Sunday, June 5, 2011

Chief Tom Blount and the Tuscarora War of North Carolina

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Tuscarora Indian with daughter
Photo from The Onondaga Portraits
by Toba Tucker
John Yelverton, my seventh great grandfather, joined the colonial settlers in what would become Bertie County, North Carolina in 1703 when he was in his early 20s. Through his wife, Elizabeth Blount, he was connected to the fascinating leader of the Tuscarora Indians, Chief Tom Blount.

Yelverton, who shows up in records in 1704 as a juror, was likely well respected and a wealthy land owner himself because his young wife, Elizabeth Blount was from one of the most important families in the region at the time. Elizabeth was the granddaughter of Captain James Blount who had settled in North Carolina in 1669, become a member of the court and one of the Lords Proprietors’ Deputies.

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The first permanent settlement in North Carolina,
Edenton is the "mothertown" of the state. Edenton at once became
the focal point of civilization in the province,
the capital of the Colony and the home of the Royal Governors.
By 1711, John and Elizabeth had three of their children; James, Elizabeth and Ann, and the family lived on Queen Ann’s Creek in Edentown, NC.

The settlers began building plantations and farming the land and quickly encroached upon the hunting grounds and villages of the Tuscarora Indian Tribe. Additionally, many of the villages were raided by European settlers and young men and women were gathered up and sold as slaves.

The Tuscarora villages around John Yelverton’s plantation were led by a chief who was extremely close to Yelverton’s wife’s family; an Indian who had been baptized and given the name Tom Blount. Just how close the chief was to the Blount family is a matter of debate.

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Johnson J. John
Photo from The Onondaga Portraits
by Toba Tucker

Some think Tom Blount was an orphan who had been adopted by one of Captain James Blount’s sons while others think he was actually the illegitimate offspring of a Blount and an unknown Indian woman. One interesting fact from Beverly A. Ramesy’s book “The Blounts of Mulberry Hill” is that, “in addition to the children named in his will, family tradition indicated that James Blount had a natural son to whom he left no real property.” Could that have been Chief Tom Blount?

Regardless of the exact relationship, Chief Tom Blount was a good connection for Yelverton to have considering what was coming for the settlers. Chief Tom Blount led the northern Tuscaroras but unfortunately for the Europeans, the southern tribe was led by an Indian named Chief Hancock.

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Cover of John Lawson's 1709 book
In early September 1711, Hancock’s Tuscaroras captured John Lawson, an explorer, surveyor, and author of “A New Voyage to Carolina” along with Aron Christopher De Graffenried (the founder of New Bern County, NC) and several others.

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Baron Christoph Von Graffenried's drawing, The Death of John Lawson,
depicts Von Graffenried, his servant, and John Lawson being held captive by
Tuscarora Indians shortly before Lawson's death.
Image courtesy of North Carolina State Archives,
Division of Archives and History. More info
According to De Graffenried they tortured Lawson by driving numerous splinters into his body and setting them on fire, slowly killing him. Although in later years doubt was cast upon the truthfulness of De Graffenried’s version of events and some even went as far as to accuse him of setting Lawson up and having him killed.

On September 22, 1711, knowing there would be retaliation from the settlers, the Tuscaroras struck first and killed hundreds of settlers along the Roanoke River.
“Divided into small war parties, the Indians swept down the Neuse and along the south shore of the Pamlico. Two hours later, 130 colonists lay dead, about the same number on each stream. Some were tortured horribly, others were desecrated after death. Many were left wounded. The less fortunate were taken captive. The rest of the people fled for their lives, leaving the bodies of their loved ones to be eaten by wolves and vultures. In their violence, the Indians had no regard for age or sex. After several days of slaughter and destruction, the enemy drew back into Hancock's Town to rest for further violence. With them, they took plunder and captives, including women and children.”
The militia of North Carolina along with "six hundred militia from South Carolina and three hundred and sixty Indians under Col. Barnwell" were called into the area to attack the Southern Tuscarora and defend the settlers.

According to records, on Dec. 17, 1712, both John Yelverton and his father-in-law John Blount, along with other men in their community, gave bushels of Indian corn “by order of Maj. Gale for public service.” The corn and other food was used to feed the militia.

The Tuscarora were "defeated with great slaughter; more than three hundred savages were killed, and one hundred made prisoners." These prisoners were largely women and children, who were sold into slavery.

Chief Tom Blount was then offered the chance to control the entire Tuscarora tribe if he assisted the settlers in putting down Chief Hancock. Eventually, he did capture Chief Hancock who was executed in 1712.

In 1715, Yelverton’s youngest child and my sixth great grandfather, John Yelverton Jr., was born.

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1914 Iroquois Group in Winter
Source: SummertownPrints

By 1717, many of the Tuscarora Indians left North Carolina to join the Iroquois Indians in New York.

Chief Blount became “King” Blount and it appears he remained the leader of an increasingly smaller tribe as, through the years, more and more of the Tuscaroras joined their friends and family in New York and Canada.

I have not yet located information on his death but by 1752 Moravian missionaries visited the reservation, and noted "many had gone north to live on the Susquehanna" and that "others are scattered as the wind scatters smoke." Bruce Trigger, ed., Handbook of American Indians; Volume 15, 1978, pp. 287-288

John Yelverton Sr. lived until 1750 and died around the age of 65 at his home in Edenton, NC.

Today, Tuscarora still live in Canada and New York and continue as a sovereign nation with the Haudenosaunee government including chiefs, clan mothers, and faithkeeper. They maintain much of their culture and traditions.

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l to r: Nancy Jane Yelverton Lovelace, Jim Lovelace,
Guy Lovelace and Shirley Lovelace Williams

John Yelverton Jr. was the father of Hardy Yelverton who was the father of Etheldred Yelverton who was the father of Samuel Yelverton who was the father of Nancy Jane Yelverton Lovelace who was the mother of Jim Lovelace who was the father of Guy Lovelace who was the mother of Shirley Lovelace Williams who was the mother of me.

You can read more about the Yelverton family on the Yelverton page of

1 comment:

  1. A very interesting account. My husband descends from Hardy Yelverton through his son, Bryant who m. Penelope Sherrard and went to Twiggs County, Georgia, with her folks. Frederick Yelverton of Tenn, a descendant of Etheldred, has a very close DNA match to that of my husband.

    I found a record of John Yelverton doing business in NC in 1702.

    Thank you for your work and for sharing.