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The Americas

North American Native Tribes


Cheroenhaka / Nottoway (Iroquoians) (North American Tribes)
Incorporating the Mangoac & Nadowa

Generally speaking, the European settlers in North America coined the phrase 'Indian' or 'Red Indian' to describe the North American tribes they found while they were settling what is now the USA. To the north of this vast collection of varying regions and climates were the native settlements of what is now Canada, while to the south were the various peoples of modern Mexico, most especially the Aztecs. The Iroquoian-speaking Cheroenhaka (Nottoways) were located along the Nottoway River in modern south-eastern Virginia, with their neighbours being the Powhatan confederacy to the north, while to the south were the Iroquoian-speaking Meherrin, to the west were the Siouian-speaking Occaneechis, Saponis, and Tutelos, and to the east were further swathes of Powhatan constituents and the Pamlico (an Algonquian tribe).

The Nottoway name for themselves was Cheroenhaka ('People at the Fork of the Stream', sometimes shown in colonial records as Cherohakah). They were known to the neighbouring Algonquian tribes as the Mangoac (Mengwe - although this version has also been used to describe elements of the Susquehannock) and Nadowa. Both terms can be interpreted as meaning 'adders' - a common Algonquian name for any alien tribe rather than a comment on the nature of the Nottoway themselves. The European colonists gave names to the Indian tribes based on what the first-contacted locals called other tribes. The Algonquian speakers they met referred to the Nottoway by their own name - Cheroenhaka - but in the form NA-DA-WA. This was perceived by the colonists as 'Nottoway'. However, the US War Department papers of 1796 refer to the Nottoway as 'Cheroenhaka'. The Hon James Tresevant (Trezevant) in 1831 states that the true name of the Nottoway is 'Cheroenhaka'.

CompendiumFeatureThe Cheroenhaka first made contact with the English in 1607-1608 in what is now Nottoway County, Virginia. The English had been searching for information regarding the so-called 'lost colony' of Roanoke (see feature link), while Captain John Smith was also conducting a wide-ranging expedition through the region's tribes to see who was out there. Iroquoian-speaking tribes occupied the lands to the east of the Fall Line on the inner coastal plains of south-eastern Virginia. These tribes included the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) amongst their number, along with the Meherrin and the Tuscarora. The Nottoway tribe resided where the Nottoway River forks away from the Backwater River to form the Chowan River. Linguistically they were closely related to the Tuscarora. (More information about this people is available via the compendium link, right.)

(Information by Mick Baker, from primary sources by John Smith (1607), William Strachey (1616), The Virginia Census of 1669, and Robert Beverly (1705) with additional information from James Mooney (1907), from Helen C Rountree (information which forms the basis of the tribal locations map), from Everyday Life of the North American Indian, Jon Manchip White (1979), from The Encyclopaedia of North American Indian Tribes, Bill Yenne (1986), from The Native Tribes of North America - A Concise Encyclopaedia, Michael Johnson (1993), from the Atlas of Indians of North America, Gilbert Legay (1995), and from External Links: First Nations: Issues of Consequence, Lee Sultzman, and Legends of America, and Historic Jamestowne, and Colonial - A Study of Virginia Indians and Jamestown: The First Century, and Cheroenhaka, and Nottoway Tribe (Access Genealogy).)

AD 1 - 800

According to linguistic evidence, during this broad period the larger proto-Northern Iroquoian group (the ancestors of the 'Five Nations' and of the Meherrin, Nottoway, and Tuscarora) migrates into the Ohio River region, gradually progressing along it towards the Great Lakes. They eventually settle and spread throughout the region. As bands grow larger they divide and separate to make use of resources.

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)

Later tradition also locates the ancestors of the Meherrin, Nottoway, and Tuscarora in the Ohio valley following that migration, and states that they have been there for some time. When they decide to divide it is according to custom, something they do whenever a hunting ground becomes too thickly populated to feed all the people. In fact this seems to be part of a larger separation, with the Cherokee possibly also moving southwards at this point. Both archaeological and lexical evidence support the idea of the Cherokee breaking away much earlier than the other Iroquois tribes becoming separated. The ancestors of the Meherrin, Nottoway, and Tuscarora eventually settle in eastern North Carolina and Virginia.


FeatureBy this time, three distinctive native North American tribes of the Eastern Woodland dominate the territory now known as Virginia (see feature link). These tribes speak three different languages - Algonquian, Siouan and Iroquoian - and live in organised villages along the banks of the coastal waterways, in woodlands and mountain valleys. When Europeans begin arriving in the region they meet Indian people of the coastal plain which is inhabited by an Algonquin empire, today collectively known as Powhatan. The south-western coastal plain is occupied by Iroquois, Nottoway, and Meherrin. The Chickahominy and Eastern Chickahominy occupy the Chickahominy River in New Kent County. The Piedmont is home to two Sioux confederacies: the Monacan and the Manahoac.

The Chesapeake are separated geographically from the main Powhatan confederacy, being located in the Cape Henry Region and at the opening of Chesapeake Bay, Virginia. Keyghanghton is their weroance. Despite their isolation they still have a key role in the confederacy inasmuch as they are the diplomatic link with the Nottoway tribe, traditional rivals of the Powhatan. The only way that communications with the Nottoway can be maintained is through Keyghanghton.

Cape Henry
At the opening of Chesapeake Bay, modern Cape Henry's beach is famous for its lighthouse, but in the sixteenth century the area was home to the Chesapeake people

In conjunction with other Iroquois-speakers, the Tuscarora and Nottoway, the Meherrin are referred to as Mangoag or Mangoak throughout this period and into the next century. The Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Seneca (all members of the Iroquois confederacy) are also referred to as Mangoak and Mingoes, by their coastal Algonquin-speaking neighbours from Carolina to Canada.

fl 1650

Chounteroute (Cho-un-te-roun-te)

Cheroenhaka chief noted by James Edward Bland.

1646 - 1650

The Cheroenhaka sign the first of their three treaties with European colonists in 1646. Along with the settlers in the coastal region come explorers, and in August 1650 the diarist James Edward Bland discovers two Cheroenhaka villages. The first of these is named for the tribe's chief, and is located in what is now Sussex County near Rowantee Branch Creek - Chounteroute Town. The second is Tonnatorah, located on the southern side of the Nottoway River where the current Sussex/Greenville county lines meet the river.


Another Indian war is triggered, this time involving the British Colonists of Maryland as well as those of Virginia. Known as Bacon's Rebellion, it is named after the leader of the Virginia Volunteers, Nathaniel Bacon, who leads his men in direct opposition to the wishes of colonial Governor Berkeley in a war of attrition against the Indians. Peculiarly, perhaps, Cheroenhaka warriors actually join Nathaniel Bacon. The main effort is directed against the Susquehannock, but Maryland Indians in general, very likely fleeing from the depredations of the Iroquois, make several small raids into Virginia and all local Indians are held accountable by the colonists.

Bacon's Rebellion
Nathaniel Bacon refused to follow Governor Berkley's accommodation-not-annihilation approach to dealing with the native Americans - instead he was happy to support the dissatisfied settlers who had suffered from poor crops and high taxes and wanted the natives punished and pushed out


Queen Cockacoeske of the Pamunkey signs the Middle Plantation Treaty, which brings the war to a close. By this treaty all of the tribes submit to the British Colonists, and are confirmed in their tribal lands, subject to an annual peppercorn rent of three arrows and a tribute of beaver skins. Cockacoeske is recognised in certain special dignities and although several tribes are reunited under her authority, the Chickahominy and Rappahannock refuse to submit.

The signatory tribes are: the Appamatuck, Nansemond, Nantaughtacunds, Pamunkey, Portabaccoes (one of the late-appearing tribes in the confederacy which may be a new formation or the amalgamation of previous units), and Weanoc of the former Powhatan confederacy, plus the Meherrin, Monacan, Nottoway (their second signed treaty), and Saponi. This treaty marks the end of the Indian period. The Indians along the coast lose their remaining land and are confined to small reservations. Confirmed as native subject leaders are the 'Queen of Pamunkey', the 'King of Waonoke' (the Weanoc), 'King Serraohque of the Nottoways', and the 'King of Nansemond', amongst others.

fl 1677


Confirmed as 'King of the Nottoways' in 1677.


The Cheroenhaka move from the Nottoway town of Tonnatorah to the mouth of the Assamoosick swamp due to encroachment by the British Colonists and to avoid war with other tribes. Around a decade later they move further down the Assamoosick.


By this time there are only a handful of tiny Algonquian-speaking tribes remaining in the Virginia area, and one Iroquoian group. By the end of the century only four Algonquin reservations (Gingaskin, Mattaponi, Nansemond, and Pamunkey) and an Iroquoian one (Nottoway) remain. Some of the tribes that lose their reservations continue living together nearby, becoming ancestors of the modern 'citizen' tribes (especially the Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, and Rappahannock). The others have generally dispersed into the west and into other tribes. In the Piedmont, the tribes of the Sioux withdraw southwards, sometimes returning and then leaving again. Non-Indians pour freely into the territory.

Algonquin people fishing
Algonquian-speaking tribes in the Virginia area included the remnants of the Powhatan confederacy, but by 1700 their former military strength had been destroyed, leaving a diminishing number of them as increasingly marginalised foragers in a land of farmers

1703 - 1705

One James Threatte speaks of the three Cheroenhaka villages - Cattashowrock, Rowantee, and Tonnatorah - as noted in a sworn statement before the courts in Prince George County. Largely peaceful, the tribe is gifted with two tracts of 'Reservation Land' in 1705 which totals some 41,000 acres.


Lieutenant-Governor Alexander Spotswood meets the chief and chief men of the Cheroenhaka. He is offering 'tribute' forgiveness in reference in the treaty of 1677 (amounting to twenty beaver pelts and three 'peace arrows') if the Cheroenhaka chief men will agree to send their sons to the 'Brafferton', a school for Indians at the College of William and Mary. The Cheroenhaka are fearful that their sons will be sold into slavery, but Spotswood reports that on 17 November 1711 two of the sons of Cheroenhaka chief men are attending the 'Brafferton'. Cheroenhaka boys continue to enrol at the 'Brafferton' during the 1750s and 1760s.

fl 1713 - 1735

Ouracoorass Teerheer / William Edmond

Native & colonial names respectively. Signed 1735 treaty.


Lieutenant-Governor Spotswood signs on 27 February 1713 a standalone treaty with Chief Ouracoorass Teerheer. It contains a 'successor clause'. According to the Cheroenhaka of today, this means that the recognised relationship which the tribe enjoys with the British Colonists between 1713 and 1775 will continue with the Commonwealth of Virginia direct from 1776 (the start of the Revolutionary War) and with the federal government from 1781 to the present day.

In March of the same year, by order of the colonial council at Williamsburg, the Cheroenhaka and Meherrin Indians are incorporated into a single tribe, while the Nansemond and Saponi are incorporated into another single tribe. This is done in order to facilitate the Christian instruction of the children at the two settlements, but it probably also reflects the diminished status of all four groups in the face of territorial encroachment and disease. The Cheroenhaka are the last tribe in Virginia to gain a treaty with the British crown via Virginia's governor and the Nottoway king.

Iroquoian speakers
Try as they may to retain the old ways of living in the woodlands of Maryland and Virginia, Iroquoian speakers were gradually being forcibly 'civilised' by their European neighbours

1715 - 1720

On 10 August 1715 the Cheroenhaka chief and eight chief men are 'invited' to Williamsburg and placed in irons for three days until they consent to send twelve of their children to attend school at Fort Christiana. On 13 August 1715 the chains are removed and their release is ordered.

On 10 December 1719 a list of the names of eight Cheroenhaka and twelve Meherrin children is given to the council in Williamsburg so that they can attend school at Fort Christanna or Christiana. On 30 November of the following year the colonial council orders that a collection be made of all transactions with tributary Indians or foreign Indians.

1722 - 1744

Many former member tribes of the Powhatan confederacy are extinct by 1722, having drifted away or merged with other remnant groups. The Rappahannock had already lost their reservation shortly after 1700, while the Chickahominy had lost theirs in 1718. These groups and the Nansemond fade from public view. Only the Pamunkey, Mattaponi, and an Eastern Shore group keep reservations, although their land constantly shrinks in size. By 1744, the Nansemond cease living on their reservation and migrate to live with the Nottoway tribe on another reservation nearby.


On 7-8 April 1728, William Byrd visits the Cheroenhaka on the tribe's reservation land. Byrd describes how the men and women look, dance, and dress, and the nature of their palisade fort, longhouses, and bedding. The women wear colours of red, white, and blue. Byrd also notes in his diary that the Cheroenhaka is the only tribe of any consequence still remaining within the limits of Virginia.

Cheroenhaka people in 2018
Today's descendants of the Cheroenhaka people still maintain their cultural heritage, being seen here at the 2018 'Green Corn Dance Intertribal Powwow and Gathering'


The Indian interpreters for the Cheroenhaka, Henry Briggs and Thomas Wynn, are dismissed on 7 August 1735 by a Commonwealth of Virginia act, and on the same day the 'first' of many land transfer deeds for the 'Two Tracts of Land' is enacted between the British Colonists and the Cheroenhaka chief's men. This is the 'Indenture Tripartite', which is signed by thirteen chief men of the Nottoway tribe that include the paramount chief since at least 1713, Ouracoorass Teerheer ('King' William Edmond). This process of treaty-based land grabs continues until November 1953, when both of the tract lands (totalling 41,000 acres of reservation lands) are in the hands of the settlers.

fl 1735


Nottoway chief and signee of the treaty.

fl 1735


Nottoway chief and signee of the treaty.

fl 1735


Nottoway chief and signee of the treaty.

fl 1735

Wainoak Robin

Nottoway chief and signee of the treaty.

fl 1735

Cockerowse Tom

Nottoway chief and signee of the treaty.

fl 1735

Cockerowse Will

Nottoway chief and signee of the treaty.

fl 1735

William Hines

Nottoway chief and signee of the treaty.

fl 1735


Nottoway chief and signee of the treaty.

fl 1735

Will Robin

Nottoway chief and signee of the treaty.

fl 1735


Nottoway chief and signee of the treaty.

fl 1735


Nottoway chief and signee of the treaty.

fl 1735

Robin Scholar

Nottoway chief and signee of the treaty.


On 19 December 1756 George Washington submits a letter to the Honourable Robert Dinwiddie expressing an interest amongst the Cheroenhaka in his engaging some assistance from them.

On 8 March 1759 a petition is submitted to pay to several Cheroenhaka (Tom Steph, Billy John(s), School Robin, and Aleck Scholar), who had served under George Washington in the French & Indian Wars until Fort Duquesne had fallen.

1808 - 1820

In July 1808 the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia decrees a 'special' Cheroenhaka census be taken of those Indians who are living on the remaining lands (covering approximately seven thousand acres or more) of the Cheroenhaka reservation. This special census is conducted by three 'white' trustees of the reservation, Henry Blow, William Blow, and Samuel Blunt.

Jefferson's 1820 letter
In this March 1820 letter from Thomas Jefferson to Dr Thomas Cooper, Jefferson writes about the progress of the construction of the 'Academical Village' - the Oxford-educated Cooper was one of Jefferson's trusted consultants during the planning of the university and they corresponded about education for more than a decade

In 1816 new trustees are appointed for the Cheroenhaka. These trustees are empowered to make reasonable rules and regulations for the governance of the tribe and for the expenditure of money that is held in trust for them, which is to continue for as long as any number of the tribe are still living. Any funds remaining on hand are then to be paid into the public treasury.

On 4 March 1820 John Wood, a former professor of mathematics at William & Mary College, records the Cheroenhaka language from Edie Turner. Her Indian name is Wane Rounseraw, and she lives on the tribe's reservation in Southampton County, Virginia. Jefferson sends a copy of the language to Peter Du Ponceau of Philadelphia who recognises the language as Iroquoian.

Thomas Jefferson (formerly the third president of the USA's second republic) is quoted in an article that appears in the Petersburg newspaper on 17 March 1820, stating that the only remains in the state of Virginia of the once-formidable tribes which formerly inhabited the land are the Pamunkey and Nottoway (the latter now being formed of Cheroenhaka and a few Mattaponi). A second recording of the Cheroenhaka language is compiled by the Honourable James Tresevant between 1831-1836. He reports that the tribe - hitherto referred to as 'Nottoway' - refers to itself as Cheroenhaka (according to Lewis Binford and Albert Gallatin (Gallatin 1836:82)).

Pamunkey pipes
This Victorian-era photograph of Pamunkey pipes could just as easily be attributed to many of the Algonquian-speaking tribes of Virginia, although by the time the photograph was taken the people who made the pipes were greatly diminished in number

1823 - 1824

One William Bozeman files a petition with the court of Southampton County to have the remaining Nottoway Indian reservation lands divided 'free and simple' between the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indians. Bozeman is otherwise known as Billy Woodson, whose name is listed on the 'Special Nottoway Indian Census' of 1808 and whose father is white - one Michael Boseman.

fl 1825


Unnamed queen of the Nottoway of Southampton County.

1849 - 1850s

On 5 February 1849 the Cheroenhaka file a suit within the Commonwealth of Virginia's circuit superior court for Southampton County against one Jeremiah Cobb. The suit is filed on behalf of the Cheroenhaka tribal members by the tribe's white trustees: James W Parker, G N W Newsom, and Jesse S Parham.

On 8 November 1850 Judge Richard H Baker of the court of Southampton County rules in favour of the Cheroenhaka. On 3 March 1851 they are awarded a total of US$818.82 with interest from 1 June 1845, and later in the same year, as a result of their successful court case, Virginia officially recognises the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian tribe as such, stating that its recognition as a sovereign nation will not be negated (in favour of any individual).

Even so, during the 1850s the final parcels of tribal lands in the reservation are disappearing into the hands of the settlers, Many tribal members relocate to what becomes known as 'Artist Town' near what is now Riverdale Road in Southampton County, Virginia. Their descendants continue to live there as a tribal communal group until the late 1990s, sharing their traditions and customs. The Cheroenhaka is the only 'Iroquoian tribe' which still resides within the Commonwealth of Virginia that claims a documented continual existence.


The remaining 575 acres of the tribe's former 41,000 acre reservation in Southampton County are divided between five Cheroenhaka Indian families whose descendants still reside in Southampton County by 2019.

Nottoway 'Hand Site Settlement' sign
The 'Hand Site Settlement' in Southampton County revealed to archaeologists a large number of grave remains in excavations that were conducted between 1965-1969

1965 - 1969

An excavation is conducted of what becomes known as the Hand Site Settlement, in Southampton County (close to Highway 671). Some 131 documented grave remains of Cheroenhaka Indian bones are removed for storage at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC. All non-skeletal remains are housed at the Department of Historical Resources, Richmond, Virginia.

The Cheroenhaka may not have been prominent in historical terms, but they have maintained their cohesiveness long after the other tribes of the region have become practically extinct. As late as 1825 they had still numbered forty-seven, with a 'queen' on a reservation in Southampton County.

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