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When the French and English established their first permanent settlement in America they found the whole country in possession of numerous aboriginal tribes, some large and powerful, others restricted to a single village and its environs. The variety of languages and dialects at first appeared to be well-nigh infinite; but on further acquaintance it was discovered that these were easily reducible to a few primary stocks.
Excluding the Eskimo along the northern coast, the first great group comprised the tribes of the Algonquian stock, whose territory on a linguistic map appears like a large triangle, extending on the north from the Atlantic to the Rocky mountains, but gradually narrowing southward until it dwindles to a mere coast strip in Virginia and North Carolina, and finally ends about the mouth of Neuse river.
The territory of the next great group, comprising the tribes of the Iroquoian stock, either lay within or bordered on the Algonquian area. Around Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and stretching to a considerable distance inland on either side, were the Iroquois proper, the Huron or Wyandot, and several other closely connected_ tribes; on the lower Susquehanna were the Conestoga or Susquehanna, and their allies; on Nottoway and Meherrin rivers, in Virginia, were tribes bearing the names of those streams, and on the lower Neuse, in North Carolina, were the Tuskarora; while on the southwest, in the fastnesses of the southern Alleghanies, were the Cherokee, whose territory extended far into the gulf states. Although the territories held by the several Iroquoian tribes were not all contiguous, the languages, with the exception of that of the Cherokee, which presents marked differences, are so closely related as to indicate a comparatively recent separation.
The country southwest of the Savannah was held chiefly by tribes of the Muskhogean stock, occupying the greater portion of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, with parts of Tennessee and Florida. West of all these tribes was the territory of the great Siouan or Dakotan stock, extending in a general way from the Mississippi to the Rocky mountains and from the Saskatchewan to the Arkansas. With the tribes farther westward and southward the present paper is not concerned.
Most of these tribes had fixed locations in permanent villages, surrounded by extensive cornfields. They were primarily agriculturists or fishermen, to whom hunting was hardly more than a pastime, and who followed the chase as a serious business only in the interval between the gathering of one crop and the planting of the next. The Siouan tribes, on the contrary, although generally cultivating the ground to a limited extent, were essentially a race of hunters, following the game – especially the buffalo – from one district to another, here today and away tomorrow. Their introduction to the horse on the prairies of the west probably served only to give wider opportunity for the indulgence of an inborn roving disposition. Nomads have short histories, and as they seldom stopped long enough in one place to become identified with it, little importance was attached to their wanderings and as little was recorded concerning them.
The position of the Algonquian and Iroquoian tribes, as the native proprietors of an immense territory claimed by two great rival European nations, rendered their friendship a matter of prime concern throughout the colonial period; and each party put forth strenuous efforts to secure their alliance against the other. As a principal means to this end, numerous missionaries were sent among them, especially by the French, to learn their languages, become familiar with their habits of living and modes of thought, and afterward to write down the facts thus gathered. There were besides among the early settlers of New England and the northern states generally a number of men of literary bent who made the Indians a subject of study, and the result is a vast body of literature on the northern tribes, covering almost every important detail of their language, habits, and history. In the south the case was otherwise. The tribes between the mountains and the sea were of but small importance politically; no sustained mission work was ever attempted among them, and there were but few literary men to take an interest in them. War, pestilence, whisky and systematic slave hunts had nearly exterminated the aboriginal occupants of the Carolinas before anybody had thought them of sufficient importance to ask who they were, how they lived, or what were their beliefs and opinions.
The region concerning which least has been known ethnologically is that extending from the Potomac to the Savannah and from the mountains to the sea, comprising most of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Of some of the tribes formerly within this area the linguistic connection has long been settled; of some others it is a matter of recent discovery; of others again it is still a matter of doubt; while some must forever remain unclassified, for the tribes have perished from the earth without leaving a word of their languages behind.
The Indians occupying the coast of Virginia, and extending as far inland as the geologic structure line marked by the falls of the principal streams, formed the Powhatan confederacy, belonging to the Algonquian stock. Adjoining them on the south were another Algonquian people, known to Raleigh’s colonists of 1585 as the Weapemeoc, and at a later date as Yeopim (Weapemeoc), Perquiman, Pasquotank, and Poteskeet, occupying that portion of North Carolina north of Albemarle sound and extending as far westward as Edenton; between Albemarle sound and Pamlico river and on the outlying islands were the Secotan of Raleigh’s time, known afterward as Mattamuskeet, Machapunga and Hatteras Indians; while the Pamlico country, between Pamlico and the estuary of Neuse river, was held by the Pamlico or Pamticough, together with the Bear River Indians, the Pomouik or Pamawaioc of Raleigh’s colonists; all these people being Algonquian. The tribes here classed as Algonquian are known to have been such from the vocabularies and isolated words of their languages given by Smith, Strachey, Lawson, and others, and from the numerous local names which they have left behind in the territory they once occupied. The Neusiok, who in 1585 lived just south of the Neuse estuary, in the extreme eastern parts of Craven and Carteret counties, in North Carolina, and who were in alliance with the Pamlico, may also have been Algonquian, this bringing the southern limit of that stock along the coast almost to Cape Lookout. The Chowanoc or Chowan, on Chowan river-chiefly on the eastern bank, contiguous to the Weapemeoc – seem also to have belonged to the same stock, judging from the half dozen names preserved by Lane.
The Iroquoian stock was represented by at least four tribes, three of which are known from vocabularies and other linguistic material. First came the Nottoway on Nottoway and Blackwater rivers in southeastern Virginia, contiguous on the north and east to the Powhatan confederacy and on the south to the Chowanoc. The name Nottoway, by which they were commonly known, signifies “snakes” or “enemies,” and was given by their neighbors, the Powhatan, being one of the generic names used by the Algonquian tribes to denote any of a different stock. Mangoac, the name by which they were known to the tribes on the sound, is another generic term used by the Algonquian tribes to designate those of Iroquoian stock, and signifies “stealthy ones.” In the north it was commonly written Mingo or Mengwe. They called themselves Chiroenhaka, a word of uncertain etymology. The fact that neither of these generic terms was ever applied to the Chowanoc is evidence that they belonged to the common Algonquian stock. Adjoining the Nottoway, and in close alliance with them, were the Meherrin, on the lower course of the river of the same name. They were a remnant of the Susquehanna or Conestoga, who had fled from the north on the disruption of that tribe, about 1675. On the lower Neuse and its tributaries, the Contentnea and the Trent, and extending up about as far as the present site of Raleigh, were the Tuskarora, the most important tribe of North Carolina east of the mountains. Before they rose against the whites in 1711 they were estimated at 1,200 warriors, or perhaps 5,000 souls, but their terrible losses in the ensuing war, amounting to 400 in one battle and 1,000 in another, completely broke their power. The remnant of the hostiles abandoned their country and fled to their kindred, the Iroquois or Five Nations of New York, .by whom they were incorporated as a sixth nation. Those who had kept the peace were removed in 1717 to a reservation on the northern bank of Roanoke river in the present Bertie county, North Carolina, so that the tribe was completely extirpated from its original territory. From here they gradually removed in small parties to join their kindred in the north, and in 1790 there remained only about 60 souls on their lands in Bertie county, and these also finally withdrew a few years later. The fourth Iroquoian tribe was the powerful Cherokee nation, occupying all of North Carolina and Virginia west of the Blue Ridge, as far north at least, according to their tradition, as the Peaks of Otter, near the headwaters of James River, together with the upper portion of South Carolina and the mountain section of Georgia and Tennessee. The Coree, on the coast lands south of the Neuse, also may have been a tribe of the same stock.
Farther southward were the Catawba, who had their settlements about the river of the same name, just below the border line between North Carolina and South Carolina, ranging upward to the hunting grounds of the Cherokee, their inveterate enemies. When first known they were estimated at 1,500 fighting men, or at least 6,000 souls, but so rapid was their decline that in 1743, according to Adair, they were reduced to less than 400 warriors, and among these were included the broken remnants of more than twenty smaller tribes, which had taken refuge with their more powerful neighbors, but still retained their distinct dialects. Adair enumerates several of these incorporated tribes, but the mere fact of such an alliance proves nothing as to linguistic affinities. A few Catawba still remain on a reservation in South Carolina, and recent investigation among them has proved conclusively that they are of Siouan stock. Closely related to them linguistically were the Woccon, occupying a small territory in the fork of Neuse and Contentnea rivers, in and adjoining the more numerous Tuskarora. Although at one time a considerable, tribe, they seem to have disappeared suddenly and completely soon after the Tuskarora war. If not absorbed by the Tuskarora they probably removed to the south and were incorporated with the Catawba.
Turning now from the tribes whose affinities are thus well known, it will be found, by referring to the map, that we have still to account for a large central area. In Virginia this territory includes all west of a line drawn through Richmond and Fredericksburg, up to the Blue Ridge, or about one-half the area of the state. In North Carolina it includes the basins of the Roanoke, the Tar, the Cape Fear, the Yadkin, and the upper Catawba rivers, comprising more than two-thirds of the area of that state. In South Carolina it comprises nearly the whole central and eastern portion. In the three states the territory in question comprises an area of about 70,000 square miles, formerly occupied by about forty different tribes.
Who were the Indians of this central area? For a long time the question was ignored by ethnologists, and it was implicitly assumed that they were like their neighbors, Iroquoian or Algonquian in the north and “Catawban ” in the south. It was never hinted that they might be anything different, and still less was it supposed that they would prove to be a part of the great Siouan or Dakotan family, whose nearest known representatives were beyond the Mississippi or about the upper lakes, nearly a thousand miles away. Yet the fact is now established that some at least of those tribes, and these the most important; were of that race of hunters, while the apparently older dialectic forms to be met with in the east, the identification of the Biloxi near Mobile as a part of the same stock, and the concurrent testimony of the Siouan tribes themselves to the effect that they had come from the east, all now render it extremely probable that the original home of the Siouan race was not on the prairies of the west but amidst the eastern foothills of the southern Alleghanies, or at least as far eastward as the upper Ohio region. Some years ago the author’s investigations led him to suspect that such might yet prove to be the case, and in a paper on the Indian tribes of the District of Columbia, read before the Anthropological Society of Washington in 1889 (American Anthropologist, 1889, p. 261) he expressed this opinion.