The Haliwa-Saponi are located in eastern North Carolina, United States, one of the American Indian tribes recognized in the state. The Haliwa-Saponi hold membership on the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs. The name Haliwa is derived from the two counties: Halifax and Warren, which are the ancestral homelands of the Haliwa people dating from the 1730s. They re-organized and adopted their current form of government in 1953 and were recognized in 1965 by the state of North Carolina. In 1979 the tribe added Saponi to their name to reflect their descent from the historical Saponi peoples formerly located in present-day Virginia and the Carolinas.
Since the late nineteenth century, the tribe has created schools and other institutions to preserve its culture and identity. The Protestant religion has been a strong centering force for the community as well, which for years was united through subsistence activities and oral traditions. Today its young people include the use of technology among their skills, while adding to the creation of new arts and crafts.
The Haliwa-Saponi descend from the Saponi, a Siouan-speaking Native American tribe of North America’s Southeastern Piedmont. In 1670, John Lederer, a German surveyor, visited a Saponi settlement along the Staunton (now the Roanoke River) River in southern Virginia. Thirty years later, John Lawson, commissioned by the Lords Proprietor to survey the Carolina colony’s interior, encountered groups of Saponi as they conducted trade.
Throughout the post-contact period of increasing English colonial settlement and expansion, southeastern Siouan Piedmont peoples such as the Saponi maintained autonomous villages in what is now northeastern North Carolina and southern Virginia. During the late 17th century, the Saponi undertook a political alliance with the culturally related Tottero, or Tutelo, and together comprised the Nassaw Nation. Due to frequent incursions into Saponi territory by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Five Nations), situated in present-day New York and Canada, the Saponi and their allies temporarily relocated. They migrated through the regions of present-day Virginia and North Carolina, while continuing to seek economically and militarily advantageous alliances.
By the beginning of the century, continuous warfare with the Haudenosaunee and repeated outbreaks of infectious disease reduced the once populous Saponi. Joining with the Tottero, the Saponi migrated to northeastern North Carolina to be closer to the center of Virginia’s colonial trade. In 1711, the Carolina colony went to war with the powerful Iroquoian-speaking Tuscarora. With the defeat of the Tuscarora two years later, the colony and its allied Saponi met in Williamsburg with the |Tuscarora and Nottoway to discuss the terms of peace. Most of the Tuscarora migrated from Carolina to present-day New York, where by 1722 they were adopted as the Sixth Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, to whom they were related by language and culture. The Saponi entered into a new treaty of trade with Virginia’s governor, Alexander Spotswood.
On February 27, 1714, the Virginia colony reached an agreement. Moreover, the Saponi, Tottero, Occaneechi, Keyauwee, Enoke (or Eno), and Shakori formally coalesced, becoming “The Saponi Nation.” Another band, the Stuckanox, shortly thereafter joined the Saponi Nation. Despite the success in treaty-making and tribal coalescence, the years between 1709 and 1714 were extremely difficult. Disease caused continuing population decline. Travelers enumerated the Saponi Nation at a little more than 300 people. That same year, the Virginia Council asked the Nansemond tribe to merge with the Saponi to strengthen their settlements. They hoped these people could create a buffer between Virginia’s plantation settlements, other Southeastern Siouan Piedmont Native Americans, and the Haudenosaunee.
To strengthen Virginia’s borders, Alexander Spotswood convinced the colonial Board of Trade to approve the establishment of Fort Christanna between the Roanoke and Meherrin rivers, about thirty-two miles north of the present-day Haliwa-Saponi powwow grounds. Fort Christanna was built to protect the Virginia colony in two critical ways: as a bulwark intended to ward off military assault, and as a center for the Christianization and education of the Saponi and other Southeastern groups. Fort Christanna also served as a major trading post for the corporate Virginia Indian Company.
Decline of Indian trade
Roughly seventy Saponi children were educated and converted to Christianity at Fort Christanna by the missionary teacher Charles Griffin of North Carolina. By 1717, under charges of monopoly, the Colonial Board of Trade lost interest in the Fort and ordered the Virginia Indian Company to disband and dissolve. The Saponi Nation continued to maintain peaceful trade relations with the colony. A portion of the Saponi Nation continued living in the Fort Christanna area from 1717 to 1729. Another group of Saponi migrated into northern Virginia, near Fredericksburg.
Historians Marvin Richardson and C. S. Everett note historical documentation for the modern Haliwa-Saponi tribe as descending from a group that arose during the 1730s, a tumultuous time of decline of the Indian trade. The divisive Tuscarora and Yamasee wars affected colonists, Native Americans and Indian trade in Virginia and the Carolinas. More is now understood about how remnants of smaller tribes coalesced after this period to continue their Indian culture and identity. A group of Saponi migrated south to the militarily and linguistically related Catawba, in what is now northeastern South Carolina. They occupied a village there from 1729 to 1732, but in 1733 returned to the Fort Christianna area with some Cheraw Indians. Discovering that colonists had taken patents on their traditional territory, the Saponi made agreements with Virginia for new lands.
They also made a separate arrangement with the remaining band of Tuscarora in April 1733, to live with them and under their sovereignty. The majority of the Saponi migrated to North Carolina with traders and planters, settling in what are now Halifax and Warren counties. Fewer went to the reservation for the Tuscarora, known as Reskooteh Town and Indian Wood. It was located in Bertie County. The reservation consisted initially of 40,000 acres (160 km²), bordered eastern Halifax County. By 1734, some Algonquian-speaking Nansemond lived with the Nottoway in Virginia. Other Nansemond had resettled near the Tuscarora in North Carolina.
During the 1730s and 1740s and through the time of the American Revolution, because of living in more diverse areas and the decline in their tribe, the Saponi intermarried with European colonists and free people of color. After the Revolution, they distinguished themselves from both the European Americans and African Americans, and married mostly within the Indian community. In addition, they created institutions to support their cultural identity as American Indians.
Virginia traders such as Colonel William Eaton, who wanted to continue their business relations with the tribes, also migrated to North Carolina. He was a resident of “Old Granville” (modern day Franklin, Warren, and Vance) County. He traded with the Saponi, Catawba, and others.
In 1740 most of the remaining Saponi in Virginia moved north to Pennsylvania and New York, where they merged with the Iroquois for protection. After the American Revolutionary War and victory by the colonists, they moved with the Iroquois to Canada, as four of the six nations had been allies of the British. The British government provided land and some relocation assistance to their Iroquois allies. This was the last time in which the Saponi tribe appeared in the historical record.
From the 1730s to the 1770s, Haliwa-Saponi ancestors settled in and near the modern Haliwa-Saponi area in North Carolina. The Haliwa-Saponi community began coalescing in “The Meadows” of southwestern Halifax County, North Carolina immediately after the American Revolution. Much reduced in number, the few remaining Tuscarora migrated from Bertie County to New York in 1804, joining others on a reservation there. Their reservation land in North Carolina had been steadily reduced through the eighteenth century and was finally sold off.
During the early 19th century, ancestral Haliwa-Saponi remained relatively isolated in the Meadows. They attempted to live peaceably alongside their neighbors. During the 1830s, when the United States enforced policies to remove all Indians living east of the Mississippi River, the federal government basically ignored most of the relatively landless and powerless small tribes settled in the southeastern Coastal Plain. However, Haliwa-Saponi tribal elders tell of several families’ migrating west to Indian Territory on their own, some merging into the general population, while others were adopted by one of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma.
Over the course of the 19th century, the Haliwa-Saponi maintained a close, tight-knit tribal community in modern Halifax, Warren, Nash, and Franklin counties and generally maintained endogamy. Churches of the Protestant religion were part of their community centers: the first established was Jeremiah Methodist Church in the mid-1870s in Halifax County. Later some switched and built the Pine Chapel Baptist Church.
While the Reconstruction legislature established public school systems for the first time after the American Civil War, legislators were forced to accept segregated schools to get the bill passed. In the binary system that evolved out of the slave society of the South, especially as whites tried to restore white supremacy after Reconstruction, they classified most mixed-race people of any African ancestry as black (colored), although ethnic Indians had traditionally had rights as free people of color for decades before the Civil War. Haliwa-Saponi children were expected to go to schools with the children of newly emancipated freedmen. After 1877 and the end of Reconstruction, the Haliwa spent the late 19th century fighting for separate Indian schools. They also organized a more formal tribal governance structure. In the 1870s the Haliwa-Saponi began meeting at Silver Hill, a remote location within the Meadows.
With the rise of Jim Crow laws, the Haliwa-Saponi and African Americans were disfranchised by state law in 1896 and a new constitution in 1899 that was discriminatory in the application of poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses. This was the pattern for every former Confederate state, beginning with Mississippi in 1890 and proceeding through 1908. The Haliwa continued their efforts to build and maintain separate institutions.
These early efforts at formal organization resulted in the Indian schools: Bethlehem School (1882) in Warren County, and the Secret Hill School in Halifax County. Early tribal leaders worked to start the process of reorganizing tribal government and gaining recognition, but in the post-Reconstruction era with the rise of Jim Crow laws, they found little support. Few official records of the period recorded any people as Indian.
Richardson and Everett note that issues of race and ethnicity became more complex when numerous African-American laborers were recruited in 1906 for a growing timber industry and moved with their families into the Meadows area. By 1908 they started to attend Pine Chapel Baptist Church, but some Haliwa wanted to have separate worship and started a third church, St. Paul’s Baptist Church. It was an all-Indian congregation until the 1950s.
The Haliwa also created their own two Indian schools. Later in the twentieth century, these closed. Tribal leaders in the 1940s, including John C. Hedgepeth, tried to have birth certificates of members indicate their Indian ethnicity, with little success. The state classified people as only black or white.
In 1953, the tribe re-organized its government into the current structure they have today, through the leadership of Hedgepeth, Lonnie Richardson, B.B. Richardson, Chief Jerry Richardson (First Chief), Percy Richardson (Second Chief and Vice Chief with W. R. Richardson the Third Chief of the tribe, James Mills, Theadore Lynch, and others. After living for years in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, W.R. Richardson returned home to the community. He was soon elected as the first Chief under the new re-organized tribal governance structure, with Percy Richardson elected as Vice-Chief.
After the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. The Board of Education (1954) that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional, the state undertook resistance by what was called the Pearsall Plan, which allowed municipalities to make funds available to create private neighborhood schools. The Haliwa-Saponi took advantage of this provision to build and operate the private Haliwa Indian School, which was attended only by Indian children. It was the only tribally supported Indian school that was not on a reservation. They operated it from 1957-1969. After a few years of its operation, the State Department of Public Instruction (DPI) provided funding for teacher salaries. Tribal citizens paid for supplies and materials, the building, and maintenance, much as parents do at parochial schools.
In 1957, as part of their increasing assertion of identity, the Haliwa Indian Tribe built the Saponi Indian Church, since renamed Mt. Bethel Indian Baptist Church, in Warren County. Sometimes other people of color, resented the Indians’ separate ethnic identity within the segregated social system. The increasing African-American activism for civil rights highlighted some of the tensions between the ethnicities.
In 1965, North Carolina formally recognized the Haliwa Indian Tribe. In 1967 the Haliwa opened their tenth annual Haliwa Pow-wow to the public, inviting state and local officials and Indians from other states. They added Saponi to the tribal name in 1979 to reflect their claimed Siouan ancestry.
The Tribe has since built an updated headquarters administration building, multipurpose building, and instituted various service programs. Programs include but are not limited to tribal housing, daycare, senior citizens program, community services, Workforce Investment Act, cultural retention, after-school and youth programs, energy assistance, and economic development.
The Haliwa-Saponi’s latest accomplishment is the opening of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School, 98% of whose students are Indian. The school has a curriculum based on the NC standard course of study, small classrooms, technology, and American Indian Studies. The Haliwa-Saponi continue to be culturally active. It is proud of the community’s many dancers, singers, artists, advanced degree students, and young professionals.
Surnames: Evans, Everett, Mitchell, Richardson, Webb