PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Tuscarora Indians vs. Colonial
North and South Carolina
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): North Carolina
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The Tuscarora, reacting to
colonial depredations, launched a resistance to further
settlement; the colonies responded with a war of
OUTCOME: The Tuscarora were destroyed as a tribe; most
survivors migrated north, ultimately to join the Iroquois
Five Nations” League as a sixth nation; a few remained
on much diminished lands in North Carolina.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
Colonial forces, militia and Indian allies, 2,000; Tuscarora, 1,200 warriors
CASUALTIES: Colonists, 200+ killed; Indian allies, unknown; Tuscaroras, 1,400 killed, 1,000 enslaved
TREATIES: Those Tuscarora who remained behind in North Carolina signed a peace treaty on February 11, 1715.
The Tuscaroras, who lived inland from the Atlantic sea-coast, along the coastal rivers of North Carolina, were initially inclined to be friendly to their colonial neighbors. By the first decade of the 18th century, however, they were suffering indignities and abuses, especially at the hands of local English traders. Plying the Tuscaroras with liquor, traders cheated them out of goods and territory though, in the case of the latter, there was rarely even the semblance of a business transaction, as settlers simply squatted on the Tuscaroras’ best land. Worse, traders began kidnapping Tuscaroras and selling them into West Indian slavery. As if this were not misery enough, Iroquois raiding parties from the north were ambushing isolated groups of Tuscarora hunters.
After enduring this situation for some years, the Tus-caroras, still wishing to avoid war, petitioned the government of Pennsylvania in 1709 for permission to migrate there. Authorities were willing to grant the necessary permission only if the Tuscarora settlers could secure a note from the government of North Carolina attesting to their good conduct. Although the Tuscaroras had shown great forbearance under considerable pressure, the North Carolinians refused to furnish the required certificate allowing the Tuscaroras to leave would have meant relinquishing a valuable inventory of slaves.
About a year later in 1710, a band of Swiss colonists organized by an entrepreneur named Baron Cristoph von Graffenried (1661–1743) settled on a tract of North Carolina land at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent Rivers that they christened New Bern. There was a problem, however; the tract of land was already part of an extended Tuscarora village. Instead of attempting to negotiate with the Indians, von Graffenried complained to North Carolina’s surveyor general, who affirmed that as far as the colonial government was concerned, the von Graffenried settlers held clear title to the land. The surveyor general told the Swiss promoter that he was perfectly within his rights to drive the Indians off without payment, which he did.
At dawn, on September 22, 1711, the Tuscaroras’ forbearance at last gave way to violence. A raiding party attacked New Bern and other settlements in the area, killing 200 settlers, including 80 children. Von Graffenried managed to secure his release as well as a pledge from the Indians not to attack New Bern again by promising to make no war on the Tuscaroras. One of his settlers, William Brice (fl. early 18th century), thirsting for revenge,
was unwilling to abide by von Graffenried’s promise. He captured a local chief of the Coree tribe, allied with the Tuscaroras, and burned him alive. The Tuscaroras, Corees, and other, smaller tribes, renewed their raids.
The situation was out of hand, and North Carolina officials sought aid from South Carolina. South Carolina dispatched Irish-born Colonel John Barnwell (c. 1671– 1724) in command of 30 militiamen and 500 Indian allies, many of them Yamassees. The South Carolinian force took a great toll on Tuscarora settlements and those of their allies. Barnwell, heartened by his victories, his forces augmented by a contingent from North Carolina, directed an attack against the stronghold of the Tuscarora “king” Hancock (fl. early 18th century) in March 1712. The North Carolina men proved unreliable. Meeting fiercer opposition than they had anticipated, they broke ranks in a panic, and the assault failed. The Indians asked for a peace parley, but Barnwell refused. In response, the Tuscaroras began to torture their captives in full view of Barnwell’s men. Finally, Barnwell agreed to withdraw in return for the release of the captives. The Tuscaroras agreed, and Barnwell returned to the New Bern settlement.
The North Carolina assembly angrily ordered him back to the front. Nothing less than the reduction of Hancock’s “fort” the Tuscaroras, like many eastern tribes, lived behind village palisades was acceptable. Barnwell marched back in greater force, bullied Hancock into signing a peace treaty, then, marching back to New Bern, summarily violated his own treaty by seizing a party of Tuscaroras and selling them as slaves.
War was renewed in the summer of 1712, and North Carolina again appealed to South Carolina for help. This time, the neighboring colony sent Colonel James Moore (fl. early 18th century) with a force of 33 militiamen and 1,000 Indians. They arrived in November 1712, combined with North Carolina troops, and in March 1713 struck at the principal concentration of Tuscarora warriors. Hundreds of Tuscaroras died in this battle, and 400 were captured. The proceeds of their sale into slavery, at £10 each, helped defray the cost of the campaign. Many Tuscaroras who escaped death or enslavement migrated northward, eventually as far as New York, where they were given asylum among the Iroquois and, in 1722, were admitted into the Iroquois League as its “sixth nation.” A smaller faction, led by a chief the English called Tom Blount (d. after 1732), remained in North Carolina, signing a peace treaty on February 11, 1715.