Michigan War Studies Review
Reviews, surveys, original essays, and commentary in the field of military studies.
12 October 2015
Review by Michael K. Beauchamp, Rogers State University
The Tuscarora War: Indians, Settlers, and the Fight for the Carolina Colonies
By David La Vere
Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2013. Pp. 262. ISBN 978–1–4696–1090–0.
Descriptors: Volume 2015, 18th Century Print Version

David La Vere (Univ. of North Carolina at Wilmington),[1] has filled a vacuum by providing a monograph focused solely on the Tuscarora War (1711–15), which has often been neglected as a mere prelude to the Yamasee War.[2] His in-depth account of the struggle between the Carolinas, Virginia, and the native tribes during the conflict will be a valuable resource for early Americanists, Native American historians, and students of military history.

La Vere's detailed narrative history takes a virtually prosopographical approach in discussing the leadership of both natives and colonists in the Carolinas. Its chapters center on key personalities: Christopher de Graffenried, King Hancock and Core Tom, William Brice, Col. John Barnwell, Thomas Pollock, King Tom Blount, and Col. James Moore. La Vere explains the pre-conflict context within North Carolina, which, unlike its neighbor to the south, remained economically undeveloped in the absence of a good deep-water port and politically divided between contentious locals (often with unseemly pasts), Quaker immigrants, and men who benefited from proprietary patronage. Indeed, the colony had just emerged from a period of armed conflict, Cary's Rebellion, which revealed these fissures.

Chapter 1 concerns the idealistic, but haughty Baron de Graffenried, who established a settlement of Swiss and German Palatines in North Carolina, putting pressure on nearby native lands. When de Graffenried and the Surveyor General of North Carolina, John Lawson, a proprietary man with a poor reputation among Native Americans, made a trip up the Neuse River to scout the area, many natives saw it as yet another attempt to seize land. In chapter 2, we learn that King Hancock of the Tuscarora dispatched forces to turn the Carolinians back, but they instead chose to capture them. Seizures of native lands, complaints over trading practices, and the Indian slave trade had bitterly antagonized Hancock's people and the Iroquois were pressing him to react with violence. After questioning his captives, Hancock wished to release them, but another leading figure, Core Tom, pressed for executions. La Vere makes a persuasive case that Core Tom was likely an Iroquois diplomat:

Several things make Core Tom unusual. That Core Town, which was not all that large, would have two chiefs and be so obvious about it that a European would notice it. That Core Tom was never addressed as "King Tom." And that Core Tom, one of the leaders of a small town and a minor ally, could force King Hancock's hand and get these two important Englishmen to stand trial for their lives. With all this in mind, and with a good dose of circumstantial evidence and conjecture, it seems quite possible that Core Tom was a Seneca diplomat, or at least agent provocateur, whose job was to ensure that the Tuscarora went to war against the English. A war that would drive the Tuscarora firmly into the arms of the Senecas, where they would become "props" to the League of the Longhouse and "little brothers" to the Five Nations. (64)

Given the nature of early American and Native American history, both facts and interpretations in the book are often in dispute. La Vere carefully explains his judgments, while acknowledging the necessarily circumstantial nature of his case. Core Tom's efforts resulted in another round of interrogation, in which Lawson fared poorly and was subsequently executed. Even so, more moderate leaders such as Tom Blount persuaded the Tuscarora not to execute de Graffenried.

Lawson's death and de Graffenried's captivity inaugurated a war along the frontier. In de Graffenried's absence, local leadership shifted to William Brice, the subject of chapter 3. Brice, a neighbor of de Graffenried, was a more rough-and-tumble man of the frontier, whose plantation became a refuge during native attacks. He profited from proprietary patronage and served as a militia captain and sheriff. He was a land speculator and Indian trader as well, with a rather unsavory reputation. When de Graffenried secured his own release by negotiating a treaty of neutrality for his colony, the agreement proved unpopular and Brice persisted in prosecuting the war, even as North Carolina's government struggled with internal political divisions and a lack of money and manpower.

South Carolina responded more vigorously by dispatching Col. John Barnwell, the subject of chapter 4, with a force raised primarily from the government's Indian allies. As he journeyed north, he suffered desertions and, after he took a Tuscarora fort, most of his native allies returned to the south. North Carolina's assistance and provisions regularly fell short of Barnwell's expectations. Indeed, Brice's "cooperation" sometimes actually hindered the operation.

Chapter 5 concerns Thomas Pollack, who oversaw much of North Carolina's war effort and became acting governor upon Governor Edward Hyde's illness and death. Pollock hailed from a prominent Scottish family that had purchased land in North Carolina. He became a planter, land speculator, and shipper who traded with Barbados. Barnwell's force marched on Catechna to capture Hancock, but, finding the site abandoned, moved against a nearby Tuscarora fort that was well built and based on a mix of European and Native American designs. Unable to take it, Barnwell chose to negotiate for a future parley and truce, but, when the natives failed to show up for the meeting, the Carolinians persisted in the war effort. After ten days, they held a parley that required the Tuscarora to turn over captives and property, as well as tear down the fort. Despite a truce, the Tuscarora were attacked again. De Graffenried and Pollock blamed Barnwell for the incident, but it is also possible North Carolinians were to blame:

While the full details will never be known, circumstantial evidence can go either way. Though Barnwell talked of his honor and how he would not attack the Tuscaroras after the treaty, he was very interested in acquiring slaves …. On the other hand, Barnwell considered himself a man of honor and breaking a truce so soon after making it was certainly dishonorable. But where did Governor Hyde get those three to four hundred slaves if not from the Core Town attacks? And in a later appeal for assistance to South Carolina, neither Pollock nor Hyde blames Barnwell at that time. So who did the attacking has never yet been resolved. In the end, it did not matter, except to the Indians. (133–34)

In any case, the war continued. Pollock ordered the construction of small forts, recruited rangers, and requested more help from South Carolinians, though, given their sore feelings after the previous campaign, they did not want Barnwell to lead another one.

Chapter 6 covers King Tom Blount, leader of the Upper Tuscarora, who traded with Virginia and refused to openly support the Tuscarora War, though younger braves certainly went south to fight alongside their kinsmen. Blount acceded to North Carolina's demands that he capture and deliver Hancock to Pollock for execution. The war went on even after Hancock's death, as South Carolina dispatched another force under Col. James Moore, who came from a Goose Creek family engaged in the Indian slave trade. Moore, like Barnwell, struggled to take a fort and to secure enough aid from the North Carolinians. He moved to Albemarle to provision his force. This caused Quakers, heretofore unwilling to support the war, to vote for higher taxes to fund the war effort. Moore then succeeded in seizing a Tuscarora fort at Neoheroka.

The use of these forts demonstrated a commitment to retaining positions rather than waging the skulking sort of war that often typified Native American warfare. The Tuscarora had built fortifications before the arrival of Europeans, but during the conflict they began to adapt elements of European technology, though to little avail.[3] With Blount's aid, Moore's forces began to clear areas and deliver scalps. Although occasional attacks persisted, Moore was able to return to South Carolina, and treaties were made with the remaining native bands.

The Tuscarora War led to the Yamasee War, as South Carolina's Indian allies realized not only the ineptness of English responses to the conflict, but also that they were potential targets for slaving expeditions following the decimation of the tribes to the north. Only in the aftermath of these two Indian wars did the Carolinians begin to regulate the Indian trade. The conflicts also resulted in numerous court cases over impressed property, orphans, and debts that sometimes proved difficult to resolve due to the destruction of court records during the wars. In the short term, the war shattered the Quaker alliance with the North Carolinians from Bath, but in the longer term, as new lands opened up, Albemarle ceased to dominate North Carolinian politics. The Seneca never openly entered the fight, partly because the Mohawk and Oneida were committed to the British. The Iroquois nonetheless benefited from the war as Tuscarora Indians who chose to leave the region journeyed north and eventually became a sixth nation of the Iroquois. La Vere stresses that, even though many Native Americans became detribalized because of the conflict, many others remained in North Carolina, intermarrying and blending into the local population.

David La Vere's excellent narrative clarifies the causes, course, outcomes, and key turning points of the Tuscarora War. Chapters centering on specific personalities provide perspective on the complex pressures and tensions within and between communities. The discussion of the Tuscaroras' use of forts adds nuance to facile generalizations about a Native American "way of war." The author makes astute use of archival materials, including personal papers of, for example, Pollock and Barnwell, as well as published accounts of De Graffenried's experience. He is also conversant with relevant secondary authorities on North Carolina. Since there is little historiographic debate on the Tuscarora War, he need not discuss dueling interpretations and instead provides a perceptive account that should serve as a useful jumping off point for further studies of the conflict.

[1] He is the author of six previous books: The Caddo Chiefdoms: Caddo Economics and Politics, 700–1835 (Lincoln: U Nebraska Pr, 1998); Life among the Texas Indians: The WPA Narratives (College Station: Texas A&M U Pr, 1998); Contrary Neighbors: Southern Plains and Removed Indians in Indian Territory (Norman: U Oklahoma Pr, 2000); The Texas Indians (College Station: Texas A&M U Pr, 2004); Looting Spiro Mounds: An American King Tut's Tomb (Norman: U Oklahoma Pr, 2007); The Lost Rocks: The Dare Stones and the Unsolved Mystery of Sir Walter Raleigh's Lost Colony (Wilmington, DE: Burnt Mill Pr, 2011).

[2] On which, see William L. Ramsey, The Yamasee War: A Study of Culture, Economy, and Conflict in the Colonial South (Lincoln: U Nebraska Pr, 2010), and Steven J. Oatis, A Colonial Complex: South Carolina's Frontiers in the Age of the Yamasee War, 1680–1730 (Lincoln: U Nebraska Pr, 2008).

[3] See Wayne E. Lee, "Fortify, Fight, or Flee: Tuscarora and Cherokee Defensive Warfare and Military Culture Adaptation," Journal of Military History 68 (2004) 713–70.

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