Starting in 1983, the University of North Carolina’s second Siouan Project succeeded in finding sites of the Siouan tribes who interacted with the European explorers, traders, and settlers who moved into the North Carolina backcountry during the last half of the seventeenth century and early eighteenth century.
In the central Piedmont three phases provide a detailed chronology of changes during the Contact period:
The Mitchum phase (A.D. 1600 – 1670)
The Mitchum phase, located in Chatham county adjacent the Haw River is attributed to the Sissipahaw Indians in the early part of the 17th-century.
The Mitchum phase is known from a single site located in Chatham county adjacent the Haw River. The phase is attributed to the Sissipahaw Indians in the early part of the 17th-century. Trade artifacts at Mitchum site indicate that the site was occupied around 1650 and abandoned before John Lawson visited this location in 1701.
The Mitchum site was a small stockaded village of less than 1.5 acres. The only house found was oval with posts set in individual holes. It was probably covered in bark or skins. Storage pits, smudge pits, hearths, and two graves were found. Glass beads and brass ornaments, obtained through indirect trade with the English, were place with the dead.
Pottery of the Mitchum phase developed out of the preceding Hillsboro phase and is very similar to the pottery of the contemporary Jenrette site on the Eno River. Subsistence practices changed little as a consequence of contact with Europeans. Peach pits provide the only evidence of European influence on the Mitchum phase diet.
Milder forms of non-native tobacco, perhaps from the West Indies, may have been an important commodity in the trade network with the English. Finely made clay pipes resembling English kaolin pipes begin showing up in relatively large numbers on sites from this time, suggesting a change in smoking behavior after 1650.
European trade items were obtained in limited number and variety through indirect trade. A few gunflints, but no firearm parts were found. Knives, hatchets, hoes, and other iron tools apparently were not available. The trade inventory consisted mainly of ornaments.
The Jenrette phase (A.D. 1600 – 1680)
The Jenrette site, along the Eno River near Hillsborough, appears to be a village occupied by the Shakori Indians and visited by John Lederer in 1670.
The Jenrette phase is defined by information from a single archaeological site. Jenrette site is located near Hillsborogh along the Eno River, right next to the Fredricks site, and near the Wall and Hogue sites. Jenrette may be the remains of a Shakori Indian village visited by John Lederer in 1670.
Jenrette’s stockaded village covered one-half acre, with a open central plaza. Only two of the numerous houses which originally surrounded the plaza were clearly identified by remaining wall patterns. A small number of burials in the village area suggests that European diseases had not yet affected the Eno River population.
Unlike most houses found on sites in the Piedmont, the Jenrette structures were built by placing wall posts in long trenches rather than individual post homes. Wall trenches were also used at the slightly later Fredricks site.
Most of the Jenrette features were storage pits and large food preparation facilities identified as roasting pits or earth ovens. Large shallow roasting pits like the “feasting pits” described for the late Hillsboro phase were usually located near the stockade.
The ceramic assemblage from the Jenrette site is very similar to the Mitchum phase. Both comprise the Jenrette ceramic series. However it is believed that the Jenrette pottery was made by Shakori, not Sissipahaw, potters. Although similar to the ancestral Hillsboro series, Jenrette series vessels are heavier, have thicker walls, and are more crudely made.
Small triangular arrowpoints, as well as other stone tools (drills, perforators, gravers, spokeshaves, and scrapers, as well as ground-stone celts, chipped-stone hoes, and milling stones) continue to be used during Jenrette phase. Bone and shell tools also persist and resemble the preceding Hillsboro phase. These traditional tools were soon to be replaced in the ensuing Fredricks phase.
Subsistence remains at Jenrette are very similar to samples from sites occupied just prior to European contact. No significant changes in practices or diet can be seen. White-tailed deer, fish, acorns, hickory nuts, and walnuts were important wild foods, while corn, beans, bottle gourds, and sumpweed were cultivated. Peaches were the only non-native food harvested.
The inhabitants of Jenrette buried their dead in both shaft-and-chamber and simple straight-sided pits. Associated artifacts (primarily small glass beads sewn on garments) reflect the beginnings of trade with the English. There is a lack of epidemic diseases during Jenrette phase.
The increased popularity of pipe smoking seen in the Mitchum phase is also seen in Jenrette phase. Numerous terra-cotta pipes were used alongside traditional forms. Fine rouletted designs, like those decorations found on “Tidewater” pipes throughout the Middle Atlantic region, are seen on Jenrette terra-cotta pipes. This style of pipes is also found on sites dating to the Middle Saratown, Late Saratown, and Fredricks phases. They are an excellent horizon marker for the 1650 to 1700 period.
The Fredricks phase (A.D. 1680 – 1710)
The Fredricks phase, along the Eno River near Hillsborough, appears to be the remains of Occaneechi Town, home of the Occaneechis after they moved from the Roanoke valley in 1676, following Bacon’s Rebellion. The town was visited by John Lawson in 1701.
This small stockaded village of no more than ten or twelve houses was completely excavated between 1983 and 1986. Probably fewer than seventy-five individuals lived in the village for less than a decade, but three separate cemeteries were found here. The small size of the settlement and the many graves indicates a very high mortality rate. The separate cemeteries may indicate different ethnic groups were being forced to band together as a result of depopulation.
Trade between the Piedmont Indians and the English intensified during the last quarter of the 17th-century. Grave goods with the Occaneechi burials include knives, tobacco pipes, hoes, kettles, and guns, as well as the beads and ornaments that had been common during the earlier Contact period phases. Graves were no longer placed in and around dwellings. Traditional shaft-and-chamber graves were replaced with rectangular, straight-sided graves aligned in three cemeteries outside the stockade. Graves were dug with metal tools.
Fredricks phase pottery is more closely related to Hillsboro series pottery than the Jenrette series. Two pottery types are present. Fredricks Plain is associated with a variety of vessel forms, while Fredricks Check Stamped is almost exclusively cooking vessels. The homogeneity of the Fredricks series suggests that all the pottery was made by one or two potters.
Although Fredricks phase represents a time of dramatic disruption, a surprising degree of continuity is reflected in the subsistence data. The peltry trade and the introduction of European tools and trinkets seems to have had a minimal impact on the day to day subsistence of the Occaneechis. Only one bone each of a horse and a pig attest to the European presence and the only European plants are watermelon and peaches.
Stone tools continued to be used alongside of the European-made weapons and cutting tools. The Occaneechis do not appear to have been heavily engaged in working bone or shell. Numerous shell ornaments, including gorgets, columella beads, disk beads, wampum, and runtees were probably manufactured by groups along the Atlantic Ocean.