The Tuscarora Eye

Dr. Arwin Smallwood is an associate professor of history at the University of Memphis.  He is also of mixed-blood Tuscarora heritage.  His focus on Bertie County history, where his family is from, is natural, and we are all beneficiaries of his research.  Bertie County is the home of the Tuscarora Reservation, Indian Woods.  While many of the Tuscarora departed for New York and northern states between 1713 and 1805, not all left.  Some were enslaved and could not.  Some pockets of free Tuscarora had formed communities elsewhere. 

The Tuscarora too have a legend about what happened to the Lost Colonists and a Tuscarora trait attributed to them, the Tuscarora Eye.  Scattered though his book “Bertie County: An Eastern Carolina History” are several references which I’ve extracted.

You can see more about the book and purchase it at this link.–An-Eastern-Carolina-History

Page 28 – The Tuscarora legend answers with certitude what happened to the colony.

Page 29 – According to legend, the Tuscarora, on one of their foraging missions to Roanoke, took the English women as prisoners and killed most of the men, according to custom.  They allowed three men and one woman to go free because they had red and blonde hair, which caused the Tuscarora to be fearful of their spirits, believing them to be children of the sun god.  It is believed that these individuals were taken in by the Croatan Native Americans and intermarried with them, creating the Lumbee of North Carolina.

In further support of this legend, colonial records and written statements from French Huguenots note that they saw Tuscarora with blonde hair and blue eyes s early as 1696.  These Huguenots were settled along the Tar River in 1696 and the Neuse River by 1708, and they were the closest white settlers to the Tuscarora.  Since there were no significant European settlements near the Tuscarora until 1660, and any attack by the Tuscarora on Virginia where whites would have been captured would have been recorded by the Virginians at Jamestown, this legend offers a plausible explanation to the perplexing question of “What happened to the Lost Colony?”

Page 45 – After the Tuscarora War (1711-1713) and the loss of nearly one-quarter of their people to enslavement and death, Tuscarora survivors recalled a threat made against them by white colonists in 1587 after they absorbed the Roanoke settlement.  This threat was passed on orally among the Tuscarora for over a century.  In the threat, as Geroux, a descendant of the Tuscarora who emigrated to New York, noted after the war, the Tuscarora were told by the whites in 1587 that if they (the whites) were harmed, the mother boat would return and would “make thunder and spit fire at them”, a reference to the ships’ cannons that could have been used to defend the settlement.  Whether this threat was remembered by the Tuscarora during the war with North Carolina is not clear, but the Tuscarora were reportedly terrified of colonial artillery, which “spit fire and made thunder.”  After the war, the Tuscarora began to repeat this threat and blamed the mixed-blood descendants of those responsible for the Roanoke colony’s destruction for their misfortune.  Thus, many Tuscarora in 1713 believed they were being punished by their ancestors and the Great Spirit as a result of the abduction of the colonists in 1587.

Dr. Hamilton of East Orange, New Jersey, who was part-white, part-African American, and part-Tuscarora, confirmed Geroux’s story with one of his own before he died in the 1930s.  He noted that not only did the Tuscarora believe they were being punished for what they had done at Roanoke, but certain members of their tribe were cursed with the “Tuscarora Eye” or “Evil Eye”, which ran in his family.  These Tuscarora, who may have been descendants of the white women taken from Roanoke island, were born with blue, green or gray eyes.  As time passed, the eye became more prevalent throughout the tribe, along with problems with white settlers.  In fact, in 1707, French Huguenots, who settled near the Tuscarora along the Tar River, reported that the Tuscarora had many members with blue, green and gray eyes.

Page 49 – Although many clans blamed Chief Blount and those of their nation that carried the “Tuscarora” or “Evil Eye” for their defeat, clearly all of the Iroquois (Mohawks, Oneida, Layuga, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora) must share the blame for what happened.  They all in one way or another violated or ignored the teachings of their ancestors.

After the war, the Tuscarora began to blame those among them who carried the Tuscarora Eye for their downfall, further fragmenting their already weakened nation.  This only accelerated the breakup of the nation and caused many Tuscarora to isolate themselves in various parts of eastern North Carolina from the larger nation.

Page 59 – By 1750, there were a number of residents in Bertie County who were either African-Tuscarora mix, English-Tuscarora mix, or African-Tuscarora-English mix.  Many Tuscarora women after the Tuscarora War had even married whites, runaway slaves or African slaves they were enslaved with on plantations.  Most Tuscarora women, however, preferred to marry African men to eliminate their European characteristics, particularly the Tuscarora Eye in their children.  These marriages succeeded in eliminating the Tuscarora Eye, with the exception that every other generation children would often be born with green, blue or grey eyes.


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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5 Responses to The Tuscarora Eye

  1. Mavis says:

    It could be that the light skinned Indians with Blue/Grey eyes noted by the Tuscarora were remnants of the Yeopim tribe who were amoung the first to make land deals with those such as Nathaniel Batts and George Durant some 30 years or so before the French moved in.Philip Amadas is said to have made contact with the Yeopim as early as 1584 while scouting out the best place to plant the Roanoke colony.It was Chief Kiscutanewh (sometimes spelled Kilcoconeweh) who made the first deals.It is recorded that the Yeopim were freindly with not only the earliest settelers but to the Tuscarora as well.Also there are unconfirmed accounts of folks entering that area (present day Albemarle)as early as 1640.That seems like plenty of time to have enabled some tribes to begin mixing before the observations of the French…..There are some truely delicious historical morsels in the online Digital Library of East Carolina University that anyone would find facinating…I know I do!

    • The “Laster Tribe” of Perquimans County N.C. in the 1700’s was most likely a Yeopim tribe that intermarried and was within that region and time. My Ancestor Peter Laster who arrived in Virginia 1666 may have been part of it.

  2. Peter Cusick says:

    Seriously. From 200 years of Tuscarora ethnology, this has never been recorded by those that left North Carolina. While not a dismissal of the Lost Colony integration with the Tuscarora and other Indian peoples, the hypothesis presented here is fairly apocryphal.

    • robert says:

      Cusick,,,,you are right we Tuscarora even of the south do not believe in the lost colony crap. Our history tells that those colony of people were killed off by our people , killed off by animals , and they ate each other, . the colony was lost alright lost to the wilderness of which they knew nothing about. The Tuscarora of the many did not mix in with dead people and there is no way that the few could become the many any way. They of that euro/colonial group all died off according to our oral and written history , therefore no mystery to our people.

      • Well I never doubted that the Tuscarora had no involvement with the lost colony, but they did not kill them off, nor did they eat one another, but lived with my people the Carolina Algonquins.

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