Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Catawbas Pass through Orange

Ruth Herndon Shields’s Abstracts of the Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of Orange County 1752-1766 contains lots of great information. Last night I noticed in it a series of items related to the Catawba people. This is particularly notable because, I believe, the Catawba mostly lived further west than Orange County. Together the entries paint an interesting picture.

First, in March of 1757 a Catawba called Captain Snow appeared and claimed that Michael Synnot possessed a stolen horse. There’s no indication of how the dispute was resolved (if at all), but the presence of a Catawba in Hillsborough Court must have been notable. Also, as we shall see, I think Captain is his military rank, not his name.

Later that same session, the Court made arrangements “to reimburse persons entertaining the Indians traveling to or from Virginia.” This made me curious: Why would Orange County reimburse the cost of Native Americans moving through the area? Presumably Native Americans moved across area farms periodically, but why would the County pay for that?

Over the course of the next year, the minutes show that several claims for reimbursement were entered. In June 1757, William Reed claimed 2 pounds for “dyating 56 Catawba Indians” while they were “on their return trip from Virginia since last March Court.” Some similar claims must have been filed, as the Court in September 1757 appointed a committee “to examine the accounts brought in by sundry persons of this county” related to the Catawba.

In March 1758, William Reed was back, claiming he was owed for “one hog delivered to Cap’t Bull and his Company of Cherokee Indians on their journey to Virginia.” I assume that the Clerk of Court erroneously wrote Cherokee instead of Catawba. Again there is a reference to the rank of Captain. And in the same session of Court, John Dennis reported that Thomas Capper still had the horse that had supposedly been “taken away by the Indians some time ago.”

So, I got out Douglass Rights’ seminal book The American Indian in North Carolina andfound that Rights says: "In 1756 Governor Dobbs stated that no attacks had been made on the frontier, owing principally to the frontier guadsmen and 'the Neighborhood of the Catawba Indians, our friends.' A single mention from the colonial records of the same year, which tells of their aid in pursuit of a roving band of Cherokee marauders, of the recovery of goods stolen from settlers, and of the return of the goods to Salisbury for distribution to rightful owners, indicates the Catawba good will and protection which have made the people of the Carolinas ever indebted to them."

Interesting. It sounds like the alliance between the colonists and the Catawba went a bit further in 1757, with the Catawba being organized into military units and deployed to Virginia for some purpose.

And apparently they passed through Orange County, consuming some forage along the way. That’s why the Court refers to their military ranks, and that is why the Court was reimbursing farmers who had provided the forage.


  1. David Southern writes: "Now, as to 'dieting the Indians'---I think this relates specifically to alliances made during the Seven Years War (1756-63), known locally as the French and Indian War. For sure, the Catawba were allies of the British and their American colonists, and other tribes such as the Iroquois confederation cast their lot in that direction. The Catawba, or Esau, were the dominant tribe among the Eastern Sioux-speakers, and they and linguistically related tribes such as the Santee, Wataree, Sugawee, Saponi, Shakoree, Eno, et al. had a long history of amicable relationships with the European encroachers. These are the people who guided Lawson (1701) and Barnwell (1711), and who fought with Colonel Barnwell (1711-12) and later with Colonel Moore to suppress their traditional enemies, the Tuscarora. In the F&I War, the Cherokee were also allied against the French, though less enthusiastically perhaps than were the Catawba. Anyway, given the time period of the items from the court minutes, I think most or all are specific to the war effort (including the stolen horse and Synnott, if the complaint was truthfully stated). The underlying story of those broken alliances is one of continuous treachery, calumny, and deceit. Ugh."

  2. So true, David. I stopped the Rights quote before the end, but he finishes up that paragraph by saying (without the least bit of irony): "If in this time of danger the Catawba Nation had made alliance with enemy Indians and had taken up arms against the settlers instead of fighting valiantly for them, there is no doubt that many a family in the Piedmont, whose descendants dwell happily in the region today, would have been massacred."

  3. The "military" names of prominent Catawba Indians came from their attempts to fit in with the whites that moved into their area of operations. The head man or Chief of the Catawba was called "King", as in King Hagler (or Haggler). The Brits had a king and the Catawba felt that was the proper term to identify their leader. Further most of the early contact with whites was with military units. So, the lesser ranking but prominent Catawba took military ranks to identify their position among their people.

    Some of the more well known Catawba names were, King Prow, General New River, Colonel John Ears (now the family is known as Ayers), Capitan Peter, Capitan Quash, Capitan Redhead, Capitan Thomas Drennan, Capitan Oldham.

    The old Catawba were fierce warriors and felt they deserved the same respect as their white counterparts.

  4. I think the events I outlined above are what Jean Bradley Anderson was referring to in Durham County: A history, when she wrote on page 26: "Fortunately the Catawbas remained loyal to their traditional friends . . . At first they performed their role as mercenaries faithfully, but twice on returning to their homes from Virginia they plundered frontier settlements."