Tutelo Tribe

Tutelo Indians. One of the eastern Siouan tribes, formerly living in Virginia and North Carolina, but now extinct. Hale 1 first made it known that the Tutelo language pertained to the Siouan stock, a discovery which, followed by the investigations of Gatschet, Mooney, and J. O. Dorsey, brought to light the fact that a considerable group of Siouan tribes formerly inhabited the Piedmont region of Virginia and the Carolinas. The relation of the Tutelo appears to have been most intimate with the Saponi, the language of the two tribes being substantially the same. Their intimate association with the Occaneechi and their allied tribes indicates ethnic relationship. The history of the Tutelo is virtually the same as that of the Saponi. The name Tutelo, although by the English commonly used to designate a particular tribe, was by the Iroquois applied as a generic term for all the Siouan tribes of Virginia and Carolina, being applied more particularly to the allied tribes gathered at Ft Christanna 2 . They are first mentioned by Capt. John Smith in 1609 under the names of Monacan and Mannahoac, with many subtribes, occupying the upper waters of James and Rappahannock Rivers, Virginia, and described by him as very barbarous, subsisting chiefly on the products of the chase and wild fruits. They were at constant war with the Powhatan Indians and in mortal dread of the Iroquois. Lederer, in his exploration from Virginia into North Carolina in 1670, passed through their territory and mentions the names of Nahyssan (Monahassanough) and Sapon (Saponi). In their frontier position at the base of the mountains the Saponi and Tutelo were directly in the path of the Iroquois.

Unable to withstand the constant attacks of these northern enemies, they abandoned this location some time between 1671 and 1701, and removed to the junction of Staunton and Dan Rivers, where they established themselves near their friends and kinsmen, the Occaneechi, occupying two of the islands in the Roanoke immediately below the forks, the Tutelo settling on the upper one. How long they remained here is unknown; it is certain, however, that in 1701 Lawson found the Saponi on Yadkin River, North Carolina, and says that the Tutelo were living in the neighboring mountains toward the west, probably about the headwaters of the Yadkin. At this time, according to Lawson, the 5 Siouan tribes, the Tutelo, Saponi, Keyauwee, Occaneechi, and Shakori, numbered together only about 750 souls. Soon after Lawson’s visit they all moved in toward the white settlements, and, crossing the Roanoke, occupied a village called Sapona town, a short distance east of the river, about 15 miles west of the present Windsor, Bertie County, North Carolina. Soon after this they removed and settled near Ft Christanna 3 .

In 1722, through the efforts of the Colonial governments, peace was finally made between the Iroquois and the Virginia tribes. In consequence the Saponi and Tutelo some years later moved to the north and settled on the Susquehanna at Shamokin, Pennsylvania, under Iroquois protection, later moving up the river to Skogari. Their chiefs were allowed to sit in the great council of the Six Nations. In 1763 the two tribes, together with the Nanticoke and Conoy, numbered, according to Sir Wm. Johnson, 200 men, possibly 1,000 souls. In 1771 the Tutelo were settled on the east side of Cayuga inlet, about 3 miles from the south end of the lake, in a town called Coreorgonel, which was destroyed in 1779 by Gen. Sullivan.

The last surviving full-blood Tutelo known was Nikonha, from whom Hale obtained the linguistic material by which he determined the relation of the tribe to the Siouan stock. He died in 1871. It is believed there are still a few mixed-bloods in Canada, but the last one who could speak the language was John Key, or Gostango (‘Below the Rock’), whose Tutelo name was Nastabon (‘One Step’), and who died in 1898, aged about 80 years 4 . Lawson describes the Tutelo as “tall, likely men, having great plenty of buffaloes, elks, and bears, with every sort of deer amongst them, which strong food makes large, robust bodies.” Nevertheless the evidence is clear that they were cultivators of the soil and relied thereon to a large extent for subsistence. The photograph of Nikonha, given by Hale, shows a face full oval in outline and large features of an almost European cast, ‘evidently,” says Hale, “not individual or family traits, as they reappear in the Tutelo half-breeds on the Reserve, who do not claim a near relationship to Nikonha.” On the other hand Zeisberger, who visited the remnant of the tribe while settled at Shamokin, speaks of the village as “the only town on the continent inhabited by Tuteloes, a degenerate remnant of thieves and drunkards.” Lederer describes the Nahyssan chief as an absolute monarch, and the people as tall, warlike, and rich. In their temples, or medicine lodges, they had large quantities of pearls, which they had taken in war from more southern tribes. Their tribal ensign consisted of three arrows.

For Further Study

The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on the Tutelo as both an ethnological study, and as a people.


  1. Proc. ‘Am. Philos. Soc., Mar. 2, 1883[]
  2. see Christanna Indians[]
  3. see Christanna Indians, Totero[]
  4. Chadwick, People of the Longhouse, 19, 1897; Boyle in Ann. Archmol. Rep. Ontario, 55, pl. xviii, b, 1898[]


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

3 thoughts on “Tutelo Tribe”

  1. Christina M Ferrell

    This was informative however I would like to learn more about the Tutelo tribe! My great great grandmother(Mary Monk)was full blooded Tutelo she lived in Lynchburg, Va however we have no family history about our native American history! All we know is what my grandfather has told us which was her name, her husband’s name(Jack Guy) and their only child Laura!

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