The Traveling Tuscarora

Fletcher Freeman has once again graced us with one of his excellent  research papers.  Thank you, Fletcher, for sharing, and for continuing the quest!

The Traveling Tuscarora

By Fletcher Freeman

At first contact by the English, the Tuscarora were located in what is now North Carolina between the Roanoke and Chowan Rivers and around New Bern along the coast. In 1711 they rebelled against the colonists in the Tuscarora War.  Subsequently they were given a 56,000 reservation along the Roanoke River but sought permission to join the Five Civilized Tribes in New York, which they did beginning in 1713 and continuing to 1802.  You see, the Tuscarora were of the Iroquois Language Group as were the Five Civilized Tribes-Seneca, Oneida, Cayuga, Mohawk, and Huron.  Other Iroquois language speakers in Virginia and the Carolinas were the Cherokee and Meherrin.

Why did the Tuscarora migrate some 1,500 miles north to join the Five Civilized Tribes?  Going back into times unknown there was a path or trail or road known as the Great Indian Trading Path a/k/a Great Indian Warpath a/k/a Seneca Warpath that ran from Niagara Falls in present day New York to Mobile Bay in present day Alabama.  Native Americans went North and South for centuries before the arrival of Europeans, trading and waging war.  This path passed through Virginia East of the Appalachians into North Carolina just west of the Chowan River and over into Georgia and Alabama to the Gulf of Mexico.  There is no record that the Indians traversing this path had horses and the canoes used in the southeast were heavy dug outs as opposed to the lighter weight birch bark canoes used in the north.  As a result, most travel must have been on foot.

The Tuscarora were a proud and powerful nation, claiming most of the Coastal Plain, from near the Virginia border south to the Cape Fear River and west to the Piedmont. At their apex, they may have numbered as many as 6,000 warriors in 24 large towns, the heart of their settlements lying between the Neuse and Pamlico rivers along Contentnea Creek. Their lands spanned the present day locations of Raleigh, Smithfield, Goldsboro, Wilson, Rocky Mount, Tarboro, Greenville, and Kinston. Of the many tribes in Carolina, none but the Cherokee was as strong.

There is some indication that the Tuscarora were also located in the area of New Bern along the Carolina Coast prior to the arrival of Baron De Graffenreid in 1710.  He acquired land for a colony from a group of Indians believed to be Tuscarora.  His dealings and treatment of this band may have instigated the Tuscarora War.

Following the Tuscarora War in 1711-1713, the Tuscarora sought and obtained permission to join their fellow Iroquois speakers in New York along the Canadian Border where they live to this day.  Some remained in North Carolina, but lost their identity and were merged with other tribes or became classified as “mulattoes.”

The question this paper attempts to answer is how far west did the Tuscarora travel?  We know they had trails that  went as far North as Canada, as far South as the Gulf of Mexico, and as far East as the Atlantic Ocean. It is my belief that the Tuscarora of North Carolina roamed as far West as the Mississippi River.

Fortunately there is a historical record that may answer this question.  The evidence is circumstantial, but in the American Judicial System circumstantial evidence is acceptable and often utilized.

Marquette and Joliet were two French explorers in the late 1600’s.  In 1673 they discovered the Mississippi River and followed it almost to the Gulf of Mexico.  They started in present day Green Bay, Wisconsin and followed the Wisconsin River to Prairie de Chien where they entered the Mississippi and headed South.  Near the Ohio River they met a band of Indians on the riverbank and stopped to visit.  Father Marquette spoke Huron, an Iroquois language and the Indians were able to communicate with him in that language.  Marquette also noted that these Indians wore Iroquois style leggings and had guns, knives, axes, and crucifixes of European origin.  He surmised that they traded with Europeans, possibly Spanish in the Southeast near Florida.  Marquette and Joliet proceeded farther south along the Mississippi and several weeks or months later headed back north where they once again met these same Indians.  Marquette composed a letter, in Latin, that he gave to the Indians and asked them to take it to their European Friends.  Two years later it was delivered to William Byrd, who lived along the Virginia-North Carolina Border in Tuscarora Country!

We will never know for sure if these were Tuscarora, but they dressed in the Iroquois (Tuscarora) fashion, they spoke Iroquois (Tuscarora) and their home was Virginia-North Carolina (Tuscarora Territory)


Historic Diaries: Marquette and Joliet

Wisconsin Historical Society

July, 1673: Signs of Europeans

Marquette and Joliet passed the site of modern St. Louis during the days that are tersely summarized in the opening sentence of this entry.

Scholars suspect the encounter with the Indians took place in the vicinity of modern Memphis, Tennessee. Who these Indians were has never been ascertained. Had they been a southern band of Illinois, Marquette and Joliet would have found it easier to communicate with them. Their trade goods are thought by some scholars to have come from English settlements in the East, because Spanish goods were not allowed up the Mississippi by powerful tribes nearer to its mouth; and their cursory acquaintance with Christianity may have come from Franciscan missionaries operating in Georgia. These suppositions have led some researchers to suggest they may have been related to the Chickasaw. The explorers will meet them again on the way back upriver, when they will perform a very unusual and remarkable service.

“Manitou” was the European translation of a word in Algonkian languages that as a noun denoted a spirit being, and as an adjective carried connotations of holy, sacred, or spiritual. We hear it today in the Wisconsin place name of Manitowish Waters. In one of the ironies of cross-cultural contacts, the missionaries typically identified such beings as devils, and so rather than being thought of as holy or sacred, many places in the northeastern parts of the continent bear the adjective “Devil” or “Devil’s” in their name – – the direct opposite of how the Indians thought of the location.

Marquette’s Journal: “After proceeding about twenty leagues straight to the south, and a little less to the southeast, we found ourselves at a river called Ouaboukigou [the Ohio River], the mouth of which is at the 36th degree of latitude. Before reaching it, we passed by a place that is dreaded by the savages, because they believe that a manitou is there, that is [word missing] to travellers; and the savages, who wished to divert us from our undertaking, warned us against it. This is the demon: there is a small cove, surrounded by rocks twenty feet high, into which the whole current of the river rushes; and, being pushed back against the waters following it, and checked by an island near by, the current is compelled to pass through a narrow channel. This is not done without a violent struggle between all these waters, which force one another back, or without a great din, which inspires terror in the savages, who fear everything. But this did not prevent us from passing, and arriving at Waboukigou [the Ohio River].

“While drifting down with the current, in this condition, we perceived on land some savages armed with guns, who awaited us. I at once offered them my plumed calumet, while our Frenchmen prepared for defense, but delayed firing, that the savages might be the first to discharge their guns. I spoke to them in Huron, but they answered me by a word which seemed to me a declaration of war against us. However, they were as frightened as we were; and what we took for a signal for battle was an invitation that they gave us to draw near, that they might give us food. We therefore landed, and entered their cabins, where they offered us meat from wild cattle and bear’s grease, with white plums, which are very good. They have guns, hatchets, hoes, knives, beads, and flasks of double glass, in which they put their powder. They wear their hair long, and tattoo their bodies after the Hiroquois fashion. The women wear head-dresses and garments like those of the Huron women.

“They assured us that we were no more than ten days’ journey from the sea; that they bought cloth and all other goods from the Europeans who lived to the east; that these Europeans had rosaries and pictures; that they played upon instruments; that some of them looked like me, and had been received by these savages kindly. Nevertheless, I saw none who seemed to have received any instruction in the faith; I gave them as much as I could, with some medals.

“This news animated our courage, and made us paddle with fresh ardor. We thus push forward, and no longer see so many prairies, because both shores of the river are bordered with lofty trees.”

Historic Diaries: Marquette and Joliet

Wisconsin Historical Society

Aug. 4, 1673: A Letter from Memphis

Marquette’s letter given here ultimately made its way from the Mississippi to William Byrd, in Virginia, and then into a British manuscript collection. It was first discovered and published in 1920; this English translation is from Donnelly, Joseph P. Jacques Marquette, 1637-1675 (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1968), page 227. It was first published in Clarence W. Alvord, “An Unrecognized Father Marquette Letter,” American Historical Review XXV (1920): 676-680.

Marquette’s letter: Near the site of modern Memphis, Marquette and Joliet again encountered the band whom they had met a month earlier. Knowing that they had communicated with Europeans, Marquette drafted the following letter in Latin and gave it to the Indians. Its language suggests that he expected it to find its way to the Spanish Catholics in Florida:

“I salute in the Lord whoever receives this letter.

I, who am nothing, except by virtue of obedience, seeking to lead anyone I could to Christ, our Saviour, happened, under divine direction, to meet Indians whom I believe are in contact with Europeans. Since they could not give me any information about this, I should like to learn who you are, where you live and who these Indians are. In the meantime know this about me. God called me to the Society of Jesus so that in this region of Canada I might spend my life working for the salvation of the Indians whom He redeemed with his Blood. I am certain that if the Immacualte Virgin Mother of God were present to me in this pitiable country, she would not wish me to render up my soul, which Christ saved with such bitter torment and she preserves, until I succeeded. Let us each pray that if we do not meet in this life we may do so in heaven.

“Done on the River of the Conception

At the 35th latitude and

Approximately the 275th longitude

4 August 1673

“Your servant in Christ Jesus

And the Immaculate Conception

Jacques Marquette Societ. Jesus”

Miraculously, this letter actually reached Col. William Byrd in Virginia more than two years later.

Joliet’s map of their travels is shown below.

Marquette 1681 upright

About Roberta Estes

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