Fact Friday 334: Sally New River - Powered by the Charlotte Museum of History

Fact Friday 334: Sally New River - Powered by the Charlotte Museum of History

Happy Friday everyone!

Continuing our series on Indigenous Women for Women’s History Month, let’s talk about Sally New River. Sally New River was born in 1746 in what is now known as Nations Ford. Her grandfather was King Hagler, the leader of the Catawba from 1750 to his death in 1763. Not much is known about Sally’s early life. She was likely orphaned during the smallpox epidemic in 1759 and eventually she settled in what was called New Town. 

Sally was well-respected, thanks to property and rank bequeathed to her from her mother and grandmother, as well as the cultural knowledge they passed down. To European settlers, Sally was important because of her familial ties to King Hagler. Europeans that traveled to visit the Catawba village noted that Sally gained their respect by being an “industrious and remarkable person of grace with a kind heart.” She worked hard to pass on the knowledge that her mother and grandmother left her in order to grow the tribe and protect their traditions.

Archaeologists have done extensive excavations in the historic Catawba towns, including the site of Sally New River’s home. Ceramics, like this earthenware bowl, are numerous. Bowls like this were made by Catawba women for daily use. Around the time of Sally’s adulthood, Catawba women began modelling their bowls and jugs after European pieces. European-made pieces, like slipware, are also found in Ayers Town/New Town, where Sally settled after the American Revolution. Source: Research Laboratories of Archaeology, UNC Chapel Hill. Artifact title: Ayers Town (SoC 647), Catawba Earthenware Bowl - Vessel 2, York Co., South Carolina, United States (RLA cat no. 2554p1243; image 2554p1243(side3).jpg).

As a respected citizen in the Catawba nation, Sally protected and passed down their land and culture through tradition. She headed meetings and calmed fights when no one, not even the men present, could. She lived among both the Europeans (during the smallpox epidemic) and the Catawba people which gave her particular authority with each group.

In the late 1700s, when white South Carolinians were threatening the Catawba’s landownership, the Nation deeded a large tract of land to Catawba women. Sally New River is the named owner of the land, which contained agricultural and sacred sites. This ensured the land would not be leased to new settlers. The Catawba people entrusted her with what little resources remained and she handled them with care and wisdom throughout her life. She remained prominent despite the influence of European culture and gender roles, safeguarding the Catawba Nation’s heritage while teaching others under her tutelage to do the same. The Catawba Nation grew under the guidance of Sally New River and continued to foster the culture of adaptation and survival.

The post is sourced mainly from Brooke Bauer’s dissertation, titled “Being Catawba: The World of Sally New River, 1746-1840.” It’s a great read – download it for free here.

Learn more about the heritage of the Catawba at: https://www.catawba.com/about-the-nation

The series continue next week – stay tuned!

Have a great weekend!

Alea Chambers

Museum Associate

The Charlotte Museum of History


About The Charlotte Museum of History

The Charlotte Museum of History exists to save and share the Charlotte region’s history, helping create a better understanding of the past and inspiring dialogue about the future. The museum is the steward of the 1774 Hezekiah Alexander Rock House and homesite, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest home in Mecklenburg County. Visit charlottemuseum.org and follow the museum on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. The museum is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.


Email chris@704shop.com if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!

“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass

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