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North Carolina Indian Land Cessions

 Native American Nations | Indian Land Cessions in the United States                    

History does not make clear the policy of the North Carolina colony in dealing with the Indians in regard to their lands; in truth, it does not appear that any official policy was adopted until near the close of its colonial existence.

As a general rule, which had but few interruptions, the relations existing between the settlers and natives were friendly and peaceful up to the year 1711. The editor of the Colonial Records expresses some doubt on this point in his "prefatory notes," but the evidence appears to sustain the statement of historians. After the conquest of the Tuskarora there was no other tribe, except the Cherokee, on their western frontier which the colonists deemed worthy of consideration. It may also be added that during the first half of its existence the colony was without any stable government, its political affairs being interrupted more than once by rebellion, and once or twice reduced almost to a chaotic condition. Add to these considerations the fact that the Albemarle or first settlement was made on territory claimed to be within the jurisdiction of Virginia, and the reason why no settled policy was adopted by the North Carolina colony in regard to its dealings with Indians for their lands will readily be understood.

Notwithstanding these serious drawbacks, individual enterprise, energy, and patriotism were sufficient for the emergencies, and succeeded at length in bringing order and system out of misrule. As might be expected, the transactions with the natives in regard to lands during this period were chiefly by individuals, the only exceptions being where attempts were made to found separate colonies.

As above stated, the first settlement within the bounds of the state was about Albemarle sound, a region believed to be within the limits of the Virginia charter, and was made by emigrants from that colony, who were in search of rich and unoccupied lands. The first purchase of land made from the Indians of this region, of which history makes any mention, appears to have been by Francis Yeardly, son of Sir George Yeardly. The only mention of this is in a letter by the younger Yeardly to John Ferrar, Esq. The paragraphs referred to are as follows:1

In September last, a young man, a trader for beavers, being bound out to the adjacent parts to trade, by accident his sloop left him; and he, supposing she had been gone to Roanoke, hired a small boat, and, with one of his company left with him, came to crave my license to go to look after his sloop, and sought some relief of provisions of me; the which granting, he set forth with three more in company, one being of my family, the others were my neighbors. They entered in at Caratoke, ten leagues to the soutbward of Cape Henry, and so went to Rhoanoko Island; where, or near thereabouts they found the great Commander of those parts kith his Indians a hunting, who received them civilly, and showed them the ruins of Sir Walter Raleigh's fort, from whence I received a sure token of their being there. Immediately I dispatched away a boat with six hands, one being a carpenter, to build the Ding an English house, my promise, at his coming first, being to comply in that matter. I sent 200 sterling; in trust to purchase and pay for what land they should like, the which in little time they effected and purchased, and paid for three great rivers, and also all such others as they should like of, southerly; and in solemn manner took possession of the country, in the name, and on the behalf of the Commonwealth of England; and actual possession was solemnly given to them by the great Commander, and all the great men of the rest of the provinces, in delivering them a turf of the earth with an arrow shot into it; and so the Indians totally left the lands and rivers to us, retiring to a new habitation, where our people built the great Commander a fair house, the which I am to furnish with English utensils and chattels.

Although no boundaries are mentioned, the territory embraced must have been of considerable extent, as it is said "they purchased and paid for three great rivers, and also such others as they should like of, southerly."

The next purchase mentioned, and the earliest one of which a record has been preserved, was from the chief of the Yeopim (Weopemeoc) Indians. This grant was made March 1, 1661, to George Durant for a tract of land then called Wecocomicke, lying on Perquimans river and Roanoke sound. The place is now known as " Durant's Neck." This, as given in the Colonial Records and purporting to be a copy of the record in Perquimans county, is as follows:

Know All men y these presents that I, Kileaccnen, Bing of Yeopim have for a valuable consideration of satisfaction received with the consent of my people sold, and made over and to George Durant a parcel of land lying and being on Roneoke Sound and ou a River called by the name of Perquimans which. Issueth out of the North Side of the aforesaid Sound which Land at present bears the name of Wecocomicke, begining at a marked Oak Tree, which divides this land from the land I formily sold to Saml Pricklove and extending, westerly up the, said Sound to a Point or Turning of the aforesaid Perquimans River and so up the eastward side of tine said River to a creek called by the name of Awoscake, to-wit; All the Land betwixt the aforesaid Bounds of Samuel Pricklove and the said Creek; thence to the Head thereof. And thence through the Woods to the first Bounds.2

To have and to hold the quiet possession of the same to him and his heirs forever, with All Rights and Priviledges thereunto forever from me or any Person or Persons whatsoever. As witness my hand this first day of March 1661.3

It must be confessed that the orthography and language have a rather modern look, indicating, if genuine, that it is given in substance rather than as an exact copy. There is, however, an, additional item of evidence tending to confirm the correctness of this record. It appears from the same record book that one Catchmang or Catchmany, having received a grant from the governor of Virginia, including this tract, conceded Durant's right thereto and transferred to him all claim derived from the governor's patent.

It appears from the reference in Durant's deed to a previous sale that a former grant had been obtained from the Indians, though no record of it has been preserved.

These appear, however, to be only the :first of a series of like individual purchases. As early as 1662 purchases made directly from the Indians had become such an evil in the sight of the government that it was resolved to recognize them no longer. The "instructions" to Sir William Berkeley (1663), relating to the settlement of 14 The Province of Carolina," contains the following passage:

If those men which have purchased shall for the better moddelling and securing the plantations party with there Interest bought of the Indians which they must doe the next possessor ought to pay him what he leyed out with some small advantage for his disburse, and if the party in possession have cleaned and planted (or either) more than his proportion of ground in bredth he ought to be compounded with for his charge of which the Governor and Council to be Judge.4

The following statement occurs in a letter to the same person, dated September 8,1663:

By our instructions and proposals you will see what proportions of land we intend for each master and servant and in what manner to be allotted, but we understand that the people that are there have bought great tracts of land from the Indians, which if they shall enjoy will weaken the plantation.5

The Lords Proprietors more than once recognized the fact that lands had been purchased from the Indians before the date of their charter.

The settlements made on lower Cape Fear river were based on purchases. It is expressly stated that the New Englanders, who were the first to attempt a settlement here, "purchased of the Indian chiefs a title to the soil."

The Barbadoes colony, which, encouraged and directed by Sir John Yeamans, began a settlement a few years later (1665) near the locality the New Englanders had abandoned, did so upon lands first purchased from the Indians. The planters who wished to remove thither, first dispatched an agent to find a suitable locality. This was found on Cape Fear river, not far from the locality the New England settlers had occupied, and a purchase of 32 miles square made, or, as the agent reported, "We made a purchase of the river and land of Cape Fair of Watcoosa and such other Indians as appeared to us to be the chief of those parts."

Although none of the Carolina charters refer to the rights of the natives or concede in any manner their claims to the lands, yet, as we have seen, the "instructions" to Governor Berkeley indicate considerable opposition to the indiscriminate individual purchases. On the other hand, the same Lords Proprietors seemed to be content with allowing these individual transactions, provided the land was first obtained from them. In "An Answer to certain Demands and proposals made by several Gentlemen" of Barbadoes they say in reply to the third request: "To the 3d demand wee consent that the Governor and Counsel steal be amply and fully empowered from us to grant such proportions of land to all that shall come to plant in quantity and according to the Meth-hood and under that acknowledgement and no more, as in our declarations and proposals is set forth for which they may contract and compound with the Indians; if they see fitt."

It would seem from this that the Indian title was considered of little importance by the Lords Proprietors. However, it is a slight acknowledgment of that title, but its extinguishment was left to the individual grantees an ill-advised policy, which, as has been shown, prevailed to some extent in New York during the early history of that colony.

The following clauses in the "Fundamental Constitutions," drawn up by John Locke, are the only ones therein bearing on this subject:

50th. The grand council, etc., shall have power to male peace and war, leagues, treaties, etc., with any of the neighbor Indians.

112th. No person whatever shall hold, or claim any land in Carolina by purchase, or gift, or otherwise from the natives or any other whatsoever; but merely from and under the Lords Proprietors, upon pain of forfeiture of all his estate, moveable or immoveable, and perpetual banishment.

But the "Fundamental Constitutions" were in truth a dead letter from the first., Although adopted in 1669 they were never practically in force.

It may be added here that Graffenried, in his manuscript account of the incidents attending the settlement of his colony at Newbern, asserts that lie paid the Indians for the lands where he first settled, on which Newbern was built.

For forty years subsequent to the date given above the records of North Carolina, so far as the subject now under consideration is concerned, present a complete blank. In fact, as Doyle ("English Colonies in America") has truly remarked, "For the next forty years the annals of North Carolina became more meager than those of any [other one] of our American colonies."

In 1711 the bloody Indian war broke out, which, but for the timely aid of South Carolina, would have resulted in the destruction of the northern settlement. This was carried on chiefly by the Tuskarora, who, at this time, as it is stated, numbered 1,200 warriors, the other neighboring tribes having migrated or dwindled, through contact with civilization, until they were no longer a source of alarm to the colonists. The real cause of this outbreak does not appear to be clearly stated that mentioned by Graffenried not furnishing a full explanation. hitherto, as a general rule, the relations between the settlers and the natives had been peaceful, and for the greater part friendly. It appears that as early as 1703 there had been some petty disputes concerning lands and trade, and it is probable that the war grew out of some dissatisfaction on this account, as intimated by Graftenried. This seems apparent from the wording of an act passed by the general assembly in 1715, "For restraining the Indians from molesting or injuring the inhabitants of this government and for securing to the Indians the right and property of their own lands." The fourth section of this act is as follows:

And whereas there is great reason to believe that disputes concerning land has already been of fatal consequence to the peace and welfare of this colony, Be it further enacted, by the authority aforesaid, That no white man shall, for any consideration whatsoever, purchase or buy any tract or parcel of land claimed, or actually in possession of any Indian, without special liberty for so doing from the Governor and Council first had and obtained, under the penalty of twenty pounds for every hundred acres of land so bargained for and purchased, one half to the informer and other half to him or them that shall sue for the same : to be recovered by bill, plaint, or information, in any court of record within this government; wherein no cession protection, injunction, or wager of law, shall be allowed or admitted of.6

After this the only natives of any consequence with whom the colonists' had to contend were the Cherokee, who dwelt on their western frontier. The Tuskarora, who had remained at peace during the conflict, were removed in 1717 to a reservation on the northern bank of Roanoke river, in what is now Bertie county; the remnant of the hostiles abandoned the country and joined the Iroquois. There is another fact which should not be overlooked in this connection, namely, that a considerable portion of the state was absolutely uninhabited. This will be apparent to anyone who will follow Lawson7 closely in his travels through the two Carolinas. He also remarks that "it must be confessed that the most noble and sweetest part of this country is not inhabited by any but savages; and a great deal of the richest part thereof, has no inhabitants but the beasts of the wilderness; for the Indians are not inclinable to settle on the richest land because the timbers are too large for them to cut down, and too much burdened with wood for their laborers to make plantations of."

In 1748 an act was passed "for ascertaining the bounds of a certain tract of land formerly laid out by treaty to the use of the Tuskarora. Indians, so long as they, or any of them, shall occupy and live upon the same; and to prevent any person or persons taking up lands, or settling within the said bounds." As parts of this act are of historical importance in this connection, they are quoted here:

Whereas complaints are made y the Tuskarora Indians, of divers incroachments made y the English on their lands, and it being but just that the ancient inhabitants of this province shall have and enjoy a quiet and convenient dwelling place in this their native country; wherefore,

II. We pray that it may be enacted, and be it enacted, by his Excellency Governor Gabriel Johnston, Esq; Governor, by and with the advice and consent of his Majesty's Council and General Assembly of this province, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That the lands formerly allotted the Tuskerora Indians, by solemn treaty, lying on Morattock river, in Bertie county, being the same whereon they now dwell, butted and bounded as follows, viz, beginning at the mouth of Quitsnoy swamp, running up the said swamp four hundred and thirty pole, to a scrubby oak near the head of said swamp, by a great spring; then North ten degrees east, eight hundred and fifty pole to a persimmon tree on Raquis swamp; then along the swamp and Pocosion main course, North fifty-seven degrees West, two thousand six hundred and forty pole, to a hickory on the east side of the falling run or deep creek, and clown the various courses of the said run to Morattock river, then down the river to the first station; shall be confirmed and assured, and by virtue, of this act is confirmed and assured, unto James Blonnt, chief of the Tuskarora nation, and the people under his charge, their heirs and successors, for ever; any law, usage, custom or grant to the contrary notwithstanding.

And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That no person, for any consideration whatsoever, shall purchase or buy any tract or parcel of land, claimed, or in possession of any Indian or Indians, but all such bargains and sale shall be, and hereby are declared to be null and void, and of none effect; and the person or persons so purchasing or buying any land of any Indian or Indians, shall further forfeit the sum often pounds proclaimation money, for every hundred acres by him purchased and bought; one half to the use of the public, the other half to him or them that shall sue for the same; to be recovered by action of debt, bill plaint or information, in any court of record within this government wherein no cession, protection, injunction or wager of law, shall be allowed or admitted of.8

In 1761 the British government issued instructions to the governors of the several American colonies, including North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and "the agent for Indian affairs in the southern department" (given above under New York), forbidding purchases of land from the Indians without first having obtained license to this effect.

As the only other dealings of importance by North Carolina with the Indians were with the Cherokee, which have been set forth by Mr Royce in his paper in the Fifth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, it is only necessary to mention the more important and refer the reader to the memoir cited.

In 1730 Sir Alexander Cumming was commissioned by the authorities of North Carolina to conclude a treaty with these Indians. Although it included no cession of lands, the tribe agreed to submit to the sovereignty of the King and his successors, and to permit no whites except the English to build forts or cabins or plant corn among them.

In 1762 a grant to one Captain Patrick Jack was signed by Governor Dobbs and Little Carpenter for certain lands in eastern Tennessee, which it seems had been purchased by Jack of the Cherokee in 1757.

Lands on Watauga and Nolachucky rivers (at that time, 1772-1775 in North Carolina, now in Tennessee) were purchased of the Indians by the pioneers who had pushed their way over the mountains into the valleys of these streams.

In 1777 a treaty was concluded between Virginia and North Carolina on the one part, and the Cherokee on the other, by which the boundary and prohibitions as set forth in the act of the legislature of North Carolina are as follows:

No person shall enter or survey any lands within the Indian hunting grounds, or without the limits heretofore ceded y them, which limits westward are declared to be as follows : Begin at a point on the dividing line which hath been agreed upon between the Cherokees and the colony of Virginia, where the line between that Commonwealth and this State (hereafter to be extended) shall intersect the same; running thence a right line to the mouth of Cloud's Creek, being the second creek below the Warrior's Ford, at the mouth of Carter's Valley; thence a right line to the highest point of Chimney Top Mountain or High Rock; thence a right line to the mouth of Camp or McNamee's Creek, on south bank of Nolichucky, about ten miles below the mouth of Big Limestone; from the mouth of Camp Creek a southeast course to the top of Great Iron Mountain, being the same which divides the hunting grounds of the Overhill Cherokees from the hunting grounds of the middle settlements ; and from the top of Iron Mountain a south course to the dividing ridge between the waters of French Broad, and Nolichucky Rivers; thence a south-westerly course along the ridge to the great ridge of the Appalachian Mountains, which divide the eastern and western waters; thence with said dividing ridge to the line that divides the State of South Carolina from this State.9

The subsequent treaties with these Indians were made by the United States and are given in Mr Royce's schedule.

It would seem from these. records, though incomplete and fragmentary, that but a comparatively small portion of the territory of North Carolina was purchased from the :Indians, and, as above stated, that until near the close of the colonial era the province had adopted no fixed policy in regard to this subject. There were, in fact, no tribes in the middle portions that were deemed worthy of the attention of the colonists when the demand for their lands arose. Mr James Mooney, of the Bureau of American Ethnology, who has made a careful study of the natives of this section, remarks.10

The tribes between the mountains and the sea were of but small importance politically; no sustained mission work was ever attempted among them, and there were but few literary men to take an interest in them. War, pestilence, whisky and systematic slave hunts had nearly exterminated the aboriginal occupants of the Carolinas before anybody had thought them of sufficient importance to ask who they were, how they lived, or what were their beliefs and opinions.

1 Colonial Records, vol. i, p.18.
2 Ibid., p.19.
3 Did., p.19.
4 Colonial Records, vol. i, p. 51.
5 Ibid., p. 53.
6 Laws of Colonial and state Governments Relating to Indian Affairs (1832), p. 162.
7 John Lawson, History of Upper south Carolina.
8 Public Acts, General Assembly N. C., y James Iredell (1804), pp. 2345.
9 Fifth Annual Report Bureau of Ethnology, 1883-84, p. 150
10 The Siouan Tribes of the East (1894), p. 6

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First annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 1879-80

Indian Land Cessions in the United States


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