Clay Swindell: Remembering Tuscarora War and natives of the Albemarle

The Daily Advance

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March 22, 2013 marks the 300th anniversary of the most decisive battle of the Tuscarora War — people native to this region. This battle concluded the siege of Neoheroka Fort and brought to an end a war begun in 1711.

Approximately 1,000 men, women, and children from the community of Neoheroka were inside the fort when Colonel James Moore positioned his force of South Carolina militia and Indian warriors outside its walls. The battle lasted three days and despite best efforts, the fort was overrun March 22, 1713.

So why is it significant to remember the Battle of Neoheroka? The conclusion of the Tuscarora War opened up large areas of land to European settlement. North Carolina and Coastal Indian societies were never the same.

It is important to note that as an archaeologist I study people, not just artifacts. Artifacts are simply the objects which tell archaeologists about people. They have the potential to reveal personal stories of people who lived long ago.

During a 1994 excavation along a wall in a subterranean bunker inside the fort, our team of East Carolina University archaeologists uncovered a small storage niche. Inside were the remnants of two bags, one small and one large.

The larger bag was made of woven cloth and though the cloth had long since decayed, its imprint could still be seen in the clay. Its contents included: two copper bracelets, a copper ring, a pewter spoon, a set of pipe tongs, two clay pipes, a pair of scissors, glass and shell bead necklaces, a small bag of musket balls, a small bag of buckshot, a bag of squash seeds and corn, a “hand” of tobacco leaves, two gun flints, a thimble, brass buttons, copper pins, shoe buckles, and two small copper discs.

These were the personal items of a man or woman who had placed them inside the bag and carefully slid them into a hiding spot before the battle began. The squash and corn seeds were meant for the planting season a few weeks away. The tobacco was to be smoked in celebration after the spring planting was finished.

Even as the enemy surrounded the fort, the owner remained hopeful that they would return to their treasured items and life would return to normal. The owner was likely killed or sold into slavery and the contents of the bag lay in place until their discovery centuries later.

This tragic fate was echoed all across the nation as European expansion occurred and cultures clashed. Tuscarora refugees who managed to survive the war and escape slavery fled to join other Indian groups or moved north to New York. Their descendants are still in these locations today.

To commemorate the Battle of Neoheroka, a series of lectures will take place at East Carolina University from March 21-23. Information can be found at Artifacts and information relating to the Tuscarora story and how the war affected the Albemarle can be learned at the Museum of the Albemarle.

Clay Swindell is a collections specialist at Museum of the Albemarle.