the same peoples as those on the Dan and Mayo River sites(Saura). Furthermore, they stated that the sites were from the Mississippian culture. No prior Mississippian culture has ever been connected to the Siouan language and culture. Suggestions otherwise and contrary to archeaology, should be taken with a grain of salt. Also, I have never actually seen any documents or arcaeology to indicate that the Cheraw are related to Saura. I never rule anything out until proven, but neither do I jump on unproven bandwagons.

Comment: 

Is it possible that some Saura Indians also absorbed with the Germans, Scots and English and assimilated into the European culture?

Comment: 

Hello, 

Yes, that could be possible, but due to the time frame, it would be very difficult to find any proof of that due to lack of records from that time. 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

I am from the Lumbee Tribe of N.C. The shame of this situation is that "NO" archaeological digs have ever been conducted along the Drowning Creek/Lumber River area from which the Lumbee Tribe currently resides. Drill cores have been dug for "FUTURE" archaeological dig sites. But, that was many, many, many moons ago. I will not give locations but there are locations on the river not very far from the S.C. line, where arrowheads are found in abundance, sometimes with no digging.

As for the Saura Tribe, if they were absorbed into other tribes for whatever reasons, then the word extinct should not be used. If the word extinct is referring to the word tribe, Merriam Webster defines the word tribe as, Definition of a tribe:
1a: a social group comprising numerous families, clans, or generations together with slaves, dependents, or adopted strangers.
If the "THINKING or BELIEF", which by the scientific method would be called a "Hypothesis", which means an "Experiment" has to be conducted to prove the Hypothesis. In N.C. this definitely, has not been done. So, and I quote:

"Although historians and archaeologists believe that the historical Saura tribe became extinct, with some members absorbed into the Catawba and others into what became the Lumbee Tribe, today there are many individuals and communities who trace their heritage to the historical Saura tribe and who identify themselves as descedants of the Saura." -- Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library

So, in conclusion, The word "Disbanded" would be more appropriate than extinct. Extinct, means no longer existing. You think or believe that but can not prove it. The word extinct is a very powerful word. This word is what early Europeans strived to achieve. So, until the Scientific Method can be applied to your hypothesis, then quotes from above should not be made. Speaking for myself and not my tribe, I think you would be more than welcome to perform your experiments (archaeological digs/high-accuracy aerial photography and LiDAR) to prove either way. An "Educated Guess" is still a guess. That's not how science works. Thank you for your time.

Gary Roller/Lumbee Tribe

Comment: 

Hello I am malaya sabar from india.
I from saura tribe . Here we have a big community of saura community.
Please replay me

Comment: 

Thank you for taking the time to leave your comment! If you check the end of the article, you will see that many think the Saura are extinct. 

Best, 
Kelly Eubank, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

A very great article overall. I have a little nitpick. From my own readings and I'll find the references when I get home but if I recall correctly, the Saura left their holdings in the upper Catawba River/ Pee Dee River Valley because of consistent raiding by the Cherokee, not the Spanish intrusions into the region. The Spaniards had neither the resources or manpower the assert any kind of military dominance in the region.

Comment: 

Dear Ian,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and giving us feedback. Unfortunately, we are unable to make changes to this article since it is copyrighted by UNC Press.

Francesca Evans, Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

I was interested in all the information for this tribe.I am from the Cheraw sc area along with all my ancestors.have been seeking information on the Rivers or Liles name any help would be so appreciated

Comment: 

I'm wondering if you can clarify the statement at the end of this piece, in the update, that says "the historical Saura tribe became extinct, with some members absorbed into the Catawba and Cheraw tribes." All of the readily available sources simply equate Saura and Cheraw; I would love to know what the historical/archaeological basis is for separating the two, and to learn more about this distinction. Could you point me in the right direction? Thank you!

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