Saponi Indian Tribe
Saponi. One of the eastern Siouan
tribes, formerly living in North Carolina and Virginia, but now extinct.
The tribal name was occasionally applied to the whole group of Ft
Christanna tribes, also occasionally included under Tutelo. That this
tribe belonged to the Siouan stock has been placed beyond doubt by the
investigations of Hale and Mooney. Their language appears to have been the
same as the Tutelo to the extent that the people of the two tribes could
readily understand each other. Mooney has shown that the few Saponi words
recorded are Siouan.
Lederer mentions a war in which the Saponi seem to have
been engaged with the Virginia settlers as early as 1654-56, the time of
the attack by the Cherokee, probably in alliance with them. The first
positive notice is by Lederer (1670), who informs us that he stopped a few
days at Sapon, a town of the Tutelo
confederacy, situated on a tributary of the upper Roanoke. This village
was apparently on Otter river, southwest of Lynchburg, Va. Pintahae is
mentioned also as another of their villages near by. It is evident that
the Saponi and Tutelo were living at that time in close and apparently
confederated relation. In 1671 they were visited by Thomas Batts and
others accompanied by two Indian guides. After traveling nearly due west
from the mouth of the Appomattox about 140 miles, they came to Sapong, or
Saponys, town. Having been harassed by the Iroquois in this locality, the
Saponi and Tutelo at a later date removed to the junction of Staunton and
Dan rivers, where they settled near the Occaneechi, each tribe occupying
an island in the Roanoke in what is now Mecklenburg county, Va. Lawson,
who visited these Indians in 1701, found them dwelling on Yadkin river, N.
C., near the present site of Salisbury, having removed to the south to
escape the attacks of their enemies. Byrd (1729) remarks: "They dwelt
formerly not far below the mountains, upon Yadkin river, about 200 miles
west and by south from the falls of Roanoak. But about 25 years ago they
took refuge in Virginia, being no longer in condition to make head not
only against the northern Indians, who are their implacable enemies, but
also against most of those to the south. All the nations round about,
bearing in mind the havock these Indians used formerly to make among their
ancestors in the insolence of their power, did at length avenge it home
upon them, and made them glad to apply to this Government for protection."
Soon after Lawson's visit in 1701 the Saponi and Tutelo
left their villages on the Yadkin and moved in toward the settlements,
being joined on the way by the Occaneechi and their allied tribes.
Together they crossed the Roanoke, evidently before the Tuscarora war of
1711, and made a new settlement, called Sapona Town, a short distance east
of that river and 15 miles west of the present Windsor, Bertie county, N.
C. Soon after this they and other allied tribes were located by Gov.
Spotswood near Ft Christanna, 10 miles north of Roanoke river, about the
present Gholsonville, Brunswick county, Va. The name of Sappony creek, in
Dinwiddie county, dating hack at least to 1733, indicates that they
sometimes extended their excursions north of Nottoway river. Their abode
here was not one of quiet, as they were at war with neighboring tribes or
their old enemies, the Iroquois. By the treaty at Albany (1722) peace was
declared between the northern Indians and the Virginia and Carolina
tribes, the Blue Ridge and the Potomac being the boundary line.
Probably about 1740 the Saponi and Tutelo went
north, stopping for a time at Shamokin, in Pennsylvania, about the site of
Sunbury, where they and other Indians were visited by the missionary David
Brainard in 1745. In 1753 the Cayuga formally adopted the Saponi and
Tutelo, who thus became a part of the Six Nations, though all had not then
removed to New York. In 1765 the Saponi are mentioned as having 30
warriors living at Tioga, about Sayre, Pa., and other villages on the
northern branches of the Susquehanna. A part remained here until 1778, but
in 1771 the principal portion had their village in the territory of the
Cayuga, about 2 miles south of what is now Ithaca, N. Y. When the Tutelo
fled to Canada, soon after 1770, they parted with the Saponi (Hale was
informed by the last of the Tutelo) at Niagara, but what became of them
afterward is not known. It appears, however, from a treaty made with the
Cayuga at Albany in 1780 that a remnant was still living with this tribe
on Seneca river in Seneca county, N. Y., after which they disappear from
Consult Mooney, Siouan Tribes of the East, Bull.
B. A. E., 1894; Bushnell in Am. Anthr., ix, 45-46, 1907.
Index of Tribes or Nations