The American Indian in North Carolina

By Rev. Douglas L. Rights


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The indians met by the Englishmen of Sir Walter Raleigh's expeditions belonged to the great linguistic stock known as Algonquian. Their tribes were scattered throughout a vast triangular-shaped territory extending from the North Carolina sandbanks to the St. Lawrence River [Canada], and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. The coastal tribes occupied the southern point of the triangle. They were mainly sedentary and agricultural. "The eastern Algonquian probably equaled the Iroquois in bravery, intelligence, and physical powers, but lacked their constancy, solidity of character, and capability of organization, and do not appear to have appreciated the power and influence they might have wielded by combination…There seems, indeed, to have been some element in their character which rendered them incapable of combining in large bodies, even against a common enemy" 1

For a half century or more after Raleigh's expeditions the Indians of the North Carolina seaboard were left to themselves. No further efforts were made to renew the settlement at Roanoke, and the colony at Jamestown was too far distant to involve relationships with the Carolina natives. About 1650, however, Virginians began to push south into the Albemarle region.


In September, 1654, a young fur trader of Virginia, with three companions, visited Roanoke Island, arriving by boat. The Indian chief of that region received them cordially and showed them the ruins of the fort erected by Sir Walter Raleigh's colonists. The Indians of Roanoke and others of neighboring tribes entered into a treaty of peace with the English.

As proof of their good intentions, a delegation of the Indians visited Francis Yardley at his Virginia home. The leader of the band, upon seeing and hearing the children of the settlement read and write, asked that his son might be taught "to speak out of the book, and to make a writing." He was invited to bring the boy to school, and at his departure he expressed himself as being desirous to serve the God the Englishmen served and to have his child brought up as a Christian. He promised to return with him in "four moons". The chief, arriving in Yardley's absence, was mistreated by the settlers, but was saved from personal injury through the kindness of his host's wife. Upon his return Yardley arranged with the chief to purchase lands along three great rivers in Carolina territory and sent men to select the tracts, to build a comfortable house for the chief, and to pay him two hundred pounds English money. It was agreed that the lands thus acquired should become a possession of England, and the chief solemnly carried out the transaction with the neighboring Indians by delivering to them "a turf of earth with an arrow shot into it." The Indians at once vacated these lands.

While Yardley's men were building the new house, the chief invited some of them to visit the Tuscarora. Two of the men went along with a party of the Indians, and after two days' travel they came to the hunting quarters of a Tuscarora chief, who, with 250 men, received them kindly. He invited the visitors to journey to his town, where he told them there resided a rich Spaniard who had been with the Tuscarora for seven years. Yardley's men were also invited to go farther inland where, it was said, copper was to be found in great abundance. The white men saw much copper among the Tuscarora, including plates which they claimed were a foot square. 2 They also stated that one of the Indians had two gold beads in his ears, as big as "rounceval peas" 3 The travelers were desirous of further exploration, but as their interpreter became ill, and as there was strife between the Tuscarora and a great nation called Cacores, the journey was considered too hazardous.

The Cacores were described as "a very little people in stature, not exceeding youths of thirteen or fourteen years, but extremely valiant and fierce in fight, and above belief swift in retirement and flight, whereby they resist the puissance of this potent, rich, and numerous people". This tribe of valiant little men may have been the Shoccoree, or Shakori, living westward, probably in the region of Haw River. Saxapahaw is another rendering of their name. It is interesting to note that in lower Randolph County on Cedar Creek, within Shoccoree territory, several graves were disturbed by waters of a freshet in 1929, revealing skeletal remains of Indians of small stature whose teeth indicated that they were past middle age.

The travelers learned also that "there is another great nation by these called Haynokes, who valiantly resist the Spaniard's northern attempts." These are thought to have been the Eno Indians, neighbors of the Shoccoree. Further reference will be made later to these two tribes. It is probable that they were formerly located farther south on the line of march of the Spanish explorers.

A party of forty-five Indians accompanied their friendly white companions to Virginia. The chief brought along his wife and son, whom he wanted baptized. The only present they delivered was the "turf of earth with an arrow shot into it." The boy was accordingly baptized, and as Yardley devoutly stated, was "left with me to be bred up a Christian, which God grant him grace to become!"


George Fox visited Carolina in 1672. The Governor and his wife received the minister charitably, but a doctor of the province began a dispute. In the words of Fox:


The early settlers in the Albemarle region were well received, but the first friendly dealings were followed by occasional hostility which retarded the growth of the settlement. The Indians could not offer resistance sufficient to drive back the newcomers, and the settlers prevailed. Soon the coastal tribes became subject to their white neighbors. Decline of these tribes was rapid, largely because of the evil effects incurred by contact with the white man's civilization. Their annals are short and simple.


These Indians occupied the sandbanks in the neighborhood of Cape Lookout. They have been long considered no other than Manteo's people, the friendly Croatoan, and there is good evidence that they afforded a refuge for the Lost Colony and that survivors of the colony were incorporated into their tribe. Smith and Strachey of Virginia heard about 1607 that the colonists of 1587 were still alive. John Lawson's history, published in 1709, says of the Hatteras Indians:

When this was written, shortly after 1700 the Hatteras had only one town, Sand Banks, and numbered but sixteen fighting men, indicating a population of about eighty.

True to their affinity, they were allied with the English during the Tuscarora War. The journal of the provincial council of May 29, 1714, carried the report that the Hatteras Indians had lately escaped from the enemy Indians and were at Colonel Boyd's house, Colonel Boyd was ordered to supply the Indians with corn until they could return to their own habitation. Later the Indians appealed for "Some Small reliefe from ye County for their services being reduced to great poverty." They were allowed sixteen bushels of corn for their needs to be supplied out of the public store.

In 1731 Governor Burrington listed them among the six nations at that time in the province, none of which, except the Tuscarora, contained more than twenty families.

In May, 1761, the Rev. Alexander Stewart, a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, wrote of his visit to Hyde County, including this mention:

Two years later the same clergyman made another voyage to Hyde County and reported:

The possibility that members of the tribe migrated to Robeson County, where several thousand so-called Croatan Indians now reside, seems very remote.


The Chowan Indians, whose name signifies "Southerners," were still a strong tribe when the settlers began to move into the Albemarle region about 1650. Their name was well known, as the following references from early records of Virginia indicate.

On August 27, 1650, a Virginia exploring party set out from Fort Henry to reach the Tuscarora settlements. The company included Edward Bland, Abraham Wood, Sackford Brewster, Elias Pennant, two white servants, and an Appromattox Indian guide. On the way they secured a Nottoway Indian guide named Oyeocker. Some distance west of Meherrin River they came to an Indian trail. Their narrative states:

In 1663 the Chowan entered into a treaty with the English and "submitted themselves to the Crown of England under the Dominion of the Lord Proprietors." This treaty was faithfully observed for a decade, but in 1675 the Susquehanna War broke out in Virginia. Through incitement of the Indians of Virginia the Chowan violated their treaty. A year of waefare followed with serious loss to the settlers. Later the Chowan were forced to surrender all of their land on the south side of Meherrin River and were assigned a reservation on Bennett’s Creek. Here they struggled along for a hundred years. Many petitons were made to the council for a survey, but nearly fifty years passed before the request was granted. Their lands gradually dwindled from twelve square miles, as first assigned, to six square miles about 1707. At this time they had only one town with about fifteen fighting men.

They were allied with the colonists during the Tuscarora War. Chief John Hoyter petitioned the council in 1714 for a survey of the six-mile reservation, stating that the Indians had been fighting on Eight Expeditions agt the Indyan Enemy of this province and during the time they were in ye Countys Service they Suffered Considerable loss in their plantatios & Stocks loosing Seaventy five head of hogs a Mare & Colt their Corne destroyed by wch ye wearing out of their clothes they are reduced to great poverty, and asked that some allowance be made for their services and losses.

In 1712 Missionary Giles Rainsford of the English Church wrote:

Three years Rainsford reported: "I have been five months together in Chowan Indian Town & make myself almost a Master of their language." In this same letter he offered to serve as missionary among them.

In 1718 and 1720 petitions were filed by Chief Hoyter complaining that the settlers were continually intruding upon the lands of the Indians and that the limits of the territory had never been determined. In the former petition he also asked for payment due one of his tribesmen by a settler for an Indian slave of the Core Sound region. In 1723 a reservation of 53,000 acres was laid out for the Tuscarora and the Chowan.

By the year 1731 the tribe had dwindled to less than twenty families. Two years later the council gave them permission to be incorporated with the Tuscarora. In 1752 Bishop Spangenberg wrote from Edenton, "The Chowan Indians are reduced to a few families, and their land has been taken away from them." A report of Governor Dobbs in 1755 stated that the tribe consisted of two men and five women and childres who were "ill used by their neighbors."

Dr. Richard Dillard has described a shell mound in the former Chowan region:


North of Albemarle Sound were the Weapomeiok, whose chief town was located within the present Pasquotank County. Their towns mentioned by the explorers were Weapomeiok, Pasquenoke or Women's Town, Chepanoc, Mascoming, and Metachkwem, all ruled by Okisco. Shortly after 1700 the Indians of this region were listed as Yeopim with six people, Pasquotank with one town on Pasquotank River and ten fighting men, Poteskeet with one town on North River and thirty fighting men, and Perquiman, a total of about two hundred inhabitants. (Most of the estimates of tribes in decline are listed in John Lawson's History of North Carolina.)

The first deed on record in North Carolina, which bears the date 1662, reads:

The document is signed with the mark of Kilcocanen or Kistotanen, the chief.


The Machapunga, or Mattamuskeet, dwelt in Hyde County. Their name signifies "bad dust," or "much dust," probably an allusion to the sandy region they inhabited In the neighborhood of Lake Mattamuskeet. Ralph Lane’s party visited their settlements. In 1701 they had one town and thirty fighting men. They joined the Tuscarora against the colonists. Governor Pollock reported in 1713 that the Mattamuskeet and Coranine:

In 1761 they were listed as having seven or eight fighting men.

Near by were the Bear River, or Bay River, Indians, listed in 1701 as having one town called Raudaugua-quank with fifty fighting men, and the Pampticough (Pamlico) with one town called Island and fifteen fighting men. These tribes were likewise allies of the Tuscarora.

The Coranine, or Coree, lived in the region of Core Sound, which preserves their name. Governor Archdale described them as a bloody and barbarous people. Lawson listed them in 1701 as Connamox with two towns, Coranine and Raruta, having twenty-five fighting men. They had a prominent part in the Tuscarora War, fighting against the colonists. In 1715, with other enemy Indians, they were allowed to settle at Mattamuskeet and the council requested the governor "to Commission & Impower Some person and to remit accounts thereof," for which service he was to be allowed 2 shillings 6 pence per day.

John Lawson gave the following story of early warfare between these Indians and the Machapunga:

On Harkers Island, in Core Sound, there is a shell mound that marks the feasting place of Indians in former days. This was in Coranine territory, and may have been the scene of the fateful feast described by Lawson. The mound is roughly circular in outline, one hundred yards or more in diameter. Its height rises to ten feet or more near the center. Considerable excavation has been made. Five miles of road on the island have been paved with shells from the mound and many loads have been transported in barges to Hyde County for fertilizer. Clam and oyster shells predominate, with frequent occurrence of conch shells. The greater portion of the shells have been opened, and such shells as the conch have been broken, apparently for extraction of food. In addition to shells there are bones of fish, carapaces of turtles, etc. The layers are well defined, often marked by fire pits showing charcoal and ashes. On these levels are found broken pieces of clay pots, pebbles, and animal bones. Intermingled with the shells have been found also stone tools, arrowheads, and other artifacts of the Indians. Several skeletons of Indians have been found in the mound. With one was a necklace of animal teeth strung together. There are other mounds of shells in the vicinity, but the Harkers Island mound is probably the largest on the Carolina coast. 4


1. Hodge, Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, Part I. See Algonquian. For a careful study of the Algonquian-speaking tribes of North Carolina, see Mook, "Algonkian Ethnohistory of the Carolina Sound," loc. cit.

2. Use of copper among the natives has been noted in all areas of North Carolina. (See below, Chapter XX.)

3. No objects of gold used by Indians have been found in this state, except for this reference.

4. This mound was visited by the author in 1931. One of the islanders produced a skull taken from the mound.

Permission to reprint courtesy of John F. Blair, Publisher, 1406 Plaza Dr., Winston-Salem, NC 27103.
Phone: 1-800-222-9796.

"The American Indian in North Carolina" by Rev. Douglas L. Rights. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1947. Reprinted: Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1957. (Republished 1988).

Copyright 2001
Carolina Algonkian Project

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