Prior to 1607, several distinct groups of Iroquoian speaking native people, including the Nottoway Indians, lived in the Virginia-North Carolina coastal plain. Located inland and away from the first coastal incursions of Europeans, the Nottoway Indians remained relatively undisturbed by the English Colony expansion from Jamestown during the first half of the seventeenth century.
The Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia descends from a significantly larger Nottoway community and culture. Nottoway Indians traditionally lived in dispersed units within communities or towns each with separate leaders. Though similar in name and language, each had a unique internal structure.
Early Nottoway territory surrounded the river of the same name covering parts of the present day counties of Southampton, Nottoway, Dinwiddie, Sussex, Surry and Isle of Wight. In Virginia, there are three Native American linguistic groups – Algonquin, Siouan and Iroquoian. The Nottoway Indians are a Southern Iroquoian tribe. Southern Iroquois people trading and living in this area of Virginia and North Carolina also included the Meherrin, Tuscarora and, further west, the Cherokee.
The 1650 diary account of Edward Bland describes his journey along the lower reaches of the Nottoway and Meherrin river valleys. His journal is the earliest known written record of direct contact between the Nottoway and the Colonists seeking to expand into Nottoway territory. A major purpose of the Bland expedition was to explore land for colonial expansion and to further enhance the explorers’ profits from Indian-Colonial trade.
Through the Treaty of Middle Plantation in 1677 and the Spotswood Treaty with the Nottoway in 1713-1714, the structured relationship with Virginia during the Colonial Period was established with many Tribes, including the Nottoway. Through these treaties the Nottoway lost considerable autonomy and gained little in return.
The Nottoway Indians were forced onto a land reserve of approximately 40,000 acres in present day Southampton and Sussex counties referred to as the circle and the square. Near Sebrell Virginia, on the north side of the Nottoway River, the circle tract encompassed a Nottoway “Great Town” on Assamoosic Swamp. On the south side of the Nottoway River, the boundaries were set for the six mile square tract. From 1735 to 1878, the reservation land was gradually sold, or otherwise lost. The last portions were allocated to individual descendants of females of the Nottoway Tribe.
Modern day migrations for jobs have led Nottoway family lines from throughout the counties that surround the Nottoway River into nearby urban centers of the Tidewater region. Yet many of the ancestral families of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia still live on land that was once a part of the original Reservation.
To learn more about the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, visit the Tribe’s website. You may also visit their Community House and Interpretive Center in Capron, Virginia. Featured at the Center is a permanent exhibit, “Nottoway Indian History – From Barter…to Buffer…to Be.” The exhibit addresses selected key issues and pivotal points in Nottoway Indian history. It explains the interaction of the Nottoway with other tribes and with the Colonial government. It also discusses the impact of the actions of the Nottoway Indians on transitions in the growth of Virginia and the evolution of the Nottoway as citizens of Virginia. The Center has free admission, is open to the public on most Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and at other times by appointment. Every third weekend of September, the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia’s pow wow is held on the grounds of the Surry County Parks and Recreation Center in Surry, Virginia.
Citizens of today’s Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia are not artifacts of a romanticized past. They are citizen Indians with a rich past and a proud future.
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