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.