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Tuscarora (tribe)

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Subject: Finger Lakes, 1711, 1710, Berkeley County, West Virginia, Winchester, Virginia, Iroquois mythology, Greene County, North Carolina, Bellevue, Kentucky, Vestal, New York, Springport, New York
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Tuscarora (tribe)

Tuscarora Portraits
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Originally from North Carolina
English, Skarure
Kai'hwi'io, Kanoh'hon'io, Kahni'kwi'io, Christianity, Longhouse, Handsome Lake, other Indigenous religions
Related ethnic groups
Haudenosaunee, Meherrin Nation, Nottoway (Cheroenhaka Nation), other Iroquoian peoples

The Tuscarora ("hemp gatherers"[1]) are a Native American people of the Iroquoian-language family, with members in New York, Canada, and North Carolina. They coalesced as a people around the Great Lakes, likely about the same time as the rise of the five nations of the historic Iroquois tribes, based in present-day New York.

Well before the arrival of Europeans in North America, the Tuscarora had migrated south and settled in the region now known as Eastern Carolina. The most numerous indigenous people in the area, they lived along the Roanoke, Neuse, Tar (Torhunta or Narhontes), and Pamlico rivers in North Carolina.[2] They first encountered European explorers and settlers in North Carolina and Virginia.[3][4][5]

After the 18th century wars of 1711-1713 (known as the Tuscarora War), most of the Tuscarora left North Carolina and migrated north to Pennsylvania and New York, over a period of 90 years. They aligned with the Iroquois in New York, because of their ancestral connection. They were sponsored by the Oneida and accepted as one of the Six Nations in 1722. After the American Revolution, in which they and the Oneida allied with the colonists, the Tuscarora shared reservation land with the Oneida before gaining their own. The Tuscarora Nation of New York is federally recognized.

Those Tuscarora who allied with the British in the American Revolution resettled with other Iroquois tribes in present-day Ontario, where they are part of the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation. Only the tribes in New York and Ontario have been recognized officially by the respective national governments. After the early 19th century, the Tuscarora in New York no longer considered those remaining in North Carolina as members of the tribal nation. The North Carolina remnants have formed bands in which they call themselves Tuscarora; as of 2010, several bands in Robeson County have united on an interim basis as the Tuscarora Nation One Fire Council.


The historic nation encountered by Europeans in North Carolina had three tribes:

  • Kǎ'tě’nu'ā'kā' (People of the Submerged Pine-tree), also written Kautanohakau;
  • Akawěñtc'ākā' (meaning doubtful), also Kauwetseka ; and
  • Skarū'ren' (hemp gatherers), also Tuscarora. These were active as independent groups after the tribe's migration to New York and Ontario.[6] An early 19th-century historian wrote that the Tuscarora traditionally were said to occupy 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.[2]

In late 17th and early 18th-century North Carolina, European colonists reported two primary branches of the Tuscarora: a northern group led by Chief Tom Blunt, and a southern group led by Chief Hancock. Varying accounts circa 1708-1710 estimated the number of Tuscarora warriors as from 1200-2000. Historians estimate their total population may have been three to four times that number.[2]

Chief Blunt occupied the area around what is present-day Bertie County, North Carolina, on the Roanoke River. Chief Hancock lived closer to present-day New Bern, occupying the area south of the Pamlico River. Chief Blunt became close friends with the Blount family of the Bertie region and lived peacefully.

By contrast, Chief Hancock had to deal with more numerous colonists' encroaching on his community. They raided his villages and kidnapped people to sell into slavery. The colonists transported some Tuscarora to Pennsylvania sell into slavery. Both groups suffered substantial population losses after exposure to Eurasian infectious diseases endemic to Europeans. Both also suffered territorial encroachment. By 1711 Chief Hancock believed he had to attack the settlers to fight back. Chief Tom Blunt did not join him in the war.

The southern Tuscarora collaborated with the Pamlico, the Cothechney, the Coree, the Mattamuskeet and the Matchepungoe nations to attack the settlers in a wide range of locations within a short time period. Their principal targets were against the planters on the Roanoke, Neuse and Trent rivers, as well as the city of Bath. They attacked on September 22, 1711, beginning the Tuscarora War. The allied Indian tribes killed hundreds of settlers, including several key political figures among the colonists.

Governor Edward Hyde called out the North Carolina militia and secured the assistance of South Carolina, which provided 600 militia and 360 allied Native Americans under Col. Barnwell. In 1712, this force attacked the southern Tuscarora and other nations in Craven County at Fort Narhontes, on the banks of the Neuse River. The Tuscarora were "defeated with great slaughter; more than three hundred were killed, and one hundred made prisoners."

The governor offered Chief Blunt leadership of the entire Tuscarora Nation if he would assist in defeating Chief Hancock. Blunt succeeded in capturing Hancock, who was tried and executed by North Carolina. In 1713 the Southern Tuscarora were defeated at their Fort Neoheroka (formerly spelled Neherooka), with 900 killed or captured in the battle.

After defeat in the battle of 1713, about 1500 Tuscarora fled to New York to join the Iroquois Confederacy, while as many as 1500 additional Tuscarora sought refuge in the colony of Virginia. Although some accepted tributary status in Virginia, the majority of the remaining Tuscarora ultimately returned to North Carolina.[7] In 1715, seventy of the southern Tuscarora went to South Carolina to assist against the Yamasee. Those 70 warriors later asked permission to have their wives and children join them, and settled near Port Royal, South Carolina.

Under the leadership of Tom Blunt, the Tuscarora who remained in North Carolina signed a treaty with the colony in June 1718. It granted a 56,000 acres (230 km2) tract of land on the Roanoke River in what is now Bertie County. This was the area occupied by Chief Blunt and his people. The colonies of Virginia and North Carolina both recognized Tom Blunt, who had taken the last name Blount, as "King Tom Blount" of the Tuscarora. Both colonies agreed to consider as friendly only those Tuscarora who accepted Blount's leadership.[8] The remaining Southern Tuscarora were forced to remove from their villages on the Pamlico River and relocate to the villages of Ooneroy and Resootskeh in Bertie County. In 1722, the Bertie County Reservation, which would officially become known as "Indian Woods," was chartered by the colony.

As colonial settlement surrounded Indian Woods, the Tuscarora suffered discrimination and other acts: they were overcharged or denied use of ferries, restricted in hunting, and cheated in trade; their timber was illegally logged, and their lands were continuously encroached upon by herders and squatters.[8] Over the next several decades the colonial government continually reduced the Tuscarora tract, forcing cessions of land to the encroaching settlers. They sold off portions of the land in deals often designed to take advantage of the Tuscarora.

Many Tuscarora were not satisfied with the leadership of Tom Blount, and decided to leave the reservation. In 1722 300 fighting men; along with their wives, children, and the elderly, resided on Indian Woods. There were 200 fighting men in 1731 and 100 in 1755 with a total Indian Woods population of 301 in 1755. When in 1752 Moravian missionaries visited the reservation, they noted "many had gone north to live on the Susquehanna" and that "others are scattered as the wind scatters smoke."[7]

In 1763 and 1766 additional Tuscarora migrated north to settle with other Iroquoian peoples in Pennsylvania and New York. By 1767 only 104 individuals continued to reside on the reservation in Bertie County. In 1804 the last band to leave North Carolina went to New York. By then, only "10 to 20 Old families" remained on Indian Woods.

In 1802 the last Indian Woods Tuscarora negotiated a treaty with the United States, by which land would be held for them that they could lease. As the government never ratified the treaty, the North Carolina Tuscarora viewed the treaty as null and void. In 1831 the Indian Woods Tuscarora sold the remaining rights to their lands. By this point their 56,000 acres (230 km2) had already been reduced to only 2,000 acres (8.1 km2).

Despite not having a reservation, some Tuscarora remain in the southern regions of the state. In 1971 the Tuscarora in Robeson County, North Carolina sought to get an accounting of their lands and rents due them under the unratified treaty of 1803.[9] At least three bands organized in Robeson County; in 2010 they united as one group.

Migration north

The Iroquois Five Nations of New York had penetrated as far as the Tuscarora homeland in North Carolina by 1701, and nominally controlled the entire frontier territory lying in between. Following their discovery of a linguistically related tribe living beyond Virginia, they were more than happy to accommodate their distant cousins within the Iroquois Constitution as the "Sixth Nation", and to resettle them in safer grounds to the north. (The Iroquois had driven tribes of rival Indians out of Western New York to South Carolina during the Beaver Wars several decades earlier, not far from where the Tuscarora resided.)

Beginning about 1713 after the war, contingents of Tuscarora began leaving North Carolina for the north. They established a main village at present-day Martinsburg, WV, on what is still known as Tuscarora Creek. Another group stopped in 1719-1721 in present-day Maryland along the Monocacy River, on the way to join the Iroquois Oneida nation in western New York.[10] After white settlers began to pour into what is now the Martinsburg area from around 1730, the Tuscarora continued northward to join those in New York. Other Tuscarora bands sojourned in the Juniata River valley of Pennsylvania, before moving to New York.

During the American Revolutionary War, part of the Tuscarora and Oneida nations in New York allied with the colonists of the newly established United States government. Most of the Iroquois nations supported Great Britain, and participated in battles throughout New York. They were the main forces that attacked frontier settlements of the central Mohawk and Cherry valleys. Late in the war, the pro-British Tuscarora followed Chief Joseph Brant of the Mohawk, other British-allied tribes, and Loyalists north to Ontario. They were part of establishing the reserve of the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation in what became Ontario, Canada.

In 1803 a final contingent of southern Tuscarora migrated to New York to join the reservation of their tribe in Niagara County. After that, the Tuscarora in New York no longer considered southern remnants as part of their nation. Many descendants of the southern remnants continue to claim the name of Tuscarora to describe themselves and their bands.

During the War of 1812 in the British attack on Lewiston, New York on December 19, 1813 a band of Tuscarora[11] living in a village on an escarpment just above the town fought to save Americans fleeing the ravages of the invasion force,[12] including British allied Mohawk and some American Tories disguised as Mohawk.[13] The American militia ignominiously fled, leaving only the Tuscarora—outnumbered 30 to one—to fight a delaying action that allowed some townspeople to escape. Among the Tuscarora bluff tactics was sending a party of braves to blow horns along the escarpment, while another party attacked downhill with war whoops, to give an exaggerated impression of their numbers.[14] The British force burned Lewiston, as well as the Tuscarora village, which the delaying action had left undefended.[15]

The Tuscarora have continued to struggle to protect their land. In the mid-20th century, New York City commissioner Robert Moses generated controversy by negotiating with the Tuscarora Sachem council and purchasing 550 acres2 of the Lewiston, NY Tuscarora reservation for the reservoir of the new hydroelectric project (largest in the world at the time of first power generation in February, 1962) along the Niagara River, downriver from Niagara Falls. The plant continues to generate cheap electricity for households ranging from the Niagara Frontier to as far away as New York City.[16]


Skarure, the Tuscarora language, is a member of the northern branch of the Iroquoian languages. A historical and linguistic question is when the Iroquoian-speaking Meherrin and Nottoway tribes separated from the Tuscarora. Before initial contact (1650), the English, based on reports from Algonquian natives, thought the three tribes were one people, grouped by the Algonquian exonym as the Mangoag. Following encounter by the English with the Tuscarora and other tribes, the colonists used the same interpreters to translate with each of the peoples, which meant the languages were closely related.

What linguists have learned of the extinct Nottoway language shows that it was certainly distinct, although closely related to Tuscarora.[17] In historic times, the three tribes have always considered themselves distinct.

National government-recognized Tuscarora tribes

Tuscarora bands in North Carolina

Several bands, groups, and organizations with members claiming Tuscarora descent reside in North Carolina; they have organized and split in various configurations. None has state or federal recognition. They have included the following:

  • Tuscarora Indian Nation of North Carolina, org. date: per Sec. of State, NC 05/08/1972, Robeson Co.
  • Southern Band Tuscarora Indian Tribe, Windsor;
  • Tuscarora Tribe of Indians Maxton (1979) effective date per Sec. of State NC, 08/20/1990,
  • North Carolina (formed in 2010 from several bands in Robeson County)

Tuscarora tribal officials in New York dispute claims that anyone in North Carolina has continuity as a tribe with the Tuscarora.[18] The Tuscarora Nation of New York, says that the great majority of the tribe moved north to New York. New York leaders consider any individuals remaining in North Carolina as no longer having tribal status, although they may be descendants by heritage.

Both the New York Tuscarora and the North Carolina Tuscarora bands claim the historical name of the tribe. As the New York tribe is federally recognized and the longest organized as a tribe, it is considered the legal successor to the historic tribe. Members of North Carolina bands also claim descent and continuity with the ancient Skarure. Some North Carolina Tuscarora feel that the Tuscarora that left North Carolina abandoned the home lands, and both should have a relationship with the federal government.

In the 1930s, the Department of Interior conducted physical examinations of 209 individuals residing in Robeson County and determined that 22 possessed at least 1/2 or more degree of Indian blood, and that 18 more were borderline or near-borderline cases.[19]

Such physical exams are no longer considered a valid method of determining ancestry. Each tribe has the authority to determine membership criteria and establish its own rules, generally based on descent from a historical list of agreed-upon members or descent from known living members. Ethnicity is considered socially constructed, based in culture rather than blood quantum.

In the 1960s, the surviving eight of these 22 people, with many of their descendants and approximately 2,000 other individuals in their communities[20] organized an official Tuscarora political infrastructure in Robeson County. On November 12, 1979 the Tuscarora Tribe of Indians Maxton were accepted into the National Congress of American Indians.[20]

Various factions of the Robeson County-based Tuscarora, who have split since their initial organization in the 1960s, have worked for state and federal recognition. A petition by the Hatteras Tuscarora, submitted to the federal government in 1978, was placed on hold.

In 1989, the Solicitor of the Department of Interior ruled that the Lumbee Act of 1956[21] barred all Indians within Robeson and adjoining counties from consideration within the "Branch of Acknowledgement and Research" petitioning process. The ruling applied first to the Lumbee petition of 1986.[18] Gerald M. Sider states that rather than challenging this ruling, "The Lumbee subsequently removed their petition from active consideration by the BIA in a way that also prevented the Tuscarora petitions from being considered."[22]

In 2006 the Skaroreh Katenuaka Nation, "AKA: Tuscarora Nation of Indians of North Carolina", filed a federal lawsuit for recognition.[23] Skaroreh Katenuaka Nation, the Hatteras Tuscarora and the Tuscarora Nation of the Carolinas are all based in Robeson County, North Carolina. Members are closely related to one another.

In May 2010 leaders and individuals from the various Tuscarora factions in the Robeson County area came together to form the Tuscarora Nation One Fire Council[24] (TNOFC). The TNOFC is an interim, un-incorporated government based on provisions outlined in wampum 96 of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois League) Great Law of Peace. The TNOFC assembles weekly and is working toward developing and implementing solutions to problems that have created division in the past. The TNOFC maintain separate membership enrollment from, and are not part of, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.

The Lumbee a state-recognized tribe,[25] the largest tribe in the state, and are also located in Robeson County.[26]

Tuscarora descendants in Oklahoma

Some Tuscarora descendants live in Oklahoma. They are primarily descendants of Tuscarora groups absorbed in the early decades of the nineteenth century by relocated Iroquois Seneca and Cayuga bands from New York, who became known as Mingo. Coalescing as a group in Ohio, the Mingo were later forced in Indian Removals to Kansas, and lastly, Oklahoma. They reorganized as the federally recognized Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma in 1937 and occupy the northeast corner of the former Indian Territory.

See also

Indigenous peoples of North America portal


External links

  • Tuscarora and Six Nations Websites
  • Tuscarora Indian Nation
  • Six Nations of the Grand River
  • Six Nations Of The Grand River Territory
  • Tuscarora Nation One Fire Council Official
  • "History of the Tuscarora", Bertie County, Rootsweb
  • David Landy, "Tuscarora", Encyclopedia of North American Indians, Cengage Learning Website, Houghton Mifflin Company
  • Coastal Carolina Indian Center
  • Nooherooka 300th Commemoration,

Further reading

  • , M.A. Thesis, 2005, University of Arizona
  • John R. Swanton, "The Indians of the Southeastern United States", Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 137 (Washington, D.C., 1946)
  • Bruce G. Trigger, ed., Northeast, vol. 15 of Handbook of North American Indians, ed. William C. Sturtevant (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1978)
  • Anthony F. C. Wallace, "The Modal Personality Structure of the Tuscarora Indians", Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 150 (Washington, D.C., 1952)
  • Anthony F. C. Wallace, Tuscarora: A History (Albany: SUNY Press, 2012)

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