by Crystal Rose
Fort Christanna, built in 1713 by Governor Spotswood, is probably the most well kept secret and least documented forts of American History. What you are about to read is mostly speculation, given that we have only a basic outline and have to fill in the blanks ourselves. Much of this information is derived from Occaneechi History as well as documents and articles retrieved. The information regarding the dispersal of the tribes is derived from genealogical research of the rooted families of Brunswick, Greensville and Mecklenburg Counties as well as Northampton County, NC.
Prior to the Fort being built, the English were rather antsy due to the massacres that surrounded the Tuscarora War in North Carolina. It was at this time that Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia decided that for the safety of the white settlements living in Greensville, Brunswick and Mecklenburg Counties and the friendly Native Americans living in the area, he would confine them all to one living quarter. Thus, Fort Christanna, named for Christ and Queen Anne was built. In this settlement, the Occaneechi, the Monacan, the Eno, the Tutelo and the Saponi all came together. A melting pot of tribes if you will, all of Eastern Siouan stock, who among diaspora descendants, often referred to themselves as Blackfoot. The Fort was located in Brunswick County. The surrounding reservation encompassed roughly four square miles, with the Meherrin River running through the center. On the North side of the Meherrin were the Nansemond, since they were of different cultures and language. All the children were sent to a school devised by Governor Spotswood to teach them Christianity and English. This school was sponosored by the College of William and Mary and Mr. Griffen was solicited to teach the youths.
On the South side of the Meherrin were the Occaneechi, the Tutelo, the Saponi and the Eno. All of these tribes were of the same language and customs. In a letter to the Bishop of England, Governor Spotswood notes that he will call these tribes the “Saponie Nation.” They farmed the land with corn and tobacco, they had their livestock (minimal at best) and survived on this reservation for only four to five years. The Governor had placed a number of gun units at the palisade for protection. Whether this was protection of the English in the community or protection of the Natives, is not known. In 1720, Governor Spotswood declared that the Fort be dispersed and the tribes to move in separate directions.
While it seems that the majority of the tribes left the area, recent research and genealogical documents prove this theory otherwise. Many local families living in the counties of Greensville, Brunswick and Mecklenburg in VA and Northampton County, NC can prove Native Ancestry and these “English” names can be traced back to the early 1700’s. For example, in Brunswick County, the Travis’, the Early’s and the Newsomes are traceable Native American names. In Greensville County, the Peters can be traced back to 1720 (ca.) where they were listed as a free persons of color. The Turners are another prominent Native name found in Greensville County. In Northampton County, NC, the Poythress, Peters, Turners, Bass, Scotts and Newsomes made up a core community called the “Portuguese Community.”
Although local legend has it that these people are descendants of the Portuguese workers brought in to work on the Railroad in Roanoke River, these names can be traced back also to the mid 1700’s, prior to the Portuguese ever arriving in Northampton and Halifax Counties, NC. All these communities, as well as many others, are known as tri-racial isolate communities. In reality, they were remnants of Fort Christanna that never migrated far from the grounds of the Fort.
This webpage is dedicated to all those that endeavored and survived those horrible years at Fort Christanna and to those that descend from the “Saponis.” . With many prayers and guiding hands, may we finally reveal the whole truth of one of America’s best kept secrets.
— Crystal Rose
Fort Christanna Historical Society