Tuscarora Indian Tribe of New York

Published on October 18, 2010 by John

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Tuscarora, New York
Tuscarora, New York

The Tuscarora (“hemp gatherers”) are a Native American people of the Iroquoian-language family, with members in New York, Canada, and North Carolina. They coalesced as a people around the Great Lakes, likely about the same time as the rise of the five nations of the historic Iroquois tribes, based in present-day New York. Well before the arrival of Europeans in North America, the Tuscarora had migrated south and settled in the region now known as Eastern Carolina. The most numerous indigenous people in the area, they lived along the Roanoke, Neuse, Tar (Torhunta or Narhontes), and Pamlico rivers in North Carolina.They first encountered European explorers and settlers in North Carolina and Virginia. After the 18th century wars of 1711-1713 (known as the Tuscarora War), most of the Tuscarora left North Carolina and migrated north to Pennsylvania and New York, over a period of 90 years. They aligned with the Iroquois in New York, because of their ancestral connection. They were sponsored by the Oneida and accepted as one of the Six Nations in 1722. After the American Revolution, in which they and the Oneida allied with the colonists, they shared reservation land with the Oneida before gaining their own. The Tuscarora Nation of New York is federally recognized. A significant minority remained in North Carolina without a formal government or reservation land. After the early 19th century, however, the Tuscarora in New York no longer considered those in North Carolina as members of the tribal nation. Some Tuscarora allied with the British in the American Revolution, and resettled in present-day Ontario, where they are part of the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation. Only the tribes in New York and Ontario have been recognized officially by the respective national governments

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The historic nation encountered by Europeans in North Carolina had three tribes: Kǎ’tě’nu’ā’kā’ (People of the Submerged Pine-tree), also written Kautanohakau; Akawěñtc’ākā’ (meaning doubtful), also Kauwetseka ; and Skarū’ren’ (hemp gatherers), also Tuscarora. These were also active when they were later in New York and Ontario. An early 19th-century historian wrote that the Tuscarora traditionally were said to occupy the “country lying between the sea shores and the mountains, which divide the Atlantic states”, in which they had 24 large towns and could muster 6,000 warriors, probably meaning persons. In late 17th and early 18th-century North Carolina, colonists reported two primary branches of the Tuscarora: a northern group led by Chief Tom Blunt, and a southern group led by Chief Hancock. Varying accounts circa 1708-1710 estimated the number of Tuscarora warriors as from 1200-2000. Historians estimate their total population may have been three to four times that number. Chief Blunt occupied the area around what is present-day Bertie County, North Carolina, on the Roanoke River. Chief Hancock lived closer to New Bern, occupying the area south of the Pamlico River. Chief Blunt became close friends with the Blount family of the Bertie region and lived peacefully. By contrast, Chief Hancock had to deal with more numerous colonists’ encroaching on his community. They raided his villages and kidnapped the people to be sold into slavery. The colonists transported some Tuscarora to Pennsylvania to be sold into slavery. Both groups suffered substantial population losses after exposure to Eurasian infectious diseases endemic to Europeans. Both also suffered territorial encroachment. By 1711 Chief Hancock believed he had to attack the settlers to fight back. Chief Tom Blunt did not join him in the war. The southern Tuscarora collaborated with the Pamlico, the Cothechney, the Coree, the Mattamuskeet and the Matchepungoe nations to attack the settlers in a wide range of locations within a short time period. Their principal targets were against the planters on the Roanoke, Neuse and Trent Rivers, as well as the city of Bath. They attacked on September 22, 1711, beginning the Tuscarora War. The allied Indian tribes killed hundreds of settlers, including several key political figures among the colonists. Governor Edward Hyde called out the North Carolina militia and secured the assistance of South Carolina, which provided 600 militia and 360 allied Native Americans under Col. Barnwell. In 1712, this force attacked the southern Tuscarora and other nations in Craven County at Fort Narhontes, on the banks of the Neuse River. The Tuscarora were “defeated with great slaughter; more than three hundred were killed, and one hundred made prisoners.” The governor offered Chief Blunt leadership of the entire Tuscarora Nation if he would assist in defeating Chief Hancock. Blunt succeeded in capturing Hancock, who was tried and executed by North Carolina. In 1713 the Southern Tuscaroras were defeated at their Fort Neoheroka (formerly spelled Neherooka), with 900 killed or captured in the battle. After defeat in the battle of 1713, about 1500 Tuscarora fled to New York to join the Iroquois Confederacy, while as many as 1500 additional Tuscarora sought refuge in the colony of Virginia. Although some accepted tributary status in Virginia, the majority of the remaining Tuscarora ultimately returned to North Carolina.In 1715, seventy of the southern Tuscarora went to South Carolina to assist against the Yamasee. Those 70 warriors later asked permission to have their wives and children join them, and settled near Port Royal, South Carolina. Under the leadership of Tom Blunt, the Tuscarora who remained in North Carolina signed a treaty with the colony in June 1718. It granted a 56,000-acre (227 km²) tract of land on the Roanoke River in what is now Bertie County. This was the area occupied by Chief Blunt and his people. The colonies of Virginia and North Carolina both recognized Tom Blunt, who had taken the last name Blount, as “King Tom Blount” of the Tuscarora. Both colonies agreed to consider as friendly only those Tuscarora who accepted Blount’s leadership.The remaining Southern Tuscarora were forced to remove from their villages on the Pamlico River and relocate to the villages of Ooneroy and Resootskeh in Bertie County. In 1722, the Bertie County Reservation, which would officially become known as “Indian Woods,” was chartered. As colonial settlement surrounded Indian Woods, the Tuscarora suffered discrimination and other acts: they were overcharged or denied use of ferries, restricted in hunting, and cheated in trade; their timber was illegally logged, and their lands were continuously encroached upon by herders and squatters. Over the next several decades the colonial government continually reduced the Tuscarora tract, forcing cessions of land to the encroaching settlers. They sold off portions of the land in deals often designed to take advantage of the Tuscarora. Many Tuscarora were not satisfied with the leadership of Tom Blount, and decided to leave the reservation. In 1722 300 fighting men; along with their wives, children, and the elderly, resided on Indian Woods. There were 200 fighting men in 1731 and 100 in 1755 with a total Indian Woods population of 301 in 1755. When in 1752 Moravian missionaries visited the reservation, they noted “many had gone north to live on the Susquehanna” and that “others are scattered as the wind scatters smoke.” In 1763 and 1766 additional Tuscarora migrated north to settle with other Iroquoian peoples in Pennsylvania and New York. By 1767 only 104 individuals continued to reside on the reservation in Bertie County. In 1804 the last band to leave North Carolina went to New York. By then, only “10 to 20 Old families” remained on Indian Woods. In 1802 the last Indian Woods Tuscarora negotiated a treaty with the United States, by which land would be held for them which they could lease. The government never ratified the treaty, however. The North Carolina Tuscarora viewed the treaty as null and void. In 1831 the Indian Woods Tuscarora sold the remaining rights to their lands. By this point their 56,000 acres (227 km²) had already been reduced to only 2,000 acres (8 km²). Despite no longer having a reservation, some Tuscarora remain in the southern regions of the state. In 1971 the Tuscarora In Robeson County North Carolina sought to get an accounting of their lands and rents due them under the unratified treaty of 1803.

Migration north

The Iroquois Five Nations of New York had penetrated as far as the Tuscarora homeland in North Carolina by 1701, and nominally controlled the entire frontier territory lying in between. Following their discovery of a linguistically related tribe living beyond Virginia, they were more than happy to accommodate their distant cousins within the Iroquois Constitution as the “Sixth Nation”, and to resettle them in safer grounds to the north. (Incidentally, the Iroquois had driven tribes of rival Indians out of Western New York to South Carolina during the Beaver Wars several decades earlier, not far from where the Tuscaroras resided.) Beginning about 1713, contingents of Tuscarora began leaving North Carolina for the north, establishing a main village at present-day Martinsburg, WV, on what is still known as Tuscarora Creek. Another group stopped in 1719-1721 in present-day Maryland along the Monocacy River, on the way to join the Iroquois Oneida nation in western New York. After white settlers began to pour into what is now the Martinsburg area from around 1730, the Tuscarora there continued northward to join those in New York. Other Tuscarora bands sojourned in the Juniata River valley of Pennsylvania, before moving to New York. During the American Revolutionary War, part of the Tuscarora and Oneida nations in New York allied with the colonists of the newly established United States government. Most of the Iroquois nations supported Great Britain, and participated in battles throughout New York. They were the main forces that attacked frontier settlements of the central Mohawk and Cherry valleys. Late in the war, the pro-British Tuscarora followed Chief Joseph Brant of the Mohawk, other British-allied tribes, and Loyalists north to Ontario. They were part of establishing the reservation of the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation in what became Ontario, Canada. In 1803 a final contingent of southern Tuscarora migrated to New York to join the reservation of their tribe in Niagara County. After that, the Tuscarora in New York no longer considered southern remnants as part of their nation. During the War of 1812 in the British attack on Lewiston, New York on December 19, 1813 a band of Tuscarora living in a village on an escarpment just above the town fought to save Americans fleeing the ravages of the invasion force, including British allied Mohawks and some American Tories disguised as Mohawks.The American militia ignominiously fled, leaving only the Tuscarora—outnumbered 30 to one—to fight a delaying action which allowed some townspeople to escape. The British force burned Lewiston, as well as the Tuscarora village which the delaying action had left undefended. The Tuscarora have continued to struggle to protect their land. In the mid-20th century, New York City commissioner Robert Moses generated controversy by expropriating 550 acres (2.2 km2) of the Lewiston, NY Tuscarora reservation land for a hydroelectric project in the vicinity of Niagara Falls. The project was to generate electricity for the population of New York City.


Skarure, the Tuscarora language, is a member of the northern branch of the Iroquoian languages. An historical and linguistic question is when the Iroquoian-speaking Meherrin and Nottoway tribes separated from the Tuscarora. Before initial contact (1650), the English, based on reports from Algonquian natives, had originally known all three as one people, by the Algoquian exonym Mangoag, and following contact, the same interpreters were employed for all three. What is known of the Nottoway vocabulary shows that it is certainly a distinct language, though closely related to Tusacarora, and in historic times, the three tribes have always considered themselves distinct.

National government-recognized Tuscarora bands

Tuscarora Nation at Lewiston, New York Tuscarora at Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario, Canada

Tuscarora bands in North Carolina

Several bands, groups, and organizations reside in North Carolina but do not have state or federal recognition: Tosneoc Village, Elm City; Southern Band Tuscarora Indian Tribe, Windsor; Hatteras Tuscarora, Cape Fear; Tuscarora Nation of Indians of the Carolinas, Maxton; and Skarureh Katenuaka Nation General Council Skaroreh Katenuaka Nation, Robeson County Meherrin Nation Kah-wets-ah-kah, Hertford County North Carolina, Principal Chief, Wayne Brown. Tuscarora tribal officials in New York dispute claims that anyone in North Carolina has continuity as a tribe with the Tuscarora. The Tuscarora Nation of Lewiston, New York, says that the great majority of the tribe moved north to New York. New York leaders consider any individuals remaining in North Carolina as no longer having tribal status, although they may be descendants by heritage. While the Tuscarora Nation in Lewiston are recognized as a tribe by both the state of New York and the federal government, no Tuscarora band in North Carolina is officially recognized by the state or federal government. This often causes confusion, since both the New York Tuscarora and the North Carolina Tuscarora claim the name of the tribe. Members of both groups insist they are descended from the ancient Skarure, as they called themselves. In the 1930s the Department Of Interior conducted physical examinations of 209 individuals residing in Robeson County and determined that 22 of them possessed at least 1/2 or more degree of Indian blood and that 18 more were borderline or near borderline cases (Note: This is no longer considered a valid method of determining ancestry. In addition, tribes have developed their own rules for membership. Ethnicity is considered socially constructed, based in culture rather than blood quantum.) In the 1960s the surviving 8 of these 22 persons, along with many of their descendants and approximately 2000 other individuals in their communities participated in the process of officially organizing a Tuscarora political infrastructure in Robeson County. On November 12, 1979 the “Tuscarora Tribe of Indians Maxton” were adopted and accepted into the National Congress of American Indians. Various factions of the Robeson County-based Tuscarora, who have split since their initial organization in the 1960s, have worked for state and federal recognition. A petition by the “Hatteras Tuscarora,” submitted in the 1970s, was placed on hold after a Solicitor’s opinion was given in the 1980s ruling that the Lumbee Act of 1956 barred all Indians within Robeson and adjoining counties from consideration within the “Branch of Acknowledgement and Research” petitioning process . In 2006 the Skaroreh Katenuaka Nation, “AKA: Tuscarora Nation of Indians of North Carolina”, filed a federal lawsuit for recognition.. “Skaroreh Katenuaka Nation,” “The Hatteras Tuscarora” and the “Tuscarora Nation of the Carolinas” are all based in Robeson County, North Carolina and are closely related to one another. They maintain separate enrollment from and are not part of the “Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina”. This is a state-recognized tribe that is also located in Robeson County.

Tuscarora descendants in Oklahoma

Some Tuscarora descendants live in Oklahoma. They are primarily descendants of Tuscarora groups absorbed by relocated Iroquois Seneca and Cayuga bands, sometimes known as Mingo. Coalescing as a group in Ohio, the Mingo were later forced in Indian Removals to Kansas, and lastly, Oklahoma. They reorganized as the federally recognized Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma in 1937 and occupy the northeast corner of the former Indian Territory.

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