An Ancient Shipwreck On The American Coasts

Iroquois tradition preserves the account of the wreck of a vessel, in the ante-Columbian era, on a part of the Southern Atlantic Coasts, occupied by one of the tribes of that ancient and leading stock of men namely, the Tuscaroras. This division of that confederacy then lived in the present area of North Carolina. The story is stated by Cusic, in his curious pamphlet of the historical traditions of the Six Nations, published at Lewiston, in Western New York, about 1825. Cusic had reflected much on the position of the Iroquois in our aboriginal history; and waited, it seems, for some one more competent than he deemed himself to be, to undertake the task of writing it. But at length he determined to do it himself, and accomplished the work with his mind replete with traditions, but with a very slender knowledge of the structure of the English language. His ignorance of general chronology, and of the very slow manner in which the dialects and languages of the human race must have been formed, was profound; and his attempts to assimilate the periods of the several Atotarhoes or leading magistrates of that famous league of aboriginal tribes, are utterly childish and worthless. Not so with his traditions of events. When he comes to speak of the Indian mythology, and beliefs in spiritual agencies, the monster period, and the wars and wanderings of his people, he is at home, and history may be said to be indebted to him for telling his own story of these things in his own way. So much for Cusic.

The account of the shipwreck runs somewhat after this manner. While the bulk of the Iroquois were yet in the St. Lawrence Valley, a ship appeared on the coast, and was driven southward and wrecked. The natives aided in saving them. The adventurers were in leathern bags, and were carried by hawks to an elevation. They afterwards went to another situation, where they increased so much as to excite the jealousy of the natives. They were finally overrun and eaten up by great monster quadrupeds, which overspread the country.

Stripped of its hyperbole, this story may be supposed to tell, that the mariners were dressed in leathern doublets, and owed their rescue from the waters to a tribe called Falcons; that they flourished by following the principles of civilization; so as, in the end, to excite the enmity of those who had saved them, and that the infant colony was exterminated in blood.

This tradition probably affords a gleam of the lost colony of Virginia, and veils in metaphor the treachery and turpitude of the natives. Nothing would comport better with the Indian character of concealment, than to have shrouded this act of cruel extermination under the figure of the ravages of monsters. The Tuscaroras, who relate the event, are known to have been, from the beginning, unfriendly to the whites. The terrible massacre, which they had planned, and in part executed, against the North Carolinians in 1711, was probably a recurrence in their minds of a prior tragedy of this kind, which had proved successful. Even if the first Virginia colony, which perished at “Croatan,” had been exterminated by the Powhatanic tribe, the knowledge of its success may be considered to have been sufficient to inspire the Tuscaroras with hopes of like triumph in their own nefarious design.

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Archives of aboriginal knowledge. Containing all the original paper laid before Congress respecting the history, antiquities, language, ethnology, pictography, rites, superstitions, and mythology, of the Indian tribes of the United States. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1860.

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