Saponi Indians

Saponi Tribe: Evidently a corruption of Monasiccapano or Monasukapanough, which, as shown by Bushnell, is probably derived in part from a native term “moni seep” signifying “shallow water.” Paanese is a corruption and in no way connected with the word “Pawnee.”

Saponi Connections. The Saponi belonged to the Siouan linguistic family, their nearest relations being the Tutelo.

Saponi Location. The earliest known location of the Saponi has been identified by Bushnell (1930) with high probability with “an extensive village site on the banks of the Rivanna, in Albemarle County, directly north of the University of Virginia and about one-half mile up the river from the bridge of the Southern Railway.” This was their location when, if ever, they formed a part of the Monacan Confederacy. (See also North Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania.)

Saponi Villages. The principal Saponi settlement usually bore the same name as the tribe or, at least, it has survived to us under that name. In 1670 Lederer reports another which he visited called Pintahae, situated not far from the main Saponi town after it had been removed to Otter Creek, southwest of the present Lynchburg (Lederer, 1912), but this was probably the Nahyssan town.

Saponi History

As first pointed out by Mooney (1895), the Saponi tribe is identical with the Monasukapanough which appears on Smith’s map as though it were a town of the Monacan and may in fact have been such. Before 1670, and probably between 1650 and 1660, they moved to the southwest and probably settled on Otter Creek, as above indicated. In 1670 they were visited by Lederer in their new home and by Thomas Batts (1912) a year later. Not long afterward they and the Tutelo moved to the junction of the Staunton and Dan Rivers, where each occupied an island in Roanoke River in Mecklenburg County. This movement was to enable them to escape the attacks of the Iroquois, and for the same reason they again moved south before 1701, when Lawson (1860) found them on Yadkin River near the present site of Salisbury, N. C. Soon afterward they left this place and gravitated toward the White settlements in Virginia. They evidently crossed Roanoke River before the Tuscarora War of 1711, establishing themselves a short distance east of it and 15 miles west of the present Windsor, Bertie County, N. C. A little later they, along with the Tutelo and some other tribes, were placed by Governor Spotswood near Fort Christanna, 10 miles north of Roanoke River about the present Gholsonville, Brunswick County. The name of Sappony Creek in Dinwiddie County, dating back to 1733 at least, indicates that they sometimes extended their excursions north of Nottoway River. By the treaty of Albany (1722) the Iroquois agreed to stop incursions on the Virginia Indians and, probably about 1740, the greater part of the Saponi and the Tutelo moved north stopping for a time at Shamokin, Pennsylvania, about the site of Sunbury. One band, however, remained in the south, in Granville County, N. C., until at least 1755, when they comprised 14 men and 14 women. In 1753 the Cayuga Iroquois formally adopted this tribe and the Tutelo. Some of them remained on the upper waters of the Susquehanna in Pennsylvania until 1778, but in 1771 the principal section had their village in the territory of the Cayuga, about 2 miles south of Ithaca, N. Y. They are said to have separated from the Tutelo in 1779 at Niagara, when the latter fled to Canada, and to have become lost, but a portion, at least, were living with the Cayuga on Seneca River in Seneca County, New York, in 1780. Besides the Person County Indians, a band of Saponi Indians remained behind in North Carolina which seems to have fused with the Tuscarora, Meherrin, and Machapunga and gone north with them in 1802.

Saponi Population. The Saponi and the Tutelo are identified by Mooney (1928) as remnants of the Manahoac and Monacan with an estimated population of 2,700 in 1600. In 1716 the Huguenot Fontaine found 200 Saponi, Manahoac, and Tutelo at Fort Christanna. In 1765, when they were living on the upper Susquehanna, the Saponi are said to have had 30 warriors. The main North Carolina band counted 20 warriors in 1761, and those in Person County, 14 men and 14 women in 1755.

Connection in which they have become noted. A small place called Sapona, in Davidson County, N. C., east of the Yadkin River, preserves the name of the Saponi. Shakori. They seem to have lived in the State at one time. (See North Carolina.)

Saponi, Siouan,

Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 145. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office. 1953.

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