This is the first in a series of blogs about the Tuscarora people as identified in land and other transactions, primarily in North Carolina. These blogs are taken from my paper by the same title. It is too lengthy to publish in one piece, so I’ve broken it into segments. It will be published in the future, in one piece, in the February 2013 issue of the Lost Colony Research Group Newsletter. www.lostcolonyresearch.org
When I began this article, my intention was to extract the names of the Native people for the Native names project. I am also always cognizant of any connection to the Lost Colony project, especially given the oral history of the Tuscarora in relation to the colonists. As I compiled additional information, this project evolved into something different. It’s the documentation of the journey of the Tuscarora in North Carolina, as told in court records and land transactions. This does omit the military history, specifically the details of the Tuscarora War, although I did review those documents for names and included what I found.
Let’s start with a little history. The English began to settle North Carolina, mostly from the Virginia frontier, about 1654. The Native people began to feel crowded, especially as the trickle of settlers turned into flow and then a flood who settled on their lands with no regard for the Indians.
By 1700, tensions were high and both sides accused the other of a variety of infractions.
There were two primary contingents of Tuscarora at this point, a Northern group led by Chief Tom Blunt (also spelled Blount) and a Southern group led by Chief Hancock. Chief Blunt occupied the area around what is present-day Bertie County on the Roanoke River; Chief Hancock was closer to New Bern, North Carolina, occupying the area south of the Pamplico River (now the Pamlico River). Chief Blunt became close friends with the Blount family of the Bertie region, and likely adopted his name from them. Chief Hancock, on the other hand, found his villages raided and his people frequently kidnapped and sold into slavery. Both groups were heavily impacted by the introduction of European diseases, and both were rapidly having their lands infringed upon by the encroaching settlers. Ultimately, Chief Hancock felt there was no alternative but to attack the settlers. Tom Blunt did not become involved in the war at this point.
In 1711, tensions escalated when Baron von Graffenreid evicted the Tuscarora from an Indian village he wanted for his Swiss and German settlers. Following that, John Lawson, the surveyor, and von Graffenreid went on a canoe trip and were captured by the Tuscarora and tried. Initially both were to be set free, but while von Graffenreid was busy negotiating his way out of the pickle he found himself in, Lawson became argumentative and chastised the Indians for harassing the men. They executed Lawson, but set von Graffenreid free with a message that they were planning to attack the English.
In 1712, in the midst of the Tuscarora War which began in 1711, a treaty was attempted. On Nov. 25th, several chiefs, all with Native names, except Tom Blount, treated on behalf of the Tuscarora. Among other things, they agreed to make war on the other Indian Nations of Catashny, Core, Nuse, Bare River and Pamlico. They would not shelter male Indians over the age of 14 from those tribes or bands and they would sell off and dispose of the males under 14. They promised to join the English and cut off and destroy the Matchepungo Indians. They agreed to limit their hunting range and not hunt in groups larger than 3. They agreed that they would attempt to bring into their towns alive several people listed by Native names, then their English names; “called John Pagett, Ehehosguos called Lawson, Coresniena called Barber, Colsera called Henry, Lysle Ounskininenee called Squarehookis…and Young Tyler.” Six chiefs signed, Tom Blount the only one with an English name.
Following the Tuscarora War which ended in 1713, about 1500 of the defeated Tuscarora migrated north and joined the Iroquois, their ancient cousins. Those who stayed in NC, mostly those of “King” Tom Blount’s band who remained neutral during the war, would initially be directed to live with the Machapunca/Mattamuskeet in Hyde County, but were eventually granted their own reservation, Indian Woods, in Bertie County.
Under the leadership of Chief Tom Blunt/Blount, known as King Blount, the Tuscarora who remained in North Carolina signed a treaty with the colony in June 1717 that granted a 56,000 acre tract of land on the Roanoke River in what is now Bertie County.
The smallness of their number disabling them from resisting the attacks of the South Carolina Indians. Governor Charles Eden, of North Carolina, and the council, on the 5th day of June, 1717, entered into a treaty, by which the Tuscarora land on Pamplico River was abandoned by the Tuscarora and another tract granted to them, on Roanoke River, in the present county of Bertie, in consideration of which they relinquished all claims of any other land in the province, butted and bounded as follows, viz.:
“Beginning at the mouth of Quitsnoy swamp, running up the said swamp four hundred and thirty five poles, to a scrubby oak near the head of the swamp, by a great spring; then north ten degrees east, eight hundred and fifty poles, to a persimmon tree on Raquis swamp; then along the swamp and Pacosin main course north fifty-seven degrees west, two thousand six hundred and forty poles, to a hickory tree on the east side of the Falling Run, or Deep creek, and down the various courses of the said run to Morattock; then down the river to the first station.”
The Morattock is the present day Roanoke River.
Bounded by the Roanoke River and Roquist Creek, the reservation contained some of the more fertile land of the county, and it was not long before settlers began to encroach upon this territory. As early as 1721 interlopers threatened to “create Feuds and disturbances.” This contributed to overall circumstances that made reservation life less than satisfactory.
Various pieces of information collected along the way give us a picture of the Tuscarora as their numbers declined, precipitating the final migration north for the majority of the tribe.