Extracts from the Discoveries of John Lederer

From Hawks’ History of North Carolina, Vol. 2. “In three several Marches from Virginia to the west of Carolina, and other parts of the Continent; begun in March, 1669, and ended in September, 1670. Collected and translated out of Latin from his discourse and writings, by SIR WILLIAM TALBOT, Baronet. Printed in London, in 1672.”


In three several Marches from Virginia to the west of Carolina, and other parts of the Continent; begun in March, 1669, and ended in September, 1670. Collected and translated out of Latin from his discourse and writings, by SIR WILLIAM TALBOT, Baronet. Printed in London, in 1672.

[Reprinted from a copy in the author's library.]

[JOHN LEDERER was a learned German, who lived in Virginia during the administration of Sir William Berkeley. Little was then known of the mountainous part of that State, or of what was beyond. Berkeley commissioned Lederer to make explorations, and accordingly he went upon three several expeditions. The first was from the head of York River due west to the Appalachian Mountains; the second was from the falls of James River, west and southwest, and brought him into North Carolina, through several of the counties of which he travelled; the third was from the falls of the Rappahannock, westward, to the mountains.

Certain Englishmen were appointed by Berkeley to accompany him; these, however, forsook him and turned back. Lederer proceeded, notwithstanding, alone; and on his return to Virginia (which, by the way, was never expected), met with insult and reproaches, instead of the cordial welcome to which he was entitled. For this he was indebted to his English companions who had forsaken him; and so active were they in creating a prejudice against him, that he was not safe among the people of Virginia, who had been told that the public taxes of that year had all been expended in his wanderings.

Under these circumstances he went into Maryland, and there succeeded finally in obtaining a hearing from the governor, Sir William Talbot, and in submitting his papers to him. The governor, though at first much prejudiced against the man by the stories he had heard, yet found him, as he says, "a modest, ingenious person, and a pretty scholar;" and Lederer vindicated himself "with so convincing reason and circumstance," as Talbot says, that he quite removed all unfavorable impressions, and the governor himself took the trouble to translate from the Latin and publish Lederer's account of his journeyings.

A map of his explorations accompanies Talbot's translation, and by the aid of that we have endeavored to trace, as well as we could, the German's wanderings within the present boundaries of North Carolina.]

The twentieth of May, 1670, one Major Harris and myself, with twenty Christian horse and five Indians, marched from the falls of James River, in Virginia, towards the Monakins; and on the two-and-twentieth were welcomed by them with volleys of shot. Near this village we observed a pyramid of stones piled up together, which, their priests told us, was the munber of an Indian colony drawn out by lot from a neighbor country over-peopled, and led hither by one Monack, from whom they take the name of Monakin. Here inquiring the way to the mountains, an ancient man described, with a staff, two paths on the ground, one pointing to the Mahocks, and the other to the Nahyssans.

[The Mahocks, from Lederer's map, would appear to have been living near the dividing line of Nelson and Albemarle counties, at the junction of the Rockfish with the James River. The locality of the Nahyssans appears, from Robert Morden's map of Carolina ( 1687), and also from Ogilby's, to have been west of the Mahocks, between them and the first range of the mountains.]

But my English companions, slighting the Indian’s direction, shaped their course by the compass due west; mid therefore it fell out with us, as it does with those land-crabs that, crawling backwards in a direct line, avoid not the trees that stand in their way, but climbing over their very tops come down again on the other side, and so, after a day’s labor, gain not above two feet of ground. Thus we, obstinately pursuing a due west course, rode over steep and craggy cliffs which beat our horses quite off the hoof: In these mountains we wandered from the 25th of May till the 3d of June, finding very little sustenance for man or horse, for these places are destitute both of grain and herbage.

The third of June we came to the smith branch of James River, which Major Ita Harris, observing to run northwardly, vainly imagined to be an arm of the Lake of Canada, and was so transported with this fancy that he would have raised a pillar to the discovery, if the fear of the Mahock Indian and want of food had permitted him to stay. Here I moved to cross the river and march on; but the rest of the company were so weary of the enterprise, that, crying out, one and all, they would have offered violence to me, had I not been provided with a private commission from the Governor of Virginia to proceed, though the rest of the company should abandon me–the sight of which laid their fury.

The lesser hills, or Akontshuck, are here impassable, being both steep and craggy. The rocks seemed to me, at a distance, to resemble eggs set up on end.

James River is here as broad as it is about a hundred miles lower, at Monakin; tile passage over it is very dangerous by reason of the rapid torrents made by rocks and shelves forcing the water into narrow channels. From an observation which we made of straws and rotten chunks (1) hanging in the boughs of trees on the bank, and two-and-twenty feet above water, we argued that the melted snow riffling from the mountains swelled the river to that height, the flood carrying down that rubbish which, upon the abatement of the inundation, remained in the trees.

The air in these parts was so moist that all our biscuits became mouldy and unfit to be eaten, so that some nicer stomachs, who, at our setting out, laughed at my provision of Indian-meal parched, would gladly now have shared with me; but I being determined to go upon further discoveries, refused to part with any of that which was to be nay most necessary sustenance.

The fifth of June, my company and I parted, good friends, they back again, and I, with one Susquehanna Indian, named Jackzetavon, only, in pursuit of my first enterprise, changing my course from west to southwest and by south to avoid the mountains. Major Harris, in parting, gave me a gun, believing me a lost man, and given up as a prey to Indians or savage beasts, which made him the bolder to report strange things in his own praise and my disparagement, presuming I would never appear to disprove him. This, I suppose, and no other, was the cause that he did with so much industry procure me discredit and odium; but I have lost nothing by it but what I never studied to gain, which is popular applause.

From the fifth, which was Sunday, until the ninth of June, I travelled through difficult ways, without seeing any town or Indian, and then I arrived at Sapon, a town of the Nahyssans, about a hundred miles distant from Mahock, situate upon a branch of Shawan, alias Rorenock River.

[By Shawan, Lederer means Chowan, which he here confounds with Roanoke. On Morden's map ( 1687), and on Ogilby's (1671), the Chowan is called Rokahak, while the Moratoc or Roanoke is called Noratoke. The Staunton and the Dan form the latter river, and it was probably on some of the tributaries of the first-named stream he struck, perhaps on the Staunton itself; just before its junction with the Dan. He had changed his course, as he tells us, to S. W. by S., to avoid the mountains, and the only streams to which this course would bring him are the Staunton and its northern tributaries.]

(1) This word is very generally used at the South, and means sometimes the end of small logs, partly burned, and then extinguished; and at others, as in this case, broken fragments of moderate size from decayed trees.

And though I had just cause to fear these Indians, because they had been in continual hostility with the Christians for ten years before, yet presuming that the truck which I carried with me would procure my welcome, I adventured to put myself into their power, having heard that they never offer any injury to a few persons, from whom they apprehend no danger; nevertheless they examined me strictly, whence I came, whither I went, and what my business was. But after I had bestowed some trifles of glass and metal amongst them, they were satisfied with reasonable answers, and I received with all imaginable demonstrations of kindness, as offering of sacrifice, a compliment showed only to such as they design particularly to honor; but they went further, and consulted their gods, whether they should not admit me into their nation and councils, and oblige me to stay among them by a marriage with the king’s or some of their great men’s daughters. But I, though with much ado, waived their courtesy, and got my passport, having given my word to return to them within six months.

Sapon is within the limits of the province of Carolina, and as you may perceive by the figure, has all the attributes requisite to a pleasant and advantageous seat; for, though it stands high and upon a dry land, it enjoys the benefit of a stately river and a rich soil, capable of producing many commodities, which may hereafter render the trade of it considerable.

[We must here remember that the dividing line between the present States of Virginia and Carolina was not then established as it is now recognized. From Lederer's map, it appears that all that part of Virginia lying south of James River, and extending as far westward as the Blue Ridge, was considered by him as part of Carolina, and is so designated on his map. Sapon, however, would appear from his map to have been in North Carolina, or just beyond the present boundary, in Virginia. Morden places it just south of the dividing line, in Carolina, on the upper waters of what we call the Roanoke. It was the chief town of the Nahyssans.]

Not far distant from hence, as I understood from the Nahyssan Indians, is their king’s residence, called Pintahæ, upon the same river, and happy in the same advantages both for pleasure and profit, which my curiosity would have led me to see, were I not bound, both by oath and commission, to a direct pursuance of my intended purpose of discovering a passage to the further side of the mountains. This nation is governed by an absolute monarch; the people of a high stature, warlike, and rich. I saw great store of pearl unbored in their little temples or oratories, which they had won, amongst other spoils, from the Indians of Florida, and hold in as great esteem as we do.

From hence, by the Indians’ instructions, I directed my course to Akenatzy, an island bearing south and by west, and about fifty miles distant, upon a branch of the same river, from Sapon.

[This island Akenatzy is possibly what is found on Lawson's map of 1709, under the name of Aconeche, in the Roanoke River.]

The country here, though high, is level, and for the most part a rich soil, as I judged by the growth of the trees; yet where it is inhabited by Indians it lies open in spacious plains, and is blessed with a very healthful air, as appears by the age and vigor of the people: and though I travelled in the month of June, the heat of the weather hindered me not from riding at all hours without any great annoyance from the sun. By easy journeys I landed at Akenatzy upon the twelfth of June. The current of the river is here so strong that my horse had much difficulty to resist it, and I expected every step to be carried away with the stream.

This island, though small, maintains many inhabitants, who are fixed here in great security, being naturally fortified with fastnesses of mountains, and water on every side. Upon the north shore they yearly reap great crops of corn, of which they always have a twelvemonth’s provision aforehand, against an invasion from their powerful neighbors. Their government is under two kings, one presiding in arms, the other in hunting and husbandry. They hold all things, except their wives, in common; and their custom in eating is, that every man, in his turn, feasts all the rest, and he that makes the entertainment is seated betwixt the two kings, when, having highly commended his own cheer, they carve and distribute it among the guests.

At my arrival here I met four stranger Indians, whose bodies were painted in various colors with figures of animals whose likeness I had never seen; and by some discourse and signs which passed between us, I gathered that they were the only survivors of fifty who set out together in company from some great island, as I conjecture, to the northwest; for I understood that they crossed a great water, in which most of their party perished by tempest, the rest dying in the marshes and mountains by famine and hard weather, after a two months’ travel by land and water in quest of this island of Akenatzy.

The most reasonable conjecture that I can frame out of this relation is, that these Indians might come from the island of New Albion or California, from whence we may imagine some great arm of the Indian Ocean or bay stretches into the continent towards the Apalatæan Mountains in the nature of a midland sea, in which many of these Indians might have perished. To confirm my opinion in this point, I have heard several Indians testify that the nation of Rickohockans, who dwell not far to the westward of the Apalatæan Mountains, are seated upon a land, as they term it, of great waves-by which, I suppose, they mean the sea-shore.

[However reasonable this conjecture may have appeared at tile time to Lederer, with such geographical knowledge as was then possessed, we think, if we mistake not the locality in which the German then was, a much more reasonable supposition call be formed by us at this day. He was on an island in the Roanoke River, and, as we think, in that part of the river that flows between Halifax and Northampton counties. The four Indians had probably come from the northeast or east, and the great water they crossed was nothing more than the Sound, for their whole journey had occupied a space of time much too short for a travel from any great body of water to the west or northwest. If, however, they came from the northwest, it must have been from the borders of the great lakes, which, we think, was the land of the Rickohockans, whom tie mentions in the next paragraph as distinct from these four Indians. He entertained, it will be observed, an opinion very common at that day, that the Gulf of Mexico extended northwardly into the continent much further than it does, and he had a very imperfect conception of the entire breadth of the continent.]

The next day after my arrival at Akenatzy, a Rickohockan ambassador, attended by five Indians whose faces were colored with auripigmentum (in which mineral these parts do much abound), was received, and that night invited to a ball, of their fashion; but in the height of their mirth and dancing, by a smoke contrived for that purpose, the room was suddenly darkened, and, for what cause I know not, the Rickohockan and his retinue barbarously murdered. This struck me with such an affrightment, that the very next day, without taking my leave of them, I slunk away with my Indian companion. Though the desire of informing myself further concerning some minerals, as auripigmentum, &c., which I there took especial notice of, would have persuaded me to stay longer among them, had not the bloody example of their treachery to the Rickohockans frightened me away.

The fourteenth of June, pursuing a south-southwest course, sometimes by a beaten path and sometimes over hills and rocks, I was forced to take up my quarters in the woods; for though the Oenock Indians, whom I then sought, were not, in a direct line, above thirty odd miles distant from Akenatzy, yet the ways were such, and obliged me to go so far about, that I reached not Oenock until the sixteenth.

[We are not without knowledge of the locality of the Ohanoaks. They were in the present county of Bertie, on its eastern side (see vol. i., p. 113). It would, therefore, seem that Lederer travelled down from Northampton, on the eastern side of the Roanoke into Bertie, towards the Chowan.]

The country here, by the industry of these Indians, is very open, and clear of wood. Their town is built round a field, where, in their sports, they exercise with so much labor and violence and in so great numbers, that I have seen the ground wet with the sweat that dropped from their bodies. Their chief recreation is slinging of stones.

Fourteen miles west-southwest of the Oenocks dwell the Shackory Indians, upon a rich soil, and yet abounding in antimony, of which they showed me considerable quantities. Finding them agree with the Oenocks in customs and manners, I made no stay there, but passing through their town I travelled till the nineteenth of June, and then, after a two days’ troublesome journey through thickets and marsh-grounds, I arrived at Watary, above forty miles distant, and bearing west-southwest to Shakor.

I departed from Watary the one-and-twentieth of June, and keeping a west course for near thirty miles I came to Sara. Here I found the ways more level and easy. I did likewise, to my no small admiration, find hard cakes of white salt among them; but whether they were made of sea-water or taken out of salt-pits I know not, but am apt to believe the latter, because the sea is so remote from them.

From Sara I kept a south-southwest course until the five-and-twentieth of June, and then I reached Wisacky. This three days’ march was more troublesome to me than all my travels besides, for the direct way which I took from Sara to Wisacky is over a continued marsh overgrown with reeds, from whose roots spring knotty stumps, as hard and sharp as flint. I was forced to lead my horse most part of the way, and wonder that he was not either plunged in the bogs or lamed by those rugged knots.

This nation is subject to a neighbor king residing upon the bank of a great lake tailed Ushery, environed of all sides with mountains and Wisacky marsh.

The six-and-twentieth of June, having crossed a fresh river which runs into the lake of Ushery, I came to the town, which was more populous than any I had seen before in my march. The king dwells some three miles from it, and therefore I had no opportunity of seeing’ him the two nights which I stayed there. This prince, though his dominions are large and populous, is in continual fear of the Oustack Indians, seated on the opposite side of the lake, a people so addicted to arms that even their women come into the field and shoot arrows over their husbands’ shoulders, who shield them with leathern targets.

The water of Ushery Lake seemed to my taste a little brackish, which I rather impute to some mineral waters which flow into it, than to ally saltness it can take from the sea, which we may reasonably suppose is a great. way from it. Many pleasant rivulets fall into it, and it is stored with great Plenty of excellent fish. I judged it to be about ten leagues broad, for were not the other shore very high it could not be discerned from Ushery. How far this lake tends westwardly, or where it ends, I could neither learn nor guess.

[It is difficult, to determine what lake it is that, Lederer calls Ushery: it was, however, in the midst of extensive swampy lands, or, as he terms them marsh. We have such lands In Bertie, Martin, Beaufort. Washington, Tyrrel, and Hyde counties, and particularly in the three last named, where such lands, reclaimed, form some of our richest plantations. Was he somewhere in this region of swamp lands? The only lakes, however, of much importance are Lake Phelps and Matamuskeet Lake. If he were on the eastern side of the Roanoke, he could not have reached these without crossing the river, and yet his itinerary mentions no such crossing. Neither are we aided by the name he gives to the Indians on the opposite side of the lake: we know of no tribe called Ouslack Indians. The nearest approach to it is Newsiok, on the waters of Neuse, and not on any lake. If when he left the island Akenatzy in the Roanoke, he crossed to the western bank of the river, he might have found swampy lands in Martin, Beaufort, and Washington counties, supposing him to have been wandering towards Hyde; but how then would he have passed through the region of the Ohanoaks, which was certainly in Bertie? Beside, Matamuskeet, if that be the lake referred to, was not called Ushery by the natives. Its Indian name was Paquipe. If we suppose Lake Phelps to be meant, how shall we reconcile such a conjecture with the size he give? Lake Phelps, we think, is not thirty miles broad. We believe him to have been somewhere in the region of marshy lands we have named: but as to Lake Ushery, we freely confess we cannot fix its locality. Col. Byrd says that the Indians living on the Santee River were called the Usheries.]

Here I made a day’s stay to inform myself farther in the these countries; and understood both from the Usheries and some Sara Indians that came to trade with them, that, two days’ journey and a half from hence to the southwest, a powerful nation of bearded men were seated, which I suppose to be the Spaniards, because the Indians never have any, it being a universal custom among them to prevent their growth by plucking the young hair out by the roots.

[ Lederer made his journey in 1669-70, and may be correct in supposing the bearded men to be Spaniards; but at that date there was a settlement of Englishmen that would answer the description here given. The settlers on the Cape Fear from Barbadoes commenced their colony in 1664, and these may have been the bearded men referred to. He is in error, however, as to the distance of the bearded men from the Indians. It was more than a journey of two days and a half.]

Not thinking fit to proceed further, the eight-and-twentieth of June I faced about and looked homewards. To avoid Wisacky marsh I shaped my course northeast; and after three days’ travel over hilly ways, where I met with no path or road, I fell into a barren, sandy desert, where I suffered miserably for want of water,–the heat of summer having drunk all the springs dry, and left no sign of any, but the gravelly channels in which they run: so that if now and then I had not found a standing pool, which provident nature set round with shady oaks, to defend it from the ardor of the sun, my Indian companion, horse, and self had certainly perished with thirst. In this distress we travelled till the twelfth of July, and then found the head of a river, which afterwards proved Eruco; in which we received, not only the comfort of a necessary and seasonable refreshment, but likewise the hopes of coming into a country again, where we might find game for food at least, if not discover some new nation or people. Nor did our hopes fail us; for after we had crossed the river twice, we were led by it, upon the fourteenth of July, to the town of Katearas, a place of great Indian trade and commerce, and chief seat of the haughty emperor of the Taskiroras, called Kaskusara, vulgarly called Kaskous. His grim majesty, upon my first appearance, demanded my gun and shot, which I willingly parted with, to ransom myself out of his clutches; for he was the most proud, imperious barbarian that I met with in all my marches. The people here at this time seemed prepared for some extraordinary solemnity; for the men and the women of better sort had decked themselves very fine with pieces of bright copper in their hair and ears and about their arms and necks, which upon festival occasions they use as an extraordinary bravery: by which it would seem this country is not without rich mines of copper. But I durst not stay to inform myself in it, being jealous of some sudden mischief towards me from Kaskous, his nature being bloody, and provoked upon any slight occasion.

Therefore, leaving Katearas, I travelled through the woods until the sixteenth, upon which I came to Kawitziokan, an Indian town upon a branch of Rorenoke River, which here I passed over, continuing my journey to Menchærink; and on the seventeenth departing from thence, I lay all night in the woods, and the next morning betimes going by Natoway, I reached that evening Apamatuck, in Virginia, where I was not a little overjoyed to see Christian faces again.

[From Lederer's account, the conjecture that seems most probable is, that taking a course southwest and by south from the falls of James River, he came upon the Roanoke in North Carolina, and crossed it at the island which he calls Akenatzy, if he crossed it at all. This island it between Halifax and Northampton, I apprehend. His wandering then took him into some of those counties where our swamp lands are most abundant, and he certainly was in Bertie, from which, pursuing a northeast course, he returned to Virginia, and crossing the Nottoway, proceeded to the Appomatox, which he followed to its junction with the James. The distances he gives, added together, after his entrance into North Carolina, would make his wanderings in our State some two hundred miles; and as he was among the Ohanoaks and Tuscaroras, he was certainly in Bertie. He, however, was not the first European who had seen that land. Eighty-five years before, the hardy adventurers under Lane had placed their feet upon it, though their inland explorations were much less extensive than those of Lederer. It is proper, however, to add, that from the localities he names, as they appear on Ogilby's map ( 1671), which we subjoin to this account, his wanderings would appear to have been on much more extensive than we have made them. Watery, Sara, Wisacki, and Ushery would all appear to have been in South Carolina, the last directly west of Charleston. If he made this journey, then entering the State somewhere in Warren county, he must have crossed it in a southwestern line, and passing through Robeson county into South Carolina, must have traversed that State also in its entire width. We cannot believe this. The time occupied would not have been sufficient for it. Lederer's itinerary presents difficulties which we confess we cannot satisfactorily solve.

On the map of Lederer, as well as on that of Ogilby, both of which we subjoin, the reader will perceive a river named Torpæo. This is erroneosly made to empty into the Roanoke. A comparison of its position with other localities shows it to have been what is commonly, though improperly, called the Tar River. Its name is not Tar, though Col. Byrd called it by that name more than one hundred years ago. Others have supposed its original Indian name to be Taw or Tau, which Williamson, with his customary dogmatism, ignorantly states meant "Health." It never had such a meaning in any dialect of the Algonquin or Iroquois that we have met with--and these were the two mother languages of the Indians of the eastern side of North Carolina--nor was there any such Indian word, as far as we can discover; though such a syllable, formed from an Indian word, is found in the composition of Indian words, according to the known polythinseticism of our Indian tongues. But the river was, notwithstanding, called Taw, for we find (as I am informed by a friend (1) ) that name applied in a patent of 1729. Wheeler, Simms, Emmons, and Cook, all modern authorities, repudiating "Tar," call it "Tau." Mr. Clark thinks that, from analogy, it should be written Taw, and cites the names Haw, Catawba, Chickasaw, Choctaw, where the syllable terminates with w. But the fact is, that in the orthography of Indian names and words, it is important to know to what country the individual belonged who first wrote them down for the eye of civilized man; otherwise the pronunciation may be mistaken. For ourselves, while we are quite sure the river's true name never was Tar, we doubt whether Taw is the original word. Words of one syllable are exceedingly rare in the Indian languages, and especially in the names of places. They are almost invariably compounds. Its Indian name was Torpæo, and we think it should be so called now. Taw is but a corruption of the first syllable Tor. We have tried in vain to discover the meaning of the compound Tor-pæo.]

(1) H. T. Clark, Esq., of Edgecombe.

Entry above from History of North Carolina: With Maps and Illustrations. Volume: 2. Contributors: Francis L. Hawks – author. Publisher: E.J. Hale & Son. Place of Publication: Fayetteville, NC. Publication Year: 1858. (pp 43-53)