Von Graffenreid Declares Himself King, Saves Himself, 1711

Christoph von Graffenreid rather inadvertently saved himself after being captured by the Tuscarora Indians with John Lawson, who was subsequently executed. Whether by swift wit, Divine inspiration or sheer luck, von Graffenreid realized that by claiming his position as “king” or “governor,” he might be able to save his life. Indeed, the Indians did not know him, as he was with Lawson in order to procure land from the Indians. In his letter to Edward Hyde, the true Governor of North Carolina, he rather sheepishly confesses as to how he saved himself and why he called himself a king or governor. It’s due to the fact that he was spared that we obtained the information about John Lawson’s death, the manner of its occurrence and other cultural information about the Tuscarora contained in the letter.

As an interesting note, we often wonder how Indians adopt the names that they did.  One of the two primary Tuscarora Chief’s was named Chief Hancock.  He ruled over the southern Tuscarora villages who were the groups who chose to fight, as opposed to the northern groups led by Chief Tom Blunt or Blount a name he adopted from a white family.  In the letter below, a Mr. Hancock is accussed of taking a gun from an Indian.  This could be the man whose name Chief Hanock adopted, especially if had a close relationship with the Indians at one point.

Letter from Christoph von Graffenried to Edward Hyde [Extract]
Graffenried, Christoph von, Baron, 1661-1743
Volume 01, Pages 990-992
[Reprinted from Williamson’s History of North Carolina. Vol. 2. P. 283.]

I have many things to relate to you, but for want of time must delay them to a future day. At present I shall only inform you of the fate of Mr Lawson the Surveyor general.
We had both taken to my boat on the New1 River in order to discover what kind of land there was further on, and what distance any one might go on the same. To this I had the more readily consented, as Mr Lawson had assured me that the country on this side was not inhabited. But when we arrived at Corutra, a village about twelve miles by water from the town of Coram, with an intention to tarry there all night, we met with two Indians, whom presently after a great number joined, and who were armed. I told Mr Lawson that I did not like the appearances, and that we ought immediately to proceed on, which we accordingly did; but no sooner had we arrived at our boat, such a number of Indians pressed upon us, that it was impossible for us to keep them off. They took our arms, provisions and all we had.
There were upwards of sixty Indians all well armed, who compelled us to travel with them all night, and until we arrived at an Indian village, a considerable distance from the river, where we were delivered up to the king (or chief) of the village or town.
——————– page 991 ——————–
He called a council at which one of the Indians delivered a long speech with great vehemence, whereupon a question was put whether we should be bound, which was passed in the negative and the reason given was, because we had not yet been permitted to make our defence. The next morning we desired to know what they intended to do with us; their answer was that the king (or chief would that evening have a number of other kings at an entertainment, who must also be present at our examination, after which they would come to a decision. In the evening upwards of two hundred were collected, from which number about forty got to-gether who were considered as chiefs of the people. Before these we were examined very strictly concerning our intention and why we had come hither. Our answer was, that we were endeavoring to find out a shorter and better road to Virginia because the other road from our settlement was a very bad and difficult one, and that for that reason the Indians from thence could not as conveniently trade with us. Whereupon the Indians complained very much of the conduct of the English Colonies in Carolina, and particularly named Mr Lawson, charging him with being too severe, and that he was the man who sold their land.
They also said that Mr. Hancock had taken a gun from an Indian, and that Mr. Price also dealt too hard with the Indians. Nevertheless, they would consent to our being set at liberty and that we should return home on the day following. The next morning we were again examined, and we returned the same answer; but one Cor Thom being present, whom Mr. Lawson reprimanded for sundry things which had happened, gave a very unfavorable turn to our affairs. After the Council had broke up and the major part of the Indians had gone off, Mr Lawson and myself were talking to-gether on indifferent subjects an Indian who understood a little English informed the remaining Indians that we had spoken very disrespectfully of them, which however was totally groundless. Whereupon three or four of them fell on us in a furious manner, took us by the arms and forced us to set down on the ground before the whole of them that were then collected. They instantly took off our wigs and threw them into the fire and we were at once condemned to death. Mr Lawson indeed was sentenced to have his throat cut with his own razor, and I was to be put to death in another manner. On the day following we were taken to the great place of execution, where we were again tied and compelled to sit on the ground, being stripped of our surtouts. Before us a large fire was kindled, whilst some of them acted the part of conjurors, and others made a ring around us which they strewed with flowers. Behind us lay my innocent negro, who was also bound, and in
——————– page 992 ——————–
this miserable situation we remained that day and the subsequent night. On the morning of the next day at which we were to die, a large multitude was collected to see the execution. Behind us there was an armed party who acted as a guard, and around us sat the chiefs in two rows; behind them were the common people amounting to upwards of three hundred in number, who were jumping and dancing like so many devils, and cutting a variety of infernal and obscene capers. There were also present two executioners of wild and terrible aspect and two drummers. The council again deliberated in order to put an end to this dismal tragedy. I recommended my soul to my saviour Christ Jesus, and my thoughts were wholly employed with death.
At length however I recollected myself, and turning to the council or chiefs, asked them, whether no mercy could be shown to the innocent, and with what propriety they could put to death a king (for the Indians call a governor a king) and I was king of the Palatines. Thus God in his mercy heard my prayers and softened the hard hearts of the savages that they after much talk from an honest Indian altered my sentence of death as will appear from the treaty of peace. I was a short time before Mr Lawson’s execution set at liberty and afterwards conducted to the house of the Indian who had interested himself and spoken so much in my behalf, but my negro also suffered. I remained in captivity until the Sunday following when I was brought on horseback to Cor. From thence I had to foot it as above related, I should be very glad to have some conversation with you on this subject and to consider what measures ought to be taken against those people; but that must be deferred for the present. I shall however write more fully to you on the subject.

Thanks to Mavis for this document.

About Roberta Estes

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