10. North Carolina Algonquian

The Carolina Algonquian language, also known as Pamlico, is an extinct subgroup of eastern Algonquian. It forms a part of Powhatan or Virginia Algonquian spoken by the Virginia tidewater people (Powhatan) until the mid-1790. In 1607 to 1609 John Smith recorded fifty words. And William Strachey recorded 500 words in 1610-1611. Although many of these tribes are gone and many more abandoned their traditional language, Carolina Algonquian brought us familiar words such moccasin, moose, opossum, papoose, pecan, raccoon, skunk, squash, wigwam, and others. The Algonquian tribes of North Carolina spoke Carolina Algonquian. At contact it was estimated that the total Algonquian population was as high as 10,000 people. By 1709 the total Algonquian population had dropped to 600 individuals.

Dasamongueponka and Aquascogoc

Dasamongueponka is the name given to the first tribe encountered by the English in the 16th century. The same name was given to their village. It is believed that they spoke Carolina Algonquian.  In 1585 Sir Richard Greenville burned an Aquascogoc village by mistake over the alleged theft of a silver drinking cup. He thought he was attacking a Dasamongueponka village. One native person was killed and many were wounded. There was absolutely no evidence that any native stole that cup; consequently the relationship with local tribes deteriorated dramatically. Grenville left fifteen soldiers and returned to England. John White was appointed governor and went to Carolina in 1587 to search for the fifteen soldiers left behind, but found only bones. Apparently they had been killed by Secotan, Aquascogoc, and Dasamongueponka warriors out of revenge for Grenville burning the Aquascogoc village. In spite of all that John White provided much of what is known today of these and neighboring tribes, leaving many watercolors that are now the sole surviving visual record of the lost people of this area.

Chowanoke (Chowanoc)

When the English first met the Chowanoke in 1585 they were the largest Algonquian tribe in North Carolina, occupying all or most of the Chowan River in northeast North Carolina. It is believed that they had migrated from the north and eventually occupied 6000 square miles from the Neuse River to the Chesapeake Bay.

At contact The Chowanoke had nineteen villages, the largest of which could muster 700 to 800 warriors, suggesting that the population stood at 2100 to 4000 people. The tribes include the Chowanoke, Weapemoac, Potskeet, Maratoc, Roanoke, Secotan, Pomuik, Neusick, Croatan, and possibly the Chesepiooc. The Chowanoke confederacy cultivated enormous fields. Archeological evidence includes elite residences that suggest a hierarchy, public buildings, temples, burial sites, a cluster of thirty longhouses, and many other residences. Archaeologists also found evidence that the area had been inhabited during several Woodland periods and there was some suggestion that numerous early tribes migrated seasonally to the area. The earliest artifacts found so far are dated to 4500 BCE.

The Chowanoke had been repeatedly savaged by measles and smallpox. In 1607 John Smith found none on the Chowan River except for one small band on Bennett’s Creek.  But by 1644 and again in 1675-1677 they had recovered sufficiently to wage two wars on the English. They were defeated both times. Those surviving settled on Bennett’s Creek which became the first reservation in what is now the US.  The Chowanoke were largely extinct by the late 17th century due to measles and the smallpox epidemic in 1696. In 1707 the English reduce the reservation from twelve miles to six miles. In 1713 the Chowanoke sold off most of their land. By 1754 only two Chowanoke families remained: the Bennett and Robbins. Their sons served in the Revolution.  The Bennett family eventually moved south to present day Anson, County in North Carolina. Their descendants can be found among the Pee Dee tribes there. By 1810 only the Robbins family remained on Bennett’s Creek and by 1822 they had been largely assimilated into white and black families. After Nat Turner’s Rebellion in 1831, most of the Robbins family migrated to the free states of Ohio and Indiana. One group moved downriver on the Chowan to present day Bertie County. Four of their sons served in the US Colored Troops of the Union Army during the Civil War. One of them, Quinn DeLona Alanpia became the state legislator for Bertie County. Many Robbins descendants have since become members of the Meherrin tribe.


In 1567 and 1568 Juan Pardo of Spain established eleven Spanish settlements inland in the Carolinas. He declared that the Catawba and other tribes were subject to the Spanish crown. The Secotan were one of eight tribes that dominated the Carolina sound region between 1584 and 1590. They lived on the banks of the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds. Before English colonization Arthur Barlowe and Philip Amadas led an expedition in 1584 on behalf of Sir Walter Raleigh with a charter to establish a colony. The English explorers noted serious tribal rivalry between the Secotan people and the Neiosioke. Apparently the Neiosioke had slaughtered some Secotan at a feast that had been arranged to establish peace between them. The Secotan chief wanted the English to go to war with the Neiosioke but the English declined. Even so, the English had managed to establish enough trust that two Secotan returned to England with them. The Spanish were still there when the English arrived, establishing the first English colony on Roanoke Island on the coast. The Secotan people remained in the area until 1644-1645. They were attacked and driven off by the Virginia Colony during the last Anglo-Powhatan War.  In 1665 the region was transferred from the Virginia Colony to the Province of Carolina.

Pamlico (Pomuik)

The Pamlico live on the Pamlico River in North Carolina. They were one if not the most southern of the Algonquian tribes. They were well known for having traveled the east coast extensively in dugout canoes. Pamlico artifacts have been found on the North Atlantic. They cultivated maize, vegetables and fruits that supplemented their diet of fish and shellfish. The Pamlico people had political organizations, and hereditary chiefdoms that continued in 1700. Chiefs were still buried in temples and commoners could purchase the right to a temple burial with wampum (shell beads). Wampum was also used to compensate victims of crimes. Pamlico puberty rites lasted 5-6 weeks. Adolescent boys and girls were isolated in special buildings outside of the village. Pamlico traditional marriage forbade unions within clans. When their population began to shrink matches were made outside of their own tribe. Intertribal marriage likely strengthened the bonds between tribes.

In 1696 smallpox devastated the Pamlico and neighboring Algonquian tribes. White encroachment was an ever-present problem. The Pamlico people were reduced to one small village. During the 17th century the Chowanoke were in frequent and often hostile contact with neighboring Algonquian tribes, and their traditional enemies the Iroquoian Tuscarora. This continued until the Tuscarora’s war with the English. The Machapunga, Pamlico and others of the Pamlico Sound alliance were constantly at war with the Tuscarora and Coree before 1700. But in 1711 they sided with the Tuscarora against the English. The Hatteras, Weapemoac, Paspatank, and Potskeet remained English allies. In truth, the Tuscarora War of 1711-1713 took more Pamlico lives than it took Tuscaroran. The Tuscarora then turned on the Pamlico, killing most of the survivors and taking the rest as slaves. They destroyed their fields and their economy. The Hatteras forbid them to cultivate food, making the Pamlico entirely dependent on the English to be supplied. After the Tuscarora War the Machapunga people were assigned to a reservation. Other groups from Pamlico Sound joined either the Machapunga or the Tuscarora.

Other than the Tuscarora War of 1711, there was little fighting between the English and the Algonquian peoples. Algonquian tribes had been already decimated by disease. Their small numbers made trade for the English of little value. By 1700 alcohol brought to the tribes by white traders became the single biggest issue.  It was banned from the villages in 1703 but that did little to help the problem. There was virtually nothing done for the tribes even though their traditional languages had been replaced by English during the 18th century. Some were baptized in the 17th and 18th centuries and had adopted English names. Medicine men made a little money doctoring whites. But no effort by white settlers on the part of the surviving tribes seemed to have taken place. Numerous colonists in North Carolina bought natives for slaves, even transporting some north to the slave market there.


Machapunga means “bad dust” or “much dirt” and could be a derogatory name given to these people by a competing Algonquian tribe. It is believed that the Machapunga people, part of a larger Algonquian population of coastal Virginia and the Powhatan Confederacy, migrated south with others to the northeast coast of North Carolina. In 1701, the English reported only 100 Machapunga living on the shore of Lake Mattamuskeet. During the Tuscarora War of 1711 they fought against the English colonists. Remaining members of the Coree tribe merged with them and collectively the survivors continued to live on the lake shore. Eventually the Machapunga became extinct as a separate people.

The 1790 census had no category for Indigenous Americans not living on the reservation. They were classified as Free Blacks, Other Free, or Mulatto, the designations for free non-whites. By this time, many of these groups were tri-racial. The census designation has hampered descendants in their efforts to be recognized by the government. Government recognition not only provides needed services it also grants land to native descendants. Descendants of Machapunga reside in the Inner Banks of eastern North Carolina.

While early 20th century anthropologists and ethnographers claimed to find little evidence of Algonquian cultures in this area, they did note that people were still fishing with traditional nets, and baskets were still being woven according to traditional Algonquian styles and skills.

Coree (Connamocksocks)

There are more than a half dozen names for this tribe including the Carolina Algonquian name, Cwareuuoc.  The Coree lived in the coastal area of southeast North Carolina. The language they spoke remains debated. Some believe they spoke Carolina Algonquian because they were surrounded by similarly speaking Algonquian tribes. But a 1709 record suggests that the Coree spoke a language that was unintelligible to the neighboring Carolina Algonquian, Iroquoian Tuscarora, and Siouan Waccamaw tribes.

The Coree people were first described by the English in 1701. By then they had already been decimated by European diseases and warfare with a surviving population of only 125 people. In 1711, the Coree people were allied with the Tuscarora against the English during the Tuscarora War which failed to drive the English out. There were many fatalities. In 1715 some Coree merged with the Machapunga while others remained on coastal islands, beaches, and swamps. Eventually intermarriage made them another tri-racial culture, suffering the same recognition challenges mentioned in the Machapunga entry. Numerous groups today claim they are descendants of the Coree.

Croatan and Roanoke (Roanoac)

Very little is known of the Roanoke people. The Croatan people may have been a branch of the Roanoke, or vice versa, or a neighboring allied tribe. The Roanoke spoke Carolina Algonquian.

The Croatan people, now extinct, inhabited Croatan Sound, Roanoke Island, Hatteras Island, and parts of the Outer Banks. They had a complex social structure that included a chief referred to as the Werowanee, which means “he who is rich”.  An Algonquian chief became a man of power not by force but through persuasive and wise ideas.  A chief was respected; he did not command his people. If he failed to share his wealth with his people that respect was lost, and often another man took his place. Each chief controlled one to eighteen towns and could easily muster 700 to 800 warriors.

The Croatan were such accomplished farmers that the English colonies were entirely dependent on them for food. First contact tribes of this area were able to control and limit European power by controlling their food supply. While the Roanoke and Croatan are thought to have had a good relationship with the English through cooperation, there were other tribes that were against it. Consequently, the presence of the English upset the intertribal balance.

Roanoke Island had not been the first location choice for a colony. Before Governor White returned to England, moving the colony was discussed. White and the colonists agreed that a message would be carved into a tree if they had moved. If the decision to move was made by force the image of a Maltese cross would be carved into the tree as well. White returned to Roanoke Colony three years late. He arrived there on August 18th, 1590; the colony had been long deserted. Departing colonists had carved CRO into a tree and CROATOAN into a post but White found no carved cross. The survivors were never found. It is speculated that the colony was abandoned shortly after settling. The colonists might have moved inland with the Croatan and settled in 1650 on the Lumbee River. English artifacts have been found in Croatan territory. This could be the result of Croatans finding them at the abandoned colony site, trade between whites and natives, or due to both groups actually living together. Some legends suggest that the Lumbee were descendants of Croatan people and Roanoke colonists. In 1698, savaged by smallpox and white encroachment against the remaining population, the Croatan were driven to extinction.


Today, the Lumbee people are the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River with approximately 55,000 members living in Robeson County, North Carolina. They spoke Carolina Algonquian. The area was a cultural interaction zone for at least 8000 years. Artifacts from the mid-Archaic period and forward have been found throughout the region of Florida, Tennessee, Virginia, the coastal plain in general, and North Carolina including Robeson County.

Originally the Lumbee were not one tribe and it is thought that they migrated to south Virginia and northern North Carolina. The Lumbee are sometimes referred to as the Croatan Indians because of the early tribal mix that resulted from disease and encroachment. In 1933 it was speculated that the Cheraw and Keyauwee of the Carolina piedmont were also ancestors of the Croatan. It is also thought that there were remnants of the Waccamaw, Eno, Waxham, Bear River, Hatteras, Sugaree, Shakori, and Woccan among them. All of these small groups migrated from South Carolina to north-central North Carolina, then back again to the Pee Dee River that flows south of the border between North and South Carolina. By 1770 all of the tribes including others settled on the Lumbee River that creates the border between the Carolinas. Some of the Lumbee identified with the Iroquoian Tuscarora who stayed in the south after others had joined the Iroquois League and moved to New York in 1722. No longer recognized by the Iroquoian Tuscarora of the north, the southern Tuscarora moved south from the homeland along the Roanoke River to the Lumbee and Coharie Rivers region, forming the Lumbee and Coharie people.  Some moved farther south to join the Catawba. In 1715 there were about 500 Cheraw, who in 1726 and 1739 joined the Catawba. They retained their own language. By 1678 the Cheraw had been reduced to 50 or 60. In 1738 there were massive casualties from smallpox among the Catawba and the incorporated smaller tribes.

In 1773 the Lumbee people refused to pay colonial taxes and the local militia made a point of recording the names of those who dissented. The same names still exist among the Lumbee people today.  They can also be found in the pension records of Veterans of the American Revolution. In 1790 federal census records counted the Lumbee as Free People of Color.

The long term relationship the Lumbee shared with the Cherokee and Cheraw has complicated state and federal tribal recognition for more than a century because the Robeson County natives were not one tribe to begin with, only voting to adopt the name Lumbee as recently as 1952. In 1953 the state of North Carolina recognized the name. It was further designated and recognized by Eisenhower in 1956 as the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina. But because they had been declared Free People of Color they didn’t qualify for any of the federal aid extended to other tribes. Both the Cherokee and the Lumbee reject any notion of having ever been the same people. While the Cherokee are Iroquoian, the Lumbee seem to be a confederacy of Siouan and Algonquian peoples. The Lumbee have continued to petition the government from 1987 through 2010 where no action was taken by the Senate.

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Responses to “10. North Carolina Algonquian”

  1. “An Algonquian chief became a man of power not by force but through persuasive and wise ideas. A chief was respected; he did not command his people. If he failed to share his wealth with his people that respect was lost, and often another man took his place. ”

    I love this – and can’t help but compare and contrast it to the way we ‘operate’ here today in our communities.

    There is so much ‘story’ in this particular essay, I have been challenged taking it all in.
    I will revisit again.

    • Europeans came up with the notion of chief and the use of that word because they couldn’t comprehend a society without a king or the equivalent there of. Little has changed in five hundred years. The Europeans came here hoping to create another vast feudal system and feudal systems require legislated hierarchies. So of course, as descendants of Europeans the attitude is somewhat hardwired in our society today.