Saponi Indians. 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.
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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, Virginia. 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, Virginia. Lawson, who visited these Indians in 1701, found them dwelling on Yadkin River, North Carolina, 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, North Carolina. 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, Virginia. The name of Sappony creek, in Dinwiddie County, dating back 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, New York. 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, New York, after which they disappear from history.
For Further Study
The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on the Saponi as both an ethnological study, and as a people.
- Consult Mooney, Siouan Tribes of the East, Bull. B. A. E., 1894.
- Consult Bushnell in Am. Anthr., ix, 45-46, 1907.
- See Tutelo Tribe