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Chapter 2

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 4
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p14  Chapter III

Early Indian Wars 1663‑1711

The first permanent English inhabitants of North Carolina came down from Virginia about 1660 and occupied the area to the north of Albemarle Sound, which was then called Albemarle County. For some years they were few in number, and fortunately for them so were the Indians. Only the Chowanoc were strong enough at the time to have turned them back, but by a treaty made in 1663, that tribe agreed to peace. The settlers who came to the Cape Fear region shortly thereafter were not so fortunate.

The earliest recorded visit of the English to Cape Fear occurred in the fall of 1662 when William Hilton, representing a group of New Englanders interested in settling in the south, explored the river and its northeast branch. During the course of his visit Hilton came into contact with less than 100 Indians and these he considered to be weak and timid people. Hilton was impressed with the Cape Fear country and, according to the custom of the time, he purchased the land from the natives in the name of those he represented. Soon thereafter a number of New Englanders came down to Cape Fear to settle but returned north after only a short stay. Why they left is not known definitely, but some seventy years later a writer explained that they had been driven away by the local Indians. A hasty departure is indicated by the fact that they left behind their cattle and swine. They also left a note on a post advising others not to settle there.

In the summer of 1663, Hilton returned to the Cape Fear River to explore it again for a group on the far‑away island of Barbados. This time he also went up the northwest branch,  p15 as well as the northeast, and found the Indians to be more numerous and more spirited than on his previous visit. He again purchased the land from the natives, this time in the name of the Barbadians, and sailed away to make another glowing report of the region.

In May, 1664, settlers again arrived in the Cape Fear country which had been named Clarendon County. Within a year or two the scattered homestead of colonists from Barbados, and of others from New England and elsewhere, stretched along the river for a distance of sixty miles. For awhile it appeared that this attempt at settlement would succeed, but it did not. For various reasons the colony was neglected by the Lords Proprietors and by those on the island of Barbados who had been expected to support it. Before the end of 1666, the inhabitants of Clarendon County found themselves in serious difficulties for want of supplies. And they added to their troubles by abusing the Indians. It was said, a half-century later, the settlers had seized and sent away Indian children "under Pretense of instructing them in Learning and the Principles of the Christian Religion." More likely, they were sent away as slaves. But whatever the reason, the natives resented the taking of their children and showed their resentment by turning in violence on the whites.

In the Clarendon County War that followed, the colonists had the advantage of firearms to use against the primitive bows and arrows of the natives. The Indians, however, found a strong ally in their determination to rid themselves of the white intruders. They relentlessly continued to attack the colonists and their property until the colonists finally gave up in desperation and abandoned the settlement in 1667. The region once again became Indian country and remained so for many years.

Along with their homes and fields, the Clarendon colonists  p16 left behind natives with bitter memories. For many years, they showed this bitterness by abusing whites unfortunate enough to be shipwrecked on the shores of Cape Fear. By the 1690's, though, the Cape Fear Indians had become so troubled by attacks from other tribes that they appealed to the government of Carolina for protection. This protection was granted on the condition that the Indians treat shipwrecked refugees with better care in the future. This agreement marked the renewal of friendly relations between the Cape Fear Indians and the whites which lasted for many years.

Except for a possible minor outbreak in 1666, the people of Albemarle County were spared the horror of Indian warfare until about 1675. At that time certain of the Indians of Virginia were in conflict with the settlers there and persuaded the Chowanoc that they should drive the whites from Albemarle County. Ignoring the treaty of friendship of 1663, the Chowanoc turned on the settlers and in the war that followed, both sides suffered heavy losses. The Indians were faced with the awesome guns of the whites while the settlers, in their isolated homesteads, lived in constant fear of attack. Too, Indians "haunting" the forests made travel a dangerous venture. The Chowanoc War had dragged on for about two years when the tide of victory turned in favor of the colonists with the arrival of a ship laden with arms and ammunition. The complete defeat of the Chowanoc followed in the summer of 1677. They were then moved from their ancestral home on the Meherrin River to a reservation on Bennett's Creek.

For many years the colonists did not venture far from the coast, but they did gradually expand their area of occupation southward. Because roads were few, or non‑existent, the settlers sometimes by‑passed extensive areas to establish their  p17 homes on the banks of the next navigable stream that would provide them with a convenient means of transportation.

Because of this system of settlement, many miles of lonely wilderness often separated one group of colonists from the nearest European neighbors. As a result, the various areas of settlement, particularly those on the outer edge of white occupation, were more exposed to Indian attack than they would have been had the settlers remained close together. The loss of this strength of unity was especially dangerous in view of the fact the Indians usually occupied the land along the streams desired by the whites, and for the same reason. This competition over small areas of the most desirable land brought the two races into open conflict sooner than might have been the case had one or both been satisfied with any kind of land.

The creation of separate and isolated areas of settlement can be traced in the actual movement of the Europeans southward. By 1675, colonists had already crossed over and occupied the south shore of Albemarle Sound. By 1691, others had settled along the Pamlico River, leaving between them and Albemarle Sound "about fifty miles desert to pass through, without any human creature inhabiting it." This "desert" remained unoccupied for many years. By 1703, or soon thereafter, other colonists had crossed over the Pamlico River and were settled on the Neuse. This was the southern limit of settlement at the time and the area above Cape Fear had become known as North Carolina to distinguish it from the Lords Proprietors' land below Cape Fear known as South Carolina.

South Carolina was begun in 1670 when a few colonists founded Charles Town, later Charleston, on the Ashley River, in the midst of a number of small Indian tribes. Those to the north were Siouan and those to the south were Muskhogean,  p18 a separate language group. As it grew, South Carolina became the southern frontier of the English continental colonies. As such, it protected North Carolina against the Spaniards of Florida, and the French of Louisiana, and also against the powerful Creek, Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians who occupied a vast inland area reaching to the Mississippi River. For many years the people of South Carolina remained close to the coast, but from the great port of Charles Town its Indian traders carried on their business far into the interior. By means of this trade, many tribes came under the control or influence of the South Carolina government long before white settlement reached them. Among these tribes were the Catawba and the Cherokee who lived partly in North Carolina. North Carolina, long without an adequate seaport, never developed an Indian trade beyond the Coastal Plain and never made any real effort to extend its authority over the Catawba and the Cherokee.

Land was an important cause of trouble between the Indians and the whites, but it was not the only cause. Ill‑feeling also resulted from trading activities between the two races because, according to John Lawson, the white traders "daily cheat them in everything we sell, and esteem it a Gift of Christianity not to sell them so cheap as we do to the Christians, as we call ourselves." The whites also enslaved the natives, and this practice was possibly the greatest of all the causes of Indian resentment. Many of these Indian slaves were sold outside the colony and were probably sent to the port of Charles Town, in South Carolina, for shipment to more distant places. To hear the name "Ashley River" was enough to fill a North Carolina Indian with fear that he would be taken there.

The Indians, on the other hand, were not always without blame. Unfortunately, they acquired the vices of the white  p19 more readily than the virtues. In fact, each race brought out the worst in the other. The Indians rarely stole from each other, but they saw no evil in taking the property of the colonists. By burning the woods on hunting expeditions near settled areas, the natives destroyed desirable timber and, sometimes, the homes of the whites. Indians along the coast often abused fishermen and shipwreck survivors. The wrongs of the natives were not so great as the wrongs they suffered, but they did add to the growing antagonism between the two races. The natives were expected to follow the English ideas of right and wrong, but nothing was done to teach those ideas to them. The settlers of early North Carolina made no real effort to Christianize the Indians. If they had, they might have created understanding that could have spared both races much tragedy and grief.

By 1703, bad relations between the white and red races had become serious, especially in the Pamlico River area. The Bay River and Matchapunga Indians were becoming more and more aggressive and insolent in taking the property of the colonists. The Coree Indians had become so abusive in their conduct that the North Carolina government declared war on them. This was not an important war, but there seemed to be a danger that a far more serious one could follow. The Indians suspected the refusal of the whites to sell them guns and ammunition was because the whites intended to make general war on them. In the winter of 1704 there were widespread reports that the powerful Tuscarora were plotting with other nearby tribes to destroy the colonists. The people of the Pamlico River area became so frightened they appealed to the government for immediate protection. As a result, Robert Daniel, the deputy-governor, called the various Indian leaders in for a meeting. At the meeting it was agreed that both races would keep the peace.  p20 This agreement probably prevented a serious war at the time, but it did not settle the real differences between the Indians and the colonists. In the next few years relations became even worse, and the Tuscarora decided they would rather leave North Carolina than to continue to live under the conditions that existed. In 1710, they sent messengers to the officials of Pennsylvania asking permission to settle in that colony. They gave as the principal reason for the request their desire to be able to move about freely and to hunt in the forest without the constant fear of murder or enslavement. The Pennsylvania officials agreed to permit the move provided the Indians obtain a certificate of their good behavior in the past from the North Carolina government. Their failure to obtain the certificate resulted in one of the great tragedies of North Carolina history. Unable to escape from oppression, the Tuscarora turned in violence on their oppressors.

Page updated: 9 Jun 13