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Historical Articles

Continued on Part Two

The Indian Tribes of North America
 by John R. Swanton

Virginia Tribes 
Manahoac through Tutelo

Siouan tribes in red


Meaning "They are very merry," according to Tooker (1895), but this seems improbable. Also called: Mahocks, apparently a shortened form.

Connections ~ The Manahoac belonged to the Siouan linguistic family; their nearest connections were probably the Monacan, Moneton, and Tutelo.

Location ~ In northern Virginia between the falls of the rivers and the mountains east and west and the Potomac and North Anna Rivers north and south.

Subdivisions  ~ Subtribes or tribes of the confederacy as far as known were the following:

Hassinunga, on the headwaters of the Rappahannock River.

Manahoac proper, according to Jefferson (1801), in Stafford and Spottsylvania Counties.

Ontponea, in Orange County.

Shackaconia, on the south bank of the Rappahannock River in Spottsylvania County.

Stegaraki, on the Rapidan River in Orange County.

Tanxnitania, on the north side of the upper Rappahannock River in Fauquier County.

Tegninateo, in Culpeper County, at the head of the Rappahannock River.

Whonkentia, in Fauquier County, near the head of the Rappahannock.

Villages ~  Mahaskahod, on the Rappahannock River, probably near Fredericksburg, is the only town known by name.

History ~ Traditional evidence points to an early home of the Manahoac people in the Ohio Valley. In 1608 John Smith discovered them in the location above given and learned that they were allied with the Monacan but at war with the Powhatan Indians and the Iroquois (or perhaps rather the Susquehanna). After this they suddenly vanish from history under a certainly recognizable name, but there is good reason to believe that they were one of those tribes which settled near the falls of the James River in 1654 or 1656 and defeated a combined force of Whites and coast Indians who had been sent against them. They seem to have been forced out of their old country by the Susquehanna. Probably they remained for a time in the neighborhood of the Monacan proper and were in fact the Mahock encountered by Lederer (1912) in 1670 at a point on James River which Bushnell seems to have identified with the site of the old Massinacack town, the fact that a stream entering the James at this point is called the Mohawk rendering his case rather strong. Perhaps the old inhabitants had withdrawn to the lower Monacan town, Mowhemencho. In 1700 the Stegaraki were located by Governor Spotswood of Virginia at Fort Christanna, and the Mepontsky, also placed there, may have been the Ontponea. We hear of the former as late as 1723, and there is good reason to believe that they united with the Tutelo and Saponi and followed their fortunes, and that under these two names were included all remnants of the Manahoac.


Mooney (1928) estimates that there were 1,500 Manahoac in 1600 but this is probably rather too high, since their numbers and those of the Tutelo together seem to have been 600-700 in 1654. However, it is possible that these figures cover only the Manahoac, while Mooney's include part of the Saponi and Tutelo.


Meherrin. Meaning unknown.

Connections ~ The Meherrin belonged to the Iroquoian linguistic family, their closest connections probably being the Nottaway.

Location ~  Along the river of the same name on the Virginia-North Carolina border.

History ~ The tribal name Meherrin first appears in the form "Maharineck" in the account of an expedition by Edward Blande and others to North Carolina in 1650, and next in an Indian census taken in 1669. Later they seem to have adopted a body of Conestoga or Susquehanna fleeing from Pennsylvania after their dispersal by the Iroquois about 1675. This is the only way to account for the fact that they are all said to have been refugee Conestoga. They were living on Roanoke River in 1761 with the southern bands of Tuscarora and Saponi, and the Machapunga, and probably went north in the last Tuscarora removal in 1802. (For information regarding another possible band of Meherrin see "Nottaway")

Population ~ Mooney (1928) estimates the Meherrin population at 700 in 1600. In 1669 they are said to have had 50 bowmen, or approximately 180 souls. In 1755 they were said to be reduced to 7 or 8 fighting men, but in 1761 they are reported to have had 20.

Connection in which they have become noted.~ Meherrin River, an affluent of the Chowan, running through southern Virginia and north-eastern North Carolina, and a Virginia town perpetuate the name of the Meherrin.



Possibly from an Algonquian word signifying "digging stick," or "spade," but more likely from their own language. Also called:

Rahowacah, by Archer, 1607, in Smith (1884).

Connections~ The Monacan belonged to the Siouan linguistic stock. Their nearest connections were the Manahoac, Tutelo, and Saponi.

Location~ On the upper waters of James River above the falls at Richmond.

Villages ~ (Locations as determined by D. I. Bushnell, Jr.) Massinacack, on the right bank of James River about the mouth of Mohawk Creek, and a mile or more south of Goochland.

Mohemencho, later called Monacan Town, on the south bank of James River and probably covering some of "the level area bordering the stream in the extreme eastern part of the present Powhatan County, between Bernards Creek on the east and Jones Creek on the west."

Rassawek, at the confluence of the James and Rivanna Rivers and probably "on the right bank of the Rivanna, within the angle formed by the two streams."

Two other towns are sometimes added but and they afterward appeared as wholly independent tribes, the Saponi and the Tutelo, it is probable that their connection with the Monacan was never very intimate. They seem to have been classed as Monacan largely on the evidence furnished by Smith's map, in which they appear in the country of the "Monacans" but Smith's topography, as Bushnell has shown, was very much foreshortened toward the mountains and the Saponi and Tutelo towns were farther away than he supposed. Again, while Massinacack and Mohemencho are specifically referred to as Monacan towns and Smith calls Rassawek "the chief habitation" of the Monacan, there is no such characterization of either of the others.

History ~ Capt. John Smith learned of the Monacan in the course of an exploratory trip which he made up James River in May 1607. The people themselves were visited by Captain Newport the year following, who discovered the two lower towns. The population gradually declined and in 1699 some Huguenots took possession of the land of Mowhemencho. The greater part of the Monacan had been driven away some years before this by Colonel Bornn (Byrd?). Those who escaped continued to camp in the region until after 1702, as we learn from a Swiss traveler named F. L. Michel (1916). It is probable that the remnant finally united with their relatives the Saponi and Tutelo when they were at Fort Christanna and followed their fortunes, but we have no further information as to their fate.

Population ~ The number of the Monacan was estimated by Mooney (1928) at 1,200 in 1600 including part of the Saponi and Tutelo, but they can hardly have comprised over half as many. In 1669 there were still about 100 true Monacan as they were credited with 30 bowmen.

Connection in which they have become noted~ The name Monacan is perpetuated by a small place called Manakin on the north bank of James River, in Goochland County, Va.



A contraction of Monahassano or Monahassanugh, remembered in later times as Yesan.

Connections ~ The Nahyssan belonged to the Siouan linguistic stock, their nearest relatives being the Tutelo, Saponi, and probably the Monacan and Manahoac.

Location ~ The oldest known location of the Nahyssan has been identified by D. I. Bushnell, Jr. (1930), within very narrow limits as "probably on the left bank of the James, about 1 1\2 miles up the stream from Wingina, in Nelson County."

History ~ In 1650 Blande and his companions noted a site, 12 miles south-south vest of the present Petersburg, called "Manks Nessoneicks" which was presumably occupied for a time by the Nahyssan or a part of them, since "Manks" may be intended for "Tanks," the Powhatan adjective signifying "little." In 1654 or 1666 this tribe and the Manahoac appeared at the falls of James River having perhaps been driven from their former homes by the Susquehanna. They defeated a force of colonials and Powhatan Indians sent against them but did not advance further into the settlements. In 1670 Lederer (1912) found two Indian towns on Staunton River, one of which he calls Sapon and the other Pintahae. Sapon was, of course, the town of the Saponi but it is believed that Pintahae was the town of the Nahyssnn Indians, though Lederer gives this name to both towns. Pintahae was probably the Hanathaskie or Hanahaskie town of which Batts and Fallam (1912) speak a year later. About 1675 the Nahyssan settled on an island below the Occaneechi at the junction of the Staunton and Dan Rivers. Before 1701 all of the Sionan tribes who had settled in this neighborhood moved into North Carolina, and it is thought that the Nahyssan followed the Saponi and Tutelo to the headwaters of the Yadkin and that their subsequent fortunes were identical with those of these two. (See Saponi and Tutelo.)

Population ~ (See Saponi and Tutelo.) 



Meaning "adders," in the language of their Algonquian neighbors, a common designation for alien tribes by peoples of that linguistic stock. Also called:

Cheroenhaka, their own name, probably signifying "fork of a stream."

Mangoak, Mengwe, another Algonquian term, signifying "stealthy," "treacherous."

Connections ~ The Nottaway belonged to the Iroquoian linguistic family, their closest connections probably being the Meherrin, Tuscarora, and Susquchanna.

Location ~ On the river of the same name in southeastern Virginia.

History ~ The Nottaway were found by the Virginia colonists in the location given above. Though they were never prominent in colonial history, they kept up their organization long after the other tribes of the region were practically extinct. In 1825 they are mentioned as living on a reservation in Southampton County and ruled over by a "queen." The name of this tribe was also applied to a band of Indians which appeared on the northern frontiers of South Carolina between 1748 and 1754. They may have included those Susquehanna who are sometimes confounded with the Meherrin, and are more likely to have included Meherrin than true Nottaway although they retained the name of the latter (see Swanton, 1946).

Population ~ The number of Nottaway, exclusive of those last mentioned, was estimated by Mooney (1928) at 1,500 in the year 1600. In 1709 Lawson reported one town with 30 fighting men, but in 1827 Byrd estimated that there were 300 Nottaway in Virginia. In 1825, 47 were reported. The band that made its appearance on the frontiers of South Carolina was said to number about 300.

Connetion in which they have become noted ~ The name of the Nottaway is preserved by Nottoway River, Nottoway County, and two towns, one the county seat of the above, the other in Sussex county. There is a Nottawa in St. Joseph County, Mich.



Meaning unknown. The Botshcnins, or Patshenins, a band associated with the Saponi and Tutelo in Ontario, were perhaps identical with this tribe.

Connections ~ The Occaneechi belonged to the Siouan linguistic stock; their closest connections were probably the Tutelo and Saponi.

Location ~ On the middle and largest island in Roanoke River, just below the confluence of the Staunton and the Dan, near the site of Clarksville, Mecklenburg County, Va. (See also North Carolina.) History~ Edward Blande and his companions heard of them in 1650. When first met by Lederer in 1670 at the spot above mentioned, the Occaneechi were noted throughout the region as traders, and their language is said to have been the common speech both of trade and religion over a considerable area (Lederer, 1912). Between 1670 and 1676 the Occaneechi had been joined by the Tutelo and Saponi, who settled upon two neighboring islands. In the latter year the Conestoga sought refuge among them and were hospitably received, but, attempting to dispossess their benefactors, they were driven away. Later, harassed by the Iroquois and English, the Occaneechi fled south and in 1701 Lawson (1860) found them on the Eno River, about the present Hillsboro, Orange County, N. C. Later still they united with the Tutelo and Saponi and followed their fortunes, having, according to Byrd, taken the name of the Saponi.

Population ~ Mooney (1928) estimates that there were 1,200 Occaneechi in the year 1600. There is no later estimate, but in 1709 this tribe along with the Shakori, Saponi, Tutelo, and Keyauwee were about 750.

Connection in which they have become noted ~ The name Occaneechi is associated particularly with the Occaneechi Trail or Trading Path, which extended southwest through North and South Carolina from the neighborhood of Petersburg, Va.

Continued on Part Two