Native American History

This page is designed to assist those of Native American ancestry in tracing their roots through Guilford County. Any suggestions and contributions of information are welcome.

The History of Guilford County, North Carolina, U.S.A., to 1980, A.D.
by Blackwell P. Robinson of U.N.C.-G (to 1890) and
Alexander R. Stoesen of Guilford College (from 1890)
edited by Sydney M. Cone, Jr.
project of
The Guilford County Bicentennial Commission, 1971, John Harden, Chairman
The Guilford County American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, 1976,
J. H. Froelich, Jr., Chairman

Published with funds provided by
The Guilford County Commissioners, Blue Bell, Inc., Cone Mills Corporation, Gilbarco, Inc., and other friends of history.
No publication date, no copyright information.

The following information is quoted directly from the book, which may be purchased through used-book dealers.

Volume One
Guilford County’s First 150 Years

by Blackwell P. Robinson

Chapter II ~ Then There Was The Red Man

County histories frequently begin with interesting and arresting (if not hair-raising) tales of the exploits and habitations of the aborigines within their borders. Unfortunately, little is known about the Red Man in the present county of Guilford. No recorded or legendary accounts have come down to us. No early traveler, not even the peripatetic John Lawson (1701), has revealed a scintilla of information about the Indians of this county. Few – possibly three – Indian names designate any physical features within the confines of the county. * Evidence of their existence consists of artifacts which have been found near springs, creek heads, and along the trails which traversed the county. These artifacts indicate that a fairly numerous tribe or tribes of nomads and village-dwellers once inhabited this region which was at that time prolific with the white tailed deer and the buffalo.

Some knowledge of their way of life, however, can be gleaned from any early account of the Indians to the east in Orange County, from which about half of Guilford was formed, and two accounts of them in the original Guilford, which included Randolph County on the south and Rockingham County on the north, which borders on the Virginia line.

For the first of these we are indebted to the somewhat dubious account of John Lederer, a German physician, who has been called “The Father of Explorers in the Piedmont.” ** He recounted that he set out on May 20, 1670, with a party (which later turned back, except for the guide) from the James River, Virginia. They finally reached the Eno Indians on June 16 at their village in the Eno River Valley just outside present Hillsborough. The country he described as being open and clear of wood because of the industry of these Indians. Their town was built around a field, “where in their sports they exercise with so much labor and violence, and in so great numbers, that I have seen the ground wet with sweat that dropped from their bodies; their chief recreation is slinging of stones.”

He described them as “of mean stature and courage, covetous and thevish, industrious to earn a penny.” They planted an abundance of grain and reaped three harvests in a summer. Their houses and those of the “mountain Indians” were built of “watling and Plaister”; saplings and clay daub, though some of them were made of reed or bark. They were usually round houses, each with “a little hovel made like an oven,” where they lay up their corn and mast and keep it dry.” (1)

The Enoes, along with other Siouan tribes, moved toward the eastern settlements near the coast about 1714. Afterward they moved into South Carolina and part at least ultimately united with the Catawba. (2)

Thirty years after Lederer’s account, an Englishman, John Lawson, a surveyor and later author of a famous history of North Carolina, set out from Charleston, South Carolina, on a long trail which followed a horseshoe-shaped course up through the Carolina Piedmont and eastward to the North Carolina coast. The most penetrating of the early writers on the subject of the Indians in the Carolinas, his descriptions of the Siouan tribes of the Piedmont are a valuable primary source of information.

After visiting the Saponi Indians at their village at the famous Trading Ford of the Yadkin River (six miles northeast of present Salisbury), Lawson and his party proceeded in a northeastern direction and on the second day crossed the Uwharrie River (called the Highwarree by Lawson), and five miles further they reached the Keyauwee Town on Caraway Creek (about seven miles west of Asheboro) in Randolph County, at one time a part of Guilford. His description was detailed:

Five miles from this River, to the N.W., stands the Keyauwees town. They are fortified with wood Puncheons [a short upright framing timber] like [those of the] Sapona, being a People much of the same Number. Nature has so fortified this Town with Mountains, [the Uwharries], that were it a Seat of War, it might easily be made impregnable; having large Corn-Fields joining to their Cabins, and a Savannah near the Town at the Foot of these Mountains, that is capable of keeping some hundred Heads of Cattle. And all this environed round with very high Mountains, so that no hard – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

[footnote]  * Osceola, a small community in northwest Guilford; Haw River, which was probably so named by the inhabitants of present Alamance County for the Sissipahaw or Saxapahaw Indians; and possibly Little and Big Alamance Creeks. The name Alamance is claimed by some to be derived from the Indian word meaning ”blue clay.” See David Leroy Corbitt, The Formation of the North Carolina Counties, 1663-1943 (Raleigh: State Department of Archives and History, 1950), p. 1.

[footnote]  ** Some scholars have declared the account of this, and two other trips, is a myth; others have rejected it only in parts; some have accepted the whole itinerary and have traced his wanderings in ways satisfactory to themselves. After a detailed study of the problem the author of a Master’s thesis at Chapel Hill decided that Lederer “seems” to have been in Virginia, at least, and that while there he “apparently” fabricated a fanciful journey from accounts he received from traders and Indian guides. He drew the conclusion that this did not mean the account was worthless, since the information he wove into his tale “may have been fairly accurate.” Ernest Lewis, “The Saura Indians, 1540-1768: An Ethno-Archaeological Study.” Unpublished Master’s thesis (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1951), pp. 17-18.

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Wind ever troubles these Inhabitants. Those high Cliffs have no Grass growing on them, and very few Trees, which are very short, and stand at a great Distance one from another. The Earth is of a Red Colour and seems to me to be wholly designed by Nature for the Production of Minerals, being of too hot a Quality to suffer any Verdure upon its Surface.

These Indians make use of Lead-Ore, to paint their Faces withal, which they get in the neighboring Mountains…

At the Top of one of these Mountains is a Cave that one hundred Men may sit very conveniently to dine in, whether natural or artificial I could not learn… Near the Town is such another Current as Heighwaree.

Since there were six in Lawson’s party, they divided, and it was Lawson’s lot to be at the house of Keyauwee Jack, their king, a Congeree Indian who had run away when he was a boy. He had “got this Government by Marriage with the Queen; the Female Issue carrying the Heritage, for fear of Imposters; the Savages well knowing how much Frailty possesses the Indian Women, betwixt the garters and the girdle.”

Lawson also reported two unusual practices:

All the Indians hereabouts carefully preserve the Bones of the Flesh they eat and burn them, as being of Opinion that if they omitted that Custom the Game would leave their Country, and they should not be able to maintain themselves by their Hunting. Most of these Indians Wear Mustachoes or Whiskers, which is rare; by reason the Indians are a People that commonly pull the Hair of their Faces and other Parts, up by the roots and suffer none to grow.

Lawson further reported that there were plenty of chestnuts there “which are rarely found in Carolina, and never near the Sea or Salt-Water, though they are frequently in such Places in Virginia.” Also at the king’s house “there was very good Entertainment of Vension, Turkies and Bears; and which is customary amongst the Indians.” He was much impressed with the King’s step-daughter “who was the beautifulest Indian I ever saw, and had an Air of Majesty with her quite contrary to the general Carriage of the Indian.”

Incidentally, it has been suggested that Randolph County erect a marble statue in memory of this briefly mentioned “belle of the village in old Keyauwee.” (3)

At the house where the other travelers stayed the cuisine was not quite so appetizing:

… they had provided a Dish in great Fashion amongst the Indians, which was Two young Fawns taken out of the Does’ Bellies, and boiled in the same slimy Bags Nature had placed them in, and one of the Country-Hares, stewed with the Guts in her Belly, and her Skin with the Hair on. This new fashioned Cookery wrought Abstinence in our Fellow-Travelers, which I somewhat wondered at, because one of them made nothing of eating Allegators as heartily as if it had been Pork and Turneps. The Indians dress most things in the Woodcock Fashion, never taking the guts out. (4)

These Keyauwees were described in the Handbook of American Indians as a small tribe affiliated with the Tutelo, Saponi, and Occaneechi Indians. Though nothing remains of their language they were probably of the Siouian family, a conclusion substantiated only by their association with well-kown Siouian tribes of the east. Soon after Lawson’s visit, the Keyauwees, together with the other affiliated tribes, for better protection from their enemies, moved down toward the settlements about Albemarle Sound. Altogether, with two or three tribes, they numbered about 750 souls. The Keyauwee and the Sara, or Saura, and perhaps the Eno, moved to the Pee Dee River area in South Carolina sometime in 1733 and soon disappeared from history “having probably been absorbed by the Catawbas.” (5)

The site of their village was first suggested by the Reverend Douglas L. Rights, a Moravian archivist, after a survey of the region around the Caraway Creek valley. Later, in June 1936, Joffre L. Coe, professor of archeology at Chapel Hill and a native of Greensboro, conducted explorations for the Archeological Society of North Carolina. Here he found that cultivation and erosion and several generations of relic hunters had almost completed the destruction of this once rich and strategic site. Among other things they did find eight burial sites: five were single, two double, and one contained a triple burial, thus making a total of twelve individuals. All of the burials were characterized by a fully flexed position with the knees drawn up against the chest and the hands resting on or near the face. Bird-bone beads and cut shell beads were found around the necks of some skeletons.

In one pit a large quantity of cracked and charred animal and human bones was mixed with other refuse. Consequently, Coe suggests that within historic times these Indians practiced cannibalism. (6)

Colonel William Byrd II on two different occasions also affords us some insight into the local Indians and the topography of the area. Byrd records in his sprightly History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina that on October 18, 1728, he and his party of commissioners reached a branch of the Dan River which they called the Irvin River (now Smith River), in the northern part of present Rockingham County which for 14 years (1771-1785) was part of the original Guilford. This site is about due north of the present Wentworth, the county seat. The surrounding land, which he later dubbed “the Land of Eden,” he described as “one continued Tract of rich high Land, the woods whereof had been burnt not long before. It was then overgrown with Saplings of Oak, Hickory and Locust, interlac’d with Grape Vines.”

He continued:

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The Irvine runs into the Dan about four Miles to the Southward of the line (the dividing line), and seem’d to roll down its Waters from the N.N.W. in a very full and Limped stream, and the Murmur it made, in tumbling over the Rocks, caus’d the Situation to appear very Romantick, and had almost made some of the Company Poetical, tho’ they drank nothing but Water.

The hills they ascended that day were “encumber’d with Stones, many of which seem’d to contain a Metallick Substance, and the Vallies we crost were interrupted with Miry Branches.”

The next day they proceeded about four miles beyond the Irvine River and forded Matrimony Creek, “call’d so by an unfortunate marry’d man, because it was exceedingly noisy and impetuous. However, tho’ the Stream was Clamorous, yet, like those Women who make themselves plainest heard, it was likewise perfectly clear and unsully’d.”

Being short on rations and no game being available in the vicinity, “The men’s mouths water’d at the Sight of a Prodigious Flight of Wild Pigeons …. The Flocks of these Birds of Passage are so amazingly great, Sometimes, that they darken the Sky; nor is it uncommon for them to light in such Numbers on the Larger Limbs of Mulberry-Trees and Oaks as to break them down.”

Their hunger the next day, however, was somewhat assuaged when the Indian guide killed “a monstrous fat Bear,” for their breakfast.

That same day, October 20, they found the atmosphere smoky because of the firing of the woods by the Indians. As a matter of fact they were now near the route of the northern Indians on their way to attack the Catawba and other southern Indians. This trail followed closely the present Norfolk and Western Railroad.

Byrd’s commentary on these northern Indians explains, in large measure, the moving of the local Indians from the area:

And now I mention the Northern Indians, it may not be improper to take Notice of their implacable hatred to those to the South. Their Wars are everlasting, without any Peace, Enmity being the only Inheritance among them that descends from Father to Son, and either Party will march a thousand Miles to take their Revenge upon such Hereditary Enemies.

These long Expeditions are Commonly carry’d on in the following Manner; Some Indian, remarkable for his Prowess, that has rais’d himself to the Reputation of a War-Captain, declaring his Intention of paying a Visit to some southern Nation; Hereupon as many of the Young Fellows as have either a Strong Thirst of Blood or Glory, list themselves under his command.

With these Volunteers he goes from One Confederate Town to another, listing all the Rabble he can, til he has gather’d together a competent Number for Mischief.

Byrd described their accoutrement, strategy, and tactics as follows:

Their Arms are a Gun and Tomahawk, and all the Provisions they carry from Home is a Pouch or Rockahominy. Thus provided and accoutr’d, they march towards their Enemy’s Country, not in a Body, or by a certain Path, but Straggling in Small Numbers, for the greater convenience of Hunting and passing along undiscover’d. So soon as they approach the Grounds on which the Enemy is used to hunt, they never kindle any Fire themselves, for fear of being found out by the smoak, nor will they Shoot at any kind of Game, tho’they shou’d be half Famisht, lest they alarm their Foes, and put them upon their Guard.

Byrd described their method of scalping.

Sometimes when they find the Enemy Asleep around their little fire, they first Pelt them with little Stones to wake them, and when they get up, fire in upon them, being in that posture a better Mark than when prostrate on the ground. Those that are kill’d of the Enemy, or disabled, they Scalp, that is, they cut the Skin all around the Head just below the hair, and then clapping their Feet to the poor Mortal’s Shoulders, pull the Scalp off clean, and carry it home in Triumph, being as proud of those Trophies, as the Jews used to be of the Foreskins of the Philistines. (&)

Despite the atrocities and barbarities of the Indians, Byrd was so impressed with the land which would become, for a short time (1771-1785), the northern part of Guilford County that he purchased from the North Carolina commissioners 20,000 acres in the region of the junction of Dan and Smith rivers. To these he later added 6,000 adjacent acres. Designated by Bryd as “the Land of Eden” it is situated a few miles east of the town of Leaksville, or present Eden. (8)

On September 11, 1733, he set out on a survey of his newly acquired real estate which lay mostly in the present county of Rockingham. By the 26th he and his party arrived on the eastern bank of Sable Creek, just at the brink of the Dan River, which he recorded in his Journey to the Land of Eden, as “the beginning of my fine tract of land in Carolina, called the Land of Eden.” The first day of this survey they found “a charming peninsula, formed by the western branch of the creek.” It contained, he wrote, about forty acres “of very rich land, gradually descending to the creek, and is a delightful situation for the manor house.”

On the 29th they had reached the lower part of the Irwine (Smith) River which was the boundary of Byrd’s purchase. The next day, a Sunday, they were glad to rest from their labors and to restore their vigor by plunging into the river, although it was a frosty morning. One of their Indian guides went with them and taught them their way of

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swimming:  “They strike not out both hands together, but alternately one after another, whereby they are able to swim both farther and faster than we do.”  And so, it seems that right here in Guilford-Rockingham, the Red Man first taught the white man the over-hand free style, or Australian crawl!

One of the Indians, despite the fact it was Sunday, shot a bear which he lugged about half a mile for the good of the company. However, Byrd wrote that the Indian had “no distinction of days, but make every day a sabbath, except when they go out to war or a hunting, and then they will undergo incredible fatigues.” He continued:

Of other work the men do none, thinking it below the dignity of their sex, but make the poor women do all the drudgery. They have a blind tradition amongst them, that work was first laid upon mankind by the fault of a female, and therefore it is but just that sex [which] should do the greatest part of it.

The next day the surveying party turned south of the land of Eden and crossed the Dan about one and a half miles west of its junction with Smith River. After crossing the Dan they rode down the western side and for three miles found the land “pretty barren and uneven.”

Colonel Byrd then followed with a glowing description of what met his eyes:

But then on a sudden the scene changed, and we were surprised with an opening of large extent, where the Sauro Indians once lived, who had been a considerable nation. But the frequent inroads of the Senecas annoyed them incessantly, and obliged them to remove from this fine situation about thirty years ago. Then then retired more southerly, as far as Pee Dee river, and incorporated with the Kewawees, where a remnant of them is still surviving. It must have been a great misfortune to them to be obliged to abandon so beautiful a dwelling, where the air is wholesome, and the soil equal in fertility to any in the world. The river is about eighty yards wide, always confined within its lofty banks, and rolling down its waters, as sweet as milk, and as clear as crystal. There runs a charming level, of more than a mile square, that will bring forth like the lands of Egypt, without being overflowed once a year. There is scarce a shrub in view to intercept your prospect, but grass as high as a man on horseback. Towards the woods there is a gentle ascent, till your sight is intercepted by an eminence, that overlooks the whole landscape. This sweet place is bounded to the east by a fine stream, called Sauro Creek, which running out of the Dan, and tending westerly, makes the whole a peninsula. (9)

A final word about these Saura Indians has been left by the English traveller, J. F. D. Smyth, writing of his stay at Saura Town in 1784 – just a year before that part of Guilford became Rockingham:

The Sawras, although once a considerable nation of Indians, have been long extinct: there is not even a single family or trace of them remaining, excepting these vestiges of their towns, which still continue to support their name, this being fortunately preserved as the appellation of these two settlements. The upper Sawra Towns [in present Stokes County, northwest of Walnut Cove] are trifling and insignificant, compared with the lower Sawra Towns [in the land of Eden], which is an extremely valuable settlement…

The whole settlement of the lower Sawra Towns, being a vast body of excellent and most valuable land, containing thirty-three thousand acres, of which more than nine hundred are exceedingly rich low grounds, is the property of Mr. Farley, of the island of Antigua in the West Indies, and formerly belonged to the late Col. William Byrd, of Westover, on James River in Virginia. (10)

Iroquois attacks induced these Saura to abandon their two towns, about 1710, and move southeast to join the Keyauwee. Later they came to live on the Pee Dee River in what was subsequently known as the Cheraw district in South Carolina. Ultimately part of them probably united with the Catawba and became wholly merged with them, though a part are undoubtedly represented among the Siouan Indians of Lumber River. (11)

An early authority on the Siouan tribes of Eastern America, James Mooney, concluded: “That the Sara were an important tribe is evident from the persistence of the name to a very late period,” but because they were so remote from the Eastern white settlements and rather back from the general route of the traders, little was known of them by English settlers and travelers until after their removal into South Carolina. (12)

Perhaps the most lasting contribution of the Indian in Guilford was the trails he left the white man, many of which would become the roadbeds of our modern highways and super highways. One of these was the Tutelo Saura Path leading from what is now Roanoke, Virginia, southward, passing Rocky Mount and continuing to Martinsville, Virginia. Near there it joined the trail which led from the Chesapeake region to the old Lower Saura Town, almost due north of Wentworth and about two miles southeast of Eden in Rockingham County.

Then there was the Occaneechi Trading Path which led from Bermuda Hundred and old Fort Henry (later Petersburg, Virginia), passing near Clarksville, and eventually leading to Augusta, Georgia, where it connected with other trails leading to various sections of the southeast. Its entire length was somewhat over 500 miles. With the coming of the white traders it sprang immediately into prominence, a prominence which has continued down to the present day. Then as Tidewater Virginia became more settled, streams of settlers followed along this trail and located in the most fertile spots, and in course of