Identifying the Saponi Indians living next to Col. William Eaton

The Native American community in Granville County was very much a community, and not a place where unconnected random Native peoples settled. It was/is very much a thriving, connected community of very closely related families that have been intermarrying with one another since at least the early/mid 1700s.

There is probably no better way to demonstrate this, than to identify the group of Saponi Indians that were documented living in Granville County next to Col William Eaton. In the previous blog post, I listed several sources from the mid 1700s that placed a group of Saponi families living next to Eaton. It is from this group of original settlers that the Native community in Granville traces its roots to. But who exactly were these early families and how can we identify them?

Here are a few things we can learn about the group of Saponi Indians from the colonial reports:

  • they were free and not enslaved
  • they lived next to Col. William Eaton’s land
  • they enlisted in Eaton’s regiment in 1754
  • they are documented living in Granville County in 1754, 1755, and 1761
  • they were not “white” (this may seem rather obvious, but indigenous peoples have been racially mislabeled since colonization)
  • there were approximately 14-20 “fighting men” meaning healthy adult males and there was an equal number of women and children.

By examining the list of Eaton’s regiment, tax lists, and land deeds I was able to come up with a list of men who were the Saponi in Granville County. Unless noted otherwise, all the men that I researched were “free people of color” a term applied to all free non-whites living in the Southeast including Native Americans. Researcher Roberta Estes of the Native Heritage Project previously blogged about Eaton’s regiment and made an attempt to identify the Saponi Indians living in Granville.

Researcher Steven Pony Hill also observed a connection between the multiple colonial reports of Saponi Indians in Granville in connection with specific surnames:

A 1761 report counted 20 Saponi warriors in the area of Granville County, NC and this corresponds to the “Mulatto, Mustee or Indian” taxation in Granville of such families as Anderson, Jeffries, Davis, Chavis, Going, Bass, Harris, Brewer, Bunch, Griffin, Pettiford, Evans, and others in the 1760’s.

Source: http://sciway3.net/clark/freemoors/CHAPTER1colonial.htm

Beginning in the 1960s, a Cherokee anthropologist named Robert K. Thomas began conducting research in several Native American communities in North Carolina. In his “A Report on Research of Lumbee Origins”, Thomas makes the following observation about Native Americans in Granville:

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.”

Source: http://jackgoins.blogspot.com/2015/05/report-on-lumbee-indians-by-robert.html

Thomas mistakenly calls Col. William Eaton “John Eaton”. The Chavis, Evans, Bass, Kersey, Harris, Scott, and Goins families are among the many shared direct blood lines between the Native Americans in Granville County and the Native Americans in Robeson County (including the Lumbee Tribe and Tuscarora Nation).

Finally, in support of the Lumbee Tribe’s federal recognition, Wesley White also wrote up a report on the Saponi Indians in Granville who lived next to Col. William Eaton. Through similar research methods, White also showed a connection between William Chavis, an original Granville County land owner and Col. William Eaton:

Map of Granville County showing Col. William Eaton's tracts of land next to William Chavis'. This map does not represent the total of Chavis' land holdings which were most much extensive. From Wes White's
Map of Granville County showing Col. William Eaton’s tracts of land next to William Chavis’. This map does not represent the total of Chavis’ land holdings which were much more extensive and continuous. Source: Wes White’s “Saponi Report”. 1985

**********

Here is my list:

1. William Chavis Sr. (1709 – 1778). William was an original Granville County land owner and owned a substantial amount of land that would form the land base for the Native community. This land bordered Eaton’s as shown in the above map. William also enlisted in Eaton’s regiment. William Chavis will be the subject of a much longer dedicated blog post. (Note: William Chavis is my 7th great-grandfather).

2. William Chavis Jr (1741 – ?). Son of William Chavis Sr and Frances Gibson. William Jr also served in Eaton’s regiment and inherited a parcel of his father’s land.

3. Gibson/Gilbert Chavis (1737-1777). Son of William Chavis Sr. and Frances Gibson. Alternately called Gibson and Gilbert in the records, Gibson also enlisted in Eaton’s regiment and inherited a parcel of his father’s land. Gibson was also the namesake of “Gibbs Creek” which runs off of the Tar River and was part of William Chavis Sr’s original tract of land.

4. Edward Harris (1730 – 1780s). Son-in-law of William Chavis Sr by marriage to his daughter Sarah Chavis. William Chavis gave his daughter Sarah Chavis-Harris a parcel of land that Edward Harris was subsequently taxed on. Edward also enlisted in Eaton’s regiment. The Harris family from the state recognized Haliwa-Saponi tribe in Holliser, descend from Edward Harris. (Note: Edward Harris is my 6th great-grandfather).

5. Joseph Hawley (1725 – after 1791). Brother-in-law of Edward Harris by his marriage to Edward’s sister Martha Harris. Joseph’s land was adjacent to William Chavis’ and he first appears in the Granville County tax lists in 1750. Joseph also enlisted in Eaton’s regiment. The Holley/Hawley family of the state recognized Haliwa-Saponi tribe of Hollister, descend from Joseph Hawley.

6. William Bass (1712 – ?). William is documented in Granville County as early as 1749 and taxed in Granville throughout the 1750s and 1760s. He also enlisted in Eaton’s regiment. William is a documented great-grandson of John Bass(e) an English colonist and his Nansemond Indian wife Elizabeth. (There will be a blog post dedicated to the Nansemond descended Bass family who are one of the largest Native families in Granville). The Nansemond Basses who moved from the Tidewater area of Virginia into North Carolina, married into and became apart of local tribes including the Tuscarora and Saponi.

7. Lewis Anderson (1713-1785). Lewis was the brother-in-law of William Bass by his marriage to William’s sister Sarah Bass. Lewis first appears in Granville County records in 1749 and was counted in the tax lists until his death. He also enlisted in Eaton’s regiment.

8. George Anderson (1696-1771). George’s wife is unknown aside from her first name Mary. She could very well have been a member of the Bass family because the Bass and Andersons moved together from Norfolk, VA to Granville County by the mid 1700s. George is also a relative of Lewis Anderson. George first appears in the Granville records in 1746 and he enlisted in Eaton’s regiment. George’s mistress Lovey Bass with whom he fathered a child, was the sister of William Bass and the sister-in-law of Lewis Anderson. George’s daughter Catherine Anderson was a sister-in-law of Edward Harris through her marriage to Edward’s brother George Harris.

9. Lawrence Pettiford (1732 – after 1790) Lawrence first appears in the Granville records when he enlisted in Eaton’s regiment. He is also found consistently in the Granville tax records beginning in the 1750s. Lawrence’s wife was Mary but her maiden name is unknown. She was previously married to a member of the Mitchell family (a Native American/”free colored” family from Granville that did not enlist in Eaton’s regiment). Given the very close relationship between the Pettiford and Bass families who have been intermarrying for centuries, Mary may have been a Bass. Lawrence also had a couple of land transactions with members of the Bass family, including Nathan Bass – son of the previously mentioned Lovey Bass and George Anderson.

10. George Pettiford (1736 – ?) George was a brother to Lawrence Pettiford. Like his brother Lawrence, George enlisted in Eaton’s regiment and is found in the tax record beginning in the 1750s.

11. Michael Gowen (1722 – ?) Michael enlisted in Eaton’s regiment and starts appearing in the Granville tax lists in 1750. He owned land off of Taylor’s Creek which falls within the original William Chavis land holding. Michael moved out of state to South Carolina towards the end of his life.

12. Edward Gowen (1727 – after 1810) Edward was a brother of Michael Gowen and also enlisted in Eaton’s regiment and appears in the tax lists beginning in the 1750s. Edward lived on Michael’s property off of Taylor’s Creek and remained in Granville County as did many of his children.

13. Thomas Gowen (1732 – 1797) Thomas was a cousin to Michael and Edward. He enlisted in Eaton’s regiment and was counted in the tax lists starting in the 1750s. Towards the end of his life, he and his children relocated to Montgomery Couty, NC.

The above 13 men have the best documentation to show that they were part of the Saponi Indians living in Granville County.

The following men were also most likely counted among the group of Saponi but I have some questions or need further documentation.

14. William Gowen (1710 – ?) William was a cousin to Edward, Michael, and Thomas Gowen. He enlisted in Eaton’s regiment and was in the tax lists beginning in the 1750s. Unlike his cousins, William was taxed as “white” in every Granville record and including his enlistment in Eaton’s regiment. Though Native Americans in the South were most commonly documented as “Free colored”, they were also occasionally documented as “white” (especially if there was a lot of recent mixed in European ancestry). However the fact that William consistently was recorded as white in Granville records, despite coming from a family that was not white, raises a lot of questions as to wether he was counted among the Saponi (who were clearly not being recorded as white at that time). William and his children relocated to South Carolina towards the later years of his life.

15. Robert Davis (1717 – ?). Robert first appears in the tax lists in the 1750s and enlisted in Eaton’s regiment. His wife is unknown. There were a couple more generations of Davises  in Granville after Robert but the family was not large at all and did not leave many descendants. Because of this shortage of information along with no known parentage or siblings for Robert, I’m not sure if he was among the Saponi.

16. Lewis Pettiford (1734 – after 1794). Lewis was a brother to the already named George and Lawrence Pettiford, though unlike his brothers, he did not enlist in Eaton’s regiment. However he appears in the Granville tax lists beginning in 1758 – a couple of years after his brothers first appear in the tax lists. Perhaps this is why he did not enlist in Eaton’s regiment – he was not fully of adult age. His birth year is also an approximation and perhaps he was really a few years younger.

17. William Hawley (1728 – ?). William was a brother to the already named Joseph Hawley. He first appears in the Granville County tax lists in the 1750s but not consistently as it appears he relocated to South Carolina and then moved back and forth between the two locations. He also did not enlist in Eaton’s regiment. He was married to Amy Scott of South Carolina who was a relative of “King Hagler” of the Catawba Indians in South Carolina. The Saponi and Catawba are very closely related tribes, both part of the Eastern Siouan language group. During the 1730s and 1740s, groups of Saponi sought refuge with the Catawba and then would return back to Saponi homelands. The back and forth movement of William Hawley along with family ties to the Catawba’s King Hagler, suggests that he was part of this movement of Saponi.

18. Gideon Bunch (1713 – ?). The Bunch family is a “free colored” family going back to the early 1600s in Virginia and have extensively married into many Native families. He inconsistently  appears in the Granville County tax lists in the 1750s and 1760s and did not enlist in Eaton’s regiment. Tax and land records place him moving about in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. His later years were in South Carolina.

19. Richard Chavis (1724 – 1766) Richard was likely a brother of the previously named William Chavis Sr though I’d like to see additional records confirming their relationship. Richard is found in the tax lists beginning in the 1750s and in the 1760s. He did not enlist in Eaton’s regiment. Richard’s daughter Milly Chavis was married to Edward Silver. Interestingly, Edward purchased land from William Chavis Jr (part of the original William Chavis tract). Edward and Milly Silver are the progenitors of the Silver family found in the state recognized Haliwa-Saponi tribe in Hollister.

So I counted 19 men, 13 of whom I’m very confident identifying as the Saponi who lived next to and enlisted in Eaton’s regiment. According to the colonial records, there was anywhere from 14 – 20 Saponi men in Granville and the list that I created seems to fit that count. I would also venture to say that this was a conservative count and that there likely were more Native adult males in Granville County during this time. Furthermore, all of the men that I have confidently identified are all very closely related by both blood and marriage, indicating a shared heritage and identity. These families would more or less remain in the same area and continue mostly intermarrying with one another well into the 20th century. These early settlers laid the foundation for my tribal community. Many of the sons of these founding members would take up arms with the colonists against the British in the uprising known as the American Revolution. In the decades immediately preceding and following the Revolutionary War, additional Saponi as well as Tuscarora families with following surnames: Evans, Kersey, Brandon, Guy, Taborn, Tyler, Mitchell, Boon(e), Parker, Hedgepeth, Richardson, Howell, Scott and many more would join this settlement adding to the rich indigenous heritage of this community.

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10 thoughts on “Identifying the Saponi Indians living next to Col. William Eaton

  1. […] Rhode Brandon was a son of Mary Brandon and he was initially bound out to a white man named Isaac Holmes on 11 Aug 1766 in Mecklenburg Co, VA. Isaac Holmes (1727-1772) was married to Lucy Ballard and when Isaac Holmes died in 1772, Rhode Brandon was bound out to Isaac Holmes’ brother-in-law John Ballard Jr. Rhode Brandon continued to live in Mecklenburg Co until his death in about 1811. His wife’s name was Elizabeth but her maiden name is unknown. Elizabeth may have been a Stewart because after Rhode Brandon’s death, she purchased land in Mecklenburg Co from James Stewart (b. 1734) that adjoined William Stewart’s (b. 1723) property. The Stewarts were another Saponi family that lived in the area, intermarried with the Brandons, and some family members also moved into Granville Co. This same William Stewart (b. 1723) was bound out to Indian trader Col. William Eaton. Col. Eaton had a close relationship to the Saponi Indians and would later move to Granville Co where the Saponi lived next to his land. See my previous blog posts about Col. William Eaton here and here. […]

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