Nooherooka 300—The Official Commemoration of the Battle at Fort Nooherooka, North Carolina, 21-23 March 1713

Welcome to Neyuheruke 300—On behalf of my colleagues at East Carolina University, I would like to welcome you the official commemoration (certainly not a celebration) of the tragic battle at Fort Nooherooka–on three bloody days in March 1713.  The battle at Fort Nooherooka—just 30 miles from our campus—led to the killing, scalping, and/or enslavement of the 900 Tuscarora men, women, and children who built this unique fort and who ensconced themselves there to do final battle with colonial and enemy Indian forces who sought to dislodge them from their historic homeland.

Larry Tise

Dr. Larry E. Tise, ECU’s Wilbur & Orville Wright Distinguished Professor of History (on the right), relaxing in November 2012 with their newly-minted Neyuheruke 300 teeshirts, after a day of planning for the 21-23 March 2013 commemoration. From left to right with Tise are Chief Stuart Patterson, Neil Patterson, Sr., Clan Mother Francene Patterson, and Tuscarora language teacher Vincent Schiffert. (photo taken by David Fictum for Larry E. Tise)

Our commemoration of this sad, but important event in colonial American history, is perhaps unique in the annals of observing an American tragedy.  We are producing this commemoration hand-in-hand with the vibrant Tuscarora Nation that now resides on their own reservation on the western fringes of the State of New York.  But we are also forever mindful that North Carolina—and most especially eastern North Carolina—has always been and is still today well populated by thousands of Americans whose ancestry is importantly and perhaps primarily Indian in nature.

We are collaborating as well with local officials in Greene County, NC, the location of the historic Nooherooka fort site.  And we have operated at our university, in planning this commemoration, on a broad collegial basis to include faculty and students from a wide range of disciplines, colleges, and schools.  We are thus happy to acknowledge the many partners both inside and beyond the University in making this important commemoration a reality.

Meanwhile, I’d like to invite you to explore the history of this important event.  I’d also invite you to figure out how you’d like to participate in this important undertaking both during our 300th year commemoration and in the years to come.

We have welcomed and appreciate the participation of so many in our 21-23 March 2013 Noooherooka commemoration.

As for me, the true Nooherooka story is a topic that I have pursued for the past year–with all the fabric of my being—as a professional historian, as an engaged member of both the University and the North Carolina community, and—most of all–as a native of North Carolina who’d like to recognize all of the foibles of our past—warts and all.

Larry E. Tise
Wilbur & Orville Wright Distinguished Professor of History
Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences
East Carolina University

What is Nooherooka 300?

Neyuheruke 300 is the official commemoration of a tragic battle that occurred on March 21-23, 1713–thirty miles from the site of East Carolina University. The commemoration is a collaborative venture  between the University and the sovereign Tuscarora Nation now located in the State of New York.  The East Carolina campus is located on what was for a thousand years the Tuscarora homeland.

The goals of the commemoration are

  • to celebrate the thousand year period prior to 1713 when the Tuscarora peoples lived on the lands that are now eastern North Carolina;
  • to lament the consequences of a battle that drove the Tuscarora Nation out of North Carolina;
  • to meditate with all Tuscarora people today on the history, living traditions, and memory of the Carolina territory as the perennial symbolic homeland in the Tuscarora imagination; and
  • to join hands in this commemoration in peace and mutual understanding.

What is the historical background?

The Battle of Fort Nooherooka and the Tuscarora War

The Battle of Fort Nooherooka (Neyuheruke), March 21-23.1713

On March 21-23, 1713—on a level patch of land just 30 miles from Greenville, NC—a bloody battle intended to eliminate the Tuscarora Indian Nation from North Carolina raged for three days. On this spot savvy Tuscarora warriors had over a period of four months built a sturdy fortress known as Fort Nooherooka (Neyuheruke) to protect 900 men, women, and children.  Consisting of bastions, blockhouses, and underground bunkers with a wooden palisade, the fort was a marvel of ingenuity and bitter experience.  The fort was placed under siege for several weeks while colonial officers planned an final attack.  For three days, the Tuscarora defenders withstood  a barrage of withering cannon and musket fire, burrowed explosives and human assaults rendered by a combined force of North and South Carolina colonials and hundreds of allied Cherokee and Yamasee Indians.  On the third day the proud fort was taken and burned to the ground.

The commander of the colonial army, Colonel James Moore South Carolina reported four days later, “Ye  Enemies Destroyed as follows—Prisoners 392, Scolps [scalps] 192, out of ye sd: fort—& att Least 200 Kill’d & Burnt in ye fort—166 Kill’d & taken out of ye fort.”  Most of those who were captured were hustled by collaborating Indian commanders to Charleston, SC, where they were sold into slavery.

The battle at Fort Nooherooka was the concluding military encounter of the Tuscarora War in North Carolina.  And it also was the culminating event of a thousand years of Tuscarora habitation on the Carolina coastal plain.

The Tuscarora War, 1711-1713

The Tuscarora War—a little-noticed and largely-overlooked episode in North Carolina history—was actually a defining moment in America’s colonial history. From the first permanent English settlements at Jamestown, Plymouth, Charleston, and Philadelphia, colonial merchants vied for control of  trade with Indian nations.  Colonial leaders, meanwhile, attempted to wrest ever larger parcels of land from native Indian nations for the expansion of European settlements into the North American interior from Massachusetts to South Carolina.

By 1710 the most powerful, independent Indian nation still in control of its own lands were the Tuscarora Nation who occupied the coastal region of what is now North Carolina.  When a large company of Swiss and German Palatine settlers arrived in 1710 to occupy their lands and to build a town called “New Bern” on top of a Tuscarora village known as Chattoka, the Tuscarora Nation responded.  Believing their homeland under siege, the Tuscarora sought to repel the European intruders—first through negotiations and then by force.  In September 1711 Tuscarora warriors killed North Carolina’s impetuous Surveyor General John Lawson and ransacked the homes of Swiss and English colonists in and around New Bern.

The Tuscarora probably did not know that their attacks came amidst a vast campaign being waged by colonial leaders from the Carolina coast to the Mississippi River and from the Gulf coast across the Appalachian Mountains to subdue every Indian nation in the region.  And, at the same time, to capture as many Indians as possible to be sold into slavery.  Operated mainly by slave traders and allied Indian warriors based in and near Charleston, South Carolina, they were ever ready to leap into virtually any fray that might result in new captives for what was a very lucrative business.

North Carolina’s fragile and largely ineffectual government reached out to the governors of both Virginia and South Carolina for assistance in quelling the Tuscarora insurgency following their attack on New Bern.  Virginia leaders were reluctant to become involved. But South Carolina’s most renowned Indian warriors (and slave traders) were  eager and ready to respond.  It was not mere chance that Colonel John (“Tuscarora Jack”) Barnwell and Colonel James Moore (son of  South Carolina’s greatest Indian slave trader) got the call to march one after the other into North Carolina to quash the Tuscarora Nation, to take as many Tuscarora as possible into slavery, and to “liberate” Tuscarora lands for the use of English and Swiss settlers.  The process of subjugation ended with the battle at Fort Nooherooka in March 1713.