Cape Fear, Machapunga, Coree, Tuscarora and Mattamuskeet Indians

James Sprunt, born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1846, was an entrepreneurial cotton merchant, author, philanthropist and a major figure in Wilmington, North Carolina from the time of the Civil War until his death in 1924.  Active in the N.C. Literary and Historical Association and the North Carolina Folklore Society, Sprunt completed several volumes of memoirs and wrote extensively on local history.  He endowed several publications through the University of North Carolina. His most important book, “Chronicles of the Cape Fear,” published in 1914 and substantially revised in 1916, remains an important source for the region’s colonial history. His other books include “Tales and Traditions of the Lower Cape Fear”, published in 1896, and “Tales of the Cape Fear Blockade.” “Derelicts,” his account of Civil War blockade running, was republished in 2006 by Dram Tree books of Wilmington.

In his book, Tales and Traditions of the Lower Cape Fear, James Sprunt shares a story about the Cape Fear Indians beginning on page 54.

Cape Fear Indians

By James Sprunt

It is an interesting fact that the descendants of these Indians live in the same locality to the present day, and illustrates an unusual condition – the amalgamation of white, black and Indian races.  The Indian characteristics, however, predominate.  The men are thrifty, industrious and peaceable: engaged principally in fishing during the shad season and in cattle raising upon the same range that was occupied 200 years ago by their savage ancestors.

Large mounds of oyster shells, many pieces of broken wicker pottery, arrow heads and other relics of the red men are still found on the peninsula below Carolina Beach.  During the late war these remains of an Indian settlement were frequently unearthed by the Confederated engaged up on the entrenchments around Fort Fisher and here are buried the last of the Corees, Cheraws and other small tribes occupying the land once inhabited by the powerful Hatteras Indians.  They were allies of the Tuscaroras in 1711 and in an attack upon the English suffered defeat, and have now disappeared from the earth and their dialect is also forgotten.  The Hatteras tribe numbered about 3000 warriors when Raleigh’s expedition landed on Roanoke Island in 1584, and when the English made permanent settlements in that vicinity 80 years later, they were reduced to about 15 bowmen.  The Cape Fear Coree Indians told the English settlers of the Yeamans colony in 1669 that their lost kindred of the Roanoke colony, including Virginia Dare, the first white child born in America, had been adopted by the once powerful Hatteras tribe and had become amalgamated with the children of the wilderness.  It is believed that the Croatans of this vicinity are descendants of that race. 

Note:  The Fort Fisher State Historic site (red balloons), near Wilmington NC, is open to the public, and Carolina Beach is noted on the map below as well. 


You can read more about Fort Fisher at

The map below shows the Fort Fisher site in relation to Roanoke Island where Manteo is located on the upper right.  Hatteras Island, where the Croatoan Indians were known to live, and where the colonists indicated on the fort post on Roanoke Island was their destination, is the triangle shaped island where the Outer Banks Island chain bends westward, to the right of Okracoke, shown by the red arrow below.  Lake Mattamuskeet is shown by the yellow arrow.

We know that the Mattamuskeet, the Machapunga, the Cape Fear and the Corree Indians were living and moving along the eastern Carolina seaboard.  They are found from the Alligator River in Albemarle Sound southward to Cape Fear.  We know that these tribes and the Tuscarora were eventually relegated to the Lake Mattamuskeet area, but from historians like Sprunt and other records, we also know that many remnants did indeed survive, and not necessarily at lake Mattamuskeet. 

The primary Tuscarora Towns in the early 1700s were located between Greenville, Farmville and Winterville, shown with the blue arrow.  During the Tuscarora War, some Tuscarora fought against the settlers, some were neutral, and some were allies of the English.  After the War, the Tuscarora who remained in North Carolina were sent with the other remaining tribes to the Lake Mattamuskeet Reservation, shown with the yellow arrow above. Lake Mattamuskeet and the surrounding area became the ultimate “mixing bowl’ for the eastern North Carolina tribes in the first half of the 18th century.

In 1718, the Tuscarora were given their own reservation which by 1722 was known as “Indian Woods”, in Bertie County, noted above by the green arrow.



About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Cape Fear, Coree, Machapunga, Mattamuskeet, Tuscarora. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Cape Fear, Machapunga, Coree, Tuscarora and Mattamuskeet Indians

  1. Ingrid says:

    Could we get permission to publish this piece in the Swan Quarterly?

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