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Site Owner
Posts: 50

I can't get through an article on the Chowanoke without referencing the fact that they went to war against the Whites in 1675. If I try to look deeper, however, I got nothing. I can find no historical reference to it whatsoever. I thought maybe it was considered a part of King Phiip's war since it occured at the same time, but I came up with nothing. Does anyone have any information or sources on this conflict? All I know is that the Chowanokes attacked settlements in North Carolina, were repulsed and then sent to live in the reservation on Bennet's creek. And I can't even find the sources on this. Help me out.:)

December 15, 2009 at 5:56 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Site Owner
Posts: 50

Found one source: The History of North Carolina, volume one, by R.D W Connor, 1919. Look at pages 51-52 for a slightly expanded view of the Chowanoke War (which is looking more and more to me like a low grade guerilla war) and then another refeence on pages 70-71. This can be viewed online in Google. more to come.

December 17, 2009 at 7:38 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Mark Adams
Posts: 2

If I'm not mistaken, most Indian warfare of the era would have been classified guerrilla war.

December 19, 2009 at 10:06 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Site Owner
Posts: 50

Mark Adams at 10:06PM on Dec 19, 2009

If I'm not mistaken, most Indian warfare of the era would have been classified guerrilla war.

This is true in many cases, however the other Indian wars of this era (i.e King Philip's War and the Tuscarora War) were marked by a combination of guerilla tactics and large scale battles. Naturally, it was the large scale battles that broke the back of the Indians in the other two mentioned wars, particularily the Tuscarora War. In King Phiip's War the allied Indians actually won several decisive victories before the tide turned. Actually King Philip's War happened during the exact same time as the Chowanoke War, 1675-76) Which initially made me think it was an extension of the King Philip's War in North Carolina, but I can find no reference to it in relation to King Philip's War. However the timeframe and the relative closeness to the war (in Massachusets, Connecticut, New York and Maine)  makes me think that it was perhaps influenced by Kng Philip's War. No proof of that yet however. From what I can find, the Chowanoke drew first blood (though it was the whites who encroached their land) and had an upper hand for a while because the settlers had little to no weapons or organization. They finally received a shipment of arms and some leadership emerged, and from there they retaliated and eventually won. I don't yet know of military actions, if the settlers were formally mustered into a militia, or really any of the details yet.  My information thus far comes from Connor's, History of North Carolina, which you can view online through a google book search.

December 20, 2009 at 5:39 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Site Owner
Posts: 50

Perhaps to shed some light on the cause of the war (maybe), it is said that "emmisarries" from the Virginian Indians are who influenced the Chowans to go to war. From this I looked at who in Virginia would have a grudge against the whites? Well, honestly all of them probably did, but who was engaged in open hostilities? As I mentioned previously, King Philip's War was raging full swing in the north, which was my first thought, but also at the same time was the Susquehanna War in Maryland and Virginia. I don't know a lot about this war yet, but it appears that it started as an Indian war between the Susquehanna and the western Iroquois, particularily the Seneca. This spilled over into the settlements and the colonists retaliated, and so bloodshed began between the Susquehanna and the colonists of Virginia as well.


So how do the Susquehanna reach the Chowanoke in North Carolina?


It appears that during this conflict, a group of Susquehanna attacked an English settlement, and then fleed south. They went completely across Virginia reaching the Meherrin River, where they were adopted by the Meherrin tribe, who spoke a similar language (Iroqouian). The Meherrin were close neighbors to the Chowanoke. I therefore attibute the Susquehanna as the emmisarries from Virginia who influnce the Chowans.

January 12, 2010 at 6:42 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Site Owner
Posts: 50

To any interested, I found all the primary sources referencing the war in the original Colonial Records, I am writing a paper on it so hopefully soon I'll have something to show.



March 4, 2010 at 6:15 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Site Owner
Posts: 50

I am in the submission process for a paper that I have been researching and writing on the Chownaoke War. I have found many things, inclusing some facts that refute Connor's previous history of the war. In fact, I found that the Meherrin were deeply invloved in the start of this war, for which reason I refer to the war as the Chowan River War. Here is what I found:


I started with what we have already, which is a single page of

information provided by Robert Connor in his state history on the

early 1900s. His research did not focus on the Chowanoke War other

than as a sidenote to state history, so because his real research

focus was elswhere, he did not take the time to look up every relevant

document. Thus his interpretation has a couple flaws. He assertted

that after the Chowanoke rose up after being incited by other Indians,

they "struck swiftly and silently in the usual Indian Fashion." They

had success in 1676, but in 1677 the settlers received an arms

shipment from captain Zachary Gillam, which they, of their own

volition, used to defeat the Chowanoke. They then used these same arms

to bring down the government in Culpeppers rebellion in 1677.

He is partly correct, partly not. My research focused on first trying

to get a clear idea of the state of the colonies at the time. 1676 was

a time of extreme stress, from King Philips War in New England, the

Susquehanna War and Subsequent Bacon's Rebellion, followed by

Culpepper's Rebellion. whith all of this going on, I of course

suspected a connection to these larger events. After getting these

broad strokes, I zeroed in on as many source documents as I could find

in the Colonial Records as compiled by Saunders, Narratives of Bacons

Rebellion, contemporary interpretations of history of the period, Maps

of the time, particularly the 1657 Comberford map, which has very

valuable information to Chowanoke researchers, and well as a few other


The core documents that I found were two records written years apart

from each other by different people. Both were biased records but

because so much of the information in them corresponded to each other,

the basis of a timeline and course of events was able to be garnered

from them. These were a letter from the North Carolina Governors

Council to the virginia Governors Council concerning the border

dispute, and the other document was a petition of the white neighbors

of the Meherrin, which layed out what they beleived was an accurate

history of the Meherrin, that they were really Susquehanna and

therefore not eligable for land rights being from out of the colony

originally. Both records contain provable innacuracies, perhaps even

outright lies, and boths are prejudiced against Indians, and are

difficult to understand. However they are all we have, so we must work

with what we are given, and because they correspond to each other so

well, they form the core of my research, showing that the Susquehanna

were the direct cause of the war, or rather the straw that broke the

camels back. They joined the Meherrin after their defeat in Bacon's

Rebellion and then moved to Bennetts Creek. Once there the war began.

Other documents include depositions written by participlants in

Culpeppers rebellion. These are a handfull of offhand statements

usually not exceeding one sentance, vagualy discribing an Indian War

and offer little value, however, two in particular are offer critical

information, which are Thomas Miller and his friend Solomon Summers

account. These in particular were valuable in disproving the notion

that the settlers rose against the Chowanoke of their own volition,

for these afidavits clearly describe that the first act of Miller,

upon recomendation of the general assembly, was to raise a miitia and

"reduce the indians."

Based on the above, as well as some other documentatin and

contemporary histories of early Carolina and Bacons Rebellion, I find

the following story to be true:

The Susquehanna Indians of Pennsylvania had recently been

embroiled in a war with the Iroquois, and following the long conflict

moved to Maryland in an abondoned Piscataway Fort. They originally

lived there peacably, but local murders in both Maryland and Virginia

were blamed on them, though it appears that the true culprits were

Seneca, and Doeg. However a joint military expedition of Maryland and

Virginia forces laid seige to the fort. When several Susquehanna

leaders came out to sue for peace, they were hacked apart in view of

their people. The Susquehanna were then resolved and steeled against

the English, partucularly the Virginians. After 6 long weeks of siege,

the Susquehanna embarrassed the English, but sneaking out of the fort,

killing ten in their sleep and slipping inot the woods.

They were not retreating. They counter attacked, sneaking behind

Virginia forces to strike the heart of Virginia, a remarkable feat

given their state of starvation and having to provide for their women

and children during the entire war. It seems they split apart into

many bands to better live off the land and to strike many places at

once. One of their raids killed the overseer of Nathaniel Bacon,

enraging him and prompting him to call on the governor for a commision

to strike back at them. The commision not forthcoming, he defied the

governor by organizing a militia of poor farmers and servants and

headed to a reported Susquehanna camp neer the Occaneechi on the

Roanoke River.

The Occaneechi actually offered to assist the English and attacked

the Susquehanna on their own, dispersing the Susquehanna and bring

back several prisoners who were put to death in front of the English.

This done,the English then turned on the Occaneechi, slaughtering 150

of them. From the documentation I studied I was able to piece together

the following timeline from thence: The susquehanna, upon their defeat

by the Occaneechi, travelled down the Meherrin River until they

jolined the Meherrin on Tarara Creek. Soon afterward, they were again

attacked by unidentified Souian Indians, forcing them with the

Meherrin further down until they reached Bennets Creek. They held

council with the Chowanoke, who apparently allowed them to stay there.

At this time, I estimate the Chowanoke to have been about 300 in

number, based on later statements by John Lawson concerning native

population and the number of towns according to the 1657 Comberford

map. Based of the 1669 census in Virginia, and Meherrin had 50

fighting men, indicating perhaps 180 individuals, together with the, I

think very few, Susquehanna, the total amount of Amerindians was

probably about 500 people, with a fighting force of about 150.

At this time of the settlement of the Mehherin by the Chowanoke,

Bacon's rebellion took a turn. Bacon himself died, and his army went

into winter quarters under the leadership of Lawrene Ingram. Thus

temporatily disbanded, loyalists took the opportunity to counter

attack, and in Nansemond County, war raged and the Rebels were pushed

back. They were actually proven allies of the colonists in North

Carolina, and as has been shown in contemporary histories, fled south

to their friends in Carolina down the Chowan River.

Imagine this for a moment. By one historians account, Rebels fled

south "by the hundred,"along the very river where their known enemies,

the Susquehanna, were living. The documentation is quite clear that

the English knew of the Susquehanna being there. Frustrated by their

defeat, full of hatrid against the Indians, it is easy to picture that

this was the point at which violence along the Chowan River erupted.

It is known that several English were killed, as well as "öther

depredations" which probably meant property damage. The Chowanoke and

Meherrin were victorious together.

The settlers were living miles apart from each other, and giving

the factionalism at the time, they were unable to unite to counter

attack. In addition, as demonstrated by Noeleen MvIlvania, they lived

in much better harmony with the Natives than Virginians did, and were

probably more desirous for peace than more violence.

Nevertheless, when Thomas Miller arrived in the colony in the June

of 1677, carrying papers supposedly authiorizing him as legal

governor, things changed. He quickly organized a militia, likely from

among the landless and aggitated Rebels newly from Virginia, and

attacked the Bennets Creek Indians. He claimed credit for it, but it

is unknown if he headed it himself, or if he appointed someone else to

do it. Soon however, in the mid summer of 1677, this militia struck

back. Given our estimate of 150 Indian fighters, it must have taken a

fairly sizeable, or at least well armed force, to attack them. Did the

conduct a suprise attack? Did they feign friendship, only to betray

them as they did with the Occaneechi? No record was made. We know only

that the English paid dearly for their victory, losing "many men"in

the process.

The Meherrin broke away, crossing the river before heading north to

the junction of the Meherrin and Chowan River, taking up the

"Chowanacke Old Fields" as residence, showing that the Chowanoke had

to abandon these upper parts of their territory. The Chowanoke, as we

know, were confined, though we don't know the exact borders of this

first reservation. Under the administration of Archdale, this was

specified as 12 square miles, but from here, we all know the history.

August 2, 2011 at 3:59 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Chief Don Spirit Wolf
Posts: 13

We should remember that until 1691 white men in Virginia were free to take Inidan women as wives and did more often than not. This law was passed to stop the very intelligent Inidans from laying claim to "Enlgish" land via right of marriage and dowerege.

Also the Indian slave trade was going wide open and as villages, bands, tribes were attacked to harvest slaves the remnants were forced to seek refuge among other Indians.

his brought on numerous uprisings all along the coast from New England to the Carolinas.

we are forced to reconstruct these events from the pitiful records of the very whties tht were instigating these uprisings and must read thorugh their biases to look for the truth

We also must read through their countless cases of mis-labeling or mis-naming of the Indians involved.

I really appreciate all the work being done by the folks here

and know we will come close to the truth beforte it is all done

August 3, 2011 at 8:40 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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