Monday, October 25, 2010

Occaneechi-Saponi Descendants in the Texas Community of the North Carolina Piedmont

By Forest Hazel

In the past, archaeological research in eastern North Carolina and Virginia has tended to concentrate on bits and pieces of history, telling only parts of the whole story. Seldom has an effort been made to connect the information gleaned from the ground, revealing a picture of Indian life in the past, with groups of Indian people in the state today. Often this is because of the uncertainty of the actual tribal origins of many of the Indian groups presently living in North Carolina. The Meherrin of Hertford and Bertie counties, for example, are almost certainly a mixture of Nottoway, Chowan, and Coastal Algonquin, as well as Meherrin, ancestry. In many cases, archaeologists have not been aware of the existence of Indian descendants in the areas where archaeological work has been done, or have not taken the time to investigate whether or not a connection exists between the living Indians and the sites being studied.

Map showing selected Native American communities in North Carolina and southern Virginia.
In 1983, when the Research Laboratories of Anthropology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill began work at the Occaneechi village on the banks of the Eno River near Hillsborough, North Carolina, archaeologists were not aware that there might still be descendants of these villagers living in the area. Yet, within 15 miles of the site are two distinct communities of Indian descendants, both of which conceivably could have had connections with the Occaneechi village. Over the past six years the author has made an in-depth study of the history of one, the Texas community, and a cursory examination of the other, the Burnette's Chapel community. This is a summary of the information dealing with the Texas community (more commonly known as Pleasant Grove). This information strongly suggests that these families were Saponi who did not die off or wander away into oblivion, but who remained in their old homelands. Gradually, they were deprived of their lands and, ultimately, were deprived of their very identity as Indian people.

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