Historically Known Tribes

John Lawson was a British explorer, naturalist, and writer. On December 28, 1700, Lawson began an expedition out of Charleston, South Carolina, and up the Santee River to explore the Carolina backcountry. Along the way he documented vegetation, wildlife, and the many Indian tribes he encountered. He traveled nearly 600 miles through the wilderness, ending his journey near the mouth of the Pamlico River. After his expedition, Lawson settled near the Pamlico River and earned a living as a private land surveyor.

In 1709, John Lawson published an account of his adventures in his book A New Voyage to Carolina. Lawson documented 22 “Nations of Indians” and did his best to identify them by the names they called themselves. On the coastal plain he met Bear River Indians, Chowanoc, Coree, Hatteras, Keyauwee, Machapunga, Meherrin, Neusiok, Nottoway, Occaneechee, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Potoskett, Saponi, Shakori, Tutelo, Tuscarora, Woccon, and Weapomoc. Further inland he met the Eno, Catawba, and the Sissipahaw. Farther down the coast in present-day South Carolina he records the Congarees, Santees, Sewees, Sugarees, Waterees, and Waxhaws. It is interesting that Lawson missed one of the larger Indian nations – the Cherokee. Lawson was captured and killed by the Tuscarora in 1711.

Cape Fear

The Cape Fear Indians originally lived in the lower Cape Fear River basin in southeastern North Carolina. We do not know what they called themselves. Early English explorers and traders referred to them as the Indians at Cape Fear or the Cape Fear Indians. Scholars believe they spoke a Siouan-Catawban language like most of the Indians who lived on the Piedmont of North Carolina, in upper South Carolina, and in south-central Virginia during the 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries. It is possible the Cape Fear Indians were the first American Indians visited by Europeans in the Carolinas.

Giovanni de Verrazano recorded the presence of Indians at the mouth of the Cape Fear River during his 1524 explorations. Some researchers believe that Spanish explorers and slavers sent from St. Domingo by Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon met and captured Cape Fear Indians in 1521. English explorer William Hilton met 100 friendly Indians near Cape Fear in 1662 and 1663. During Charles Town’s short existence (1664-1667) settlers interacted with the local Indians trading glass beads, cloth, blankets, and iron tools in return for deer skins and other goods. When some colonists enslaved Indian children as servants, the Cape Fear attacked the settlers and seized their cattle. Famine and war finally drove these early settlers away. During this time, the Cape Fear were considered to be the “most barbarous” of the Carolina Indians apparently due to their mistreatment of shipwreck survivors on the Cape Fear shoals. Cape Fear warriors assisted John Barnwell and his Indian allies during their 1711-1712 expedition against the Tuscarora during the Tuscarora War.

Scholars estimate there were at least 1,000 Cape Fear Indians living along the lower Cape Fear River from its mouth to the interior in 1600. This number dwindled to just over 200 people, living in five small villages, by the time of a 1715 Indian census. In 1715, as the Yamasee War began in South Carolina, Colonel Maurice Moore assembled a company of North Carolina militiamen and Tuscarora warriors to assist their English neighbors to the south. Moore learned of a plan by Cape Fear and neighboring Waccamaw Indians to attack coastal settlements in northeastern South Carolina. His men attacked the Indian towns near Cape Fear and Lake Waccamaw before local Indians could assemble their forces. This offensive nearly decimated the Cape Fear.

By 1717, the Cape Fear had reestablished ties with the English government of the Carolinas. Following retaliatory raids by Iroquoian Five Nations warriors from New York and Tuscaroras from northeastern North Carolina, some Cape Fear Indians moved south seeking refuge among the Winyah Indians. Those who remained were driven from the Cape Fear region by a militia force under the command of Roger and Maurice Moore in 1720. These actions paved the way for the establishment of a permanent English settlement at Brunswick Town.

In 1749, the South Carolina governor forbade further molestation of this group by English settlers. The Cape Fear Indians settled among the Pedee along the eastern bank of the Pee Dee River in South Carolina. Some of the Pedee and Cape Fear Indians later settled among the Catawba Indians to the west. Others may have remained in the area between the Pee Dee and Waccamaw Rivers. Today, some of their descendants are probably members of the Waccamaw-Siouan tribe. Others may have moved north and settled with groups along the Lumber River in North Carolina who make up the Lumbee Indians of today. The Lumbee and the Waccamaw-Siouan are state recognized tribes.

Cheraw (Sara) Indians

The Cheraw or Sara were a Siouan-Catawban language tribe living in the northern Piedmont of North Carolina on the upper Dan River in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Archaeologists believe their ancestors lived in this area for several centuries prior to the European arrival in North America and are reflected in a cultural phase they have defined as the Early Saratown phase. The Sara lived along the upper Dan River through the early 1700s and participated in trade with Virginia and Carolina. With their numbers reduced through disease, warfare, and pressure from raiding Iroquoian Five Nations groups, the Sara moved south to the Pee Dee River near the North Carolina-South Carolina border. They resettled along the Pee Dee with the Eno and Keyauwee sometime around 1710. After this, historical documents refer to this Indian community as the Cheraw. Their settlement was near the present-day town of Cheraw, South Carolina. The Cheraw population was reduced further by the Yamasee War (1715-1718). The Cheraw allied with the Yamasee and other Indian tribes and attacked settlements in South Carolina in an attempt to protect their people from slave raids and other abuses by unscrupulous European traders. The Cheraw continued to fight for several years after the Yamasee fled to Spanish Florida in 1715. In fact, some historical accounts refer to the later phase of the war as the Cheraw War. After 1718, most of the surviving Cheraw moved west to join the Catawba. The Cheraw maintained their own town in the Catawba territory into the 1750s. By the 1760s, they were assimilated into the greater Catawba Nation and were no longer mentioned in colonial records as a separate people.


The Chowanoke, also known as the Choanoac or Chowan, were the largest and most powerful Algonquian tribe in Tidewater North Carolina prior to the arrival of Europeans in North America. These people spoke an Eastern Algonquian language. They lived in several small towns along the lower Chowan River. Ralph Lane, explorer and leader of the second attempted English settlement on Roanoke Island, noted that the Chowanoke had 18 villages in and around present-day Chowan, Gates, and Hertford counties. Lane’s descriptions and those of explorer Arthur Barlowe suggest the Chowanoke population numbered over 2,500 people in the 1580s. In the 1980s, archaeological investigations at the site of the presumed Chowanoke capital showed that the town was occupied for over 800 years.

There is little historical information about the Chowanoke in the early to middle 17th century. English accounts from 1650 suggest the Chowanoke were at war with the Virginia Powhatan Indians in the 1630s.

After the English established permanent settlements in northeastern North Carolina, Chowanoke leaders signed a treaty with Great Britain in 1663. In 1676 Chowanoke warriors got caught up in Bacon’s Rebellion and attacked Carolina colonists. By the end of the Chowanoke War (1676-1677), the defeated Chowanokes were forced to resettle on a reservation located at Bennett’s Creek on the east side of the Chowan River. Although the Carolina government ordered the survey of a 12-by-12-mile reservation, the survey was never completed. As armed colonists encroached on their lands, Chowanoke leaders again requested a formal survey of the reservation boundary in 1707. The colonial government authorized the survey of a six-by-six-mile reservation, but no action was taken until 1724.

The Chowanoke, along with the Hatteras, Paspatank, and Weapemeoc Indians allied with the North Carolina government during the Tuscarora War (1711-1715). The English supplied these communities with arms, corn and other supplies after they suffered casualties and crop destruction at the hands of the Tuscarora and their allies during the conflict. In 1724 a Chowanoke reservation of approximately 11,000 acres was surveyed and set aside at Bennett’s Creek. By 1755, however, only a few Chowanoke families remained. The declining tribe tenaciously maintained their community and identity into the 1790s. As their population declined, they sold off significant portions of the 1724 reservation tract. In 1790, the reservation no longer existed, but the few remaining descendants, reportedly “a parcel of Indian women… several freemen and women of mixed blood,” continued to live in Gates County. Descendants of the Chowanoke likely live in the lower Chowan River region to this day but are no longer recognized as members of a state or federally recognized Indian nation.

Coree (Core, Coranine, Connamox)

In the 17th century, the people of this nation lived south and east of the lower Neuse River, primarily around Cape Lookout and Core Sound which separates Bogue, Core and Shackelford Banks from the adjacent mainland. Early European maps indicate that Coree territory and some of their settlements were situated on the mainland between the White Oak and North rivers as well. Clues in colonial records suggest the Coree spoke a Siouan-Catawban language similar to Woccon.

In 1709, John Lawson reported that the Coree had been at war with the Machapunga (Mattamuskeet) Indians sometime in the early 17th century, probably in the 1630s or 1640s. By 1700, Carolina colonizers were settling in Coree territory in and around the present-day towns of Beaufort, Newport and Morehead City. After Carolina colonists defeated the Corees in the “Coree-Nynee” (Coranine) War of 1706, Indian survivors moved inland, west of present-day New Bern, to seek the protection of the Tuscaroras. John Barnwell, nicknamed “Tuscarora Jack” because of his role in the Tuscarora Wars, later remarked that the Corees were the “slaves” of the Tuscaroras, likely referring to a patron-client relationship. In 1711, the Corees occupied a town on the Neuse River just east of the Lower Tuscarora town of Catechna where John Lawson was captured and executed at the orders of Core Tom, the Coree king, and King Hancock, a Tuscarora king, in September of 1711.

Fearing attacks by colonial forces during the subsequent Tuscarora War (1711-1715), the Corees moved deeper into Tuscarora territory. Colonel John Barnwell’s forces destroyed their unfinished town in 1712. In a scandalous attack on the Corees at a 1712 peace conference held at Fort Barnwell on the Neuse River, Barnwell’s men killed a number of Coree men and enslaved dozens of women and children. A year later, Colonel James Moore’s forces destroyed the Coree in a battle that took place at White Oak River. The beleaguered survivors joined the Machapunga and Bay River Indians and continued fighting until the war eventually ended in 1715. This band of war survivors continued to live on a reservation eventually granted to these coastal Indians by the North Carolina colony in 1727. Descendants of the Coree, Bay River, Machapunga and Pamlico Indians continue to live in Dare, Hyde and Tyrell counties today.


The Croatan lived along the coast of North Carolina and likely were the American Indians the first English explorers encountered in their 16th century attempt to establish a Carolina settlement. Their tribal territory likely included the Alligator River, Croatan Sound, Roanoke Island, Hatteras Island and other parts of the Outer Banks. Like many other North Carolina Indians, the Croatans had linguistic and cultural connections to Algonquian people of the Great Lakes region.


The Hatteras were an Algonquian tribe reported in 1709 by John Lawson to be living at Cape Hatteras. It is possible Raleigh and his settlers met members of this tribe. They appear to have had a single small settlement called Sandbank. Little is known about this group.


The Keyauwee were a Siouan-Catawban language group who lived in the southeastern Piedmont of North Carolina, northwest of Fort Bragg. They occupied the lands in the lower Yadkin River valley between the Deep and Yadkin rivers, and probably hunted and foraged in the Sandhills. Their ancestors likely lived in the area for many centuries and may be associated with the late precontact phase archaeologists call Caraway. Some historians think Juan Pardo’s expedition from Santa Elena, South Carolina visited the Keyauwee in 1567. The Keyauwee remained settled in the lower Yadkin River valley until the early 18th century.

With the establishment of the James Town colony in Virginia in 1607, English traders began to engage the Indians of Virginia and North Carolina, providing European goods in exchange for deerskins, furs, and Indian slaves. The Great Trading Path extended southwest from Virginia to present-day Augusta, Georgia, on the Savannah River in the 17th and 18th centuries. By 1650, Virginia traders travelled down the trail to the Roanoke River (near the North Carolina-Virginia border) where the Occaneechi had established themselves as trade middlemen. Indians to the south and west traded with Occaneechi and the Occaneechi then exchanged the desired commodities with the Virginia traders.

The ancestral territory of the Keyauwee apparently bordered this trail, and during the 1600s, their settlement moved closer to this path. In 1701, John Lawson traveled along the Great Trading Path, before turning east and going directly to the North Carolina coast. He describes the Keyauwee as living in a palisaded village near the modern town of Asheboro.

In 1708 the Keyauwee moved east to the lower Roanoke River where they resettled in a fortified town with the Saponi and Shakori. The town was abandoned after attacks by the Tuscarora in 1709-1710. By 1720, the Keyauwee moved south along the Pee Dee River and settled among the Sara, likely near the modern town of Cheraw. Eventually, some Keyauwee families moved west and resettled among the Catawba on the lower Catawba River, as did most of the remaining Eastern Siouan groups who once inhabited the central Piedmont of North Carolina.


The Machapunga were an Algonquian-speaking group who lived in coastal North Carolina along the lower Pamlico River and at the head of Alligator River, west of Roanoke Island. In the late 1580s, as the Raleigh colonies were being explored and settled, the Machapunga were known to the English as the Secotan Indians. At that time, they lived in eight towns scattered throughout their territory. Over the next century, the Machapunga population declined due to European-introduced diseases, the ongoing struggles between more powerful Native groups engaged in the deerskin and Indian slave trade, and conflicts between the Indians and European colonists. By 1710, there may have been as few as 30 Machapunga warriors and a total population of only 150 to 200 people.

The Machapunga allied with the Tuscarora in 1711 and again were decimated by European and allied Indian assaults during the Tuscarora War; reportedly 75 Machapunga people were captured and enslaved. At the end of the war, coastal Indian groups who had fought with the Tuscarora were given a reservation of approximately 45 square miles around Lake Mattamuskeet in present-day Hyde County. Machapunga and Coree survivors were the principal groups who inhabited this area, along with an unknown number of people from other coastal Algonquian groups. This community, often referred to as the Mattamuskeet Indians, lived on the reservation through the later 1700s. Mattamuskeet leaders sold off portions of the reservation as their population declined in the mid-18th century. The Coree are not mentioned in colonial records after 1720. Perhaps the Coree, traditional enemies of the Machapunga, left the reservation soon after its creation to resettle with their traditional allies, the Tuscarora at Indian Woods reservation on the Roanoke River in Bertie County. It is possible they moved south to Lumber River area as well.

By 1731, there were about 20 Indian families (80-100 people) living in the reservation area. By 1755, only eight to ten people were known to reside there. The reservation was dismantled in 1761, with six adult males signing the deeds of transfer. In the 1760s some Hatteras Indian families joined the remaining people in the Lake Mattamuskeet area. Today, Indian people living in this part of Hyde County likely are distant descendants of the last of the Machapunga and Hatteras Indians, but are not recognized as mebers of a state or federally recognized tribe.


In 1584 the Neusiok lived on the south side of the Neuse River in present-day Craven and Carteret counties. By the early 18th century they were probably part of the Tuscarora Nation.


Before Europeans arrived in the New World, the Pamlico Indians lived on the Pamlico River in North Carolina. In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh’s colonists referred to the Pamlico as the Pomouik. In 1701, explorer John Lawson recorded their Algonquian language and vocabulary. European disease and ill-treatment greatly reduce the Pamlico community; by 1710 there were barely 600 people living in a single village. It is likely the Pamlico were absorbed into other Indian communities in the late 18th century.


The Shakori and Eno were two small Siouan-Catawban language groups (note some scholars believe the Eno spoke an Iroquoian language similar to the Tuscarora) who lived in the northeastern Piedmont of North Carolina. During the 1500s and early 1600s, some scholars believe these two groups lived between the Haw and Flat rivers. Archaeologists have defined the Hillsboro phase which they believe may represent the ancestors of the Shakori, Eno, Sissipahaw, and possibly the Occaneechi. By 1650, the Eno and Shakori were settled in the upper reaches of the Neuse River, with the Eno at the confluence of the Eno and Flat rivers and the Shakori along the upper Eno River near the modern town of Hillsborough.

In 1676, rebel Virginia colonists launched a punitive expedition against the Indians of the southern Virginia Piedmont, including the Occaneechi. This conflict, called Bacon’s Rebellion, resulted in the destruction of the Occaneechi “monopoly” of the Indian trade to the south and west. During this period, Tuscarora and Five Nations (Iroquois) slave raids intensified. This resulted in the rapid demise of the many Siouan groups who lived on the North Carolina Piedmont including the Shakori and the Eno.

By 1700, the Shakori and Eno were living together on the Flat River at Adshusheer, the home of another small group of the same name. In 1708, the Shakori joined the Saponi and Keyauwee Indians at a settlement on the lower Roanoke River under the protection of the Tuscarora. Conflicts ensued and the Tuscarora destroyed the town and drove the Saponi to Virginia and the Keyauweee and Shakori to the south.

Around 1710, the Eno reportedly resettled near the westernmost Tuscarora towns in the middle Neuse River basin, probably near the modern town of Goldsboro. They may have been attacked by John Barnwell’s forces during the Tuscarora War. Historical records provide few clues as to the movements of the Eno or Shakori from 1710 to 1720.

By 1720, the Shakori and Eno were settled with the Sara and Keyauwee on the Pee Dee river, near present-day Cheraw, South Carolina. Some Shakori and Eno families apparently resettled among the Catawba while others possibly resettled in the Lumber River region, joining the ancestors of today’s Lumbee Indians.


The Sissipahaw were another small Siouan-speaking group who lived on the central and northern Piedmont of North Carolina in the lower Haw River valley. The first reference to the Sissipahaw is thought to be in an account of Juan Pardo’s 1567 expedition into North Carolina. Here, they are called the Sauxpa or Sauapa. Also like the Shakori, Eno, and Occaneechi, the Hillsboro phase defined by archaeologist in this portion of North Carolina may represent the ancestors of the Sissipahaw.

Like their neighbors, the Sissipahaw were drawn to the Great Trading Path and the access to European trade goods that the path provided. By 1650, they were settled in a fortified town on the lower Haw River in modern day Chatham County. The Sissipahaw remained there until the about 1700-1710 when they moved east and settled near Tuscarora towns in the middle Neuse River basin. When the Sissipahaw refused to assist the Tuscarora during the Tuscarora War, the Tuscarora drove them from the region.

In 1711 John Barnwell reported Sissipahaw refuges were living in a town near the Waccamaw and Cape Fear Indian settlements. Sissipahaw warriors assisted Barnwell in the First Tuscarora Expedition when his forces looted and burned the Tuscarora towns along Contentnea Creek in 1712. The Sissipahaw eventually resettled among the Catawba around 1720.


Raleigh’s colonists met members of the Weapemoc tribe or tribal confederation living in northeastern North Carolina in 1584-1589. The confederation may have included the Yeopim, Pasquotank, Perquiman, and Poteskeet. The Weapemoc, estimated to number 800 people in 1600, included only 50 people by the time John Lawson visited the area in 1709.


Around 1709 John Lawson reported the Woccon living in two villages on the Lower Neuse River. Very little is known about the earlier history of the group. They joined the Tuscarora in their 1711-1715 war against European settlers. Remnants of the tribe may have remained with the Tuscarora or united with the Catawba.