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Who are the Tuscarora Indians?

By Grayson Millar
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Tuscarora Indians are a tribe of Native Americans traditionally located in New York, North Carolina and Ontario, Canada. The Tuscarora joined the Iroquois League of Nations, "The League of Peace and Power," in 1722 as the sixth nation in the Iroquois League, which was located in the area that is now New York. Historically, the Tuscarora Indians were made up of three tribes: the Kautanohakau, "People of the Submerged Pine-tree"; the Kauwetseka, which is of indeterminate meaning; and the Tuscarora, "hemp gatherers." Hemp was used for many purposes by the Tuscarora Indians who lived in the region that would become North Carolina and, consequently, they took the name of "hemp gatherers." The official Tuscaroran language was Skarure, one of the languages of the northern group of the Iroquoian languages.

Very little is known about the history of the Tuscarora prior to the arrival of European settlers in North America. It is believed that the Tuscarora originally gathered as a people in the Great Lakes region around the same time that the Iroquois coalesced into the Five Nations. Well before European settlers arrived, the Tuscarora had relocated to the eastern region of present-day North Carolina, in which they were the most populous group of Native Americans, numbering somewhere between 1,200 and 5,000. European settlers first encountered the Tuscarora in what are now North Carolina and Virginia around 1653.

The Tuscarora War between the Tuscarora Indians and British, Dutch, and German settlers was fought mostly between 1711 and 1713. During this time, the Tuscarora were divided into southern and northern regions, which ultimately led to a permanent division of the tribe. With Chief Tom Blunt as their leader, the group in the northern region formed a friendship with the Blount family of the Bertie region of North Carolina — from whom he took his namd — and would go on to side with the settlers against the southern Tuscarora, led by Chief Hancock.

European settlers often raided Chief Hancock's villages and took captives whom they sold as slaves. The southern Tuscarora had little choice but to fight back, which began the Tuscarora war. With the assistance of Chief Blunt's northern Tuscarora, who were promised leadership of the entire Tuscarora nation in exchange for his allegiance, the southern Tuscarora were defeated. The majority of southern Tuscarora began migrating north where, over the next 80 years, nearly all of them would settle in New York and join the Iroquois Nation, settling on what became the Tuscarora Reservation. The northern Tuscarora Indians also would side with American colonists in the American Revolutionary war.

The southern Tuscarora Indians remained in North Carolina on the Bertie Reservation, where they met with poor treatment. The majority, dissatisfied with Chief Blunt's leadership, migrated without reforming as a people. The Tuscarora eventually lost the Bertie County Reservation, but a small population still remains in North Carolina.

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