Colonial America – Indians of the Southern Colonies – The Tuscarora Indian War


Settlement in North Carolina occurred more slowly than in her neighboring colonies of Virginia and South Carolina. Eventually however, colonists overflowed from Virginia into the Albermarle area of northeast North Carolina around 1650. In 1663, Charles II of England (whom the Carolinas were named after) granted a charter to eight Englishmen which set the boundaries of the colony. The Englishmen were called the Lord Proprietors and effectively controlled the colony.

In the early 18th century, the area inland of Albermarle was settled primarily by the Tuscarora Indians, who initially got along with the colonists. However, their tolerance wore thin after years of neglect on the part of the colonists. Traders would often provide liquor to the Indians before debauching them, Indians were sometimes kidnapped into slavery, and they were continuously subject to settlers squatting on their land.

Finally, in 1711, the Tuscarora reached their breaking point. At the invitation of the colonial government, Baron Christoph von Graffenreid arrived with a colony of several hundred Swiss and took over a large tract of land without the permission of the Tuscarora. In retaliation, the Tuscarora massacred over 200 colonists who were settled between the Neuse River and the Pamlico Sound. Graffenreid was captured but released in the raid. Settlers flocked to the town of Bath and the colony was almost emptied. Governor Hyde appealed to both Virginia and South Carolina for help. In early 1712, Col. John Barnwell arrived from South Carolina with an army of Yamasee and Catawba Indians to assist the colonists.

In May of 1712, Col. Barnwell attacked the Tuscarora’s main village, reaching a tentative peace treaty with King Hancock. After the truce, the South Carolina contingent prepared to returned home. But there was reportedly an argument over North Carolina’s willingness to pay for their expenses. In retaliation, Col. Barnwell captured several hundred Tuscarora as slaves and the truce fell through.

In 1713, Col. James Moore returned from South Carolina with over 1,000 Indians and won a decisive victory over the Tuscarora, killing many and capturing over 400 to be sold into slavery. The remaining Tuscarora Indians fled north to New York in 1714 and, in 1722, became the Sixth Nation of the Iroquois League.

The Yamasee Indians who assisted the colonists had long been allies with the white settlers. After the Tuscarora war, they were subject to the same degrading treatment as the Tuscarora and rose against the South Carolina colonists in 1715. Within six months, the rebellion was put down and the survivors fled to Florida.

The Catawba Indians had also allied themselves with the colonists. Aside from aiding the Yamasee Uprising in 1715, they lived relatively peacefully with the colonists. After the Carolina uprisings, the Catawba incorporated several smaller tribes into their own. Despite this, their population was in decline. A smallpox epidemic in 1738 killed over half of the 1400 who were left, and after years of tribal warfare and another epidemic in 1759-60, the Catawba’s role in colonial history was at an end.

** Author’s note: There are several other tribes who played a role in the colonial history of the Carolina’s, and I was not able to touch on the tribes found in Georgia in this article. For further reading on these and other tribes, please see the following resources:

  1. Swanton, John R. The Indians of the Southeastern United States. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979 (Reprint from 1949).
  2. Waldman, Carl. Atlas of the North American Indian. Facts on File Inc. New York, 1985