Copyright notice

This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

Is anything in this article factually incorrect? Please submit a comment.

Printer-friendly page

Saura Indians

by Lindley S. Butler, 2006

"Lower Saura Town", NC Historical Marker. Image courtesy of the NC Office of Archives & History, Marker: J-44. The Saura Indians, also known as the Cheraw, were one of a number of small Siouan tribes in the colonial backcountry (the modern-day Piedmont) of North Carolina. The ancestors of the Saura are believed to have migrated to the region many centuries prior to European contact, which first occurred with the sixteenth-century Spanish incursions into the Southeast. Hernando De Soto's expedition entered Saura country in 1540, and in 1566 Juan Pardo left a garrison commanded by Hernando Moyano in the Indian town of Joara, which may have been located on the upper Catawba River. Probably because of the Spanish intrusions, the Saura moved northeast across the Piedmont to settle in the Dan River Valley on the Virginia line by the early seventeenth century, establishing at least two large village complexes, Upper Sauratown and Lower Sauratown.

Upper Sauratown was on the west bank of the Dan River north of Town Fork Creek, and Lower Sauratown was on the south bank just below the confluence of the Dan and Smith Rivers. The towns were occupied in the second quarter of the seventeenth century and were abandoned in the early eighteenth century. While surveying his "Land of Eden" grant in North Carolina in 1733, William Byrd of Virginia visited the location of the former Lower Sauratown. The towns' names appear on the 1751 Fry-Jefferson map of Virginia and on the 1770 John Collet map of North Carolina. In the late eighteenth century, Lower Sauratown was a small frontier settlement and a plantation site. In the twentieth century the two town sites became important sources of archaeological information, with excavations beginning in 1938 and continuing into the 1970s and 1980s.

German explorer John Lederer, moving south from Virginia, visited the Saura in 1670. Three years later the Saura were encountered by Virginia Indian traders James Needham and Gabriel Arthur, the latter of whom returned to a Saura village in 1674. By the early eighteenth century the dwindling tribe, decimated by epidemic diseases, moved south to unite with the Keyauwee in the Yadkin-Pee Dee River Valley in South Carolina. Their village was situated near the present town of Wallace, S.C.

Some Sauras joined Col. John Barnwell's expedition against the Tuscarora in 1711-12 but did not complete the campaign. After the close of the Yamassee War, a 1715 South Carolina census numbered the Saura at 510 people settled near the North Carolina-South Carolina border (adjacent to modern-day Anson and Richmond Counties). That same year the Saura, who were trading with Virginians, were involved in raids against settlers, but by 1718 it appears they were at peace with the South Carolinians. Approximately three-quarters of the greatly reduced Saura, now known as the Cheraw, eventually went west to join the Catawba Nation, although they maintained much autonomy and political independence. The Cheraws who remained on settlements in the east along Drowning Creek (the modern-day Lumber River) are believed by some historians to have given rise to the Lumbee tribe.

After devastating smallpox epidemics struck the Catawba and their satellites in the late eighteenth century, the Cheraw as a separate tribe disappeared from history. Their name is perpetuated in the Sauratown Mountains of Stokes County and in the town of Cheraw, S.C.

Additional information from NCpedia editors at the State Library of North Carolina: : 

Although historians and archaeologists believe that the historical Saura tribe became extinct, with some members absorbed into the Catawba and others into what became the Lumbee Tribe, today there are many individuals and communities who trace their heritage to the historical Saura tribe and who identify themselves as descedants of the Saura.

-- Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


Lindley S. Butler, Rockingham County: A Brief History (1982).

Richard A. Seybert, "'Curiosities Worthy a Nice Observation': Archaeological Investigations of Siouan Village Sites in the Dan River Drainage," Journal of Rockingham County History and Genealogy 15 (June 1990).

Seybert, "A History Unwritten: The Colonial Period Saura Indians of the Carolina Piedmont," Journal of Rockingham County History and Genealogy 13 (December 1988).

Ruth Y. Wetmore, First on the Land: The North Carolina Indians (1975).

Additional Resources:

Lower Saura Town:

Image Credit:

"Lower Saura Town", NC Historical Marker. Image courtesy of the NC Office of Archives & History, Marker: J-44. Available from

Origin - location: 



Dear Clinton,

Thanks for visiting NCpedia. I am going to forward your reference question to our NCpedia.

Francesca Evans, Government & Heritage Library


Thank you for passing my question along! Has there been any response?


Dear Clinton,

I am sorry for the delay on your request. I will contact our reference team for you.

Francesca Evans, Government & Heritage Library


I am trying to find information on Su Song of the Saura Indian tribe (born 1720). According to my research on Ancestry, she is my 6th great grandmother. I would appreciate any information.


Same here, if you find something out, please share!


Hi Kim,
Su Song is my 9x great grandmother. Just wondering if you were ever able to get any information on her. Thanks


Hi Kim,
I have been tracing my ancestry and also found that Su Song was my 5th great grandmother-thru children with Joseph Harrelson. Have you been able to obtain any information on her?
Thank you!


Hi Kim

Thanks for your question and for visiting NCpedia.  I am forwarding your question to our Reference Department for additional research. 

Carla Morris, Government and Heritage Library


I just found out today that my ancestors was part of the tribe.


Has anyone made a connection between the Saura Tribe and Goinstown in Stokes County NC?

Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: NCpedia provides the comments feature as a way for viewers to engage with the resources. Comments are not published until reviewed by NCpedia editors at the State Library of NC, and the editors reserve the right to not publish any comment submitted that is considered inappropriate for this resource. NCpedia will not publish personal contact information in comments, questions, or responses. If you would like a reply by email, note that some email servers, such as public school accounts, are blocked from accepting messages from outside email servers or domains. If you prefer not to leave an email address, check back at your NCpedia comment for a reply. Please allow one business day for replies from NCpedia. Complete guidelines are available at