The Occaneechi Indians

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The history of the Occaneechi is so closely interwoven with that of the Saponi and Tutelo that little remains to be said of them as a distinct tribe. Their history begins with Lederer’s journey in 1670. After leaving the Saponi, who lived then, as has been stated, on a tributary of the Staunton, he went, as he says, about 50 miles south by west of the Saponi village and thus arrived next at the “Akenatzy” village (Latin pronunciation), situated on an island in another branch of Roanoke river. His estimate of the distance is too great, as usual, and the direction was rather east than west of south of the Saponi. There can be no question of the location of the Occaneechi village, as the island retained the name long after the tribe had abandoned it. It was on the middle and largest island, just below the confluence of the Staunton and the Dan, and just above the present Clarksville, Mecklenburg County, Virginia.

He described the island as small, though having a large population, well protected by natural defenses of a swift river current on all sides, with mountains or high hills round about. The fields of the Indians were on the northern bank of the river, and they raised immense crops of corn, having always on hand a year’s supply of provisions as a reserve in case of attack by hostile tribes. They were governed by two chiefs, one presiding in war, the other having charge of their hunting and agriculture. They held all property in common. Ceremonial feasting was an important feature of their daily life, each man in turn feasting his friends, the giver of the feast having the seat of honor between the two chiefs during the entertainment. Their tribal totem was a serpent.

Here Lederer met four strangers from a tribe living at two months’ distance northwestward, being all that survived of a party of 50 who had started to visit the Occaneechi, the rest having been drowned in crossing a great water or having died later from hunger and exposure on the journey. While Lederer was stopping here six Rickohockan (Cherokee) also came down from the mountains farther westward to visit the Occaneechi, perhaps to arrange a treaty of peace between the two tribes. They were received with great show of friendship and a dance was arranged in their honor that night, but in the midst of the festivities the false Occaneechi suddenly darkened the place by means of smoke and murdered all the Rickohockan. This act of bloody treachery so frightened the traveler that he left secretly with his Indian companion and went on to the Oenock (Eno) territory1) .

It must have been shortly after the expedition of Batts in 1671 that the Saponi and Tutelo moved in and joined the Occaneechi, the Saponi fixing on an island just below and the Tutelo on another island just above the Occaneechi. From all accounts of the early travelers it must have been an ideal place for Indian settlement, with rich soil and fine, timber on all three islands, and well-defended from enemies by the river and from storms by the hills. Situated at the confluence of two large rivers, midway between the mountains and the sea, and between the tribes of Virginia and Carolina, the Occaneechi were an important people, if not a numerous one, and their island was the great trading mart, according to a writer of this period, “for all the Indians for at least 500 miles”2 . Their language was the general trade language for all the tribes of that region – as Algonkin was in the north, as Mobilian was in the gulf states, and as Comanche is in the southern prairies – and was used by the medicine-men of the various tribes in all their sacred ceremonies, as Latin is by the priests of the Catholic church3) .

But their wealth proved their destruction. In 1676 the Susquehanna (Conestoga), who had been driven out from the head of Chesapeake Bay by the combined attacks of the Iroquois and some English of Maryland and Virginia, fled to the Occaneechi, with whom they had long been on friendly terms. They were received by the latter, but repaid the hospitality by endeavoring to dispossess their hosts. The result was a battle through while it the Susquehanna were driven out of the island. At this juncture, in May, 1676, Bacon with 200 Virginians came up in pursuit of the Susquehanna and engaged the assistance of the Occaneechi against their late ungrateful friends. The Occaneechi joined forces with the whites, and in the next encounter killed the Susquehanna chief and took a number of prisoners. The Virginians, however, had seen the rich stores of beaver skins in the village, and with a treachery equal to that of any savages, after having defeated the Susquehanna they turned upon the friendly Occaneechi. Over 50 of the Indians were killed, a terrible loss for an Indian tribe, but the Virginians were unable to force the palisades and were finally obliged to retire with considerable loss after a desperate battle, lasting the whole day4 .

Although the Occaneechi had beaten off the Virginians, they felt themselves no longer secure in the vicinity of such treacherous neighbors, while their heavy loss rendered them less able to meet the increasing fury of the Iroquois attacks. It is probable also that they shared the general Indian dislike to remain in a location where their friends had died. They abandoned their beautiful island home and fled southward into Carolina. Nearly sixty years later some of the peach trees they had planted were still remaining in the old fields on the island5 .

Twenty-five years later (in 1701) Lawson found them pleasantly situated in a village on Eno river, about the present Hillsboro in Orange county, North Carolina, on the line of the great trading path to the Catawba already mentioned (the Occaneeche hills at this place still preserve their name). They were well supplied with provision of game, and received the traveler kindly, in spite of their former experience of the English. They were on good terms with all the neighboring tribes and had some little trade with the Tuskarora living lower down the Neuse, who were jealous of their dealings with the white traders. At this time they were much wasted and were consolidating with the other reduced tribes and moving in toward the settlements for greater security. Later on they combined with the Saponi, Tutelo, and others, the whole body numbering only about 750 souls6 .

They are next known (in 1722) as living in connection with the tribes just named at Fort Christanna, when Governor Spotswood made peace in their behalf with the Iroquois7 . Another incidental mention is made8 of one of the tribe in the same neighborhood in 1729 (for 1728). This seems to be their last appearance in history. Their separate identity was lost and the remnant probably moved northward later on with the Saponi and Tutelo into Pennsylvania and afterward into New York. The last clue to their ultimate fate is contained in the statement made to Hale by the sole surviving Tutelo in 1870 that when he was a boy, probably just before the Revolution, the Saponi and “Patshenins,” or Botshenins ” were living with his people, who were then located near the Cayuga tribe in New York. Although Hale did not inquire as to the language of these Patshenin, he is inclined to identify them with the Occaneechi9 , and from all the circumstances this seems a probable supposition. If this be true, and they are still in existence (they are not with the Six Nations in Canada), they must be with the Cayuga still on a reservation in the state of New York.

Occaneechi Synonymy

Acconeechy.-Map of 1715; Winsor, History of America, 1887, vol. v, p. 346.
Achonechos.-Lawson (1714), History of Carolina, reprint 1860, p. 384.
Achonechy.-Ibid., p. 93.
Aconeche.-Moll map, 1720.
Aconichi.-Alcedo, Diccionario Geog., 1786, vol. i, p. 19.
Acoonedy.-Vaugondy map, Partie de l’Amérique Septentrionale, 1755 (misprint).
Akenatzy.-Lederer, Discoveries, 1672, p. 2 (Latin pronunciation).
Akonichi.-Lotter map, about 1770.
Botshenins.-Hale, Proc. Am. Phil. Soc., 1883-84, vol. xxi, p. 10 (same? Tutelo form).
Ocameches: -Drake, Aboriginal Races, 1880, vol. ix (misprint).
Occaanechy. -Byrd (1728), Dividing Line, 1866, vol, i, p. 190.
Oceaneches.-Ibid., p.188.
Occaneeches.-Beverley, History of Virginia, 1722, p. 161.
Oceaneechy.-Byrd, Dividing Line, op. cit., vol. ii, p. 8.
Ochineeches.-Albany Conference (1722) in New York Col. Does., 1855, vol. v, p. 663.
Ockinagee.-An anonymous writer of 1676; Mass. Hist. Soc. Coils., 4th series, 1871, vol. ix, p. 167.
Okenechee.-Batts (1671) in New York Col. Does., 1853, vol. iii, p.193.
Oseameche.-Domenech, Deserts of North America, 1860, vol. i, p. 442 (misprint).
Patshenins.-Hale, Proc. Am. Phil. Soc., 1883-84, vol. xxi, p. 10 (same? Tutelo form).

Footnotes

  1. Lederer, John. The discoveries of John Lederer, in three several marches from Virginia to the west of Carolina, and other parts of the continent. Begun in March, 1669, and ended in September, 1670. Together with a general map of the whole territory which he traversed. Collected and translated out of Latin from his discourse and writings, by Sir William Talbot, baronet, etc. London, etc. 1672, pp. 4, 13-14. Map and 33 pages. (Copy in Library of Congress. 

  2. Massachusetts. Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Anonymous writer of 1676, pp. 167-8. 1st series, vol. x, Boston, 1809; 4th series, vol. ix, Boston, 1871. 

  3. Beverley, Robert. History of Virginia, in four parts, etc. By a native and inhabitant of the place, p. 161 and 171. Second edition, revised and enlarges by the author. london, 1722. (Copy in Library of Congress. 

  4. Massachusetts, op. cit. 

  5. Byrd, William. History of the dividing line between Virginia and North Carolina, as run in 1728-’29, vol. ii, p. 5. Richmond, 1866. 2 volumes. 

  6. Lawson, John. The history of Carolina, containing the exact description and natural history of that country, etc., pp. 95, 96, 101, 384. (Reprint from the London edition of 1714.) Raleigh, 1860. 

  7. New York. Documents relative to the colonial history of the state of New York. Procured in Holland, England, and France, by John Romeyn Brodhead, etc. Edited by E. B. O’Callaghan, Albany conference of 1722, vol. v, p. 673. Albany, 1856-’77. 12 vols. 

  8. Byrd, op. cit., vol. i, p. 190. 

  9. Hale, Horatio. The Tutelo tribe and language: Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. xxi, No. 114, p. 10. Philadelphia, 1883. 



MLA Source Citation:

Mooney, James. Siouan Tribes of the East. Bulletin 22. Washington: Bureau of Ethnology. 1894. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 15 September 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/the-occaneechi-indians.htm - Last updated on Aug 10th, 2014


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