A Reflection on the Neyuheruke 300th Commemoration
by Samantha Sheffield, ECU Public History major
As a people we tend to have very short attention-spans. We have the ability to be very passionate and make great social changes: women’s lib, civil rights movement, etc. But after we think that it’s over when something has been achieved- we move on. Society cares for the ills of another for but a brief time. The work that historians take on is to keep the issues alive in the public eye; keep the archives secure and well-cared for and to educate, educate, educate! People cannot care unless they see a reason and purpose to it. We, as an Introduction to Public History, took on a part of this task by working on the 300th Anniversary Project for the Tuscarora War and more specifically the fall of the Tuscarora Fort Neyuheruke.
The Tuscarora Nation has its roots in the eastern part of North Carolina. But if you ask most North Carolinians to name a Carolina Indian they would say Cherokee nine times out of ten. When pressed for something they know about the Cherokee of North Carolina they say the Trail of Tears. The Tuscarora had their own version of this as they marched from North Carolina to upstate New York. They too were ousted from their lands by a foreign force. In 1713, English Colonel John Barnwell led a force of 527 to attack the Tuscarora stronghold at Fort Neyuheruke. They were successful in defeating the Tuscarora who suffered catastrophic losses and were forced to move from their ancestral homeland to join the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy over 600 miles away. They are a people who lost everything but who continued on. Even today the peoples of the Tuscarora Nation who still face many challenges are a warm people who have a remarkable outlook. While they might well be understandably bitter and cynical about all that has befallen them over hundreds of years of American history they have an extremely optimistic and positive outlook. They work together everyday to achieve their goals. They have a saying that you can break a single arrow in half, but when you have many arrows together you cannot break them in half. This is shown on the US Minted Sacagawea Dollar coin.
The Tuscarora were asked by the Federal Government if they would like to provide an image for the back of some of the new dollar coins – much like the late-state quarter collections. They complied and submitted a drawing of a bundle of arrows wrapped with a wampum as their central image symbolizing the unbreakable nature of the Tuscarora. They also included the name they call themselves, the Haudenosaunee, as well as the words the ‘Great Law of Peace.’ This historic agreement within the Five Nations was used as a guideline for our own Constitution.
The 300th Anniversary in March of 2013 will be an effort to show the people of Eastern North Carolina some of the rich history in the area where they live. But more importantly, with the arrival of a large Tuscarora delegation from the New York reservation to partake in the event it will be authentic. Here is a chance for people to support a culture that has struggled but has ultimately survived. During the commemoration people will be exposed to the cultural practices of the Tuscarora during many of the events. Especially the dedication of the monument. The Tuscarora Monument is a joint effort to make sure that the Tuscarora War and the Fort of Neyuheruke do not get brushed aside in the history of North Carolina.
The most important thing I have taken away from this semester’s work is that education is the most important thing. There are two sides to every story. Yes, the Tuscarora were attacked by an English Colonel with a force of 527 but only 33 were other white settlers and the other 495 were other Native Americans. They justified this as protecting themselves from Tuscarora raiding parties. But this does not take away from the devastating losses the Tuscarora suffered. But a historian has a duty to give the whole story even if it is not the easiest to portray. Accuracy and fidelity to the past is the goal.