On January 30 1712, a force under South Carolinian Colonel John Barnwell, attacked the Tuscorora Indian village cum fort of Narhantes (also known as Torhunta), near New Bern, North Carolina. Barnwell had been sent by the South Carolina authorities in response to a call for help from North Carolinian settlers after they had been attacked by the southern part of the Tuscarora Indians, under the leadership of Chief Hancock.
Background to the Tuscarora War
The Tuscarora War is one of the saddest of the Indian wars, both because there were truly good relations between Indians and whites for a long time before the fighting started and because it was one the first such problems in the southern colonies. The Tuscarora, along with smaller tribes of Coree, Matchapunga, Pamlico, Bear River and Neusioc had lived and hunted in the area since before the settlers arrived. Some of the smaller tribes had even moved inland already due to the earlier expansion of the European settlers. The settlers, mainly English, Swiss, and German, had been spreading out from their Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds landing areas for fifty years. They were becoming more prosperous, but also more greedy for land. Their sprawl was tolerated at first, but eventually it began to encroach on Tuscarora hunting grounds along the Neuse, Pamlico, Trent and Roanoke Rivers. What was to become the all too familiar complaints in later Indian wars caused the Tuscarora to attack. They felt that they had been taken by duplicitous European traders, had their people enslaved by the same, and were increasingly being encroached upon by the European settlers. The northern part of the Tuscarora tribe, led by Chief Tom Blunt, had felt better treated, so had sided, albeit incompletely, with the settlers. The southern tribes, led by Chief Hancock had decided that force was the only way to regain their way of life.
On 22 September 1711, the southern Tuscarora struck the European settlers ferociously in multiple places in between the Neuses and Pamlico Rivers. The settlers were divided already due to a armed dispute between rival leaders of the settlers. They had not prepared defenses and took heavy losses. The Tuscarora killed, tortured, burned, and pillaged their way through the area. The settlers had no forts, but began to gather in some of the bigger plantations homes to fight off the Tuscarora. The North Carolina settler Deputy Governor, Edward Hyde, sent out pleas for help to Virginia and South Carolina. Colonel Barnwell, with a force of a few whites and several hundred Indians (mainly Yamasee, but also Cape Fear, Catawba, Muskhogean, Saraw, Wateree and Wynyaw) was South Carolina’s answer.
The Battle of Narhantes Fort – 30 January 1712
Barnwell made his way north from South Carolina and arrived in the Neuses River area in late January 1712. Barnwell did not find the promised North Carolina help, but decided to attack the nearby Narhantes (Torhunta) anyway. He struck to find the village largely open, but with several small, non-supporting fortifications. There was some fierce opposition including from the women of the village, but Barnwell had taken the village within a few hours. Those not killed were taken prisoner. Barnwell had recruited plenty of his Indian allies with the promise of scalps and plunder, so it was unsurprising to see some of those captured were taken by Barnwell’s Indians and they had quietly slipped away with their booty. Barnwell stayed in the area for several days, eventually destroying Narhantes Fort totally.
Barnwell would spend the remainder of the winter stomping through other Tuscaroran villages as he worked the area. However, Barnwell met his match in ferociousness with Chief Hancock, who eventually convinced Barnwell to treat by threatening to kill all of the previously captured settlers, if Barnwell continued his attacks. In the Spring, a comprehensive, but short-lived peace was agreed, but as with so many of these, the terms were not to the long term liking of either party, so they collapsed. This was not the first, nor the last of these battles or treaties, but it was defintely the most savage in this area and it was to poison relations thereafter.
The Tuscaroras moved north a few year later to join their Iroquoian cousins in the New York area. Ironically, but not unpredictably, the Yamasee got the same treatment soon thereafter and had to move south into Florida to avoid being wiped out.
Battle of Narhantes Fort Motorcycle Ride
Try this run from Windsor through eastern North Carolina’s multiple National Wildlife Refuges (Roanoke, East Dismal Swamp, Pocosin Lakes, Alligator River, Mattamuskeet and Swanquarter) to Roanoke Island and down to New Bern and up to the historical marker about Narhantes / Torhunta to get a good feel for this area that was developing quickly in the early 1700s. The area is great for wildlife, but be careful on a bike, I’ve had various critters run out in front of me on these roads, including a black bear.
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