The Sara Indians

Search Fold3 for your
Native American Records

While we know nothing positively as to the linguistic affinity of the Sara, all the evidence goes to show that, like most of the tribes of the central region of Virginia and Carolina, they were of Siouan stock. Their name is probably from the Catawba word sara, signifying a place of “tall grass or weeds” (Gatschet). While the Siouan tribes treated in the foregoing consolidated, after their decline, and joined the Iroquois in the north, most of the remaining people of that stock, including the Sara, migrated southward and merged with the Catawba tribe in South Carolina.

The history of the Sara goes back to the earliest Spanish period. In 1540 De Soto, after leaving Cofachiqui (identified as Silver bluff on the Savannah, in Barnwell county, South Carolina), advanced along the border of the Chalaque (Cherokee) country, meeting several small villages of that tribe, and after traveling through a pleasant country for about 50 leagues, equal to about 150 miles, reached the province of “Xuala.” (In writing Indian names the early Spanish authors used x as the equivalent of sh; Xuala of the Spaniards is Suala of Lederer, Suali of the Cherokee, and Saura and Cheraw of later writers.) From the narrative of Garcilaso the Sara must then have lived in the Piedmont Region about the present line between South Carolina and North Carolina, southeast of Asheville, North Carolina. On the De l’Isle map “Chouala” is marked west of the upper Santee. From personal investigation among the Cherokee I learn that the correct name of the Swannanoa gap through the Blue Ridge, east of Asheville, is Suwali-Nunnahi, or “Stiwali trail,” that being the pass through which ran the trail from the Cherokee to the Suwali, or Ani-Suwali, living east of the mountains. The name of the Suwali tribe is still familiar to the Cherokee yet living in North Carolina. Lederer in his narrative states that the tribe, which he usually calls Sara, was called Suala, Sualy, or Sasa in the “Warren-Nuncock ” dialect[1]. The interchange of l and r, it may be remarked, is one of the most common in Indian dialects.

Garcilaso in 1540 describes the village of Xuala as situated on the slope of a ridge in a pleasant hilly region, rich in corn and all the other vegetables of the country. In front of the village flowed a swift stream which formed the boundary between the Xuala tribe and that of Cofachiqui. This may have been either Broad river or the Pacolet. Both tribes are said to have been subject to the same queen, which, if true, would indicate that the Cofachiqui were perhaps of kindred stock and that even at this early period there was a close connection among the tribes which long afterward consolidated under the single name of the Catawba. After stopping here five days the Spaniards journeyed through a country of mountains and swift small streams into Guachule and thence down into Georgia. From the length of their stay it is evident that this first meeting between the Sara and the white race was a friendly one[2].

That the Sara were an important tribe is evident from the persistence of the name to a very late period. As they lay so far remote from the settlements and rather back from the general route of the traders, little was known of them by English settlers and travelers until after their removal into eastern South Carolina. It would probably be found, however, if the records could be searched, that De Soto was not the only Spanish leader who explored the country in search of gold in the early days of the colonization period. It was the jealous policy of the Spanish government to keep the knowledge of such expeditions a secret; but from the vivid traditions still retained by the Cherokee of North Carolina, as recounted to the author, it is evident that the Spaniards made many expeditions into the mountains and carried on mining operations in different places during the period of their occupancy of Florida and the adjacent coast of Georgia and South Carolina.

The next visit to the Sara of which records are known was 130 years later than De Soto. In 1670 Lederer, after passing successively through the territories of the Saponi, Occaneechi, Eno, Shoccoree, and Wateree arrived among the Sara. He describes their village as being near the mountains, which at this point became lower and turned from their general southward or southwestward direction and veered westward. As the tribes next met by him were the Waxhaw and Catawba, it is evident that he found the Sara about where De Soto had found them in 1540. He states that the neighboring mountains were called Sara, which the Spaniards made Suala – another evidence of Spanish presence in this upper region. Beyond the mountains, west and north of the Sara, lived the Rickohockan (Cherokee). From these mountains the Sara got quantities of cinnabar, which they used as paint. They had also cakes of white salt. As the Cherokee and gulf tribes generally used no salt, and no considerable salt deposits were found in their country, it is probable that the Sara obtained their supply from the Mohetan or some other tribe farther northward. Lederer made no long stay with the tribe, perhaps, as already stated, on account of having become involved in a dispute with a youthful savage, who attempted to shoot the traveler’s horse and when prevented turned his attentions to the traveler himself[3].

Sometime after this the Sara removed northward and settled on Dan River. This removal may have been due to the incursions of the Spaniards, as a document of 1654 indicates that the Eno, living then in central North Carolina, were doing their utmost to check the northern advance of the Spaniards[4]. As early as 1673, and perhaps earlier, the Sara had acquaintance with English traders from Virginia[5]. Their village was on the southern bank of the Dan, shortly below the entrance of Irvin (Smith) river from the opposite side, and about due north of the present Wentworth in Rockingham County, North Carolina. Their fields extended along both banks of the river for several miles below the village. Byrd, who visited the site in 1733, thus describes it:

It must have been a great misfortune to them to be oblig’d to abandon so beautiful a dwelling, where the air is wholesome, and the soil equal in fertility to any in the world. The river is about 80 yards wide, always confin’d within its lofty banks, and rolling down its waters, as sweet as milk, and as clear as crystal. There runs a charming level, of more than a mile square, that will bring forth like the lands of Egypt, without being overflow’d once a year. There is scarce a shrub in view to intercept your prospect, but grass as high as a man on horseback. Towards the woods there is a gentle ascent, till your sight is intercepted by an eminence, that overlooks the whole landskape. This sweet place is bounded to the east by a fine stream call’d Sauro creek, which running out of the Dan, and tending westerly, makes the whole a peninsula[6].

There may have been two villages occupied by the tribe in this neighborhood, as on a map of 1760 we find this spot designated as “Lower Saura Town” while about 30 miles above, on the southern side of the Dan, and between it and Town fork, is another place marked “Upper Saura Town.” This latter was on the site of the present Sauratown in Stokes County, North Carolina. The two towns thus designated, however, were white settlements.

The Sara were not met by Lawson in 1701, as they lived west of his line of travel. Shortly after this date, finding themselves no longer able to withstand the unceasing attacks of the Iroquois, they abandoned their beautiful home on the Dan and, moving southeastward, joined the Keyauwee[7]. The Eno, Shoccoree, and Adshusheer also consolidated at the same time for a similar reason, the three being thenceforth commonly known under the single name of Eno. The Saponi, Tutelo, and Occaneechi, who had joined forces about the same time, moved eastward to the neighborhood of the white settlements on Albemarle Sound, and were shortly afterward settled by Governor Spotswood at Fort Christanna in Virginia, as already stated. In 1716 he also undertook to settle the confederated Sara, Keyauwee, and Eno (probably including also the Shoccoree and Adshusheer) at Enotown, on the frontier of the Tuskarora, on the upper Neuse in North Carolina, where he intended that they should serve as a protection to the white settlements against the incursions of the hostile Tuskarora and their allies from the north, and against the hostile Yamasi and their allies, who had lately killed their traders and inaugurated a war against the whites, on the south (see Yamasee war). This plan might have been successful had it not been defeated by the vigorous protest of the two Carolina governments, which insisted that the Sara were at that moment engaged in the war against South Carolina and that the Eno and Keyauwee were probably aiding them. At the same time, by request of the southern colony, North Carolina raised a force of whites and Indians to attack the Sara themselves[8]. A few weeks later it was reported that a white man and an Indian slave had been killed on the South Carolina frontier by a party of Indians supposed to be Sara, who appeared to be well supplied with arms and ammunition. It was believed that they were some of those with whom Spotswood had lately been negotiating, and that they had obtained their supplies in Virginia; – and a letter was accordingly forwarded to the governor of that colony asking him to prohibit any trading with the Sara or any other southern tribes until they had first made peace with South Carolina. About the same time Governor Eden, of North Carolina, declared war against the Sara and made formal application to Virginia to assist in prosecuting it. To this Spotswood replied, with the concurrence of the Virginia council, that the Sara were under a treaty of friendship with Virginia, which had had the approbation of the South Carolina government; that they had come into Virginia under a promise of safety; and that in the late encounter the Carolina people had been the aggressors and had attacked the Indians without provocation. The council therefore declined to take part in a war “so unjustly begun” [9].

The war against the Sara and their allies was carried on by the two Carolina governments until the final defeat and expulsion of the Yamasi from South Carolina. Throughout this war there were frequent complaints from South Carolina that the Sara were responsible for most of the mischief done north of Santee River, and that they were endeavoring to draw the Winyaw and Waccamaw into the same alliance. Their arms and ammunition were said to be supplied from Virginia in return for skins, slaves, and goods plundered from South Carolina settlers, and it was openly charged by Carolina that Virginia encouraged these depreciations in order to monopolize the Indian trade, so that one of the South Carolina writers was moved to declare, “I heartily wish Virginia had all our Indians, so we were but secured from them ” [10].

At the close of the Yamasi war the Sara tribe, who now begin to be known as Cheraw, were located on the upper Pedee where it crosses from North Carolina into South Carolina. The adjacent district in South Carolina was for a long time known as the Cheraw precinct. According to the old maps their village at this time was on the eastern bank of the Pedee, about opposite the present Cheraw, in Marlboro County, South Carolina. In 1715 they were reported to number 510 souls[11]. This estimate, which seems too high, probably includes the Keyauwee, who still lived with or near them. According to the reports of Blount, chief of the friendly Tuskarora, they occasionally made inroads on his people and even attacked and plundered the Virginia traders[12]; but Blount’s testimony is open to suspicion, as he was constantly endeavoring to increase his importance with the whites by discovering hostile conspiracies among the other Indians. However this may be, the remaining Tuskarora in 1717 received permission to remove from the Neuse to the northern side of the Roanoke, in order to be more secure from the southern tribes. The Sara were still exposed to the attacks of the Iroquois, of which there are records so late as 1726[13], and were finally obliged to abandon their settlement and incorporate with the Catawba, who at an earlier period had been their enemies, on Catawba river, farther westward. Being a considerable tribe, however, they still preserved their separate name and dialect for a long time. They are mentioned as living with the Catawba as early as 1739[14], and their dialect is mentioned as existing distinct from that of the Catawba as late as 1743[15]. In 1751 they are again mentioned as one of the southern tribes adjoining the settlements with whom it was desired that the Iroquois should make peace[16]. In the French and Indian war they and the Catawba aided the English against the French and their allies, and in 1759 a party of 45 “Charraws,” some of whom, under their chief, King Johnny, had been in the expedition against Fort Du Quesne, brought into Charleston the scalp of a French Indian[17]. The last notice of the tribe seems to be in 1768, when we find them still living with the Catawba, but so reduced by wars and sickness that they numbered only 50 or 60 souls[18]. The Catawba and all their confederate tribes together then numbered only about 500 souls.

Sara Synonymy

Characks.- Document of 1726 in N. Y. Col. Does., 1855, vol. v, p. 793.
Charah.- Adair, Hist. Am. Inds., 1775, p. 224.
Charraws.- Glen (1751) in Gregg; Old Cheraws, 1867, p. 14.
Charrows.- Gregg, ibid., p. 1.
Chawraw.- Smyth, Tour in the United States, 1784, vol. i, p. 207.
Cheraw.- South Carolina Gazette (1739) in Gregg, Old Cheraws, p. 9.
Chouala.- De Mole map.
Chovala.- Shipp, De Soto and Florida, 1881, p. 366 (misprint).
Sara.- Lederer, Discoveries, 1672, p. 2.
Saraus.- Map of 1715 in Winsor, History of America, 1887, vol. v, p. 346.
Saraws.- Virginia Council (1716) in Col. Records of N. C., 1886, vol p 247.
Sarraws. – Document of 1715 in ibid., p. 251.
Sasa.- Lederer, Discoveries, 1672, p. 2 (form in Warrennuncock dialect).
Saura.- Vaugondy map, Partie de l’Amérique Septentrionale, 1755.
Sauro. – Byrd (1733), Hist. Dividing Line, 1866, vol. ii, p. 20.
Sawara.- Gallatin in Trans. and Colls. Am. Antiq. Soc., 1836, vol. ii, p. 86.
Sawas. – Document of 1716 in Col. Records of N. C., vol. ii, p. 246.
Sawraw.- N. C. Records, vol. ii, Document of 1716; ibid, p. 243.
Sharawas.- Note in N. Y. Col. Does., 1855, vol. v, p. 793.
Suala.- Lederer, Discoveries, 1672, p. 2 (Spanish form).
Suali.- Ani-Suali.- Mooney (Cherokee singular and plural forms).
Sualy.- Lederer, Discoveries, 1672, p. 2 (Warrennuncock form).
Swan. – Mooney (Cherokee form).
Xuala.- Garcilaso (1540) in La Florida del Inca, 1723, p. 135.
Xualla.- Elvas (1540) quoted in Shipp, De Soto and Florida, 1881, p. 366, note.
Seam. – Jefferys, French Dominions in America, 1761, pt. i, map.


   (↵ returns to text)

  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. 2. Map and 33 pages. (Copy in Library of Congress.)
  2. Garcilaso. La Florida del Inca, Historia del adelantado Hernando de Soto, etc. Escrita por el Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, etc., pp. 136-8. Madrid, 1723. (The same volume contains Barcia’s Ensayo Cronologico.
  3. Lederer, op. cit., pp. 16-17.
  4. Hawks, F. L. History of North Carolina; with maps and illustrations, etc., Yardley, 1654, vol. ii, p. 19. Third edition. Two volumes. Fayetville, N. C., vol. i, 1859, vol. ii, 1858.
  5. Byrd, William. History of the dividing line between Virginia and North Carolina, as run in 1728-’29, vol. ii, p. 23. Richmond, 1866. 2 volumes.
  6. Ibid., vol. ii, pp. 20-21.
  7. Ibid., vol. ii, p. 20.
  8. North Carolina. The Colonial Records of North Carolina, published under the supervision of the trustees of the public libraries, by order of the general assembly, North Carolina Council (1716) vol. ii, pp. 242-3. Collected and edited by William L. Saunders, secretary of state. 10 vols. Raleigh, 1886-1890.
  9. North Carolina, op. cit., N. C. and Va. councils (1716) vol. ii, pp. 246-7.
  10. North Carolina, op. cit., Letters of 1715, vol. ii, pp. 251-3.
  11. Rivers, W. J. A Sketch of the History of South Carolina to the Revolution of 1719, with an appendix, p. 38. Charleston, 1856.
  12. North Carolina, op. cit., Document of 1717, vol. ii, pp. 288-9.
  13. 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 1726, vol. v, p. 793. Albany, 1856-’77. 12 vols.
  14. Gregg, Alexander. History of the old Cheraws, containing an account of the aborigines of the Pedee, the first white settlements, etc., extending from about A. D. 1730 to 1810, with notices of families and sketches of individuals; South Carolina Gazette (1739) quoted p. 9. New York, 1867.
  15. Adair, James. The history of the American Indians, particularly those nations adjoining to the Mississippi, east and west Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina, and Virginia, etc., p. 224. London, 1775.
  16. New York, op. cit., Governor Glen (1751) vol. vi, pp. 709, 721.
  17. Gregg, op. cit., pp. 9, 16.
  18. Massachusetts. Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Potter (1768), 1st series, vol. x, p. 120. 1st series, vol. x, Boston, 1809; 4th series, vol. ix, Boston, 1871.

MLA Source Citation:

Mooney, James. Siouan Tribes of the East. Bulletin 22. Washington: Bureau of Ethnology. 1894. Web. 24 April 2014. - Last updated on Apr 23rd, 2012

Contribute to the Conversation!

Our "rules" are simple. Keep the conversation on subject and mind your manners! If this is your first time posting, we do moderate comments before we let them appear... so give us a while to get to them. Once we get to know you here, we'll remove that requirement.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Newsletter Signup

We currently provide two newsletters. Why not take both for a run?

Genealogy Update: We send out this newsletter whenever we feature a new, or significantly updated, collection or database on our website.

Circle of Nations: We send out this newsletter whenever we feature a new (or significantly updated) Native American collection or database on our website.

Once you've clicked on the Subscribe button above you'll receive an email from us requesting confirmation. You must confirm the email before you will be able to receive any newsletter.