When the first English traders and explorers entered the Virginia and Carolina backcountry during the mid-seventeenth century, they encountered several small tribal societies living along the major rivers and their tributaries. Although some of these travelers were struck by the apparent diversity in native customs, more careful study has shown that most of these tribes possessed similar lifeways and were related by language, marriage, and trade (Merrell 1987, 1989). These Eastern Siouans, as they are now known, consisted of more than 40 separate tribes and occupied the Piedmont region between the Appalachian mountains and the Atlantic coastal plain, from north-central Virginia to central South Carolina (Mooney 1894) (see map). The heart of the Siouan territory lay along the headwaters of the Neuse, Cape Fear, and Roanoke rivers in north-central North Carolina and southern Virginia. During the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, this area was inhabited by the Eno, Occaneechi, Shakori, Sissipahaw, and Sara.

The comparatively sparse ethnohistoric record for these peoples consists of brief accounts by a few travelers through the region. The more prominent chroniclers were: John Lederer, who in 1670 traveled southwest from Fort Henry, Virginia, and purportedly visited settlements of the Akenatzy (Occaneechi), Oenock (Eno), Shakory (Shakori), and Sara (Cumming 1958); James Needham and Gabriel Arthur, who in 1673 followed the Occaneechi Trading Path from Fort Henry through Occhenechee Town, Aeno, and Sarrah (Alvord and Bidgood 1912); and John Lawson, who reconnoitered the Carolina backcountry in 1701 for the colony's Lord Proprietors, and visited Achonechy-Town on Eno River and remnants of the Shakory and Eno Indians at Adshusheer (Lefler 1967). In particular, Lawson's journal provides our best glimpse of Siouan culture during the Historic period.

All three accounts describe societies that had been substantially disrupted by the European presence and suggest three major factors that contributed to culture change among the Eastern Siouans. First, the chroniclers witnessed a greatly diminished native population that had been ravaged by Old World diseases. Lawson (Lefler 1967:232), referring to smallpox and rum, remarked that "there is not the sixth Savage living within two hundred Miles of all our Settlements, as there were fifty Years ago." Equally telling is the fact that Lawson encountered very few villages once he left the Catawba settlements south of present-day Charlotte. The periodic influx of epidemic diseases during the late seventeenth century served both to disrupt social and political systems and to bring about the relocation of settlements. This latter process merged formerly separate social groups into new communities.

Second, it is clear from the ethnohistoric record that the various Siouan tribes were continually subjected to raiding by northern Iroquois war parties. This pattern of hostility appears to have been established prehistorically, perhaps by the fifteenth century, and may have been responsible for the development of nucleated settlements in some drainages.

Finally, the seventeenth-century world of the Eastern Siouans became one of ever-increasing participation in the deerskin trade, a European-based economic system that brought both a wide range of ornamental and utilitarian trade goods as well as power and prestige to some individuals and tribes. The Occaneechi were a principal beneficiary of this trade, and although few in number, they exerted considerable power as middlemen in an extensive trade network.

The purpose of this paper is to examine how these factors of contact and conflict affected the structure and composition of native Siouan communities. For practical reasons, this study is limited to the Siouan heartland of north-central North Carolina and southern Virginia (see map of project area). Since 1983, this region has been the focus of the University of North Carolina's Siouan Project. As part of the project, intensive regional surveys were conducted within the Haw, Eno, Flat, and upper Dan river drainages (Simpkins 1985; Simpkins and Petherick 1986), and excavations were undertaken at 15 Siouan sites occupied between A.D. 1000 and 1710 (Dickens et al. 1985a, 1986, 1987; Ward and Davis 1987a, 1987b, 1988). Substantial private collections, particularly from southern Virginia, also have been incorporated into this research (see note 1).