Tuscarora of North Carolina

Before the discovery, by Columbus, the Tuscarora consisted of six towns, and they were a powerful nation, numbering over twelve hundred warriors, which, at a ratio according to the rule of estimating, would bring them at about five or six thousand souls.

The Tuscarora had many years of enjoyment and peaceful possession of their domain, consisting of six towns on the Roanoke, Neuse, Taw and Pemlico rivers, in the State of North Carolina. And they were also confederated to six other nations, which were the Coree, Mattamuskeet, Nottoway and the Bear River Tribe; the names of the other two nations I have been unable to obtain. My readers will readily see why some writers have it that they consisted in twelve towns, and other writers would have it that they consisted in six towns. The real Tuscarora consisted in six towns; but with the confederate nations, altogether, were known to be in twelve towns, and all these different nations which composed the confederacy went under the name of Tuscarora, the Tuscarora being the most powerful of the several nations.

The tradition of the Tuscarora admits of having captured Lawson and his party, and executed some of them to death on account of their encroachments upon their domain; but concerning the massacre of Oct. 2d, 1711, the Tuscarora emphatically deny having taken any part in the affair whatever, officially. The project was presented to them and in the council of the sachems, chiefs and warriors, they emphatically declined taking any part in such a movement, but said if the colonists made encroachments and trespass on their domain, it is no more than right and just that we defend our rights, and even cautioned their young men that they should not take any part whatever in the action; but, nevertheless, there were a few of the rash and reckless warriors that took part in the disorder.

The Coree, Mattamuskeet, and Bear River Indians seemed to be the instigators of the project: but there were several other nations that took part in the massacre. These three nations being considered Tuscarora, on account of the confederacy, and the capture of Lawson and his party a little previous to this time by the Tuscarora, led the colonists to conclude that it was the Tuscarora who caused the disaster, and to them was directed the feud of the colonists.

A little previous to these disorders, it seems that there were some white men, as our tradition states, with long coats and wide brimmed hats, visited several nations of the Indians in that neighborhood, and appeared to be very friendly toward them, wished them success in everything, and told them that those settlers who were on the borders of their lands and constantly encroaching and committing depredations upon the Indians, were not of the government, but were merely squatters, who settled there of their own accord, and if they were cut off, there would be none to avenge them, and were advised to do so.

It has always been a question in my mind who those white men were, to give such rash advice. Were they Quakers? But what motive had they in advising, from which so great a disaster was the result? Or, were they men in disguise, from the county of Bath, in which the massacre was committed, to make the Indians believe that they were Quakers, as the two counties were in arms against each other at that time.

To corroborate the tradition above, I would call your attention to part of a letter from President Pollock to Lord Craven, in the year 1712, who attributes the calamity thus:

“Our divisions,” says he, “chiefly occasioned by the Quakers and some other ill-disposed persons, have been the cause of all the troubles, for the Indians were informed by some of the traders that the people who lived here are only a few vagabonds, who had run away from other governments and settled here of their own accord, without any authority, so that if they were cut off, there would be none to revenge them. This with their seeing our differences rise to such a height, that consisting of two counties only, were in arms one against the other, encouraged them to fall upon the county of Bath, expecting it would have no assistance from this nor any other of the English plantations. This is the chief cause that moved the Indians to rise against us, as far as I understand.”

The Tuscarora never had the inclination of cutting off the inhabitance of the pale faces. Nevertheless, they did not always remain idle or unconcerned spectators of the feuds and dissensions that so long prevailed among the white people, toward the red men. The successive and regular encroachments, on their hunting grounds and plantations, which the increase of the European population occasioned, had not always been submitted to without murmur.

Although they were pleased with the neighbors, from whom they had trade for their furs, and could procure spirituous liquors and other articles, which tended to the gratification of their real or imaginary wants. And they were required to surrender larger and larger portions of their domain, and at last, the removal of families from the neighborhood of their long cherished memories of the graves of their ancestors, to the more distant and less valuable tracts of land. Other causes of animosity and ill-will were not wanting. Their hunters were shot down like so many beasts, at the edge of the settlement, killed in their wigwams, their young females’ chastity violated, and many other things might be related, which their tradition shows. But I have neither heart nor inclination to bring to a resurrection the long gone-by memories of our forefathers. I would that all were cast into oblivion, where might not be found neither trace nor track; but rather that the chain of friendship which has existed for more than a century between the Tuscarora and the United States Government may be made brighter and brighter as time rolls on.

I have said that the Tuscarora never had the inclination of cutting off the first colonies, and if that were their desire, how readily would they have excepted the advice of President Thomas Carey, through one of his counsel Edward Porter in the year 1710, of which you will find in Martin’s History of North Carolina a difficulty between Gov. Hyde and the above, to-wit: “Before any relief could be sent he attempted the landing of some of his men under fire of his brig, but they were repulsed by the militia of the neighborhood, which Gov. Hyde had time to collect. They returned on board, and their Chief sought a safe retreat in the swamps of the Tar river, where he raised his standard and endeavored to bring the Tuscarora Indians into an alliance. For this purpose he dispatched to them Edward Porter, one of his counsel, who endeavored by promises of great rewards to induce them to cut off all the inhabitants of that part of the province who adhered to Gov. Hyde. This was acceded to by some of his young warriors, but when the matter was debated in council the old men dissuaded them from listening to Porter.”

Now, did not some of Carey’s men go afterwards to some of the neighboring Indian nations and induced them, in the year 1710, to commit the massacre?

I suppose to the critical reader, and to the people generally, my writing will appear to them fictitious, because of their first impression, which has been taught them by many historians. Historians generally have given only one side of the story, and have avoided, as much as possible, to give the history of the wrongs done to the Tuscarora, but they are very scrupulous to preserve the history of the capture of Lawson, his execution and of the massacre, which they allege to have been committed by the Tuscarora, and are styled by many as being inimical, haughty, jealous, warlike bloodhounds, bloodthirsty and scarcely to be human. These are the first impressions made by the historians upon the mind of the world. I suppose, for the purpose of getting a general verdict, that it was right; that they were crushed as a nation, their domain snatched from them, driven into the cold world, and not a word has been written by historians, or the Tuscarora themselves, to vindicate their cause.

But with all the great tide of prejudiced feelings towards the Tuscarora, I have ventured to write their history as I have received it, and think it to be true.

After the massacre, and the Tuscarora heard it reported that they were charged with being the author of the disaster, they immediately sent messengers and denied the charge of having officially taken any part in the disorder, but acknowledged that a few of the reckless and lawless warriors did take part against their admonitions, but they were willing to make all the restoration that was in their power to do, and would fight for them if necessary. At different times they petitioned, remonstrated and supplicated for peace, which was slighted and disregarded, and only produced more violence and insult.

Notice what Governor Spotswood, of Virginia, said concerning the Tuscarora, to wit:

“On the first of the disaster I sent a detachment of the militia to the tributary Indians of this province to prevent them from joining in the war, and understanding that the Indians in some of the Tuscarora towns had refused to march against the whites, sent a messenger to invite them, with the rest of the friendly tribes, to a conference at the Nottoway line, on the southern border of Virginia, where he met them on the 7th of November.”

“The Governor, after entering into some conversation with the Chiefs, had the pleasure of finding the report which his messengers had made, from their observations while in the Tuscarora towns, that they were very desirous of continuing in peace, and were greatly concerned that any of their nation should have joined in the massacre.”

The Chiefs, after accounting for the delay that occurred, expressed the desire of the Indians of their towns to continue in strict friendship with the whites, and assist them in chastising the authors of the late disorder.

“But now an unfortunate difference arose between the Governor and the burgesses, the latter insisting on the passage of a bill for raising an army in Virginia, without trusting to the sincerity of the profession of the Tuscarora Chiefs. The Governor refusing to accede to this proposition, and declining to co-operate in their plans, the dispute ended by a dissolution of the assembly.”

There was at one time a treaty of peace concluded between the Sachems and Chiefs of the Tuscarora and Governor Spotswood, of Virginia, and one of the conditions of the treaty was to help in chastising the authors of the late massacre. In conformity with this pledge the Tuscarora made an attack on the Mattamuskeet, where they obtained thirty scalps and presented them to the authorities of the whites, of which they pretended to be pleased. I don’t doubt but that they were really pleased, but not with any good feelings towards the Tuscarora. I suppose the object was to get all the other Indian nations alienated from them, so that in due time they might be easily conquered, because they were the nation that the whites seemed bent on destroying. The Tuscarora had faith in the treaty, but only to disappoint them in the thought of having the dark cloud which hung so glowingly over them taken away. It is said by historians that the Tuscarora disregarded the treaty and began hostilities. But I will relate a tradition, handed down from generation to generation, which is as follows, to wit:

Some little time after the treaty concluded, several white men went into one of their towns and said that they were sent by the government to distribute among them an annuity of goods in token of friendship; and also said, “In token of your sincerity to the treaty of peace, you will all repair to a place where there is a cord stretched out in a straight line, you must all take hold of the line with your right hand, and all those that refuse to take hold will be considered as hostile and will be omitted in the distribution of the goods.” They all went to the place designated and found the cord strung out for nearly a mile; at one end of it was a bundle covered with cloth, which, as they supposed, contained the goods; so the unsuspecting Indians, women and children, with eager hearts, laid hold on the rope. When it was thought that they were in a proper position, the white men all at once uncovered the supposed goods, which was a large cannon, and being prepared to shoot in a line with the cord it was at once fired and roared like thunder. In a moment the ground along the cord was strewn with the meats of the Tuscarora. This is one of the effects of the treaty at that time.

I will copy a report of Governor Spotswood to the Lords Commissioners of Trade, in the year 1711, to-wit:

“Had they,” said he, “really intended to carry on the war against the Indians, they could not have done it in a more frugal way than by the treaty I concluded with the Tuscarora chiefs.

“Indeed, some of that house, since the dissolution, own more freely than they would do while sitting, that most of the irregularities of their proceedings are owing to some rash votes, passed without foresight, which they could not afterwards get over without breaking the rules of their house; and so they chose, rather, to let the country suffer than to own themselves in an error.

“Some of the Tuscarora chiefs have lately been with Governor Spotswood, of Virginia, and pretend a great inclination to peace.

“They are again to be with him on the 26th of this month; we are to send two agents to meet them there Mr. Tobias Knight and Mayor Christophe Gale not with any expectation that the Governor will make any treaty for us, for that would be dishonorable to your lordship and make us appear contemptible in the eyes of the Indians, but with a view to hear what they have to propose.”

I might quote many more passages similar to those above, but let these few suffice to show how the Tuscarora were treated. Now, finally, with a combination of causes, they were in 1713, crushed and broken down as a nation, to satisfy the inclinations of the white people, persecutions being kept up by neighboring whites and southern Indians until June following. The Oneida Indians, having heard of the disaster to the Tuscarora Nation, invited them to come and make their dwelling among them: so, accordingly, they left Carolina and took their journey north to rejoin their sister nations.

Me think I can see them leaving their once cherished homes the aged, the helpless, the women and children, and the warriors faint and few the ashes are cold on their native hearth; the smoke no more curls round their lowly cabin: they move on with slow, unsteady steps; they turn to take a last look upon their doomed village and cast a last glance upon the long cherished memories of their fathers’ graves. They shed no tears; they utter no cries: they heave no groans, they linger but a moment. They know and feel that there is for them still one more remove further, not distant nor unseen.

One bright, sunny June morning, in the year 1813, was one of the darkest days that the Tuscarora ever witnessed, when most of the nation took their pace to the north until they came within the bounds of the Oneida domain, about two miles west of Tamaqua, in the state of Pennsylvania, where they located and set out apple trees which can be seen to this day: some of the trees, will measure about two feet in diameter. Here they dwelled for about two years.

In about the year 1815, the Iroquois, being the Mohawk, Onondaga, Seneca, Oneida and Cayuga nations, which were then called the five nations, had a general council where the Tuscarora made an application through their brothers the Oneida, to be admitted into the Iroquois and become the sixth nation, on the grounds of a common generic origin, which was granted them unanimously. Then the Seneca adopted the Tuscarora as their children. Ever since that time to the present, if a Seneca addresses the Tuscarora, he will invariably salute them as “my sons,” in social or in council; and also the Tuscarora in return will say “my fathers.” The relation has always been kept up to the present.

The Tuscarora were then initiated without enlarging the frame-work of the confederacy and formation of the League, by allowing them their own Sachems and Chiefs, which they had as hereditary from their nation in the south, except on which they gave, as the Holder of the Tree, to sit and enjoy a nominal equality in the councils of the League, by the courtesy of the other five nations. They were not dependent, but were admitted to as full an equality as could be granted them without enlarging the frame-work of the confederacy. In the councils of the League they had no national designation. They were then assigned a portion of the Oneidas’ territory, which is lying upon the Unadilla river on the east, the Chenango on the west, and the Susquehanna on the south, where they dwelled and enjoyed their peace again for about seventy years. In 1736 they numbered 200 warriors of fighting men.

  • See Further: Massacre of the German Flats, N. Y.

The Oneida being the original owner of the tract of land assigned to the Tuscarora as aforesaid, were made party with the Tuscarora to the treaty made at Fort Herkimer in the year 1785, by which it was ceded to the State, and the Oneida took all the avails of the treaty. The Tuscarora were then again left without a home and were partially scattered among the other nations, although they continued to preserve their nationality. They had some settlements, at a later period, in Oneida Castle, called by them Gaunea-wahro-hare (signifying head on the pole), and one in the valley of the Genesee below Avon, called by them Ju-na-stre-yo (signifying the beautiful valley); another settlement at Con-na-so-ra-ga, on the line between Onondaga and Oneida; another in the fork of Chattenango Creek, which they called Ju-ta-nea-ga (signifying where the sun shines); and another on the Jordan Creek, which they called Kan-ha-to (signifying limb in water). These several places were settled at different periods, which I am not able to give.

In the revolutionary war between the United States and Great Britain, the Tuscarora then had their settlement at the place allotted them by the league in 1715, between the Unadilla River and the Chenango. They took an active part with the United States. Many a soldier and scout of the United States, in their fatigue and hunger, found a rest and a morsel in the rude homes of the Tuscarora, which were ever hospitably open to them.

When the other Indians which took part with the British knew that the Tuscarora took part with the United States, they invaded their settlement, destroyed their property and burned down their houses to ashes, which scattered them for a while. There was a party that settled at Oyouwayea, or Johnson’s landing place, on lake Ontario, about four miles east of the mouth of Niagara River, which is at the mouth of the four-mile creek, for the purpose of getting out of the centre of the other Indians which were for the British.

About the close of the war there were two families of the Tuscarora hunting and fishing along the shores of lake Ontario, and then up the east shore of Niagara River as far as Lewiston, and there left their canoe; then traveled east and up the mountain as far as a place which they now call the Old Saw Mill (now on the Tuscarora Reservation), above the Ayers’ farm, where they saw great quantities of butternuts and walnuts and a nice stream of water flowing down the mountain; there they took their rest, and after remaining several days they concluded to make their winter quarters at that place, which they did. After they were missing for a time from the settlement at Johnson’s landing, they were hunted by their people and finally found at this place. A few years after this the Oneidas and Tuscarora ceded the tract of land that was apportioned to the Tuscarora; then families after families came and located with those two families mentioned above. This is the beginning of the settlement of the present Tuscarora Reservation.

The Tuscarora, ever since the revolutionary war, have had their residence within the territory of the Seneca nation, they being considered the father of the Tuscarora by being adopted as such, at the time of their initiation into the confederacy, in the year 1715.

See Further: A Treaty between the United States of America and the Tribes of Indians called the Six Nations

There was also a contract entered into between the Seneca Nation of Indians of the first part, and Robert Morris. Esq., of the city of Philadelphia, of the second part. At a treaty held under the authority of the United States, at Genesee, in the county of Ontario, State of New York, on the fifteenth day of September, 1797, and on sundry days immediately prior thereto, by the Honorable Jeremiah Wadsworth. Esq., a commissioner appointed by the President of the United States to hold the same, when the Seneca ceded the country that included the now Tuscarora Reservation. The Tuscarora then and there made their complaint by their chiefs, for the first since they were initiated into the confederacy of the Iroquois; in the presence of the commissioner and the others that are parties to the treaty; that the Iroquois had from time to time allotted them lands and had been ceded each time by the Iroquois, without giving them a farthing to remunerate them for their portion of the lands so ceded, or for the improvements that they had made, and asked if they were to be driven in this manner from place to place all the days of their existence, and if that is the way a father should use their children or brothers should use their brothers, and to keep them living in disappointment; they also alluded to a treaty concluded at Fort Stanwix three years before this, where the commissioners of the United States reserved to them land, which read as follows:

Article II. The Oneida and Tuscarora Nations shall be secured in the possession of the lands on which they are settled.”

The commissioner then inquired into the merits of the complaint of the Tuscarora, which the Iroquois affirmed; the commissioner then said to them, that it is not right to make a contract, or to grant anything without faith; it is only honorable when you adhere to your stipulation.

When Robert Morris knew that the Tuscarora were destitute of land, he reserved and donated to them two square miles being 1280 acres; the Seneca also granted to them one square mile being 640 acres, which grant was made at the convention dated above. On the 13th day of March, 1808, the sachems, chiefs and head men of the Seneca Nation of Indians executed a written indenture of the grant or deed to the Tuscarora Nation, of the one square mile of land above mentioned, and was duly signed by the sachems, chiefs and head men of the aforesaid Indians. On the 22d day of September, 1810, it was entered and put on file in the Niagara County Clerk’s office, on page 56; and was again put on file in the Niagara County Clerk’s Office, Lockport, in book of deeds 151, page 168, March 13, 1879.

About the year 1800, Solomon Longbard and his brother held private council between themselves, consulting how they might obtain more land to make a permanent home for the Tuscarora and their generation after them, they concluded to repair to North Carolina and see if they could procure any means from that source, whereby they might obtain more land. In pursuance, the Tuscarora Chiefs in council appointed as delegates Solomon Longboard and Sacarrissa, being sachems of the nation in the year 1801, and in 1802 they effected a lease by the aid of the Legislature of North Carolina, from which accrued $13,722; and in the year 1804, General Dearborn, then Secretary of War, was authorized by Congress to buy land for the Tuscarora with the said money, by which he bought 4,329 acres of the Holland Land Company, which is now on the south and east side of the three square miles mentioned above, which now constitutes the Tuscarora Reservation.

The Tuscarora Nation was once more at peace and in possession of lands which they could call their own.

In tracing the history of the Tuscarora that migrated to the north and joined themselves with the Iroquois, we would not forget those few who remained with King James Blunt, a Tuscarora Chief, in North Carolina, who had a tract of land allotted to them on Pamplico river. The smallness of their number disabling them from resisting the attacks of the southern Indians, Governor Charles Eden, of North Carolina, and the council, on the 5th day of June, 1718, entered into a treaty, by which the land on Pamplico river was abandoned by the Tuscarora and another tract granted to them, on Roanoke river, in the present county of Birtie, 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 35 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.

In the administration of the Governor, Gabriel Johnson, Esq., at a General Assembly held at New Bern on the 15th day of October, 1748, by virtue of an act, this same limit of land above was confirmed and assured to James Blunt, Chief of the Tuscarora Nation, and the people under his charge, their heirs and successors forever, any law, usage, custom or grant to the contrary notwithstanding.

At the time the Tuscarora migrated to the north, King James Blunt was the Sachem of those that remained, and his successor in office, as we see in an act of the General Assembly of North Carolina, in the year 1778, was Whitmell Tuffdick. The last Sachem, or Chief, of that part of the Tuscarora Samuel Smith expired in the year 1802, at which time Sacarrissa and Solomon Longboard, both being Sachems of the northern Tuscarora, migrated the residue of the Tuscarora from North Carolina to their Reservation in Niagara county, State of New York, where they were again blended together in one nation.

Johnson, Elias. Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Six Nations and History of the Tuscarora Indians. Lockport, New York: Union Printing and Publishing Co. 1881.

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1 thought on “Tuscarora of North Carolina”

  1. Is there a record of any writings or other sign language in graphic script? I have some relics I had found while
    working on a solar site at Little Creek Road near Troy, Virginia. I know Monacan Tribe lives in the area to, farther south
    near Lynchburg.
    I can send information or photos of what I found? ok!
    Steve Samoheyl

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