Excerpt from The Tuscaroras, Vol. 2 by F. Roy Johnson. This excerpt from a chapter in Johnson’s book discusses the demise of the Tuscarora reservation in Bertie County at Indian Woods, and the exodus from the reservation by Tuscaroras to the north and other areas of North Carolina.
From The Tuscaroras, Vol. 2 by F. Roy Johnson.
To order this book, or Vol. 1, please contact the Murfreesboro Historical Assocation.
(This entry begins on page 184:)
The decline of the Tuscaroras in North Carolina is reflected, in part, by their decrease in population. An estimated 3,000 had survived the war of 1711-1713, but all but about 1,000 under King Tom Blunt fled their forts and villages. While whole towns had removed at the end of the war, afterwards the migrations were as individuals and groups of various sizes. By 1715 Blunt had no more than 800 under him. But in 1717 they became more secure and contented upon their Bertie County reservation; yet by 1731 northern Indians had enticed away all but about 600. Afterwards their decline accelerated for the census of 1754 placed their population at 301, and by 1766 there were about 259. That year 155 removed to the north leaving but 104. By 1775 their number seems to have dwindled to about eighty.
The decrease of population together with increase in poverty seems to have accelerated after the death of King Tom Blunt. No one of the three head sachems who followed him ever attained his stature in leadership. They also had no councils of strong and determined men to support a meaningful tribal government.
The famed Indian king was succeeded by James Blunt, who seems to have been elected the third Tuesday in June of 1739 at the village of “Rehorsesky,” or Rasewtokee. Governor Gabriel Johnson gave his approval to the choce [sic] soon afterwards. Although the new ruler bore the Blunt name, it is unknown if he was a son of the former king. As has been noted, the Tuscarora matrilineal custom would have favored the selection of a sister’s son and keeping the office within the bear clan; yet the Indians may have adopted the English rule of patrilineal descent.
The Tuscarora council must have regained some of its traditional power. The new head man received no recognition as an absolute monarch from the white man’s government; and in 1752 Bishop Spargenberg said the Indian nation had a captain rather than a king.
King James Blunt received little mention in the English records, and little can be learned about him. After 1666 [sic – should be 1766] his name disappears from the tribe’s great men. Soon thereafter one Whitmel Tufdick is the recognized “Chief or head man of the Tuscarora nation.”
Little also is known of Tufdick, but it may be saidsafely that he was a weak leader of a greatly impovershed and faltering people. He joined his aging great men in signing away large areas of their reservation for English trifles. It would seem that Tufdick was not a direct descendant of Tom Blunt. He may have taken his English name in part from one Thomas Whitmell, an Indian trader and interpreter, who had appeared on the west bank of the Cashie River about 1724. Tufdick could have been a son of the interpreter and an Indian mother. He was the only one of the reservation’s great men who signed his name to public documents. His fellow tribesmen used various marks and designs.
The last head sachem of the Tuscaroras in North Carolina was Samuel Smith. The length of his tenure likewise is unkonwn. Smith is remembered for helping the northern emissaries to make plans for the final migration of the Tuscaroras to New York in 1703 [sic – should be 1803]. He did not journey with his people to the new Niagara reservation, having died the year before the trip was made.
In 1752 Bishop Spargenberg had found the Tuscaroras in Bertie County “in great poverty” and “oppressed by the whites.” Thomas Whitmell, the Indian interpreter, took him to the reservation. He said his host had been “at one time a trader among them” and at that time was “one of the richest men in the neighborhood” and “respected by everyb ody.” He displayed an acceptable knowledge of the Tuscarora language.
When the party arrived at a Tuscarora town, says Spargenberg, the “Captain” of that place “greeted us, asked us to be seated, then went outside his house, and with a loud shout called in his people.”
Spargenberg observed that the Tuscaroras had a good tract of land but did not use it to good advantage. He estimated it to be about twelve miles long and six miles at its greatest width.
“… Some of it is very rich, lies low, and is covered with tall, strong canes, is frequently flooded by the river.”
A part of this land lay high and was capable of producing large quantities of food, but the Indians still adhered to primitive agricultural practices and did not obtain good harvests.
“… the Indians plant it until the grass grows so freely that they cannot till their corn, — for they have neither plough nor harrow, — and then they clear and plant a new piece. About half of the land is barren, but has some trees on it.”
Upon learning that Spargenberg might chance to meet with the Catawbas as he journeyed to the interior, the Tuscaroras asked him to carry them the word that they still had plenty of young men to go out against them should the need arise.
A census taken in 1754, two years after Spargenberg’s visit, disclosed that the Tuscaroras had 100 men and 201 women and children, making a total of 301 and reflecting a loss of about 700 during the previous forty years.
The purpose of this census was to ascertain the available strength that might be used in the French and Indian War, in which both the Tuscaroras to the south and north aided the English.
In 1756 Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia and Governor Dobbs of North Carolina induced them to join with the Nottoways. The combined group was sent to Winchester for guard duty on the frontier. By the next June the Tuscaroras had returned home. Governor Dinwiddie explained that both they and Indians of several other nations were “not to be govern’d” and would “not tarry any Time to do us any Service.” The Catawbas and Cherokees, both traditional enemies of the Tuscaroras, also were serving at Winchester.
Meanwhile the North Carolina Assembly had voted forty pounds proclamation money for support of the wives and children of the Tuscarora and Meherrin warriors.
In 1758 the assembly asked Governor Dobbs “to prevail with a number of the Tuscarora Indians to march with the Troops of the Province,” together with forces under General Forbes of Virginia in the campaign against Fort Duquesne, the famed French bastion. An elisted bounty of forty shillings was offered together with the promise to “reward them according to their Merit at their Return at the End of the Campaign.” Eighteen returned to claim their reward for which the assembly authorized one hundred and fifty-five pounds. They had served under Major Hugh Waddell and were highly commended for reconnoitering and scouting.
By 1759 the Cherokees were making bloody raids on the frontiers of North Carolina and Virginia; and in 1760 the Tuscaroras went out against these traditional enemies. About fifty of them accompanied a North Carolina force of four hundred whites in an attack against the Overhills.
Some land-hungry whites were unwilling to await the Tuscarora removal before grabbing for their lands. They used various devices to obtain usage, but their efforts were thwarted by the North Carolina government. For example, in 1753 the government was petitioned by the Tuscaroras for recovery of a tract that their king had secretly leased “in a Clandestine manner” to one John McGaskey. The General Assembly commissioned William Taylor and John Hill to investigate. Upon receipt of the commission’s report the assembly ordered McGaskey to quit his claim.
One Humphrey Bates fought desperately to retain 300 acres of land, which was a part of a 600 acre tract given to William Charlton by King Tom Blount in 1723 and sold to him by Charlton’s heirs. On November 29, 1758, the attorney general was ordered to prosecute Bates if he did not quit the land. Bates clung on, and a year later action for expulsion was reported taken.
Whites sought to deceive the Indians to justify encroachment upon their lands. However, in 1757 the great men complained these people “Come and settle without leave fall Our Timber and Drive Stocks of all sorts” upon their lands. When protests were made, the whites replied that their land title “was good for nothing.” To obtain relief the Tuscaroras petitioned the government “to Grant a Pattent of some Better Title for Our land.”
By 1764 many of the Tuscaroras had grown so tired of abuses of the scheming whites and their poverty that they decided to abandon their homes for greater peace at the north. The Tuscarora council approved the sale of a part of the reservation to Thomas Whitmell, a longtime friend and interpreter, Thomas Pugh, William Williams, and John Watson. A bill of authorization was received with sympathy by the General Assembly but finally was rejected by the House.
Meanwhile correspondence between the North Carolina and New York Tuscaroras is indicated. On May 17, 1766, one Diagawekee, sachem of the New York Tuscaroras and eight Indians of the Six Nations arrived in North Carolina. Diagawekee left his companions at the Tuscarora Reservation and continued on to the home of Governor Tryon at Brunswick on the Cape Fear River. Here Diagawekee presented his credentials from Sir William Johnson, superintendent of Indian affairs in the Northern colonies, and explained he had come to lead all the Tuscaroras “as were willing to quit this province, and march to join the Six Nations.”
Diagawekee was very ill with the mumps when he arrived at Brunswick, and Tryon ordered him under a doctor’s care. The Indian chief was well again within about a week. Tryon, finding the Indian leader “not only humanized, but civilized,” had him twice at his table, the most his health would permit.
Diagawekee was so impressed by the governor’s hospitality and care that he honored him with his own name. Thereafter, he promised, among the Tuscaroras the title Diagawekee would “remain to all future Governors of North Carolina.”
Tryon had received a letter from Mr. Stuart, superintendent of Indian affairs for the Southern district, telling of Johnson’s approval of the Tuscarora removal to the north.
The governor promised to recommend to the General Assembly, which was to convene on October 30, that “so much of the land as would be necessary to bear the traveling expense” be permitted to be sold. However, that would be too late, Diagawekee explained; he had promised to return to the north within seven months after his departure. Whereupon Tryon gave his permission for removal, for Robert Jones, William Williams, and Thomas Pugh had agreed to advance 1500 pounds for the purchase of wagons and provisions “on credit of some of their lands ‘till the General Assembly can reimburse that expense, by law for the sale of so much land” as necessary to cover the advance. Thus during the first week in August Diagawekee led 155 Indians northward, leaving 104 behind. The lease as later approved by the assembly provided that as a further consideration the lessors should pay “one Pepper corn if demanded at or upon the feast of Saint Michael, the arch Angel.”