By Michael E.C. Gery
Trekking through remote parts of eastern North Carolina recently, while retracing the route of the notorious Potter's Raid 150 years ago this summer (stay tuned), I was struck again by how lucky we are to have such peaceful, bountiful country nearby and accessible. In western Greene County, outside of Snow Hill, I looked over the area where more than 300 years ago the Tuscarora lived around Contentnea Creek. It was here in March 1713 that a white militia with hundreds of Indian allies finally crushed the Tuscarora natives at Neoheroka (see Crushing the Tuscarora).
Relations among native tribes and European colonists who had recently settled along the Pamlico and Neuse rivers had been difficult from the beginning. As we learn in "Native Carolinians: The Indians of North Carolina," by Theda Perdue and Christopher Arris Oakley, the European culture — rooted in a Christian, monarchical, male-dominated, more or less urban society — clashed with the agrarian, communal Indian culture in which natives believed in many spirits and wore few clothes. The colonists brought diseases that Indians could not resist and trading ethics they could not understand. Taking Indians as slaves made matters worse. The Tuscarora in 1710 even traveled to Pennsylvania to appeal unsuccessfully to the Quaker authorities there for asylum, pleading on behalf of their children for "a cessation from murdering and taking them, that by the allowance thereof, they may not be afraid of a moose, or any other thing that Ruffles the Leaves."
Once the Tuscarora acquired firearms and firewater from their new neighbors, it could be argued, their fate was sealed. After defeat at Neoheroka, Tuscarora retreated to the peaceful woods and high swamps they knew so well in today's Beaufort and Hyde counties. Attempts to remove them to a Bertie County reservation did not sit well with most of these natives. While many eventually joined the Iroquois nations in upper New York, others remained in North Carolina, including a sizable community in Robeson County who ever since has worked for some kind of recognition.
One white man who did appreciate the natives early on was John Lawson, a founder of the town of Bath, an explorer and surveyor, educated in England, who arrived here in 1700. His account of his travels, "A New Voyage to Carolina," published in 1709, is the earliest, comprehensive description of this area and its people. As respectful as he was of the Tuscarora, he was killed by them in 1711during the Tuscarora War.
Just a few years earlier, Lawson wrote the following description of this place:
When we consider the Latitude and convenient Situation of Carolina...our Reason would inform us, that such a Place lay fairly to be a delicious Country, being placed in that Girdle of the World which affords Wine, Oil, Fruit, Grain, and Silk, with other rich Commodities, besides a sweet Air, moderate Climate, and fertile Soil; these are the Blessings (under Heaven's Protection) that spin out the Thread of Life to its utmost Extent, and crown our Days with the Sweets of Health and Plenty, which, when join'd with Content, renders the Possessors the Happiest Race of Men upon Earth. The Inhabitants of Carolina, thro' the Richness of the Soil, live an easy and pleasant Life...
We have yearly abundance of Strangers come among us, who chiefly strive to go Southerly to settle, because there is a vast Tract of rich Land betwixt the Place we are seated in, and Cape-Fair, and upon that River, and more Southerly which is inhabited by none but a few Indians, who are at this time well affected to the English, and very desirous of their coming to live among them.