Cheroenhaka Language




Transcribed By: Chief Walt “Red Hawk” Brown, Tribal Historian

Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe, Southampton County, VA


The Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe of Southampton County, Virginia’s Language (Dar-sun-ke), is recorded in a “Manuscript” obtained from the American Philosophical Society, 105 South Fifth Street, Philadelphia, Philadelphia.

The vocabulary and /or tongue (Dar-sun-ke) of the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indians is a compilation of lists and source materials dating back to March 4th, 1820.  Former President Thomas Jefferson’s hand written letter to Peter S. DuPonceau, on July 7, 1820, states that the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian vocabulary was obtained on March 4th, 1820 from a woman by the name of Edie Turner, styled as their “Queen” and that he had procured a copy of the vocabulary from John Woods, a former Professor of Mathematics at the College of William & Mary.  Jefferson also infers in his letter of July 7, 1820, that at the time of the recording of the vocabulary, members of  the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe, Southampton County Virginia, was still living on seven thousands acres of tribal reservation land, west of the Nottoway River, two miles from Jerusalem [Courtland…WDB] in Southampton County Virginia.  

Lewis R. Benford, University of California, Los Angeles, in his manuscript, title “An Ethno-history of the Nottoway, Meherrin and Weanock Indians of Southeastern Virginia” writes that Jefferson forwarded the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Vocabulary to Peter S. DuPonceau of Philadelphia, a student of Indian Languages, particularly the Iroquoian tongues (Gallatin 1836:81) and that DuPonceau recognized the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian language as belonging to the Iroquoian family of languages.  Prior to the analysis by DuPonceau it was assumed that the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indians spoke an Algonkian (Algonquian) language related to their northern neighbors, the Powhatan tribes and / or Lenape Nation.

Albert Gallatin, “Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society, Volume II, pages 81-82,” states that “the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe had preserved their independence and their numbers later than the Powhatans, and that, at the end of the seventeenth century, they still had one hundred and thirty warriors and they had not migrated from their original seat in Southampton County Virginia.  It is noted that between 1831 and 1836 a second recording of the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian language was obtained and recorded by the Honorable James Tresevant (Trezevant), one of the original judges on the infamous Southampton County Nat Turner Insurrection Trial. The vocabulary obtained by the Honorable James Tresevant corresponds with that of John Wood, and from which we learn that the true name of the tribe is Cheroenhaka sometimes spelled Cherohakah.

In his references notes, Lewis Binford writes that in accordance with Mook (1944:185-195), Swanton (1952:218), Mooney (1894:29), and Hewitt (Hodge 1907:71) that the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) were also named by the Algonkian(Algonquian) speakers as Mangoake (Mandoags, Mandoaks, Mandoages, Maongoack) a term apparently meaning “rattlesnakes.  In 1650 per the diary entries of Bland we were called “Na-da-wa” by the Algonkian (Algonquian) speakers.

The following is the language /vocabulary - “DAR-SUN-KE” of the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe as obtained / recorded phonically by John Woods on March 4th 1820 and the Honorable James Tresevant, 1831-1836 and as analyzed by Peter S. DuPonceau and documented in letters between he and Thomas Jefferson between July 1820 and September 1820:

Vocabulary Of The Language Of The Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indians of Southampton County, Virginia Obtain By John Wood (1775-1822) From An Old Indian Woman by The Name of Edie Turner aka Wane’ Roonseraw, The 4th Of March 1820 – As Communicated By Thomas Jefferson to Peter DuPonceau (1760-1844) :

Nouns of the Universe:


The Sun                     A-hee-ta                           The Moon      Teth-ra-ke

The Stars                   Dee-shu                            The Clouds     Ura-se-que

Thunder                     Ha-he-nu                         Lighting       Towat-gehe-terise

Air                            Yau-tat-ch                         God            Quaker-Hunte

Devil                          Ot-kum                              Rain             Yount-out-ch

Snow                        Kan-kaus                           Ice                O-wees

Fire                          Au-teur                              A River          Jo-ke

A Great River          Onos-chi-oke                      The Ocean      Owan-tet-cho-ta

A Mountain             Yenun-Te-nunte                   The Woods     Ora-racoon

Rocks                     Orun-tag                                 Light                  You-han-hu

Darkness                A-sun-ta                                 Swamp               Kee-nu

Land                      O-ter                                    Gold or Copper   Geek-quan

Silver                     Wa-nee                                  Heaven/Sky    Quaker-win-tika

Iron                       Owe-na                                      I                         EE

Yes                        Ho-Keh                                     No                       Roh       

My                        Set (Singular)                           Your                    Get (Singular)

My                        Ses (Plural – more than one)     Your                     Ges (Plural )




To Walk                         Iā                                    To Ride                 Unk-sa-ta

To Fly                            Get-ya                             To Swim              Ore-run-te

To Drink                        Arar-her                           To Eat                  Unt-cho-re

To Throw                       Esung-wis-a-tae               To Cry                Tehe-su-hard

To Sleep                        Ker-tus                            To Fight               Wan-tre-hu

To Wound                      Yah-te-rund                     To Kill                Urta-tree-you

To Hear                         Thra-hun-ta                       To See               Was-ke-hee

To Smell                         Sa-hu-ran-too                   To Touch              Swa-ro-re

To Speak                       Was-we-kr                        To Hunt                Ku-nun

To Fish                      Wat-hu-nund                          To Love        Tat-cha-da-nuste

To Hate                          Do-taut-che                       To Pray             Dur-tan-hura

To Stab                          Unte-qua-ra                       To Cut                  Un-ta-ter

To Break                  Wayet-che-ro-sag                   To Drown         Untor-ees-weg

To Hang                         Wa-ha-ree                        To Strike            Unta-teu-hee-rug

To Shoot                        Unta-te-hag                        To Listen            Satun-ta-tag

To Wash                        Ga-ku-har                           To Run               Sari-oka

To Leap                     Dehun-ti-ras-rag                                                              


Of The Human Species:


Man                               Eni-ha                           An Old Man              Aku-hor

A Young Man                Aqua-tio                        A Boy                      Aqueianha         

A Woman                      Eke-ning                       An Old Woman        Aquas-ri-sha     

A Young Woman           Chewas-ri-sha               Death                        Ansee-he

A Dead Body                 Wahe-hun                    The Head                   Seta-ra-ke

Marriage                        Gol-yag                         Husband                   Gotya-kum

Mother                           Ena                               Father                      Ah-roh

A Wife                           De-kes                        A Son                      Wa-ka-ton-ta

A Daughter                     Eru-ha                          A King                      Tir-er    

The Belly                        Un-ke                           My Belly                    Set-Un-ke

The Hand or Finger        Nun-ke                          My Hand                    Ses Nun-ke

Your Belly                      Get-Un-ke                    Your Hand                 Ges-Nun-ke

Right Hand                     Pa-nun-kee                Left Hand            Mata-Pa-nun-kee

The Thigh                       Otit-chag                      The Knee                 Sn-she-ke

The Leg                          Fran-seke                     The Foot                  Sa-see-ke

The Hair                         How-erac                      The Eyes                 Un-ko-harac

The Mouth                     Eska-harant                    The Ears                 Sun-tun-ke

The Tongue                    Dar-sun-ke                     The Teeth             Oto-sag

The Neck                       Hee-reke                        The Nose              Oteu-sag

The Lips                         O-arag                            The Chin                O-chag

The Toes                        See-ke                            The Blood              Gat-kum

The Skin                         Oho-nag                         Flesh                      Skes-hun-ke

Nails                              Ye-tunke                         Heart                     Sun-ke

The Cheeks                    Ekuns-quare               The Breath             Un-tu-res

The Eye Brows               Eskar-unte             A Shoemaker       Yunta-qua-ankum


Of Animals:


A Cow                           Tos-he-rung                          A Dog                       Cheer

A Hog                            Was-kar-row                        A Cat                        To-se

A Boar                           Garsu-sung                             A Deer                     Aquia

A Mouse                        Kos-quen-na                          A Rat                     Oyen-tu

A Bull Frog                    Dra-kon                                Fish                          Kain-tu

Shad or Herring              Ko-han                                 An Eel                     Kun-te

A Crag                           So-sune                                A Snake               An-ta-tum

A Bird                            Chee-ta                                A Turkey              Ka-num

A Hen                            Taw-ret-tig                            A Fox                   Ske-yu

A Wolf                           Huse                                     A Squirrel              O-sarst

A Rabbit                        Que-ru                               A House Fly         De-es-rere

A Bee                            Ro-nu-quam                        A Shell                 Oder-sag

A Deer Skin                   Aquia-ohorag                      A Wing            Ohu-wis-tag      

A Feather                       A-wenk-rag                        Wool                 Os-to-harag

The Tail                          Orwis-ag                            Horns                Oshe-rag


The Vegetable Kingdom:


A Tree                           Ge-ree                          A Pine                   Oho-tee

A Cypress                      Ras-so                          A Red Oak           Co-ree

Grass                             Ohe-rag                         Fire Wood           Geka

Ashes                             O-quag                          Bread                  Gota-tera

Potatoes                         Anten                             Peaches                Ra-shee

Cherries                         Ra-tung                           Apples                 Qua-har-rag

Strawberries                   Wees-runt                      Briars                    Oster

A Leaf                            Ohar-rak                                                                         


Division Of Time:

A Year                       Waken-hu                The New Year        Unksawa-waken-hu

The New Moon          Dot-ra-tung                 Spring                  Shan-taros-wache

Summer                          Gen-heke                 Autumn                   Bas-heke

Winter                            Gos-hera                  Morning                   Sun-te-tung

Daytime                          Ant-ye-ke                Mid-day                  Ante-nee-kal

Evening                          Gen-sake                Night Time                     Asun-ta


Domestic Articles:

A House                         Onu-shag                 A Door                   Os-to-torag

A Chimney                     Ode-shag                 A Knife                    Osa-ken-ta

A Stick                           Oche-ru-ra               A Gun                      Ata

A Bed                            Sat-ta-ak                   Milk                         Can-tu

Spirits                             Anu-qua                  Clothes                     Aquast

Smoke                           Okyer                       Shoe                       Otag-wag

Stockings                       Oris-rag                    Leather                   To-tier-hia         

Linen                              Nikan-ra-ra              Fat Meat                   Oska-ha-rag      

Lean Meat                      Oha-rag                    A Fiddle             Erus-karin-tita

A Bottle                         Che-wak                   Paper                      Ori-rag



White                             Owher-ya-kun                   Black        Ga-hun-tee

Red                                Ga-nunt-quare                   Green       Seka-te-quan-tian

Song                              Ewis                                   Short             Ne-wisha

Great                              Tat-chana-wihie                 Little                Ne-wisha

Deep                              Tat-chanu-wiras                 Sharp            Wat-choka

Round                            Tato-we-rente                     Smooth          Chu-watee

Rough                            Genua-quast                        Hard                  Wa-koste

Strong                            Wa-koste                            Weak                Genu-heha

Dry                                Your-ha                                Wet                    Ya-ora

Ugly                               Yesaxa                               Beautiful           Ye-sa-quast

Good                             Wa-quast                             Bad                   Was-sa

Hot                                Tari-ha                                  Cold              Wa-torae

Angry                             That-cha-rore                     Happy      That-cha-nunte

Unhappy                  Dodoit-che-wake-rak-sa             Old            Ona-hahe

Young                           Osae                                                                                             



One                                Hun-te                         Two                   Deka-nee

Three                             Ar-sa                            Four                 Hen-tag

Five                                Wisk                            Six                    Oyag

Seven                             Oha-tag                         Eight                   Dek-ra

Nine                               Dehee-runk                   Ten                  Washa

Eleven                            urtes-ka-hr                     Twelve         Deka-nes-kahr

Fourteen                         Hentags-kahr                 Fifteen          Whis-kahr

Sixteen                           Oyags-kahr                   Seventeen     Ohatags-kahr

Eighteen                         Dekars-hahr                  Nineteen    Dehee-runks-hahr

Twenty                    Dewartha-untes-kahr           Thrity         Arse-nee-warsa

Forty                       Hentag-nee-warsa                Fifty        Wiska-nee-warsa

Sixty                        Oyag-nee-warsa                Seventy     Getaga-nee-warsa

Eighty                Dekranee-warsa                      Ninety      Deheerunk-nee-wasa     

A Hundred                Kahars-three                     A Thousand    Unte-yoas-three





Letter Sent by Thomas Jefferson To Peter S. DuPonceau, Esq

Germane To The Vocabulary of The Nottoway Tribe Of Indians


Transcribed by Chief Walt “Red Hawk” Brown of the

Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe, Southampton County Virginia


              Dear Sir                                                                     Monticello  July 7th 1820


                            I have lately had an opportunity of procuring a copy of the vocabulary of the Nottoway [Cheroenhaka…WDB] tribe of Indians.  These with the Pamunkies and Mattaponies were component parts of the great Powhatan Confederacy which covered all the lower part of this State, and probably spoke the general language of the Powhatans.  This vocabulary was taken by Mr. John Woods, formerly professor of mathematics in William & Mary College.  I do not know whether vocabularies of these Tribes or of some of them might not have been among those I formerly sent you, in that case this may still be of service by collecting their orthographies.  I tender you constant assurances of my friendship & respect.


                                                                                                                    (signed by)

                                                                                                               Thomas Jefferson

              Peter S. DuPonceau, Esq.


(News paper Extract enclosed)

Petersburg VA March 17, 1820

The Nottoway [Cheroenhaka….WDB] Indians


The only remains in the State of Virginia of the formidable tribes which once composed the Powhatan confederacy, are the Pamunkeys & Nottoways [Cheroenhaka….WDB] with a few Mattoponies.

              The Nottoway Indians in number about Twenty Seven, including men, women & children, occupy a tract of Seven thousand acres of excellent land upon the West side of Nottoway river, two miles from Jerusalem, [now Courtland Virginia…WDB] in the county of Southampton.

              The principal character among them is a woman, who is styled their Queen.  Her name is Edie Turner.  She is nearly sixty years of age, and extremely intelligent, for although illiterate, [She could not read nor write…WDB], she converses and communicates her ideas with greater facility and perspicuity than women among the lower order of society [slaves….WDB]. She has a comfortable cottage well furnished, several horses and cows, and keeps her portion of the settlement in good state of cultivation.

              The ancient Nottoway [Cheroenhaka….WDB] or Powhatan language is only known to the queen and two other old Indians.  This language is evidently of Celtic origin; and appears equally harmonious and expressive as either the Erse, Irish, or Welch.  It has two genders, masculine and feminine; three degrees of comparison, and two articles; but the verbs are extremely irregular.


[NOTE:  Peter S. DuPonceau’s reply to Thomas Jefferson on 12th July, 1820, wrote: “I did not expect to find, in what you consider as a branch of the general language of the Powhatans, an Iroquoian Dialect, & yet nothing is clearer nor more incontrovertible, than that this Nottoway Language is essentially Iroquois, & is compounded of the different dialects of the Six Nations .....Virginia has been inhabited by nations of two great stocks, the Lenape & Iroquois… WDB]


Letter Of Reply To Thomas Jefferson From Peter S. DuPonceau

Germane To The Vocabulary Of The Nottoway Tribe Of Indians


Transcribed by Chief Walt “Red Hawk” Brown of the

Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe, Southampton County, Virginia


              Thomas Jefferson, Esq                                Philadelphia 12th July 1820


              Dear Sir


                            I have received the letter you have done me the honor to write to me dated the 7th July 1820 enclosing a vocabulary of the language of the Nottoway [ Cheroenhaka…WDB] tribe of Indians, which I shall not fail to lay before the Historical Committee at their next meeting, & in the mean while I am free to anticipate their cordial thanks for your unwearied & effectual exertions in promoting the great cause of American literature as well as committee’s special objects.  They will always be proud & happy to acknowledge the great obligations which you have laid them under, & which men truly devoted to the pursuit of Science can but appreciate.

                            I am at no loss to determine on the true character of this language.  The moment I cast my eyes on this vocabulary, I was struck as well as astonished at its decided Iroquois physiognomy, which habit has taught me easily to discriminate.  I say I was astonished, because from the names of Rivers and places in Virginia, which in general are to be traced to the great  & widely extended Lenni Lenape, of Delaware idiom, and also from the words of the Virginia Indians quoted by Capt Smith, which are all in close affinity with the Lenape, I did not expect to find, in what you consider as a branch of the general language of the Powhatans, an Iroquois Dialect, & yet nothing is cleared nor more incontrovertible than that this Nottoway language is essentially Iroquois, & is compounded of the different dialects of the Six Nations, in which the Tuscarora seems to predominate.   I have yet found but one word in which there appears some affinity to the Lenape, it is “Deeshu” (a star) which appears derived from the Delaware “Gischur” (the sun).  The Nottoway word “Aheeta,” which in the vocabulary signifies the great luminary, is evidently Tuscarora “Heita,” which has the same meaning.  I shall take the liberty some time hence of sending you full proofs of the assertion which I have made; in the mean time I enclose the Nottoway numerals from one to ten, compared with the Onandago & Mohawks, the two principal Iroquois Dialects.  I regret, I have not the Tuscarora numerals as a further means of comparison, you will be thus convinced of the great affinity which exist between those languages.

                            Whether the Nottoway is a mother tongue from which the Iroquois Dialects have branched out, or whether it is itself a derivative mixture, I dare not undertake to pronounce , but this much appears to me certain, that Virginia has been enhabited by nations of the two great stocks which filled the Northern parts of this country, the Lenape & the Iroquois, or five and afterward Six nations. Of these last the Tuscarora are the least known having joined the confederacy at a late period.  It would be perhaps hazarding too much to say that their original stock is found in the Nottoways.  I content myself with stating facts. Leaving it to those who are better informed than I am to draw inference from them.

                            Among the vocabularies which you have heretofore had the goodness to send to the Historical committee, there is none of the language, nor of any connected with it.  They are all various idioms of the Lenape & Floridian Stocks.  There is not a single one at all in affinity with the Iroquois or any of its Dialects.  The Iroquois language appears to have been more extended in its branches than was imagined before Zeisberger & Pyrlous.  I have found considerable affinity to it in the Osage. 

                            If more vocabularies could be procured of the Idioms of the Virginia Indians, it would be easy to tract them to their respective stocks, for I have no  doubt they were all in affinity with one or other of the two great families, the Lenape & the Iroquois, & that the settlements of the Floridian Indians did not begin farther to the Northward than North Carolina. Yet I may be mistaken.  I offer a conjecture in which I think I am warranted by all that I have hitherto seen of the languages of the Northern Indians.

                            I have the honor to be - with the greatest respect

                                                                                                                   (signed by)

                                                                                                       Peter S. DuPonceau