Native American History in North Carolina (2023)

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November is American Indian Heritage Month. Twentieth-century depictions of Native American Indians have generally portrayed tribes of the American West, but the east, including North Carolina, was also an important setting for Native American history. And although this history is predominantly a story of struggle to preserve native lands and ways, it is also a story of cooperation—among the earliest settlers and their helpers as well as among and within tribes. In either case, Native American history and North Carolina history are thoroughly entwined.

Sir Richard Greenville brings a group of one hundred sailors, soldiers, and colonists to Roanoke Island and leaves them under the command of Ralph Lane. The men spend an unhappy year exploring the mainland and the southern coast of the Virginia colony (now North Carolina), digging for gold, and trying to build a settlement. Having arrived too late in the year to plant crops, the colonists avoid starvation largely because of the goodwill of the Native Americans in the area, led by the chief Manteo and other neighboring tribes. English-Indian relations, however, remained unstable throughout the year. Scientist Thomas Hariot and Illustrator John White were part of the expedition. Hariot writes of his journeys in A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1588), and many of White's illustrations of the Native Americans are included in later editions of the work.

John Lawson and a group of eight Englishmen and Indians set off on a 500-mile, two-month trek into the Carolina backcountry. The expedition begins in Charles Town and heads north and west as far present-day Hillsborough, North Carolina, and then turns east, ending up in the settlement of Bath on the Pamlico Sound in February 1701. During the journey, Lawson keeps a detailed journal, and makes sketches and maps. These drawings and accounts are later published in A New Voyage to Carolina (1709). Lawson relies on Indian translators to communicate with his hosts, and generally shows himself to be an attentive listener rather than an arrogant European intruder. He also recognizes the decimation caused by epidemics of diseases like small pox, the scourge of alcohol spread by white traders, and the potential for future tensions over trade and land as European settlement spread west.

The Cherokee seek to maintain peace and border control through a series of treaties with the emerging American government. In 1777, they agree to give up the territory East of what is now Kingsport and Greenville, Tennessee. Just six years later, however, settlers encroach on this land by moving West to the Pigeon River, which was well within Cherokee territory. In 1791-92, the Cherokee and territory governor William Blount negotiates and signs the treaty of Holston, which establishes an increased annuity for the Cherokees in exchange for land as well other considerations, such as advance warning of attacks by other Indian nations. Also in 1791, William Bartram publishes an account of his travels through the Cherokee, Muscogulges, and Chactaw territories. This account, which includes copper plate illustrations, describes the national resources of the regions as well as Bartram's impressions of the Indians he meets and observes.

The North Carolina General Assembly publishes "Report and Resolution of a Joint Committee of the Legislature of North Carolina, Relative to the Cherokee Indians," a document prepared for the U.S. House of Representatives' committee on Indian Affairs. The report details the land sacrifices that North Carolina has made to create new states and to provide "asylum" for Indians displaced by other states. It suggests that all Indian nations be induced to relocate to land beyond the Mississippi to prevent further degradation of North Carolina's soil and because "the red men are not within the pales of civilization; they are not under the restraints of morality, nor the influence of religion, and they are always disagreeable and dangerous neighbors to a civilized people" (p. 3-4). The next year, the revised North Carolina state constitution of 1835 disenfranchises all American Indians and free African Americans. Meanwhile, a faction of the Cherokee, unbeknownst to the rightful tribal leaders, signs a treaty with the United States government agreeing to give up their lands in the South in exchange for relocation costs and land in Oklahoma. The outraged Cherokee attempt unsuccessfully to block the treaty's ratification.

Richard Foreman, a Cherokee doctor, and James W. Mahoney publish The Cherokee Physician, or Indian Guide to Health, as Given by Richard Foreman, a Cherokee Doctor. The book gives a brief anatomical overview and describes a variety of herbal remedies foreshadowing the popularity of such remedies a century later. The introduction argues for the efficacy of Native cures, even when white medicine and doctors have failed, and more importantly, that "the articles employed by them in the cure of diseases, are simple, and principally such as can be procured in this country" (p. 6).

Okah Tubbee, son of a Choctaw chief, and Laah Ceil Manatoi Elaah Tubbee publishA Sketch of the Life of Okah Tubbee, (Called) William Chubbee, Son of the Head Chief, Mosholeh Tubbee, of the Choctaw Nation of Indians. In 1848. Tubee and Reverend Lewis Leonidas Allen had published an earlier account, titled A Thrilling Sketch of the Life of the Distinguished Chief Okah Tubbee Alias, Wm. Chubbee, Son of the Head Chief, Mosholeh Tubbee, of the Choctaw Nation of Indians. Tubbee had not discovered his lineage until he reached young adulthood because he was sold into slavery as a small child and raised by a former slave woman in Natchez, Mississippi. Allen's edition of the narrative is a first-person account of Tubbee's childhood and young adulthood. Allen opens the narrative with a short tract, "An Essay upon the Indian Character," which includes musings on Native American history and etymological ties between indigenous words and their English counterparts.

During the Civil War, the young Confederacy manages Indian affairs in the seceded states. While some American Indian groups fight willingly against the United States forces, others endure forced labor. In 1862 and 1864 , the Confederacy passes statutes pertaining to Indian representation in the Confederate Congress as well as funding for the Cherokee and Choctaw and for Indian affairs officials and delegates. In an 1863 report signed, approved, and recommended by President Jefferson Davis, C.S.A., Indian Affairs Commissioner S.S. Scott outlines the appropriations needed to fulfill the Confederacy's obligations to the Indian tribes.

On June 30, 1914, the United States Senate passes a resolution directing the Secretary of the Interior to investigate and report on "the condition and tribal rights of the Indians of Robeson and adjoining counties in North Carolina" (p. 5). The secretary appoints Special Indian Agent O. M. McPherson to fulfill this duty, which, according to the secretary, he does with "careful investigation on the ground as well as extensive historical research" in Indians of North Carolina: Letter from the Secretary of the Interior, Transmitting, in Response to a Senate Resolution of June 30, 1914, a Report on the Condition and Tribal Rights of the Indians of Robeson and Adjoining Counties of North Carolina. The document includes historical information, maps, statistical charts, and excerpts from other texts related to American Indians in North Carolina.

A Group of Croatan Indians petitions the Sampson County government for permission and funds to establish an Indian-only school for their children. In "The Croatan Indians of Sampson County, North Carolina. Their Origin and Racial Status. A Plea for Separate Schools," they point out that "these children are not permitted to attend, and have no desire to attend, the white schools" (p.6). Also, since other counties in North Carolina—Robeson, Richmond, Cumberland, and Hoke among them—have already established such schools, they ask for "the same just and generous recognition from the State of North Carolina" so they "may share equal advantages with them as people of the same race and blood, and as loyal citizens of the State" (p.6). The Eastern Carolina Indian School is established the next year in Herring Township, Sampson County, and remains in operation until 1966, when it is closed because of desegregation.


What Native American tribe lived in North Carolina? ›

There are eight (8) state-recognized tribes located in North Carolina: the Coharie, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Haliwa-Saponi, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, the Meherrin, the Sappony, the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation and the Waccamaw Siouan.

When did Native Americans come to North Carolina? ›

Archaeologists trace the chronicle of Native Americans to at least 12,000 years ago. The earliest aboriginal groups reached North Carolina not long after people first crossed into the New World from Siberia during the final stages of the last Ice Age, or Pleistocene era.

Where did Native Americans live in North Carolina? ›

Eastern Band of Cherokee (Tribal lands in the Mountains including the Qualla Boundary) Coharie (Sampson and Harnett counties) Lumbee (Robeson and surrounding counties) Haliwa-Saponi (Halifax and Warren counties)

How did the first Native American tribes in North Carolina live? ›

These first inhabitants of North Carolina were nomads, which means they moved frequently across the land in search of food and other resources. Archaic people, like their ancestors, were nomads.

Who lived in North Carolina before the Cherokee? ›

The Coastal Algonquian

At the time of the first contact of Europeans with the Indians, the Algonquian tribes occupied the tidewater areas of the Atlantic Coast extending from Canada to as far south as the Neuse River in North Carolina.

Who were the first people in NC? ›

The first North Carolinians arrived over 10,000 years ago. These earliest North Carolinians are known as "Paleo-Indians." They lived in bands of no more than fifty people, staying in one place while they could and moving to find better food resources when necessary.

What was the largest Native American tribe in North Carolina? ›

The Lumbee Tribe is the largest tribe in North Carolina, the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River and the ninth largest in the nation. The Lumbee take their name from the Lumber River originally known as the Lumbee, which winds its way through Robeson County.

Did North Carolina have a good relationship with the natives? ›

As a general rule, which had but few interruptions, the relations existing between the settlers and natives were friendly and peaceful up to the year 1711.

Who first settled in North Carolina? ›

The first settlers were French Protestants from Virginia. Among early inhabitants were John Lawson, surveyor general of the colony and author of the first history of Carolina (1709), and Christopher Gale, first chief justice of the colony. By 1708, Bath consisted of 12 houses and about 50 people.

What state had the most Native Americans? ›

Alaska, Oklahoma and New Mexico have the highest population share of American Indians and Alaska Natives, according to new census figures. Nov. 26, 2021, at 7:30 a.m.

What indigenous land is North Carolina? ›

Today, North Carolina recognizes 8 tribes: Coharie, Lumbee, Meherrin, Occaneechi Saponi, Haliwa Saponi, Waccamaw Siouan, Sappony, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee. We honor and respect the diverse Indigenous peoples connected to this territory on which we gather.

Did the Cherokee live in North Carolina? ›

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is located in western North Carolina, adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains. The Reservation is composed of 57,000 acres known as the Qualla Boundary. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has a total of 14,000 tribal members.

What was the first known Native American tribe? ›

The "Clovis first theory" refers to the hypothesis that the Clovis culture represents the earliest human presence in the Americas about 13,000 years ago.

How long did the Cherokee live in North Carolina? ›

A History Measured in Eons. No one knows exactly how long the Cherokee have lived in Western North Carolina. Artifacts that have been found indicate people lived here more than 11,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, and ancient Cherokee tales describe hunts of the mastodon that once foraged here.

Where did Native Americans first arrive? ›

In the 1970s, college students in archaeology such as myself learned that the first human beings to arrive in North America had come over a land bridge from Asia and Siberia approximately 13,000 to 13,500 years ago. These people, the first North Americans, were known collectively as Clovis people.

Where is the Trail of Tears in North Carolina? ›

Site Information: North Carolina built a section of the Great State Road to connect the town of Franklin to Fort Butler. In June and July 1838, more than 1,500 Cherokee prisoners traveled this road as they departed their homeland.

Who saved countless Cherokee lives? ›

Scott agreed and Ross divided the people into smaller groups so they could forage for food on their own. Although Ross may have saved countless lives, nearly 4,000 Indians died walking this Trail of Tears.

Who did the Cherokee descend from? ›

The ancestors of the Cherokee are considered part of the later Pisgah Phase of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture, a period where ceremonial mounds were built in a town with numerous smaller villages around it.

What ethnic group settled North Carolina? ›

These newcomers included a variety of ethnic and religious groups, including Quakers, German Lutherans, German Moravians, and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians and Baptists. Settling primarily in the Piedmont, they contrasted with the mostly English and African coastal areas and, in fact, had little contact with those areas.

What nationality settled North Carolina? ›

North Carolina was first settled in 1587. 121 settlers led by John White landed on present-day Roanoke Island on July 22, 1587. It was the first English settlement in the New World.

Who is the oldest in NC? ›

At 116 years old, Hester Ford has now lived through two pandemics: The 1918 Flu Pandemic and the 2020 Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The oldest living American celebrated her 116th birthday in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Are Cherokee and Lumbee the same? ›

The proto Lumbee first began identifying as Cherokee Indians in 1915, when they changed their name to the "Cherokee Indians of Robeson County." Four years earlier, they had changed their name from the "Croatan Indians" to the generic "Indians of Robeson County." But the Cherokee occupied much further to the west and in ...

What are Lumbees mixed with? ›

The Lumbee are the descendants of a mix of Siouan-, Algonquian-, and Iroquoian-speaking peoples who, in the 1700s, settled in the swamps along the Lumber River in southeastern North Carolina, intermarrying with whites and with blacks, both free and enslaved.

Why is the Lumbee Tribe not recognized? ›

Because the 1956 Act, in effect, forbids the federal relationship, it precludes the Lumbee Tribe from utilizing the BIA administrative process to obtain federal recognition. To correct this problem, however, government officials have proposed to allow the Lumbee to participate in a dual process.

What are the 3 biggest reservations in America? ›

The Top Ten: Largest Native American Reservations in the U.S.
1.Navajo Nation (Ariz.-N.M.-Utah)169,321
2.Pine Ridge Reservation, (S.D.-Nebr.)16,906
3.Fort Apache Reservation, (Ariz.)13,014
4.Gila River Indian Reservation, (Ariz.)11,251
6 more rows
Sep 9, 2022

Why did North Carolina split into two colonies? ›

The distance between the two North Carolina settlements and South Carolina's Charles Town caused the Lords Proprietors decide to split the two areas. In 1712, there was officially one governor for all of Carolina, but an additional deputy governor for the north, creating North and South Carolina.

What was one important event in NC that involve Native Americans of the state? ›

A desperate war

The name "Tuscarora War" suggests that the war was fought between the Tuscarora and European colonists. In fact, many tribes fought on both sides, and almost all of the American Indians of the Carolinas were affected.

When did slavery end in NC? ›

Slavery was legally practiced in the Province of North Carolina and the state of North Carolina until January 1, 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Prior to statehood, there were 41,000 enslaved African-Americans in the Province of North Carolina in 1767.

When did slavery begin in North Carolina? ›

Slavery has been part of North Carolina's history since its colonization by Europeans in the late 1600s and early 1700s.

What is the oldest colonial town in NC? ›

On March 8, 1705, Bath , the first town in colony of North Carolina, was incorporated. Bath was a thriving town of vital importance to the fledgling colony. The first town lots, recorded and acknowledged in court on October 1, 1706, were those belonging to Christopher Gale , the first Chief Justice of the colony.

Where did Native American DNA come from? ›

They concluded that all Native Americans, ancient and modern, stem from a single source population in Siberia that split from other Asians around 23,000 years ago and moved into the now-drowned land of Beringia.

What do Native Americans prefer to be called? ›

The consensus, however, is that whenever possible, Native people prefer to be called by their specific tribal name. In the United States, Native American has been widely used but is falling out of favor with some groups, and the terms American Indian or Indigenous American are preferred by many Native people.

What race are American Indians? ›

The results support the general view that the ancestry of the American Indian is predominantly Mongoloid. Using 30,000 years as the separation time between the American Indian and Mongoloid, the divergence time between the three major races of man was estimated to be 33,000-92,000 years.

Is Asheville Cherokee land? ›

In Asheville, we occupy the land of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. In North Carolina, there are eight historic tribes that include: Coharie, Eastern Band of Cherokee, Haliwa Saponi, Lumbee, Meherrin, Occaneechi Band of Saponi, Sappony, and Waccamaw-Siouan.

What did North Carolina used to be called? ›

North Carolina became one of the Thirteen Colonies and with the territory of South Carolina was originally known as the Province of North Carolina.

What Indian tribes lived in the Appalachian? ›

Tribal Communities in Appalachia
  • Cherokee Tribe of Northeast Alabama. Neighbor ARC Counties: Marshall.
  • Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama. Neighbor ARC Counties: Cullman, Lawrence, Madison.
  • Piqua Shawnee Tribe of Alabama. Neighbor ARC Counties: Jefferson.
  • United Cherokee Ani-Yun-Wiya Nation. Neighbor ARC Counties: Marshall.

How do I claim Cherokee ancestry? ›

The applicant must "provide documents that connect you to an enrolled lineal ancestor, who is listed on the 'DAWES ROLL' FINAL ROLLS OF CITIZENS AND FREEDMEN OF THE FIVE CIVILIZED TRIBES, Cherokee Nation with a blood degree."

When were Cherokee removed from North Carolina? ›

In 1838 and 1839, the majority of the Cherokee were forced from their native homeland in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee and made to travel to the new “Indian Territory,” Oklahoma, along a route that has become known as the “Trail of Tears.” A quarter to one-half of the Cherokee population perished during the ...

Why was it called the Trail of Tears? ›

The Cherokee people called this journey the "Trail of Tears," because of its devastating effects. The migrants faced hunger, disease, and exhaustion on the forced march. Over 4,000 out of 15,000 of the Cherokees died. This picture, The Trail of Tears, was painted by Robert Lindneux in 1942.

How did Indians get to America? ›

The ancestors of the American Indians were nomadic hunters of northeast Asia who migrated over the Bering Strait land bridge into North America probably during the last glacial period (11,500–30,000 years ago). By c. 10,000 bc they had occupied much of North, Central, and South America.

Who came to America first? ›

Before Columbus

We know now that Columbus was among the last explorers to reach the Americas, not the first. Five hundred years before Columbus, a daring band of Vikings led by Leif Eriksson set foot in North America and established a settlement.

Who were the first tribe on earth? ›

Collectively, the Khoikhoi and San are called the Khoisan and often called the world's first or oldest people, according to the biggest and most detailed analysis of African DNA. A report from NPR details how more than 22,000 years ago, the Nama were the largest group of humans on earth and a tribe of hunter-gatherers.

What language did Cherokee speak? ›

Cherokee language, Cherokee name Tsalagi Gawonihisdi, North American Indian language, a member of the Iroquoian family, spoken by the Cherokee (Tsalagi) people originally inhabiting Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

When did the Cherokee tribe get kicked out? ›

In 1838 and 1839 U.S. troops, prompted by the state of Georgia, expelled the Cherokee Indians from their ancestral homeland in the Southeast and removed them to the Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma.

Why did the Cherokee tribe end? ›

In the early 1800s, the federal government repeatedly pressured and bribed southeastern Indian nations, including the Cherokees, into signing land cession treaties. Under these treaties the Indians typically sold some of their land and were guaranteed sovereignty and the right to keep all their remaining territory.

What was the name of America before it was called America? ›

On September 9, 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted a new name for what had been called the "United Colonies.” The moniker United States of America has remained since then as a symbol of freedom and independence.

Where did most Native Americans live before colonization? ›

During the early Woodland period, native peoples began to concentrate settlements near streams and rivers, where the rich soil allowed successful farming. This Woodland tradition took root among Indians in the Carolina region.

What is the largest Native American tribe in North Carolina? ›

The Lumbee Tribe is the largest tribe in North Carolina, the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River and the ninth largest in the nation. The Lumbee take their name from the Lumber River originally known as the Lumbee, which winds its way through Robeson County.

Are there any Native American reservations in North Carolina? ›

The Haliwa-Saponi Tribe was recognized by the state of North Carolina in 1965. The Lumbee Tribe is the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River, the ninth largest tribe in the United States, and the largest non-reservation tribe in the United States.

Which 3 states have the most Native American tribes? ›

Where Most Native Americans Live. Alaska, Oklahoma and New Mexico have the highest population share of American Indians and Alaska Natives, according to new census figures. Nov. 26, 2021, at 7:30 a.m.

Which state had the most Native American tribes? ›

Though Alaska is home to nearly half of the country's 574 federally recognized tribes, the Last Frontier is home to just one reservation. Nearly one in six Alaskans is Native American, the highest proportion of any U.S. state.

What state had the highest Native American population? ›

Arizona comes in at No. 1, followed by California and Oklahoma, as the top 3. More than 5 million Native Americans live in the United States as members of 574 federally recognized and 63 state-recognized tribes. That number is projected to rise to 10 million by 2060.

Who first settled North Carolina? ›

Starting around 700 A.D., indigenous people created more permanent settlements, and many Native American groups populated North Carolina, such as the Cape Fear, Cheraw, Cherokee, Chowanoke, Croatoan, Meherrin, Saponi, Tuscarora and Waccamaw. Europeans started to settle in the area in the mid-1600s.

Where did the first settlers in North Carolina come from? ›

The first settlers were French Protestants from Virginia. Among early inhabitants were John Lawson, surveyor general of the colony and author of the first history of Carolina (1709), and Christopher Gale, first chief justice of the colony. By 1708, Bath consisted of 12 houses and about 50 people.

Do Indians still live in the Smoky Mountains? ›

Most of the Cherokee were forcibly removed in the 1830s to Oklahoma in a tragic episode known as the "trail of Tears. The few who remained are the ancestors of the Cherokees living near the park today.

Why are there still Cherokee living in North Carolina? ›

Some members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians living in modern day WNC are descendants of Trail of Tears survivors, some of whom made it to Oklahoma and then walked back home. Others are descended from Cherokee who managed to keep land they owned and did not march West.

Can you visit Cherokee reservation in North Carolina? ›

Properly called the Qualla Boundary, the land is slightly more than 56,000 acres held in trust by the federal government. They welcome all visitors with many free things to do and see. Learn the story of the Cherokee people at outstanding museums, a legendary outdoor drama, and at festivals like the annual Pow Wow.


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