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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 5

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Indian Wars in North Carolina

E. Lawrence Lee

The Carolina Charter
Tercentenary Commission
Raleigh, 1963

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 7
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p39  Chapter VI

The Yamassee and Cheraw Wars

The feeling of relief that came to the North Carolinians with the final ending of the Tuscarora War did not last long. Only a few weeks later the peace of the colony was again threatened by the outbreak of the Yamassee War in South Carolina.

The Yamassee War conspiracy apparently originated with the powerful Creek, or Muskogee, Confederation of what is now Georgia and Alabama. It also involved the Choctaw Indians, farther to the west, and all of the tribes of South Carolina. Below Charles Town, the most important hostiles were the Yamassee who had done such great service for North Carolina in its recent troubles. Above Charles Town the Catawba, Cheraw, Cape Fear and Waccamaw were among the Siouan tribes that also turned on the whites. The Cherokee of the west were involved to a lesser extent.

Concern over land motivated some of the tribes nearest the white settlements, but the primary cause of the Yamassee War was unfair trading practices and abuse of the Indians by the traders. The first blow was struck on Good Friday, April 15, 1715, when the Yamassee killed a number of white traders in one of their towns. Traders also were killed among the Creek and other tribes. The Yamassee and their allies swept across the southern frontier of South Carolina, leaving death and destruction in their path. The danger drew closer and closer to Charles Town. An expedition of colonists marched into the Indian country and dealt a serious blow to the Yamassee by killing a number of their leaders in battle. This blow calmed the Yamassee for awhile and the  p40 colony hurriedly turned to preparations for its defense. Three regiments were raised under James Moore, now a lieutenant-general, and a chain of fortified garrisons were built around the plantation country surrounding Charles Town. In the meantime appeals for help had gone out to North Carolina and other English colonies.

By early June, the southern frontier was quiet when violence shook the northern frontier along the Santee River. An Indian war party attacked plantations and captured the protecting garrison, the northernmost of the defensive posts. Many whites were killed and the others fled to Charles Town. The Santee frontier was deserted. Except for about seventy Cherokee, the Indian party was made up of various Siouan tribes of east Carolina. The most hostile and destructive of these were the Cheraw of the Pee Dee River.

A few days later a detachment of troops went out from Charles Town against the raiders and a number of the Indians were killed and others captured. Those that escaped, particularly the Cheraw, continued to be a menace. As a consequence, Charles Craven, Governor of South Carolina, made plans for South Carolina troops to join others from North Carolina in an expedition against the Cheraw.

North Carolina had already organized two volunteer companies to aid South Carolina. One company under Colonel Theophelus Hastings was to go by water and the other, under Colonel Maurice Moore, was to march overland to join Governor Craven. Both Moore and Hastings were former South Carolinians who had gone to North Carolina to aid in the fight against the Tuscarora and who had remained to make their homes.

By mid‑July, 1715, Craven, feeling that Charles Town was secure, moved out of the city with 700 men to meet Maurice Moore and his company which included whites  p41 along with a number of Tuscarora and Coree warriors. Moore's line of march took him by Cape Fear but before arriving there he learned the Cape Fear Indians and the nearby Waccamaw tribe of the Waccamaw River, planned to ambush him. Because of his advance information, he was able not only to avoid the ambush but also to strike a devastating blow against the two tribes. He marched into their towns and seized arms and ammunition which they apparently were receiving from the Cheraw. He also took a number of prisoners but was unable to take more than eighty or so along with him.

Moore continued his march southward but, in the meantime, the expedition against the Cheraw had been abandoned. Craven had reached the Santee when he learned that Charles Town was again endangered by Indians from the south, and he turned back to aid in its defense. Moore continued on to St. Julien's Plantation at the head of the Cooper River, to await further orders.

In the autumn of 1715, after the harvests were in and food was plentiful, offensive operations against the Indians were resumed. News came in that the Yamassee had moved below the Savannah River. Troops sent against them found they had moved on southward into Spanish Florida. An expedition was planned against the Creek also. They had confined their activity in the war to killing English traders, but they remained the greatest danger. It was hoped the conflict could be ended with a decisive victory over them. The Cherokee, even though some of their warriors had taken part in the Santee raids, promised to join in the attack against the Creek, their ancient enemies. In November, 1715, the South Carolina troops gathered at the agreed meeting place but the Cherokee did not appear. Their failure to do so caused grave concern. It also raised a question. Would the Cherokee  p42 join the Creek, or could they be persuaded to help the whites? The salvation of the colony depended upon the answer to this question. Maurice Moore was sent to the Cherokee to learn the answer.

Near the end of 1715, Maurice Moore marched westward into the Cherokee country at the head of 300 men. With him were Colonel Theophelus Hastings and his North Carolina company. The size of Moore's force no doubt impressed the Cherokee, but his skill at Indian diplomacy was his strongest weapon and was the reason for the success of his mission. Creek agents were already among the Cherokee, attempting to persuade them to join in the war against the whites. The answer of the Cherokee was to kill the Creek visitors and to pledge support to South Carolina.

Maurice Moore's mission to the Cherokee was the most important single accomplishment of the Yamassee War. He won the Cherokee to the English at a time they might have turned against them. The union of the Cherokee and the Creek could have been disastrous. The salvation of South Carolina, and perhaps much of English America, was due to Maurice Moore's powers of persuasion.

Leaving Hastings and his company among the Cherokee, Moore returned to Charles Town in the spring of 1716 and later continued on to North Carolina. The end of the Yamassee War soon followed, though occasional raids took place for some time. The Yamassee were already in Florida and the easternmost Creek moved farther west away from the white settlements. A treaty with them was completed the following year. The Catawba and lesser Siouan tribes followed the example of the Cherokee and made peace. Only the Cheraw remained hostile and they became a problem of North Carolina.

 p43  While the potential danger to North Carolina had been great, the Yamassee War had little direct effect in that area. At the outbreak, a patrol was established between the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers. In addition, efforts were made to prevent inhabitants from fleeting the colony and weakening it as had been done in the Tuscarora War. In June, 1715, "strange" Indians were reported on the upper Neuse, occupying the fortifications abandoned by the enemy Tuscarora after their defeat. Unwisely, the colonists had not destroyed the structures. These Indians were probably the Cheraw and their allies who fled northward after their defeat on the Santee River. A military company of colonists and friendly Indians was sent out to investigate, but the danger was not ended. Raids were made against the local natives and a number of Cape Fear Indians were killed before they joined in the war against the whites. A wave of fear swept over the settlers that they too would be attacked. A small white settlement on the Cape Fear River was destroyed. The destruction might have been done by the same Cape Fear and Waccamaw warriors who planned to ambush Maurice Moore and his company. In either case, another attempt of the whites to occupy the Cape Fear country was ended by Indian violence. In the autumn of 1715, the Coree, and probably the Matchapunga also, took up arms but were again at peace by the following spring. The principal threat to the colony continued to be the Cheraw.

Soon after their defeat at the Santee River, the Cheraw sought to make peace with the South Carolina government through Governor Spotswood of Virginia. Because South Carolina officials resented Spotswood's interference, the peace offer was refused. Soon afterwards, the Cheraw escaped  p44 a possible crushing defeat when, as we have seen, Craven's expedition against them was abandoned.

Spotswood's interest in the Cheraw and in their trade continued, and in August, 1716, he requested the North Carolina government to allow them to settle, along with two other small bodies of Indians, at Eno Town, on the upper Neuse River. There were about 500 of the Indians. Because of the nearness to the white settlements and because of their hostile nature, the request was refused. North Carolina, instead, declared war on the Cheraw. Part, or all, of that tribe were already on the North Carolina frontier and a military unit of whites and friendly Indians was sent out to attack them. The Cheraw were found to be well armed, and it was suspected that they were receiving the guns and ammunition from Virginia traders. The Virginia government was asked to end such trade until the tribe had made peace with both North and South Carolina. An appeal was also made to Virginia for aid in the Cheraw War, but the appeal was denied.

In the spring of 1717, the Cheraw once more requested peace with South Carolina, but their peace offering was considered insufficient and was refused. As a result, they continued on the upper Neuse. Living in constant fear of attack by these Indians, the Tuscarora asked that they be moved from their land on the Pamlico to a more secure reservation on the Roanoke River. The request was made to the North Carolina government and was granted.

In the summer of 1718, the Cheraw were still on the frontier and appeared to have been joined by northern Indians as well as a few local natives. The government finally took more decisive action to protect the colonists and to destroy the enemy. Four companies were organized, each containing ten white men and ten Indians. One company was stationed at the forks of the Neuse above Fort Barnwell  p45 and the other at Core Sound. A company was also assigned to patrol each side of the Neuse. The continued service of these companies was considered necessary as late as November, 1718, but the Indian danger passed soon after that. The North Carolina government had already turned its attention to the more pressing problem of pirates such as Blackbeard.a The Cheraw soon moved westward and settled near the Catawba.

Thayer's Note:

a The tangled and sometimes surprising story of Blackbeard and North Carolina is told in detail in "Blackbeard, the Fiercest Pirate of Them All" (ch. 4 of The Pirates of Colonial North Carolina.

Page updated: 9 Jun 13