Tuscaroras Indians

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The traditions of this canton affirm, that they are descendants of the original family of Iroquois, who began their existence, or their nationality, at least at or near the falls of the Oswego. After the migration of the parent tribe towards the sea, and their return west and separation into tribes, this band went on west till they reached Lake Erie. From hence they traveled southwest till they reached the Mississippi. Part of them crossed the river, and they were thus divided. Those who went over, became, in time, the enemies of such as remained on its eastern banks, and were finally lost and for gotten from their memory.

Terenyawagon, the Holder of the Heavens, who was the patron of the home bands, did not fail, in this crisis, to direct their way also. After giving them practical instructions in war and hunting, he guided their footsteps in their journies, south and east, until they had crossed the Alleghanies, and reached the shores of the sea, on the coasts which are now called the Carolinas. They were directed to fix their residence on the banks of the Cau-tan-o, that is, a Pine in the water, now called Neuse River, in North Carolina. By this time their language was altered, but not so much but that they could understand each other. Here Terenyawagon left them to hunt, increase and prosper, whilst he returned to direct the remaining Five Nations to form their confederacy. Thus far the Tuscarora annalist. History picks up the Tuscaroras precisely where tradition and fable leave them. On the settlement of Virginia and the Carolinas, they were found to be the first nation of any stability of purpose, after passing the Powhatannic tribes, in proceeding south. The intervening coast tribes were petty chieftaindoms, few in numbers and disunited in. action or policy. They were essentially ichthiopagi. They soon fell before the two-fold influence of idleness and rum, and have left little or no history., or traits worth preserving. Such is the history of the Chowanokes,1 the Maratocks, and the Mangoacks, who, in one hundred and twenty years from the date of Raleigh’s patent, had dwindled from 6,000 to forty-six bowmen.2

The Tuscaroras, who lived in the game country, on the skirts of the mountains, showed themselves at the mouths of Cantano or Neuse, Contentny, and Taw Rivers. They were, at the time, numerous and warlike, and as inimical to the inhabitants of the Carolinas, as they were numerous. They were at war with the Catabas, the Cowetas and the Cherokees. Numbers, bravery and success, and abundance of animal food, made them haughty, and they evinced the disposition of their northern brethren, by trying to subjugate and break down their neighbors. What they had done with red men, very effectually, it must be confessed at least with the Catabas, they thought they might do with the Hugenots of France, the cavaliers of England, and the Protestants of the baronetcy of Graffenried in Germany. It is not improbable, indeed, that, at a prior era, the Tuscaroras were the very people who had exterminated the colony left on Roanoke island, under the first attempts of Sir Walter Raleigh to colonize Virginia. But, if such were the fact a mere conjecture at best they mistook their present neighbors and their own position in attempting to repeat the act.

This scheme was, however, deeply laid, although it appeared to be a matter hastily executed. They had long felt a growing jealousy of the encroaching settlements, and gave vent to it, the first occasion that offered, by seizing Lawson the surveyor-general of the Province, on a trip up the Neuse, and after a kind of trial before a council, putting him to death. The Baron Graffenried, who was with him, and was also condemned, but saved, on an appeal on the ground of his being a roan of rank and not an Englishman; but they kept him a prisoner, while they proceeded to execute their ill-advised and nefarious plot, which was nothing less than the massacre of the entire colony in one day, The clay fixed for this tragedy was the 22d of September, 1711. Williamson3 thinks it was an impulsive movement arising from the killing of Lawson, who being a public officer, they felt themselves committed in, a war, and resolved to proceed with the bloody work. For this purpose they divided themselves into small bands of six or seven, and entering the settlements at various points, they struck down with the tomahawk on one day one hundred and thirty persons. To conceal their intentions, they had left their arms, and relied on their hatchets alone. In this plot, they were assisted by the seacoast bands of Corees, Mattamuskeets and Bear-River Indians, some three or four tribes, denoting a league and maturity in the attempt. But the plan did not succeed to their wishes, for besides that the colony consisted then of nearly two thousand men, much spread, it must needs have happened that many at the time of attack, would be absent from their homes. The colonists rallied, and prepared to carry the war home to their subtle assailants. They asked the aid of South Carolina, which came gallantly to their rescue. The Legislature of that Province having granted four thousand pounds, placed Col. Barnwell at the head of a small detachment of armed men, supported by a large body of Cherokees, Creeks and Catabas, the deadly enemies of the Tuscaroras. He killed, in various actions, thirty Tuscaroras, and fifty of the sea-coast auxiliaries, and took two hundred women and children of the latter prisoners, and returned. The war thus commenced was continued, with various results for some few years. The aid of Virginia, as well as South Carolina was invoked the next year. The Tuscaroras also made vigorous exertions. They were well provided with arms and ammunition, and dispatched runners to the Senecas for aid. Their auxiliaries, the Mattamuskets, Corees and others killed or made prisoners the next winter, forty inhabitant of the Island of Roanoke or Croatan. The Tuscaroras prepared to maintain their power by entrenching themselves behind a picketed work on the river Taw. This work, called fort Naharuke, stood on a plain beside a creek, and consisted of a rampart of earth, covering the whole ground occupied, defended with palisades. To protect themselves from artillery, they had dug within this wall, square pits of earth, six feet deep, covered with poles, and connected by a wall of earth. They were well provided with corn and ammunition, and had the means of standing a siege, had they made a wise provision for water. To obtain this necessary article, they relied on an artificial ditch leading to the stream.

To this aboriginal fort Col. Moore of South Carolina, drove them from the lower country with 40 musketeers and 800 Indians, in the early part of the winter of 1713, after having been detained on his march by a deep snow. He immediately saw the mistake of the water trench, and placed cannon to rake it. He then fortified the only passage or point of land, where the Indians would be likely to escape, and began regular approaches to the work, which he entered on the 26th of March, 1713, taking 800 Tuscaroras prisoners. It is not said how many were killed. He had lost of his army, during the siege, 22 white, and 36 red men killed, and 29 of the former, and 50 of the latter wounded. The Cherokees and their allies claimed the prisoners, who were taken to the south, and sold as slaves, a part, as we are left to infer, being offered by the southern Indians, to appease the spirit of retaliation for prior losses by them.

This brought the tribe to terms, and they entered into preliminaries of peace, by which they agreed to deliver up twenty men, who were the contrivers of the plot, and who took Lawson and Graffenried; to restore all prisoners, horses and cattle, arms and other property; to treat and pursue the Mattamuskeets and their other allies, as enemies; and finally, to give two hostages for the peaceable conduct of each of their towns.

During the following summer, the chief called “King Blount,” brought in thirty scalps from his miserably treated allies; a but the greater part of the nation,” says the historian before quoted, “unable to contend, and unwilling to submit, removed to the northward, and joined the Seneka, and other confederate tribes on the frontiers of New York.4 Those who remained, were to have settled between the Neuse and Taw Rivers; but an Indian war having broken out in the southern colonies in 1715, only three months after the peace, with the Corees and their other former allies, the Tuscaroras, now the remains of a broken down tribe, feeble in numbers and power, obtained permission to settle on the north side of the Roanoke River, on a reservation, where some of them were living in 1803.

The whole number of Indians living in North Carolina in 1708, estimating their fighting men, were 1,608, of whom, the Tuscaroras constituted 1,200, which would give them, on the ordinary principle of estimating their population, 6,000 souls. Two thirds of the whole number of their fighting men were captured at the taking of Fort Nahaeuke in 1713. How many were killed on other occasions is not certainly known; but it is probable that in this short war of but three years duration, and owing to the desertion of families, death by sickness, want, and other casualties consequent upon the surrender of Naharuke, they sunk to almost immediate insignificance. Those who fled to their kindred in western New York were never counted. They were estimated, perhaps high, at 200 warriors, in 1776. They were located at first, immediately west of, and in juxtaposition to the Oneidas, along with whom, they are mentioned as being secured in their rights, by the treaty of Fort Stanwix, in 1784, But in fact, they had no independent claim to territory, living merely as guests, although the confederacy had admitted them as an integral member, after their disastrous flight from North Carolina, calling themselves no longer the Five, but the Six Nations. The Senecas gave them lands on the Niagara Ridge, after the American Revolution; these were subsequently secured to them in a reservation made by the State, in the present bounds of Niagara county. Here they have continued to dwell, having added to their possessions, by an early purchase from the Holland Land Company, made with the avails of the sale of their reservation north of the Roanoke, in North Carolina.

But if the Tuscaroras have erred in policy, and sunk in numbers, with a rapidity and in a ratio unequalled by any other members of the confederacy, if we except the Onondagas and Cayugas, they may be said to have grown wise by experience. Low as their present numbers are, they hold an exalted rank among their brethren for industry, temperance, and their general advance in arts, agriculture and morals.

I found, on making the enumeration, 283 persons living in 53 families, of whom 151 were males and 167 females. These families cultivated the past year 2,080 acres of land, on which they raised 4,897 bushels of wheat, 3,515 of corn, 4,085 of oats, 1,166 of potatoes, besides limited quantities of peas, beans, buckwheat and turnips. They possess 336 neat cattle, 98 milch cows, making 7,537 pounds of butter, 153 horses, 215 sheep, and 596 hogs.

When it is considered that this enumeration gives an average of six neat cattle, three horses, (nearly) two milch cows, (nearly) 10 hogs, and 92 bushels of wheat, 966 of corn to each family, their capacity to sustain themselves, and their advance as agriculturists will be perceived. Fifty-nine ploughs were found amongst fifty-three families. They cut 195 acres of meadow to sustain their cattle. They have over 1,500 fruit trees, and dwell in excellent frame or square-timber houses, well finished, and for the most part well furnished. I noticed one edifice of stone, in the process of building, seated on rising grounds, amidst shade trees, which denotes both wealth and taste. Other results of civilization are to be already ob served. Among these there are no slight indications of classes of society, arranging themselves, as rich and poor, intelligent and ignorant, industrious and idle, moral and immoral.

Of the entire population, 63 are church members, and 231 members of temperance societies, which is a far higher proportion than is found in any other of the cantons.


  1. Mr. Jefferson thinks (vide Notes, p. 152, London ed. of 1787,) that this tribe was connected with the Tutelos, Nottaways and Meherrins of Virginia. 

  2. Williamson. 

  3. Hist. North Carolina. 

  4. Williamson. 

MLA Source Citation:

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Notes on the Iroquois: Or, Contributions to American History, Antiquities, and General Ethnology. E. H. Pease & Company. 1847. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 29 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tuscaroras-indians.htm - Last updated on Jun 22nd, 2014

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