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William Byrd Meets the Sapponi - from The History of the Dividing Line

  "History of the Dividing Line refers to the lively account, written by Virginia commissioner William Byrd II, of the North Carolina-Virginia boundary line that was surveyed by a joint commission in 1728 because the Carolinas were to be sold to the Crown by their Lords Proprietors. The work, whose complete title is The History of the Dividing Line betwixt Virginia and North Carolina. Run in the Year of our Lord 1728, has become a classic of southern colonial literature. The boundary expedition was the first exploration of much of the border region, and the urbane Byrd vividly described the natural wonders, flora, fauna, and Indians of the area"   History of the Dividing Line, by Lindley S. Butler, 2006

Pages 88 thru 90 - November 18 & 19, 1728 (source link)

1728 - November 18th.

   We proceeded over a level road twelve miles, as far as George Hixe's plantation, on the south side of Meherrin river, our course being for the most part north-east. By the way we hired a cart to transport our baggage, that we might the better befriend our jaded horses. Within two miles of our journey's end this day, we met the express we had sent the Saturday before to give notice of our arrival. He had been almost as expeditious as a carrier pigeon, riding in two days no less than two hundred miles.

    All the grandees of the Sapponi nation did us the honour to repair hither to meet us, and our worthy friend and fellow traveller, Bearskin, appeared among the gravest of them in his robes of ceremony. Four young ladies of the first quality came with them, who had more the air of cleanliness than any copper-coloured beauties I had ever seen; yet we resisted all their charms, notwithstanding the long fast we had kept from the sex, and the bear diet we had been so long engaged in. Nor can I say the price they set upon their charms was at all exorbitant. A princess for a pair of red stockings cannot, surely, be thought buying repentance much too dear. The men had something great and venerable in their countenances, beyond the common mien of savages; and indeed they ever had the reputation of being the honestest, as well as the bravest Indians we have ever been acquainted with.

    This people is now made up of the remnants of several other nations, of which the most considerable are the Sapponies, the Occaneches, and Stoukenhocks, who not finding themselves separately numerous enough for their defence, have agreed to unite into one body, and all of them now go under the name of the Sapponies.

    Each of these was formerly a distinct nation, or rather a several clan or canton of the same nation, speaking the same language, and using the same customs. But their perpetual wars against all other Indians, in time, reduced them so low as to make it necessary to join their forces together. They dwelt formerly not far below the mountains, upon Yadkin river, about two hundred miles west and by south from the falls of Roanoke. But about twenty-five years ago they took refuge in Virginia, being no longer in condition to make head not only against the northern Indians, who are their implacable enemies, but also against most of those to the south.

    All the nations round about, bearing in mind the havoc these Indians used formerly to make among their ancestors in the insolence of their power, did at length avenge it home upon them, and made them glad to apply to this government for protection. Colonel Spotswood, our then lieutenant governor, having a good opinion of their fidelity and courage, settled them at Christanna, ten miles north of Roanoke, upon the belief that they would be a good barrier, on that side of the country, against the incursion of all foreign Indians. And in earnest they would have served well enough for that purpose, if the white people in the neighbourhood had not debauched their morals, and ruined their health with rum, which was the cause of many disorders, and ended at last in a barbarous murder committed by one of these Indians when he was drunk, for which the poor wretch was executed when he was sober.

    It was matter of great concern to them, however, that one of their grandees should be put to so ignominious a death. All Indians have as great an aversion to hanging as the Muscovites, though perhaps not for the same cleanly reason: these last believing that the soul of one that dies in this manner, being forced to sally out of the body at the postern, must needs be defiled.

    The Sapponies took this execution so much to heart, that they soon after quitted their settlement and removed in a body to the Catawbas. The daughter of the Tetero king went away with the Sapponies, but being the last of her nation, and fearing she should not be treated according to her rank, poisoned herself, like an old Roman, with the root of the trumpet plant. Her father died two years before, who was the most intrepid Indian we have been acquainted with. He had made himself terrible to all other Indians by his exploits, and had escaped so many dangers that he was esteemed invulnerable. But at last he died of a pleurisy, the last man of his race and nation, leaving only that unhappy daughter behind him, who would not long survive him.

    The most uncommon circumstance in this Indian visit was, that they all came on horse-back, which was certainly intended for a piece of state, because the distance was but three miles, and it is likely they had walked on foot twice as far to catch their horses. The men rode more awkwardly than any Dutch sailor, and the ladies bestrode their palfreys a la mode de France, but were so bashful about it, that there was no persuading them to mount till they were quite out of our sight. The French women used to ride a-straddle, not so much to make them sit firmer in the saddle, as from the hopes the same thing might peradventure befall them that once happened to the nun of Orleans, who, escaping out of a nunnery, took post en cavalier, and in ten miles' hard riding had the good fortune to have all the tokens of a man break out upon her. This piece of history ought to be the more credible, because it leans upon much the same degree of proof as the tale of bishop Burnet's two Italian nuns, who, according to his lordship's account, underwent the same happy metamorphosis, probably by some other violent exercise.

1752 Bowen Map

   From hence we despatched the cart with our baggage under a guard, and crossed Meherrin river, which was not thirty yards wide at that place. By the help of fresh horses, that had been sent us, we now began to mend our pace, which was also quickened by the strong inclinations we had to get home. In the distance of five miles we forded Meherrin creek, which was very near as broad as the river. About eight miles farther we came to Sturgeon creek, so called from the dexterity an Occanechy Indian showed there in catching one of those royal fish, which was performed after the following manner. In the summer time it is no unusual thing for sturgeons to sleep on the surface of the water, and one of them having wandered up into this creek in the spring, was floating in that drowsy condition. The Indian, above-mentioned, ran up to the neck into the creek a little below the place where he discovered the fish, expecting the stream would soon bring his game down to him. He judged the matter right, and as soon as it came within his reach, he whipped a running noose over his jole. This waked the sturgeon, which being strong in its own element darted immediately under water and dragged the Indian after him. The man made it a point of honour to keep his hold, which he did to the apparent danger of being drowned. Sometimes both the Indian and the fish disappeared for a quarter of a minute, and then rose at some distance from where they dived. At this rate they continued flouncing about, sometimes above and sometimes under water, for a considerable time, till at last the hero suffocated his adversary, and hauled his body ashore in triumph.

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Source Description:
(title page) The Westover Manuscripts: Containing the History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina; A Journey to the Land of Eden, A. D. 1733; and A Progress to the Mines. Written from 1728 to 1736, and Now First Published
(spine) Westover Manuscripts
William Byrd, of Westover
Edmund Ruffin
iv, 143 [1] p., ill.

Call number C 917 B99 c2 (North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Byrd' Secret history

Last update - November 12, 2012 Contact Dan Shaw for inquiries