Who are the Tuscarora People?

Who are the Tuscarora People?

Suz Suz April 29, 2022 0 Comments History, Latest News

The Tuscarora, like thousands of Native American nations and communities across the continent, have their own history and culture.

The Tuscarora people played a pivotal role in the development of North Carolina in many ways. They were considered the most powerful and highly developed tribe in what is now eastern North Carolina.

They were skilled traders and fierce warriors.

The worst Indian war to ever take place in North Carolina was fought between the state and Tuscarora.   

Who are the Tuscarora People?  

The Tuscarora are a Native American Indian Tribe. They are one of the original Six Nations of the Iroquois.

Tuscarora is pronounced “tuh-skuh-roar-uh.” It comes from their own tribal name, Skarureh, which means “hemp people.” Indian hemp, also called milkweed is a plant that produces strong fibres, as cotton does. They were noted for their use of this indigenous hemp for fibre and medicine.

They depended heavily on cultivating corn and were expert hunters.  They developed a profitable fur trade business with the Europeans around the 1650’s. This brought wealth and power to the Tuscarora people.

At one point their territory stretched from the Atlantic shores to the Shenandoah and Appalachian Mountains.  A typical dwelling was a round lodge of poles overlaid with bark. 

Tuscarora People | Tribal History

Early Europeans recognized the Tuscarora in North Carolina had 3 tribes:

  • Kǎ’tě’nu’ā’kā’ (People of the Submerged Pine-tree)
  • Akawěñtc’ākā’  (doubtful, also Kauwetseka)
  • Skarū’ren’ (hemp gatherers, also known as Tuscarora)

Chief Tom Blunt occupied the area around what is present day Bertie County, North Carolina, on the Roanoke River and parts of Virginia. Chief Hancock in the lower Tuscarora Village, closer to present day Craven County, New Bern, occupied the area south of the Pamlico River including Bath, NC.

Chief Blunt maintained a peaceful territory in part due to the Fur trade and befriending a prominent European family. This was not the case for Chief Hancock. He was faced with colonists encroaching on his land. They raided villages and kidnapped the natives to be sold into slavery.  With European expansion also came infectious diseases which also killed off substantial populations from both groups.

The Tuscarora War

The Tuscarora War was the most horrific Indian war to ever take place in North Carolina. The Tuscarora’s initial attack took place on September 22,1711.Their attack was swift and strategic. Leading up to the war:

  • The natives’ hostile attitude grew as they felt the whites cheated them in trading. 
  • The colonists were divided by political disagreement and were under a false sense of security.    
  • In September of 1711 John Lawson and Christoph von Graffenried were exploring the southern territory. Chief Hancock felt threatened by their presence and captured both men. John Lawson argues with Chief Hancock and is killed. It is believed this was the tipping point for the Tuscarora war. 

From there, Chief Hancock without the support of Chief Blunt, allied with other tribes including Pamlico, Cothechney, Coree, Woccon, Mattamuskeet to attack the settlers. Divided into small war parties, the Indians swept down the Neuse and along the south shore of the Pamlico including Bath, NC. Two hours later,130 colonists lay dead.  Some were tortured and left wounded.  And some were taken captive.  

After this massacre Governor Edward Hyde called on North Carolina militia, assistance from South Carolina and allied Native Americans. South Carolina sent Col John Barnwell, a veteran Indian fighter.  Col Barnwell had to travel over 300 miles of wilderness so he did not arrive until Jan 1712.  With his combined forces he succeeded in forcing the Tuscarora to retreat. Eventually they would surrender and release prisoners. 

This victory, however, did not end the Tuscarora War. Moreover, all involved found themselves dissatisfied. North Carolina expected Barnwell to defeat the Tuscarora completely, while South Carolina expected some sort of repayment. And some South Carolina officers retained Tuscarora prisoners to sell as slaves, a breach of treaty that led to renewed discontent and precipitated a second wave of Tuscarora attacks the following summer.

When these renewed attacks came, the settlers were already weakened by a yellow fever epidemic that had claimed many lives, including that of Governor Hyde. Still struggling to rebuild their plantations, many abandoned the colony. Some fled to Virginia; others huddled in garrisons to avoid Tuscarora raiding parties. 

The new governor, Thomas Pollock, turned to South Carolina again. In December 1712, Col. James Moore arrived with 33 whites and nearly 1,000 Native Americans and won a sound victory, killing over 900 warriors and effectively breaking the power of the Tuscarora.

For the Tuscaroras the cost was bitter: 1,000 had been captured and enslaved; 1,400 were dead. A handful remained in rebellion until February 1715, when a treaty concluded the war.

The Relocation of the Tuscarora People 

In the wake of the war, many Tuscarora began migrating north to join the Iroquois Confederacy in New York.

Some remained in  North Carolina and parts of Virginia and South Carolina. Presently, some Tuscarora descendants live in Robeson County in the communities such as the Tuscarora Nation East of the Mountain, The Southern Band Tuscarora Indian Tribe, and theTuscarora Nation of North Carolina. 

By 1831, the Tuscarora had relinquished their land and titles to North Carolina, and the state does not officially recognize any of the present Tuscarora Communities.

Six Nations of the Iroquois

Based on a desire to stand together against invasion, the Iroquois Confederacy was formed.  In their own language, Kanonsionni or (“league of clans”) consisted of 6 tribes. They call themselves the Haudenosaunee(“people of the longhouse”) or Six Nations.

The Tuscarora are part of this Confederacy along with: 

  • Mohawk
  • Onondaga
  • Seneca
  • Oneida
  • Cayuga

The Tuscarora are a federally recognized tribe and part of the Sixth Nation of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy. The Tuscarora population was 1,152 at the 2010 census. 

The Tuscarora have played a pivotal role in the development of North Carolina. Today they are not a recognized tribe in NC but the state does recognize 8 other tribes. In fact, North Carolina has the largest American Indian population east of the Mississippi River. Interesting fact about Bath,NC. Locals have shared that back in the 1950’s when attempting to widen the roads, Indian artifacts were discovered.

Imagine walking these streets knowing where you stood was once an Indian battle field. When visiting Bath, take a short trip over to the Aurora Fossil Museum to see some real Native American artifacts.


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