North Carolina's Tuscarora War, 1711-1715: The Indians Retaliate
An Execution Dance? John Lawson & Baron De Graffenried, canoe up the Neuse River & stumble upon the natives preparing for war. After a trial by the tribe, Lawson is tried & killed.
From the first, there had been an Indian problem in Bath County, North Carolina. While disease had broken the power of the Pampticough tribe in the neighborhood of Bath, there remained many other small tribes scattered throughout Bath County. Behind these small tribes lay the powerful Tuscarora, an Iroquoian tribe closely connected to the Five Nations in New York. The movement of settlers into Bath County and up the Pamlico and Neuse Rivers had been watched with fear and resentment by the Tuscarora and the smaller tribes in this area. Favorite hunting grounds were being overrun and choice village sites were becoming sites for the settlers' towns.
While the principal danger to the settlers from Indian attacks came from the many Tuscarora, the initial resistance the land-hungry European settlers of Bath County faced came from smaller tribes into whose territory they first moved. These native groups included the Core (sometimes called Coree) and Nynee Indians, who lived south of the Neuse River. In 1703 they were declared public enemies by the Carolina government, which was determined to carry on a war against them. While the records of this conflict are gone, the Indians evidently were defeated, for the next time they are mentioned in history, they have moved into the interior where the Tuscarora have granted them land only six miles from one of their chief towns.
During the first decade of the eighteenth century, rumors of Indian plots and conspiracies constantly spread throughout Bath County. In 1703, Lionel Reading wrote that an Indian had told one settler that several villages had "fully resolved to make trail (trial) of it for to see which is the ardiest." The next year word spread that some Tuscarora towns near the Pamlico settlement were becoming unusually friendly with the Bear River Indians, with the apparent intention of inciting them to attack the whites. About this same time the Machapunga Indians began to harass the settlers, making threats, stealing hogs, and even assaulting one settler. The settler did not fail to note that the Machapunga moved their village "nigh a wildnernesse where upon the least Intimation they can easily repair without being pursued."
Throughout this period the Bear River and Machapunga Indians continued to annoy the settlers and the settlers continued to petition the government for something to be done about the situation. In 1707, Robert Kingham reported that the settlers on the Pamlico told him that "they expected ye Indians every day to come and cutt their throat and yet they had no person to head ym [them] or Else they would goe and secure all ye Pamticough Indians."
Obviously, relations between the early white settlers and the Indians were not as harmonious as many historians have pictured. From the first, the Indians understandably resented the colonists' encroachment upon their land and used every means they had to show this resentment, at times resorting to out and out war. The Tuscarora, by all odds the dominant Indian power in North Carolina, had watched the settlers with distrust, seething over each movement into a new area. When the tide of European civilization flowed into the Pamlico-Neuse region, they saw the handwriting on the wall and decided they must make a stand or gradually be overrun. By the summer of 1711, the Tuscarora apparently decided to try to destroy the whites.
Other actions by the whites also caused the Indians to act. Perhaps nothing made them hate the settlers of Bath County more than the whites' kidnapping and enslavement of their people. By 1710, this practice had become so epidemic that the Tuscarora petitioned the government of Pennsylvania to settle in that colony so that their children born and those soon to be born might have room to sport and play without danger of slavery. In their quaint phrases, they begged "a cessation from murdering and taking them, that by the allowance thereof, they may not be afraid of a moose, or any other thing that Ruffles the Leaves."
Feeding this problem was ill-feeling and misunderstanding surrounding trade between Indians and the white settlers. The whites felt that the Indian traders were hard men who drove hard bargains. Conversely, the Indians soon saw that the whites were cheating them in their transactions, for the traders, John Lawson tells us, esteemed it "a Gift of Christianity not to sell to them so cheap as [they did] to the Christians." The traders, knowing the Indians' weakness for alcohol, often got the Indians drunk as a means of defrauding them of their property. One observer reports that the Indians were never "contented with a little, but when once begun, they must make themselves quite drunk; otherwise they will never rest, but sell all they have in the World, rather than not have their full dose."
Certainly another reason for the Indians' decision to take up the tomahawk was the indignities inflicted on them by the white settlers. The Indians were a proud and dignified people, unaccustomed to the condescending and insulting way the whites often treated them. Just a few days before they sought their revenge, the Indians complained to a settler who had been unfortunate enough to fall into their hands, that they "had been very badly treated and detained by the inhabitants of the Pamtego, Neuse and Trent Rivers, a thing which was not to be longer endured." That the whites, who looked upon the Indians "with Scorn and Disdain" and considered them "little better than Beasts in Human Shape," eventually felt their wrath cannot be too surprising.
During the summer of 1711, the inhabitants of North Carolina were far too plagued with rebellion, drought, and disease to observe the actions of the Indians closely. There had been one alarm during the summer when word spread that the followers of [Thomas] Cary were attempting to incite the Tuscarora to attack the followers of Governor Hyde. Both Cary and the Indians vehemently denied this and the incident was quickly forgotten.
While it is doubtful Cary or any of his followers invited the Indians to take to the warpath, doubtlessly the Indians saw the confusion the rebellion created. It was a good time for them to strike.
The Indians began their plotting in complete secrecy, and until the moment they struck, no hint of their plans reached the settlers. The chief leader in the conspiracy appears to have been King Hancock, chief of the Tuscarora town of Catechna. Acting with the chief men of the other tribes in the Pamlico-Neuse area, Hancock was able to persuade the Bay River, Machapunga, Neusiok, Coree Woccon, and Pampticough tribes to join in the plans. Together, these tribes could count a fighting force of about 250 men.
Hancock, himself, was able to furnish about 250 Tuscarora, although most of the Tuscarora under Chief Tom Blunt refused to join him. Plans called for the massacre of all settlers and the complete destruction of every plantation in Bath County. It was agreed among the conspirators that the attack would fall without warning at dawn on September 22, 1711.
The Death of John Lawson
As these plans were maturing, the ever adventurous John Lawson persuaded Christopher Von Graffenried, leader of the Swiss and Palatine colonists at New Bern, and Christopher Gale, receiver-general of the colony (his friend and neighbor at Bath), to accompany him on an exploring trip up the Neuse. At the last moment, Christopher Gale was forced to return to Bath, where his wife and brother had been stricken by yellow fever.
Around the 10th or 12th of September, despite Gale's withdrawal, Lawson and Von Graffenried set out up the Neuse by canoe, accompanied by two Negro slaves and two Indians from the neighborhood of New Bern. Around nightfall on the second or third day out, the small party was suddenly surrounded by a force of 60 armed Indians. The hostiles captured the explorers and carried them to nearby Catechna, Hancock's town and the center of the conspiracy.
Here they were brought before King Hancock, who ordered them held until a council could decide their fate. On the following night a great assembly, or war council, was held to which chiefs from many neighboring villages came. The two white men were given seats in the council ring, questioned as to the motive of their trip, and then (after much deliberation by the council) informed that they might go free on the morrow.
The next morning as Lawson and Von Graffenried were preparing to leave, some chiefs, who had not been at the council the night before, arrived and demanded to question the pair further. At this point Lawson became involved in a violent argument with Cor Tom, a chief of Coree Town long known for his unfriendly feeling toward the whites. Because of this quarrel, Lawson and Von Graffenried were seized, bound, and carried back to the council ring of the night before. There a second council hastily condemned the two white men to death.
That night a great execution dance was held. The prisoners were placed beside a large fire and a conjurer, or medicine man, began prancing before them muttering spells and threats. Behind this group stood two rows of armed guards. Around all danced the painted [Indians] whom Graffenried later described as looking "more like a troop of devils than like other creatures; if one represents the devil in the most terrible shape that can be thought of."
Meanwhile, Graffenried's threats of reprisals by the Queen of England if he were harmed had alarmed the Indians, so they asked Chief Tom Blunt regarding what to do. Blunt advised them to spare Von Graffenried, but do as they wished with Lawson. Acting upon this advice, the Catechna council decided that Von Graffenried might live, but Lawson must die. Graffenried was then led away from the terrible scene and imprisoned in a hut, being unable to make even a sign to the condemned Lawson, who throughout the ordeal had maintained a stoic silence.
While Graffenried was imprisoned within the hut, John Lawson — father of "that famous city of Bath" — was executed. The way in which Lawson was killed was kept from Von Graffenried, although he appears to think Lawson's throat was cut with a razor he had carried on the trip. One of the Negro slaves whose life had been spared reported that Lawson was hanged. Another account says Lawson was stuck full of small lightwood splinters and set gradually on fire, a method of execution that Lawson had described in great detail in his [published] history of Carolina.
Von Graffenried was told of the Indians' plans for their attack on the Bath County settlement. However, because the Indians kept him prisoner for several weeks, he was unable to warn the settlers of the planned massacre.
The Massacre Begins
Three or four days after Lawson's death, about five hundred fighting men gathered at Catechna. From this village they fanned out to attack the settlements on the Pamlico, Neuse, and Trent Rivers, and in the Core Sound region. These little groups filtered into the settlements in which they were well known and where their presence would not arouse suspicion. Here among the settlers who looked on many of them as family, the Indians awaited the fatal hour with what Christopher Gale described as "smiles in their countenances, when their intent was to destroy."
Daybreak on Saturday, September 22, was the signal for the attack. Simultaneously, the painted and befeathered warriors struck along the Neuse and Pamlico river systems. The Indians, dressed for war, were described as having a circle of black around one eye, and a circle of white around the other, designed to terrify their enemy and to keep their identity hidden.
Well armed with guns and ammunition, they made short work of those taken at the first surprise. Men, women, and children — regardless of age or condition — were killed . Houses were pillaged and burned, crops were trampled and destroyed, and livestock driven off or killed. Looting and killing, the Indians devastated Bath County, particularly around the head of the Neuse and along the south side of the Pamlico River.
Tradition states that the home of John Porter Jr., at the head of Chocowinity Bay on the Pamlico, was among the first houses attacked but that Porter and Dr. Patrick Maule (who was visiting him at the time) were able to beat off the Indians and escape with the women and children by boat. The Indians mutilated many of their victims.
The family of a Mr. Nevil, who probably resided near the mouth of Blounts Creek on the Pamlico River, was treated in a barbarous manner by the Indians. Mr. Nevil, "after being shot, was laid on the house-floor, with a clean pillow under his head, his stockings turned over his shoes, and his body covered with new linen. His wife was set upon her knees, and her hands lifted up as if she was at prayers, leaning against a chair in the chimney corner, and her coats turned up over her head. A son of his was laid out in the yard with a pillow laid under his head and a bunch of rosemary laid to his nose." Even the Negro slaves were not spared, for a slave belonging to Mr. Nevil was killed and his right hand cut off. The nearest neighbor of Nevil's was shot and his body laid upon his wife's grave. Christopher Gale remembered that "women were laid on the house floors and great stakes driven up through their bodies. Pregnant women had the unborn children ripped out and hung upon trees."
Amid such scenes of violence, the whites who survived the first onslaught fled their homes and gathered together at some reasonably defensible point. Bath Town, New Bern, and the Brice plantation on the Trent were soon filled with refugees. For about three days the Indians burned, plundered, and killed without hindrance from the survivors — who dared not to venture out to bury the dead, left prey for dogs, wolves, and vultures.
At last, loaded with plunder and prisoners, the Indians withdrew to their towns. They had killed some 130 or 140 people and left many others badly wounded. They also took some 20 or 30 prisoners.
The Swiss and Palatine losses were the heaviest. They accounted for about 60 or 70 of those slain in the massacre. The town of New Bern was spared by the Indians (from whom Von Graffenried had secured a promise not to harm the village). The prisoners were women and children who, having seen their families butchered before their eyes, were carried back to the villages to serve the Indians as slaves.
From stricken Bath County messengers raced to the Albemarle requesting immediate help. Albemarle County had emerged unscathed from the massacre, saved by a portion of the Tuscarora remaining neutral. Royal Governor Edward Hyde immediately sent messengers to Virginia and South Carolina requesting aid, and began to gather a force to be sent to the beleaguered and stunned settlers on the Pamlico and Neuse rivers. The Quakers, who formed a large part of the population of Albemarle County, refused to bear arms, and the ill will Cary's Rebellion had caused hampered North Carolina's efforts throughout the entire Indian war.
In the Pamlico and Neuse area the plantations were generally abandoned for a few more easily defended points. Probably the larger refugee center was the town of Bath, where there were reported to be over 300 widows and orphans in pitiful condition. While records are vague, it appears that Bath was not overrun at the time of the massacre soit is unlikely that many were killed within the limits of the town. A fort, located on high ground in the center of the Bath peninsula, appears to have been hastily built to shelter the citizens and refugees.
The furthest westward garrison on the Pamlico was located at the Lionel Reading plantation, on the south side of the river, across from the mouth of Chocowinity Bay. Some settlers having survived the massacre, attempted to fortify their homes and remain, but these isolated plantations fell one by one to the Indians, who leisurely picked them off. Elsewhere on the Neuse and in the Core Sound area, forts were established and by October, a total of eleven garrisons had been thrown up in Bath County.
By mid-October, plans for a counterattack on the Indians had been completed. Thomas Pollock of Chowan Precinct, as major-general of the North Carolina forces, had managed to raise 150 men to undertake the assault. This force was sent to Bath Town, ordered to join forces with a group that had been raised on the Neuse and commanded by Captain William Brice. Brice, under orders from Pollock, marched his company of 50 or 60 men up the Neuse to an abandoned Indian village, where the forces at Bath were to join him. The troops at Bath, however, refused to go out, and Brice found himself in Indian country with no support.
Despite the lack of support from Bath, Brice continued to advance into Indian territory until overwhelmed by at least 300 warriors. He was forced to fall back to his fortified plantation on the Trent River.
Here matters stood while aid from neighboring colonies was awaited. Virginia, despite promises and much talk, never dispatched a single soldier to North Carolina. Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia eventually sent a small amount of powder and cloth to North Carolina. Efforts were also made by the Virginia government to keep the neutral Tuscarora under Tom Blunt out of the war, and to turn them against their fellow tribesmen.
Help Arrives — The Barnwell Expedition
It was from South Carolina that effective aid finally came. An expedition was quickly sent from that colony, led by Captain John Barnwell and composed of 33 whites on horses and 495 allied Indians. This force marched through the North Carolina interior, and on January 29, 1712, reached the Neuse River far above New Bern. Attempting to surprise the Tuscarora town of Narhantes, Barnwell found the Indians had been warned about him and were barricaded in nine small forts. Barnwell at once attacked the largest of these, killing 52 and taking 30 prisoners.
Barnwell then advanced through the Tuscarora heartland, burning towns and destroying crops. Eventually deserted by many of his Indian allies, Barnwell decided to contact the North Carolina settlements before attempting to take King Hancock's town, Catechna. He began moving toward the Pamlico and Bath Town.
On February 6, Barnwell reached the Pamlico River some five miles below Uncouh-He-runt, one of three Tuscarora towns on that river. During the crossing, Barnwell's rear was attacked by 50 or 60 Tuscarora, who were soon fought off. Barnwell's force, now down to 25 white men and 178 Indians, then moved down the north shore of the Pamlico, "passing well ruined English plantations" and crosoing the many broad creeks found here.
On February 10, Barnwell sent out a patrol that reached Bath Town, and the next day the entire force was transported there. The joyous reception given Barnwell's men brought tears to the eyes of the rough South Carolinians.
Barnwell's force remained on the Pamlico from February 11-27, awaiting supplies and men. On February 26, Barnwell was joined by 67 North Carolinians, most of whom had no ammunition. Consequently, Barnwell stripped the Pamlico garrisons of their powder. On February 27, the South Carolina commander left Fort Reading on the Pamlico and began to advance on Hancock's fort a short distance above Catechna, on the Contentnea Creek's west bank.
When he at last attacked the fort, he found it contained many white captives whom the Indians at once began to torture, and whose pleas and cries could be heard by the besiegers. Many in the attacking force had relatives within the fort, and they begged Barnwell to negotiate with the Indians for their release. Barnwell began parlaying with the Indians, who agreed to release the twelve prisoners within the fort if Barnwell would withdraw. He agreed to this and the Indians promised to meet him on March 19, at Batchelours Creek near New Bern to discuss terms.
Barnwell withdrew but the Indians failed to keep their promised March 19th rendezvous. He then established a garrison at Qurhous on the south side of the Pamlico, across from Bath Town, to keep open land communication between the Pamlico and the Neuse. Barnwell also planned a second attack on Hancock's fort.
After building a fort of his own (Ft. Barnwell) on the Neuse some 30 miles above New Bern, Barnwell surrounded Hancock's fort on April 7, 1712, with 153 white men and 128 Indians. A ten-day siege followed, which ended with the surrender of the fort on rather generous terms, requiring that only King Hancock and three other Indians be delivered up and several lesser articles of surrender be carried out.
The failure of Barnwell to destroy the Indians caused him to be censured by the North Carolina government. Despairing of a generous reward for his efforts to aid North Carolina, Barnwell seized some of the surrendered Indians for slaves and returned to South Carolina. This violation of the surrender terms enraged the Indians who began to attack along the Neuse and Pamlico. The war flamed up again in all its fury.
The Death of Governor Hyde
Governor Hyde then determined to gather the militia of Albemarle County and march into Bath County. He declared it was his intention to establish his headquarters at Bath Town and on the Neuse and there "end the war with honor or make such a peace as shall not reflect upon the British Glory." This was not to be, however, for yellow fever — which added its horrors to the dreadful summer of 1712 in North Carolina — claimed Governor Hyde on September 9, 1712. After his death, Thomas Pollock assumed the leadership of North Carolina as president of the council and commander-in- chief of the government.
The Moore Expedition and the Fall of Fort Neoheroka
Pollock made every effort to supply the garrisons in Bath County and maintain the small forces operating there. Meanwhile, South Carolina had assembled a new force to further aidNorth Carolina. These troops included 33 white men and nearly 900 Indians under the command of Col. James Moore. Early in December 1712, Moore arrived at Ft. Barnwell on the Neuse, which was low on supplies. He then moved down the river to New Bern and on to the fortified town of Bath. Finding no supplies at Bath, Moore then marched into Albemarle County where the harassed North Carolina government attempted to feed the more than 900 men.
Every effort was made by Pollock to prepare the exhausted colony for a final attack on the Indians. With everything ready, Moore moved out of Albemarle County on January 17, 1713. Extremely bad weather and an unusually deep snow forced Moore to halt at Ft. Reading on the Pamlico until February 4, when he continued his march on the Tuscarora towns.
The chief Tuscarora stronghold was now Ft. Neoheroka located a few miles above old Ft. Hancock on Contentnea Creek. About March 1, 1713, Moore laid siege to this well-protected log and earth fort with a force of over 1,000 whites and Indians. On March 20, the final attack was launched, but it was not until March 23 that the last resistance was crushed. The victory was complete and crushed forever the power of the Tuscarora nation.
In the battle, the Tuscarora lost at least 392 killed and burned within the fort and 166 killed or captured outside the fort. In addition, the attackers captured 392 of the Indian defenders, making the total loss of the Tuscarora 950 men, women, and children killed or captured. The remaining hostile Tuscarora abandoned their other strongholds and fled deep into the interior toward the Virginia border, most of them eventually going to New York where they joined the Five Nations.
The war was not over, however, for at the same time Moore was attacking Ft. Neoheroka, the Machapunga and Coree had been striking at settlements along the Pungo River, a short distance below Bath, and in the vicinity of Mackays. After the fall of Neoheroka, Pollock decided to stamp out this resistance immediately and requested Moore to send some of his Indians into the Pamlico area to hunt them down.
Moore gathered the 120 or 130 Indians who had not returned to South Carolina and marched to the Pamlico where, in June 1713, he attempted to crush these remaining hostiles. He was only partially successful, for as one contemporary account states, the trackless wilderness from which these Indians operated lay "between Matchapungo River and Roanoke Island which is about 100 miles in length and of considerable breadth, all in a manner lakes, quagmires, and cane swamps, and is . . . one of the greatest deserts in the world, where it is almost impossible for white men to follow them." After Moore's swamp campaign, matters quieted down for several months and about September 1, 1713, Colonel Moore returned to South Carolina.
By the spring of 1714, one or two small bands of Indians were once more terrorizing the Bath County plantations. One account describing their activities explained that "they rove from place to place cut off two or three families today and within two or three days do the like a hundred miles off from the former. They are like deer — there is no finding them." Throughout 1714, Bath County was kept in a constant turmoil and Ft. Reading on the Pamlico, along with other strategic points, remained garrisoned by a force of whites and Indians.
The War Ends
Not until February 11, 1715, did these groups of hostiles sign a peace treaty with the North Carolina government, and agree to accept settle on a reservation in Hyde County near Lake Mattamuskeet. With this treaty the war came to an end, and the citizens of Bath County and Bath Town were free once more to follow the pursuits of peace. The war's cost in lives and property were incalculable. The Indians had exacted their revenge for real or fancied wrongs in full measure.
As the Tuscarora War came to its sad end, a normal way of life gradually returned to Bath and its vicinity. The town's swollen population gradually dispersed as settlers returned to their burned plantation homes and weed-choked fields, and as orphans and widows found refuge with relatives and friends. Forts, garrisons, and sentry duty no longer lost their importance.
To many, however, Bath County appeared finished. A frontier region, poor before the Tuscarora War, now lay completely devastated, with many of her leaders victims of war and disease. Yet, the last of the hostile Indians had not surrendered when the work of rebuilding got under way.
Edited and adapted from: A History of Colonial Bath, by Herbert R. Paschal Jr. (Raleigh, N.C.: Edwards & Broughton, 1955).