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Historical Articles


Enigmatic Blackfoot Identifications
East of the Mississippi

and the
 Piedmont Siouan of Virginia and North Carolina

By Linda Carter

 Tutelo                English
Isi                              foot
    asepihiye                        blacken  
  Isi asepihiye                      Blackfoot

Sissipaha - A former small tribe of North Carolina, presumably Siouan, from their alliance and associations with known Siouan tribes. They must have been an important tribe at one time, as Haw River, the chief head stream of Cape Fear river, derives its name from them, and the site of their former village, known in 1728 as Haw Old Fields, was noted as the largest body of fertile land in all that region. It was probably situated about the present Saxapahaw on Haw River, in the lower part of Alamance County, North Carolina. -- Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 30.

If this huge settlement in the Haw river valley was called 'Isi Asepihiye' and the English heard it, they would likely slur all the double vowels. English speakers have trouble pronouncing the double vowels common to Native languages.. They also have difficulting accenting even numbered syllables the way native languages are generally spoken. It's quite likely they'd drop the initial 'i' sound. Given those assumptions,

isi asepihiye = sissipaha

I think this makes for an exceptionally 'clean' corruption. It also makes sense as a name when you consider that the Haw river valley is the largest fertile plain in the region. The people there were great, prosperous farmers. Native farmers used slash and burn agriculture. Hence the emphasis on blackened feet. That's where their prosperity came from, the crux of their economy. From the archeological evidence, they were a very dense population. Epidemics spread through them like wildfire (which is documented). Then, once the economy switched to the fur trade in order to compete in the European-imposed arms race, agriculture lost its importance economically.

The name Blackfoot would then have evoked memories of a much kinder and gentler past. Something a people facing chaos and obvlivion would have treasured. Perhaps that's why that name has been preserved in so many families for the past three hundred years.

The word “Blackfoot” has been carried in a small but distinct group of families that derived east of the Mississippi, and who could have no logical connection to the Blackfoot nation of the Plains.   I would like to demonstrate that there is a distict pattern of surnames and origins to this group, and that they hark back to an historic group of tribes by way of much intriguing evidence.

Photo of Family members with "Other Blackfoot" Identification I am in communication, at this point, with approximately five hundred families with this identification,. The incidence of surnames and locations that coincide with Eastern Siouan Indian families of the NC/VA Piedmont is very high.

For example, in a six week period, between December 16, 2002 and February 4th 2003, I heard from 18 different people with this Blackfoot ID in their families. Of them, 50% had names which occur among families believed or known to be VA/NC Piedmont Siouan descended. Eighty-one percent had surnames associated with VA/NC families believed or known to be Indian descended. Thirty one percent named these ancestors' place of origin as Virginia or NC. Ninety-three percent were from states frequently mentioned by Piedmont Siouan researchers as migration paths for Piedmont Siouan descendants, OH, WV, TN, IN, SC, VA, NC, SC, Al MS, PA, IL.

The names reported during this six week period that also occur among families believed to be Piedmont Siouan are:

Day Family of Ohio
Jones/Smith Family of Indiana

The other names reported during this period that are found among NC/VA families believed to be Indian descended are:



There have been objections raised to the theory that the Blackfoot ID in families deriving east of the Mississippi are Eastern Siouan. This objection has an alternate theory that this ID is the result of the popularity of the western, Siksika, Blackfoot performers in the Wild West shows of the 1890s, making their tribal name a household word. So, the theory goes, families who had either Native blood they knew nothing about, but wanted to give a name to, or, families with some degree of African blood they were trying to disavow, borrowed the name Blackfoot.

If this were the case, then there would be a geographical source traceable to the 1890s. With these families, however, the geographical sources clearly traces back to Colonial days, with many of these Blackfoot ID'd families migrating to other states as early as the 1740's.

Between 1740 and 1780, there was a Blackfoot Town, MD documented in what is now Dagsboro, DE (the border changed). Interestingly, in 1743, there was a well-documented uprising of the Tutelo (Piedmont Siouan) and the Seneca against the British in that vicinity. This does demonstrate that this identification was found on the east coast in Colonial times, with an association to the Piedmont Siouan. I've also heard from other researchers of documentation they saw, but didn't note the source for. One was of the "Blackfoot of the Dan" (a river in the VA/NC Piedmont). Another, which may be in Colonial records held in England, was a reference to a group of tribes coming to the VA colonial government, stating that they were banding together for strength and were calling themselves the Blackfoot. I've yet to find these sources and would appreciate word if anyone does find them.

Let me deal chronologically with what’s known about the village or tribe, the Sissipaha, which I believe translates as “Blackfoot.” The Sissipaha are associated with the Shakori and Eno branches of the Piedmont Siouan family or confederation of tribes, which were extremely early casualties of English encroachment and simultaneous conflict with the Iroquois.

Perhaps the most influential branch at time of contact was the Occaneechi, whose language was the trade language of the region.  They controlled the Roanoke trade routes of the Piedmont.  In 1674 they agreed to assist Nathaniel Bacon in his pursuit of a Susquehannock remnant. Bacon turned on the Occaneechi unexpectedly (in a sucker punch, if you will) and destroyed their village on an island in the Roanoke in what is now Clarksville, VA.

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