In this post, I’m going to discuss the geography of Granville County that will help illustrate the settlement of the Native American community.
The Great Trading Path also known as the Occaneechi Path was a Native American road that began in Petersburg, VA and on some accounts ended with the Catawba Nation on the South Carolina/North Carolina border just below Charlotte and in other accounts, terminated in Augusta, GA. In the area surrounding Petersburg, lived numerous Indian traders and this path gave them direct trading access to tribes. The Great Trading Path cuts right through Granville County, entering Northeast from neighboring Mecklenburg Co, VA and exiting through the Southwest to neighboring Durham County. Not only was it beneficial for Indian traders to live on the path, but it was also necessary for tribes to live close to or have access to this path. Col. William Eaton (1690-1759) who I have mentioned in previous blog posts was an Indian trader from Prince George Co, VA who moved to Granville County by the 1740s. Both of Eaton’s residences were along the Great Trading Path and it explains why a group of Saponi Indians were living next to his land in Granville in the 1750s. This means the origins of the Native American community in Granville are very much tied into this trade relationship between the colonists and local tribes and it explains why that specific location became the land base for the community.
Granville County was originally created in 1746 from Edgecombe County. Previously, the entire northern half is what was then the Carolina Colony was claimed by John Cateret, 2nd Earl Granville (1690-1763) and became known as Granville District.
Originally, “Old” Granville County included the land that is today known as Granville, Vance, Warren, and Franklin Counties. This changed in 1764, when the areas known today as Warren and Franklin Counties were split from Granville to form Bute County (a short lived County, that quickly split into modern Warren and Franklin Counties in 1779). Finally in 1881, the eastern section of Granville that included the Kittrell, Henderson, and Townesville/Nutbush townships was separated to form newly created Vance County.
In addition to old Indian Trading Paths, being familiar with the local rivers and creeks is vital to understanding Native peoples’ relationship to Granville County’s geography. The Tar River cuts right through the middle of the county, the Neuse River forms the southern border of the county, and the Roanake River occasionally touches Granville County’s northern border with Mecklenburg County. The Tar, Neuse, and Roanake are major waterways that local Natives have used since before European colonization.
The land base for the Native American community in Granville, is mostly concentrated off of Fishing Creek and Tabbs Creek which run north off of the Tar River. Founding community member William Chavis (1709-1778), originally owned a continuous land tract that stretched all the way from Lynch Creek to Fishing Creek along the Tar River and went 5 miles north inland. In this map, you can see The Great Trading Path labeled “Trading Road”. Buffalo once inhabited in this region, and “Buffalo Creek” off of the Tar River along with many other local buffalo name places, reflect this history. The buffalo is also what originally brought the Eastern Siouan speaking Saponi into this region.
When reviewing census data for Granville County, it’s helpful to know exactly what section of the county you are looking at. The following map displays the census designated areas of Granville County. Also note in northwestern Granville in the township of Oak Hill, is “Bearskin Creek” named after Saponi guide Ned Bearskin who accompanied William Byrd II on the Diving Line in 1728.
Finally, I made a map of Northeastern North Carolina and Southside Virginia showing current Native American communities, former reservation land, and other important sites. The very close proximity of the sites to one another and to the Native American community in Granville County, demonstrate the interconnectedness of indigenous peoples living in this region.