Saponitown Forum

Home

Forum

Historical Articles

Links

The Other Blackfoot Page Four

It’s a matter of record that there were Saponi adopted by the Cayuga, some of whom migrated to the Sandusky in Ohio, taking their Saponi adoptees along.  This community was referred to as “The Seneca of the Sandusky” though there are reports from visitors to the area that there was ‘nary a Seneca amongst them.’ My understanding is that this was another tributary amalgamation supervised by the Seneca. 

    When the League of the Iroquois lost their holdings in Pennsylvania and Ohio, they took many of their tributary tribes in with them to what would become their reserves. It's doubtful there were enough resources to take in all that many. Many of these groups simply held on where they were until squeezed out by settlers. Some are documented as moving further into the midwest. What's less documented is the obvious recourse of fleeing deeper into the Appalachians. When we consider that the Native language still being spoken in West Virginia in the 1950's was a dialect of Seneca, it's obvious that the former tributary tribes of the League are the likeliest source. It's unlikely that so large a group of Seneca would have slipped into the mountains and been forgotten about by them. But an amalgam of tribes already marginalized politically, with only the Seneca language in common, would be likely candidates to slip away into these hollows and be forgotten by history.

    The documentation of a band known as the "Blackfoot of the Seneca" in WV, and the close associations of the Saponi/Tutelo people with the Seneca in the 18th century, combined with the other associations of the term Blackfoot with the Saponi/Tutelo is still another shred of tantalizing evidence.

    Adding to the evidence of Appalachian migrations is the very high incidence of the Blackfoot ID in families from Clay and Knox Counties in KY. Some of these families have surnames, and lineages, leading back to the Piedmont Siouan. 

    The first information I encountered linking the word Blackfoot to the Saponi was in Richard and Vicky Haithcock’s book, “Occaneechi Saponi and Tutelo of the Saponi Nation: aka Monacan and Piedmont Catawba.”  The Haithcocks are part of the Ohio Saponi community, where the association of the word “Blackfoot” with Saponi has been held traditionally.  I’ve presented the word “Sissipaha” as a link to the word “Blackfoot,” simply because it fits so cleanly with the recorded Tutelo words.  I may also be motivated by a desire to trace the word to a single, tangible source.  It’s my understanding, however, that The Ohio Saponi feel that the word “Blackfoot” refers to the entire confederation of Saponi - that the word “Saponi” itself is a corruption of words for “Blackfoot.” 

   Lawrence Dunmore III, Esq., and former chairperson of the Occaneechi Saponi Band of the Saponi Nation in Hillsborough, NC, has studied the Tutelo language extensively and explained to me that there is confusion surrounding the English corruption of Saponi tribal names.  The country farmers of North Carolina used badly mangled, abbreviated corruptions, while across the border, the plantation owners of Virginia used longer, more accurate corruptions, all pointing to the same villages or tribes.  Richard Haithcock, in his book, lists the words Mansickapanaough, Monasiccapano, Monasukapanough, Saxapawha, Sissipahaw, Siccaponi, Siccasaponi, Sikaponi, Shaponi, Saponi and states that they are all thought to be corruptions related to this meaning.  

In researching these tribes, Lawrence Dunmore points out some definitions of words that will be useful to keep in mind. "The term Stuckenock was used by the Virginians to describe the Eno, Shakori and Sissipahau peoples while individual terms were used for each group by the North Carolinians. All three were one people, recognized by Virginia as Stuckenock and were part of a larger group of people, Yésah." [the Saponi]. Also, "the term Adshusheer was the name of a Eno village and the term Keyuawee was a Shakori village. They were not separate tribes."

     I found another, interesting instance of an historic knowledge of a Blackfoot/Saponi link. It was from a man whose family has lived historically on the NC/SC border in Catawba territory. This coincides with the historic record, which reports the Sissipaha/Shakori/Eno fleeing to the Catawba.  Some are reported to have left the Catawba after a time, but some remained.  

     The question of whether the word Blackfoot refers to a segment of the Eastern Siouan or can speak for the whole Saponi population is a subject for further inquiry.  Perhaps as more descendants surface, the answers will become more clear.  On this website, we invite any visitors to post their family lore to the forum.  Reported migration paths of Blackfoot identified people tracing back to the NC/VA Piedmont so far include Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Idaho, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. What's remarkable is that, whenever any of these families can be traced back far enough, the lead back to VA or NC.

     The tradition in my own family is that we are “related to a Blackfoot chief.”  Since pondering all of this data, I've called a number of my grandmother's lines into question. Of them, the following names are found in other families with the Blackfoot ID: Harris, Keasey, Severance. Our Smiths were near the location of a church founded in the 1820's in western Indiana. Our Hudsons and Keaseys are corroborated by other lines in the family as Indian descended. The Hudsons were from Maryland, about 100 miles from the location of the "Blackfoot Town" mentioned earlier. My Hudson ancestor was listed on his death certificate as "American" while everyone else on the page, in the same handwriting, were listed as "Caucasian." From family photographs, I can see that an epicanthic fold was in the Hudson line. The Keaseys in our family had a strong Indian appearance as well. My cousin, who favors that line, resembles a friend of mine from the Tuscarora reservation in Lewiston, NY.

  Our Thomas Harris, grandfather of the man pictured on the first page of this article, appears on the 1810 census in Chambersburg, PA.  Chambersburg lies along the Tuscarora Path, which was also used by Saponi people migrating north, and is less than 100 miles, on all sides, from Shamokin and Paxtang, PA, and Elkins, WV.  My great-grandfather reported that the family derived originally from Virginia.  

An Indian Trader lived in that valley ca. 1740 - 1780, named Captain Thomas Harris. He had an Indian wife named Mary McIntyre. A friend claims to be her descendant and is from the Ohio Saponi community. He currently lives at Six Nations reserve in Canada with his wife. A succeeding generation of Harrises in that locale include a Charles and Thomas, both names occuring in our family in later generations.

     Interestingly, there is a Chief Harris reported by John Buck, one of the last Tutelos at Six Nations, who was interviewed by anthropologist J. Owen Dorsey at Six Nations Reserve in 1882.  John Buck said that this Chief Harris led a loyalist faction of Southern Saponi north to New York to join Joseph Brandt and the Loyalist Iroquois at the start of the Revolutionary War.   There is a document to this effect in the National Anthropological Archives in Washington, D.C.  I have also found mention of a Cheraw chief by the name of Harris. 

     As mentioned earlier, the Saponi disappeared from history around Ithaca, NY in 1770. In adjoining Cayuga, and Onandaga counties in the 1820 census are numerous instances of surnames heavily coincidental to those cited frequently as established or suspected Piedmont Siouan families in Virginia and North Carolina. There are numerous Harrises on those census.

     There's one other odd coincidence. Our family settled in Vernon County, WI by the 1860's. There is a community there that does have strong documentation of Indian origins. They migrated there from Granville and Robeson Counties, NC, about the same time we did. We are related to them by marriage.

     I live now in Virginia, though I was raised in Chicago. My family has lived in Illinois or Wisconsin since the 1850’s.  My ex-husband and I met in Los Angeles in 1987. We both knew we had Indian ancestry. About a year after I'd begun my inquiry into all this, he became interested as well. His father's family has always lived in Mecklenburg country, a few miles from Occaneechi Island. His mother's family has always lived in Brunswick County VA, on land within the boundaries of the Fort Christanna reservation.   By the theory of  “who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?” combined with a perusal of his family photo album and family reports of individual Indian ancestors, he is mostly likely one-third Piedmont Siouan himself, from people who never left those homelands.. He has since learned that some of his Brunswick County cousins refer to themselves as Blackfoot. Nonetheless, we are no longer connected to the same Native heritage interests or groups at present.

Bibliography

  • Hodge, Frederick Webb.  Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico.  Washington:  Government Printing Offices, 2 vols., 1907-10.
  • Mooney, Siouan Tribes of the East.  Bull. Bureau of American Ethnology, 1894
  • Right, Douglas L.  The American Indian in North Carolina, Durham, NC, Duke University press, 1947.
  • Swanton, John R., The Indian Tribes of North America, Washington, Smithsonian Institution press, 1952. 
  • Swanton, John R., The Indians of the Southeastern United States, Washington, U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1946.

About The Author:

Linda Carter lives in Clarksville, VA with her four children. 


Footnotes

  1. Tutelo words are from: Dictionary of the Tutelo Language, by Horatio Hale.
  2. Documentary: Last of the Tutelo, produced and distributed by Hopkins Planetarium in Roanoke, VA.