Chowanoke Descendants Community

Basic Chowanoke History

 In brief:

      The Chowanoke history starts long before the arrival of the Europeans. Archeology puts them in their capital city, Chowanoc, since 800 AD, while the site itself had been inhabited for thousands of years prior. Not enough research has been conducted to make a full assesment of our pre-English history, but we know that the Chowanoke became the most powerful Algonquian tribe south of the Powhatan Empire (itself a recent thing). They were at the head of an alliance of the Chowanoke, Weapemeoc and Secotan that held their own against the Powhatan to the north and the Iroquoian and Souian tribes to the south and west. (This has been the traditionally accepted theory, but recent research has alternately shown that they were in fact rivals of the Secotan Indians. Indeed it appears that each town was autonomous rather that owing allegiance to a particular tribe).

      The arrival of the Roanoke colony in 1585 changed everything. Originally cordial, once command of the colony shifted to Ralph Lane, a sharp contrast ensued. Lane attacked Chowanoc outright, killing an unkknown number of Chowans and taking the chief, Menatonon, prisoner for several days of interogation. Menatonon himself was a man who commanded great respect despite being disabled (infirm in his limbs). Ralph stated for the record that he attacked the Chowanoke based upon the warning of Chief  Wingina of the Secotan, but in reality was after silver and gold. Menatonon told him of a rich copper mine inland, guarded by the fierce Mangoac. To ensure success in this venture, Lane kidnapped Menatonon's son, Skiko, and went inland, only to fail in the expedition. We don't know what eventually happened to Skiko, though we do know he was placed in handlocks and threatened with decapitation. Several escape attempts failed. Shortly after Lane retrned to England, Grenville returned to Roanoke to find an Indian and an Englishman hanging. Could the Indian have been Skiko?

     Eventually Lane returned to England, but left behind a terrible scourge, an epidemic that transformed the Albemarle area forever. Since no records exist for this period, we don't know the details, but desease and probably war as well reduced the Chowanoc to insignificance. For several decades, nearly half a century, the Chowans were left alone except for a few visists by explorers from Jamestown to the North. In the year 1643 a military expedition was launched from Virginia to subdue the natives of Carolina. The expedition met the Chowan at Weynock Creek where battle was made. We know of no details of this battle except that one white man was killed, an unknown number of Chowanoke. After this, the Chowans gave up title to all their land west of the Chowan River, though it wasn't until much later it was settled by whites.

   Settlers trickled into Carolina and a tenuous government was established. In the early years, the Chowanoke were protected by the fact that they lived in disputed territory, a tug of war between Virginia and Carolina that would last into the next century. The result was that settlements on the Chowan didn't spring up (except individual settlers) until the 1660s.

   The next turning point was the year 1675, when the Chowans attacked the surrounding settlements. We know of few details, only that several whites were murdered and property destroyed. while enjoying initial success due to the disorganization and lack of arms of the settlers, eventually a militia was formed and the Chowanoc were defeated. They gave up all title to land and lived upon the very first Indian Reservation in North Carolina, at Bennett's Creek.

     Records show that this was a sad period. The Chowanoke names changed to European ones, their neighbors swindled away their land, parcel by parcel. They were able to do this because the reservation was never surveyed, and so the borders were open to interpretation. Their twelve square miles quickly turned into six. In the year 1711 the Tuscarora war broke out, and in an effort to appease the whites, joined them in eight expeditions against the Tuscarora. They returned to Bennett's Creek to find all their property destroyed. Fences, crops, fruit trees and livestock, all gone. After scraping out a tenuous excistance for several decades, the North carolina Council suggested that they encorporate with the very Tuscaroras they fought against, and based on the massive land sales in the following year, most took them up on this offer.

    The Chowanoke story wasn't yet over, however. Several families remained who remembered their heritage held on to their identity. They bought a parcel of land close to the original settlement and didn't sell this until the early 1800s. This land was called Indiantown in government records, and was remembered by descendants even generations later in attempts to register on the Guion Miller Rolls. These descendants continued to exist, forming new communities as ethnic enclaves throughout northeast North Carolina, never forgetting their ancestry, as the Guion Miller Rolls, and other records, prove. Following the Civil Rights Movement, some of these communities joined the Meherrin Tribe's efforts at reorganization and existed for several decades under that umbrella. Since then, The Chowanoke Nation has operated under its own leadership in an effort to unite the remaining communities of Chowanoke and gain federal recognition.



CHOWAN INDIANS -  by Fletcher Freeman

A 1585 Map of Virginia drawn by Theodore de Bry designates several Indian tribes, one of which is the CHAWANOK.  They are shown with at least five towns, being Chaunoock, Rannoushowog, Movatan, Metocuuem,and Tanduomuc.  Also reflected are the SECOTAN and WEAPEMEOC Tribes.    The SECOTAN area reflects 12 towns and the WEAPEMEOC area reflects 8 towns.

The 1647 map of Virginia drawn by Robert Dudley reflects several Indian tribes living along the Virginia/North Carolina eastern seaboard.  One of these tribes was the CHAWONS located just south of the Chesapeake Bay near Nansemund.

The 1651 map of Virginia drawn by John Farrer prominently displays the CHAWANOKE  RIVER, probably named for the Chawan Indians who lived along it. 

William Byrd's Map showing the Boundary lines of 1663 and 1665 between Virginia and North Carolina likewise prominently shows the Chowan River and Chowan Precinct, likewise named for the Chowans.

The Mosley Map of 1733 showing North East North Carolina shows Chowan Town just East of the Chowan River and south of Bennets Creek in Chowan Precinct of Albemarle County.


In 1707, the  Chowanoke Indians own land on the South side  of the Maherine ( Meherrin) River which they received from the Yawpin Indians sometime prior to 1675.  It is called Chowanoke Town.

In 1715 a missionary spent 5 months in Chowan Town and learned the language.

In 1718, John Hoyter is mentioned as the "King" of the Chowan Indians.

In 1720, Captain John Hoyter of the Chowan Indians complains about someone not paying for a slave and John Hoyter, Chiefman of the Chowan Indians complains about white trespassers to the North Carolina Council.

In 1734, Thomas Hoyter, James Bennet, Charles Beazley and Jeremiah Pushing, Chief Men of the Chowan Indians sell land to JOHN FREEMAN, Thomas Garret, and 8 other white men.

In 1754, JOHN FREEMAN, John Bennet, and John Robins ( 2 headmen of the Chowan Indians) sell 200 acres of Chowan Indian land to RICHARD FREEMAN for 20 pounds.

January 4, 1755, there are 7 Chowan Indians left--2 men, 3 women, and 2 children.

THE AMERICAN INDIAN IN NORTH CAROLINA recounts an August 1585 exploration by Gov Lane which visited the Chowans:

"The Chowan Indians lived along the river bearing their name.  One of their villages, called Ohanoak, situated on high land with good cornfields adjacent, was probably in Hertford County.  The chief village, Chawanook, was not far from the junction formed by Bennett's Creek, on the east side of the river.  Lane estimated the number of warriors of this town to be seven hundred, certainly an exaggeration.  The chief of the tribe, Menatonon, was described as being  " a man impotent in his limbs, but otherwise for a savage a very grave and wise man."  He gave Lane directions for travel by river and overland to Chesapeake Bay.  His description of the abundance and fineness of the pearls of that region sounded alluring to the governor, to whom he presented a string of black beads, probably the dark colored shell beads called wampum.  His son, Skyco, was retained by Lane as a prisoner and proved to be a valuable hostage."

The book 500 NATIONS, AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS says that the Chowanocs, Weapemeocs, and Secotans were allied algonquin nations.  The book mentions that Gov. Lane seized Chief Menatonon of the Chowanocs and held him for ransom following which he kidnapped the Chief's son and took him to Roanoke in leg irons to insure the obedience of the tribe.

A member of the Lane exhibition was an artist named John White.  He painted 76 watercolors of the region and many are in the  books referenced above.  While none show the Chowans themselves, there are quite a few of the Secotan and Pomeoke who were close neighbors to the Chowans.  There is a drawing in the book of the Town of Secotan which is south of Chowan Town and hence is probably similar to Chowan Town.  It shows that the Indians raised corn and tobacco and lived in Quonset style huts.

Lane also drew a map of Carolina which shows the Town of Ohanoke located on the western side of the Chowan River.  This map would date to 1585.

The book The AMERICAN INDIAN IN NORTH CAROLINA, has another section on the Chowan Indians as follows:

" The Chowan Indians, whose name signifies "Southerners" were still a strong tribe when settlers began to move in the Albemarle region about 1650.  Their name was well known, as the following reference from early records of Virginia indicate.

On August 27, 1650, a Virginia exploring party set out from Fort Henry to reach the Tuscarora settlements. The company included Edward Bland, Abraham Wood, Sackford Brewster, Elias Pennant, two white servants, and an Appamattox Indian guide.  On the way the secured a Nottoway Indian guide named Oyeocker.  Some distance west of Meherrin River they came to an Indian trail.

Their narrative states:

At this path our Apamattuck Guide made a stop, and cleared the Westerly end of the path with his foote, being demanded the meaning of it, he shewed an unwillingness to relate it, sighing very much.  Whereupon we made a stop until Oyeocker our other Guide came up, and then our Appamattuck journied on; but Oyeocker at his coming up cleared the other end of the path, and prepared himselfe in a most serious manner to require our attentions, and told us that many years since their late great Emperour Appachancano came thither to make War upon the Tuscarood, in revenge of three of his men killed, and wounded, and brought word of the other three murthered by the Hocomawananck Indians for lucre of the Roanoke they brought with them to trade for Otter skins.  There accompanied Appachancano severall petty Kings that were under him, amongst which there was one King of a town called Pawhatan, which had long time harboured a grudge against the King of Chawan, about a young woman that the King of Chawan had detayned of the King of Pawhatan:  Now it happened that the King of Chawan was invited by the King of Pawhatan to this place under pretence to present him with a gift of some great vallew, and there they med accordingly, and the King of Pawhatan went to salute and embrace the King of Chawan, and stroaking of him after their usual manner, he whipt a bowstring about the King of Chawans neck, and strangled him; and how that in memoriall of this, the path is continued unto this day, and the friends of the Pawhatans when they passe that way, cleanse the Westerly end of the path, and the friends of the Chawans the other.  And some two miles from this path we come unto an Indian Grave upon the East side of the path,: Upon which Grave there lay a great heape of sticks covered with greene boughs, we demanded the reason of it, Oyeocker told us that there lay a great man of the Chawans that dyed in the same quarrell, and in honor of his memory they continue greene boughs over his Grave to this day, and ever when they goe forth to Warre they relate this, and other valorous, loyall Acts, to their young men, to animate them to doe the like when occasion requires.

Around 1610-1611, William Strachy, Secretary of Jamestown, was told by an Indian, Machumps, that seven survivors of Powhatan’s massacre of the colonists from Roanoke, (four men, two boys, and one young maid) had fled up the river of Choanoke and had taught the Indians in two villages how to build two-story houses and were working copper for the Chief of the Chawanoc tribe.

In 1663 the Chowans entered into a treaty with the English and "submitted themselves to the Crown of England under the Dominion of the Lords Proprietors."  This treaty was faithfully observed for a decade, but in 1675 the Susquehanna War broke out in Virginia. Through incitement of the Indians of Virginia the Chowan violated their treaty. This became known as the Chowanoc War of 1675-1677. A year of warfare followed with serious loss to the settlers.  Later the Chowan were forced to surrender all of their land on the south side of Meherrin River and were assigned a reservation on Bennett's Creek in what is now Gates County.  Here they struggled along for a hundred years.  Many petitions were made to the council for a survey, but nearly fifty years passed before the request was granted.  Their lands gradually dwindled from twelve square miles, as first assigned, to six square miles about 1707. At this time they had only one town with about fifteen fighting men.

They were allied with the Colonists during the Tuscarora War. Chief John Hoyter petitioned the Council in 1714 for a survey of the six-mile reservation, stating that the Indians had been fighting on " Eight Expeditions agt the Indyan Enemy of this province and during the time they were in ye Countys Service they Suffered Considerable loss in their Plantations & Stocks loosing Seaventy five head of hoggs a Mare & Colt their Corne destroyed by all wch & ye wearing out of their clothes they are reduced to great poverty", and asked that some allowance be made for their services and losses.

In 1712 Missionary Giles Rainsford of the English Church wrote:

" I had several conferences with one Thomas Hoyle King of the Chowan Indians who seem very inclinable to embrace Christianity and proposes to send his son to school....  I readily offered him my service to instruct him myself....  where I lodge being but three miles distant from his Town.  But he modestly declined it for the present till a general peace was concluded between the Indians and the Christians.  I found he had some notions of Noahs flood which he came to the knowledge of and exprest himselfe after this manner--My Father told me I tell my Son."

Three years later Rainsford reported:  "I have been five months together in Chowan Indian Town & made myself almost a Master of their language."  In this same letter he offered to serve as missionary among them.

In 1718 and 1720 petitions were filed by Chief Hoyter complaining that the settlers were continually intruding upon the lands of the Indians and that the limits of the territory had never been determined.  In the former petition he also asked for payment due one of his tribesmen by a settlor for an Indian slave of the Core Sound region.  In 1723 a reservation of 53,000 acres was laid out for the Tuscarora and the Chowan.

By the year 1731 the tribe had dwindled to less than twenty families. Two years later, in 1733, the council gave them permission to be incorporated with the Tuscarora at Indian Woods Reservation in Bertie county.  In 1752 Bishop Spangenberg wrote from Edenton, "The Chowan Indians are reduced to a few families, and their land has been taken away from them."  A report of Governor Dobbs in 1755 stated that the tribe consisted of two men and five women and children who were "ill used by their neighbors."

In 1997 a Meherrin Indian historian provided the following information to me about the Chowans:

The Chowan Reservation originally lay in what is now Gates County, on the banks of Catherine's Creek and Bennet's Creek, It seems to have consisted mainly of swamp land, roughly 17 square miles in 1729.  The land was sold off steadily through the 1700's until by 1790 the tribe had been reduced to nothing.  In 1782 a Mr. Henry Hill gave 30 acres of land to the remaining Chowanokes.  This tract, which came to be known as Indian Town, lay north of the old reservation.  It appears to have been in the immediate vicinity of Old Chapel Crossroads, south of Mintonsville.  The area of the old reservation is now called Indian Neck. At about the same time that they received the land from Henry Hill, several of the Indian boys were ordered bound out as apprentices to local whites.  The following appear to be the bulk of the apprentice records dealing with Chowanokes:

May 25, 1781, Benjamin Robbins, Indian, 17 years of age bound to Jethro Meltear

May 25, 1781, Elisha Robbins, Indian, 11 years of age, bound to Jethro Meltear

February 10, 1781, Josiah Bennett, Indian, 12 years of age, bound to Edward Briscoe.

February 10, 1781, George Bennet, Indian, 13 years of age, bound to Henry Booth.

February, 1785, Jacob Robbins, Indian, 10 years of age, bound to Jethro Lassiter

February, 1787, Samuel Robbins, illegitimate son of Lucy Robbins, bound to Jethro Miller Lassiter.


The 1790 census of Gates County shows the following households which are probably the bulk of the Chowanoke population at that time.

Bashford Robbins, 1 white male, 2 free persons of color

George Bennet, 1 free person of color

Hardy Robbins, 1 free person of color

James Robbins, 1 white female, 15 free persons of color

Joseph Bennet, 1 free person of color

The Chowanoke population may have been as high as 30 at this time.  James Robbins appears to have been the most well to do of the Chowanokes, aided in part by his pay from having served as a soldier in the Revolution.

In 1782 Henry Hill sells the 30 acres to Nancy, Elizabeth, Darkis, and Christina Robbins, all identified as Indians.  Apparently by the time the sale took place, the tribe had left the area of their old reservation and had sold or otherwise conveyed it to neighboring whites.  The actual deed of sale is dated April 12, 1790 and is between "James Robbins, Benjamin Robbins, George Bennett, and Joseph Bennett, Chief Men and representatives of the Chowan Indians Nation of Gates County and William Lewis and Samuel Harrell".  Shortly thereafter the Bennetts disappear from the history of the tribe, never living on the thirty acres with the Robbins.  In October 1790 the Chowanokes are described in a petition to the State from William Lewis and Samuel Harrell as "several freemen and women of mixed blood which have descended from said Indians."  Obviously in April, 1790 it was to Harrell and Lewis' advantage to have the Robbins and Bennetts being in a position of authority in the tribe so they could sell the tribal land to them.  After the sale was complete, however, it then became better for the white purchasers that the Indians became "free men mixed with Negroes" in case they might ever want to reclaim the land.  The State confirmed the sale of the land in 1791 effectively disposing of the last reservation land although legally the sale should have been approved by the U.S. Congress as well.

By the time of the 1800 Gates County Federal Census, the number of Chowan Indian Families is as follows:

George Bennet, free colored, 4 inhousehold

James Robbins, free colored, 3 in household with 1 white   female

Sara Robbins, free colored, 2 inhousehold

Dorcas Robbins, free colored, 6 in household

Ann Robbins, free colored, 4 in household

In 1810 the following families are listed in Gates County:

George Bennett, free colored, 5 in household

Darcus Robbins, free colored, 4 in household

Sally Robbins, free colored, 4 in household

Lewis Robbins, free colored, 3 in household

Nancy Robbins, free colored, 5 in household

Jacob Robbins, free colored, 5 in household

James Robbins, free colored, 2 in household

Lewis Robbins, born in 1790 and apprenticed in 1800, is never called an Indian in any of the written records, but it is logical that he is a child of one of the Chowanoke families listed in 1800.

The Chowan Indian settlement is noted on the 1808 Price-Strother map of North Carolina in roughly the same area where they had been granted the reservation.  This would suggest that they still maintained some form of recognizable community in the area.

In 1819, the Chowanokes living on the 30 acres of land they had acquired from Henry Hill faced a new threat in the form of efforts by a prominent white neighbor to buy them out.  On February 23, 1819, John Walton bought the interest of Christian Robbins, who at the time was living in Perquimins County, in a "certain piece or parcel of land at a place called the Indian Town, joining the lands of Nancy Robbins, Elizabeth Robbins, Sara Robbins, and the said John Walton containing by estimation 5 acres."  Then in May, 1820, Walton bought out Judith Robbins, who had moved to Chowan County. She owned one acre more or less, "at a place called & known by the name of the Indian Town ...that descended to me from my mother Patience Robbins."  Then in 1821 through some fancy legal maneuvering, Walton sued Sara Robbins and obtained an execution upon her land to pay the judgement.  This land was in the vicinity of what is now Waltons Crossroads in Gates County.

After this last loss of tribal lands, the Chowanokes dispersed throughout the surrounding area and it is thought married into or otherwise merged with the Meherrin Tribe.

There is a Robbins family on the Meherrin tribal roll who trace back to a Noah Robbins, born 1803.  There is also a group in Perquimans County known as the "Lassiter Tribe" who moved into that area around 1820 and are probably Chowanoke descendents.

Dr. Richard Dillard has described a shell mound in the former Chowan region:

"One of the largest and most remarkable Indian mounds in Eastern North Carolina is located at Bandon on the Chowan, evidently the site of the ancient town of the Chowanokes which Grenville's party visited in 1585 and was called Mavaton.  The map of James Wimble, made in 1729, also locates it about this point. The mound extends along the riverbank five or six hundred yards, is sixty yards wide and five feet deep, covered with about one foot of sand and soil.  It is composed almost exclusively of mussel shells taken from the river, pieces of pottery, ashes, arrowheads and human bones....  Pottery and arrowheads are found in many places throughout this county, especially on hillsides, near streams, etc."

Their is some belief among the descendants of JOHN FREEMAN mentioned earlier, that his wife "Tabitha" may have been a Chowan Indian and the daughter of either Thomas Hoyter or John Bennet, Chowan headmen.  John was born in or near Chowan Indian town and probably married Tabitha around 1733.  He was the reader at the Indian Town Chapel of the Anglican Church which presumably was where the Christianized Chowans attended church.(Remember that in 1712 Giles Rainsford was a missionary to the Chowans and indicated that Chief Thomas Hoyle/Hoyter was inclined to embrace Christianity)


The Forgotten Indian Wars of Albemarle, or,

The Chowanoc  War Revisited

by Lars Adams

(Note - the following is preliminary research and is intended only as an introduction to the subject. Further research is required to verify inferences)


…you are to observe the rules of strict justice friendshipp and amity with the neighbour Indians and not suffer them to have any just cause to complain of any oppression or Injustice done them by any of the English within your Government.[1]

  -Instructions of the Lords Proprietors to the government of Carolina in 1676

     When one thinks of the colonial Indian wars, usually what comes to mind is King Philip’s War, perhaps the Pequot war, the Tuscarora War and Cherokee War, not to mention the French and Indian wars. Rarely does anyone think of the battle of Weynock Creek or the Chowanoc War. As we will see, sometimes entire wars are fought, militias are raised, the fate of nations decided, and only the most offhand of comments are preserved. The first settlers of the Albemarle area of North Carolina came with only a strong back and a few tools. Few of them brought pen and paper, for documentation regarding these settlements simply does not exist, and we are forced to piece together what little has been left for us in the meager records. Settlement activity (and therefore conflicts with the local Algonquians) began in 1643, but the first conflicts began far before this, conflicts that would decide the fate of these nations before settlement ever began. I am referring to the expeditions of Raleigh and the lost colony of Roanoke.


Conflicts with Ralph Lane’s Roanoke Garrison


    Since this particular area has already been well covered by better historians, I won’t go into too much detail regarding what had happened. For the best accounts, I recommend Lee Miller’s Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony, who creates a very lively and detailed description of the people and events involved. However, since what happened, especially under Ralph Lane’s command, directly impacts later settlement of the region, I will deliver the broad strokes.

     Raleigh’s voyages to America offer one of the most vivid glimpses into the lives of Algonquian people. Published were written descriptions as well as outstanding paintings by John White which can truly bring the old culture to life. The events of the initial voyages can fill volumes, which this paper won’t attempt to explore. However, the latter of these voyages are a sharp contrast from the former. The initial visits were cordial. The voyagers needed Indian cooperation to ascertain the land and determine what benefits could be derived. The first contacts were with the Croatoan and Secotan people. Friends were made, and trade was established. White painted his wonderful paintings, they ate together and told stories to each other. The future seemed bright.


The Burning of Aquascogoc


     Something shocking happened. During trade with the Secotan, the English found that they were missing a silver cup. It must have been taken in Aquascogoc, the town they had just come from, so they returned and requested the cup back. The town leaders were bewildered but tried to comply and find the cup. The English waited outside the town, growing impatient. Having decided they waited long enough, they stormed the town and burned it to the ground. They chased away the people and destroyed the year‘s crop. The surviving inhabitants scattered to the surrounding towns, draining the already dwindling food supply, since coincidentally the worst drought in 800 years struck the land, ruining the crops.[2] This must have been shocking to the Indian people! So kind were the English before this! All this for a cup? Who were these people, that they could burn a town on a whim?


Attack on Chowanoc


    Eventually command went to Ralph Lane, as Grenville returned to England. He held no pretense of fare play. He would settle for nothing less than absolute dominance. His real goal was riches. He knew the Spanish had found rich gold mines, so why not he? The locals were laden with copper, so he set out to find the source. His trek brought him to Chowanoc, the capital city of the tribe of the same name. This was a stronger nation than the Secotan or Weapemeoc. They were stronger, but Lane held the advantage of technology and the element of surprise. He landed his boats silently on the riverbank. It was during a council meeting between the Weapemeoc and Chowanoc, for it was that at that time the assembly was holden at Chawanook about us, as I found at my comming thither, which being unlooked for dido dismay them, as it made us have the better hand at them. [3] Lane laid in shot, killed those that tried to resist, for later he stated that the Chowanocs durst not for the most part of them abide us, and that those that did abide us were killed. [4] Though the Chowanoc had heard of white people from an earlier voyage of Raleigh, this was the first time the Chowanoc had seen or heard firearms and consequently they gave way. Lane held captive Menatonon, the chief, and stated, … I had him prisoner with me, for two dayes that we were together [5], to gain information about the surrounding country, especially where to find precious metals. Menatonon told him to go to the land of the Mangoaks, who guard Chaunis Temoatan, a huge copper mine from where all the copper of the region originates from. Lane released him only after making him pay a ransom of pearls, but didn’t stop there, for he then took his son, Skiko, hostage.

     They did travel inland further to try to find the copper mines, but after a skirmish with the Mangoak (Tuscarora, or some say Eno. The exact tribe is in debate) and running out of food they returned with Skiko to Roanoke. The eventual fate of Skiko is unknown, but what is known is that he was clapped in irons, he was threatened with decapitation and possibly tortured to gain information. He attempted to escape, once on his own and once with the aid of the Secotan, both unsuccessful.

The Slaying of the Secotan Tribal Council

     Lane’s rough treatment of the Indians did not go over well with the Secotan. Pemisapan, the head chief (who changed his name from Wingina upon the death of his brother), began to rally the tribes together to destroy the English. His actions were blocked by Menatonon, who feared for his son and ordered that the Weapemeoc and Secotan make peace with the English. Okisko of the Weapemeoc obeyed, but Pemisapan did not, and in fact bribed many Weapemeoc and Chesapeake warriors and even the Mangoak with copper to gain warriors. These first attempts failed to catch hold, so he did the simplest thing he could do, which was to withhold the food supply from Lane. Roanoke starved and took to the shore to live off of shellfish and whatever else they could find.[6]

     Eventually the Secotan were able to gain enough military support and held a large council to plan the attack on Roanoke. Lane discovered the plot, however, apparently through Skiko. He had Skiko in irons and questioned him about the Secotan, who had been feeding him in captivity. Skiko bravely resisted and told him nothing. Angered, Lane went as if to cut off his head but stopped just short, terrifying Skiko. It is possible that torture was involved, but however it happened, Skiko eventually revealed the plans of the Secotan. [7] 

   Lane decided on a preemptive strike. On the last of  May, he and some others snuck to the Indian town on Roanoke. His men secured the canoes to prevent escape. This was done by cutting off two of the guarding Indian’s heads. A cry arose, and several more were killed by a volley and the surprise was ruined. Somehow, one of the Indians managed to free Skiko, and ran through the woods with him, but Lane caught up with them and regained his prisoner. [8]

     The next day, the first of June, 1586, Lane and his men landed on the shore leading to Dasamonquepeoc where Pemisapan was staying. He had young Skiko with him, hands tied, and demanded to see Pemisapan. He said he desired to complain about the attempted rescue attempt of Skiko. After the killing of several of Pemisapan’s men the night before, this must have seemed ludicrous. However, he managed a meeting with Pemisapan and his head men. Lane was treacherous and shouted a shrill phrase, Christ our victory! At this word, his men opened fire, gunning down the Secotan leadership in a swift decapitation move. Pemisapan was shot through with a pistol and left for dead, but at the first opportunity sprinted to the woods, Lane’s men in hot pursuit. After some agonizing moments of silence they emerged with Pemisapan’s head in hand. Christ our victory indeed. [9]

     Apparently the alliance that Pemisapan built collapsed after that. The Indian army of Secotan, Weapemeoc, Chesapeake and even the Mangoak went home. They were a paid army in any case, being paid in Secotan copper, but with no one to pay them they were fighting for nothing. A week later white sails were spotted on the horizon, for Drake’s ships returned. Lane and his men were transported back to England. The southern Algonquian people would never be the same, however. Battle, Disease, drought and famine would take a terrible toll, and never again would they hold significant power in the region.

      After the establishment of Jamestown, a few recorded explorers ventured south, though not many. They were generally in agreement that the land was beautiful, but only remarked that the people were few. Still, it is a testament to the people for how they received the venturous colonists, for they were said to have had good relations with those they encountered. A lack of documentation prevents us from knowing exactly what happened for the next several decades, except for a few clues, one of which comes from John Smith. In the year 1609 He sent Michael Sicklemore, a soldier, south to the Chowanoc to give gifts and search for survivors of the Roanoke colony. He reported the people few, the countrey most over growne with pynes [10]. From this we know that disease, and perhaps war severely weakened the Chowanoc and likely the other southern Algonquian tribes as well.

     John Pory went south from Jamestown in February of 1624 and visited the Chowanoc. Many decades had passed since the unfortunate incidents of 1585. Some of the survivors of the epidemic still lived, but many who held the hard memories had passed on, leaving a new generation of young people as the new leaders. Very little is said of Pory’s visit except that he found a uery fruitful and pleasant Country, yielding two haruests in a yeere and found much of the silke grasse formerly spoken of Was kindly vsed by the people and so returned. [11] Little more is said for two more decades. It is likely that individuals went south for scouting, trade and other exploration, but if any of them wrote of their travels, nothing has survived.

The Battle of Weynock Creek - 1643

   John Pory was speaker of the House of Burgesses in Jamestown, so after his expedition he spoke to many about the fertility of the land. Settlement was encouraged, but none were able to go yet because of the American Indians present. In 1643 Virginia governor William Berkely sent two military expeditions into North Carolina (although Virginians simply called it southern Virginia. [12]) Little was said about these expeditions, except that the land expedition was headed by General Bennett and the sea expedition was headed by Colonel Drew. It was the water expedition that found trouble. They started along the coast, no doubt creating a show of force to the local natives, telling of their intent to settle the lands, proceeding up Albemarle sound and thence up the Chowan River. One of the members of the expedition, Henry Plumpton told the story of the events when he was eighty-six years old. He said that at the mouth of Weynock creek they had a fight with the Indians and had a man killed by them [13]. No particulars were said about the battle itself, unfortunately, but we can inference a few things. First, the man was killed at Weynock creek. There was, and is, debate over the actual river that bore this name. It has been said it was the Nottoway or Meherrin River, or perhaps even a river further south, but in any case, the mouths of any of the above rivers were firmly within the territory of the Chowanoc, therefore it was almost certainly with this tribe, although there is also a possibility that it was the Meherrin or Nottoway Indians, Iroquoians who weren’t as acquainted with the whites as the Chowans. This would seem likely since previous contact with the Chowanoc had been friendly, and it would be uncharacteristic of the Chowans to make battle against them unless provoked. Another possibility is that the battle was with the Tuscarora, the theory being that they captured the weakened Chowanoc's territory in the intercessory period. However, two years after a peace being concluded with the Indians the said Deponent with one Thomas Tuke of the Isle of Wight County and severall others made a purchase from the Indians of all the Land from the mouth of the Morratuck River to the mouth of Weyanook Creek. [14] This purchase was over half of the Chowanoc land on the western bank of the Chowan river. If the battle was with the Nottoway or Meherrin, they wouldn’t have sold Chowan land afterward. Therefore we must attribute this battle to either the Chowans or Tuscarora, and since they had welcomed all previous travelers with open arms, we can also imagine that the English provoked the attack.

     We know nothing of the battle itself, except that one Englishman was killed and buried on the site of the battle. Being the northern Chowan river, the larger ship they used along the coast would no longer be usable in the shallower river, so they must have used smaller boats to navigate. They had firearms, and the Chowans had arrows, so we can imagine how the battle went.

The “Indian Invasion” of 1666

     There are precious few references to this particular event. No personal accounts, letters or any kind of reference has survived save one small note in a communication between Maryland and Virginia. It reads, And whereas … the Assembly of Albemarle County aforesaid did make an Act prohibiting the sowing setting, planting or any waies tending any Tobacco from the said first of February one thousand six hundred sixty six, to ye first of February, one thousand six hundred sixty seven. But the said Act so made could not Transmitt to the sd Govrs of Virginia and Maryland before the fifth of October last past by reason of an Invacion of their neighbouring Indians by which laps of a few daies occationed by the sd Invacion. [15]

     This communication was in regards to a general agreement between North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland to temporarily not plant, sow or tend tobacco. I won’t get into the reasons for this agreement, but only comment on this alleged “Indian Invasion.”

     First, if it really were a full blown invasion it would seem that some more thorough accounts and communications would have survived. But however unsatisfactory the previous reference was, there are some things we can infer. It was not the Secotan, nor the Croatoan. It would have been a tribe that rests on or near the boundary of Virginia, for it was said that the said Act so made could not Transmitt to the sd Govrs of Virginia and Maryland. [16] This means that the conflict was serious enough to affect communications, so they must have been positioned in such a way to hamper letter bearers. While there is a small possibility that this was the Weapemeoc (at that point known as the Yeopim), it does not seem that  they were of the right strength or position to do this. This leaves the Chowan river and its tributaries, which is the primary route for travel to Virginia, for the great dismal swamp is an effective barrier through much of the mainland. So in this case, we are looking at the Chowans, Meherins, Tuscarora and Nottoway as the culprits. Of these the Chowans, Tuscarora and Meherins would seems more likely, for later records of the Meherins would frequently complaint of violence and mischief, and the Chowans certainly had the most motive. The Tuscarora also were very active on the west side of the Chowan river and were quite powerful. At this point the Indians were truly feeling the presence of the colonists. Encouragement had been made for years to move onto Chowan land. In 1653 it was stated that tenn thousand acres of land be granted unto one hundred such persons who shall first seate on Moratuck or Roanoke river and the land lying upon the south side of Choan river and the branches thereof, Provided that such seaters settle advantageously for security, and be sufficiently furnished with amunition and strength [17], but a settlement hadn’t taken effective hold until the early 1660s when a Setlement… upon the river Chowan in the lattitude of 35 or thereabouts, which was to be a fur trading station. [18] These encroachments might seem motivation enough, but later records state that the Chowans remained peaceful until 1675, so it would exclude them from our list of suspects of this war. Therefore it seems most likely that this was a minor conflict of the Meherin, Tuscarora or Nottoway, however we can’t truly know fully, as there simply isn’t enough documentation.

The Chowanoc War of 1675

     As opposed to prior conflicts who only receive the most offhand of comments, we are rewarded with several paragraphs worth of information regarding this war. With prior events we are unsure of the exact Indian nations involved and the extent of the violence, but we have a much clearer picture in this case. According to the historian Robert Connor, the Chowans struck swiftly and silently in the usual Indian fashion, [19] though in fact we have no idea in what manner they attacked as no reference to the tactics of either side was made. However it does seem apparent that in 1675 -76 the Chowans attacked the nearby settlements. They enjoyed an initial success as the settlers were poorly armed, disorganized and scattered from each other, but later the settlers organized and defeated the Chowans, putting them on a reservation on Bennett’s Creek. But what had happened? Why did the Chowans attack? Yes, of course their land was being taken, likely they were being cheated in the fur trade as were many other tribes, perhaps their people were being taken as slaves as payment of debts as with the Tuscarora. There are many perhapses and likely they are all accurate. But why 1675? What was the straw that broke the camel’s back and sent them over the edge? Surely they knew their chances were slim, perhaps this was a fight for their sacred honor. How goes the old saying, ‘it is better to die on your feet than under their boot‘? Well we are given a few choice clues.

    Firstly, the year 1675 is a year that lives in infamy among American Indian descendants of the northern east coast, for this is the year of King Philip’s War, a war of epic proportions in which the weak Wampanoag made a stand against the Puritan English which tipped a row of dominoes so that one tribe after another joined in a united front that seriously threatened the English. Eventually the English won, which was a turning point in Indian history, for then the remaining Indians were executed or enslaved and sold into the West Indies. Direct violence from this war never spread as far south as Virginia or North Carolina, but did it provide enough influence to incite the Chowans to strike? Or is the year 1675 merely a coincidence?

     As to specific grievances of the Chowanoc, there of course is the issue of settlers upon their old lands. Because of poor documentation, we know little of the extent of English settlements within Chowan territory. We know they probably gave up significant amount of land in their southern territory after the battle of Weynock Creek, and that settlements were popping up around the Albemarle Sound, and as stated previously a permanent settlement was established as a fur trading station further up the Chowan River. (20) These things we know, but what we do not know is the unofficial settlers, the ones who, of their own volition, built their cabins where they pleased notwithstanding the sovereignty of the Indians. In sympathy with the settlers, they were born and bred to believe that to own land was wealth, status and power. And here was all the free and unsettled land that any Christian man could ask for. To them, it was an answer to prayer and an obvious sign from God that their efforts would bear much fruit for them and their descendents. Of course, the opposite is true of the Chowanoc.

     In addition to land loss, the Chowans suddenly experienced economic loss, because a new law was passed to restrict their trade with Virginia. At this point, their northern territory was in disputed land with Virginia, and Virginian settlers were only a days trip away on the Nansemond river. The law was made probably specifically for the Chowanoc and Tuscarora, since they were the closest tribes to Virginia. In stated that any foreigner found trading with the Indians of North Carolina would be arrested and their goods seized. [21] Trade was to be only with land owners of Carolina. What a slap in the face this must have been to the Chowans! Who were the English to tell them who they could and couldn’t trade with? This was an infringement on their sovereignty and now their trade goods were cut in half. Certainly at this point relationships were beginning to be strained.

    It was also said that in 1675, incitements of the Rebelious Indians of Virginia who fled to them [22] is what caused the Chowans to strike. Rebellious Indians of Virginia? By 1675 the Powhatan confederacy was long since crushed, and any tribes further west had little influence on the Chowanoc. So who would these Indians be?

    Another Indian war in 1675 was the Susquehanna war. This started as an inter-tribal war among the Susquehanna and the Iroquois out west. The Susquehanna weren’t as strong as the Iroquois, but were stubborn and hard fighting. Eventually they were forced back, little by little, and were allowed settlement in Pennsylvania by the government, though this was appalling to the Pennsylvanian people. Violence broke out among the settlers and the Indians and many Susquehanna scattered, the majority being absorbed by the Iroquois they were recently fighting against. So how does this bear on the Chowanoc war?

     According to the minutes of the North Carolina Governor’s Council, the Meherins were not really Meherins at all but a group of Susquehanna that escaped south in 1675 and had been living under the Meherin name to avoid trouble.  So stated that the Meherin were not original Inhabitants of any Lands within this Governmt but were formerly called Susquahannahs and Lived between Mary Land and Pensilvania and committing several Barbarous Massacrees and Outrages there Killing… They then came into this country and settled at old Sapponie Town upon Maherrin River … but being disturbed by the sapponie Indians they drew down to Tarrora Creek on the same River… afterwards they were drove thence by the Jennetto Indians down to Bennets Creek and settled on a Neck of Land afterwards Called Maherrin Neck because these Indians came down Maherrin River and after that they began to take the name of Maherrin Indians. [23] 

     Now, that the Meherin were really fully Susquehanna is doubtful, North Carolina was claiming this to try to gain a foot hold in a border dispute with Virginia. However it does seem apparent that the Meherin did adopt a group of Susquehanna who came from Virginia. The text also states they lingered in Chowanoc territory before heading north, presumably to join the Meherin. To put two and two together, the Rebellious Indians of Virginia who influenced the Chowanoc were certainly a refugee group of Susquehanna, fresh from committing several Barbarous Massacrees and Outrages. If the Susquehanna were looking to settle in a new land they would have certainly held meetings with the tribes already present. In this meeting they no doubt recounted their misadventures and stirred within the Chowans strong emotion about their present condition. If the mighty Susquehanna could be uprooted by the white men, how would soon the Chowanoc Nation be dealt with? The local settlers were scattered from one another, poorly armed and at odds with their government. The time to strike is now!   

     Chowanoc Offensive

     We do not know the nature of the attack of the Chowanoc, or even if it was a true offensive. The brief official report we have is that the Chowans merely committed hostility on the settlers in Violation of their Treaty. [24] Concerning the state of affairs of the region, William Edmundson, a Quaker missionary stated that it was perillous travelling, for the Indians were not yet subdued, but did mischief and murdered several. They haunted much in the wilderness between Virginia and Carolina, so that scarce any durst travel that way unarmed. [25] Thomas Miller, the controversial governor of the region at the time simply stated that the Indians in 76 had comitted sundry murders and depredations upon some of the inhabitants. [26] 

     The above are all the clues we are given as to the opening of the war. In no portion of the given text does any individual or government statement say that the Chowans had coordinated and planned strikes. All that is said is that they murdered several people and committed other depredations, which probably meant destroying property. The real question here is whether or not these murders were sanctioned by the Chowan leadership or the action of a few hotheaded individuals within the nation. We can’t know this from the documentation we are given. We do know that the settlers were terrified, and fear often blows things out of proportion. Rumors grow as they pass from one person to the next, and that is all we are given; rumors. We may never know the specifics of the Chowanoc offensive.

     We do know that, whether sanctioned actions or not, it was a splendid time to attack.

While it is true that the Lords Proprietors required every settler to be armed with a rifle and ammunition, we don’t know how they could have enforced this. Also guns break down over time, so its possible that there were in fact fewer guns than there were settlers. Therefore the poorly armed settlers couldn’t offer effective resistance. Additionally, the settlements and individual farms were widely scattered from one another, so that there could be little communication or coordination. Further, there were many political contentions at that time (this was a time immediately prior to Culpepper’s Rebellion) that caused factions among the people, preventing them from banding together. Truly, it was a perfect storm, and the Chowans enjoyed an initial success. The following year, in 1676, however, would spell disaster for the Chowanoc because of the raising of a militia.

     English Retaliation

    George Durant was a rugged old settler of the Albemarle region. His name is on the first recorded land sale, which was from Chief Kilcokanen of the Yeopims. He knew the land, knew the tribes, and was a natural leader of men. He was very much opposed to the government as under Thomas Eastchurch and later Thomas Miller, and people began to come under his leadership to oppose the government.  This was one of the advantages of the Chowanoc, that the colonists were divided and factioned. However Durant saw that the lack of proper arms was the first problem to be solved if they were to defeat the Indians. However he had a dual purpose in mind in that he needed those arms to bring down the government. In fact, he might not have cared about the Chowans at all, and used them only as a front to get those weapons. According to Timothy Biggs, in ye yeare 1676 in wch yeare ther being a Warr wth the Indians & ye people for yt reason in Armes they were perswaided by Geo: Durrant, Richard Foster Patricke Whitt & Vallentine Bird ye Colector wth divers others to force the Govermt to remitt to ye New England men, by whose hands were brought unto ym all sortes of Europiane Comodityes, Durant set out with a large amount of tobacco to trade for the arms, going to London to do so. On the last of November of 1676, Durant arrived in America with Captain Zach Gillam and a boatload of weapons.

     Here’s the tricky part. Robert Connor, author of The History of North Carolina, states that the whites received timely aid from Captain Zachariah Gillam, a well known New England trader who arrived in Albemarle from London in his armed vessel the Carolina with a supply of arms and ammunition. Thus strengthened they pushed the war more vigorously than ever [27] However this seems inaccurate, because the records indicate firstly that the Chowan war was well nigh over by the end of 1676, taken care of by the government under Miller. Secondly, these arms couldn’t possibly have been used in the Chowan war because as continued by Timothy Biggs, … severall others went on board ye said ship wher this said Durrant was & on Monday ye 2d Decr … divers others went to ye house of this deponent wth Muskets and swords & broke open Chists & Locks… & forceably took away ye sd Millers Comissions & Instructions for his colecting ye sd duty... [28} In other words, two days after the ship landed the weapons were taken from the ship by rebels and thus began Culpepper’s Rebellion. Perhaps the weapons were in fact intended for the Chowans, but Durant arrived too late for the war. There are more proofs that Thomas Miller put down the Chowans before Durant returned. Solomon Summers said that it was Miller who reduced & quietly ye Indians and setled ye Malitia. [29] Thomas Miller himself said that he, after receiving advise from council, setled the Lords Proprs affaires relating to their governmt reduced the Indians. [30] This happened in the summer of 1676, considering that Miller arrived in July of that year, and one of his first acts was to put down the Chowanoc revolt.

     From the above information, we can know something of what happened. The Chowanoc rose up in the latter half of 1675. We don’t know in what force or capacity, or even if the several murders committed were sanctioned by Chowan government. Whatever the case, the Chowans maintain a strong hold on their territory until the summer of the following year when Miller raised a militia to put them down. We don’t know the nature of this militia, whether Miller headed it himself or not, how many there were in it or who, etc. Now, at this point Miller was accepted by the people, though after many abuses they would rise against him later. But being accepted by the people at this early point, one can imagine that it was a fairly large militia considering the low population, it was certainly not well trained, though there may have been veterans present from the English Civil War. Judging from the fact that Miller arrived in July, and the war was well over by the time Durant and Gillam arrived in November, we can  guess that this expedition lasted from August until perhaps October. According to the council, open war was made upon the said Indians in prosecution whereof (by Gods assistance though not without the loss of many men) they were wholly subdued and had Land for their habitation assigned them… They go on to say that the Chowanoc were cleared out from their northern ranges and all their land was surrendered to Carolina. They must have been defeated completely and utterly to have surrendered the whole of their territory. The habitation assigned them was a sandy and swampy tract of twelve square miles on Bennett’s creek, a tributary of the Chowan River. Across from their reservation they could view with sadness the remains of their old capital of the same name of their tribe, Chowanoc. The rest of their history is that of decline, their land being swindled away, and their numbers being reduced until the members scattered to the wind.




     It would be almost forty years before another local Indian war would take place. And while some of the local Algonquians would join in the fray, the whole of the Albemarle Peoples were too weak and too imbedded within the settlements to offer any help. This was the Tuscarora War, the history of which would fill a volume, and I won’t attempt to within this paper. As for the Chowanoc, there was nothing left to do but try and fit in. In the Tuscarora War they actually joined the colonists in eight expeditions against the Tuscarora. They returned to find their fences burned, their crops and livestock destroyed; they had scarcely the clothes on their backs [31]. After an offer to join the Tuscarora tribe, their old enemies in 1733 [32], most of them accepted, as is seen by the numerous land sales the following year. Only a few families remained, which seems to have peetered out by the end of the 18th century, although two Chowan families, the Robins and Bennets, continued to live in the area. One of their descendents later married a Meherin Indian, and the descendents of this marriage are a part of the Meherin Nation today.

     Unfortunately, the Algonquian peoples of Albemarle were not able to retain their tribal status or identity through the generations, but there are those today descended from the Chowan, the Croatoan, the Mattumuskeet. There are those who still cling to the memories of those who have gone before them. We must never forget our past.

 [1] Lords Proprietors of Carolina, Letter to the Governor of Albemarle County

Carolina, 1676, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886), pp 230-232. Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007.

 [2] Lee Miller, Roanoke, Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001),  page 94.

 [3] Ralph Lane, The Account by Ralph Lane. An account of the particularities of the imployments of the English men left in Virginia by Richard Greenevill under the charge of Master Ralph Lane Generall of the same, from the 17. of August 1585. until the 18. of June 1586. at which time they departed the Countrey; sent and directed to Sir Walter Raleigh (Boston: Directors of the Old South Work, Old South Meeting-House, 1902),  Page 6

 [4] Ibid, page 13

 [5] Ibid, page 3

 [6] Ibid, pages 12 - 16

 [7] Ibid, page 17

 [8] Ibid. page 18

 [9] Ibid. page 18

 [10] John Smith, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (London, Printed by I.D and I.H for Michael Sparkes, 1624) Page 87

 [11] John Pory, Narrative of John Pory's travels [Extract], 1624, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886), page 5,

 [12] Arwin Smallwood, Bertie County: An Eastern Carolina History. (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2002) Page 30. 

 [13] Robin Lawrence, Depositions of inhabitants of Nansemond County, Virginia concerning the North Carolina/Virginia boundary, March 25, 1708, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886), Pages 676-677, Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007.

 [14] Ibid, page 677

 [15] Agreement between Maryland and Virginia concerning the cessation of tobacco planting in Maryland, Virginia, and Albemarle County, December 11, 1666, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886), Pages 152-153, Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007.

 [16] Ibid, page 153

 [17] Act of the Virginia General Assembly concerning a land patent to Roger Green and the inhabitants of Nansemond River in Virginia, July 05, 1653, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886), Page 17, Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007.

 [18] Lords Proprietors of Carolina to Thomas Modyford and Peter Colleton, September 09, 1663, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886), Pages 55-57,  Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007.

 [19] RDW Connor, History of North Carolina, Volume I The Colonial and revolutionary Periods 1584-1783, (Chicago and New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1919) 

 [20] Ibid

 [21] Acts of the Albemarle County General Assembly, January 20, 1670, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886), Pages 183-187,  Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007.

 [22] North Carolina Governor's Council to the Virginia Governor's Council, June 17, 1707, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886), Pages 657-663, Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007.

 [23] Minutes of the North Carolina Governor's Council, October 27-28, 1726, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886), Pages 641-645, Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007.

 [24] North Carolina Governor's Council to the Virginia Governor's Council, June 17, 1707, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886),  Pages 657-663, Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007.

 [25] Journal of William Edmundson [Extracts], 1676, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886), Pages 226-227, Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007.

 [26] Thomas Miller affidavit, January 31, 1680, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886), Pages 278-283, Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007.

 [27] RDW Connor, History of North Carolina, Volume I The Colonial and revolutionary Periods 1584-1783, (Chicago and New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1919) 

 [28] Timothy Biggs affidavit, May 1679, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886), Pages 291-294, Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007.

 [29] Solomon Summers affidavit, January 31, 1680, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886), Pages 296-298, Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007.

[30] Thomas Miller affidavit, January 31, 1680, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886),

Colonial Records, Volume 01, Pages 278-283, Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007.

 [31] Minutes of the North Carolina Governor's Council, August 10-11, 1714, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886), Pages 139-142, Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007.

 [32] Minutes of the North Carolina Governor's Council, April 03, 1733, William Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 1, (Raleigh, N.C.: P. M. Hale, Printer to the State, 1886), Pages 537-538, Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007.


St. Paul's Parish, The Chowans Church        submitted by Fletcher Freeman 

During the reservation years, this church was located in very close proximity to Chowan Town, many of whom's members were neighbors of the Chowan Indians. Logically, any Christianized Chowans would have attended church services here. The main churhc was located in Edenton, while the Indian Town Chapel was an extention of that church. As submitted by site member Fletcher Freeman,

According to the Vestry Minutes to St. Pauls’ Parish

 Indian Town Chapel was built in 1720. Thomas Roundtree was the Reader there for many years.  John Freeman became the Reader there in 1733 and then again in 1743.  Note that John presumably got married around 1733  to the daughter of Thomas Hoyter, Chiefman of the Chowan Indians.  Hoyter “embraced Christianity” in 1712 according to Giles Rainsford, Anglican Missionary. Thus it would make sense that John met Tabitha at the Indian Town Chapel.  John was elected a Vestryman of the Parish in 1750 and Tabitha was still active in 1769 when she was paid for services rendered to the Parish.

 Edward Mosley was attorney for Chief John Hitaw (Hoyter) in 1723 and drew the famous Mosley Map of 1733.  Interestingly, he was a member of St. Paul’s Parish and probably attended Indian Town Chapel.  Two other famous members of the Parish were Thomas Pollock, Gov. of N.C. and Tom Blount, adoptive father to Chief Tom Blount of the Tuscarora. Tom Blount attended Indian Creek Chapel

Information in the records can be found online at the following link:

Online Colonial Records from Documenting the American South website


There were two English gentlemen who brought some education and knowledge of Christianity to the Chowan Indians between at least 1712 and 1715.  This knowledge may have led to the attendance of the Chowan Indians at Indian Town Chapel located near Chowan Indian Town.

            Edward Mashborne (Mashburn) was born in London.  He moved to Virginia and North Carolina by 1698 where he became a school master. In 1712 he had a small school located near Sarum in Chowan County, NC at which he taught both Indian and English children.  On April 25, 1716 he wrote a letter to the SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) in which he requested their support for his school and thanked them for some religious tracts given to him by Rev.Giles Rainsford.  The letter reads in part “At the arrival of your late missionary, Mr. Rainsford in Virginia, I had the happiness to guide him in his way for North Carolina, and received from him several small tracts with the Society’s “Collection of Papers” that were very satisfactory to me; and proved not only advantageous to myself in particular, but to the children committed to my care in general, some of them explaining the Church’s catechism after so familiar and easy a manner that through God’s grace I have fixed , not only in the children, but those in riper years, the fundamentals of religion, whereby they are able to give a rational and well grounded account of the faith in which they were baptized in.”

            The Mashburn School may have been the first school in the Colony of North Carolina.

            Rev. Giles Rainsford was a missionary sent to the Colonies by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel .  He was born in Dublin, Ireland around 1678/79 and attended Trinity College from 1695-1699.  Following that he went to St. John’s College in Cambridge and was ordained to the priesthood in 1702.  In  February, 1712 he arrived in North Carolina to begin his missionary work.  There are several existing letters written by him to the SPG detailing his activities and in a letter dated July 25, 1712 he wrote about his dealings with the Chowan Indians.  Portions of the letter are as follows:

            “I had several conferences with one Thomas Hoyle (Hoyter), King of the Chowan Indians, who seems very inclinable to embrace Christianity and proposed to send his son to school to Sarum to have him taught to read and write by way of foundation in order to a farther proficiency for the reception of Christianity.  I readily offered my service to instruct him myself, and having the opportunity of sending him to Mr. Garatt’s, where I lodge, being but three miles distance from his town.  But he modestly declined it for the present till a general peace was concluded between the Indians and Christians.  I found he had some notion of Noah’s flood, which he came to the knowledge of and expressed himself after  this manner, “my father told me, I tell my son”

            “There’s one Mr. Mashburn who keeps a school, at Sarum (probably on Sarum Creek about 3 miles northwest of present day Gatesville, NC), on the frontiers of Virginia, between the two governments, and neighboring upon two Indian towns who, I find by him, highly deserve encouragement, and could heartily wish the society would take it into consideration and be pleased to allow him a salary for the good services he has done and may do for the future.  What children he has under his care can both write and read very distinctly and gave before me such an account of the grounds and principles of the Christian religion that strangely surprised me to hear it.  The man upon a small income would teach the Indian children gratis (whose parents are willing to send them could they but pay for their schooling) as he would those of our English families had he but a fixed dependency for so doing, and what advantage would this be to private families in particular and the whole colony in general is easy to determine.”

 In another letter three years later, Rev. Rainsford reported “I have been five months together in Chowan Indian Town & make myself almost a Master of their language.”  Unfortunately there is no record that Rev. Rainsford ever committed this knowledge to writing for posterity.

 From these letters we can infer that Chief Thomas Hoyter  may have sent his children to Edward Mashburn’s school where they would have learned to read and write and been taught Christianity as part of the curriculum. Apparently he was so inclined and Edward Mashburn apparently was willing to teach Indian Children for free.  I would also suspect that Rev. Rainsford, during his 5 month sojourn with the Chowan’s, continued to encourage Chief Hoyter, and other Chowans,  to have their children educated.  The Chowan’s and Meherrin’s were the two Indian Tribes living closest to Sarum.  The Mr. Garatt that Rev. Rainsford lived with was probably Thomas Garrett who was a neighbor and witness to many of the deeds executed by John Freeman including the 1754 deed of Chowan Indian land.   The reference  “ till a general peace was concluded  between the Indians and Christians” was probably a reference to the Tuscarora War of 1711-1712 in which the Chowans sided with the English.

          As a footnote, descendants of Edward Mashburn still exist and have a family website.  Unfortunately they do not know the specific location of the school and do not have any records relating to it, but they do have copies of Rainsford’s  and Mashburn’s letters which can also be found in the Colonial Records of North Carolina.