Seventeenth-Century Ethnohistoric Accounts

Based on the ethnohistoric documents, it would appear that the initial period of contact between Virginians and the Piedmont Indians did not result in immediate, massive epidemics and rapid depopulation. As late as 1673 James Needham and Gabriel Arthur traveled through the north-central Piedmont on their way to Cherokee country and gave no indication that native populations had been decimated or severely disrupted in any fashion. Once they reached the Cherokee, or Tomahitan town, Gabriel Arthur described a thriving community with "an abundance of corne and all manner of pulse with fish, flesh and beares oyle" (Alvord and Bidgood 1912:213). He also stated that the Tomahitans kept 150 canoes, each of which could carry 20 men. And this town was located only eight days from the Spanish settlements on the South Carolina coast, with which the Tomahitans had been trading for some time (Alvord and Bidgood 1912:213).

Even John Lawson, traveling through the South Carolina and North Carolina Piedmont in the winter of 1700-1701 was impressed with the numbers of people he encountered during the southern leg of his journey. Once he left the coast of South Carolina, where the Sewees had been decimated by European diseases, Lawson described the Esaw or Catawba as "a very large nation containing many thousand people "(Lefler 1967:46). Three days later Lawson again described the landscape as being very "thick" with Indian settlements (Lefler 1967:49). And the next day he stated that "we passed through a great many towns and settlements, that belong to the Sugeree-Indians" (Lefler 1967:49).

However, as Lawson's journey took him closer to the settlements of the Keyauwee, Tutelo, and Saponi, groups that had been intensively engaged in the Virginia deerskin trade, his observations changed. A few days after leaving the Sugeree, Lawson described small towns of "not above 17 Houses" (Lefler 1967:50). He then traveled four days to the Sapona Town without meeting any Indians, and when he arrived at Sapona, Lawson mentioned for the first time the amalgamation of distinct tribes into single villages (Lefler 1967:50-53).

Lawson's journal suggests that although epidemic diseases had impacted the native tribes of the Carolinas by 1700, this impact was not uniform in its devastation. The more isolated groups along the South Carolina-North Carolina border seem to have been doing very well in 1700. However, the coastal tribes living near the English and Spanish had certainly felt the full brunt of the European presence, as had the northern Piedmont Siouans who had become involved in the Virginia deerskin trade. These tribes who had experienced direct, sustained contact with Europeans are the groups that Lawson was, no doubt, referring to when he observed that there is not the "sixth Savage living within 200 miles of our Settlements as there were fifty years ago" (Lefler 1967:252).