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Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Indian Wars in North Carolina

by
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.
If you find a mistake though,
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Chapter 8
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p46 Chapter VII

The Decline of the Coastal Plain Indians; 1718‑1750

The long years of Indian warfare left North Carolina in a depressed condition. Property had been destroyed and trade had almost ceased. Poverty was widespread. Many of its inhabitants had been killed and others had left to seek homes elsewhere. There was little to encourage new settlers to come in. As time passed, though, the colony slowly recovered. In 1726, with the Indian danger past, the whites finally succeeded in establishing a permanent settlement on the crear River. With this settlement, North Carolina gained its first deep-water seaport and the trade of the colony was stimulated. Better administration came in 1729 when the British Crown took over the direct operation of the government from the Lords Proprietors and North Carolina became a royal colony.

At the time, white settlement was still confined to the Coastal Plain and within that area only six Indian tribes remained, or had retained their tribal identity: the Hatteras, Matchapunga, Poteskeet, Chowanoc, Meherrin and Tuscarora. Each group occupied an assigned reservation within the area of white settlement. Of the six, only one, the Tuscarora with 200 warriors and about 600 people, had as many as twenty families. Members of some of the smaller tribes had combined with the existing groups. The Cape Fears, already tributary Indians of South Carolina, were moved to that colony following the Yamassee War, or within a few years thereafter. Their power already broken by Colonel Maurice Moore in 1715, they were soon facing extinction p47by Seneca warriors. In January, 1727, the remnants of the tribe were on "Mr. Nicholl's Plantation" in South Carolina, awaiting removal to a more secure home farther south.

The Woccon Indians, the Siouan tribe which Lawson placed a few miles to the south of the lower, or hostile, Tuscarora, ceased to exist by the name. During the Tuscarora War, two Woccon warriors were arrested in Virginia, charged only with leaving North Carolina without permission. No mention was made of others being there. Since the tribe numbered about 350 people, it is unlikely all could have gone there without attracting more notice. More probably, they moved as a group southward and became the Waccamaw Indians. Tribal names were often changed or altered, especially by the whites in their spelling, and the Waccamaw appear first in historical records at about the same time the Woccon disappeared. The first such mention of the Waccamaw, by that name, was in 1712 when a special effort was made to persuade them, along with the Cape Fears, to join James Moore's expedition against the Tuscarora.

The Tuscarora under Blount continued to live in peace with the people of North Carolina, but Blount was not always able to control his people. Incited by northern Indians who came into the colony, young Tuscarora warriors sometimes ventured into Virginia or South Carolina and abused the small tribes in those colonies. Protests were made by both governments, but the raids continued.

One particularly provoking raid into South Carolina in 1731 almost led to a major Indian war. Angered over the theft of property and the mistreatment of white settlers as well as local Indians, the governor of South Carolina sent an agent to the Tuscarora to demand payment for the property p48and a promise that the Tuscarora would never again enter South Carolina. The Indians admitted that several of their men had been with the raiding party but claimed that all the damage had been done by Seneca warriors. They agreed to remain out of South Carolina but refused to make payment even though George Burrington, then governor of North Carolina, urged them to do so. The South Carolina agent then threatened the Tuscarora with attack by the Cherokee and Catawba and, if necessary, by the people of South Carolina also. Burrington warned the Indians if war came, the people of North Carolina would support those of South Carolina. The Indians still refused to pay.

In the tense weeks that followed, the Tuscarora informed Burrington that the northern Iroquois had promised to send 1,000 warriors to their aid if war came, and that some of them had already arrived. The Tuscarora added that a major war against the English in general would be the result. Alarmed at the possibility of such a war, Burrington notified the government in England of the danger. The answer came in orders to both Burrington and the governor of South Carolina to do everything possible to avoid the conflict. Instructions also went to the governor of New York to use his influence to prevent the northern Iroquois from becoming involved. By the end of 1731, the danger had passed, but from it the Tuscarora had learned a lesson. Afterwards, they were content to live in peace, with only occasional and minor clashes with Catawba hunting parties. These conflicts were welcomed by the whites as a means of draining off aggressive tendencies that otherwise might have been directed against them. In 1731, Governor Burrington reported, "Our affairs are in as good condition as can be desired in respect to the Indians in this and the neighboring governments." The Coastal Plains Indians of North Carolina never again threatened the peace.

p49 With the fear of the Indians gone, the government of North Carolina turned to a more benevolent treatment of them, though the colonists were not always so friendly. The government's attitude was in keeping with instructions from the Crown to regain the friendship of the Indians for reasons of safety and to increase trade with them. In 1732, a Commission for Indian Trade was established to assure fair trading practices. Efforts were also made by the government to prevent settlers from taking the land of the Indians.

Perhaps the most serious remaining problem with the Indians was over hunting. Because of the damage to timber and the danger to other property involved in their practice of burning the woods, the natives were forbidden to hunt within the area of white settlements. The Indians resented this restriction, and the problem reached a climax in 1740 when many of them were threatening to leave North Carolina because of it. Their departure would have been a serious loss. Too weak to be a danger themselves, they still were a safeguard against invasion by outside Indians. This value was emphasized in 1740 when rumors reached North Carolina that the French in Canada and Louisiana, and the Spaniards in Florida, were making unusual efforts to turn the Indians against the English colonies. The loss of its friendly Indians would have exposed North Carolina to hostiles sent by these rival nations. A critical danger would result should the local natives, with their intimate knowledge of the country, join the hostiles. To encourage the North Carolina Indians to remain in peace, therefore, they were given greater freedom in hunting. The problem did not cease altogether, but the crisis passed.

In spite of the friendly attitude of the government, the people of the colony continued to look upon the Indians with contempt and to abuse them. Broken in strength and spirit, p50the natives gradually decreased in numbers. In 1755, the Indian population of eastern North Carolina was reported as two men and three women of the Chowanoc tribe, in Chowan County; seven or eight Meherrin warriors in Northampton County; 301 Tuscarora, including 100 warriors, in Bertie County and 28 Saponi farther to the west, in Granville County where they had recently moved from Virginia. There were also eight or ten Mattamuskeet Indians and the same number of unidentified natives on the coastal islands and sand banks. The total population reported was 365 people, or less. The pathetic condition to which several of these tribes had declined was expressed in the words of a visitor, the Moravian bishop, August Spangenberg. "The Chowanoc," he said, "are reduced to a few families. Their land has been taken away from them." Noting that the Meherrin had also decreased to "a mere handful," he added, "It would seem that a curse were resting upon them and oppressing them." Of the Tuscarora, he said, "Those that have remained here are treated with great contempt, and will probably soon be entirely exterminated."

By the time of Bishop Spangenberg's visit, the focus of interest on North Carolina Indians had already shifted to the west with the movement of white settlers.

Page updated: 9 Jun 13