The Mattamuskeet Documents:
A Study in Social History
By Patrick H. Garrow






Recent research has revealed the existence of a large number of unpublished documents concerning the Mattamuskeet Indians. Included among these documents are numerous land deeds and apprentice bonds which date from the early eighteenth through the middle of the nineteenth centuries.

The Mattamuskeet Reservation was a creation of the Tuscarora War, and was inhabited by remnants of various small groups from coastal North Carolina. The reservation consisted of four miles square of marsh and low ridges along Lake Mattamuskeet in Hyde County, North Carolina. The sale of reservation lands to white neighbors began as early as 1731, and was completed by 1761. Sporadic references to Indians persisted in Hyde County records until the early nineteenth century. Numerous references to individuals with Mattamuskeet surnames occurred after that time under the general label of "free persons of color." A few individuals with Mattamuskeet surnames still reside in Hyde County.

This paper presents preliminary interpretations of the newly discovered Mattamuskeet documents within the context of previously published data on the group.


A number of people provided significant aid during the research and write-up phases of this project. James Woods NeSmith, formerly of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Archaeology Section, helped gather research data during the initial phases of this project, as well as assisting in establishing the research approach used. Dr. Larry Tise, Director of the Division of Archives and History, provided aid and support of several types during the research phase. Dr. Stephen J. Gluckman, Chief of the Archaeology Section, Division of Archives and History, provided helpful criticisms and active support for the project. Timothy Thompson, also of the Archaeology Section staff, freely gave editorial help as well as meaningful criticism of the early drafts of the manuscript. George Stevenson of the Archives Section of the Division of Archives and History, made his extensive research files available and suggested several fruitful lines of approach for the project. Dr. Jerry Cashion, head of the Research Branch of the Division of Archives and History, provided expert assessment of the documents uncovered in the research as well as welcome encouragement for the project. Steve Foreman of the Archaeology Section prepared the graphics for this report. Ann Ritter of the Archaeology Section prepared the final typed manuscript and provided proofreading and editorial aid.

Several residents of Hyde County deserve special recognition for the aid they have given this project. Ms. Rebecca Swindell of Fairfield, and Mr. R. S. Spencer of Engelhard made their extensive knowledge of Hyde County available and were of great assistance in making necessary contacts in that county. Ms. Lucy Williams, Assistant Clerk of Court for Hyde County, provided numerous valuable research leads that materially added to the finished paper. Mr. Leon Ballance of Nebraska gave freely of his time and extensive knowledge of local place names during this author's visit to Hyde County. Mr. Al Green of Engelhard, and Mr. Charles Carawan of Fairfield provided helpful information on potential archaeological sites in the county. Ms. Dessie Barber and Ms. Janey B. Mackey of Lake Landing provided interesting kinship data concerning the Mattamuskeet descendants. Perhaps the greatest debt of gratitude is owed to Mr. Napoleon "Pole" Mackey of Fairfield. His concern for and interest in the history of the Indians of Hyde County made many parts of this research much more meaningful.

Mr. F. Roy Johnson of the Johnson Printing Company of Murfreesboro, North Carolina, has certainly facilitated this research. Mr. Johnson made his extensive knowledge of North Carolina available to this researcher, and was largely responsible for the initiation of the project.

Most of all, I would like to thank my wife, Diane, and my sons, Tom and Mike, for putting up with this research for the past year.

Many people have aided this research and the final write-up, but the author assumes full responsibility for errors of interpretation and research.


This paper is the product of a research project which has been pursued by this author on a part-time basis over the past year. The initial research began as an attempt to determine the potential for developing significant new data on Indians in the Historic period in North Carolina through archival research. The Indians of Mattamuskeet were chosen as a starting point for this project, because that group had owned a large tract of land in the form of a reservation at a time when record keeping in North Carolina had become more systematic than in earlier times. This author believed that ownership of that tract by the Mattamuskeets gave the group a commodity that was desirable to the Colonial settlers. Also, it was a commodity that was likely to have left traces in the County Records in the form of deeds of sale. Other coastal North Carolina groups could have been chosen for those same reasons, but less was available in print on the Mattamuskeets, and that group seemed to offer the best test for the feasibility of a large scale research project.

The Indians of Mattamuskeet turned out to be an excellent choice. The Hyde County Records, which contain most of the unpublished documents concerning the group, are well organized and nearly intact. Thirty-two deeds and grants were eventually found that related directly to the Indians of Mattamuskeet. These documents provided the surnames present in the group during the Reservation period, as well as insights into the leadership patterns, settlement pattern, and population. The deeds and grants also provided excellent data on kinship and social change through time. These documents led to the discovery of other unpublished records concerning the group. The additional documents included an early will and later apprentice bonds. Data from documents of all periods made it possible to use the available Federal Census information. These data made possible the identification of at least some of the contemporary descendants of the Indians of Mattamuskeet. This in turn led to the utilization of marriage records from the second half of the nineteenth century to the present time in order to develop an understanding of the kinship patterns present. The end product of this research was the identification of contemporary descendants of the Mattamuskeet Indians who were not reflected by any contemporary account or record.

The paper which follows was based on a set of working hypotheses which could not be adequately tested in all cases with the available data. The major hypothesis presented in this paper is that it is possible to reverse the normal methodology used in ethnohistorical research. Most projects begin with a known contemporary group and attempt to project their history back through time. Under this approach, if a researcher began a project on a group such as the contemporary Catawba, he would try to achieve an idea of what it presently means to be a Catawba, and would then try to determine how that contemporary view was achieved through researching the history of the group. The paper which follows represents an attempt to begin with an historical group, and trace that group to contemporary descendants who have no group identity. This was achieved through careful study of the records of a single county through time and working from the oldest county records to the most recent. This hypothesis was adequately tested in the case of the Mattamuskeet Indians, but not in terms of the larger scale applicability of the methodology. There simply are not sufficient data in the ethnohistorical literature to use for a comparative study necessary to validate the methodology. Additional research projects based on the Mattamuskeet model are planned for other North Carolina coastal Indian groups in the near future. These groups are the Yeopim, Chowan, and Tuscarora Indians. These studies hopefully will provide the comparative data that is lacking in this paper.

The second major working hypothesis developed in the paper that follows is predicated on the concept that it is possible to extract particular social data from documents that were not designed to reflect that type of data. Specifically, it was assumed that the deeds and grants from the Reservation period reflected leadership and settlement patterns as well as providing population and kinship data. Also, it was assumed that kinship and social change data could be extracted from the available apprentice bonds and census information. This hypothesis could not be adequately tested due to lack of complimentary data that could be developed from archaeological surveys and excavations, but the inferences presented can, and hopefully will, provide the impetus for the collection of the needed information.

Most of the research for this paper was conducted in the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh. This author spent a week in Hyde County in September of this year in order to acquire certain records not represented in the Raleigh Archives. The Hyde County Records located at the Court House at the County seat of Swan Quarter were extremely well organized, and yielded several significant documents. Additional types of research conducted during that trip included interviews with descendants of the Mattamuskeets, and attempts to locate some of the original Indian homesteads. Interviews with the Mattamuskeet descendants added several bits of significant information to the project, but the small scale archaeological survey was frustrated by heavy crop cover and other factors. Everyone this author approached for information in Hyde County was quite helpful and willing to contribute the knowledge at his or her command.

The paper that follows should be viewed as a preliminary statement on the Mattamuskeet research project. A great deal of research remains to be done on this project. The final research results will be published at a later time, but in the meantime this paper will serve to make available the basic documentary sources revealed by this research.

Copyright 2001
Carolina Algonkian Project