Tuscarora Indians

The Tuscarora Indians originally inhabited the coastal plain of what became North Carolina.

The first successful and permanent settlement of North Carolina by Europeans began in earnest in 1653.

The Tuscarora lived in peace with the European settlers who arrived in North Carolina for over 50 years, at a time when nearly every other colony in America was actively involved in some form of conflict with the American Indians.

There were two primary contingents of Tuscarora, a Northern group led by Chief Tom Blunt and a Southern group led by Chief Hancock.

Northern Tuscarora

Chief Blunt occupied the area around what is present-day Bertie County on the Roanoke River; Chief Hancock was closer to New Bern, North Carolina, occupying the area south of the Pamplico River (now the Pamlico River).

While Chief Blunt became close friends with the Blount family of the Bertie region, Chief Hancock found his villages raided and his people frequently kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Both groups were heavily impacted by the introduction of European diseases, and both were rapidly having their lands stolen by the encroaching settlers. Ultimately, Chief Hancock felt there was no alternative but to attack the settlers.

Southern Tuscarora

The Southern Tuscarora, led by Chief Hancock, worked in conjunction with local Algonquian tribes, including the Pamlico, the Coree, the Mattamuskeet, and the Matchepungoes, to attack the settlers in a wide range of locations in a short time period.

The first attacks began on September 22, 1711, beginning what became known as the Tuscarora War.
Governor Edward Hyde called out the militia of North Carolina and attacked the Southern Tuscarora and other tribes in Craven County at Fort Narhantes on the banks of the Neuse River in 1712.

Many were killed and prisoners, largely women and children, were sold into slavery.

Chief Blunt was then offered the chance to control the entire Tuscarora tribe if he assisted the settlers in putting down Chief Hancock.

Chief Blunt was able to capture Chief Hancock, and the settlers executed him in 1712.

In 1713, the Southern Tuscaroras lost Fort Neoheroka, located in Greene County, with over a thousand killed or captured (Norton et al, 2007). It was at this point that the majority of the Southern Tuscarora began migrating to New York to escape the settlers in North Carolina.

The remaining Tuscarora signed a treaty with the settlers in June 1718 granting them a tract of land on the Roanoke River in what is now Bertie County.

This was the area already occupied by Tom Blunt, who had taken on the name Blount and was recognized by the Legislature of North Carolina as King Tom Blount.

The remaining Southern Tuscarora were removed from their homes on the Pamlico River and made to move to Bertie. In 1722, Bertie County was chartered, and over the next several decades the remaining Tuscorara lands were continually diminished, sold off in deals that were frequently designed to take advantage of the American Indians.

After the Tuscarora War most of the tribe removed from North Carolina to New York to become the sixth nation of the Iroquois, settling near the Oneidas on land given them by the Seneca nation.

The migration period took approximately 90 years to complete. Some lived in Pennsylvania for a time before moving to New York.

Others, who had not been involved in the uprisings, were permitted to remain in their villages in North Carolina, but later most joined the tribe in New York.

A substantial portion of the Tuscaroras sided with the Oneida nation against the rest of the League of the Six Nations by fighting for the U.S. government during the American Revolutionary War.

Those that remained allies of the Crown later followed Joseph Brant into Ontario, Canada.

In 1803, the final contingent of the Tuscarora migrated to New York to join the tribe at their reservation in Niagara County, under a treaty directed by Thomas Jefferson.

By 1804, only a few scattered families remained in North Carolina. In 1831, the Tuscarora sold the remaining rights to their lands in North Carolina, which had been reduced from their original 56,000 acres (227 km²) to just 2000 acres (8 km²).

After the American Revolutionary War, those who had sided with the British moved north to Canada, where they were given land. Tuscarora still live on that reserve today.

A substantial portion of Tuscaroras joined the Oneidas in supporting the Americans, however, and they remained on land in New York.

When did the Tuscarora people join the Iroquois?

The Tuscarora were the first native people to be dispossessed of their land during colonization, and they walked north in the early 1700s to join the Haudenosaunee.

Accepted into the Iroquois Confederacy, which already included the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Seneca, they have been part of the Six Nations ever since.

The Tuscarora adoped Gayanashagowa, the Great Law of Peace—the founding constitution. This established the government of the nations, the duties and procedures of chiefs and clan mothers, and methods of resolving disputes among member nations.

It is codified with the help of a memory device in the form of special beads called wampum that have inherent spiritual value.

What types of foods did the Tuscarora tribe eat and what did they wear?

When the Tuscarora lived on the Atlantic coastal plain that later became North Carolina, their lifestyle included hunting and gathering, as well as some farming.

Fishing contributed significantly to their diet, as they could fish both in the rivers and gather shellfish and other fish from the ocean.

The Tuscaroras who moved to New York joined the Iroquois Confederacy and adopted more aspects of the Iroquois culture, participating in Haudenosaunee rituals and living in long houses—long lodges that were extended as the families grew, also used for ceremonies and council meetings.

Their language also evolved as a branch of the Iroquoian languages.
Tuscarora women planted crops of corn, beans, and squash and harvested wild berries and herbs.

Tuscarora men hunted deer and rabbits and fished in the rivers. Tuscarora Indian recipes included cornbread, soups, and stews, which they cooked on stone hearths.

In New York, the men  adopted use of the gustoweh, a feathered cap constructed with turkey feathers.

Each of the tribes in the Iroquois Nation had a different style of gustoweh. The Tuscarora style had no upright eagle feathers, whereas those of the other nations had one, two, or three such feathers, in addition to  turkey feathers.

What language did the Tuscarora speak?

The Tuscarora language, known as Skarohreh is a member of the Northern branch of the Iroquoian languages. It is spoken in southern Ontario, Canada, and northwestern New York around Niagara Falls, in the United States.

The name Tuscarora comes from the tribe’s name and means “hemp people,” after the Indian hemp or milkweed that they use in many aspects of their society. Skarureh refers to the long shirt worn as part of the men’s regalia, so they are also known as the “long shirt people.”

The Tuscarora language can appear complex to those unfamiliar with it, more in terms of the grammar than the sound system.

Many ideas can be expressed in a single word, and most words involve several components that must be considered before speaking (or writing). It is written using mostly symbols from the Roman alphabet, with some variations, additions, and diacritics.

Tuscarora is a living but severely endangered language.

As of the mid-1970s, only about 52 people spoke the language on the Tuscarora Reservation (Lewiston, New York) and the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation (near Brantford, Ontario).

The Tuscarora School in Lewiston has striven to keep the language alive, teaching children from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade. Despite this, only a dozen speakers remained in the 1990s, all of whom are older adults.

Tuscarora Religious Beliefs

The Tuscarora, together all Haudenosaunee, believed that winter is a time of death in which Mother Earth goes into a long slumber and many plants die, but when spring arrives and nature begins to flourish, she has woken up and given life once again.

Celebration of the maple sap and strawberries as well as corn planting were considered spiritual in nature. Also, in the winter, there was an important eight-day festival to give thanks and to forget past wrongs.

Along with all the Iroquois, the Tuscarora believed in a supreme spirit, Orenda, the “Great Spirit,” from whom all other spirits were derived.
Legends tell of Atahensic (also called Ataensic), the sky goddess, who fell to the earth at the time of creation and was carried down to the land by the wings of birds.

After her fall from the sky she gave birth to Hahgwehdiyu and Hahgwehdaetgah, twin sons. She died in childbirth and was considered the goddess of pregnancy, fertility, and feminine skills.

Hahgwehdiyu, the Good Twin,  put a plant into his mothers lifeless body and from it grew maize as a gift to humankind. His brother, Hahgwehdaetgah was the evil twin, or an evil spirit.

In the early 1800s, the teachings of a Seneca prophet named Handsome Lake became popular among Tuscarora. Handsome Lake taught about Jesus and also blended the traditional Iroquois celebrations with Christian-style confessions of sin and urged Native Americans to stay away from alcohol.

His teachings eventually were incorporated into the Longhouse religion, which continues to have followers today.

Federally Recognized Tuscarora Tribes Today:

Tuscarora Nation of New York (USA) Six Nations of the Grand River (Ontario, CANADA)

There are several bands, groups, and organizations without federal recognition:

Skaroreh Katenuaka at Tosneoc Village in Elm City, North Carolina

Southern Band Tuscarora Indian Tribe at Windsor, North Carolina

Hatteras Tuscarora at Cape Fear, North Carolina

Tuscarora Nation of Indians of the Carolinas at Maxton, North Carolina

Skaroreh Katenuaka Nation at Robeson County, North Carolina

Since 1927, Tuscarora have joined the annual Border Crossing Celebration founded by Chief Clinton Rickard to promote the unrestricted crossings between the United States and Canada, as guaranteed in the Jay Treaty of 1794 and the Treaty of Ghent of 1814.

Rickard founded the Indian Defense League of America, which sponsors the Celebration, to resist the erosion of native rights and promote their culture.

Today, the Tuscarora Indians still continue their culture and traditions, government through chiefs, clan mothers, and faithkeepers.

They continue to fish in the Niagara River and play their traditional game of lacrosse (also known as “stick ball”), a part of their heritage that is far more than just a game.

It serves religious and social purposes as well as being played to settle inter-tribal disputes as it was in the past, and is an essential function in keeping the Six Nations of the Iroquois together.