A Report on Research of Lumbee Origins by Robert K. Thomas – Part 12 – Traditional Lumbee History – The Saponi

A continuation of Robert K. Thomas’s Report of Research on Lumbee Origins.  This was transcribed from a photocopy of an original report at the Wilson Library, UNC, Chapel Hill, NC in June of 2012.   Any comments I have will be made at the end of these transcriptions and it will be evident that they are mine.  To see more about Robert K. Thomas, go to:  http://works.bepress.com/robert_thomas/

The third tribe which this oral tradition points to is the Saponi, but admittedly this is much the weakest tradition.  No one in Robeson County or in the literature specifically states that the Robeson County people are Saponi.  This contrasts with the Hatteras and with the Cheraws.  However, Lumbee elders were said by most of the authors of the literature which I surveyed to have universally declared that the Lumbees came from Roanoke in Virginia.  McMillan took Roanoke to mean Roanoke Island and said that the Lumbees generally called northeastern North Carolina Virginia.  Later he found that the Lumbee elders referred to the Pamlico Sound area as Roanoke.  I doubt , however, that the Pamlico Sound area was ever referred to as Virginia by the Lumbee elders.  There is certainly evidence that the Pamlico Sound area was referred to as Roanoke but in the literature in the 1700s it is never spoken of as being in Virginia. 

Another Roanoke, of course, is the Roanoke River region.  It appears from reading over documents in the 1700s and 1800s that (p 34) rivers were very important identity markers in NC and if you came, for instance, from near the Neuse River you were spoken of as “Coming from the Neuse”; not the Neuse River or not the Neuse River region.  The same thing applied to the Roanoke River.  People of that area were spoken of as “Coming from Roanoke.”

We know historically that the Saponis lived most of their recorded history either directly on or near the Roanoke River, in earliest times in Virginia and in later times just over the line in NC.  So that “Roanoke in Virginia” certainly could refer to the Saponi.  McMillan is right that Roanoke refers to the Pamlico County but “Roanoke in Virginia” fits the Roanoke River region much better.

The other bit of evidence which I have for a Saponi element in Robeson County Indians is a phrase given to me by Rev. Dawley Maynor, a phrase in what he called “the Indian language.”  The phrase is – “Epta Tewa newasin.”  That appears to me to be a Saponi phrase.  Mr. Maynor says it means, “I love you, Lord Jesus.” And that it was taught to him by his great-grandmother Susan Dial who was born about 1830 or 1840.  One word in that phrase can be shown to be a Saponi word, tewa.  It apparently means dead.  From what I can make of the phrase, I would translate it literally, “Raise-up-from-the dead one, I love you.”  Raised up from the dead meaning resurrected one of Jesus; Epta – to raise up, tewa – dead, newasin – I love you.  Now it is possible that this could be a Cheraw phrase but we have no record of the Cheraw language.  We do have this Saponi word, tewa.

In the 1670s the Saponi were living on the Roanoke River near where it crosses into NC, somewhere between the modern (p35) town of Roanoke Rapids in NC and the Virginia line.  They shortly moved to the region of Clarksville, VA further west near the Occaneechi Indians.  Archaeologist and historians have put them in the area when the famous Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia broke out.  This was a rebellion of settlers against the Indian policy of the Crown.  Virginia settlers simply began to wipe out the Indians in retaliation for certain acts they believed Virginia Indians had perpetrated on them.  At this time, I the late 1670s, the Saponis fled from the region of Clarksville, VA further west to the Yadkin River where they were encountered by explorers around 1700.  Shortly after 1700 they started moving east, I would suppose returning to their old country, and were just west of the Tuscarora area in 1708 or 1709.  When the Tuscarora War broke out they moved to Bertie Co., the neutral Tuscarora area, in order to, I would guess, escape the Tuscarora War.  The neutral Tuscarora area was a safe area.  The later neutral Tuscarora reservation sometimes was referred to as Saponi Town.

In about 1714 Governor Spotswood of Virginia established Fort Christiana a few miles south of modern Lawrenceville, VA near the VA and NC line, and the Saponi, Occaneechi and Tutelo went to that area to live.  In the 1720s right after making peace with the Six Nations the Tutelo left Fort Christiana for the Six Nations country.  The Saponi and Occaneechi stayed at Fort Christiana.  The Saponi during the period absorbed the Occaneechi.  In 1728 the Saponi got into a war with the Tuscaroras and Meherrin, abandoned Fort Christiana and went to the Catawba country.

In the early 1740s some of them left the Catawba county.  It appears that one band headed north.  They were reported in northern Virginia in 1754 and in a couple of years were on the Susquehanna in Pennsylvania.  In a few more years they were in the Six Nations county in New York and were adopted by the Six Nations, presumably no one is quite sure what happened to this band of Saponi.  After the Revolution their kindred, the Tutelo, moved to the Six Nations Reservation on Ontario where some of their descendants live in the western end of the Six Nations reserve near Brantford.  According to anthropological research done in the 1890s, one old Tutelo said that the Tutelo and Saponi parted at Niagara Falls and that they saw no more of the Saponi.  I would guess that the Saponi integrated with the Tuscaroras around Niagara Falls or more probably with the Cayuga on the Cataragus Reservation south of Buffalo.  It is even possible that some of the Saponi, in individual family groups, wandered over into Ontario later and were incorporated with the Munsee near London.  More research will have to be done before we know what happened to the Saponi in NY. 

Another band of Saponi appears to have gone, in 1743, to Granville Co., NC to live on the land of Colonel John Eaton, a very famous Indian fighter originally from Virginia, and a man who had traded with the Catawba and spoke the Saponi language.  They lived there from 1743, according to local historians, to the 1760s.  Then according to one local historian, they disappeared by “marrying with other races.”

There are two statements in Lumbee oral history which appear to me to speak of a Saponi origin.  This is over and above the Lumbee statement that the Lumbees come from Roanoke in Virginia and Mr. Dawley Maynor’s phrase.  One is that the Lumbee elders, in (p 37) 1800, told McMillan that they had relatives in Canada west of Lake Ontario.  West of Lake Ontario is the Six Nations Reserve, and I take it that Lumbees in the 1880s were referring either to the Tutelo or to some Saponis who had accompanied the Tutelo.  The Tutelo and Saponi, according to Lawson, spoke similar languages and had inter-married a great deal in their association in the late 1600s and 1700s. 

The other tradition is one that says that in the old days the Indians (Lumbees) were driven across the Roanoke River by bad Indians.  Now this could very well be a reference to the war with the Tuscarora in 1728 when the Saponi abandoned Fort Christiana and moved south across the Roanoke to the Catawba county.  Granted, this is “reaching” historically, but I can’t think of any other tribe to which to attribute this last statement and there are other evidence which point to the Saponi – the language phrase given by Mr. Dawley Maynor, the notion of coming from Roanoke in Virginia, and having relatives west of Lake Ontario.  I can’t think of another tribe that I could substitute here for the Saponi and for whom it would be possible to have descendants in Robeson County.

In fact, even without this traditional history it is the Hatteras, the Cheraw and the Saponi which would be the logical choice as the key tribes in the Lumbee “puzzle.”  Just looking at the historical records and the map of Indians in the 1700s plus the general flow of migration and settlements, would lead one to pick these tribes to be the ancestors of modern Indians in Robeson County.  But I think the Lumbee traditional history certainly establishes the Hatteras connection, fairly well establishes the Cheraw connection and points to a probable Saponi connection.

Roberta Estes:  The Lumbee reference to being driven across the Roanoke by “bad Indians” could also be in reference to the Tuscarora War in 1711-1712 where Barnwell, with Yamasee Indians, pursued and defeated the Tuscarora.  Not all Tuscarora were killed or captured.  Those that survived escaped by whatever means possible which could easily include crossing the Roanoke River seeking safety in Virginia.  The Tuscarora living closest to the Roanoke in Bertie County, Chief Hancock’s group, attempted to remain neutral.

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Catawba, Cayuga, Cheraw, Lumbee, Meherrin, Munsee, Ocaneechi, Saponi, Tuscarora, Tutelo. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to A Report on Research of Lumbee Origins by Robert K. Thomas – Part 12 – Traditional Lumbee History – The Saponi

  1. Marshall Spencer says:

    Hello Roberta, which Native American nation are your ancestors associated with?

    • My mother’s side has Micmac ancestors and my father’s Native heritage is buried on the borderlands of Virginia and North Carolina.

      • Marshall Spencer says:

        Yes, I believe your kit at gedmatch X- matched my moms kit [T556909]. Are you a Occaneechi-Saponi registered tribal member? Micmac, upper NY./Hudson Valley/southeastern Canada. I researched my Merkel/Merkle/Markle/Miracle/Myracle ancestors a couple of years ago in that area. Good luck, there is good genealogy information on the Six Nations, & if you get a little tribal help, you may just find who[m] you’re looking for. Do you have a genealogy family tree I could view somewhere?


        Marshall Spencer

      • I know which Micmac. I don’t know my father’s line because I have brick walls. I don’t have a full tree anyplace online. I do have several generations of my direct ancestors in my tree at Family Tree DNA. http://www.familytreedna.com/my/family-tree/share?k=HRqTu%2bp6a2TtmEzFik9vvQ%3d%3d&ekit=HRqTu%2bp6a2TtmEzFik9vvQ%3d%3d

        Hopefully this link will work.

      • Marshall Spencer says:

        Hi Roberta, thank you for the tree link. Do you have [known, possible or probable] Melungeon ancestry? If so, have you identified any of these current living links to Portugal or Brazil? I believe my [deceased] cousin Walter “Mark” Brown [who’s FTDNA account research I administer] has Melungeon ancestry. I’ve traced some of his FTDNA matches to Portugal & Brazil [mostly Brazil]. Are you involved in Melungeon research & genealogy/study? Let me know if you’d like more information on his DNA test results.

        Thank you

        Marshall Spencer

      • No, I do not have Melungeon heritage. Yes, I’m familiar with Melungeon DNA. I was the lead author on the only Melungeon DNA paper to be academically published. You can view that paper along with my other publications at this link: http://www.dnaexplain.com/Publications/Publications.asp

        There is no Portuguese or Brazil link found in Melungeon DNA.

  2. Marshall Spencer says:

    Are there any Saponi or Occaneechi-Saponi Nation members who would like to give me the most very basic of information I’m searching for? I won’t bite. I’m just trying to trace my ancestors, like everyone else here. Genealogy, “If you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t know where you’re going.” 🙂 Does anyone know if former Occaneechi-Saponi tribal historian Forest Hazel is still active in Occaneechi-Saponi/Native American research & history/ancestry study?

    Thank you

    Marshall Spencer

  3. Marshall Spencer says:

    Does anyone know if former Occaneechi-Saponi tribal historian Forest Hazel is still interested in helping others? I once [not too long ago] read he was interested in helping others with his tribal genealogy & information. I wonder if he’s still interested in helping? Is there a valid email address for Forest?

    Thank you

    Marshall Spencer

  4. Marshall Spencer says:

    Thank you for the link to your Melungeon research. Can you tell me anything about Forest Hazel, how to best contact him, if he still researches Occaneechi ancestry & history, & is still active in helping others? Are you a registered Occaneechi tribal member? I’m only trying to find my ancestors, like others here. “This is how we learn/progress, by helping others, as they would do for us, when we/others need help.” “Live & let live.” “Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.”

    Thank you


  5. Marshall Spencer says:

    I was told by an Occaneechi tribal member three days ago he was still alive. Sorry for the bother.

    Thank you


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