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Total population
850 enrolled tribal members as of 2011
Regions with significant populations
Originally from Virginia and North Carolina, many later relocated to Ontario, Canada, and Georgia, Tennessee, and Ohio
Tutelo-Saponi (extinct), English
Indigenous Religion, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Tutelo, Occaneechi, Monacan, Manahoac, possibly Saura, other eastern Siouan tribes

The Sappony are a Native American people historically of North Carolina and Virginia. Historically they spoke the Siouan Tutelo-Saponi language, related to the language of the Tutelo as well as the Occaneechi, Monacan, Manahoac and other eastern Siouan peoples. The group was long believed extinct, as its members migrated north to merge with other populations. The Sappony disappeared from the historical record by the end of the 18th century, but contemporary American Indian groups claiming descent from the historical Sappony are found in North Carolina, Ohio, and several other states.

Pre-Revolutionary history[edit]

Anthropologist John R. Swanton agrees with James Mooney, Hale, Bushnell and other scholars that the Sappony were probably the same as the Monasuccapanough, a people mentioned as tributary to the Monacans by John Smith in 1608. Their main village as described then is believed to have been in the vicinity of present-day Charlottesville, Virginia.

The first known contact between a European explorer and the Sappony was in 1670, when John Lederer found their village on the Staunton River at Otter Creek, southwest of Lynchburg, Virginia. In 1671 Thomas Batts and Robert Fallam led an expedition that passed through the same village, as well as a second in Long Island in present-day Campbell County, Virginia. Here settlers during Bacon's Rebellion in 1676 attacked the Sappony, as well as the closely related Occaneechi, without justification. The colonists were retaliating for raids conducted by the unrelated Doeg tribe.

Nearly decimated, the Sappony relocated to three islands at the confluence of the Dan and Staunton rivers in Clarksville with their allies, the Occaneechi, Tutelo, and Nahyssans.[1]

By 1701, the Sappony and allied tribes, often collectively referred to as "Saponi" or "Tutelo," had begun moving to the location of present-day Salisbury, North Carolina to distance themselves from the colonial frontier. By 1711 they were just east of the Roanoke River and west of modern Windsor, North Carolina. In 1714, Governor Spotswood resettled them around Fort Christanna in Virginia.[2] The tribes agreed to this for protection from hostile tribes. Although in 1718 the House of Burgesses voted to abandon the fort and school, the Siouan tribes continued to stay in that area for some time. They gradually moved away in small groups over the years 1730–1750.

One record from 1728 indicated that Colonel William Byrd II made a survey of the border between Virginia and North Carolina, guided by Ned Bearskin, a Sappony hunter. Byrd noted several abandoned fields of corn, indicating serious disturbance among the local tribes. In 1740, the majority of the Saponi and Tutelo moved to Shamokin, Pennsylvania. They surrendered to the Iroquois and joined the latter in New York. They were formally adopted by the Cayuga Nation in 1753.

Smaller bands were noted in Pennsylvania as late as 1778. Some were still in North Carolina much later.[3] Since most of the Iroquois sided with the British in the American Revolutionary War, after the victory by the United States, the Sappony and Tutelo who had joined the Iroquois were forced with them into exile in Canada. After that point, recorded history was silent about the tribe.[1]

Racial identity politics after the American Revolution[edit]

Clearly the Sappony intermarried. In some of the early Spanish and Portuguese colonies, mulatto meant mixed-race African and Native American, but under the English tradition, it came to mean persons of European and African ancestry.[4] In Maryland, the Catholic Church kept records that showed how its Indian parishioners identified themselves, regardless of their ethnic ancestry. Because South Carolina taxed American Indian slaves at a lesser rate than African slaves as early as 1719, that colony had legislated that "all such slaves as are not entirely Indian shall be accounted as negro."[5] After the legal decision in Hudgins v. Wright in 1808, Virginia tended to classify persons of mixed Native American and African ancestry as 'Negroes'. Colonial and early United States governments generally failed to recognize how people identified culturally. The problem grew more severe at the turn of the 19th century, leading to many academic disagreements about the identity of the numerous free blacks or free people of color recorded.[6]

"Mustees" and "mulattoes" could be persons of part American [Indian] ancestry. Probably, a mustee was primarily part-African and American [Indian], and a mulatto was usually part-European and American [Indian]. At the time, the federal censuses had no classification for American Indian, and did not ask people with which culture they identified. Some late 20th-century history and genealogical researchers have found that a high percentage of people identified as "free blacks" or "free people of color" (when there was no designation for Indian) in federal censuses from 1790–1810 in North Carolina were descended from families of people classified as free African Americans in colonial Virginia. This was documented through extensive research in colonial records of Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay Colony, including court records, land deeds, wills and manumissions. Some free African Americans were descended from enslaved Africans freed as early as the mid-17th century. By the early decades of the 19th century, free families had many descendants.[7] In some areas, the lighter-skinned descendants formed close communities in which they called themselves or were known as Indian, Portuguese or one of a variety of terms, such as Melungeon. In some cases, descendants married more into one or another of their ancestral communities, becoming increasingly white, black or Indian.[7]

Issues about identity became more confusing in the 20th century, as both North Carolina and Virginia adopted one-drop rules related to their racial segregation laws, which classified all people as either white or black (essentially, all other). They classified as black any person with any black ancestry, regardless of how small. Walter Ashby Plecker, the Registrar of Virginia's Bureau of Vital Statistics, became notable for issuing orders to change birth records of individuals whose families he had decided were trying to pass as Indian to avoid being classified as black. Due to his application of the Racial Integrity Act, records of many Native American-identified people were changed without their consent, and often without their knowledge.


According to William Byrd II, the Sappony spoke the same language as the Siouan Occaneechi and the Steganaki (also known as Stuckenock). It was probably the same as that spoken by the Meipontsky, a minor tribe "...mentioned only in the report of the Albany conference of 1722...."[8] By the time linguistic data was recorded, these related eastern Siouan tribes had settled together at Fort Christanna in Brunswick County, Virginia, where the colonists sometimes referred to them as the Christanna Indians. The Tutelo language was fairly well recorded by Horatio Hale. In the 21st century, it is being used by the Occaneechi as the basis for the revival of the Tutelo-Occaneechi language, also called Yésah.

The Sappony dialect is known from only two sources. One is a word list of 46 terms and phrases recorded by John Fontaine at Fort Christanna in 1716. It contains a number of items revealing it to be virtually the same language as recorded by Hale.[9] The other source are a few translated creek names noted by William Byrd II in his History of the Dividing Line betwixt Virginia and North Carolina in 1728. Byrd's scant list also proved to include several names from unrelated Indian tribes.[10]

20th-century state recognition[edit]

North Carolina[edit]

Three groups, each recognized by the state of North Carolina, claim descent from the historical Sappony. The people known as the Indians of Person County were recognized by North Carolina in 1911 as an American Indian tribe. Also known by the name of Cherokee-Powhatan Indian Association which is listed by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma as a fake Cherokee group and was the Name Indians of Person county had before the name of Indians of Person county. In 2003 they formally changed their name to Sappony.[improper synthesis?][not in citation given] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16]

The Haliwa-Saponi, a group based chiefly in Halifax and Warren counties, is another Native American band formally recognized by North Carolina (1965). Founded in 1965 under the name Haliwanash Indian Club. They changed their name to include a reference to the historic Sappony in 1979. "Their official name is Haliwa - a contraction created by putting together the names of the counties of Halifax and Warren and creating the term Haliwa. Many of the Indians in this group refer to themselves as Cherokee. They do not accept the term Haliwa and refer to themselves as Cherokee although the term Haliwa is gaining more acceptance as time goes on. This tribe appears from the research I have done, to be the remnants of the North Carolina Tuscaroras. In any case, it appears that the Haliwa are remnants of the neutral Tuscarora." Leading Cherokee professor Robert K Thomas in 1978 [17] There was some media attention for this group when it misrepresented itself in saying it had tribal council review and approval for an approved loan for $700,000 and a $600,000 HUD grant for matching funds. The North Carolina Auditors became involved during this time.[18][19]

The Occaneechi Band of the Sappony Nation was recognized by the state of North Carolina February 4th 2002. Founded in 1984 as Eno-Occaneechi Indian Association. In 1995 it added Sappony to its name.[20]

Both the Indians of Person County/Sappony and the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe of North Carolina were at one time classified by some anthropologists as among groups known as tri-racial isolates. Members were observed to have (or claimed) European, African and Native American ancestry, to varying degree. Some such groups settled and created communities in frontier and border areas of the southern states.

These two communities each stressed cultural identification with historic American Indians. They acculturated new members in that tradition in the 19th century, a process known as ethnogenesis. Their applications for recognition as American Indian tribes were approved by the state of North Carolina in 1911 and 1965, respectively.


The Ohio Sappony are not recognized, as Ohio does not have a state recognition process. The Collins family has been known to be Sappony long before 1978 establishing this group's members as using the Sappony name longer than any other group's members. "There is fairly good evidence that Collins is a Sappony family name," writes Cherokee Professor Robert K. Thomas.[21] [22] Recently another tribe in Ohio, the Midwest Saponi Nation has organized after a split with the Saponi Nation of Ohio.

Other states[edit]

Several other groups and organizations whose members claim Sappony ancestry include the Mahenips Band of the Sappony Nation in the remote Ozark Hills, with headquarters in West Plains, Missouri; the Sappony Descendants Association based in Texas; Manahoac Sappony Mattamuskeet Nation based in Georgia; and the Sappony Nation of Ohio.

In addition, communities such as the Carmel Indians of Carmel, Ohio; and a group in Magoffin County, Kentucky claim to be Native-American descendants of the Sappony. They also identify as Melungeon, a historic mixed-race group.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Mitchell, Henry H. (1997), "Rediscovering Pittsylvania's "Missing" Native Americans", The Pittsylvania Packet (Pittsylvania Historical Society) (Chatham, Virginia): 4–8 
  2. ^ Swanton, p. 72
  3. ^ Swanton p. 73
  4. ^ Jack D. Forbes, "The Use of Racial and Ethnic Terms in America: Management by Manipulation", Wicazo SA Review, Fall 1995, vol. XI, No. 2
  5. ^ Forbes p. 55.
  6. ^ Jack D. Forbes, "The Use of Racial and Ethnic Terms in America: Management by Manipulation", Wicazo SA Review, Fall 1995, vol. XI, No. 2, pp. 55, 58-59. Pages 58 and 59: "In 1857, a William Chavers was charged "as a free person of color" with carrying a shotgun. Chavers was able to win his case eventually...because he is charged as "a free person of color" whereas...the act...makes it penal for any "free negro" to carry arms...Free persons of color maybe...persons colored by Indian blood. The indictment cannot be sustained."
  7. ^ a b Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware, 1999–2005
  8. ^ Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of Ethnology. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1894. pp. 37–. 
  9. ^ G. Oliverio, Tutelo Grammar and Dictionary, 1996.
  10. ^ Salvucci, Claudio R. et al. (2002), Minor Vocabularies of Tutelo and Sappony, Evolution Publishing, pp. 1–7, ISBN 1-889758-24-8 
  11. ^ Cherokee Tribes", Cherokee Heritage Documentation Center
  12. ^ Metrolina Native American Association", North Carolina State tribes
  13. ^ Tribe establishes Cherokee Identity Protection Committee", Cherokee One Feather
  14. ^ North Carolina tribes", North Carolina tribes with Addresses
  15. ^ Indians of Person County(formerly Cherokee-Powhattan Indian Association) ", Bureau of Indian affairs
  16. ^ Cherokee Nation of Oaklahoma fraud groups", Cherokee Nation Fraud Task force site
  17. ^ Cherokee communities of the south 1978", Professor Robert K Thomas
  18. ^ Costly mistake", The daily Herald
  19. ^ audit report", North Carolina Auditor
  20. ^ Occaneechi Saponi timeline", Occaneechi Saponi
  21. ^ Ohio band of Sappony", Ohio band of Sappony
  22. ^ Cherokee communities of the south 1978", Professor Robert K. Thomas

External links[edit]