The Tuscarora War and Colonel Barnwell

Cary’s Rebellion had come at a time when North Carolina least needed it and even though casualties were low and the colony hardly received any damage, the cost of such an event did harm it. It lead to North Carolina being unable to help the New Bern Colony when it was attacked. On top of that, what the Albemarle did offer was cowardly militiamen that were outnumbered. This meant that support would have to come from outside the colony, which meant either Virginia or South Carolina. Virginia offered its hand by using its influence over the Northern Tuscarora. Virginia only offered to use its 2,000 militiamen in exchange for control of the Albemarle region, something North Carolina could not, nor would not, give up. So, North Carolina looked south, to her sister colony for help.

South Carolina was much more willing to help. In fact, they were eager to help. South Carolina had to its advantage a larger and more able population (the Quakers in North Carolina turned out to not be willing to fight), as well as, plenty of Native American allies all eager to exact their wrath on the Tuscarora, especially the Yamasee. These Native allies were staunch enemies of the Tuscarora and so were just as eager to help fight them. So, in November, South Carolina assembled an expedition that was to be headed by Col. John Barnwell. It consisted of about 700 Indian warriors making up four companies and 30 English, mostly mounted, militiamen. Their route consisted of a westward swing so that they would hit the Tuscarora from the west.

They left in December of 1711 and made good progress. Desertions, however, struck the army hard and by late January, his army had decreased to just 528 men, though he did manage to recruit Saxapahaw refugees who were fleeing the Tuscarora, having been attacked themselves for not attacking the English.

They struck Torhunta first, in present-day Wayne County. Towns like Torhunta were spread out and more or less a collection of hamlets than a town. Knowing this, the Tuscarora had erected nine palisaded forts, but only a few were finished. Since it was hunting season, many of the men were away, leaving the older warriors to defend the forts. They huddled together in one that Barnwell called “Fort Narhantes.” Once inside the walls, Barnwell’s men were faced with two blockhouses. After thirty minutes, the battle was over with approximately 30-40 dead Tuscarora and 30 captives. The next morning, Kenta warriors ambushed the expedition as they woke in the captured town. Barnwell ordered a flanking attack and soon the battle was over with nine more dead Kenta and two more captives. After these victories, Barnwell’s Indian allies deserted en masse, believing they had won a great victory. Though it was a relief to avenge William Brice’s failed expedition, Barnwell knew the war was far from over.

On February 4, 1712, Barnwell moved again, this time towards Bath where he hoped to find North Carolinian militiamen. His order, however, was lost when Christopher Gale, the man that was to deliver the message on his return trip to North Carolina, was captured by French privateers. On their way to Bath, they looted Neoheroka before continuing on their way. Skirmishes continued the next few days until the expedition finally reached Bath on the 11th of February. There were, of course, no North Carolina militiamen to be found at Bath and supplies were low due to the 150 militiamen that had been there just a few months prior.

At this point, the fighting came to a lull as Barnwell waited for adequate supplies to continue his campaign. Barnwell had a bad habit of running his mouth and he ranted against Governor Edward Hyde, who was charged with supplying and reinforcing Barnwell’s campaign. Well, they didn’t “supply” him with food, but rather an additional 67 militiamen under William Brice. Barnwell grew furious as they had not brought their own food, but nevertheless decided the time was right to march on Catechna. Barnwell was ordered not to make treaties with the Tuscarora until King Hancock was captured.

When Barnwell began his march his army had dwindled to 27 South Carolina troops, 148 Yamasee Indians and 68 North Carolina militiamen. They arrived at Catechna on March 2nd, only to find it abandoned. The next day, Barnwell captured a Tuscarora warrior that revealed that 130 warriors were held up in a fort to the south. On the 5th, after some skirmishes along the Contentnea creek, the expedition prepared to attack the fort. The fort in question was very European-styled, as it’s construction had been supervised by an escaped African slave that had worked on forts in South Carolina.

Barnwell positioned himself and a hundred men behind the fort, while Brice approached the front. The North Carolinians attacked early and with little courage, retreating after a short charge. The South Carolinians and Yamasee soon joined the attack and fared better, but Barnwell discovered that he didn’t have enough men for a sustained attack and called for a retreat. Barnwell’s men suffered just one wounded, while the North Carolinians had four killed and 20 wounded. Barnwell then settled his army into breastworks overlooking the fort’s water supply. They would siege the fort.

Unfortunately, inside the fort were 12 English captives. The Tuscarora began torturing them and using them as a bargaining chip. Seeing as how Barnwell was short on manpower and the captives were demoralizing to his men, he organized a truce. The terms of the truce required Barnwell to withdraw to New Bern, but the captives would be spared and put under his protection. Another lull in the war had been reached.

Vere, David La. Tuscarora War: Indians, Settlers, and the Fight for the Carolina Colonies. Univ Of North Carolina Pr, 2016.

One comment

  1. A book you might be interested in is Grandfather Tales of North Carolina by Robert Creecy published in 1903 (I think). Creecy wrote down the historical tales he’d tell his grandchildren and had it published for the historical society. It’s available for .99 on Amazon in kindle version; it has lots of ‘lacunae’ but still very readable.