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Of the Tuscarora they were “really better to us than we have been to them, as they always freely give us of their victuals at their quarters, while we let them walk by our doors hungry, and do not often relieve them. We look upon them with disdain and scorn, and think them little better than beasts in human form; while with all our religion and education, we possess more moral deformities and vices than these people do.” – Lawson
Tuscarora Indians, Tuscarora Nation (Skurū’rěn‘, ‘hemp gatherers,’ the Apocynum cunnabinum, or Indian hemp, being a plant of many uses among the Carolina Tuscarora; the native form of this appellative is impersonal, there being no expressed pronominal affix to indicate person, number, or gender). Formerly an important confederation of tribes, speaking languages cognate with those of the Iroquoian linguistic group, and dwelling, when first encountered, on the Roanoke, Neuse, Taw (Torhunta or Narhontes), and Pamlico Rivers., North Carolina. The evidence drawn from the testimony of writers contemporary with them, confirmed in part by tradition, makes it appear that while occupying this primitive habitat the Tuscarora league was composed of at least three tribal constituent members, each bearing an independent and exclusive appellation. The names of these component members still survive in the traditions of the Tuscarora now dwelling in west New York and south Ontario, Canada. The first of these tribal names is Kǎ’tě’nu’ā’kā’, i. e. ‘People of the Submerged Pine-tree’; the second Akawěñtc’ākā’ (meaning doubtful) ; and the third, Skarū’ren’, ‘Hemp Gatherers.’ Cusick1 wrote these tribal appellations “Kautanohakau,” “Kauwetseka, ” and “Tuscarora” respectively, and2 refers also to the “Esaurora, or Tuscarora,” from which it may be inferred that Esaurora is a synonym of Skarū’rěn’. According to the same authority3 , the Tuscarora, on traditionary evidence, possessed in early times the “country lying between the sea shores and the mountains, which divide the Atlantic states,” in which they had 24 large towns and could muster 6,000 warriors, probably meaning persons. Lawson, a better authority, wrote that in 1708 the Tuscarora had 15 towns and about 1,200 warriors, perhaps a minimum estimate of the true number of their fighting men; and Johnson4 says that the Tuscarora in North Carolina had 6 towns and 1,200 warriors, which was probably approximately true of the Tuscarora proper. Col. Barnwell, the commander of the South Carolina forces in the war of 1711-12, said that the Tuscarora or “the enemy can’t be less than 1,200 or 1,400 [warriors], which may be easily judged by their large settlements;” but Gov. Spotswood of Virginia placed their fighting strength at 2,000 men in 1711.
According to Barnwell the Tuscarora had 3 towns on Pamlico River, of which one was Ucouhnerunt, but that most of their towns were on Neuse river and its many affluents. Some indication of the extent of the territory claimed by the Tuscarora may be obtained from the terms of the truce declared between the Tuscarora and Col. Barnwell in 1712. It was agreed therein that the Tuscarora were “to plant only on Neuse river, the creek the fort is on, quitting all claims to other lands. To quit all pretensions to planting, fishing, hunting or ranging to all lands lying between Neuse river and Cape Feare, that entirely to be left to the South Carolina Indians, and to be treated as enemies if found in those ranges without breach of peace, and the enemy’s line shall be between Neuse and Pamblico, fishing on both sides Bear River.” This would indicate that Cape Fear river was the southern boundary of the Tuscarora territory.
Tuscarora Indians History
The data for the history of the Tuscarora are meager and fragmentary, hence while they were at first an important people of North Carolina, little is definitely known regarding them, and that little usually applies to only a part of the people. The first authentic information concerning the Tuscarora is that recorded by Lawson, the Surveyor General of North Carolina, who knew them well, having lived in close contact with them for many years. His History of Carolina, having been written about 1709 and published in 1718, contains nothing in regard to the Tuscarora during the most eventful period of their history, namely, that covering the years 1711 to 1713. During this time they fought two wars with the colonists of North Carolina, who were effectively aided by those of South Carolina and Virginia, re-enforced by their tributary Indian allies. The first war began with the capture of Lawson and the Baron De Graffenried by about 60 Tuscarora and the condemnation to death of the former in Sept. 1711. Immediately following, a portion of the Tuscarora under Hencock, the Coree, Pamlico, Matamuskeet, Bear Rivers, and Machapungo, conspired to cut off the whites, each one of the tribes agreeing to operate in its own district whence they were being driven by the steady encroachment of the colonists. This compact resulted in the massacre of about 130 of the colonists on Sept. 22, 1711, on Trent and Pamlico Rivers., by the tribes mentioned. Col. Barnwell was sent by South Carolina to aid the hard-pressed colonists of North Carolina, and succeeded in driving the Tuscarora into one of their palisaded towns about 20 miles above Newbern, North Carolina, where he defeated them and later induced them to accept terms of peace; but Barnwell violated this treaty by seizing some of the Indians and sending them away into slavery. This was the beginning of the second war between the Tuscarora and their allies and the people of North Carolina. Again an appeal was made to South Carolina for aid, which responded by sending Col. James Moore with a small militia force and about 900 tributary Indians.
Of the Tuscarora, Lawson said that they possessed many amiable qualities; that, in fact, they were
“really better to us than we have been to them, as they always freely give us of their victuals at their quarters, while we let them walk by our doors hungry, and do not often relieve them. We look upon them with disdain and scorn, and think them little better than beasts in human form; while with all our religion and education, we possess more moral deformities and vices than these people do.”
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This attitude of the whites toward the Indians naturally led to the troubles later, which ended in much bloodshed and cruelty on both sides. Although the Tuscarora were regarded as mild, kind, peaceable, ingenious, and industrious, they were speedily brutalized by the vices of the colonists with whom they came in contact; their women were debauched by the whites, and both men and women were kidnapped to be sold into slavery. The colonists of North Carolina, like their Puritan brethren of New England, did not recognize in the Indian any right to the soil, hence the lands of the Tuscarora and of their Indian neighbors and allies were appropriated without thought of purchase. It is not strange, therefore, that such conduct on the part of the whites should eventually have awakened distrust and jealousy in the minds of the erstwhile amiable Tuscarora, which, fomented by these and other grievances, finally ripened into a hatred which led to resistance and reprisal.
Perhaps the most lucid and condensed statement of the wrongs suffered by the Tuscarora before vainly attempting to right them is contained in a petition made to the Provincial Government of Pennsylvania in 1710. More than a year before the massacre of 1711 the Tuscarora had officially formulated a number of proposals embodying their grievances and their desire to have these adjusted or removed by the conclusion of peace, and to this end they sent, through the Conestoga (Susquehanna), an embassy with these pacific overtures to the people and government of Pennsylvania. The governor and provincial council dispatched two commissioners to meet this embassy at Conestoga on June 8, 1710, where, in addition to the Tuscarora emissaries, they found Civility and four other Conestoga chiefs, and Opessa, the head chief of the Shawnee. In the presence of these officials the Tuscarora ambassadors delivered their proposals, attested by eight wampum belts, at the same time informing the Pennsylvania commissioners that these were sent as an overture for the purpose of asking for a cessation of hostilities until the following spring, when their chiefs and headmen would come in person “to sue for the peace they so much desired.” By the first belt, the elder women and the mothers besought the friendship of the Christian people, the Indians and the government of Pennsylvania, so they might fetch wood and water without risk or danger. By the second, the children born and those about to be born, implored for room to sport and play without the fear of death or slavery. By the third, the young men asked for the privilege to leave their towns without the fear of death or slavery to built for meat for their mothers, their children, and the aged ones. By the fourth, the old men, the elders of the people, asked for the consummation of a lasting peace, so that the forest (the paths to other tribes) be as safe for them as their palisaded towns. By the fifth, the entire tribe asked for a firm peace. By the sixth, the chiefs asked for the establishment of a lasting peace with the government, people, and Indians of Pennsylvania, whereby they would be relieved from “those fearful apprehensions they have these several years felt.” By the seventh, the Tuscarora begged for a “cessation from murdering and taking then,” so that thereafter they would not fear “a mouse, or anything that ruffles the leaves.” By the eighth, the tribe, being strangers to the people and government of Pennsylvania, asked for an official path or means of communication between them.
Stripped of metaphor and the language of diplomacy, the purport of this message is plain; it was the statement of a tribe at bay, that in view of the large numbers of their people who were being kidnapped to be sold into slavery or who were being killed while seeking to defend their offspring and their friends and kindred, they desired to remove to a more just and friendly government than that whence they came. At this time there was no war between them and the white people; there had as yet been no massacre by the Tuscarora, no threat of hostility on the part of the Indians, yet to maintain peace and to avoid the impending shedding of blood, they were even then willing to forsake their homes. The commissioners of Pennsylvania, however, informed the delegates, among other things, that “to confirm the sincerity of their past carriage toward the English, and to raise in us a good opinion of them, it would be very necessary to procure a certificate from the government they leave, to this, of their good behavior, and then they might be assured of a favorable reception”5 . The Conestoga (“Seneques”) chiefs present at this conference stated that by the advice of their council it had been determined to send these belts, brought by the Tuscarora, to the Five Nations. It was the reception of the belts with their pitiful messages by these Five Nations that moved the latter to take steps to shield and protect the Tuscarora, which gave so much apprehension to the northern colonies.
- For information on the years of 1710-1713 see Tuscarora War.
After the close of the war of 1711-13 in North Carolina, the neutral Tuscarora, with remnants of allied tribes still remaining in that country, were placed under the rule of chief Tom Blunt, or Blount, by treaty with the provincial government of North Carolina. From an act of the general assembly of North Carolina, in 1778, it is learned that Withmell Tuffdick was then the ruling chief; but the last ruling chief of the North Carolina Tuscarora was Samuel Smith, who died in 1802.
In 1767, the renown of the Moravian mission station at Friedenshuetten in Pennsylvania was so great that many Indians from various tribes, including the Tuscarora, probably from Oquaga, Ingaren, and vicinity, were constantly stopping there. Many passed through it merely to see a place so famous for its hospitality. In May, 1766, 75 Tuscarora, according to Loskiel, on their way from North Carolina, halted here and remained for some weeks. They are described as lazy and “refuse to hear religion.” During their stay the Tuscarora were so alarmed at the sight of the first snow that they left their huts down by the river and took refuge with the missionaries. A number of Tuscarora arrived at the mission to remain there; these had planted their crops during 1766 at the mouth of Tuscarora Creek, Wyoming County, Pennsylvania.
On Dec. 16, 1766, Sir William Johnson received at Mt Johnson, New York, 160 Tuscarora who had just arrived from North Carolina. They complained to him that on their way thither they had been robbed at Paxtang, in Pennsylvania, of their horses and other property to the value of about $300.
Later the Tuscarora on the Susquehanna, dwelling at Oquaga and in its Vicinity, had lands assigned them by the Oneida, their political sponsors. These lands were bounded on the east by Unadilla river, on the west by the Chenango, and on the south by the Susquehanna. In the northern part of this allotment were situated the towns of Ganasaraga, on the site of Sullivan, Madison County, New York, and Kaunehsuntahkeh. A number of the Tuscarora lived with the Oneida in their chief village. On these lands a large portion of the Tuscarora remained until the events of the Revolution displaced them. By the terms of the treaty of Ft Herkimer in 1785 with the state of New York, to which the Tuscarora were nominal parties, the Oneida, the original proprietors of the lands then occupied by the Tuscarora, conveyed to New York the lands of the Tuscarora and retained the proceeds of the sale; thus the Tuscarora were again without a home. Thereafter they became dispersed. Later they had a village, called Junastriyo (Tcunästri’io’) in the Genessee Valley, below Avon, New York; another, called Jutaneaga (Tcutäněñ’´kiã’), at the fork of Chittenango creek; and another called Kanhato (Kǎ’n‘ha‘´nŭ’).
According to Johnson6 a part of the fugitive Tuscarora settled at a point about 2 miles west of Tamaqua, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, where they planted apple trees and lived for a number of years. It is probable that it was these Tuscarora who later removed to Oquaga, in the vicinity of which they had three other towns in 1778. Another band of fugitives settled in Tuscarora valley (as it, was called later from them), on Juniata River, Pa. They remained here at least as late as 1762. In a minute of a conference held at Lancaster, Pa., Aug. 11, 1762, between Lieut. Gov. Hamilton of Pennsylvania and delegates from the Ohio Delawares, the Tuscarora of Oquaga and Lower Tuscarora, the Shawnee, the Kickapoo, the Wea, and the Miami, it is stated that six Tuscarora were present, of whom three were chiefs, who brought from their people a letter in which they asked the Governor to furnish them with a pass, saying, “We should be glad to be informed of the state and behavior of our brethren in Tuscarora valley, and to have some directions about the way, as we propose to make them a visit, and also should be glad of a pass or recommendation in writing, that we may be friendly received on our way to and at the valley.”
Major portions of the Oneida and the Tuscarora, in accordance with standing agreements with the United Colonies, remained faithful to the American cause during the Revolution. When the Indian allies of the British, even some of their brethren of the Six Nations, learned that a majority of the Tuscarora had cast their lot with the Colonies, they invaded the Tuscarora country, burned their lodges, and destroyed their crops and other property. Thus again by the fortunes of war the Tuscarora were scattered and homeless. A large party of these settled at a place called Oyonwayea, or Johnson’s Landing, in Niagara County, N. Y., about 4 miles east of the outlet of Niagara river, at the mouth of Four Mile creek, in order not to be directly among the many Indians friendly to the British cause camped around Ft Niagara. At the close of the war, two families, probably clans, of Tuscarora from Oyonwayea made their way to the north east limits of their present reservation, where they found many walnuts and butternut, and a fine stream. Here they decided to winter. Being missed from Oyonwayea, scouts were sent out, who found them in their newly chosen settlement, a situation so favorable that, after the gratuitous cession of their former home among the Oneida, Oyonwayea was abandoned and all the families removed to the new site. Although the Tuscarora had only a tacit permission from the Seneca to reside at this place, the last settlement became the foundation of the present Tuscarora Reservation in New York. At the treaty held at Genessee, Sept. 15, 1797, between Robert Morris and the Seneca tribe, the Tuscarora chiefs complained, for the first time since their admission to the councils of the League, that the Five Nations had from time to time allotted lands to their people, but that each time these lands had been included in a subsequent cession to the whites, and that the Tuscarora had received nothing in return for their right of occupancy or for their improvements. The justice and merits of their complaint having been acknowledged by the Five Nations, Morris reserved to the Tuscarora, by grant, two square miles, covering their settlement on the ridge mentioned above, and the Seneca thereupon granted them an adjoining square mile. About 1800-02 a deputation was sent to North Carolina to learn whether they could obtain funds in payment for the lands they formerly occupied there, with the result that, by aid of the North Carolina legislature, they were able to lease the Carolina lands, which yielded a fund of $13,722. This sum enabled the Secretary of War in 1804, under authority of Congress, to purchase 4,329 acres for the Tuscarora from the Holland Land Co., adjoining the three square miles already occupied by them. Such is the origin of the land holdings of the New York Tuscarora.
It was while the Tuscarora deputation was in North Carolina that the remnant of the tribe still residing there was brought to the north and joined their brethren in New York state.
The Tuscarora in sympathy with those of the Six Nations that adhered to the cause of Great Britain in the Revolution were granted lands in severalty on Grand River reservation, Ontario.
The evangelizing work of Christian missionaries began among the Tuscarora in west New York as early as 1805 under the patronage of the New York Missionary Society. At first there were only six persons among the Tuscarora willing to abjure their ancient faith and customs, at least in name and appearance, and join in the missionary work; the remainder were generally strongly averse to the work of the missionaries. So violent were the struggles between the two unequal parties that in the spring of 1820 the “pagans” succeeded in inducing about 70 persons to emigrate to Canada, where they settled among the pagans of the Six Nations on the Grand River reservation, Ontario. The church membership at this time was 16 persons. Little progress was apparent in the education of the Tuscarora, although the New York Society had maintained a school among them.
The Tuscarora have taken part in the following treaties between the United States and the Six Nations:
- Ft Stanwix, N. Y., Oct. 22, 1784
- Ft Harmar, Ohio, Jan. 9, 1789
- Canandaigua (Konondaigua), N.Y., Nov. 11, 1794
- Oneida, N. Y., Dec. 2, 1794
- Buffalo Creek, N. Y., Jan. 15, 1838
For Further Study
The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on the Tuscarora as both an ethnological study, and as a people. For further information consult
- Elias Johnson (native Tuscarora), Legends, Traditions and Laws of the Iroquois, or Six Nations, and History of the Tuscarora Indians, 1881.
- Documents Relating to the Colonial History of New York, i-xi, 1855-61.
- Documentary History of New York, i-iv, 1849-51.
- Pennsylvania Archives, i-xii, 1852-56.
- Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania (Colonial Records), i-xvi, 1852-53.
- South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, i-x, especially ix and x.
- Virginia Magazine, i-xv, 1893-1908.
- Lawson, History of Carolina, 1714, repr. 1860.
- Publications of the Buffalo Hist. Soc. especially vol. vi.