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


The Environmental Setting

Archaeological Background

The Historical Background

The Environmental Setting

The modern limits of Hyde County extend to Okracoke Island on the east, Dare, Tyrrell and Washington Counties to the north, and Beaufort County to the west. The Pamlico River forms the southern boundary. Fully eighty-five percent of Hyde County is classified as wetland. Mattamuskeet (42,000 acres) and Alligator (5,000 acres) Lakes are the county's major physiographic features (Wilson 1962, 59).

The Hyde County wetlands provide excellent habitats for many species of game animals, including deer, bear, and migratory waterfowl (Wilson 1962, 59-60). A recent environmental impact statement done on the Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge reflects the rich flora and fauna present in the Lake Mattamuskeet area of Hyde County. According to this study, over 200 different species of birds spend all or part of the year around Lake Mattamuskeet. Also, deer, black bear, squirrels, rabbits, bobcats, raccoons, mink, opossums, otter, muskrats, and other species of mammals live around the Lake (anon. 1975, 29-30). A study of Lake Mattamuskeet fish populations done by scientists from North Carolina State University indicates that at least forty different species of fish can be found in the Lake (anon. 1969, 4-5). Hyde County flora varies radically according to the drainage characteristics of specific areas. The flora ranges from mixed cypress and hardwoods, through large stands of white cedar, and open, more typical swamp growths. The flora and fauna of Hyde County are rich and varied, and would have provided an extensive set of resources for hunting and gathering activities.

The wetlands/non-wetlands ratio in Hyde County is indicative of the low topographic relief in the county. The maximum elevation in the county is about eighteen feet, and elevations of that magnitude are restricted to the northwest part of the county. Six soil associations are found in the county. All are characterized by varying degrees of poor drainage (SCS 1972, 1-20). None of the major soil types are amenable to large scale agriculture without the use of drainage ditches and canals. A few localized areas do occur throughout the County where agriculture is possible without extensive drainage preparations, The soils of Hyde County are extremely rich, and in many areas contain large quantities of poorly decomposed vegetable matter. The vegetable fiber content in some of the soil associations is so high that the soil can actually burn, and sub-surface fires have long been common in those areas. According to Indian legend Lake Mattamuskeet was formed by such a gigantic burn-out, but this has not been substantiated by modern research (anon. 1968, 1).

Few areas of Hyde County were suited for the type of agriculture used by Indians of the East prior to white contact. Usable land was apparently concentrated along a few major creeks and rivers. Specialized areas such as the low ridge which surrounded the original perimeter of Lake Mattamuskeet were also utilized. The southwestern portion of Hyde County appears to have contained the largest percentage of land suited for precontact agricultural use. This is reflected by the relatively large number of known archaeological sites in that area (see Haag 1958, Figure 2). The area east of Lake Mattamuskeet, where the reservation was located, appears to have been much better suited to hunting and gathering than agriculture. Today this is a highly productive farming area. Present day agricultural success has been the product of large drainage projects that have made the land usable.

The area originally included in the Mattamuskeet Reservation has undergone extensive changes since the early nineteenth century. The earliest drainage canals were apparently dug by slave labor. It was not until the early twentieth century that the most radical drainage projects were implemented. The largest project was undertaken by the New Holland Land Company in the 1920's. It resulted in Lake Mattamuskeet being drained and planted in crops. This venture failed due to a combination of factors, but the project has left an indelible mark on the land (anon. 1963, 1-2). The original reservation lands are presently crisscrossed with drainage canals. The major creeks which penetrated the reservation have silted up and have been replaced by canals. Most of the minor creeks which bounded Pamlico Sound appear to have survived, but it is difficult to locate interior landmarks mentioned in the Mattamuskeet deeds. It is possible to reconstruct the major landforms present in the Reservation period through careful study of a series of historical maps and correlation of those maps to landmarks mentioned in the deeds. The most accurate map drawn before the land was changed by drainage canals appears to be the Price-Strother Map of 1808 (see figure 1). This map was drawn from the first actual survey of North Carolina, and depicts relationships that can be confirmed through careful study of modern topographic maps.

The Mattamuskeet deeds present the names of four major creeks. These names are: Old Mattamuskeet Creek, New Mattamuskeet Creek, Middle Creek, and Wiasockin Creek. Evidence within the deeds and on historical maps indicate that the names New Mattamuskeet and Middle Creek referred to the same creek. Old Mattamuskeet Creek formed the northern boundary of the reservation. This was probably the same as Gibbs Creek on the Price-Strother Map. New Mattamuskeet or Middle Creek was, according to the Moseley Map of 1733 (Cummings 1966), located south of Old Mattamuskeet Creek. This apparently corresponds to Middle town Creek located at Middletown, North Carolina (see figure 2). Wiasocken Creek was located near the southern boundary of the reservation, and emptied into what is now called Wyesocking Bay. None of these creeks penetrated all the way to Lake Mattamuskeet.

Numerous minor creeks are mentioned in the deeds. Careful map study and consultation with Mr. Leon Ballance of Hyde County (1975) have revealed the locations of some of these. Rattlesnake Hammock Creek, mentioned on the 1738 deed (see appendix 6), was located at the present outfall area of Rattlesnake Canal. It may have corresponded precisely with present Jeanette Creek. Rattlesnake Hammock may have been the eighteenth century name for Jeanette Hammock. This location is about halfway between Middletown Creek and Wyesocking Bay, and where Jeanette Creek empties into Pamlico Sound. Cedar Creek and Lone (Tree) Creek are mentioned in a deed drawn 3 April 1739. Both creek names are still used. These creeks are located north of the mouth of Middletown Creek. Both creeks empty into Pamlico Sound, and the map relationship between the two is the same as described in the 1739 deed (see appendix 7). Strahan or Strawhorn Creek was mentioned in deeds drawn up in 4 April 1739, and 21 June 1749 (see appendices 8 & 19). This creek was a tributary of Wiasocken Creek, and was located near modern Nebraska, North Carolina (see figure 2). Long Creek, mentioned on a deed dated 2 July 1739 (see appendix 10) could not be located on modern maps. Cedar Bush Bay and Lone Tree Creek, mentioned on a deed dated 30 June 1749 were located on the north side of Wyesocking Bay. Lone Tree Creek (not the creek of the same name in the 3 April 1739 deed) is shown on modern maps without a name change. Cedar Bush Bay apparently corresponds to the mouth of contemporary Brooks Creek. The 30 June 1749 deed apparently transferred the parcel of land shown in figure 2 as Long Point. Thomas Arrowpres Creek, named in a deed dated 27 May 1956 (see appendix 28), was apparently a tributary of Wiasocken Creek, but the name has not survived on modern maps. Although a few creek names have survived unchanged, relatively few place names attributable to the Mattamuskeets have survived. The name Mattamuskeet has been perpetuated in the lake of that name. Wiasocken Creek has been preserved in the form of Wyesocking Bay. Mackey Point, located in Wyesocking Bay, is the only known place name based on a Mattamuskeet surname that has survived.

Archaeological Background

Little has reached print on the archaeology of coastal North Carolina. This is especially true of the area encompassed by this paper. William Haag (1958, 1) stated in the Introduction to his publication entitled The Archeology of Coastal North Carolina: " may be said that the bordering lands of the Carolina Sound - that great stretch of Albemarle, Pamlico, Croatan, and Roanoke Sounds - are terra incognita to the archeologists." Haag's survey did a great deal to provide an archaeological baseline for this area, but little has been done to expand that baseline in the intervening years. David Phelps of East Carolina University, and Joffre Coe of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have collected a good bit of archaeological data from that area in recent years. Publication of their data will undoubtedly answer many of the questions raised by Haag's survey. In the meantime, Haag's 1958 publication remains as the sole source of area-wide information.

Most of the archaeological sites found during Haag's survey were located on the Outer Banks, along the Pamlico River, and on the Currituck Penninsula. A few additional sites were discovered in the area from the Neuse River to the south to the Albemarle Sound to the north (1958, figure 2). The concentration of effort evident from the survey maps was apparently the result of one of the major goals established for the project. This goal was to develop evidence on the fate of the Lost Colony (1958, 1). Thus, the survey was biased towards identification of sites depicted on the 1585 John White Map. There is no way at present to determine whether or not this approach resulted in a distorted picture of the archaeological resources present within the project area. However, it may mean that additional survey and test excavations will change the archaeological perspective provided for the area by Haag.

Haag divided the archaeological chronology of the area into Early, Middle, Protohistoric, and Historic periods. The Early and Middle periods were rather poorly defined, but the later periods appeared to have a bit more meaning (1958, 126-131). The ambiguity of Haag's periods was due mainly to the slow rate of change evident in items of material culture of the area through time. Haag noted that there appeared to be a transition from sand and grit tempered pottery to shell tempered pottery through time, and that shell tempered wares were relatively late (1958, 65 and 115). Haag attributed this conservatism to the fact that the occupation history of the area did not span much more than a thousand years, and that the area was inhabited by individuals of similar cultural origin during that time (1958, 114-115). It is likely that Haag is at least partially correct in this assessment, but the possibility must remain that his survey returned these results because he restricted the work to a single type of environmental niche.

Haag noted that several distinctive surface finishes were present on the ceramics collected by his survey. Fabric-impressed ware was re- presented in all of Haag's periods. This is significant since fabric- impressed pottery is associated with Algonkian occupancy in areas north of eastern North Carolina (1958, 114). Cord marking, plain, net-impressions, simple stamping and other surface finishes were present in greater or lesser frequencies. Haag was able to make distinctions by surface finish on temporal and geographic grounds, but a good deal more work is needed on that subject to validate his findings.

The remainder of the material items recovered by Haag were not particularly helpful in defining temporal or geographic distinctions. There were a few minor exceptions, but for the most part little can be gained by discussing the material culture of the area at this time.

Haag's periods do seem to be valid in terms of changes in subsistence patterns, settlement patterns, and political/religious structures. The Early period was characterized by a hunting-fishing-gathering economy, with a primary dependence on shellfish. The people in this period appear to have had prescribed territories, but were "semi-nomadic" within those territories. Social organization was apparently based on matrilineal bands (1958, 128). The Middle period was marked by the introduction of agriculture, and the gradual transition of items of material culture from "early" to "late" types (1958, 128). The Protohistoric period extended from around 1500-1583, and was apparently delineated more on the basis of the potential impact of white contacts than on concrete data (1958, 129-130). The Historic period began with the Roanoke Island settlements, and was initially delineated by the growth of chiefdoms, and later by the disintegration of the aboriginal culture (1958, 130).

The archaeological baseline for this area is quite meager. Haag's classic study of the North Carolina coast should be considered as a starting point for future studies. Until Haag's work is expanded by published studies, researchers will have to be satisfied with the intriguing glimpses into the past provided by the 1958 survey.

The Historical Background

The English involved with the attempted settlements on Roanoke Island from 1585-1590 found themselves in contact with groups that spoke a common language that was derived from the Algonkian language stock. There was a high degree of linguistic and cultural uniformity throughout the area explored by the English at that time, although several major political divisions were present among the Indian inhabitants. Maurice Mook (1944), in his article "Algonkian Ethnohistory of the Carolina Sound identified six major divisions that he listed as "tribes." The "tribes" described by Mook were the Weapemeo, Chowanoc, Moratoc, Secotan, Pomouik, and Neusiok. Those groups were distributed from close to the modern North Carolina-Virginia border to the north to the Neuse River to the south, and were restricted to the coastal zone. Each "tribe" apparently consisted of the chief's town or village, other towns or villages with individual town chiefs, and dispersed individual homesteads. It is evident from studying the data presented by Mook that the colonists were in contact with six chiefdoms not six tribes as has been traditionally stated. Haag (1958, 130) believed that those chiefdoms were rather recent creations at the time of the Roanoke Island settlement attempts, and that those groups were the products of earlier white contacts. Restudy of the available ethnographic accounts in light of the data developed by Haag's archaeological survey indicates that that was indeed the case.

The chiefdom of Secotan occupied the area in 1585 that was later to include the Mattamuskeet Reservation. Extensive contacts were maintained between the Roanoke Island colonists and the Indians of Secotan, although the ethnographic accounts that have survived are rather sketchy. According to Mook (1944, 213): "This tribe's domain extended from Albemarle Sound to lower Pamlico River and from Roanoke Island to the west-central region of present Beaufort County...The northeastern section of the peninsula between the Pamlico and Neuse Rivers was also a part of Secotan territory." This large territory apparently supported a relatively sparse population, and as Mook remarked, " was not the largest and strongest tribe of the region."

Eight villages of the Secotan chiefdom were plotted on John White's 1-585 map. Half of these villages were located in the Pamlico River area, including the village named "Secotan." Secotan was the place of residence of the leader of the chiefdom. It is significant that his village was located in the apparent area of the greatest population density (Haag 1958, 16). The remaining Secotan villages were scattered over the Secotan territory. The village Pomeioc was apparently located within the area that was later to be incorporated into the Mattamuskeet Reservation.

There is a gap of almost a century in the recorded history of the Indians of the area following the unsuccessful Roanoke Island settlements. Significant changes had been wrought in the interim by the impact of white diseases and other adverse factors. The area formerly occupied by the Weapemeoc was inhabited by four small bands by the late seventeenth century. The Chawanoc had been reduced to about fifteen warriors by the time John Lawson described them in 1709. That group had been the largest and most powerful of all the Algonkian chiefdoms in coastal North Carolina in 1585. No trace of the Moratoc chiefdom remained by around 1700. Little remained of the Secotan chiefdom by the eighteenth century. Lawson noted in 1709 that the Hatteras tribe had 16 warriors, and resided near Cape Hatteras. The Machapunga, sometimes referred to as the Mattamuskeet or Maramiskeet, resided in Hyde and eastern Beaufort County at that same time and had thirty warriors (Mook 1944, 221-224). The North Carolina Colonial Records and the Albemarle County Records (Johnson 1972, 189-190) indicate that another small band lived in the area adjacent to the Machapunga to the south. That group was referred to as the Bay River Indians, and may have simply been a division of the Machapunga. The remnants of the Pomouik chiefdom had been reduced to fifteen warriors by 1709, and were called the Pamlico Indians. The Neusiok chiefdom had become the Neuse Indians by 1709 and, according to Lawson, had fifteen warriors (Mook 1944, 219-110).

Little is known about the culture of the coastal Indians during the late period. It must be presumed that the groups had become more or less acculturated, and had established a primary dependence on trade with the Virginia traders. It is known that encroachment by white settlers on Indian lands was causing problems by 1700, and that those encroachments were largely responsible for increasing the hostility between Indians and whites. The Indians north of Albemarle Sound apparently did not become involved in these hostilities and the Tuscarora War that followed, but the Indians of what had been the Secotan area were well represented.

The North Carolina Colonial Records and the Albemarle County Records are replete with examples of the minor clashes that took place between white settlers and Indians prior to the Tuscarora War. One example will suffice at this time to indicate the tense climate of the times in the coastal area from the late seventeenth century to 1711. This incident took place between a white settler named Powell, and a band of sixteen Bay River Indians led by their chief called "King Louther" (also called King Southel in some documents). The incident took place in 1704, and involved a raid by the Indians on the settler's house. Powell, the settler, confronted King Louther and told him that he was going to make a report of the incident to a local authority named Captain Barrow. King Louther responded by saying that Capt. Barrow "...might kiss his arse." The Indians let Powell go after threatening him. Powell blamed the entire incident on the Virginia traders (Albemarle County Papers, Vol. 1, Folio 56). This incident, by itself, was quite trivial, but the incidents of this nature increased in frequency and became more serious as the Tuscarora War approached.

The Tuscarora War, which was waged from 1711 to 1715, ended as a disaster for many of the small coastal Algonkian groups. The Machapunga (Mattamuskeet), Bay River, Pamlico, and Neuse joined the lower Tuscarora towns, the Coree, Woccon, and perhaps other small coastal groups in the war against the white settlers. Several of the small coastal groups disappeared completely as a result of the war, and the remainder were greatly reduced in population (see Lee 1968 and Johnson 1968 for accounts of the warfare). The Mattamuskeet Reservation period began at the end of the Tuscarora War and must be viewed as a product of those hostilities.

Copyright 2001
Carolina Algonkian Project