High Plains Community:

The Sappony
(previously known as the Person County Indians)

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Newspaper Article - 1948

THE INDIANS OF PERSON COUNTY NORTH CAROLINA
HISTORY OF A PROUD AND HANDSOME TRIBE OF INDIANS NEAR ROXBORO MAY BE CONNECTED WITH LOST COLONY MYSTERY; ABOUT 70 FAMILIES LIVE IN EXTENDED FARMING COMMUNITY

By Tom MacCaughelty
Durham Morning Herald, March 21, 1948

Straddling the North Carolina border in the secluded hills east of U.S. Highway 501 is a community of American Indians whose history has remained as much a mystery as the fate of the Lost Colony. Commonly termed a "mixed-blood" group, these proud people are probably the product of marriages long ago of whites and Indians, and, in fact, have a tradition among themselves which says they are remnants of the Lost Colony. In color they vary between blondes and even red-heads with grey or blue-gray eyes to tawny and sometimes swarthy brunettes with hazel, brown, or black eyes. Some have the straight black hair associated with pure Indian, while others have differing shades of brown hair, either straight or wavy. In general appearance they are well- dressed and clean. They are a handsome people.  Their history is mysterious. As Indians, they never have been positively identified. Can they be, as their tradition holds, the long sought descendants of the friendly Indians who received the colonists of John White? Strangely enough, among the approximately 350 people in the scattered farming community, only six family names are represented: Johnson, Martin, Coleman, Epps, Stewart (also spelled Stuart), and Shepherd. Stranger still, three of these names correspond closely with those among the list of Lost Colonists: Johnson, Coleman, and Martyn. But theirs are common English names long familiar in North Carolina, and intermarriage with the proximity to whites would be expected to extend such names among them. (A seventh prominent name among this group is Tally.) As far back as anyone knows, these people have displayed the manners and customs of white settlers, but in this they don't differ from identified Indians.

Unfortunately, as far as settling the question goes, not a single Indian word had been passed down to the present group. If their former manner of speech could somehow be resurrected, there would be a good clue to their identity; for then experts could judge with some degree of accuracy whether they indeed originated among the coastal Algonquin language tribes. If so, there would be a good argument for the Lost Colony theory. If their language were Siouan or some other branch of the inland tongues, the score would be against the Lost Colony tradition.

Dr. Douglas LeTell Rights, author of "The American Indian in North Carolina," (published by Duke University Press in 1947) says that there is a possibility that the people, officially designated as Person County Indians, are descendants of the Saponi, originally a Siouan tribe. He notes that Governor Dobbs reported in 1755 that 14 men and 14 women of the Saponi were in Granville county. Person County was once a part of Granville county. ( Dr. Rights also suggests that these Indians in Person County may be a branch of, or have mixed with, the Indians of Robeson County. The people themselves deny being a branch of the Robeson County Indian, but say that there have been a few marriages between members of the two groups.)

The Person County Indians, if they are of the Saponi, couldn't choose a more highly regarded tribe. (Col. William Byrd, in his History of The Dividing Line describes this tribe.) Whether a remnant of the Lost Colony, or of the proud Saponi, or of some other group, these people have lived in the rolling hills and high plains northeast of Roxboro for countless generations. No one knows how long. According to E. L. Wehrenberg, for 17 years principal of the community school, it was not until 1920 that they were officially recognized by act of the North Carolina legislature as Person County Indians. Before that, however, they had always insisted upon being treated either as Indians or whites. Back in the days of subscription schools, they hired their own white teachers; and under the present county school system have always had white or Indian teachers. Wehrenberg estimates that there are about 70 families in the group. and that about two-thirds of the people live in Person County and the rest across the line in Virginia. This proportion has changed from time to time he says.

 

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Sappony Web Site

See the one page web site ( http://www.sappony.org ) for the Sappony.

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Native American Exhibit at the Person County Museum of History

The Person County Museum of History includes a "Native American Room." For information see the Native American Exhibit.

 

 

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References
  • American Indians in North Carolina: Geographic Interpretations, by Thomas Ross; Karo Hollow Press: Southern Pines: NC, 1999. The book provides useful background for various Native American populations in North Carolina and includes a chapter on the Indians of Person County. Ross' chapter on the Person County Indians includes this list of surnames. "Six family names are prominent among the Indians of Person County: Martin, Epps, Coleman, Talley, Stewart (also Stuart) and Shepard." (page 191)

  • "Selected Bibliography Indians of North Carolina" posted on the web site for the Sampson-Livermore Library at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

 

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Links

 

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Name Change

29 March 2003 – Courier-Times

State House OKs request from
Indians of Person County to change official name to ‘Sappony’

The Indians of Person County are one legislative vote and the governor’s signature away from being recognized under North Carolina law as the "Sappony" tribe.

And those next two steps aren’t likely to prove more than formality, after the House this week passed a bill effecting a formal name change for the Indians of Person County, who have been officially known by that name for the past 90 years.

The legislation was introduced earlier this month by Rep. Gordon P. Allen, D-Person, and Rep. Ronald Sutton, D-Robeson at the request of the High Plains Indians Inc. on behalf of the Indians of Person County. The measure also had the support of the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs, which adopted a resolution to that effect on Jan. 10, and also made the name change as part of the commission’s legislative goals for 2003.

Section 1. G. S. 71A-7 of state law that officially recognizes the Indians of Person County by that name is effectively rewritten by the Allen-Sutton bill, which simply supplants "Indians of Person County" in the language of the measure with "Sappony."

As passed by the House this week, on Tuesday, March 25, the statute reads: The Indian Tribe now residing in Person County, officially recognized as the Indians of Person County by Chapter 22 of the Public-Local Laws of 1913, who are descendants of those Indians living in Person County for whom the High Plaints Indian School was established, shall, from and after February 3, 1913, be designated and officially recognized as Sappony, and shall continue to enjoy all their rights, privileges, and immunities as citizens of the State as now or hereafter provided by law, and shall continue to be subject to all the obligations and duties of citizens under the law.

In addition, the House similarly amended the section of state law establishing membership of the State Commission of Indian Affairs so as to replace "Indians of Person County" with "Sappony," thereby assuring Sappony recognition by and a representative seat on the state commission.

The measure now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to win approval and be passed on for Gov. Mike Easley’s signature, thus becoming law.

The legislation stems in large measure from an extensive research project conducted by the Indians of Person County, with the help of a federal grant, into the tribe’s history and identity. The research confirmed the Person County tribe as Sappony, the spelling of which also was authenticated, according to tribe officials.

The Sappony have resided for centuries in what became known as the High Plains Community, which straddles the North Carolina-Virginia border now separating northeastern Person County and southeastern Halifax County, Va. The Sappony represent the remnants of a much larger tribe, the majority of which moved north to join the Iroquois or south to join the Catawba, according to tribe leaders.

The State of North Carolina apparently first recognized the tribe as the Indians of Person County in 1911, in advance of the formal legislation to that effect in 1913, when the State of Virginia also recognized the Indians living in Halifax County, Va.

Today, according to tribal leaders, the Sappony have about 850 tribal members, all of whom descend from the tribe’s seven main families. A representative from each of the seven family surnames – Stewart, Epps, Shepherd, Martin, Johnson, Talley and Colman – serves on the Sappony Tribal Council, which is led by a tribal chair and tribal chief.

Dorothy Crowe is the current chair, Otis Martin, chief, and Dante Desiderio is the tribe’s executive director. Julia Phipps represents the tribe on the Commission of Indian Affairs.

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A check of the NC General Assembly web site leads me to believe that the bill has passed and has been signed by the Governor. The following text is from http://www.ncleg.net/html2003/bills/allversions/house/h355vc.html

 

GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF NORTH CAROLINA SESSION 2003
SESSION LAW 2003-87 HOUSE BILL 355


AN ACT TO OFFICIALLY DESIGNATE THE INDIANS PREVIOUSLY RECOGNIZED IN THE GENERAL STATUTES AS THE INDIANS OF PERSON COUNTY AS SAPPONY.

The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts:


SECTION 1.
G.S. 71A-7 reads as rewritten: "§ 71A-7. Indians of Person County; The Sappony; rights, privileges, immunities, obligations, and duties. The Indian Tribe now residing in Person County, officially recognized as the Indians of Person County by Chapter 22 of the Public-Local Laws of 1913, The Indians who are descendants of those Indians living in Person County for whom the High Plains Indian School was established, shall, from and after July 20, 1971, February 3, 1913, be designated and officially recognized as the Indians of Person County, North Carolina, Sappony, and shall continue to enjoy all their rights, privileges, and immunities as citizens of the State as now or hereafter provided by law, and shall continue to be subject to all the obligations and duties of citizens under the law."

SECTION 2. G.S. 143B-407(a) reads as rewritten: "§ 143B-407. North Carolina State Commission of Indian Affairs - membership; term of office; chairman; compensation. (a)The State Commission of Indian Affairs shall consist of two persons appointed by the General Assembly, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Director of the State Employment Security Commission, the Secretary of Administration, the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, the Commissioner of Labor or their designees and 21 representatives of the Indian community. These Indian members shall be selected by tribal or community consent from the Indian groups that are recognized by the State of North Carolina and are principally geographically located as follows: the Coharie of Sampson and Harnett Counties; the Eastern Band of Cherokees; the Haliwa Saponi of Halifax, Warren, and adjoining counties; the Lumbees of Robeson, Hoke and Scotland Counties; the Meherrin of Hertford County; the Waccamaw-Siouan from Columbus and Bladen Counties; the Indians of Person County; Sappony; the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation of Alamance and Orange Counties, and the Native Americans located in Cumberland, Guilford, Johnston, Mecklenburg, Orange, and Wake Counties. The Coharie shall have two members; the Eastern Band of Cherokees, two; the Haliwa Saponi, two; the Lumbees, three; the Meherrin, one; the Waccamaw-Siouan, two; the Indians of Person County,Sappony, one; the Cumberland County Association for Indian People, two; the Guilford Native Americans, two; the Metrolina Native Americans, two; the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, one, the Triangle Native American Society, one. Of the two appointments made by the General Assembly, one shall be made upon the recommendation of the Speaker, and one shall be made upon recommendation of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. Appointments by the General Assembly shall be made in accordance with G.S. 120-121 and vacancies shall be filled in accordance with G.S. 120-122."

SECTION 3.
This act is effective when it becomes law.

In the General Assembly read three times and ratified this the 19th day of May, 2003.

s/ Marc Basnight President Pro Tempore of the Senate

s/ Richard T. Morgan Speaker of the House of Representatives

s/ Michael F. Easley Governor

Approved 11:05 a.m. this 29th day of May, 2003

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A Bibliography of Resources on the Indians of
Person County, North Carolina

Prepared by the North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

(This information was copied from the UNC Chapel Hill Library web site at:
http://www.lib.unc.edu/ncc/ref/na/person.html)

Books, Theses, and Government Reports

  • Lougee, George. “Origin of the Person County Indians.” In Madeleine Hall Eaker, ed., The Heritage of Person County [Vol. 1]. Winston-Salem, N.C.: Hunter Publishing Co., 1981, pp. 5-7. C971.73 H54p

  • Ross, Thomas E. American Indians in North Carolina: Geographic Interpretations. Southern Pines, N.C.: Karo Hollow Press, 1999. See chapter ten, “Indians of Person County,” pp. 189-198. C970.01 R826a

Journal Articles

  • "The Indians of Person County." The State, vol. 16 no. 37 (12 February 1949), pp. 3-4, 20. C917.05 S79

Newspaper Articles

  • Lougee, George. “Origin of Indians of Person County Still Veiled in Mystery.” Durham Morning Herald (Durham, N.C.), 24 April 1977. North Carolina Collection Clipping File, 1976-1989, reel 14, p. 246. CR917 N87

  • Assis, Claudia. "Museum Documents Sappony's History / History Traces the Person County Native Americans to the Time of John Smith." Herald-Sun (Durham, N.C.), 13 May 2002. C071 D96h1

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