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Download e-book The Tuscarora War: Indians, Settlers, and the Fight for the Carolina Colonies

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Who were the Tuscarora? The answer can be confusing. There is the Tuscarora Nation, a single tribe close culturally and linguistically to the Iroquois, who were indigenous to North Carolina but migrated to New York and Pennsylvania in the 19th century. This Tuscarora Nation had originally consisted of six towns before Columbus set foot on American soil and included warriors and tribal members that lived on the Roanoke, Neuse, Taw Tar , and Pomlico Pamlico Rivers.

Elias Johnson, a Tuscarora chief and the author of the history of the nation, could not recall the other two.

The Tuscarora War

The Tuscarora were once one of the most powerful eastern North Carolina nations. The Tuscarora were sedentary farmers, hunters, gatherers, and fishers. However, men also hunted game and defended the tribe. Their villages consisted of low, circular dwellings with a central burial ground with nearby platforms or caves where clean bones were placed after decomposition.

Administratively, each village had a council of chiefs and was politically autonomous. Finally, the war compelled the Tuscarora to head north at the invitation of the Oneida. The majority migrated; some stayed. The North Carolina faction gradually blended into the black and white populations of the state and other Native American tribes like the Lumbee.

Indians, Settlers, and the Fight for the Carolina Colonies

They may not be federally recognized but they have organized into several groups that strive for recognition. The causes and exact events during the war differ, depending on who is telling the story. The Tuscarora account contrasts with the white colonial account, which has long prevailed in the traditional historical narrative of the war. According to Tuscarora oral tradition, their ancestors had enough of settlers kidnapping, raping, and assaulting women and children; enslaving their people; settling onto their land; and hunting on their land.

North Carolina American Indian History Timeline | NC Museum of History

The lower towns wanted to attack; the towns farthest up the Neuse desired a peaceful negotiation; and the middle towns wished to move to avoid present and future conflict. He admits that the Tuscarora did kidnap John Lawson, Graffenried, and their two slaves when the gentlemen entered Tuscarora lands while scouting for new settlements. He also admits that they did execute Lawson and one of the slaves.


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However, the subsequent revenge killing of settlers in September was not their doing. Rather, they declined participation while the Corees, Mattamuskeets, and Bear River Indians seemed to instigate. Johnson attests that other nations took part in the massacre.

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However, to the south and west, the mighty Tuscarora Indian strongholds stood as a barrier. Lawson met a minor Swiss noble, Christopher de Graffenried. Therefore, Lawson and Graffenried made a trip up the Neuse, through Tuscarora lands to scout sites for future settlements.


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  7. The local Tuscarora king or chief, offended and threatened that his territory had been invaded, captured Lawson and Graffenried and put them on trial for their lives. When one of the more radical Indian leaders berated him, Lawson lost his temper. Lawson was doomed and shortly executed.

    Graffenried remained in custody while the Indians planned and carried out their first attacks on Sept.

    The colony had not enough manpower, firepower or money. Help finally came from the wealthy sister colony to the south. South Carolina sent two expeditions to relieve its northern neighbor. The first expedition led by John Barnwell set out with a force of about men. Only 35 were regular militia. North Carolina.

    Home Close. View Inside. Blackstone Audio, Inc. Over the following days, they destroyed hundreds of farms, killed at least men, women, and children, and took about 40 captives.