Cheroenhaka Language

Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Language
Dar-Sun-Ke (Tongue)

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 Stars – Dee-shu

Thunder – Ha-he-nu

Air – Yau-tat-ch

Devil – Ot-kum

Snow – Kan-kaus

Fire – Au-teur

A Great River – Onos-chi-oke

A Mountain – Yenun-Te-nunte

Rocks – Orun-tag

Darkness – A-sun-ta

Land – O-ter

Silver – Wa-nee

Iron – Owe-na

Yes – Ho-Keh

My – Set (Singular)

My – Ses (Plural – more than one)

The Moon – Teth-ra-ke

The Clouds – Ura-se-que

Lighting – Towat-gehe-terise

God – Quaker-Hunte

Rain – Yount-out-ch

Ice – O-wees

A River – Jo-ke

The Ocean – Owan-tet-cho-ta

The Woods – Ora-racoon

Light – You-han-hu

Swamp – Kee-nu

Gold or Copper – Geek-quan

Heaven/Sky – Quaker-win-tika

I – EE

No – Roh

Your – Get (Singular)

Your – Ges (Plural )


To Walk –

To Fly – Get-ya

To Drink – Arar-her

To Throw – Esung-wis-a-tae

To Sleep – Ker-tus

To Wound – Yah-te-rund

To Hear – Thra-hun-ta

To Smell – Sa-hu-ran-too

To Speak – Was-we-kr

To Fish – Wat-hu-nund

To Hate – Do-taut-che

To Stab – Unte-qua-ra

To Break – Wayet-che-ro-sag

To Hang – Wa-ha-ree

To Shoot – Unta-te-hag

To Wash – Ga-ku-har

To Leap – Dehun-ti-ras-rag

To Ride – Unk-sa-ta

To Swim – Ore-run-te

To Eat – Unt-cho-re

To Cry – Tehe-su-hard

To Fight – Wan-tre-hu

To Kill – Urta-tree-you

To See – Was-ke-hee

To Touch – Swa-ro-re

To Hunt – Ku-nun

To Love – Tat-cha-da-nuste

To Pray – Dur-tan-hura

To Cut – Un-ta-ter

To Drown – Untor-ees-weg

To Strike – Unta-teu-hee-rug

To Listen – Satun-ta-tag

To Run – Sari-oka

Of The Human Species

Man – Eni-ha

A Young Man – Aqua-tio

A Woman – Eke-ning

A Young Woman – Chewas-ri-sha

A Dead Body – Wahe-hun

Marriage – Gol-yag

Mother – Ena

A Wife – De-kes

A Daughter – Eru-ha

The Belly – Un-ke

The Hand or Finger – Nun-ke

Your Belly – Get-Un-ke

Right Hand – Pa-nun-kee

The Thigh – Otit-chag

The Leg – Fran-seke

The Hair – How-erac

The Mouth – Eska-harant

The Tongue – Dar-sun-ke

The Neck – Hee-reke

The Lips – O-arag

The Toes – See-ke

The Skin – Oho-nag

Nails – Ye-tunke

The Cheeks – Ekuns-quare

The Eye Brows – Eskar-unte

An Old Man – Aku-hor

A Boy – Aqueianha

An Old Woman – Aquas-ri-sha

Death – Ansee-he

The Head – Seta-ra-ke

Husband – Gotya-kum

Father – Ah-roh

A Son – Wa-ka-ton-ta

A King – Tir-er

My Belly – Set-Un-ke

My Hand – Ses Nun-ke

Your Hand – Ges-Nun-ke

Left Hand – Mata-Pa-nun-kee

The Knee – Sn-she-ke

The Foot – Sa-see-ke

The Eyes – Un-ko-harac

The Ears – Sun-tun-ke

The Teeth – Oto-sag

The Nose – Oteu-sag

The Chin – O-chag

The Blood – Gat-kum

Flesh – Skes-hun-ke

Heart – Sun-ke

The Breath – Un-tu-res

A Shoemaker – Yunta-qua-ankum

Of Animals

A Cow – Tos-he-rung

A Hog – Was-kar-row

A Boar – Garsu-sung

A Mouse – Kos-quen-na

A Bull Frog – Dra-kon

Shad or Herring – Ko-han

A Crag – So-sune

A Bird – Chee-ta

A Hen – Taw-ret-tig

A Wolf – Huse

A Rabbit – Que-ru

A Bee – Ro-nu-quam

A Deer Skin – Aquia-ohorag

A Feather – A-wenk-rag

The Tail – Orwis-ag

A Dog – Cheer

A Cat – To-se

A Deer – Aquia

A Rat – Oyen-tu

Fish – Kain-tu

An Eel – Kun-te

A Snake – An-ta-tum

A Turkey – Ka-num

A Fox – Ske-yu

A Squirrel – O-sarst

A House Fly – De-es-rere

A Shell – Oder-sag

A Wing – Ohu-wis-tag

Wool – Os-to-harag

Horns – Oshe-rag

The Vegetable Kingdom

A Tree – Ge-ree

A Cypress – Ras-so

Grass – Ohe-rag

Ashes – O-quag

Potatoes – Anten

Cherries – Ra-tung

Strawberries – Wees-runt

A Leaf – Ohar-rak

A Pine – Oho-tee

A Red Oak – Co-ree

Fire Wood – Geka

Bread – Gota-tera

Peaches – Ra-shee

Apples – Qua-har-rag

Briars – Oster

Division of Time

A Year – Waken-hu

The New Moon – Dot-ra-tung

Summer – Gen-heke

Winter – Gos-hera

Daytime – Ant-ye-ke

Evening – Gen-sake

The New Year – Unksawa-waken-hu

Spring – Shan-taros-wache

Autumn – Bas-heke

Morning – Sun-te-tung

Mid-day – Ante-nee-kal

Night Time – Asun-ta

Domestic Articles

A House – Onu-shag

A Chimney – Ode-shag

A Stick – Oche-ru-ra

A Bed – Sat-ta-ak

Spirits – Anu-qua

Smoke – Okyer

Stockings – Oris-rag

Linen – Nikan-ra-ra

Lean Meat – Oha-rag

A Bottle – Che-wak

A Door – Os-to-torag

A Knife – Osa-ken-ta

A Gun – Ata

Milk – Can-tu

Clothes – Aquast

Shoe – Otag-wag

Leather – To-tier-hia

Fat Meat – Oska-ha-rag

A Fiddle – Erus-karin-tita

Paper – Ori-rag


White – Owher-ya-kun

Red – Ga-nunt-quare

Song – Ewis

Great – Tat-chana-wihie

Deep – Tat-chanu-wiras

Round – Tato-we-rente

Rough – Genua-quast

Strong – Wa-koste

Dry – Your-ha

Ugly – Yesaxa

Good – Wa-quast

Hot – Tari-ha

Angry – That-cha-rore

Unhappy – Dodoit-che-wake-rak-sa

Young – Osae

Black – Ga-hun-tee

Green – Seka-te-quan-tian

Short -Ne-wisha

Little – Ne-wisha

Sharp – Wat-choka

Smooth – Chu-watee

Hard – Wa-koste

Weak – Genu-heha

Wet – Ya-ora

Beautiful – Ye-sa-quast

Bad – Was-sa

Cold – Wa-torae

Happy – That-cha-nunte

Old – Ona-hahe


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


Thirty – 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