The Tuscarora War was the most terrible Indian war that ever took place in North Carolina. The Indians struck in the autumn of 1711, and they could hardly have chosen a more advantageous time. The colonists were divided by political disagreement. Edward Hyde had come over from England the previous year to administer the colony as deputy governor. His right to the post was disputed by Thomas Cary who had previously held the office. In the dispute that followed, known as Cary's Rebellion, Hyde and Cary both attracted supporters who actually took up arms against each other. The colony was in the midst of civil war.
The Rebellion ended in the summer of 1711, but there was already evidence of serious unrest among the Indians. At the beginning of the year, the Meherrin had been reported as becoming more and more insolent. By mid‑summer this attitude had spread to other tribes. At the same time, it was said that Cary supporters had offered rich rewards to the Tuscarora to attack the followers of Hyde. It was also said that the young men of the tribe had agreed to the offer but had been overruled by the old men. This latter report seems to have lulled the settlers into a false sense of security.
According to one prominent colonist, the increasing hostile attitude of the natives was because the whites "cheated these Indians in trading, and would not allow them to hunt near their plantations, and under that pretense took away from them their game, arms and ammunition." A more immediate cause might have been the founding of the town of New p22 Bern in 1710 by Baron Christoph von Graffenried, the leader of a group of Swiss and Germans settling the area.
New Bern was established on the site of a Neusioc Indian town called Chattooka, or Cartouca. The natives who occupied the land were paid for it and they moved away, but apparently they were not satisfied. As Surveyor-General of the colony, John Lawson surveyed the site. According to von Graffenried, the site had also been chosen for him by Lawson who claimed it to be uninhabited. When it was found to be occupied by Indians, he charged the Surveyor-General with recommending they be driven off without payment. These accusations were not in keeping with Lawson's otherwise sympathetic attitude towards the natives, but, if true, they might explain the terrible fate he met soon thereafter.
In mid‑September, 1711, Lawson invited von Graffenried to go with him on a trip up the Neuse. The purpose of the trip was to examine the river and to seek a better route to Virginia. Lawson assured the Baron there would be no danger from the Indians, but the prospect of such a route through, or near, their hunting grounds could have been a matter of great concern to the Indians. In any event, several days after their departure, both men were seized by the natives and taken to Catechna, the Tuscarora town of King Hancock, on Contentea Creek. After questioning the prisoners, the Indians decided to set them free. Before they were to leave the following day, the captives were questioned again. The King of Cartouca, the New Bern site, reproached Lawson who answered in anger. A general quarrel followed in which von Graffenried did not take part, but both he and Lawson were again confined. At another council meeting, the Indians decided to execute Lawson and to free the Baron who had promised presents for his freedom. Von Graffenried did not p23 see it and the natives were very secretive about the manner of Lawson's death. Some said he was hanged and others said his throat was slit with a razor he carried with him. It was generally believed the Indians "stuck him full of fine small splinters of touchwood, like hogs' bristles, and so set him gradually on fire."
The day after Lawson's execution, the Indians told von Graffenried that he would not be released for some time, because they had decided to make war on the people of North Carolina and especially those on the Pamlico, Neuse and Trent Rivers, and on Core Sound. He would have to remain with them until their work had been completed. King Hancock was the leader of the conspiracy and he had persuaded the lower Tuscarora towns to join him. The northern, or upper Tuscarora towns, about equal in number to the lower towns, refused to take part in the conflict. King Tom Blount, the chief of one of the upper towns, was friendly with the colonists and exercised some influence over the chief of the other nearby towns. King Hancock, however, was supported by the several small tribes in the Neuse-Pamlico area. These included the Coree, Matchapunga, Pamlico, Bear River and Neusioc Indians. The Coree and Neusioc had recently moved inland from their old towns to be nearer the Tuscarora, and the other tribes had probably done the same. Five hundred warriors of these various tribes gathered at Catechna, or Hancock's Town, for the attack.
At sunrise on the morning of September 22, 1711, the blow fell. Divided into small war parties, the Indians swept down the Neuse and along the south shore of the Pamlico. Two hours later, 130 colonists lay dead, about the same number on each stream. Some were tortured horribly; others were desecrated after death. Many were left wounded. The less fortunate were taken captive. The rest of the people fled for p24 their lives, leaving the bodies of their loved ones to be eaten by wolves and vultures. In their violence, the Indians had no regard for age or sex. After several days of slaughter and destruction, the enemy drew back into Hancock's Town to rest for further violence. With them, they took plunder and captives, including women and children.
On that tragic September morning, the people of North Carolina found themselves in the midst of a war they were not prepared to fight. In spite of past danger signals, they had made no preparations for possible hostilities. Nowhere in the whole colony was there a fortified place to which the people might flee to safety. There were few men with military training. Neither war supplies nor food had been stored for emergency use. The Indians seemed better supplied with ammunition than the colonists, and a bad drought combined with neglect of the fields during Cary's Rebellion had resulted in a serious shortage of food. The trade of the colony had almost ceased and there was little money or credit with which to import clothing and other necessities which were scarce and badly needed. Worst of all, political differences still divided the people, making it impossible for the government to act with necessary speed and responsibility.
With the first attack of the enemy, the colonists gathered together in certain plantation homes to gain strength from unity. A number of these dwellings were fortified as were the towns of Bath and New Bern. Within a month there were eleven such fortified garrisons in the colony. They were manned by untrained civilians. With the majority of the whites confined in their shelters, Indian warriors ravaged the countryside. Homes were plundered and burned. Livestock was slaughtered. Fences and the fields they enclosed were destroyed. And wherever they could be found, whites were killed. Destruction was widespread and sometimes came p25 within sight of the garrisons. On occasions, even the garrisons were attacked.
To the terrified colonists, the cause seemed hopeless. The men, however courageous, were untrained and inexperienced in Indian fighting. Trapped as they were in scattered garrisons, a body large enough to strike back at the enemy with effectiveness could not be raised. And it was not wise for the few men in the individual garrisons to venture out among several hundred hostile Indians. The men of one detachment did go out and attempted to fight the enemy in open battle. The result was one dead and the majority wounded before the surviving whites could flee to safety. On another occasion, a detachment went out from Brice's garrison on the Trent River to engage a nearby group of hostiles. While it was out, other Indians attacked the weakened garrison. Fortunately, they were repelled without serious loss. Because they knew the peculiar techniques of native warfare, Indians were better qualified than whites to fight Indians. The great need of the people of North Carolina was native allies to help them in their struggle. But there were none.
Of the various North Carolina tribes, only the upper Tuscarora were numerous enough to be helpful and they were not to be trusted. Though they had taken no active part in the conflict, they were suspected of knowing of the conspiracy and consenting to it. They might eventually serve as useful allies, but, first, they would have to prove themselves trustworthy. In the meantime, it was feared the success of the hostiles might encourage them to join in the war against the whites. Equally disturbing was the news that numerous warriors of the Five Nations were coming south to live with the hostile Tuscarora and aid them in their war. As owners of the colony, the Lords Proprietors were responsible for its defense, but they did nothing. Unable to defend p26 itself, North Carolina turned to its neighbors, Virginia and South Carolina, for help.
Upon hearing of the calamity that had befallen North Carolina, Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia stopped all trade from the colony with the Indians and sent members of the militia to the Virginia frontier to prevent the Virginia Indians from joining the enemy. He then persuaded the Virginia legislature to appropriate funds for aid to North Carolina. Spotswood also used the prestige of his colony and the Indian hope for the resumption of its trade in an effort to persuade the upper Tuscarora to fight the enemy, or to remain neutral.
The plea that went to the government of South Carolina was for Indian allies. In making this request, North Carolina's Governor Hyde was following an established policy of all European nations in America: the use of Indians against Indians. There were several advantages to this policy. Not only were Indians more effective than whites in fighting Indians, but, in doing so, they relieved the whites of the hazardous task. At times, too, the practice served to divert native hostility that otherwise might have been directed against the whites. To gain the cooperation of the Indians, the colonists played on the strong spirit of rivalry among the natives. Divided into numerous groups, the great weakness of the Indians was their inability to unite and remain united.
The whites also played on the increasing desire of the natives for English trade goods. They purchased captured Indian enemies as slaves and also paid for scalps in order to encourage their allies to kill as well as capture. In this way, scalps became a form of money as well as marks of glory. The prospect of Tuscarora slaves and scalps was the lure that the Governor of North Carolina held out to the Indians of South Carolina.
p27 Within a month of the first attack, an agent from North Carolina, Major Christopher Gale, was in Charles Town with the appeal for aid. The South Carolina legislature responded by appropriating a substantial sum of money. It also agreed to raise an army of friendly Indians, with white officers, to send to North Carolina. Major Gale promised to meet the expedition on the Neuse River with an army of white North Carolinians. He also promised that food would be supplied.
Soon afterwards, the South Carolina army moved northwest under the command of Colonel John Barnwell. On the long overland march through the interior, many of Barnwell's Indians deserted, but others joined him. Some had no weapons other than bows and arrows. When he reached the Neuse in late January, 1712, his force consisted of 30 white men and nearly 500 Indians. His own Yamassee Company of more than 150 men contained 87 Yamassee from the Savannah River as well as warriors of several other small Muskhogean tribes to the south of Charles Town. The other companies, containing almost 350 men, were made up of warriors of the various Siouan tribes to the north of Charles Town. Among the tribes represented were the Catawba, Saraw (or Cheraw), Wateree, Wynyaw and Cape Fear.
When Barnwell arrived at the agreed meeting place, the men promised by Gale were not there to meet him. Only a short time before, the colony's legislature, divided by continued political differences, had refused to provide either men or supplies for the expedition. In fact, it had failed to take any steps to defend the colony. Disappointed and without guides familiar with the country, Barnwell pushed on towards the Tuscarora town of Narhantes, hoping to take it by surprise. Described by him as the most warlike town of the Tuscarora, Narhantes was an open village with farms scattered over an area of several miles. About the town were p28 nine small palisaded forts. Some newly built and others under construction, these forts stood •about a mile apart. He attacked the strongest of these enclosures and after breaking through the outer walls found two houses therein that were stronger than the walls. Among the most desperate of the defenders were a number of native women who fought with bows and arrows. Within half an hour the fort had fallen. Of the fifty‑two enemy killed, at least ten were women. Thirty were taken captive and the remainder abandoned the town and its forts, leaving behind much plunder that had been taken from the colonists. Barnwell's casualties were seven killed and thirty‑two wounded. A more serious loss was the desertion of many of his Indians who took the captives and plunder and slipped away. Before leaving Narhantes several days later, Barnwell destroyed it along with its forts and five nearby towns as well.
From Narhantes, Barnwell marched through the Tuscarora country to Bath Town on the Pamlico River where he arrived on February 10th. On the way, he passed through a number of enemy towns and did considerable damage. He also took a number of enemy scalps. Property seized along the line of march proved to be a costly prize. Loaded with plunder, many more of his Indians slipped away.
Late in February, Barnwell was joined by sixty-seven North Carolinians. Their arrival increased his strength to 94 whites and 148 Indians. Most of the Indians were of Barnwell's own Yamassee Company. The new arrivals also created a problem, because they came without food and the scarcity of food was already a matter of grave concern to Barnwell. The following day, Barnwell set out for Hancock's Town, hoping to take it along with any food that might be there. His horses and heavy baggage were left behind near Bath Town. On March 1st, he arrived at Hancock's Town only to find it deserted. On p29 the opposite bank of Contentea Creek, however, the enemy had constructed a strong, palisaded fort. Within the enclosure were 130 warriors and a call had gone out for other hostiles to join them. Their families and white captives were hidden in a nearby swamp.
On March 5th, Barnwell attacked Hancock's Fort, confident of taking it. Instead, he found himself forced to agree to a truce. Prior to the attack, the Indians had brought at least some of their white captives into the fort. During the attack these prisoners were subjected to torture. To the attackers, only a few yards away, the "Cryes and lamentations" of the victims were heart-rending sounds. To Barnwell's shouted demands for the release of the captives, the Indians sent an answer by an English mother with five children in the fort. The attack must be abandoned or the defenders would die fighting and take their prisoners with them. After consultation with his officers, Barnwell accepted this demand on certain conditions. Twelve prisoners were to be delivered to him immediately, and twenty‑two more were to be delivered twelve days later at Bachelours Creek, near New Bern. The headmen of the enemy were also to come to Bachelours Creek at the same time to discuss peace.
The day after the truce, Barnwell left Hancock's Fort and four days later arrived in New Bern. On March 19th, the day appointed for the meeting with the enemy, he was sick and sent another in his stead. The enemy did not appear. Angered, Barnwell prepared to strike again. One Neuse River, near the mouth of Contentea Creek, he built Fort Barnwell on the site of the abandoned Indian village of Core Town. This was the base from which he planned to march once more against the Hancock's Fort, only a few miles away. Orders were sent out to the South Carolina Indians who were roaming through the countryside in search of food to come p30 into the fort. Similar orders went to the men of the various garrisons along the Neuse.
On April 1st a message was received from Governor Hyde that men and food were on the way. Hyde added that "a new Turn was given to affairs," and that Barnwell would have no cause to complain in the future. Sometime previously, Barnwell had protested to the North Carolina legislature for its failure to support him. Perhaps stung by this criticism, the legislature took action to defend the colony. A law was passed imposing a fine of five pounds on every man between sixteen and sixty years of age who refused military service. In addition, 4,000 pounds was appropriated for war purposes. A request had also gone to Virginia for 200 men. Hyde's message to Barnwell followed.
Without waiting for the arrival of the relief then being raised by the North Carolina and Virginia governments, Barnwell, in the dark of night of April 7th, moved his troops against Hancock's Fort. His Indians were reduced to 128 warriors, but his whites had increased to 154 by the various garrison detachments. By daylight, his men had surrounded the fort and the second had begun. For ten days it continued, and Barnwell was only a few feet from apparent success when, on April 17th, he unaccountably agreed to a conditional surrender of the enemy.
In the more important terms of the peace treaty, the hostiles agreed to give up all captives in the fort immediately and all others within ten days. The same promise was made as to horses, skins and plunder. In the future, they agreed to confine themselves to the area near the fort, and not to hunt or fish in the region between Neuse and the Cape Fear which was to be left to the South Carolina Indians. They also agreed to surrender King Hancock and three other enemy leaders to be named later, but since Hancock had already p31 fled to Virginia, he could not be delivered. In addition, the enemy Indians promised to come in each year in March and pay tribute to the governor of North Carolina. By the payment of this tribute they would acknowledge their continued submission to the government and would become tributary Indians as distinguished from free, or unconquered, Indians.
Barnwell's peace was made without the knowledge or approval of Governor Hyde. His casualties were light and "extreme famine" was the only excuse he gave for not fighting on to complete victory. He said at the time if North Carolina had furnished him with provisions for only four more days he would have "made a glorious end of the war." Governor Hyde, however, felt that hunger hardly justified the failure to pursue a victory that was only a few hours away. Hyde was particularly critical of Barnwell for not waiting for the relief North Carolina had on the way. However justified he might have been, Barnwell was the subject of bitter and widespread criticism in the colony he had done so much to help earlier, and the honors he expected were denied him.
The unpopular peace of Barnwell was not long lasting. Hungry, and disappointed at the few scalps and slaves they had taken, the South Carolina Indians were soon ravaging through the enemy country. According to von Graffenried, Barnwell and his Indians enticed a number of the local natives into Fort Barnwell under pretense of peace. They were then seized and taken to South Carolina to be sold as slaves. This so embittered the rest of the hostiles they "no longer trusted the Christians." Their later behavior seems to bear out the truth of this observation.
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Indian Wars in North Carolina
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