Excerpts from “Who’s Your People”
Dr. Richard Allen Carlson wrote a PhD dissertation about his family. He, like me, had Indian blood that he couldn’t prove. So in a sense, he and I are on similar quests. He speaks of his family’s Guion Miller Application being rejected back at the beginning of the 20th century. I hope to quote bist and pieces of this work. Carlson ties the Melungeons to the Saponi Indians. He never mentions they were part “Portuguese”.
On page 6 Carlson says; “Today the Salyersville Indians persists a small but distinct population of people living around the old Michigan and Ohio “muckfields” and parts of Oklahoma and the Kentucky Mountains. Their families came from Appalachia to the ‘muck’, a folk term referring to the vast peat bogs that once dotted the Midwest n the early to mid1900s in order to find seasonal work in the onion fields that thrive there. For nearly two centuries prior to that time the people’s ancestors had maintained their Indian identity while living in a distinct Indian community deep in the heart of Kentucky’s Appalachia. . . . During that time, a few expatriate Cherokee families attached themselves to the families of a band of Christian Saponi. . . . By the early 1800s, these citizen Indian families left their homes off the New River in the Mountains of the Virginia-North Carolina border region and ultimately formed the Grasy Rock, Stone Mountain, and Salyersville Indian Communities.”
Carlson speaks of “refugee Indian families” (p 7-8). He speaks of three Indian populations, i.] Greasy Rock, ii.] Stone Mountain, and iii.] Salyersville, then says “Just prior to the period when the prominent anthropologists, like James Mooney and Frank Speck, were speculating on the identity and fate of ‘Eastern Indian Survivals’, other outside observers were characterizing these three interrelated Indian populations as “Melungeon” and this trend continues to this day No confirmed etymology of this regionally specific label has been developed, but most contend the word stems from the French mélange, meaning “mixed”. . . .
Primarily a result of a few particularly influential publications that emerged from 1889 to 1891, the imposed Melungeon lable is used in attempts to explain ‘Melungeon origins’. These explanations are based on various conjectural histories supported by popular myths and legends regarding, in part, shipwrecked Phoenician sailors, the lost Colony of Roanoke, Turkish mercenaries, the Welsh chief Modoc, Pardo’s lost sailors, and/or the Lost Tribes of Israel, all of whom were said to have ‘took up’ with Indian women to contemporary ‘Melungeon’ populations. These theories segregate ‘Melungeon’ identity from Indian identity, and instead hold the Stone Mountain, Greasy Rock, and Salyersville Indian population to be representative of many mislabeled ‘marginal groups’, or ‘racial isolates’, ‘racial survivor’ or ‘racial enclaves’ scattered throughout the American Southeast. Implicit in these labels are sociological assumptions regarding the ‘culture of poverty’ and 'miscegenation’.
Most popular and professional writers still accept the premise, generated in the 1800s, that Melungeon History and heritage – biological and social – is forever lost to contemporary researchers. Such outsiders have thus downplayed the people’s own assertions of being Indians in favor of emphacizing the possibilities of White, Black, Portuguese, Phoenecian, Jewish, Moorish, Turkish, and/or Lost Colony ancestry among them (even though all mention that these potential old world ancestors must have taken up with the Indians to bring forth the present population). . . . A poignant example is apparent in a 1947 Saturday Evening Post article focusing on the Greasy Rock population. Showing a photo of elder Asa Gibson, the author wrote “were his ancestors Welsh warriors, Phoenecians, or Survivors of Roanoke? . . . [Asa] say’s he’s 75 years old and an Indian.”
From Chapter 1, The Saponi and their Relations; Crisis to Christ, and Back Again, p 41.
With the consent of the ex-Governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, a small band of Christian Saponi Indians had been residing on Spotswoods private land holdings at Fox’s Neck on the Rapidan River. They had lived there on the western fringes of Old Virginia at least since 1738. But not long after Spotswood’s death in the Summer of 1740, this band of Christian Indians had become having troubles with the local settlers. In the Spring of 1742, 26 of the Saponi men residing at the Fox’s Neck village were in court defending themselves from the vague accusations of “doing mischief”. Now, less that one year later, Saponi men again found themselves arrested and brought before the court of Orange County held near Somerville Ford “for stealing hogs and burning the woods”. Names are preserved in court records show Saponi men named John Collins, Alex Machartion, John Bowling, Maniassa, Craft Tom, Blind Tom, Foolish Jack, Isaac and harry as being among those arrested and brought in to face the charges. Having had their guns seized, the men were taken before the court for trial “by precept under the hands and seals of William Russell and Ed Spencer, gentleman under the charges of not only stealing hogs and burning the woods, but also “terrifying one Lawrence Strothers”, who claimed he had been shot and chased by the Saponi. The Saponi men were ordered held until bonded, after which they were ordered to leave the county. . . .
Following the identity of the Saponi from documents recorded before this 1743 incident, it becomes clear that this band was previously a part of the composite Indian community that, some twenty-five years earlier, had flourished at Fort CHristanna Reservation down on the Meherrin River. . . . The Christian Band of the Saponi were also living legacy of the Saponi signers of the infamous Treaty of Middle Plantation of 1677.
(p 52) In 1732 William Byrd III recalled the configuration of these Siouan tribes consolidating at the Fort Christanna Reservation. He described how “. . . each of these was formerly a distinct Nation, or rather several clans or canton’s of the same Nation, speaking the same language, and using the same Customs.”
Starting p. 59, Carlson says; Governor Spotswood had long proposed to educate Indians in their own towns . . . The governor argued elsewhere that, by educating the Indians in their own villages, Virginia could go far to “banage [sic] savage customs in a generation or two” among the tribes where they could be made more “. . . useful as neighbors” . . . As Spotswood perceived it, the Colony’s military and economic interests directly related to his long-standing conviction of wanting to “Christianize and civilize the Tributarys”.The Indians living in the colony of Virginia wre called in those days “tributary” Indians.
Carlson mentions in 1716, a trip made to Fort Christanna, a place where the Saponi were settled been by Spotswood. The governor visited the fort with a clergyman named Rev. John Fontaine. Fontaine mentioned the fort was located on the Meherren River, and about 200 Sapony Indians resided near the fort. Fontaine says he was surprised that some of them could speak good English.
Carlson then says (p 64); Fontaine spent a considerable amount of time conversing with the instructor of the Sapni Indian school, Rev. Charles Griffin. Frustrated at the repeated denials from the Virginia Council to fund a missionary schoolteacher for the Saponi, Spotswood still personally employed the English Clergyman. Fountaine found Griffin enthusiastically carrying out his mission “to teach the Indian children and bring them to Christianity”. Besides running the Fort’s church, Reverend Griffin’s work among the Saponi involved teaching their children to read the Bible and rpeat “common prayers”. He was also teaching broader skills in speaking, reading, and writing English, and Fontaine noted he “hath had goog success amongst them.” One evening Fontaine attended a common prayer reading and noted that the eight Indian boys participating “answered very well to their prayers and understand what is read.”
. . . In 1716 Spotswood was reporting to the Bishop of London on the continued success of the school in operation for the Saponi, but desperately requested more funding. And the governor frequently made trips to the Saponi Reservation and the law officially “directing the Indian Company to take over the fort later in December” was passed.
Carlson speaks of several attacks form the Five Nations Indians and others, upon the Saponi and mentions the killing of some Catawba’a, whom it says are allies of the Saponi. He says (p 69) despite the peace made in 1718, the Iroquois attacked again in 1722.
More about Rev. John Fontaine
Rev. John Fontaine wrote a memoir entitled “Journal of John Fontaine: An Irish Huguenot Son in Spain and Virginia, 1710-1719”. At http://www.virginiaplaces.org/settleland/fontaine.html there is a section on the Huguenots. Several paragraphs ane dedicated to this Rev. John Fontaine. Quoting from it, we have;
John Fontaine's father and grandfather were Huguenots who suffered official persecution by the Catholics in France. In 1693 John was born in England, to which his father had fled as a refugee. His father then migrated to Ireland, and succeeded in getting John a commission in an Irish regiment in 1710. John Fontaine served briefly in Spain, then investigated Virginia in 1715-19 before returning to England.
Learn more about Virginia’s Huguenot peoples at the link above.
So we have a Saponi Indian surnamed Griffin in 1743 living on Governor Spotswood’s lands, and a teacher at the Saponi School near Fort Christanna surnamed Griffin. We have a French Huguenot Reverend visiting the Saponi at Fort Christanna, and the word “Melungeon” comes from the French “mélange” meaning “to mix”. There is also a “Collins” Saponi in 1743 and we know there were Collins Melungeons in the 1790s. We have evidence connecting the Melungeons to the Saponi. I am looking foreward to more evidence that will emerge in the next 500-plus pages.
Well. I am at page 70 of a 600-plus page document. Carlson has over a thousand citations. I will ad some of these as well, eventually.
Troubles with Neighboring Tribes
Pages 70 to 95 of Carlson’s Dissertation discuss fom about1718-1728. The author talks about the Indians at Fort Christanna, sayingthat although they went under the name of Saponi, they were a Occoneechi, Stengenocks, Meipotskis, and Tutelo. The author includes the Outaponis as well.
There is a story of an Indian named “Sawney” who had recently returned to Virginia from Canada. He had been captured by the “French Indians”. Somehow he escaped about 1724 and returned to Virginia. Once in Virginia, he was arrested and was accused of threatening the inhabitants with incursions from his former allies, the “French Indians” from Canada. He denied bringing messages to the Saponis. I mention this because I knw dad had an uncle named “Uncle Swaney”, so the story of this “Sawney” caught my attention. The similarity of these names is probably just a coincidence, though.
Well, the Northern Indians did continue their attacks in Virginia. Carlson says; “More Virginia settlers were killed by Iroquois in the winter of 1725-1726 . . . the sachems of the Five Nations replied . . . it was some of their warriors operating without authority in conjunction with some French Indians and Tuscaroras who committed the killings.” The sachems of the Iroquois defended their warriors, saying the killing of the Virginians was a mistake, and that they were really after “enemy Indians”. It was recorded that about this time, seven Saponi were killed or captured by some Tuscarora warriors.
In 1727 the Saponi came to the Virginia Assembly in Williamsburg and asked for satisfaction. The Saponi said in the Virginians took no action on the Tuscarora, they would take the matter into their own hands. Well, Virginia did nothing, so the Saponi went to the Catawba, who did take action.
There was an attack on the Meherrin Indians, who complained to the same Virginia Assembly the Saponis had complained to the pevious year. They blaimed the Occoneechi’s and Saponis. And the Nottaways complained the Meherrins had attacked them. The Saponis with the Catawba attacked the Tuscarora, of King Blount’s Town. North Carolina officials meanwhile, blamed the Catawba and the primary instigator of these feuds, also holding the Saponi and Occoneechi responsible.
Governor Spotswood had retired and was replaced by Governor Gooch, and he was not as friendly towards the Saponi as his predecessor. The Virginians had done nothing to help the Saponi when they asked for help after seven of their men were killed, while the Catawba did come to their aid. To add to this mistrust, three Saponi men were accused of killing two Nottaway’s. Three Saponi chiefs were held in jail until those guilty of the killings were brought forward. The killing of the son of the Tutelo chief also added fuel to the fire. A report came in (page 76) that John Sauna (Sawnie) and a fellow named Ben Harrison (apparently an Indian named after the White trader), went south to bring up one hundred Catawba warriors to protest the incarceration of the three Saponi men . . . the Saponi said that if Captain Tom was hung, they would take their wives and children over the Roanoke, and then return to drive the Whites and Negroes to the James River.
The Tutelo king, grieving over the death of his son, threatened the life of the governor, saying then he’d go off to some foreign Indians. The old Tutelo king was ordered to be arrested, but Carlson says he found no evidence that this ever happened.
This takes us to the end of 1728, and the end of Carlson’s first chapter. From 1714 to 1728 the Saponis, Tutelos, Occoneechis, and others came together. War with the Iroquois, and pressure from the colonists forced this option upon them. However pressures from the colonists to make them conform to colonial laws also alienated them. They did obtain satisfaction from the Catawba, their allies.
Acording to Carlson, Byrd stated (p 93) that the executions by the colonists of three Saponi caused the Saponi to remove to the Catawba’s.
There are some interesting comments about the Indians way of life. First is the mention of corn. Carlson is paraphrasing Byrd. When talking of the colonists he calls “borderers, meaning the people that lived on the Virginia/North Carolina border (P. 82), Byrd also decries the “borderers” means of economy and subsistence; especially in North Carolina where he contemptuously nted they raised Indian corn instead of tobacco and fruit orchards which he blamed on laziness. Indian corn, he noted; “. . . is of so great increase that a little pains will subsist a very large family with bread . . .”
Concerning sex between races, Carlson again turns to Byrd, saying; Byrd and a few other ex-traders of the survey team would make a sidetrip into Virginia in hopes of finding some “entertainment” in the Nottaway Indian Town. The entertainment the surveyers sought out among the Nottaway turns out to have been sexual in nature. After mentioning two “pretty English women, the narrative continues; . . . we could find it in our hearts to change these fair beauties for the copper coloured ones of Nottaway Town.” Continuing to quote Byrd, Carlson writes of Byrd; He wrote in that evenings journal entry that the Nottaway “offered us no bed fellows, according to the good Indian fashion, which we had reason to take unkindly.”
Continuing on this theme, Carlson writes (P. 85), still quoting Byrd, “. . .one way of converting these poor infidels, and reclaiming them from barbarity and that is, charitably intermarry with them according with the modern policy of the most Christian King in Canada and Louisiana.” He continues saying that had the English done as the French, the country would be swarming with more people than it has insects, and . . . even their copper coloured complexion would admit of bleaching, if not in the first, at the farthest in the second generation . . . it is strange, therefore, that any good Christian should have refused a wholesome, straight bed-fellow, when he might have so fair a portion with her, as the merit of saving her soul.
Byrd had a Saponi guide, Ned Bearskin. It was said this was his hunting name. Ned it was said, was a great hunter and kept them fed. It was said that Ned spoke English very well. Mention was made of seeing the smoke of Northern Indians, enemies of the Eastern Siouan Indians, as they were “firing the woods”, as was the Indian custom.
This takes us to the next section of chapter two, the Saponi Diaspora, 1728-1743.