The Saponi Indians were allied and grouped with the Eno, the Shakori, the Totera and others especially after their time settled at Fort Christanna from about 1714-1716. William Eaton was a well-known trader and he obtained land in Granville County, NC. The smaller eastern tribes were quite unsettled after Fort Christanna was closed and tried living in different locations. Eventually, all of these people were simply called the Saponi. In 1730 the group went to live with the Catawbas in South Carolina on the North Carolina border, but in 1733, they were back in Virginia again. In 1742, they returned to the Catawba, but returned a second time in 1748. During this time, the Catawba were absorbing a number of remnant tribes who were not strong enough to protect themselves. Indian numbers were dwindling due to constant warfare and disease. Unlike the English, with a new supply of colonists constantly arriving from Europe, there was no replacement mechanism for the Native people.
By 1754, William Saunders in the “Colonial Records of North Carolina” report that a group of 30-40 Saponi had settled on the lands of William Eaton in Granville County, NC.
As luck would have it, Janet Crain discovered the “Muster Roll of the Regiment of Granville County under the command of Colonel William Eaton as taken as a general muster of the said Regiment October 8, 1754.”
On that list are several surnames that are recognizable as families associated with Native heritage such as Harris, Chavers, Alford, Cade, Nichols, Hedgeparth, Gowen and others. Several are also associated with Melungeon heritage such as Gowen, Mullins, Collins, Bolton (Bollin) and Moore.
However, the question is whether or not there is anything on the muster list that might identify who is Native or of Native descent, and who is not, and indeed, there is. Several people are noted at either negro or mulatto, as follows:
- Edward Harris, negro
- William Chavers, negro
- William Chavers Jun., Mul.
- Gilberth Chavers, Mulatto
- John Smith Nut Bush (I’m just going to leave this alone)
- Thomas Gowen, mulatto
- Mickael Gowen, mulatto
- Edward Gowen, mulatto
- Robert Davis, mulatto
- William Burnel, mulatto
John Smith’s note of “nut bush” could be an indication of a location. One man is noted by a creek name and one says “up the river”. Or it could possibly be an indication of a Native group association. If we exclude this individual, as he is not noted as being negro or mulatto, there are a total of 9 men “of color.” Only free people could serve in the militia, so we know these men weren’t slaves.
If each man had a wife and one child, that would be 27 people, 2 children would be 36 people and 3 children would be 45 people. This fits the 30-40 Saponi stated to have gone to live on William Eaton’s land, assuming that the 30-40 meant total people and was not a family count. Of these, the Chavers and Gowen families are known to be Lumbee as well as Tuscarora. Harris is the primary Catawba surname, although being a very common surname, may not be related. Gowen (Goins) is a Melungeon surname as well.
Perhaps, using the muster roll and the NC colonial records, together, we’ve just identified a number of Saponi families. By this time in the historical record, the name Saponi could represent any of the eastern remnant tribes’ members.
I suspect that at least some of the men not classified as “of color” also carried mixed heritage. Many of the surnames were the same. You can take a look at the complete list here: