From 2012 to 2013, I participated in the recognition of the tercentenary of an historical event. Before 2012, I knew little of the Tuscaroras, the Tuscarora conflict from 1711-1715, and the siege and battle of Neyuheruke. The history of this event receives limited attention. There are select groups who will know of this conflict, such as some North Carolina students, academics who study pre-American Revolutionary War colonial history or the history of the American Indian, and the Tuscaroras themselves that still live on today. Thanks to a pair of conferences held at East Carolina University, in particular the one held in 2013, I am more aware of an event that deserves more attention in early American history.
Neyuheruke (or Neoheroka, there are several spellings) was an American Indian community located along the Contentnea Creek, near the present town of Snow Hill, North Carolina. While it might be easier to call Neyuheruke a village or town, it does not fit the concept of a settlement with a central cluster of buildings. There may have been a central plaza, but Neyuheruke and other Contentnea Creek communities featured scattered dwellings instead of a central group of buildings clustered close together. During the Tuscarora conflict, Neyuheruke allied with several other Tuscarora communities against the Europeans (and their American Indian allies). After a campaign led by Colonel Barnwell against the Tuscarora in early 1712, the people of Neyuheruke constructed a fort sometime between February and November. In March of 1713, another expedition against the Tuscarora laid siege to this fort around March 1. This force, under the command of Colonel Moore, consisted of 108 Europeans and 750 Cherokee, Yamassee, and other American Indian allies. Inside the fort resided some 850 to 1,000 Tuscaroras. After a three-week siege, the final assault occurred over a three-day battle from March 20 to the morning of March 22. The hard-fought battle resulted in the Tuscaroras suffering between 350 to 450 deaths. At least 400 remaining Tuscaroras became prisoners. Moore’s forces suffered 139 dead or wounded. The Tuscarora prisoners returned with Moore’s men to South Carolina as slaves. Many found themselves for sale in Charleston, and from there exported to various other parts of the Western Hemisphere, including Boston. The capture of Neyuheruke’s fort marked the breaking of the opposition to the North Carolina Europeans, though smaller raids occurred until 1715. In the long term, the conflict resulted in many of the remaining Tuscaroras traveling north to reunite with the Iroquois Confederacy and resume their status as the sixth Iroquois tribe.
I came to learn about this event and its surrounding history while working as a graduate assistant for Dr. Larry Tise, a professor at East Carolina University. I spent the spring and fall semesters of 2012, and the spring semester of 2013 working for Dr. Tise. My first major interaction with the history of the Tuscarora conflict came at the “New Voyages to Carolina” conference held at East Carolina University on February 2-3, 2012. The conference featured many speakers and concentrated on history in North Carolina before the American Civil War. Several of the speakers discussed the Tuscarora conflict in the early eighteenth century and the American Indians of North Carolina in general. This conference appeared to spur Dr. Tise into organizing another conference for the tercentenary of Neyuheruke, the Tuscarora conflict in general, and in recognition of the Tuscaroras. Dr. Tise named the conference and event “Neyuheruke 300” and held it on March 21-23, 2013. Between February of 2012 and March of 2013, Dr. Tise diligently worked on this event. He organized speakers, invited the Tuscarora of New York State to return and visit North Carolina, developed publications featuring maps or documents concerning the history of the conflict, and arranged for the construction of a monument for Neyuheruke and Tuscaroras near the site of the original fort. The amount of talking, coordinating, and convincing of people to participate or assist in this event on the part of Dr. Tise was astounding. It was a unique learning experience on my part. Dr. Tise had me work on research, transcribing, and other duties to help him bring this conference into existence. In the course of a year, I went from knowing practically nothing to becoming a speaker at the conference. Since the event centered on the siege and battle of Neyuheruke, I dug into the history of the fort and tried my best to decipher the specific details of the campaign leading up to Neyuheruke, the conduct of the siege, and the final battle.
Exploring this event provided an opportunity to learn about much more than battle statistics and troop movements. The greater history of the conflict led me, and many others involved with Neyuheruke 300, to learn about a multitude of topics. Typically, colonial era slavery history concentrates on enslavement of Africans and the practice of indentured servitude. American Indians also became targets for enslavement, but the practice declined soon after North Carolina’s conflict with the Tuscarora and South Carolina’s struggle with the Yamassee. The enslaving of American Indians also played a role in starting the conflict between the Tuscaroras and Europeans of North Carolina. Beyond their enslavement, studying this conflict also introduced me to life for the Tuscaroras and other American Indians. It reminded me to what extent history tends to generalize the lives and experiences of American Indians. From the way they organized their communities to their building of forts, I found studying the Tuscaroras people fascinating. This history also led to learning much about the early history of North Carolina and the lives of the Europeans that attempted to settle North Carolina. One pattern that stood out among these Europeans was that of opportunity. Many of the leaders among these Europeans appeared to have at least one eye fixed on any opportunity that might benefit themselves, especially when land was involved. While North Carolina was a British colony, several of its European settlers were not British. In particular, a group of Swiss and Palatine settlers arrived in North Carolina in 1710. They too played a large role in starting the conflict between the North Carolina Europeans and Tuscaroras.
In researching this topic and helping shape the Neyuheruke 300 conference, I also gained a lesson in the use of terminology in the twenty-first century. For instance, the publications and presentations put together for the event describing the violent engagements, raids, encounters, battles, and sieges of 1711 to 1715 seemed to be cautious in using the term “war.” War can hold many connotations, some of which could result in glossing over the complexities of what happened between the Tuscaroras and European colonists. In addition, American Indians and Europeans viewed and engaged in conflict or warfare differently. Other terms such as “colonist,” “native,” and “settler” all have potential meanings that any speaker or writer needs to be careful when using in discussions of early colonial history. The one term that surprised me the most was that the term “Native American” was on the decline and the term “American Indian,” is gaining preference. I was surprised by this because the former term appeared to be the preferred politically correct term for a long time, and the latter term includes the word “Indian,” a word many are taught is politically incorrect and a reason for using the term “Native American” in the first place. As language changes over time, so does our use of particular words and recognition of their meanings.
In addition to language, there was much more to learn about American Indians in the twenty-first century. I knew nothing of the politics of recognition of tribes by the federal government and the state governments before 2013. With over a hundred members of the Tuscaroras from New York visiting North Carolina for the conference, it was hard to not to become introduced to the issue. While I will not go into any more detail on the politics of these issues and the protests that occurred before and during the conference, witnessing it did show me the significance that heritage and culture held to the current Tuscaroras, something that is harder to grasp only in print.
I highly appreciated the opportunity to study this part of colonial history and gained much from the time spent researching and working on the Neyuheruke 300 conference. I eventually plan to turn my research from this event into an article. While my main interest in history are maritime topics and pirate history, it is still engaging and beneficial to study topics beyond those specialties. For my interest, the Tuscarora conflict precedes the years in which North Carolina contended with pirates. Why did North Carolina’s officials allow a pirate to enter its ports? The pirates brought with them valuable stolen goods and slaves. North Carolina did not have a major port like Charleston, so they did not have as many vessels importing goods and no ships directly importing shipments of slaves. The colony also lost significant amounts of property and expended much wealth in the conflict. Slaves and barrels of sugar offered ways to help make up for these losses. While the history of North Carolina during this era of mariners bearing stolen property is tantalizing, before the arrival of pirates, sugar, and slaves, this colony saw another intriguing historical event that had consequences felt by the descendants of the people involved to this day.
Recommended Readings Concerning the Tuscarora Conflict of 1711-1715 and Slave Trade of American Indians:
Link to the East Carolina University Official Blog for the Conference: Nooherooka 300 and Beyond