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Native Americas

North American Natives Compendium

by Mick Baker, 14 June 2019

North American Natives Compendium Introduction



Neutrals  Nottoway 



Nottoway / Cheroenhaka

Main Page - Nottoway

To be remembered in history by such a derogatory name 'Nottoway', given to us by the Algonquian speakers of the coastal regions, pains our hearts - for we are Cheroenhaka, 'People at the Fork of the Stream', and our history must be made right.

We walk this sacred circle of life, in hope that our walk will make better the walk of another. Those that will come after us, who will walk the inner circle life - our children.

In numerous records of colonial Virginia, the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indians are shown to have had a vital role in trade, battles, and diplomacy with unfamiliar Indian tribes. These tribes include the Seneca, Catawba, Tuscarora, Cherokee, Tawittawayes, and various others.

Colonial Virginian council journals reveal the pivotal role played by the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) in political relations with large and powerful northern tribes, which were accustomed to trading and hunting in relative peace and mutual respect before the introduction of black powder weapons by European invaders.

Apparently, Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) people had ventured north alone to negotiate a peace treaty with these northern tribes. They did this on behalf of several Virginian tribes, including the Meherrin, Nansemond, Pamunkey, Chickahominy, Rappahanock, and Nansatico.

Map of the Powhatan confederacy AD 1600
The Meherrin, Nottoway, and Tuscarora tribes were unusual in being Iroquoian speakers in a sea of Algonquian speakers, having intruded into the region from the west at some point in the millennium prior to the arrival of European settlers, and being able to resist integration into the Powhatan confederation probably due to their size (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Indians of the Carolinas

Explorers such as John Lawson documented the tribes of the Carolinas, often recording their oral history too so that it could be preserved even in the face of potential near-extinction at the hands of smallpox and other European diseases

The colonial government of Virginia, having no previous knowledge or involvement with these peace treaty efforts amongst the Indian nations themselves, acted to reassert their assumed dominant role in directing history.

They feared that peace may lead to stronger combined efforts amongst Indians to expel the colonials from Virginia. However, Virginia Indians were not mere puppets of the Europeans. They acknowledged the fact that the musket had changed the way in which warfare would be conducted, and they realised that they needed stronger alliances to be able to resist the European invaders.

The Europeans, though, were already taking steps to prevent that.

At a Virginian council meeting which was held in James City on 22 February 1699, Governor Hill passed an order which demanded that the 'Great Men' of the Nottoway, Meherrin, Nansemond, Pamunkey, Chickahominy, Rappahanock, and Nansatico Indians appear before the council to be examined concerning the peace they intended to make without the knowledge or consent of the colonial government.

The Indians confessed that they had designed a peace treaty with the Tawittawayes and other 'foreign' Indians (from outside of Virginia's claimed territorial borders). The attempt at internal native political control was immediately quashed, as were so many others.

Resettlement and monitoring

As part of the process of controlling the natives, the Virginian colonial government went to some pains to try and cut them off from the natives in the Carolinas. When the Nottoway expressed their desire to be allowed to settle along the Roanoak River, the governor refused in case their proximity to the border created problems between Virginia and North Carolina and possibly allowed the Indians to seek alliances with South Carolina Indians

Instead the Indians were steered to a more easily-controlled tract of land. Their 'advantages' would include large hunting grounds and a number of the English to live among them to help civilise them. Because the Indians had maintained that their people were in extreme need of corn for their subsistence, they had been granted twenty Europeans to mingle with the inhabitants and purchase as much corn as they could conveniently carry.

With little choice but to agree, the Meherrin were largely incorporated into the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) organisation and both were settled along the Roanoak River with a party of twelve Englishmen to live among them, observing all their activities and accompanying them on their hunting parties.

In this way the Indians would be under constant surveillance. The hunting grounds which were assigned to them were between the Roanoak River and the Appomattox, Their settlement, which now consisted of quite a body of natives, would serve as a buffer zone between the colonists and the now openly-hostile and uncontrolled southern Indians. Missionary posts were to be set up and various other tribes in Virginia would receive the same treatment, including having parties of Englishmen forced upon them to act as instructors and provide surveillance.

In this fashion, all of Virginia's surviving tribes in the eighteenth century were gradually brought under firm colonial control.

Meherrin home
Nottoway and Meherrin houses were typical of those of all Iroquoian stock which shared the same otherwise unique building style - perhaps unsurprisingly so since they shared a common origin around fifteen hundred years ago


Main Sources

James Mooney (1907)

John Smith (1607)

Robert Beverly (1705)

Virginia Census of 1669

William Strachey (1616)


Secondary Sources

Colonial - A Study of Virginia Indians and Jamestown: The First Century (website)

First Nations: Issues of Consequence website

Johnson, Michael - The Native Tribes of North America - A Concise Encyclopaedia, 1993

Legay, Gilbert - Atlas of Indians of North America, 1995

Legends of America website

Nottoway Tribe (Access Genealogy)

White, John Manchip - Everyday Life of the North American Indian, 1979

Yenne, Bill - The Encyclopaedia of North American Indian Tribes, 1986



Text and map copyright © Mick Baker & P L Kessler. An original feature for the History Files.