Published on December 12, 2012 by Amy
The Saura were a tribe of Native Americans who lived in the Piedmont area of North Carolina near the Sauratown Mountains, east of Pilot Mountain and north of the Yadkin River. They were believed to have spoken a Siouan language.
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There are few historical references to the Saura people. Hernando de Soto may have passed through Saura towns, although the route of de Soto’s expedition is a subject of dispute. References do appear in English records. John Lederer reported visiting Saura villages along the Yadkin River, Catawba River, and Dan River in 1670. In 1728, William Byrd conducted an expedition to survey the North Carolina and Virginia boundary, and reported finding two Saura villages on the Dan River, known as Lower Saura Town and Upper Saura Town. The towns had been abandoned by the time of Byrd’s visit.
Scholars have conflicting theories about the tribe, its history, and its relation to other tribes. The Saura have been described as related to, or possibly a band of, various other tribes, primarily the Siouan Cheraw, Tutelo, Saponi, or Monacan.
The Saura are said to be of Siouan linguistic stock. Some sources argued they were Algonquian. Their name has been spelled variously as Saura, Sara, Sawra, Saro, Sauli, and Sarrah. Some sources connect the Saura with the Mississippian culture chiefdom of Joara, where Spanish explorers in the mid-16th century founded Fort San Juan in present-day western North Carolina.
The early English records of South Carolina refer to the Saura, spelled “Saraw”, a few times. In 1715, South Carolinian John Barnwell conducted a census of Indians in the region. The Saraw were grouped with the “northern” or “Piedmont” peoples. This group had relatively fewer ties to South Carolina and were not counted as accurately as were the Creek, Cherokee, Yamasee, and others. Other “northern” Piedmont peoples named in the 1715 census include the Catawba, Waccamaw, Santee Congaree, Wereaw, and others. The Saraw are listed as living in one village with a population of 510, of which 140 were men and 370 were woman and children. South Carolina probably acquired these numbers at least partially through second-hand sources and estimates.
Some Saura assisted South Carolina the Tuscarora War. In 1712, John Barnwell led a force of 400-500 troops against the Tuscarora in North Carolina. Almost all the troops were Indians, organized into four companies, based in part on tribal and cultural factors. The 1st and 2nd companies were made up of Indians with strong ties to South Carolina. The 3rd company was of “northern Indians” who lived farther from Charles Town and whose allegiance was not as strong. They included the Catawba, Waxaws, Waterees, and Congarees, among others.
The 4th company was of northern Indians who lived even farther away and whose allegiance was still weaker. Among this group were the Saraw, Saxapahaw, Peedee, Cape Fear, Hoopengs, and others. This 4th company was noted for high levels of desertion.
Historian Alan Gallay has speculated that the Saura and Saxapahaw people deserted Barnwell’s army because their villages were likely to be attacked by the Tuscarora in vengeance for assisting South Carolina in the war. Gallay described the approximate location of the Saura homeland as “about 60 miles upriver from the Peedees”, whose home is described as “on the Peedee River about 80 miles west of the coast”. This puts the Saura in the general vicinity of the upper Dan River and Yadkin River.