The Tuscarora

Written By Jonathan Martin

The Tuscarora were a Coastal Plain tribe that thrived in the North Carolina colony at the time of European settlement in the late sixteenth century. They resembled the Algonquian tribe in their habits and lifestyle but the Tuscarora spoke a different version of the Iroquoian language. Although the Tuscarora were defeated in the Tuscarora War (1711–1713), according to historian William S. Powell they were “considered the most powerful and highly developed tribe in what is now eastern North Carolina” ( p. 1140).

The Tuscarora established their primary towns on or near the Pamlico, Neuse, Roanoke, and Tar Rivers. The villages were organized into a type of plantation system. Several houses dotted the cityscape as the villages were located fairly near to one another. Every town had a chief, or teethha, who held political power of their respective communities. The villages were organized into confederacies and the most prominent included the Upper Town and Lower Town confederacies.

Known for migrating with the seasons, the Tuscarora lived in “squat, round houses with circular floors and domed roofs” made of bark and cyprus/cedar wood during the summer months (Northeast Indians). The thick bark provided protection from the rain and sun. As winter approached, the Tuscarora migrated to camping spots where they built houses close to each other with pits for small fires to stay warm. The tribe was known as “hemp gatherers,” using the wild plant to insulate their houses.

The tribe ate a variety of foods including fish, large game such as deer and bears, as well as crops from their plantations. Corn proved to be the most vital crop of the Tuscarora, and tribe members specifically enjoyed crayfish. In addition, baby wasps, picked from their combs, were popular candy snacks for all tribe members, especially the young Tuscarora. For clothing, the tribe wore animal furs with copper accessories such as bracelets and necklaces. Oftentimes, tribe members used the bloodroot plant to dye their hair a deep red color to add to remain different from other neighboring tribes.

In the middle of the seventeenth century, the Tuscarora and northern Virginian settlers started a fur trade. Chief Tom Blount, a leader of the Upper Towns of the Tuscarora, saw the situation as beneficial to the Upper Tribe, but the leader of the Lower Towns, Chief Hancock had a different outlook of the trade. At the request of several smaller Indian tribes on the coast who were distressed by colonists in Bath and New Bern, Chief Hancock decided to warn the European settlers for their boldness.

In 1711, Chief Hancock and the Lower Tuscarora tribe led an attack against the North Carolina colonists in September 1711, initiating the Tuscarora War. For more information on the Tuscarora War please check out this link of the encyclopedia.

Ultimately, the Tuscarora were defeated after their clash with colonists, and the tribe moved to New York and joined the League of the Iroquois or the Six Nations. However, nearly 650 Tuscarora families continued to live 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 the Tuscarora 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.