Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Occaneechi Indians

John Lawson, who visited the Occaneechi in 1701, gives us what is probably our latest, best known view of how the Occaneechi were living prior to their incorporation with the Saponi. Coupling Lawson's (Lefler 1967) written account with the information gained by recent excavations at Occaneechi Town by the Research Laboratories of Anthropology (Dickens et al. 1987; Ward and Davis 1988), it is possible to gain a fairly clear picture of a society undergoing rapid change, and yet endeavoring to maintain some semblance of a traditional lifestyle. In a period of time when small fragmented groups across the Piedmont were banding together for mutual assistance and protection, the merging of families and small tribes at Occaneechi Town would not have been unusual.

Occaneechi Town was almost completely abandoned by 1713, when the Occaneechi signed a Treaty of Peace with the Virginia colonial government at Williamsburg. At that point, it is indicated from reading the document that the Occaneechi, Stuckanok, and Tottero, although signing the treaty separately, were dominated by the Saponi. At least, the whites seemed to regard them all as Saponi. Governor Spotswood of Virginia would later refer to the Fort Christanna Indians as all going under the name of Saponi. There are very few references to the Occaneechi as a distinct tribe after the settlement at Fort Christanna, which operated from 1714 to 1717.

After the Indians were settled on the Meherrin River near present-day Lawrenceville, Virginia, a school and minister were provided for their instruction, along with a small company of rangers who were to guard the eastern colonists from attacks by western tribes such as the Cherokee. Once they were "civilized" by the influences of Christianity and the English language, the Saponi were no doubt expected to assist in this duty. The fort also served as a trading center for the Indian trade, but the profits apparently were not great enough to satisfy the project's backers and the fort was closed in 1717.