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A Reflection on the Nooherooka 300th Anniversary Commemoration

By Victoria Albanese, East Carolina University History and Philosophy Major

Imagine your hometown being invaded, sacked, and seized by a cruel and remorseless army representing people who had been exploiting you for decades. Imagine mercilessly losing half of your town’s population in a matter of less than three days. Now imagine being one of the few who survived. What do you do? Where do you go? How do you move on? On March 20th, 1713, 900 Indians and 33 Europeans from South Carolina were led by Colonel James Moore in an attack on Fort Nooherooka. The fort was protecting the Native American tribe of Tuscarora Indians on this last day of the Tuscarora War that had begun in September of 1711. The war was against European colonists who wanted to take over Tuscarora land and make them slaves. This war was an indescribably tragic loss by the Tuscarora. The last death toll was taken at 1,400 Tuscarora, while 1,000 had been captured and enslaved. With no other option to consider, the Tuscarora resorted to leaving their homeland of eastern North Carolina and headed to upstate New York.  The site of the Battle of Nooherooka lies just west of Snow Hill in Greene County, North Carolina.

The disastrous outcome of the Tuscarora War could not more perfectly exemplify the brutality and ruthlessness of European colonists during the eighteenth century. It had been made a point by John Lawson, a British explorer, saying that the Tuscarora provided for the colonists better than the Europeans provided for them, always taking care that they were armed against hunger and thirst but with the favor rarely returned. This caring society of Tuscarora Indians was grossly disrespected, and then stripped of every last possession they had. The only thing they could keep to themselves was their culture. The traditions they cherished and their mental strength were the only possessions they could take with them to rebuild their society seven hundred miles north of their historic homeland. Tragedy is not a severe enough word to depict the sort of struggle, hardship, or misfortune experienced by the Tuscarora in the early eighteenth century.

The pain of this event is still felt today. While I come from European descent, I can barely trace my ancestry back before my great grandfather, today’s Tuscarora have direct lineage to their ancestors who were involved in the Battle at Nooherooka. This alone is reason enough to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the battle. Knowing that there still exists a Tuscarora Nation, within which reside the family and the memories of the Tuscarora who were subjected to these horrors, there is every reason that this event should be remembered with fear and trembing.

I was fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to talk with and interview four members of the Tuscarora Nation, all of whom play a different role on the Tuscarora Reservation today. They enlightened my colleagues and me to the overwhelming sense of hope and strength amongst the Tuscarora. This is a society of deep devotion to their culture, rich with tradition and values. The Tuscarora are an impressively courageous and enduring society – despite their tragic history. This unbreakable and tenacious nation of the proud Tuscarora deserves the appreciation of all for not allowing such a catastrophic past to hinder peaceful and fruitful life today. The commemoration of the Battle at Nooherooka is a proper way to shed light on how the Tuscarora became who they are and what they’ve faced.

The commemoration will take place on the 300th anniversary, to the date, of the Battle at Nooherooka (21st -23rd of March).  During the commemoration, an exhibit will be available for viewing that displays an abridged history of the settlement of Europeans in Eastern North Carolina, the Tuscarora land, and the conflicts between the two ending with the Battle at Nooherooka. This exhibit offers a unique depiction of the history leading to the battle, while at the same time displaying replicas of artifacts from the time period. The exhibition will be on the first floor of Joyner Library from January to May 2013.

The March commemoration will also include a symposium addressing a variety of topics concerning the Tuscarora homeland, perspectives about the war, and how to keep awareness about the war alive. Artifacts and remnants of the war will be held and preserved at The Phelps Archaeological Laboratory at East Carolina University and The Greene County Museum. Both will be available for viewing on the second day of the commemoration (22nd of March) at 5:30pm and 8:00pm, respectively.

On the final day of the commemoration, attendees will have the opportunity to visit the site of the Nooherooka Fort in Snow Hill, NC (2:00pm). This will offer attendees the opportunity to stand within the boundaries of one of the most pivotal and important events in Tuscarora and North Carolina history. This will be a moving experience for visitors as this fort is the exact site on which the Tuscarora defended their lives and lands during their final days in North Carolina.

The culmination of the commemoration will be a planned walk by a hearty group of Tuscarora from eastern North Carolina to the Tuscarora Nation in upstate New York. You read that correctly. A group of Tuscarora have decided to walk the nearly seven hundred miles just as their ancestors did three hundred years ago. It is difficult to imagine taking the journey of seven hundred miles leaving behind a destroyed homeland and perished family, but the Tuscarora walkers will demonstrate one of the constant refrains of the Tuscarora which that they are a people always moving.