“It is one of those uncomfortable things to admit — that the Tuscarora War of 1711-15 was fought over slavery.
Yes, there were other important factors: anger over European intrusion, dishonest traders, and just-plain clashes of cultural lifestyle. But the thing that really grated with the Tuscarora elders and their allies was the kidnapping of their wives and children who were sent off as slaves to other colonies. In June, 1710, they sent the Pennsylvania assembly protesting enslavement by local settlers, and asked this bastion of Quakerism to refuse to purchase such slaves.
We cannot cover the Tuscarora wars in one column, but I would like to take a couple of weeks to discuss the climactic ending battle of that war, for we have just passed its 303rd anniversary — March 20, 1714.
The Indians had wisely chosen the start of their war in September, 1711, when the colony was torn apart by political intrigue, disease and near famine. Weapons were few, and numerous Quakers in the colony refused — as a religious tenant — to take up arms in defense of the colony. To make a long story inadequately short, the Tuscarora opened the war with a surprise attack that left 140 men, women and children dead. Inadequate to itself, North Carolina turned to Virginia, which refused to help unless the colony surrendered land, and then to South Carolina, which sent Col. John Barnwell with an army of a few white men and several hundred friendly Indians. He fought the Tuscarora to a standstill and signed a truce in 1712. The war went on.
In 1714, Col. James Moore arrived from South Carolina, 33 whites and 900 Cherokee and Yamasee Indians in tow. By now the Tuscarora had built a significant fortress called Neoheroka along Contentnea Creek, near present day Snow Hill. It was palisaded, protected with upright log walls, and had access to the creek so that the Indians could better survive a siege. The fort also had houses and caves inside — as well as a fairly elaborate tunnel system — reminiscent, perhaps, of those tunnels our friends the Viet Cong were so fond of in the Vietnam War.
Col. Moore’s forces arrived on March 1 and prepared a siege. Unlike the days of 1711, the colonial forces were now well armed and their enemy worn down. The Tuscarora were facing a bloody and ironic end.
Neoheroka was an impressive fort for its day, built by its Indian defenders from a tradition of older forts and some “new” technology learned from observing colonial fortresses. Archeological digs have determined the palisade wall was about 360 feet in length, and that the compound included 17 bunkers to shield its noncombatants during war.
It held in the neighborhood of a thousand souls — but most were women, children, and elders too aged to take part in a fight. Most of the men were armed with tomahawks, knives and arrows.
For 20 days they had been besieged by Col. Moore’s mixed-bag army of roughly 950 Indians, South and North Carolinians, all under the command of Moore. It was the 20th of March, and the final three-day battle was about to begin. These colonial forces were well-armed, well-supplied and determined.
For days, the Europeans had been preparing for the fight: a trench had slowly zig-zagged its way toward the palisade walls. Under its protection, they constructed both a blockhouse and a battery — both of which rose higher than Neoheroka’s walls. They also dug a tunnel from the trench to the wall so they could have the option of blowing a hole there with explosives.
To the sound of a trumpet, the battle began in earnest on March 20. It raged for three days. On March 23, the fort was breached and the slaughter in full began. Many were cornered in their bunkers and killed with grenades and musket balls. Moore ordered the fort fired, and numerous men, women and children were burned alive. Another 170 were killed outside the walls.
A few Tuscaroras managed to escape using underground tunnels. Moore rounded up 400-odd survivors and sold them into slavery in South Carolina — consigning the Indians to the very fate that was a primary cause of their going to war.”
-New Bern Sun Journal