Thomas Jefferson Papers

Peter S. Du Ponceau to Thomas Jefferson, 18 July 1820

From Peter S. Du Ponceau

Philada 18th July 1820

Dear Sir

I hope I shall not be considered intrusive in communicating to you the Substance of the answer I have just received from Mr Heckewelder to a Letter I wrote to him on the Subject of the Nottoway Indians. He thinks with me they are of the Iroquois, not of the Lenape family. He considers their name Nottaway, to be the Same with Nadowési or Naudowessie the denomination which the Chippeways (a branch of the Lenape) & the Northern Indians generally give to the Hurons or Wyandots, who are themselves an Iroquois tribe. He Says that in ancient times thro’ Civil Wars among the Iroquois themselves, many of their people were dispersed, & fled to other tribes of Indians, who permitted them to live under their protection, & that the Tuscaroras, who had Sought protection from the Lenape, were placed by them to the Southward, in what we now call North Carolina, having the Lenape between them & their persecutors. (Some may have Settled in Virginia), and that these Tuscaroras, or more properly Tuscorawas, after Some Years became formidable, & were excited by the parent stock to join them again & aid them in their Wars against the French, whence the Sixth Iroquois Nation in their Confederacy.

Mr Heckewelder believes as I do, that the Lenape were the principal people of Virginia, & that Powhatan, Pocohontas &c were of that stock. He Says Indian tradition & the Indian words brought to view by the Author of the History of Virginia confirm the fact.1 But that the Nottoways were not of that stock, their language Sufficiently Shews.

Mr Heckewelder has given me the meaning of Several Indian Names existing in Virginia; all of the Delaware stock, which I beg leave to Subjoin

Pocahontas =  Del. Pokcha Hanne, the Stream between two ridges.
Pohattan =  to blow on something (the blower, probably the great Wizzard, Conjurations being performed by blowing) This explanation between parentheses is not Mr H’s.
Rappahannock Lappa hanne, the Stream again flowing, the river where the Water ebbs & flows (N.B.) The Southern Delawares had the Letter R where the Northern had the L.
Lenno & Renno, a Man.
Potomack— Peethammock, they are coming.
(Many Indian names thus contain an affirmative Sentence)
Kentucky— Kenthuk—the turkies are flown off.
Mattaponey Mattach ponink, the place where bad bread is eaten; bad bread with the local termination ink, corrupted by the English into ey, as frequently happens.
Mattach poan*, means Simply bad bread.
Chickahominy Chickamahoning, the Turkey lick; the lick where the Turkies resort to.
Tuckahoe Tuckhanne, the Stream which has large bends; Same with Tunkhannah or Tunkhannock.
Tappahanock =  Tuppēkhánnēk, the cold stream—Same name which we have corrupted into Tippecanoe.
Manakin Manachkink—the Fort or enclosed place
The English often drop the guttural ch in Indian names—almost always.
Chappook Chappichk; the place where medicinal plants grow
I have the honor to be with the greatest respect Sir   Your most obedt huml servt

Peter S, Du Ponceau

P.S. If Mr Correa Should be with you when You receive this letter, I beg you will present to him my best respects, & my affectionate regards to his Nephew.—

P.S. I must acknowledge that I do not find much affinity between the words in the Nottoway Vocabulary & the Short one given by Carver of the Naudowessie language, (which appears to me to differ from the Wyandot or Huron); more So from the Nottaway; the2 Numerals, in particular, are entirely different; I find more affinity between Carver’s Naudowessies & the Assinipoctuk, whom we call assinipoils or Assiniboils—Yet all those languages have an Iroquois color not to be mistaken. The name Naudowessie, Nottaway, has probably been a generic Name among a number of Lenape Tribes, to distinguish those of the Iroquois Stock—More light is yet wanted on this Subject, Still there can be no doubt of the Nottoway’s being an Iroquois idiom.


RC (DLC); at head of text: “Thomas Jefferson, Esqr”; endorsed by TJ as received 23 July 1820 and so recorded in SJL. FC (PPAmP: APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends Historical and Literary Committee Letterbook); lacking first postscript and with author’s footnote, worded slightly differently, added in Du Ponceau’s hand.

Du Ponceau and John Heckewelder corresponded for several years about the languages spoken by various Indian tribes. Some of their earlier letters were printed in APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Transactions of the Historical & Literary Committee 1 (1819; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 7 [no. 343]): 351–450. Heckewelder’s answer, dated Bethlehem, Pa., 15 July 1820, is in PPAmP: Heckewelder–Du Ponceau Letters. The author of the history of virginia is presumably John Smith, whose The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (London, 1624; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 461) contains a list of Indian words.

Elizabeth Trist reported to her grandson Nicholas P. Trist from Farmington on 31 July 1820 that José Corrêa da Serra had arrived at Monticello on 26 July 1820, three days after the receipt of this letter (RC in NcU: NPT). Corrêa da Serra’s nephew and traveling companion was actually his illegitimate son, Eduardo (Edouard; Edward) José Corrêa da Serra (Richard Beale Davis, The Abbé Corrêa in America, 1812–1820: The Contributions of the Diplomat and Natural Philosopher to the Foundations of Our National Life [1955; repr. 1993], 307n).

Jonathan carver included “A Short Vocabulary of the Naudowessie Language” in his Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America, in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768 (London, 1778, and other eds.; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 3994), 433–41.

1Du Ponceau here canceled “Therefore.”

2Preceding seventeen words interlined.

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

* *Achpoan, in Delaware is Bread, in Mattachpoan, the ach is not duplicated.

Index Entries

  • Assiniboin Indians search
  • Carver, Jonathan; and Indian languages search
  • Chippewa Indians search
  • Corrêa da Serra, Eduardo (Edouard; Edward) José search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; visits Monticello search
  • Delaware Indians search
  • Du Ponceau, Peter Stephen; and Indians search
  • Du Ponceau, Peter Stephen; and J. Corrêa da Serra search
  • Du Ponceau, Peter Stephen; letters from search
  • Heckewelder, John; and Indians search
  • Huron Indians search
  • Indians, American; Assiniboin search
  • Indians, American; Chippewa search
  • Indians, American; Delaware search
  • Indians, American; Huron search
  • Indians, American; in Va. search
  • Indians, American; Iroquois search
  • Indians, American; languages search
  • Indians, American; Lenni Lenape search
  • Indians, American; Naudowessie search
  • Indians, American; Nottoway search
  • Indians, American; Tuscarora search
  • Indians, American; Wyandot search
  • Iroquois Indians search
  • language; Indian (American) search
  • Lenni Lenape Indians; history of search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); Visitors to; Corrêa da Serra, José search
  • Naudowessie Indians search
  • Nottoway Indians search
  • Pocahontas (Matoaka; Algonquian Indian) search
  • Powhatan (Wahunsenacawh; Wahunsonacock; Algonquian chief) search
  • Smith, John (ca.1580–1631); and Indian languages search
  • Tuscarora Indians search
  • Virginia; Indians in search
  • Wyandot Indians search