Algonkian Ethnohistory of the Carolina Sound, Part 4


by Maurice A. Mook

Part 4

The Postcontact Period

Because of the virtual lack of records from the time of the Roanoke colony until the second half of the seventeenth century, we know nothing of the history of the Weapemeoc Indians for over 70 years. During this period the Weapemeoc were reduced in numbers, had been dispossessed of their originally held tribal lands, and had become separated into bands or divisions. Currituck, Pasquotank, and Perquimans Counties, each set up as a precinct of Albemarle County in 1670, are usually said to have been named for Indian tribes inhabiting the vicinity of these political divisions (169), but the only record of native groups by these names is Lawson's reference to a "Paspatank" Indian town of 30 or 40 inhabitants, which he named after the river on which the town was located in 1709 (170). Mooney referred to the Yeopim, Perquiman, Pasquotank, and Poteskeet as "bands or sub-tribes" of the Weapemeoc of 1585 (171), but his only authority cited is Lawson, who enumerated 10 "Paspatank" and 30 "Potaskeit" adult male Indians and 6 "Jaupin (Yeopim) people" in 1709. The Jaupin are not located, but Lawson referred to the Paspatank and Potaskeit as inhabiting towns on Paspatank (Pasquotank) and North Rivers, respectively. Lawson's names for these Indian groups were, with the possible exception of Potaskeit, place names already in use by the colonists.

Only two of the four Weapemeoc bands above mentioned seem to have been commonly known by the names given them by Mooney. These are the Yeopim, who inhabited the Yeopim River region and in general the western part of former Weapemeoc territory, and the Poteskeet who lived in the eastern half. In March, 1715, the Council of Carolina was petitioned by the "Porteskyte Indians" who complained that the white inhabitants of "Corratuck Bank" were hindering them from hunting on "those their usual grounds." The natives reported that white settlers had threatened to destroy the guns of the Indians, without which they could not hunt, and that "without the liberty of hunting" they could not subsist. The Council ordered that thenceforth the Poteskeet should be permitted to hunt on any of the banks without the hindrance of the English (172) .The reference is of interest in locating the Poteskeet in Currituck County and in indicating their possession of firearms by 1715. There is also mention of trade with these Indians and of their sale of tribal lands previous to that date (173). Governor Burrington included the "Pottaskites" as one of the six Indian "nations" inhabiting Carolina in 1731 and stated that they numbered then less than 20 families. Twenty years earlier the Rev. James Adams had reported "about 70 or 80 Indians... in the Precinct arid Parish of Carahtuck ...many of which understand English tolerably well" (174).

Information concerning the Yeopim goes back to 1662, when in the oldest recorded land grant in North Carolina, the Yeopim chief, Kilcocanen or Kistotanen, "with the consent of my people" sold to George Durant a "parcell of land lying and being on Roneoke Sound and on a River called by the name of Perquimans ...which land at present bears the name of Wecocomicke." This tract has been identified as Durant's Neck, in southern Perquimans County (175), between the Perquimans and Little Rivers. The deed identifies the area. as belonging to the Yeopim, rather than "Perquiman," Indians at that period. Previous to 1714, 10,240 acres of land had been reserved for the "Yawpin" Indians, whose "King and great men" within nine years petitioned the Governor's Council to approve the sale of 640 acres "of the great Tract laid out to them by the Government." By this time George Durant was the name of a Yeopim Indian, John Durant was the tribal "king," and the other three tribal "great men" who appeared before the Council also had English names. John Durant was still chief in 1740, when he petitioned the Council "in behalf of himself and the Yeopim Nation" to be permitted "to sell and exchange their lands as may best [suit] their conveniency" (176). With this request, which was granted, the Yeopim tribe disappears from the recorded history of the colony.

The third group of native people inhabiting the area north of Albemarle Sound in the later colonial period was the Chowanoc, who retained their name of the previous century. Though diminished in numbers and reduced in territory they still occupied settlements on the river to which they had given their name. They were said to have gotten along peacefully with the whites until 1675, when they "struck swiftly and effectively in the usual Indian fashion," having been incited, it was claimed by the Carolina authorities, by the "rebellious Indians of Virginia who [had] fled to them." Thereupon the settlers of the Albemarle region made "open war" upon them by which with the loss of "many men" on both sides they were said to have been "wholly subdued." They then "had land for their habitation assigned them" (177) which was a reservation on Bennetts Creek in northern Chowan County, other tribal lands at the same time having been "resigned into the immediate possession of the Lords Proprietors as of their province of Carolina" (178). Either the precise limits of the reservation were never clearly surveyed or the land-hunger of the settlers resulted in trespass across the boundaries theoretically agreed upon, for in 1694 the Chowanoc complained to the General Court of Albemarle that they were being "much injured by the English seating soe near them," and in 1714 " Jno Hoyter on behalfe of himselfe and the rest of ye Chawan Indyons" petitioned the Governor's Council for the land "on the Eastern side of Bennets Creek including Meherins Neck," which they said was theirs by previous agreement with colonial authorities. Hoyter legitimately argued that the Chowanoc deserved their land without molestation from the settlers, inasmuch as the Chowanoc had been upon eight expeditions against "the Indian Enemy"-- i.e., the Tuscarora and their allies -- and that during their absences they had sufferred considerable losses in stock and crops (179). Again in 1720 "John Hoyter, Chief man of the Chowan Indians" found it necessary to protest to the Governor's Council that white people were continually intruding upon Indian land (180).

After the Tuscarora War the history of the Chowanoc is that of further reduction in population, the sale of additional land, and their gradual accommodation to the folkways of the whites. From the largest group in Algonkian Carolina in 1585 they had been reduced, according to Lawson, to 15 men -- perhaps 50 people -- living in one settlement on Bennetts Creek in 1709 (181). At a Council meeting in January , 1735, that body approved of the sale of ten plots of their land, totaling 2,025 acres, the reason given being that "the Chowan ... [were] possessed of a large parcel of lands lying in Chowan precinct" and that being "but few in number" they were unable "to cultivate the same or make any benefit thereby." The Indians still retained certain "Lands on Bennets Creek" (182). There are also records of the sale of unspecified amounts of land in December, 1735, and in March, 1743; and in 1744, 640 more acres were disposed of by the "chief men of Chowan." The tribesmen were soon complaining that the purchasers were appropriating more land than they had bargained and paid for (183). All the individuals of the tribe involved in these transactions had English names, viz. Thomas Hoyter (Hoyton, Hoyston), John Hoyter, Charles Bennet, James Bennet, John Robins, John Reading, Charles Beazley, Jeremiah Pushing, and Neuse Will. These names also occur as those of white settlers of the Albemarle communities. The acculturational process had started years earlier, however. In 1712 the Rev. Giles Rainsford wrote that "Thomas Hoyle, King of the Chowan Indians ...[was] very inclinable to embrace Christianity" and that he had expressed the desire that his son be educated in an English school (184). Rainsford located the tribal remnant in the "upper end of Chowan" precinct and stated that he had lived "5 months in Chowan Indian town and made myself Master of their language." It is a pity that, knowing the Chowan as he must have, Rainsford did not tell us more about them, for by his day they were on the verge of extinction as a group. Forty years later Bishop Spangenburg, of the Moravian Church, wrote that "the tribe of Chowans is reduced to a few families [and] their land has been taken away from them" (185). In 1754 the commander of the Chowan County militia reported to Governor Dobbs that "there is but one Indian Nation in Chowan County, which are called the Chowan Indians, but their strength is nothing and their condition very deplorable by the artifice and cunning of some of their neighbors. I am informed they consist of two men and five women and children, which two white men would at any time overcome" (186). This miserable remnant of the former tribe must have disappeared within the next few years, for no more is heard of the Chowanoc in the subsequent records of the colony.

The records of the Roanoke colony show, as we have seen, that the region between Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds was originally the home of the Secotan Indians. The descendants of these tribes went unmentioned in the historical records of the seventeenth century, except for one report. In September, 1653, Francis Yeardley of Linnhaven, Va., sent a small party of a few relatives and neighbors to "Rhoanoke" Island and the adjacent mainland. For £200 Yeardley claimed to have "purchased and paid for three great rivers" of land from "the great commander of those parts . . . his war-captains, and a great commander of another province and some other Indians . . . Actual possession was solemnly given them [Yeardley's representatives] by the great commander and all the great men of the rest of the provinces, in delivering them a turf of the earth with an arrow shot into it." With the completion of the transaction the natives are said to have "totally left the lands and rivers to us, retiring to a new habitation," which is, unfortunately, not specified. The "lands on the rivers" mentioned could not have been on Roanoke Island and must, therefore, refer to the mainland west of Pamlico Sound. "Sundry other kings of the provinces" were visited, including chiefs of villages in the tribal territory of the "Tuskarorawes" as well as the Secotan. The English were told of "a great nation called the Newxes [Neuses], ...a great nation called the Cacores [Shakori], ...and another great nation by these, called the Haynokes [Eno]." Subsequent to the trip of the Virginians into Carolina the "Rhoanoke emperor" paid Yeardley several visits at his home at Linnhaven, leaving "his only son, having but one" to be taught "to speak out of the book and to make a writing." At his departure the chief "expressed himself desirous to serve that God the Englishmen served, and that his child might be so brought up" (187).

Nothing more is heard of the Roanoke chief or his son, and the Roanoke Indians, as well as other Secotan descendants, faded from history for over 50 years. By the end of that period the native inhabitants south of Albemarle Sound had experienced the same sort of divisive process that had separated the Weapemeoc into bands or divisions. Writing of the first decade of the eighteenth century, Lawson mentioned two groups in this area -- the Machapungo and the Hatteras, the former numbering 30 adult men in the Town of Maramiskeet and the latter having 16 men in a town near Cape Hatteras. Lawson added one item of Machapunga tribal history in stating that they and the Coranine (Coree) "had been a long time at war together, (having but) lately concluded a peace" (188). In the eighteenth-century records of the colony the Machapunga were usually known as the Mattamuskeet, the latter name being derived from that of the principal village. The fact that they impressed their name upon the lake in Hyde County and that Pungo River and Creek in eastern Beaufort County were also named after them gives an indication of their tribal location. There is an indication, also, in the meaning of their name, although decision as to the latter is a somewhat doubtful process, depending upon interpretation of the phonetic elements involved in the original tribal eponym. Heckewelder derived the name from matchi-pungo, meaning "bad dust"; Mooney, however, suggested massa-pungo, "'great or much dust,' in allusion to the sandy soil of the district" (189). Speck calls attention to the fact that the element pung may signify either sand or dust or "pond," and suggests that "great pond or lake [people]" is a more appropriate etymology (190).

During the Tuscarora War the Mattamuskeet went on record a number of times for their activities in that struggle. Von Graffenried mentioned the "Marmusckits from the rivers Bory, Wetock, Pamtego, Neus, [and] Trent" and the "Cor [Coree] Indians" as Tuscarora allies who fought against the settlers. .Pollock classified the "Matamusket,' among the smaller enemy tribes who, without the aid of the stronger Tuscarora, were at first considered "not able of themselves to hurt us" (191). Pollock later wrote of "some Matamuskite Indians disturbing the people at Matchepungo" arid claimed that the same group had "killed and carried away about 20 persons at Roanoke Island and at Croatan." They also attacked the settlers at Alligator River, killing or capturing some 16 or 20 of the inhabitants (192) .There are several references to their manner of fighting. Von Graffenried wrote that they made their attacks by "small platoons," which plundered and killed the whites at their isolated plantations. Pollock commented a number of times upon their taking advantage of "dismal swamps to fly into" and stated that in the woods and "pocosuns" the Indians were superior to the whites. In "lakes, quagmires, and cane swamps . . . it is almost impossible for white men to follow" the Indians, who have "boats and canoes, being expert watermen, wherein they can transport themselves where they please" (193).

By the summer of 1713, after two years of warfare, a peace was concluded with Tom Blunt (or Blount), chief of the northern Tuscarora towns. The Mattamuskeet and Coree were not a party to these negotiations, Pollock stating at the time that "if Blount keeps the peace we shall have only the Mattemuskeet and Core Indians to mind, who of late have done us great mischief… The army are now out against the Mattemuskeet Indians, in which expedition if they succeed it will go near to finish the war" (194). Within a few months it was reported that there was "no enemy to go against, but a few Mattamuskeets" and that only "stragglers [were] left of the Cores or Cotechnees and Matamuskeets" (195). By 1715 peace was concluded with the totally defeated Indians and a reservation was established for the survivors at Mattamuskeet Lake. The Governor was instructed to appoint an overseer "to live with ye Said Indyans Mattamuskeet ...the better to Inspect into their behavior and to remit accounts thereof" (196). This marks the establishment of North Carolina's first Indian reservation with a resident commissioner paid for and responsible to the governing authorities.

There is no indication of the number of natives who took advantage of the reservation, for some of the survivors seem to have joined the Tuscarora and Siouan tribes in their trek toward the north. During the last two years of the war Pollock's letters referred to the coastal Indians as "few" in number, wasted, "stragglers," and a remnant. However, for a group accorded but 30 warriors in 1709 the Mattamuskeet seem to have offered their share of trouble during the four years of the war. In 1731 Governor Burrington reported that the "Maremuskeets" lived on their reservation "secure from the attacks of Forreign Indians" and that they had been "of late years... much diminished" and numbered less than 20 families (197). Returns for about 1760 gave "about 8 or 10 Maramuskeet" Indians on the mainland with about ''as many on the Islands or Banks" (198). In 1761, and again in 1763, the Rev. Alexander Stewart referred to "the remains of the Altamuskeet, Hatteras and Roanoke Indians [which] live mostly along the coast [of Hyde County], mixed with the white inhabitants." They attended Stewart's services, "behaved with decency, seemed desirous of instruction, and offered themselves and their children ...for baptism." This missionary baptized 7 Indians in 1761 and 21 in 1763, all of whom he described as being "fond of hearing the Word of the true God, ...of being admitted into the church," and as having as much "notion of any religion" as the whites of the neighborhood (199).

Nothing is heard of the Mattamuskeet or of any other Carolina Algonkian group in the nineteenth century. All records of the previous century denote the numerical paucity of the coastal tribes and suggest that the surviving people were interested in learning and conforming to ways of the settlers. The final few remaining descendants must have become merged with the negroes and whites of the frontier community. Aboriginal culture was largely lost as the result of the impact of culture of Old World derivation. The extent to which this is true is shown by Professor Speck's search for ethnic and cultural survivals in the area formerly inhabited by one group of the Algonkian aborigines. "Persistent inquiry" by this investigator uncovered "a few families of mixed blood," whom he regarded as "descendants of the local Indian tribes" living on the coast of Dare and Hyde Counties and on the adjacent islands in 1916. Their descent was traced from "Indians who came originally from Pungo river," and they are put down as "evidently remnants of the Machapunga tribe." In appearance they are described as varying greatly "from individuals with pronounced Indian characteristics, through people with noticeable white or Negro features, the latter sort predominating in the younger generations." No more than the merest fragments of a former Indian way of life were discovered among these mixed bloods. "Not one of these people knew a single word of the Indian language and not one knew of any definite Indian customs or traditions, not even the name of their tribe" (200).

Speck's survey shows that neither ethnology nor native history can be rescued from the memories of living descendants. Archeological excavation and the study of documentary sources remain the only methods by which ethnic history can be investigated in this important area of aboriginal America. The present study has shown that, contrary to the usual impression, the various Algonkian groups of the coastal area are not all to be considered as contemporary inhabitants of the region of their occupancy. Historic perspective reveals that the native tribes of this region must be differentiated into those of the period of the earliest explorations and those of the period of later colonization. The Algonkian of the former period (1584 to 1590) were the Weapemeoc, Chowanoc, Moratoc, Secotan, Pomouik, and Neusiok. Those of the later period (c. 1650 to c. 1800) were the Yeopim, Poteskeet, Chowan, Machapunga (Mattamuskeet), Pamlico, and Neuse. At the time of discovery the native tribes were large and the indigenous cultures were living realities. By the end of a century and a half of white contact tribes were disorganized, the native population had all but vanished, and the original local cultural properties had disappeared. The ethnohistorical process in the Algonkian area of Carolina was one marked by disturbance, defeat, decline, disorganization, and final extinction.


(169) E.g., J. H. Wheeler, Historical Sketches of North Carolina 2: 132, 339, 341, 1851; C. C. Crittenden and D. Lacy, eds., The Historical Records of North Carolina: The County Records 2: 42, 1938 (Currituck County); 3: 114, 142, 1939 (Pasquotank and Perquimans Counties).

(170) History, 1937 reprint, p. 255.

(171) Siouan tribes of the East: 7, 1894; HAI 2: 207, 234, 293, 297, 1910. Speck considers the Yeopim the same as the Weapemeoc and the Pasquotank, Perquiman, and Poteskeet as "probably' divisions of the latter (Amer. Anthrop. 26 (2): 187-188, 1924).

(172) Council Journal, 1715, Colonial records of North Carolina 2: 172.

(173) Colonial records of North Carolina 2: 22, 734 (1703, "Portes Leites" Indians), 141 (1714, "ye Poteskeyt Towne"), 204-205 (1175, "Porteskill" Indians).

(174) Ibid. 3: 153; 1: 734.

(175) Ibid. 1: 19; H. T. Lefler, North Carolina history told by contemporaries: 14-15, 1934; R. D. W. Connor, History of North Carolina 1: 27, 1919.

(176) Colonial records of North Carolina 2: 140, 483;4:446.

(177) Pollock letter to the Virginia Council, June 17, 1707, Colonial records of North Carolina 1: 657-658.

(178) Mooney, HAI 1: 292; R. D. W. Connor, History of North Carolina 1: 50-51.

(179) Colonial records of North Carolina 2: 140-141; also 1: 857-860, for the Chowanoc participation in the war of 1711-1712 on the side of the colonists. Mooney is incorrect in placing them in the Tuscarora War against the whites (HAI 1: 292).

(180) Colonial records of North Carolina 2: 379- 380.

(181) History of Carolina, 1937 reprint, p. 255.

(182) Colonial records of North Carolina 4: 33-35. The average purchase price was c. $1.85 an acre (with the £ at par) ; in addition 100 acres were sold for 60 barrels of tar.

(183) Ibid. 4: 74-75, 630-632; 2: 379-380.

(184) Letter of G. Rainsford to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, Colonial records of North Carolina 1: 857-860.

(185) Spangenburg Diary, entry dated Edenton, September 13, 1752, Colonial records of North Carolina 5: 1. There is a more complete version of the Spangenburg diary in A. L. Fries, ed., Records of the Moravians in North Carolina 1: 36 ff., 1922.

(186) James Craven to Governor Dobbs, Edenton, December 7, 1754, Colonial records of North Carolina 22: 329; also p. 312.

(187) Francis Yardley to John Farrar, Linné-Haven, Va., May 8, 1654, in A. S. Salley, ed., Narratives of early Carolina: 25-29. The Shakorl and Eno were interior tribes, living just west of the Tuscarora. For identification of Cacores as Shakori and Haynokes as Eno, see J. Mooney, The Siouan Tribes of the East: 62-64, and HAI 1: 426; 2: 521.

(188) History of Carolina: 255,212.

(189) HAI 1: 781.

(190) Personal Communication, December, 1942.

(191) Von Graffenried, Colonial records of North Carolina 1: 933-934; Thomas Pollock to the Lords Proprietors, September 20, 1712, ibid. : 875.

(192) Colonial records of North Carolina 2: 29, 31, 39, 45.

(193) Ibid. I: 875; 2: 28, 38, 39,45.

(194) Pollock, May 25 and June 25, 1713. Colonial records of North Carolina 2: 45, 52-53.

(195) Pollock, September 1, 1713, ibid. : 61-62. Pollock was mistaken in identifying the Coree with the "Cotechnees." Cotechney was a large Tuscarora town, the home of Hancock, one of the principal Tuscarora chiefs and the colonists' chief Indian enemy during the first years of the war. The town was the scene of the execution of Lawson in 1711 and was located in eastern present Greene county, near the mouth of Contentnea Creek. (J. N. B. Hewitt, HAI 1: 352; 2: 846, 852.)

(196) Council Journal, Colonial records of North Carolina 2: 168, 316.

(197) Ibid. 3: 153.

(198) Ibid. 5: 321; 6: 616.

(199) Rev. Alexander Stewart to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, Colonial records of North Carolina 6: 563, 995.

(200) "Remnants of the Machapunga Indians of North Carolina," Amer. Anthrop. 18(2): 271- 272, 1916.

Courtesy of Washington Academy of Sciences

"Algonquian Ethnohistory of the Carolina Sound" by Maurice A. Mook, American University. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, Vol. 34, No. 6 (June 15, 1944), pp. 181-196, pp. 213-228.

Copyright 2001
Carolina Algonquian Project