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Native American History in North Carolina

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.

1585
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.

1770
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.

1777-1792
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.

1834
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.

1849
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).

1852
Okah Tubbee, son of a Choctaw chief, and Laah Ceil Manatoi Elaah Tubbee publish A 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.

1861-65
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.

1914
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.

1916
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.

DocSouth staff