The Tuscarora War was fought in North Carolina from September 22, 1711 until February 11, 1715 between the Tuscarora tribe and the settlers in the area, who were Dutch, German, and British.

In 1653, the Europeans began to establish permanent settlements in North Carolina. For more than 50 years, despite other tribes having conflicts with settlers, peace was maintained between the Tuscarora’s in North Carolina and the settlers. Unfortunately, the settlers eventually caused major problems for the Tuscarora Indians.

The Tuscarora lived in two primary groups. One was led by Chief Hancock and lived in the south. The other was further north. They were led by Chief Tom Blunt. The tribe led by Chief Tom Blunt was located on the Roanoke River, near what is now Bertie County.

Chief Hancock’s tribe was living along the Pamplico River, near New Bern. Later, the river was renamed the Pamlico. The Blount family and Chief Blunt became quite close.

A map showing the conflicts and military installations associated with the Tuscarora War. Image from the Office of Archives & History.
A map showing the conflicts and military installations associated with the Tuscarora War. Image from the Office of Archives & History.

However, the settlers near Chief Hancock’s settlement were not as friendly. His people were often captured and sold as slaves and his villages were sometimes damaged and property destroyed in the process.

After Europeans founded the towns of Bath (1705), the Indians who lived in the Neuse and Pamlico watersheds alternated between trading with them and fighting with them.

In 1710, a group of Germans and Swiss established a settlement on the Neuse River in an ancestral area of the Tuscarora people. New Bern rapidly became a prosperous community.

A Tuscarora Camp
A Tuscarora Camp

The Tuscarora (“hemp gatherers”) communities north of the Pamlico remained more or less neutral in order to keep a trading relationship with the colonists, while those in the south who experienced more confrontations grew more or less hostile.

Trouble began when the white settlers began to take advantage of the Tuscaroras, encroaching on their farmland, cheating them in trades, and in some cases kidnapping and selling their children into slavery.

By summer 1711, during a yellow fever outbreak, hostilities had reached a peak, and Chief Hancock finally felt that he had no choice.

That September, New Bern’s founder Christoph von Graffenried made his way up the Neuse along with English surveyor John Lawson of Bath, who had explored this area during the previous 10 years and considered himself friendly to the natives.

But angry Tuscarora captured the party, killed Lawson and a black servant, and sent Graffenried back to New Bern to recommend against hostilities.

John Lawson & Baron De Graffenried, canoe up the Neuse River, stumble upon the natives preparing for war. Lawson is tried & killed.
John Lawson & Baron De Graffenried, canoe up the Neuse River, stumble upon the natives preparing for war. Lawson is tried & killed.

John Lawson, surveyor-general of North Carolina in the early 1700s, suffered an untimely death as the first casualty in the Tuscarora War.

War Breaks Out​

Chief Hancock’s group of southern Tuscarora Indians joined forces with the Mattamuskeets, the Cores, the Matchepungoes, the Pamplicos, and the Cothechneys allies and planned to attack the settlers. However, Chief Tom Blunt did not join him.

The settlers planting crops along the Trent, Neuse, and Roanoake rivers were primary targets. Residents of Bath were also targeted.

Tuscarora Indian Warrior
Tuscarora Indian Warrior

At dawn on September 22, 1711, more than 500 Tuscarora, Core, Neuse, Pamlico, Weetock, Machapunga, and Bear River Indian warriors swept down on the unsuspecting European settlers living along the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers of North Carolina.

Over the following days, they destroyed hundreds of farms, killed at least 140 men, women, and children, and took about 40 captives. So began the Tuscarora War, North Carolina’s bloodiest colonial war and surely one of its most brutal.

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 (80 children) and captured the Baron, who agreed to not retaliate if he was released.

Baron Von Graffenried, who was a prisoner of the Tuscarora during their raids recounted stories of women impaled on stakes, more than 80 infants slaughtered, and more than 130 settlers killed in the New Bern settlement.

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

The North Carolina militia were called into service by Governor Edward Hyde.

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. Governor Edward Hyde asked the Legislature of South Carolina for assistance.

Within a month of the first attack, an agent from North Carolina, Major Christopher Gale, was in Charles Town with the appeal for aid. The South Carolina legislature responded by appropriating a substantial sum of money. It also agreed to raise an army of friendly Indians, with white officers, to send to North Carolina. Major Gale promised to meet the expedition on the Neuse River with an army of white North Carolinians. He also promised that food would be supplied.

Soon afterwards, the South Carolina army moved northwest under the command of Colonel John Barnwell. On the long overland march through the interior, many of Barnwell’s Indians deserted, but others joined him. Some had no weapons other than bows and arrows.

The Barnwell Expedition 1711‑1712

On the long overland march through the interior, many of Barnwell’s Indians deserted, but others joined him. Some had no weapons other than bows and arrows. When he reached the Neuse in late January, 1712, his force consisted of 30 white men and nearly 500 Indians. His own Yamassee Company of more than 150 men contained 87 Yamassee from the Savannah River as well as warriors of several other small Muskhogean tribes to the south of Charles Town.

The other companies, containing almost 350 men, were made up of warriors of the various Siouan tribes to the north of Charles Town. Among the tribes represented were the Catawba, Saraw (or Cheraw), Wateree, Wynyaw and Cape Fear.

When Barnwell arrived at the agreed meeting place, the men promised by Gale were not there to meet him. Only a short time before, the colony’s legislature, divided by continued political differences, had refused to provide either men or supplies for the expedition.

In fact, it had failed to take any steps to defend the colony. Disappointed and without guides familiar with the country, Barnwell pushed on towards the Tuscarora town of Narhantes, hoping to take it by surprise.

Siege of Fort Narhantes

Described by him as the most warlike town of the Tuscarora, Narhantes was an open village with farms scattered over an area of several miles. About the town were nine small palisaded forts. Some newly built and others under construction, these forts stood about a mile apart.

On January 29, 1712, Barnwell led a militia of thirty soldiers and 500 Indian allies to attack the He attacked the strongest of these enclosures called Tuscarora fort, Narhantes (also known as Torhunta), on the Neuse River.

After breaking through the outer walls found two houses therein that were stronger than the walls. Among the most desperate of the defenders were a number of native women who fought with bows and arrows. Within half an hour the fort had fallen.

Of the 52 enemy killed, at least 10 were women. Thirty were taken captive and the remainder abandoned the town and its forts, leaving behind much plunder that had been taken from the colonists.

Barnwell’s casualties were seven killed and thirty‑two wounded. Before leaving Narhantes several days later, Barnwell destroyed it along with its forts and five nearby towns as well.

After that battle he crossed the Neuse River and many of the Native Americans in his force took the opportunity to abandon him and go south to sell the slaves they had captured.

This left Barnwell heavily dependent upon the Yamasee warriors who had, for the most part, remained with him. It wasn’t until February 26 at New Bern that he received reinforcements from 67 North Carolinians, and he complained that most of them were poorly armed.

After the victory at Narhantes, Barnwell then advanced to the Tuscarora’s fort in the village of Catechna.

On March 1 he finally arrived at Fort Hancock, the Tuscarora’s primary fortification.

By then the number of Native Americans with him had been reduced by death and desertion to 148 while the number of Europeans had increased to 94. In preparing to assault the fort he was informed that the Tuscarora had been taught to build earthworks by an escaped African slave named Harry, who had previously belonged to someone named Dove Williamson.

By March 7 Barnwell had Fort Hancock surrounded and the Tuscarora responded by beginning to torture their prisoners within earshot of Barnwell’s men and Barnwell claimed that one of the prisoners killed was an 8 year old girl.

The Tuscarora successfully held off two attacks and faced with a growing number of wounded, a depleted force, and low ammunition, Barnwell arranged for a truce. As part of the truce, 12 prisoners were released immediately and 22 were to be delivered 12 days later at Bachelors Creek near New Bern.

When the appointed day came, the Tuscarora did not bring the prisoners. In preparing to strike again, Barnwell built Fort Barnwell on the site of the abandoned Indian village of Core Town (probably the home of Tuscarora Chief Core Tom) near the mouth of Contentnea Creek on the Neuse River. From that base Barnwell planned to march once again on Hancock’s Fort.

On the night of April 7, 1712, Barnwell moved his troops against Hancock’s Fort. His Indians were reduced to 128 warriors, but his whites had increased to 154 by the various garrison detachments. By daylight, his men had surrounded the fort and the second siege had begun. For ten days it continued, and

On April 17, with his men starving and only a few feet from apparent success, Barnwell unaccountably agreed to a conditional surrender of the enemy.

The fort was demolished, the Tuscaroras agreed to pay annual tribute, give up all of their prisoners and agreed not to hunt or fish in the region between the Neuse and the Cape Fear, and surrendered their chief, King Hancock.

Barnwell returned to South Carolina, but on the march his troops encountered and attacked a group of Tuscaroras. More than fifty were killed, and nearly two hundred Tuscarora women and children were carried back to Charleston and enslaved. This action broke the peace, and the Tuscaroras resumed their warfare.

Barnwell faced tremendous criticism for lifting the siege and when the peace talks broke down and fighting broke out again it was decided that a new expedition, under the command of James Moore, be sent in Barnwell’s place.

Chief Blount and the Moore Expedition

In June, 1712, an agent left North Carolina for Charles Town to request South Carolina to send 1,000 Indians with a few whites and a commander other than Barnwell.

In early October 1712, the agent returned with news that the troops were on the way, under the command of Colonel James Moore.

A second South Carolina expedition, led by Colonel James Moore, Jr., future governor of the colony, arrived in North Carolina in March 1713.

The English offered Chief Blount control of the entire Tuscarora tribe if he assisted the settlers in defeating Chief Hancock. Shortly after Chief Tom Blunt captured King Hancock and the settlers executed him.

Tracking King Hancock
Tracking King Hancock

On January 17th, Moore’s army, enlarged by the addition of some eighty-five North Carolinians, left Albemarle County.

After crossing over Albemarle Sound, Moore headed into the country of the lower Tuscarora where the hostile Indians had already fled to the protection of their forts. Reports indicated the largest concentration of warriors was gathered in Fort Neoheroka, located on a branch of Contentea Creek, a few miles above Hancock’s Fort.

Accordingly, Neoheroka was the destination of Moore’s expedition as it pushed forward through the harsh cold of winter. Progress was slow because of supply difficulties combined with bad weather and deep snow.

Siege of Neoheroka

Fort Neoheroka was an irregularly shaped enclosure of one and one‑half acres contained within a palisaded wall. Along this wall, at strategically located points, were bastions and blockhouses. Within the enclosure were houses and caves. An enclosed passageway, or “waterway,” led to the nearby branch of Contentea Creek. When Colonel Moore arrived before this impressive fortification, he began careful preparations to destroy it.

Three batteries were constructed nearby and from the Yamassee Battery facing the fort, a zig‑zag trench was dug to within a few yards of the front wall. This trench provided protective cover for men to approach and build a blockhouse and battery near the fort.

Both of these structures were higher than the walls of the fort so that the enemy within might be subjected to direct fire. A tunnel also extended from the trench to the front wall so that it might be undermined with explosives.

Plans for Fort Neoheroka
Plans for Fort Neoheroka

On the morning of March 20, 1713, every man was at his post when a trumpet sounded the signal for the attack and besieged Fort Nohoroco (Neoheroka). The well-constructed fort was defended by battle-tested warriors and the siege lasted for more than three weeks, from around March 1 to March 22, 1713.

Storming of the Fortress of Neoheroka
Storming of the Fortress of Neoheroka

New Bern’s founder Christoph von Graffenried reported that

“the savages showed themselves unspeakably brave, so much so that when our soldiers had become masters of the fort and wanted to take out the women and children who were under ground, where they were hidden along with their provisions, the wounded savages who were groaning on the ground still continued to fight.”

Three days later Fort Neoheroka lay a smouldering ruin and the enemy acknowledged defeat. Hundreds of men, women and children were burned to death in a fire that destroyed the fort. Approximately 170 more were killed outside the fort.

The enemy loss was 950, about half killed and approximately 400 were taken to South Carolina where they were sold into slavery. Moore’s loss was 57 killed and 82 wounded. With this one crushing blow, the power of the Tuscarora nation was broken.

This , capturing the fort and Chief Hancock. He was executed, and the Tuscaroras were forced to sign a treaty that restricted them to a small reservation on the Roanoke River.

In 1715 remnants of the Tuscarora tribe migrated to New York. They joined the Iroquois Confederacy and in 1722 became the sixth nation of that famous Native American confederation.

Though sporadic outbreaks of guerrilla violence would occur for another few years in the “lakes, quagmires, and cane swamps,” destroying Neoheroka marked the end of any significant Tuscarora resistance to white settlers.

Following their defeat, most of the enemy Tuscarora who escaped fled north to New York in order to escape and live among the Five Nations Confederation which afterwards became the Six Nations.

In June of 1718 a treaty was signed between the settlers and the Tuscaroras who were left in the region. The Indians were given some land in present-day Bertie County, near the Roanoke River.

The area consisted of 56,000 acres, which Tom Blunt, who was now calling himself Blount, was already occupying. He was recognized as King Tom Blount by the North Carolina legislature.

Some last Tuscarora hold outs were forced to move from the Pamlico River to Bertie. Bertie County was chartered in 1722. From that point onward, over the course of several decades, their lands were slowly acquired and sold off.

Tuscarora War Timeline

  • 1710 – Colonists established the town of New Bern in an area occupied by the Tuscarora tribe in one of their villages called Chattoka
  • September 1711 – John Lawson, the Surveyor General of North Carolina, was captured and executed by the Tuscarora tribe in retaliation for the encroachment of Tuscarora lands by the colonists and the kidnapping and enslavement of tribe members
  • September 22 1711  – Chief Hancock leads the Tuscarora against the colonists and 130 settlers are killed along the Pamlico, Neuse and Trent Rivers
  • October 27, 1711 – The governor of South Carolina, Edward Hyde, orders Colonel John Barnwell, with 600 militia and about three hundred Indian allies to head a retaliatory expedition against the tribe. More than 300 Indians were killed, and over 100 made prisoners, mostly women, and subsequently sold into slavery
  • January 30, 1712 –  John Barnwell and his men destroys the Tuscarora village at Narhantes
  • April 7, 1712  – Siege of Chief Hancock’s village Catechna begins
  • April 17, 1712  – Chief Hancock’s village falls to the colonists
  • 1712 – The fighting escalated and the British eventually bribed Chief Blunt and his forces to change sides and fight with the colonists
  • August 8, 1712  – Carolina sends the Moore expedition totalling nearly 1000 including Indian allies, against the Tuscarora villages
  • 1712 – Chief Blunt captures Chief Hancock and the settlers execute him
  • March 1, 1713 – The Siege of Neoheroka
  • March 23, 1713 – The Southern Tuscarora lose Neoheroka with over 1,000 people killed or captured
  • 1713 – Many of the Southern Tuscarora leave the area to escape from the colonists and headed for New York.
  • June 1718: Chief Tom Blunt was recognized by the Legislature of North Carolina as King Tom Blount and granted 56,000 acres of land on the Roanoke River under the treaty with the colony in June 1718
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