Unlearning Colonial North Carolina

Oct 8, 2019

Even before the Lost Colony, great waves of emigration and migration were reshaping the region now known as North Carolina. As foreign empires invaded the land, new alliances and identities formed between the Tuscarora People along the coast and freed West Africans and Caribean Natives.

War and genocide scattered the Tuscarora survivors. Many were also integrated into other Native tribes through kidnapping and enslavement. Despite the mass exodus from Eastern North Carolina, Tuscarora cuisine and spirituality persist through descendants still in the region today.

To better understand the early formation of North Carolina identities, host Frank Stasio speaks with Arwin Smallwood, professor and chair of the department of history and political science at North Carolina A&T State University. Smallwood will host a discussion on early racial blending at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 13 on the grounds of Ayr Mount as part of the Outlandish Hillsborough Festival.
 

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

On the Tuscarora Nation’s arrival to the Mid-Atlantic:

The Europeans knew very little about the Tuscaroras, but the Tuscarora are Iroquoian people, and they were connected to the Five Nations — or what became known as the Iroquois Confederacy. The native name is Haudenosaunee … And their origins, of course, are in the Mississippi River Valley. They say orally that they pretty much started at the ancient city of Cahokia, [before] they migrated east. What we call the Five Nations — the Mohawks, the Oneidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, and Senecas — settled in what is today New York State ...The Tuscaroras branched off from them during that migration east, and they headed into North Carolina. And they ended up following the river systems — the Roanoke in particular — down into eastern North Carolina and then begin to settle in eastern North Carolina, along the mouths of all of the major rivers, pretty much from the Tar, the Roanoke River, down to the Cape Fear. So everything pretty much from the coastal areas of North Carolina up into the Piedmont — and they say at one time to the mountains — was their territory.

On his personal connection to racial blending in North Carolina:

The reason I became interested in this is because I grew up in that area called Indian Woods in Bertie County. Today it is a township, but it was a reservation given to the Tuscarora Indians in 1717 after the Tuscarora War. And so, of course, many of the families there clearly were —  although they considered themselves African American — were of mixed heritage. You could clearly see that they were blended people in mixed people.
 

This 1775 map was drawn soon after the Tuscarora War. At center, along the Roanoke River, can be seen the reservation, now municipality, of Indian Woods, labeled Tuscaroraw.
Credit Henry Mouzon / North Carolina State Archives

On early blending between Africans and Native peoples:

Most people will have heard of the Lost Colony, but very few people will have ever heard of Drake's 600. That Sir Francis Drake ... Brought over 600 African [people] — West African Moors [and] Maroons — who had assisted him in attacking Spanish islands in the Caribbean and seizing gold and silver for England. He brought them to Roanoke Island and released them and gave them their freedom. And many of those people ended up blending with the Indian populations of eastern North Carolina.
 

Benjamin Franklin's collection of Indian Treaties from 1736-1762 shows the founding father's intensive study of Native forms of social organization and decision-making.
Credit Benjamin Franklin / The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1938

On Native American influence on U.S. democracy:

Oftentimes scholars will argue our form of government and our democracy is based in Europe. But you have to understand that, at the time of exploration, we were in a period of absolute monarchies, and they did not believe in democracy. So where even [does] the concept of democracy in the Americas come from — Native people have a democracy. And everyone, you know, they operate in consensus … We learn foods from them … We learned the three sisters, corn, beans, and squash and white potatoes. We learn all these things from them and incorporate them into our daily lives, but we don't pay attention to their political structures and their systems.