Fort Branch on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation

This article, written by Roberta Estes and Baylus Brooks, was first published in the Lost Colony Research Group Newsletter in July, 2012.

“Are you up for a challenge?”, I asked Baylus.  “Actually, this might not be much of a  challenge for you.” 

The hubbub related to the discovery of the fort icon on John White’s map had died down and it had nearly been forgotten as yesterday’s news, when a discovery in a document brought it to the forefront again.

I had been transcribing Tuscarora deeds in Bertie County and guess what I came across?  A reference to “Fort Branch.”  I’d really like to know where this Fort Branch is/was in relation to the Tuscarora reservation in relation to John White’s map with the fort.  Maybe it’s a different fort….or maybe it’s not.  So I asked Baylus, “Do you want the info to work with?  Is this tempting to you????”  Of course, I knew the answer.

Here’s the deed that started this little expedition:

Book S, p 690/691 – Indians to Johnston – June 15, 1803 Sacarusa and Longbeard, Chief of the Tuscarora Nation to Samuel W. Johnston – beginning on the bridge on the Fort Branch, up the said branch to the mouth of a branch, down the branch to a maple near Mrs. Pughs…containing 10 acres…to pay yearly one cent on demand on Dec. 25th. – leased until 1916.

Signed Sacarusa and Longboard (sealed, no Xs), witnesses William W. Johnston and Frances Pugh (X).

Baylus says, “I’m finding “Fort Branch” as a reference to a waterway/creek near the town of Aulander at the Bertie/Hertford County line, about 25 miles NW from the location of the fort on White’s map.  I’ve included a topo map showing it. 

The reference in the deeds is similar to the reference to “Cow’s Branch” that’s often mentioned with it and I think the “branch” parts is just a reference to a branch of water.  I believe this is a creek, but it may refer to an earlier fort built on that creek or branch.  It’s just west of Ahoskie, though and not a place that Ralph Lane would have visited (too far inland).” 

On the google map below, you can see that it’s about 35 miles today, as the car travels, from Aulander, which is location B, to the area where the fort icon on the map was located, balloon A.

Then, there’s an actual military “Fort Branch” on the Roanoke River built by the Confederates in 1861: http://www.albemarle-nc.com/martin/fortbranch/  This site has a map of Fort Branch on it, located between Williamston and Plymouth on Hwy 64. 

The fort on Fort Creek might be explained (as a Nottoway Indian fort) by the following:

William Byrd’s Westover Manuscript, p.34-36:

[April] 7th [1728]. The next day being Sunday, we ordered notice to be sent to all the neighbourhood that there would be a sermon at this place, and an opportunity of christening their children. But the likelihood of rain got the better of their devotion, and what, perhaps, might still be a stronger motive of their curiosity. In the morning we despatched a runner to the Nottoway town, to let the Indians know we intended them a visit that evening, and our honest landlord was so kind as to be our pilot thither, being about four miles from his house. Accordingly in the afternoon we marched in good order to the town, where the female scouts, stationed on an eminence for that purpose, had no sooner spied us, but they gave notice of our approach to their fellow citizens by continual whoops and cries, which could not possibly have been more dismal at the sight of their most implacable enemies. This signal assembled all their great men, who received us in a body, and conducted us into the fort. This fort was a square piece of ground, inclosed with substantial puncheons, or strong palisades, about ten feet high, and leaning a little outwards, to make a scalade more difficult. Each side of the square might be about a hundred yards long, with loop-holes at proper distances, through which they may fire upon the enemy. Within this inclosure we found bark cabins sufficient to lodge all their people, in case they should be obliged to retire thither. These cabins are no other but close arbours made of saplings, arched at the


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top, and covered so well with bark as to be proof against all weather. The fire is made in the middle, according to the Hibernian fashion, the smoke whereof finds no other vent but at the door, and so keeps the whole family warm, at the expense both of their eyes and complexion. The Indians have no standing furniture in their cabins but hurdles to repose their persons upon, which they cover with mats and deer-skins. We were conducted to the best apartments in the fort, which just before had been made ready for our reception, and adorned with new mats, that were very sweet and clean. The young men had painted themselves in a hideous manner, not so much for ornament as terror. In that frightful equipage they entertained us with sundry war dances, wherein they endeavoured to look as formidable as possible. The instrument they danced to was an Indian drum, that is, a large gourd with a skin braced tight over the mouth of it. The dancers all sang to the music, keeping exact time with their feet, while their heads and arms were screwed into a thousand menacing postures. Upon this occasion the ladies had arrayed themselves in all their finery. They were wrapped in their red and blue match coats, thrown so negligently about them, that their mahogany skins appeared in several parts, like the Lacedæmonian damsels of old. Their hair was braided with white and blue peak, and hung gracefully in a large roll upon their shoulders.

        This peak consists of small cylinders cut out of a conch shell, drilled through and strung like beads. It serves them both for money and jewels, the blue being of much greater value than the white, for the same reason that Ethiopian mistresses in France are dearer than French, because they are more scarce. The women wear necklaces and bracelets of these precious materials, when they have a mind to appear lovely. Though their complexions be a little sad-coloured, yet their shapes are very strait and well proportioned. Their faces are seldom handsome, yet they have an air of innocence and bashfulness, that with a little less dirt would not fail to make them desirable. Such charms might have had their full effect upon men who had been so long deprived of female conversation, but that the whole winter’s soil was so crusted on the skins of those dark angels, that it required a very strong appetite to approach them. The bear’s oil, with which they anoint their persons all over, makes their skins soft, and at the same time protects them from every species of vermin that use to be troublesome to other uncleanly people. We were unluckily so many, that they could not well make us the compliment of bed-fellows, according to the Indian rules of hospitality, though a grave matron whispered one of the commissioners very civilly in the ear, that if her daughter had been but one year older, she should have been at his devotion.

        It is by no means a loss of reputation among the Indians, for damsels that are single to have intrigues with the men; on the contrary, they account it an argument of superior merit to be liked by a great number of gallants. However, like the ladies that game, they are a little mercenary in their amours, and seldom bestow their favours out of stark love and kindness. But after these women have once appropriated their charms by marriage, they are from thenceforth faithful to their vows, and will hardly ever be tempted by an agreeable gallant, or be provoked by a brutal or even by a careless husband to go astray. The little work that is done among the Indians is done by the poor women, while the men are quite idle, or at most employed only in the gentlemanly diversions of hunting and fishing. In this, as well as in their wars, they use nothing but fire-arms, which they purchase of the English for skins. Bows and arrows are grown into disuse, except only amongst their boys. Nor is it ill policy, but on the contrary very prudent, thus to furnish the Indians with fire-arms, because it makes them depend


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entirely upon the English, not only for their trade, but even for their subsistence. Besides, they were really able to do more mischief, while they made use of arrows, of which they would let silently fly several in a minute with wonderful dexterity, whereas now they hardly ever discharge their fire-locks more than once, which they insidiously do from behind a tree, and then retire as nimbly as the Dutch horse used to do now and then formerly in Flanders. We put the Indians to no expense, but only of a little corn for our horses, for which in gratitude we cheered their hearts with what rum we had left, which they love better than they do their wives and children. Though these Indians dwell among the English, and see in what plenty a little industry enables them to live, yet they choose to continue in their stupid idleness, and to suffer all the inconveniences of dirt, cold and want, rather than to disturb their heads with care, or defile their hands with labour.

        The whole number of people belonging to the Nottoway town, if you include women and children, amount to about two hundred. These are the only Indians of any consequence now remaining within the limits of Virginia. The rest are either removed, or dwindled to a very inconsiderable number, either by destroying one another, or else by the small-pox and other diseases. Though nothing has been so fatal to them as their ungovernable passion for rum, with which, I am sorry to say it, they have been but too liberally supplied by the English that live near them. And here I must lament the bad success Mr. Boyle’s charity has hitherto had towards converting any of these poor heathens to Christianity. Many children of our neighbouring Indians have been brought up in the college of William and Mary. They have been taught to read and write, and have been carefully instructed in the principles of the Christian religion, till they came to be men. Yet after they returned home, instead of civilizing and converting the rest, they have immediately relapsed into infidelity and barbarism themselves.

        And some of them too have made the worst use of the knowledge they acquired among the English, by employing it against their benefactors. Besides, as they unhappily forget all the good they learn, and remember the ill, they are apt to be more vicious and disorderly than the rest of their countrymen. I ought not to quit this subject without doing justice to the great prudence of colonel Spotswood in this affair. That gentleman was lieutenant governor of Virginia when Carolina was engaged in a bloody war with the Indians. At that critical time it was thought expedient to keep a watchful eye upon our tributary savages, who we knew had nothing to keep them to their duty but their fears. Then it was that he demanded of each nation a competent number of their great men’s children to be sent to the college, where they served as so many hostages for the good behaviour of the rest, and at the same time were themselves principled in the Christian religion. He also placed a school master among the Saponi Indians, at the salary of fifty pounds per annum, to instruct their children. The person that undertook that charitable work was Mr. Charles Griffin, a man of a good family, who, by the innocence of his life, and the sweetness of his temper, was perfectly well qualified for that pious undertaking. Besides, he had so much the secret of mixing pleasure with instruction, that he had not a scholar who did not love him affectionately. Such talents must needs have been blest with a proportionable success, had he not been unluckily removed to the college, by which he left the good work he had begun unfinished. In short, all the pains he had taken among the infidels had no other effect but to make them something cleanlier than other Indians are. The care colonel Spotswood took to tincture the Indian children with Christianity produced the following epigram, which was not published during his administration, for fear it might then have looked like flattery.

So, all in all, it appears that the Tuscarora Fort on Fort Creek was very likely not the fort on White’s map.  It was too far inland.  If the fort on White’s map ever existed, it was close to, but not on, the actual land that would one day become the Tuscarora Indian Woods Reservation.

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About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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