North Carolina American Indian History Timeline
Pre-Sixteenth-Century American Indian History
ca. 40,000–15,000 B.C.
People migrate to North America from Asia at irregular intervals by way of the Bering Land Bridge.
Paleo-Indian-period American Indians are nomadic and hunt large animals for food. They also eat small game and wild plants. They leave no evidence of permanent dwellings in North Carolina.
Archaic-period American Indians move from big-game hunting to small-game hunting, fishing, and collecting wild plants. These people change their patterns of living because of the changing climate in North America.
ca. 8000 B.C.
Possibly this early, American Indians begin to use a site in present-day Wilson County for either permanent or seasonal habitation.
ca. 1200 B.C.
Southeastern Indians begin growing squash gourds.
1000 B.C.–A.D. 1550
Woodland-culture American Indians settle in permanent locations, usually beside streams, and practice a mixed subsistence lifestyle of hunting, gathering, and some agriculture. They create pottery and also develop elaborate funeral procedures, such as building mounds to honor their dead.
ca. 200 B.C.
Southeastern Indians begin growing corn.
Mississippian-culture American Indians create large political units called chiefdoms, uniting people under stronger leadership than the Woodland cultures have. Towns become larger and last longer. People construct flat-topped, pyramidal mounds to serve as foundations for temples, mortuaries, chiefs' houses, and other important buildings. Towns are usually situated beside streams and surrounded by defensive structures.
Many groups of American Indians live in the area now called North Carolina. These include the Chowanoke, Croatoan, Hatteras, Moratoc, Secotan, Weapemeoc, Machapunga, Pamlico, Coree, Neuse River, Tuscarora, Meherrin, Cherokee, Cape Fear, Catawba, Shakori, Sissipahaw, Sugeree, Waccamaw, Waxhaw, Woccon, Cheraw, Eno, Keyauwee, Occaneechi, Saponi, and Tutelo Indians.
Italian explorer Christopher Columbus leads expeditions for Spain to explore new trade routes in the western Atlantic Ocean. This results in European contact with native peoples in the Caribbean and South America, creating a continuing and devastating impact on their cultures.
Sixteenth-Century American Indian History
A Spanish expedition led by Hernando de Soto explores the western portions of present-day North Carolina, looking for gold. De Soto and his men visit Indian communities and probably introduce smallpox and other deadly European diseases to the native populations.
Spanish explorer Juan Pardo, seeking gold, leads an expedition through what is now western North Carolina. Pardo visits the Catawba, Wateree, and Saxapahaw Indians.
Sir Walter Raleigh sends explorers Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe to North America in search of potential colony sites. At Roanoke Island the explorers meet Native American chief Wingina and find the site excellent for settlement. They return to England with two Indians, Manteo and Wanchese, who learn English and are used to create publicity for Raleigh's colony.
The first English settlement is established at Roanoke Island, and Ralph Lane is appointed governor. The Roanoke Indian people, some of whom initially welcome the colonists, begin to see the English as a drain on food and other resources.
Ralph Lane leads an expedition into the interior of North Carolina in search of gold and other precious metals. Roanoke Indians warn inland tribes about the English, but Lane makes an alliance with the Chowanoke, who hope to use the English against their enemies the Tuscarora. Chief Wingina plots to get rid of the English settlers, and Lane has him killed.
Sir Francis Drake arrives at Roanoke Island and takes most of the colonists back to England, leaving an exploring party. Possibly Drake also leaves Africans and South American Indians that he captured from the Spanish. A relief ship arrives at Roanoke Island and, finding none of the colonists, leaves fifteen men to hold the area for England.
Raleigh sends explorer and artist John White to Roanoke Island as leader of a new group of settlers—the second English attempt to settle there. The colonists find bones of the 15 men left behind in 1586. White enlists the help of Manteo to build relationships with the Roanoke and Croatoan Indians. Most of the native peoples decide to let the colonists fend for themselves.
Governor White leaves Roanoke Island for England to acquire supplies for the colonists. With England and Spain at war, White cannot make an immediate return to the colony.
White finally returns to Roanoke Island to find the colony deserted, with little evidence of what happened to the colonists. He attempts to sail to Croatoan Island in hopes of finding some of them, but severe weather prevents him from reaching the island, and he never returns to the area. The Roanoke settlement is known afterward as the Lost Colony.
Seventeenth-Century American Indian History
Jamestown leader John Smith sends expeditions to the Roanoke Island area to seek information about the Lost Colony. His men find nothing conclusive.
Because of Spain's rivalry with England, the Spanish government develops an alliance with the Tuscarora people to monitor the Jamestown colony.
White settlers begin to move into Indian lands along the coastal sounds and rivers of North Carolina.
Virginia legislator Francis Yeardly hires fur trader Nathaniel Batts to explore the Albemarle Sound region as an area of possible settlement. Yeardly agrees to purchase land from the Roanoke Indians but dies before his settlement is established. Batts settles along the Chowan River in a building that serves as both his home and a trading post. He trades with local Native Americans and becomes the area's first permanent white settler.
March 1: King Kilcocanen of the Yeopim Indians grants land to George Durant in the earliest grant on record in the colony.
Chowanoc Indians attack white settlements in Carolina. The uprising is quelled with the "loss of many men."
Cherokee traders establish trade agreements with the English at Charles Towne (present-day Charleston, S.C.)
Eighteenth-Century American Indian History
The Chowanoc and Weapemeoc peoples have gradually abandoned their lands. Some have become slaves or indentured servants, and others have migrated south to join the Tuscarora. Only about 500 Native Americans remain in the Albemarle region.
An escaped slave serves as an architect in the construction of a large Tuscarora Indian fort near the Neuse River.
Surveyor John Lawson, who began a thousand-mile journey through the colony at the end of 1700, publishes A New Voyage to Carolina. It describes the colony's flora and fauna and its various groups of American Indians. Lawson also publishes a map of Carolina.
Settlers begin moving west and south of the Albemarle area.
Baron Christoph von Graffenried, a leader of Swiss and German Protestants, establishes a colony in Bath County. The town, called New Bern, is founded at the junction of the Trent and Neuse Rivers, displacing an Indian town named Chattoka.
June 8: Tuscarora Indians on the Roanoke and Tar-Pamlico Rivers send a petition to the government of Pennsylvania protesting the seizure of their lands and enslavement of their people by Carolina settlers.
Early September: Tuscarora capture surveyor John Lawson, New Bern founder Baron von Graffenried, and two African slaves. Lawson argues with the chief, Cor Tom, and is executed. The Indians spare von Graffenried and the slaves.
September 22: The Tuscarora War opens when Catechna Creek Tuscaroras begin attacking colonial settlements near New Bern and Bath. Tuscarora, Neuse, Bear River, Machapunga, and other Indians kill more than 130 whites.
October: Virginia refuses to send troops to help the settlers but allocates £1,000 for assistance.
In a series of uprisings, the Tuscarora attempt to drive away white settlement. The Tuscarora are upset over the practices of white traders, the capture and enslavement of Indians by whites, and the continuing encroachment of settlers onto Tuscarora hunting grounds.
January: South Carolina sends assistance to her sister colony. John Barnwell, a member of the South Carolina Assembly, leads about 30 whites and some 500 "friendly" Indians, mostly Yamassee, to fight the Tuscarora in North Carolina. A battle takes place at Narhantes, a Tuscarora fort on the Neuse River. Barnwell's troops are victorious but are surprised that many of the Tuscarora's fiercest warriors are women, who do not surrender "until most of them are put to the sword."
April: Barnwell's force, joined by 250 North Carolina militiamen, attacks the Tuscarora at Fort Hancock on Catechna Creek. After 10 days of battle, the Tuscarora sign a truce, agreeing to stop the war.
Summer: The Tuscarora rise again to fight the Yamassee, who, unsatisfied with their plunder during earlier battles, remain in the area looting and pillaging. The Tuscarora also fight against the continued expansion of white settlement.
March 20–23: Another force from South Carolina, consisting of 900 Indians and 33 whites, begins a three-day siege on the Tuscarora stronghold of Fort Neoheroka. Approximately 950 Tuscarora are killed or captured and sold into slavery, effectively defeating the tribe and opening the interior of the colony to white settlement. Although a few renegades fight on until 1715, most surviving Tuscarora migrate north to rejoin the Iroquois League as its sixth and smallest nation.
A treaty with remaining North Carolina Tuscarora is signed. They are placed on a reservation along the Pamlico River. The Coree and Machapunga Indians, Tuscarora allies, settle in Hyde County near Lake Mattamuskeet. The land will be granted to them in 1727, and a reservation will be established.
The General Assembly enacts a law denying blacks and Indians the right to vote. The king will repeal the law in 1737. Some free African Americans will continue to vote until disfranchisement in 1835.
The few Tuscarora remaining in the colony, led by Tom Blount, are granted land on the Roanoke River in Bertie County, near present-day Quitsna. The Tuscarora left their reservation on the Pamlico River because of raids by tribes from the south.
The Cherokee cede land northwest of Charleston to the colony of South Carolina, the first of many land cessions the Cherokee make to Europeans. The treaty also regulates trade and establishes a boundary between the Cherokee and European settlers.
The Cheraw (Saura) Indians incorporate with the Catawba living near present-day Charlotte.
Cherokee leaders visit London and confer with the king. They pledge friendship to the English and agree to return runaway slaves and to trade exclusively with the British.
The North Carolina colony establishes an Indian Trade Commission to regulate trade with native peoples.
A smallpox epidemic decimates the Indian population in North Carolina, especially in the eastern part of the colony. The epidemic decreases the number of Cherokee by 50 percent.
Waxhaw Indians, decimated by smallpox, abandon their lands in present-day Union County and join the Catawba. The vacated lands are taken up by German, English, Scottish, and Welsh immigrants.
Armed conflicts arise between the Cherokee and colonists, who continue to expand areas of settlement further into the western part of the colony.
The French and Indian War is fought between England and France all along the frontier of North America. North Carolina troops serve both in North Carolina and in other colonies.
The Indian population in eastern North Carolina is estimated at around 356. Most of these are Tuscarora who have not moved north.
The colonial governor approves a proposal to establish an Indian academy in present-day Sampson County.
North Carolina militia and Cherokee assist the British military in campaigns against the French and Shawnee Indians. The Cherokee decide to change sides after receiving ill treatment by the English, and they return home, where they eventually attack North Carolina colonists.
The French and Indian War intensifies as the Cherokee raid the western Piedmont. Refugees crowd into the fort at Bethabara. Typhus kills many refugees and Moravians there.
A second smallpox epidemic devastates the Catawba tribe, reducing the population by half.
An act of assembly permits North Carolinians serving against Indian allies of the French to enslave captives.
February: Cherokee attack Fort Dobbs and white settlements near Bethabara and along the Yadkin and Dan Rivers.
June: An army of British regulars and American militia under Colonel Archibald Montgomerie destroys Cherokee villages and saves the Fort Prince George garrison in South Carolina but is defeated by the Cherokee at Echoe.
August: Cherokee capture Fort Loudoun in Tennessee and massacre the garrison.
June: An army of British regulars, American militia, and Catawba and Chickasaw Indians under Colonel James Grant defeats the Cherokee and destroys 15 villages, ending Cherokee resistance.
December: The Cherokee sign a treaty ending their war with the American colonists.
King George III issues a proclamation that demarcates the western edge of settlement. This "proclamation line" through western North Carolina is meant to separate the Native Americans and the colonists.
February: The Treaty of Paris ends the Seven Years' War in Europe and the French and Indian War in North America.
The Treaty of Sycamore Shoals (now Elizabethton, Tenn.), between Richard Henderson of the Transylvania Company and the Cherokee people, is signed. It opens for settlement the area from the Ohio River south to the Watauga settlement. The Shawnee people, who inhabit the lands, refuse to accept the terms of the treaty.
The Coharie, Catawba, and ancestors of the Lumbee join the Patriot cause.
May–June: Cherokee village councils discuss going to war against the American colonists. The Cherokee decide to fight, knowing that the consequences are enormous. However, the Cherokee are fighting to protect the existence of their society, so they ignore the overwhelming odds against them.
June: White settlements in Watauga and South Carolina are raided by the Cherokee, allies of the British, who have promised to protect the Indians from encroachments by colonial borders.July 29–November: General Griffith Rutherford with 2,400 men invades Cherokee country, destroying 32 towns and villages. Rutherford is joined by Colonel Andrew Williamson with South Carolina troops and Colonel William Christian with Virginians. This expedition breaks the power of the Cherokee and forces them to sue for peace.
July 20: By the Treaty of Long Island of Holston, the Cherokee cede territory east of the Blue Ridge and along the Watauga, Nolichucky, Upper Holston, and New Rivers (the area east of present-day Kingsport and Greenville, Tenn.).
Despite the Indian treaty of 1777 fixing the boundary at the foot of the Blue Ridge, the assembly declares lands open for settlement as far west as the Pigeon River.
July 2: The Cherokee sign the Treaty of Holston, by which they cede a 100-mile tract of land in exchange for goods and an annuity of $1,000.
October 2: By the Treaty of Tellico, the Cherokee cede a triangular area with its points near Indian Gap, east of present-day Brevard, and southeast of Asheville.
Nineteenth-Century American Indian History
The Cherokee establish a law code and the "Light Horse Guards" to maintain law and order.
The Cherokee abolish clan revenge as a mechanism for social control.
March 27: Cherokee Indians aid General Andrew Jackson in defeating the Creek Indians in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama. After the battle, Jackson tells the Cherokee chief Junaluska: "As long as the sun shines and the grass grows there shall be friendship between us, and the feet of the Cherokee shall be toward the East." As president, Jackson later plays a major role in the effort to move the Cherokee west.
The Cherokee cede land in exchange for land on the Arkansas River, and 2,000 Cherokee move west.
The Cherokee agree to a treaty by which a large amount of their land in present-day Henderson, Transylvania, and Jackson Counties is ceded to the federal government. The Cherokee are allowed to receive land grants as individuals and can resell the land to white settlers to earn money.
The Cherokee establish a judicial administration and eight judicial districts.
Sequoyah completes his work of establishing the Cherokee alphabet, making the Cherokee people the only group of American Indians to have a written language.
The Cherokee National Supreme Court is established.
The Cherokee approve a new tribal constitution.
The first edition of the Cherokee Phoenix, a newspaper printed in Cherokee and English, is released.
President Andrew Jackson signs the Indian Removal Act calling for American Indians to be forced from their homes to lands west of the Mississippi.
The state constitution is extensively revised, with amendments approved by the voters that provide for the direct election of the governor and more democratic representation in the legislature. However, new laws take voting rights away from American Indians and free blacks.
A small, unauthorized group of men signs the Cherokee Removal Treaty. The Cherokee protest the treaty, and Chief John Ross collects more than 15,000 signatures, representing nearly the entire Cherokee population, on a petition requesting the United States Senate to withhold ratification.
The Senate approves the Cherokee Removal Treaty by one vote.
Approximately 17,000 North Carolina Cherokee are forcibly removed from the state to the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). This event becomes known as the Trail of Tears.
An estimated 4,000 Cherokee people die during the 1,200-mile trek. A few hundred Cherokee refuse to be rounded up and transported. They hide in the mountains and evade federal soldiers. Eventually, a deal is struck between the army and the remaining Cherokee. Tsali, a leading Cherokee brave, agrees to surrender himself to General Winfield Scott to be shot if the army will allow the rest of his people to stay in North Carolina legally. The federal government eventually establishes a reservation for the Eastern Band of Cherokee.
Yonaguska, chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, dies at age 80. His adopted white son, William Holland Thomas, becomes chief of the Cherokee and fights to secure reservation land for them.
The General Assembly passes a law prohibiting Indians from owning or carrying weapons without first obtaining a license.
Those Cherokee who avoided forced removal in 1838 and remained in North Carolina are given citizenship. In 1848 Congress grants them a small amount of money to use for the purchase of land.
The Coharie community establishes subscription schools for Indian children.
Approximately 42,000 North Carolinians lose their lives in the Civil War. Native Americans have varying experiences during the war. Many Cherokee in western North Carolina support the Confederacy. Thomas's Legion, a well-known fighting unit, has two companies of Cherokee soldiers. The Lumbee in eastern North Carolina are treated quite differently. They are forced to work on Confederate fortifications near Wilmington. Many flee and form groups to resist impressment by the army. Henry Berry Lowry leads one such group, which continues to resist white domination long after the war's end.
March 3: The killings of Allen and William Lowry, the father and brother of Henry Berry Lowry, spark what becomes known as the Lowry War in Robeson County.
The Lowry band employs guerilla tactics in its war against Robeson County's power structure, robbing prominent citizens and killing law enforcement officers. Indians, blacks, and poor whites unite in support of the outlaw group.
February: Henry Berry Lowry vanishes, leading to years of speculation about his death.
After the death of Steve Lowry at the hand of bounty hunters, the Lowry War ends.
The North Carolina constitution is changed, giving free men of color over the age of 21 the right to vote.
Three schools are established in Halifax and Warren Counties to serve Haliwa-Saponi children.
February 10: The state recognizes the Croatan Indians, now known as the Lumbee, as an official American Indian tribe. With recognition come separate schools for Indian students.
A normal school for Indians opens in Pembroke, Robeson County. This school evolves into the present-day University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Hamilton McMillan publishes Sir Walter's Lost Colony, which claims that Lumbee Indians are descended from the ill-fated Roanoke settlers.
December 4: Fifty-four Croatan Indians in Robeson County petition the federal government, requesting funds for schools.The Indians of Person County construct a school on land donated by Green Martin; another school will be constructed within the next few years.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee is incorporated under North Carolina law.
Twentieth-Century American Indian History
Diotrion W. and Mary Epps deed land for a school for Indians in Person County, North Carolina, and southern Virginia. The school will be rebuilt in 1925 by Person County, North Carolina, and Halifax County, Virginia.
Shiloh Indian School is established in Dismal Township, Sampson County, to serve Coharie children.
March 8: A North Carolina law changes the name of the Croatan Indians to the Indians of Robeson County.
The Coharie receive state recognition, but this recognition is rescinded two years later.The State of North Carolina names recognizes a group of Indians descended from the Saponi, Tutelo, and Occaneechi tribes as the Indians of Person County. State recognition will be rescinded in the 1970s.New Bethel Indian School is established in New Bethel Township, Sampson County, to serve Coharie children.
March 11: The Indians of Robeson County change their name to Cherokee Indians of Robeson County.
Eastern Carolina Indian School is established in Herring Township, Sampson County. The school will operate until school desegregation in 1966, eventually serving children in grades 1–12. In 1942 the school begins accepting children from Indian communities in other eastern North Carolina counties, including Harnett, Hoke, Columbus, Cumberland, Bladen, and Person.
Cherokee lands are placed in trust status with the federal government.
Wide Awake Indian School opens in the Waccamaw-Siouan community of Buckhead in Bladen County, with Welton Lowry, a Lumbee, as teacher. The school, serving students in grades 1–8, follows the tradition of Doe Head School, founded in 1885; Long Boy School, founded in 1901; and St. Mark's School, founded in 1920. It will close in 1952.
A federal memorandum allows Indians in Robeson County to organize under the Wheeler-Howard Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. To receive recognition, individuals must be at least one-half Indian.
December 12: Only 22 of 209 Robeson County Indians qualify for recognition under the Wheeler-Howard Act of 1934. Qualification is based on "race" testing to determine an individual's Indian blood.
The Indian Normal School (now the University of North Carolina at Pembroke) in Robeson County grants its first college degree.
East Carolina Indian School is established in Sampson County to serve American Indians in seven surrounding counties. The school will close in 1965.
The first Indian mayor of the town of Pembroke is elected. Previously the governor appointed the mayors, all of whom were non-Indian.
The Cherokee Historical Association receives funding, and the first performance of the outdoor drama Unto These Hills takes place.
Waccamaw Indian School opens in Columbus County. The school will close in 1969 following the desegregation of North Carolina schools.
The State of North Carolina recognizes the Lumbee (formerly called the Cherokee of Robeson County).
The Hickory Hill School in the Waccamaw-Siouan community of St. James, Columbus County, closes after having operated since at least 1927.
Congress passes the "Lumbee Bill," which recognizes the Lumbee as an Indian tribe but denies them services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Haliwa School opens in Warren County, serving children in grades 1–12. The school is tribally controlled and state recognized under the county school system. It will close in 1970 as a result of school desegregation.
January 18: A large group of Lumbee, angered by racist agitation and threats of cross burnings, descend on a Ku Klux Klan rally near Maxton, scattering the Klan. Two Klan members are later indicted on charges of incitement to riot.
June: English E. Jones becomes the first Lumbee president of Pembroke State College (now the University of North Carolina at Pembroke).
The Haliwa receive state recognition as an Indian tribe.
The General Assembly, in removing obsolete laws from the books, inadvertently rescinds state recognition of the Indians of Person County.
The state recognizes the Coharie and Waccamaw-Siouan tribes.
July 2: The General Assembly establishes the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs. Bruce Jones, a Lumbee, serves as director.
December 22: The Lumbee Bank is established in Pembroke. It is the first bank in the United States owned and operated by Indians.
August: The new Department of American Indian Studies at Pembroke State University (now the University of North Carolina at Pembroke) begins offering courses.
The Carolina Indian Voice, an Indian-owned newspaper, begins operation.
September: Horace Locklear, a Lumbee, becomes the first Indian to practice law in North Carolina.
October: Tuscarora from Robeson County join other Indians from across the nation in occupying the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, D.C., during the Trail of Broken Treaties protest. The Tuscarora steal 7,200 pounds of records from the building and bring them to Robeson County.
March 18: Old Main, the oldest building on the campus of Pembroke State College (now the University of North Carolina at Pembroke), is gutted by fire. The building is reconstructed and will eventually house the Department of American Indian Studies and the Native American Resource Center.
March 19: Henry Ward Oxendine, a Lumbee from Robeson County, becomes the first American Indian to serve in the General Assembly in North Carolina.September 5: The Guilford Native American Association incorporates in Greensboro.
January 5: The Metrolina Native American Association incorporates in Charlotte.
The Waccamaw-Siouan tribe begins governing by tribal council and tribal chief.
The Meherrin Indian tribe receives recognition from the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs.
February 1: Two Tuscarora Indians, Eddie Hatcher and Timothy Jacobs, hold 17 people hostage in the offices of the Robesonian newspaper in Lumberton. The two demand to speak with Governor Jim Martin, hoping to publicize corruption and drug dealing among Robeson County's law enforcement officials. They will be acquitted of federal charges but convicted on state charges.
May: The General Assembly passes a bill restoring state recognition, rescinded in the 1970s, to the Indians of Person County.
November: Harrah's Cherokee Casino opens on Qualla Boundary reservation, with 175,000 square feet of space and 1,800 video gambling machines.