Tuscarora War

Written By Dr. Troy L. Kickler

What is now Carteret, Pamlico, Craven, Lenoir, Jones, Beaufort, and Pitt counties was a terrifying place to live from 1711 to 1713. North Carolinians and the Yamasee tribe waged war against the Tuscarora.  Many colonists’ settlements were burned and the Tuscarora’s ax indiscriminately fell upon men, women, and children.  In the end, English colonists prevailed. Captured Tuscarora were sold into slavery and those that escaped northward joined the Iroquois League.

 A tenuous alliance had existed between the English in North Carolina and the Tuscarora before war erupted.  The English were known for taking advantage of Tuscarora in trade negotiations. When the founder of New Bern, Baron Christoph von Graffrenreid and Swiss colonists, “drove [Tuscarora] off a tract of land without payment in 1711,” the tribe responded by “raiding settlements.”  Historian William Powell writes that it was “three days of slaughter” and the town of Bath survived only because a friendly local chief refused to join other Tuscarora. In the end, Tuscarora killed 200 people (80 children) and captured the Baron, who agreed to not retaliate if he was released.  

Meanwhile, a colonist named William Brice sought revenge and captured a local chief and killed him. War then returned.

Alone, North Carolina militia was unable to handle the Tuscarora threat. The Assembly asked Virginia for help and the northern neighbor attempted to take advantage of the situation. In exchange for Virginia militia’s help, Governor Spotswood asked North Carolina Governor Hyde for the land between the Albemarle Sound and the line established in the 1655 charter (present-day Edenton, Elizabeth City, and at least 10 present day counties).  North Carolina then turned to South Carolina for help.  The militia and approximately 500 Yamasee marched into Tuscarora territory and killed nearly 800, and after the second assault on the main village, King Hancock, the Tuscarora chief, signed a treaty.  

After a treaty violation by the English, war erupted again. The militia and about 1,000 Indian allies traveled into Tuscarora territory and waged war.  According to historian Carl Waldman, approximately 400 Tuscarora were sold into slavery, and some as far north as Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston. The remaining Tuscarora fled northward and joined the Iroquois League as the Sixth Nation. Later, during the Revolutionary War, the Oneida and the Tuscarora sided with the Americans while the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca allied with the British.

The Tuscarora War united religious factions in North Carolina; even Quakers, writes Powell, “furnish[ed] provisions for men under arms.”  A precedent was set, too: paper money was issued during the emergency.  The colony acted similarly in future crises, even though depreciation always followed.