Tuscarora War

Conflict over land, property, and trade led the Tuscarora Indians to declare war on European colonists in North Carolina. The Tuscaroras were decimated in the war, their society was dispersed, and the way was opened for Carolinian settlers to expand westward.

Summary of Event

When European settlers began arriving in North America, the Tuscarora tribe controlled nearly all the North Carolina coastal plains. The tribe’s territory stretched from today’s Virginia state line, south to the Cape Fear River, and inland to the Appalachians. Tribal land cut a wedge between the Algonquian tribes of the coast and the Siouan tribes of the piedmont. The Tuscaroras held a trade monopoly throughout the area. [kw]Tuscarora War (Sept. 22, 1711-Mar. 23, 1713)
[kw]War, Tuscarora (Sept. 22, 1711-Mar. 23, 1713)
American Indian-American conflicts[American Indian American conflicts]
Tuscarora War (1711-1713)
[g]American colonies;Sept. 22, 1711-Mar. 23, 1713: Tuscarora War[0320]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Sept. 22, 1711-Mar. 23, 1713: Tuscarora War[0320]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;Sept. 22, 1711-Mar. 23, 1713: Tuscarora War[0320]
[c]Expansion and land acquisition;Sept. 22, 1711-Mar. 23, 1713: Tuscarora War[0320]
[c]Colonization;Sept. 22, 1711-Mar. 23, 1713: Tuscarora War[0320]
Blunt, King Tom
Hancock, King Tom
Barnwell, John
Moore, James (1675/1680-1724)
Pollock, Thomas

Information about the Tuscaroras and their western holdings was limited, because the tribe denied passage through the area. Contact with settlers was infrequent as a result of the natural protection provided by swamps, sand reefs, and shallow harbors. Conflict between the tribe and the settlers began, however, when the two groups started occupying the same areas and the Indians began raids on settlers’ livestock and crops. The Indians saw no problem with their actions, because there was no Tuscarora law or custom that discouraged stealing from an enemy. Settlers were helpless to prevent these attacks, because the tribe had a vicious policy of revenge. In 1705, the Tuscaroras became such a problem for the settlers that Virginia;Tuscaroras Virginia passed a law forbidding natives from hunting on patented land.

Trade agreements were established between the tribe and the settlers, but things did not go smoothly. The Tuscaroras felt the settlers were taking advantage of them and complained about being cheated. Tuscarora tribal leaders approached the Pennsylvania;Tuscaroras Pennsylvania government in 1710. They presented eight wampum belts, signifying various grievances concerning the safety of American Indian families. No agreement was reached. Unscrupulous traders accelerated the Tuscarora discontent by describing the settlers as easy targets with no government backing or protection. Then the Tuscaroras declared war.

On September 22, 1711, approximately five hundred Tuscaroras and their allies attacked at widely scattered points along the Neuse, Trent, and Pamlico Rivers. Men, women, and children were butchered and their homes destroyed by fire. The Indians’ frenzy was slowed only by fatigue and drunkenness. At the end of the two-day rampage more than 130 whites were dead and nearly 30 women and children had been captured. The frightened survivors scrambled to reach fortified garrisons.

The situation in North Carolina was desperate. Planters west of the river could not help protect those under attack without weakening their own defenses. Quaker settlers refused to fight. Governor Edward Hyde appealed to Virginia and South Carolina for help. Virginia worked to secure the loyalty and assistance of the neutral Tuscaroras who had not participated in the raids, but met with little success. South Carolina responded by sending Colonel John Barnwell and a force of five hundred native allies and thirty white men.

Barnwell’s departure was delayed, and his winter march was difficult. He crossed the Neuse River in late January and marched an entire day and night to attack the Tuscarora town of Narhontes. Although the natives knew of his approach, Barnwell’s raid was successful. For the next four months, Barnwell led several victorious attacks in Tuscarora territory, but he was displeased by the weak North Carolina support. In April, against orders from North Carolina, he signed a treaty with the Tuscaroras. During Barnwell’s return to South Carolina, he broke the treaty by capturing native women and children to sell as slaves, thereby provoking new raids.

The summer of 1712 brought no relief. Settlers and natives were starving; no one could plant crops or hunt in safety. Residents along the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers had their homes burned, their stock stolen, and their plantations destroyed. The North Carolina Assembly held a special session in July and passed a law requiring all men between sixteen and sixty years of age to fight the natives or pay a fine. The law was widely disliked and few men obeyed it. Then a yellow fever epidemic hit the area. North Carolina’s governor was one of those who died.

Thomas Pollock was chosen as the new governor until the colony could receive instructions from the Lord Proprietors. Pollock appealed to South Carolina;Tuscaroras South Carolina for aid but suggested that Colonel Barnwell would not be suitable. Barnwell went before the South Carolina assembly and advised that it was necessary to prosecute the Tuscarora War to a successful conclusion. South Carolina agreed to help. A force of nine hundred Indians and approximately thirty-three soldiers was placed under the leadership of Colonel James Moore, who was experienced in fighting the American Indians.

Governor Pollock reopened negotiations with King Tom Blunt, the chief ruler of the neutral Tuscaroras in the upper towns. In September, Blunt requested peace with North Carolina. Pollock insisted Blunt’s people fight on the side of the settlers and would not accept neutrality. Pollock demanded the capture of King Tom Hancock, the chief who had authorized the massacre in September, 1711. In mid-November, 1712, Hancock was delivered and executed. King Blunt then signed a treaty with North Carolina on behalf of nine Tuscarora towns.

Colonel Moore and his forces arrived in the Neuse River region in late December. Although the people were thankful for the protection, they were angered when the troops consumed all the provisions in the area. It was nearly a month before Moore’s forces left for Fort Barnwell to prepare an attack on the Tuscaroras base at Fort Neoheroka.

Fort Neoheroka lay within a wide curve of Contentnea Creek, Battle of (1712) Contentnea Creek and was protected on three sides by deep water and steep riverbanks. The fourth side was enclosed by an angled palisade, a fence created by pointed stakes. There were bastions, or projections, on the four main corners, and an angled passageway led from the fort to the water. The natives also had access to a network of tunnels and caves within the fort.

Moore instructed his men to create zigzag trenches to within gun range of the fort’s east wall. He then built a triangular blockhouse to allow his troops to provide cross fire while men raised a battery against the fort wall. Moore also ordered a mine tunneled under the wall near the blockhouse and lined it with explosives.

Once preparations were completed, Moore placed his forces around the fort. Two captains, a battery of artillery, and more than three hundred Cherokees Cherokees were assigned to the northwest area of the fort and stream to block off the most likely escape route. East of the fort and in the trenches, Moore’s brother, two other captains, ten whites, and fifty Yamasees Yamasees took their positions. Colonel Moore placed himself, four other commanders, eighty whites, and four hundred members of Siouan nations in the southeast. Mulberry Battery took its place within the southern curve of the creek.

The attack began on March 20, 1713, with the blast of a trumpet. The powder in the mine failed, but the attack on the northeast quickly succeeded. Captain Maule went against the southern side of the fort instead of the southeast, as he had been ordered. This caused Maule’s troops to be caught in the cross fire, and only twenty of his men escaped unhurt. Colonel Moore erected a low wall and managed to set two of the fort’s blockhouses on fire. By the next morning, the fire had destroyed the structures as well as several houses within the fort. Some of the Tuscaroras hid in the caves and created problems for the attackers, but by Sunday, March 23, Moore’s forces controlled the fort. Destruction of Fort Neoheroka was complete. Moore had lost fewer than sixty men and had fewer than one hundred wounded. Nearly one thousand Tuscaroras were killed or captured.


As word of the destruction of Fort Neoheroka spread, other members of the Tuscarora tribe fled the region. Many headed to Virginia, where they endured great hardships and found little food. Several raiding bands continued guerrilla warfare in North Carolina, but Moore’s help was no longer needed. He returned to South Carolina in September, 1713, having effectively destroyed the Tuscaroras as a military power. The colonists of North Carolina were freed to expand westward from the coast, and they eventually absorbed the Tuscaroras’ lands into their territory.

Further Reading

  • Graymont, Barbara, ed. Fighting Tuscarora: The Autobiography of Chief Clinton Rickard. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1973. Introduction includes information about Tuscarora history. Main text chronicles the life of Chief Clinton Rickard (1882-1971) and his work for American Indian rights.
  • Johnson, F. Roy. The Tuscaroras. Vols. 1 and 2. Murfreesboro, N.C.: Johnson, 1967. Discusses history, traditions, culture, mythology, and medicine. Maps, illustrations, index, and many footnotes. Provides listings of numerous original resources.
  • Lee, E. Lawrence. Indian Wars in North Carolina, 1663-1763. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Archives and History, Division of Archives and History, 1997. Describes the Tuscaroras and other Native Americans who lived in colonial North Carolina. Contains a separate chapter on the Tuscarora War.
  • Ross, Thomas E. American Indians in North Carolina: Geographic Interpretations. Southern Pines, N.C.: Karo Hollow Press, 1999. Chapter 2, “Indians at the Time of European Contact,” contains references to the Tuscarora War. Chapter 12 describes the life and activities of the Tuscaroras today.
  • Snow, Dean R. The Iroquois. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1994. Follows the development of the Iroquois Confederacy. Extensive bibliography, index.
  • Waldman, Carl. Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. New York: Facts On File, 1988. One page summarizes events leading to Fort Neoheroka and gives some details about tribal life.
  • Wilson, Edmund. Apologies to the Iroquois. New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1959. Contains a chapter on Tuscarora history. Also discusses land disputes at Niagara Falls in the 1960’s.

Queen Anne’s War

Fox Wars

Walking Purchase

French and Indian War

Cherokee War

Pontiac’s Resistance

Carolina Regulator Movements

Indian Delegation Meets with Congress

Fort Stanwix Treaty

Little Turtle’s War

Code of Handsome Lake

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