Tribe of the Week - Sappony

topic posted Wed, February 4, 2009 - 9:46 AM by  White Wolf
Our tribal affiliation of Sappony is derived from the word Monasusapanough, one of three villages located in the Piedmont near our current home of High Plains. From the mid-seventeenth to the early part of the eighteenth century, the Sappony played a key role as middlemen in the lucrative fur trade between the colony of Virginia and their cousin tribe, the Catawba located in South Carolina. Judging from the Sappony name given to two churches near the tribe and the comments from prominent colonists and traders, the Sappony were held in high regard. William Byrd the trader who surveyed the same boundary line that runs through High Plains stated the Sappony were “the Honestest and bravest Indians Virginia has ever known.”

Okay, same thing as with the Acoma Pueblo. Let's see what you can find out and report on the Sappony. Who were their allies? Where did they live? What kind of housing? Whatever you can dig up and repost here. Just be sure to give links if you can so others can follow and learn as they go. I will check back in a day or two and add to what is here.
posted by:
White Wolf
  • Unsu...
    The Sappony were formerly knows as The Person County Indians and did not take the name Sappony until much later. Here is an article on the Indians of Person County:

    Newspaper Article - 1948


    By Tom MacCaughelty
    Durham Morning Herald, March 21, 1948

    Straddling the North Carolina border in the secluded hills east of U.S. Highway 501 is a community of American Indians whose history has remained as much a mystery as the fate of the Lost Colony. Commonly termed a "mixed-blood" group, these proud people are probably the product of marriages long ago of whites and Indians, and, in fact, have a tradition among themselves which says they are remnants of the Lost Colony. In color they vary between blondes and even red-heads with grey or blue-gray eyes to tawny and sometimes swarthy brunettes with hazel, brown, or black eyes. Some have the straight black hair associated with pure Indian, while others have differing shades of brown hair, either straight or wavy. In general appearance they are well- dressed and clean. They are a handsome people. Their history is mysterious. As Indians, they never have been positively identified. Can they be, as their tradition holds, the long sought descendants of the friendly Indians who received the colonists of John White? Strangely enough, among the approximately 350 people in the scattered farming community, only six family names are represented: Johnson, Martin, Coleman, Epps, Stewart (also spelled Stuart), and Shepherd. Stranger still, three of these names correspond closely with those among the list of Lost Colonists: Johnson, Coleman, and Martyn. But theirs are common English names long familiar in North Carolina, and intermarriage with the proximity to whites would be expected to extend such names among them. (A seventh prominent name among this group is Tally.) As far back as anyone knows, these people have displayed the manners and customs of white settlers, but in this they don't differ from identified Indians.

    Unfortunately, as far as settling the question goes, not a single Indian word had been passed down to the present group. If their former manner of speech could somehow be resurrected, there would be a good clue to their identity; for then experts could judge with some degree of accuracy whether they indeed originated among the coastal Algonquin language tribes. If so, there would be a good argument for the Lost Colony theory. If their language were Siouan or some other branch of the inland tongues, the score would be against the Lost Colony tradition.

    Dr. Douglas LeTell Rights, author of "The American Indian in North Carolina," (published by Duke University Press in 1947) says that there is a possibility that the people, officially designated as Person County Indians, are descendants of the Saponi, originally a Siouan tribe. He notes that Governor Dobbs reported in 1755 that 14 men and 14 women of the Saponi were in Granville county. Person County was once a part of Granville county. ( Dr. Rights also suggests that these Indians in Person County may be a branch of, or have mixed with, the Indians of Robeson County. The people themselves deny being a branch of the Robeson County Indian, but say that there have been a few marriages between members of the two groups.)

    The Person County Indians, if they are of the Saponi, couldn't choose a more highly regarded tribe. (Col. William Byrd, in his History of The Dividing Line describes this tribe.) Whether a remnant of the Lost Colony, or of the proud Saponi, or of some other group, these people have lived in the rolling hills and high plains northeast of Roxboro for countless generations. No one knows how long. According to E. L. Wehrenberg, for 17 years principal of the community school, it was not until 1920 that they were officially recognized by act of the North Carolina legislature as Person County Indians. Before that, however, they had always insisted upon being treated either as Indians or whites. Back in the days of subscription schools, they hired their own white teachers; and under the present county school system have always had white or Indian teachers. Wehrenberg estimates that there are about 70 families in the group. and that about two-thirds of the people live in Person County and the rest across the line in Virginia. This proportion has changed from time to time he says.
    • Unsu...
      It seems as though it was a fairly recent change of name...2003...which means they have only been known as the Sappony for about 6 years.

      29 March 2003 – Courier-Times

      State House OKs request from
      Indians of Person County to change official name to ‘Sappony’

      The Indians of Person County are one legislative vote and the governor’s signature away from being recognized under North Carolina law as the "Sappony" tribe.

      And those next two steps aren’t likely to prove more than formality, after the House this week passed a bill effecting a formal name change for the Indians of Person County, who have been officially known by that name for the past 90 years.

      The legislation was introduced earlier this month by Rep. Gordon P. Allen, D-Person, and Rep. Ronald Sutton, D-Robeson at the request of the High Plains Indians Inc. on behalf of the Indians of Person County. The measure also had the support of the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs, which adopted a resolution to that effect on Jan. 10, and also made the name change as part of the commission’s legislative goals for 2003.

      Section 1. G. S. 71A-7 of state law that officially recognizes the Indians of Person County by that name is effectively rewritten by the Allen-Sutton bill, which simply supplants "Indians of Person County" in the language of the measure with "Sappony."

      As passed by the House this week, on Tuesday, March 25, the statute reads: The Indian Tribe now residing in Person County, officially recognized as the Indians of Person County by Chapter 22 of the Public-Local Laws of 1913, who are descendants of those Indians living in Person County for whom the High Plaints Indian School was established, shall, from and after February 3, 1913, be designated and officially recognized as Sappony, and shall continue to enjoy all their rights, privileges, and immunities as citizens of the State as now or hereafter provided by law, and shall continue to be subject to all the obligations and duties of citizens under the law.

      In addition, the House similarly amended the section of state law establishing membership of the State Commission of Indian Affairs so as to replace "Indians of Person County" with "Sappony," thereby assuring Sappony recognition by and a representative seat on the state commission.

      The measure now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to win approval and be passed on for Gov. Mike Easley’s signature, thus becoming law.

      The legislation stems in large measure from an extensive research project conducted by the Indians of Person County, with the help of a federal grant, into the tribe’s history and identity. The research confirmed the Person County tribe as Sappony, the spelling of which also was authenticated, according to tribe officials.

      The Sappony have resided for centuries in what became known as the High Plains Community, which straddles the North Carolina-Virginia border now separating northeastern Person County and southeastern Halifax County, Va. The Sappony represent the remnants of a much larger tribe, the majority of which moved north to join the Iroquois or south to join the Catawba, according to tribe leaders.

      The State of North Carolina apparently first recognized the tribe as the Indians of Person County in 1911, in advance of the formal legislation to that effect in 1913, when the State of Virginia also recognized the Indians living in Halifax County, Va.

      Today, according to tribal leaders, the Sappony have about 850 tribal members, all of whom descend from the tribe’s seven main families. A representative from each of the seven family surnames – Stewart, Epps, Shepherd, Martin, Johnson, Talley and Colman – serves on the Sappony Tribal Council, which is led by a tribal chair and tribal chief.

      Dorothy Crowe is the current chair, Otis Martin, chief, and Dante Desiderio is the tribe’s executive director. Julia Phipps represents the tribe on the Commission of Indian Affairs.

      A check of the NC General Assembly web site leads me to believe that the bill has passed and has been signed by the Governor. The following text is from
      • Unsu...
        Here is a current website for the tribe:

        I think information about them is obscure because they were originally 5 tribes merged into on. If they were attached to the Tuscarora and Ocaneechee, then their ways would be more toward the Iroquois way of doing things. Those nations are part of the Iroquois confederacy. I know that in that area of Virginia you can find pottery made by Sappony people, so feel confident to say they were potters. Housing and other types of things...not too sure...information is still vague, probably due to assimilation into both white culture, as well as into other nations. Their language has been extinct for a long time and there seems to be some controversy on whether their dialect was Siouan or Algonquian; however I would offer that since they were originally part of the Iriquios people...they would most likely be speaking an Algonquian dialect.
        • Ben
          offline 0
          I will attempt to gather current information for use on this board. I am a member of the Sappony and although there are similarities between the groups as far as geographic proximity, they are in fact separate tribes.

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