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Chapter 12

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.

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 p91  Chapter XIII

The End of a Century

The year 1763 marked the end of the first century of permanent white settlement in North Carolina. At the beginning of the period, the area had been a wilderness occupied by native Indians who lived a simple way of life. By the end of the period, the area had become a land of white men with a more complicated civilization. During the course of the century, the Indians were ensnared by this civilization and had become a subjugated race, reduced in numbers to a fraction of their former population.

The dismal state of the Coastal Plain Indians at the beginning of the French and Indian War has already been related. At the end of the conflict, neither their numbers nor their condition had changed to any appreciable extent. One hundred Tuscarora warriors and twenty each of the Meherrin and Saponi tribes lived on or near the Roanoke River. Apparently all three tribes occupied the 10,000 acre reservation allotted to the Tuscarora and their combined population probably did not exceed 300 persons. Otherwise, there were only a few survivors of the smaller eastern tribes living among the white people on the coast of Hyde County.

The Catawba Indians fared little better than those of the Coastal Plain. The Catawba had been of great service in the defense of the North Carolina frontier but even so, possession of the land continued to be a source of friction between them and the people and government of North Carolina. The South Carolina government had guaranteed them possession of all land within thirty miles of their towns. The government of North Carolina refused to recognize this guarantee and granted land within the area. Resentment of this encroachment  p92 led the Indians to threaten the white settlers and even to drive some out. It also led them to refuse to allow the North Carolina government to complete the fort it had promised to them in 1756 and which was under construction in the Nation.

During the smallpox epidemic of 1759‑1760, the surviving Catawba deserted their towns and moved farther down the Catawba River to make their temporary home. As the epidemic subsided, they desired to return to their own country but with their tribal strength reduced to no more than 100 warriors in a total population of about 250 persons, they also considered moving westward to live among the Creek Indians. The South Carolina government still considered the Catawba a source of protection for the frontier settlers and, in 1760, sought to assure their continued presence and friendship by promising to build a fort for their protection within their Nation. The Catawba accepted the offer and in turn agreed to limit their claim to their old tribal lands to an area fifteen miles square. Their right to this reservation was confirmed by the Augusta Conference and it was also accepted by the North Carolina government.

The Catawba Indians continued to be bound to South Carolina by trade and to be recognized as "South Carolina Indians," but several years passed before a boundary line was run that definitely placed the reservation within that colony. Already an impotent fragment of a once powerful tribe, the Catawba Nation received a crippling blow in August, 1763, when King Haigler was ambushed and killed by invading Shawnee warriors. Haigler had been a great and influential leader and after his death the importance of the Catawba declined further.

In 1763, the Cherokee Nation was the only powerful Indian group remaining in North Carolina. After many years  p93 of peace, the Cherokee had fought the English and had bowed to them but had not been defeated by them in any real sense of the word. They emerged from the Cherokee War with little loss of strength. At the end of the conflict the total population was about 7,500. The 2,300 warriors included in this number were only 300 less than in 1755 and even this small decrease was due in part to smallpox and other causes. Even after the French were removed, it was rumored that the Cherokee would resume war. They were numerous enough to do so, but it was unlikely they would turn against the English, their only source of guns and ammunition.

The 40‑Mile River was confirmed as the boundary between South Carolina and the Cherokee Nation at the Augusta Conference. Virginia also assured the tribe that no land grants would be made in that colony to the west of New River. There was no similar boundary established in North Carolina because the settlers were still too far removed to be a matter of concern to the Indians. With the coming of peace, though, North Carolinians resumed the march westward that had been halted at the beginning of hostilities. This movement was to add to the grief of the Cherokee in later years.

The decline of the North Carolina Indians from a free and proud people to one dependent on an alien race was a tragic episode in the advance of modern civilization. In the beginning, the Indians welcomed the whites as friends with whom they could share the land and from whom they could acquire marvelous new weapons and tools and such in exchange for furs and skins. To the whites, however, the Indians seemed little more than subhuman savages to be treated with contempt and abuse. While behavior was judged on the basis of the whites' own code of right and wrong, little effort was made to teach them that code. Their rights  p94 were recognized when they provided a profit in trade or otherwise served the interest of the Europeans. When they ceased to serve a useful purpose, their rights were ignored.

On occasions, when they realized the danger that faced them, the Indians fought to escape their awful fate. They lost the struggle because they waited too late and failed to combine their strength effectively against the common threat. It was not warfare with the whites, however, that brought about their downfall. Their decline in numbers was due less to European soldiers than to European disease and excessive use of European drink. Their subjugation was due less to military conquest than to dependence on an alien civilization over which they had no control. It was also a civilization of which, except for trade, they were not really a part — nor did they want to become a part. Their determination to maintain their native culture had already led them into conflict with the forces that threatened to destroy it. This same determination was to lead to further conflict and suffering in the future.

Page updated: 9 Jun 13