John Lawson, who visited the Occaneechi in 1701, gives us what is probably our latest, best known view of how the Occaneechi were living prior to their incorporation with the Saponi. Coupling Lawson's (Lefler 1967) written account with the information gained by recent excavations at Occaneechi Town by the Research Laboratories of Anthropology (Dickens et al. 1987; Ward and Davis 1988), it is possible to gain a fairly clear picture of a society undergoing rapid change, and yet endeavoring to maintain some semblance of a traditional lifestyle. In a period of time when small fragmented groups across the Piedmont were banding together for mutual assistance and protection, the merging of families and small tribes at Occaneechi Town would not have been unusual.
Occaneechi Town was almost completely abandoned by 1713, when the Occaneechi signed a Treaty of Peace with the Virginia colonial government at Williamsburg. At that point, it is indicated from reading the document that the Occaneechi, Stuckanok, and Tottero, although signing the treaty separately, were dominated by the Saponi. At least, the whites seemed to regard them all as Saponi. Governor Spotswood of Virginia would later refer to the Fort Christanna Indians as all going under the name of Saponi. There are very few references to the Occaneechi as a distinct tribe after the settlement at Fort Christanna, which operated from 1714 to 1717.
After the Indians were settled on the Meherrin River near present-day Lawrenceville, Virginia, a school and minister were provided for their instruction, along with a small company of rangers who were to guard the eastern colonists from attacks by western tribes such as the Cherokee. Once they were "civilized" by the influences of Christianity and the English language, the Saponi were no doubt expected to assist in this duty. The fort also served as a trading center for the Indian trade, but the profits apparently were not great enough to satisfy the project's backers and the fort was closed in 1717.
This left the Saponi in peace for several years. It is evident that Virginia continued to trade with the Saponi and found the trade relations important enough to employ an interpreter as late as 1730. The Virginia Colonial Records show that on May 27, 1730, Charles Kimball petitioned the House of Burgesses for "his allowance Interpreter to the Saponi and Occaneechi Indians may be levied" (McIlwaine 1910:757). This also indicates that there were still a number of monoglot Saponi speakers, enough to warrant an interpreter. It is not known when the language died out completely; indeed, very little is known about the Occaneechi and Saponi languages. The name of the Indian town at Fort Christanna, Junkatapurse, meant "horse's head," probably in reference to a nearby bend in the river. That is one of only a few dozen words that were recorded for the Saponi language.
There is some indication that the language may have been remembered until after the Civil War, at least in fragmented form. Mr. G. C. Whitmore, a resident of Alamance County and, at 97, one of the oldest Indians still living, remembers his grandfather, Andrew Whitmore (see descendants), speaking a language that was not English, and said that his (G. C.'s) father understood what was said and would then translate for the boy. It is unlikely that Andrew Whitmore could carry on a conversation in the Indian language (if indeed it was an Indian language), but he may have known words and phrases. This would have been a situation similar to that of the Indian languages of the Virginia Tidewater, which had been reduced to a few words remembered by a handful of individuals by the turn of the twentieth century (Mooney 1907:143, 146). Unfortunately, Mr. Whitmore is unable to remember any of the words of the language his grandfather spoke. Further fieldwork may reveal other individuals who remember some bits and pieces of the old language, but the situation does not look promising.
Also in the Virginia state papers, there is a reference in 1727 to the Occaneechi and the Saponi. It comes as part of a letter to the governor from one R. Everard, a settler living near the Meherrin Indians, and it refers to disturbances involving the Meherrins and the Nottoways. Everard says that the Meherrins deny any attacks on the Nottoways, stating "they lay the whole blame upon the old Occaneechy King and the Saponi Indians." This certainly gives rise to some questions as to what the position of the Occaneechi was within the larger Saponi society. It infers that the Saponi, even though larger numerically, were actually ruled by individuals of Occaneechi descent.
After 1730, many of the Saponi left the area to take residence with the Catawbas. However, they were not happy there and returned to Virginia in 1733, accompanied by some Cheraws. They were forced to petition Lt. Governor Gooch for permission to resettle in Virginia, which was granted (Merrell 1989:116). It is interesting to note that at about the same time the Indian school at William and Mary--the Brafferton school--listed one Will Jeffries as a student from 1736 to 1742. Although his tribe is not specified, it is possible that he was Saponi since many of the Indians who were students at Griffin's school at Fort Christanna went with him to Williamsburg when the school closed. Many of the names on the school rolls can be identified as Pamunkey, Mattaroni, etc., because of the records of those tribes (Stewart 1988). But the Jeffries name is not found among any of the surviving Virginia Indian tribes, although it is the most common name among the families of the Texas community.
When the Saponi returned from the Catawba Nation in 1733, they faced increasing pressure from white settlers in the area. It was at this point that the Saponi apparently fragmented into several small groups. Over the next decade, there are records of them in Amelia County, Virginia (1737), where the "Saponi Indians Cabins" are mentioned in a deed (Holland 1982), and in Orange County, Virginia, where, in 1742, 11 Saponi men were brought to court and charged with "terrifying one Lawrence Strouther and on suspicion of stealing hogs" (Orange County Register of Deeds 1741-1743). The Indians were dealt with leniently, having stated to the court that they were leaving the colony within the week. Although not specifically identified as Saponi, one of the Indians was named Charles Griffin, which was the same name as the schoolmaster at Fort Christanna, where the Saponi attended school a generation earlier.
It is also likely that at least some of the Saponi were still living in the vicinity of the old village at Fort Christanna. The Road Order Books for Brunswick County, Virginia, list Junkatapurse as a place until 1742, after which it was known only in reference to Junkatapurse Road, an indication that the settlement no longer existed (Brunswick County Register of Deeds n.d.). As noted above, the Orange County Saponi in 1742 were preparing to leave the area, and it may be that both groups left together.
For the years 1743-1747, Governor Clarence Gooch of Virginia reported to the Colonial Office that the "Saponies and other petty nations associated with them . . . are retired out of Virginia to the Cattawbas" (British Colonial Office 1743). Once again, the Saponi had traveled south to join their old friends; and once again, they would remain only a short time, returning to Virginia by 1748.
By 1754, at least one group of 30-40 Saponi had traveled to North Carolina and settled on the lands of William Eaton, where they were enumerated in the Colonial Records of North Carolina (Saunders 1968). These Saponi have allegedly been ancestral to several Indian groups presently living in North Carolina, although since none of their names are given, it is difficult to make the claim with any degree of certainty. However, it is known from oral tradition that an Indian named Sam Parker moved to the Texas community from the Vance-Granville county area prior to the Civil War. In 1752, a Thomas Parker was granted land on Tabb's Creek adjoining lands of William Eaton and William Chavis, another individual who seems to have been of partial Indian ancestry. There are still Parkers of Indian descent living in that area near the town of Kittrell. It is also noteworthy that William Chavis, who owned the land near the Saponi settlement in old Granville County, also owned land in what is now Alamance County. The Orange County deed books show that on August 27, 1768, William Chavis "of the County of Granville" sold to Joseph Pritchit some 320 acres on both sides of the Haw River, "it being part of a tract of land granted to the said Wm. Chavis by deed from Wm. Kinchen bearing the date the __ day of December 1751" (Orange County Register of Deeds 1790). It may have been entirely coincidental that Chavis owned land near where the Saponi would resettle 20 years later, or perhaps there were Indian families living on or near Chavis's land in Alamance County as well as in Granville County. The Chavis name is still predominant among the Meherrin Indians of Hertford County and the Lumbee Indians of Robeson County.
At the same time these Saponi were living in North Carolina, there was at least one other group living in Virginia. In 1757, the Virginia governor at Williamsburg received a delegation of Indians including "King Blunt and the thirty-three Tuscaroras, seven Meherrins, two Saponies and thirteen Nottoways" (Hillman 1966). This indicates that not only were the Saponi still in existence, but that they were still a distinct enough group to send delegates to a conference with the Governor. Unfortunately for our purposes, the writer does not record where the Saponi were living at the time. It seems likely that they were still in the Brunswick-Greensville county area of Virginia. It was about this time that certain individuals who were ancestral to families in the Texas community began to receive patents of land, primarily in the area around Emporia, Virginia. Joseph Haltcock was one of these early grantees, receiving 200 acres in 1732. Other landowners near him bore names such as Jeffries, Whitmore, Burnette, and Stewart, which figure in the history of the Texas families.
At this point, it should be noted that there is some evidence that the area of Alamance and Orange counties may still have had a few settlements of Indians who never left the region, and who consolidated with the Saponi to form the Texas settlement after the Revolutionary War. Various tax lists for Orange County in the 1750s include several families of so-called mulattos bearing the surnames Bunch, Gibson, and Collins. Jeramiah and Henry Bunch received land grants in the area, near the Eno River. The term "mulatto" had a somewhat different meaning in the 1700s; rather than defining simply a black-white mixture, the term was used to classify a wide variety of mixed-blood peoples, so the Bunches and others could easily have been mixed-blood Indians and not Africans (Forbes 1988). It is obvious that when Southern Indians ceased living in what the local non-Indians perceived to be an "Indian" manner, they were relegated to the larger "free colored" class. The situation of the Nottoway and Ginkaskin in Virginia, or the Machapunga in North Carolina, are clear examples of what happened to these remnant Saponi-Occaneechi and other groups like the Meherrin and Chickahominy. This is not to say, however, that the Indians ceased to think of themselves as Indians, or that all the traditional ways were lost. It was simply the perception of their neighbors that changed. Some of the Gibsons later moved to Macon County in western North Carolina where their descendants had the reputation of being of Indian ancestry. Macon County settlement will be discussed at greater length later. Other Bunches, Gibsons, and Collinses appear to have moved west, arriving in eastern Tennessee by way of Ashe County, North Carolina, and formed the nucleus for the so-called Melungeon settlement in the vicinity of Hancock County, Tennessee (Price 1950:130).
In 1756, the Moravians near present Winston-Salem reported that they received a visit of "Cherokees from the fort near Haw River." Haw River was approximately where it exists today, in Alamance County and far from any known Cherokee settlements (Fries 1922:165). What is more likely is that the Indians were Sissipahau, or a group related to the Occaneechi Town Indians, who were living in a palisaded village similar to that which was used at Occaneechi Town. To the settlers, it would certainly look like a fort. The reference, if taken at face value, indicates: (1) that there were Indians living in the Alamance County area in 1756, years after they were supposed to have vanished; and (2) they were living in a more or less traditional manner. The oral tradition of various white families in the area support this. These traditions say that there was an Indian settlement nearby when the town of Graham was first settled, and that along Piney Branch in the southern part of the county the settlers found "Indian Tee-pee wigwams" along the creek, again indicating some type of traditional dwelling. Archaeological remains in the Pleasant Grove area indicate widespread habitation over a long period of time. Although no confirmed Contact period sites have been located here, the state archaeological site files include at least one Late Woodland period site in close proximity to an abandoned graveyard that dates to the early 1800s and was once used by the Corn and Jeffries families.
It would make sense for the Indian people who moved back from Virginia to settle near where they once lived, particularly if there were still Indian families in the vicinity. The old Trading Path running through the area would have made the journey a comparatively easy one.
The next reference to the Saponi as a distinct tribe in the area of interest is from the official papers of Lt. Governor Francis Fauquier of Virginia. In 1763, he wrote to the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantation Affairs in response to various queries about affairs in the colony. Referring to Indians in Virginia, he states "There are some of the Nottoways, Meherrins, Tuscaroras, and Saponys, who tho' they live in peace in the midst of us, lead in great measure the lives of wild Indians" (Reese 1981:1017). Once again, the indication is that the Saponi retained many of their Indian customs and certainly their Indian identity. Fauquier contrasts them with the Pamunkey and Eastern Shore Indians (probably the Ginkaskin), whom he says follow the customs of the common planters and wear non-Indian clothing. The location of the Saponi settlement(s) is again not revealed.
What appears to be the next to last official reference to the Saponi as a distinct tribe in the South is in 1764 when, according to a report from the Indian superintendent of the South, they and the Nottoway combined had "60 gunmen" (American Historical Review 1915). This report, although short and lacking in specifics, is an interesting basis for speculation. It may be inferred from the reference that the Saponi "gunmen" were still a noteworthy military force in the eyes of the superintendent and had adopted the use of firearms (as opposed to earlier references to Indian "bowmen"). It may also be inferred that they were living in proximity to the Nottoway. It is known that the Nottoway were living in what is now Southampton County, Virginia, near the present-day town of Courtland. The Saponi settlement appears to have been in neighboring Greensville County, south of Emporia, Virginia. It is also unknown how many of the "60 gunmen" were Nottoway and how many were Saponi. At least 5-10 must have been Saponi for them to have been listed separately, but there may have been as many as 15-20 of the 60 who were Saponi. If a ratio of 1:4 is used to represent the number of adult males to other family members, this suggests that 50-100 Saponi were living in Virginia in 1764. Added to the 28+ Saponi who were living on Col. Eaton's land in Granville County, North Carolina in 1754, this would suggest that there were at least 125-150 Saponi shortly before the beginning of the Revolutionary War. It is known that some of the Nottoway fought in the Revolution; consequently, it would not be surprising for Saponi men like William Guy and Simon Jeffries to have also served with the colonial forces.
A final reference to the Saponi in Virginia during the pre-Revolutionary War era can be found in James Adair's History of the American Indians, published in 1775. Adair remarks that "In Virginia, resides the remnant of an Indian tribe, who call themselves Sepóne" (Williams 1930:67). While it is uncertain whether this statement was still true by the time Adair's book was published, it certainly supports the idea that the Saponi were recognized as a distinct group well into the mid-eighteenth century.
From the above discussion, it is clear that not all the Saponi died off or removed to the Catawba or the Iroquois. Fifty years after they were commonly thought to have vanished, the Saponi presumably were still living along the North Carolina-Virginia border, retaining many of their traditional ways. At the same time the official records speak of the Saponi sending delegates to the governor at Williamsburg (1757), a large community of nonwhite persons, claiming to be Indian, was developing in south-central Greensville County, Virginia. Early family names were Jeffries, Guy, Watkins, Haithcock, Steward, and Whitmore, all families which moved to what would become the Texas community around the time of the Revolutionary War. Several of these community members fought in the Revolution; Robert Brooks Corn, William Guy (see descendants), Simon Jeffries, Britton Jones, John Jeffries, and Charles Whitmore are all Revolutionary War veterans from Greensville County who were classed as "Free Persons of Color." Marriage, land, and other official records from the area show a relationship between members of these families. For example, when Delila Jeffries, widow of John, filed for money due her as a pensioner's widow in 1855, Charles Whitmore and Drewry Jeffries (see descendant) both gave evidence supporting her claim. In 1818 (after the community moved to Alamance County), Jacob Jeffries's will, on file in the North Carolina Archives, was witnessed by David Haithcock, and one of his daughters was married to a Guy. There are numerous examples of these associations, exactly what might be expected from a group of people of the same background. The tendency toward endogamous marriage is one that has continued up until the last generation or so, and even now the preference is for marriage with a partner of similar background.