The Meherrin and the Susquehanna Indians

Historical records are wonderful resources with lots of buried treasure.  Of course, you have to dig for it – because it’s treasure – after all.  Sometimes after reading these old records two or three times, I stop and ask myself, “What just happened here?”  This was one of those times.

One of the lessons we’ve learned with our continued studies is that the Native people did not remain in one place very long.  They were always somewhat mobile, but the infringement of the Europeans hastened these moves…plus there were always enemy indians to worry about.  This petition found in the North Carolina records gives us a huge amount of information.  But first, let’s look at a bit of history about the Meherrin Indians. 

The Meherrin Indians lived on or near the Meherrin River near the Virginia/North Carolina border.  The spoke an Iroquoian language, as did the Nottoway and the Tuscarora, who were considered their “cousins.”  Historically they lived in Virginia above the fall line (Petersburg and Richmond), but by the early 1700s had been pushed south by European settlement.

The following record tells some of their story.

Minutes of the North Carolina Governor’s Council

North Carolina. Council

October 27, 1726 – October 28, 1726

Volume 02, Pages 641-645 

This day was read at the Board the Petition of the Meherrin Indians shewing that they have lived and Peaceably Enjoyed the said Towne where they now live for such a space of time as they humbly concieve (page 643) Entitles them to an Equitable Right in the same that they have not only lived there for many years but long before there were any English Settlements near that place or any notion of Disputes known to them concerning the dividing bounds between this Country and Verginia and have there made large improvements after their manner for the better support and maintanance of themselves and Families by their Lawfull and Peaceable Industry Notwithstanding which Coll Wm Maule and Mr William Gray have lately intruded upon them and have Surveyed their sd Towne and cleared Grounds on pretence that it lye in this Government and that the sd Indians have allways held it as Tributaries to Verginia which is not so praying this Board to take them into their Protection as their faithful and Loyall Tributaries and to secure to them a Right & Property in the said Towne with such a convenient Quantity of Land adjoyning to it to to be laid off by meets and Bounds as to them shall seem meet

Then allso was Read the Petitions of Sundry Inhabitants Living near the said Indians Shewing That Sundry Familys of the Indians called the Meherrin Indians have lately Encroacht and settled on their Land which they begg leave to Represent with the true accot of those Indians who are not original Inhabitants of any Lands within this Governmt but were formerly called Susquahannahs and Lived between Mary Land and Pensilvania and committing several Barbarous Massacrees and Outrages there Killing, as tis reported all the English there settled excepting Two Families, they then drew off and fled up to the head of Potomack and there built them a fort being pursued by the Mary Land and Verginia Forces under the Comand of One Major Trueman who beseiged the fort Eight months but at last in the night broke out thro the main Guard and drew off round the heads of several Rivers and passing them high up came into this country and settled at old Sapponie Town upon Maherrin River near where Arthurs Cavenah now lives but being disturbed by the sapponie Indians they drew down to Tarrora Creek on the same River where Mr Arthur Allen’s Quarters is; afterwards they were drove thence by the Jennetto Indians down to Bennets Creek and settled on a Neck of Land afterwards Called Maherrin Neck because these Indians came down Maherrin River and after that they began to take the name of Maherrin Indians; but being known the English on that side would not suffer them to live there, then they removed over Chowan River and Settled at Mount Pleasant where Capt Downing now live but being very Troublesome there one Lewis Williams drove them higher up and got an order from the Governmt that they should never come on the So. side of Wickkacones (page 644) Creek and they settled at Catherines Creek a place since called Little Towne but they being still Mischievous by order of the Government Coll Pollock brought in the Chief of them before the Govr & Council and they were then ordered by the Governmt never to appear on the south side of Maherrin They then pitched at the mouth of Maherrin River or the North side called old Maherrin Town where they afterwards remained tho they were never recieved or became Tributaries of this Governmt nor ever assisted the English in their warrs against the Indians but were on the contrary very much suspected to have assisted the Tuskarooroes at the massacree The Baron De Graffen Reed offering his Oath that one Nick Major in Particular being one of the present Maherrin Indians Satt with the Tuscarooroes at his Tryall and was among them when Mr Lawson the Surveyr Genl was killed by them So that these Maherrins were not originally of this Country but Enemies to the English every where behaving themselves Turbulently and never lookt on as true men or friends to the English nor ever paid due acknowledgement to this Government Some years agoe Coll Maule the Surveyr Genl obtained an Order to Survey the Lands at old Maherrin Towne which was accordingly done and Pattented afterwards since that they have paid Tribute to this Governmt and have been allowed by the Governmt to remain on those Lands but since that a great sickness coming among them swept off the most of them and those that remained moved off those Lands at Maherrin Towne and Sundry of them have lately seated and Encroached on your Petitioners Lands some miles higher up the River, destroyed their Timber & Stocks and hindering them from Improving their Lands they being unwilling themselves forcibly to remove the sd Indians least some disorders might arise thereon; praying an order to the Provost Marshall That if the sd Indians do not remove off in some convenient time they may be compelled thereto

Whereupon by the consent of both parties It is ordered in Council That the Surveyr Genl or his Deputy do lay out unto the said Indians a certain parcell of Land lying between Maherrin River and Blackwater River Running three miles up Blackwater River and then a Straight Line to such a part of Maherrin River as shall be Two miles from the mouth thoreof and if the same line shall leave out the settlement of Capt Roger a Maherrin Indian that then the Surveyr Genl do lay out a Tract of 150 acres the most convenient to his Dwelling Which Land when Surveyed the surveyr is to make return thereof into the Sectys Office that Grants may pass for the same to the said Indians It is further Ordered by this Board that the sd Indians shall Quietly hold the sd Lands (page 645) without any molestation or disturbance of any Persons claming the same so as the same Persons Right or pretentions to the sd Lands be Reserved into them whereby they or those claiming under them shall have the preferrence of taking up the same when the said Indians shall desart or remove therefrom.

Now is the time when I’m asking “what happened?”  Let’s see what we can summarize.  It’s obvious that the Indians are unhappy because the white people have once again encroached on land where the Indians lived, and have historically lived.  This is a fundamental disconnect between the European idea that somehow the land was “available” for them because the Indians didn’t hold an English deed and the Indians concept of land usage without any concept of ownership.  To them, the Creator “owned” the lands and they lived on them, used them, but never owned them in an English sense.

The Meherrin lived in their town and have lived in their town near the Virginia/North Carolina border.

The Indians have been tributary Indians to Virginia but Mauls and Gray are intruding on their lands saying they are in North Carolina.

Maule and Grey surveyed their towns for land patents.

The Susquehanna joined the Meherrin and were originally from Pennsylvania and Maryland.

They settled at the Old Sapponie Town upon the Meherrin near where Arthur Cavenah lives.

They were disturbed by the Sapponie and went to live on Taruora Creek on the same river near Mr. Arthur Allen’s quarter.

The Jennetto Indians drove them to Bennetts Creek.  The Jennetto Indians were also Iroquoian.  This seems to be a Sapponi term for the Seneca, also called Sinnegers and the Oneida Indians who roamed and struck fear into the hearts of tribes from Virginia through South Carolina.  Bennett’s Creek was the location of the Tuscarora Reservation, although depending on when they were driven there, it may have been before the Tuscarora were granted this land.

The Meherrin settled at Meherrin Neck

They moved to the Chowan River and settled at Mount Pleasant where Capt. Downing lives.

Lewis Williams drove them higher up and they settled at Catharines Creek at a place called Little Town.

They settled at the mouth of the Meherrin at a place called Old Meherrin Town.

Nick Major, a Meherrin Indian was accused of being a Susquehanna and that he participated in the Degraffenreid Trial and the subsequent death of John Lawson in 1709, events which precipitated the Tuscarora War.

Sickness came at this time and the Indians removed up the river of the land of the petitioner.  I thought the petitioners were the Indians.  This is confusing.

Land laid out between Blackwater and the Meherrin Rivers 3 miles up Blackwater and a straight line to the Meherrin 2 miles from the mouth of the river.

Unfortunately, when looking at a map, this leaves some question as to exactly which rivers were being discussed, because the Meherrin and the Blackwater are not adjacent.

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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