12. Albemarle Democracy in North Carolina

Albemarle bordered the Great Dismal Swamp

By the last half of the 1600s, The Tuscarora and other native peoples in their region, recently named ‘Carolina’ by a king and ‘lord proprietors’ across an ocean, were having troubles with the newcomers living among them. The ‘Indians’ prized the metal goods and weapons, but they also suspected the settlers were the source of the new diseases that were wiping out entire villages. Before the Europeans, some estimates have the Tuscarora at 20,000 in population. Now that had been cut in half, if not more. The same was true of other tribes. They were also angered, in the southern part of their region, at the violent raids to seize their young men, women, and children, to be sold into slavery.

By 1670, four centers of power emerged in Carolina. One was in the south. Charles Town and the land nearby was developing as a slavocracy, the enslavers compelling growing numbers of Africans and captured Indians to grow and harvest rice and tobacco as export crops. Europeans without slaves were hired as overseers or pushed to the margins. The enslavers were also patriarchal, keeping their wives down while taking Africans and Natives as concubines.

The second settler region was in the north of ‘Carolina,’ called the ‘Albemarle Settlements,’ after the name of the sound near the Virginia border and the ‘Great Dismal Swamp.’ Tobacco was still grown and exported, but the settlers were largely Quakers and radical democrat ‘Leveler’ smallholders, and many were without any servants. An initial battle was waged successfully to change the proprietor’s law that refused people without servants the right to own land.

Albemarle Region

For religious and political reasons, these settlers attempted fair relations with the native people. Patriarchy also had less of a grip, as Quaker women were often outspoken leaders. The Quaker faith allowed male-female equality, which spilled over to the social sphere. Far from enslaving the Tuscarora, there was intermarriage among them—native men taking European wives and vice versa, facilitating relative harmony and exchange. Escaping slaves, both African and Indian, passed through Albemarle to get into the Great Dismal Swamp, where they formed independent and self-sustaining ‘maroon’ colonies, some of which lasted until after 1865. For a period of ten to twenty years or so, around 1700, ‘Albemarle’ was, to a notable degree, a zone of democracy and cooperation among Quaker-influenced settlers, escaped slaves, and the Tuscarora and other native peoples.

The other two power centers were within the northern Tuscarora area. When their matrilineal groupings and clans grew beyond a certain size, they were often subdivided. Chief Tom Blout headed the northernmost. The other just below, along the Neuse River, was headed by Chief Hancock. Some accounts say Blout got his name because his mother was English, despite living within the tribe. Hancock picked his name from that of a local well-off settler family. Choosing an English name as ‘King’ was a custom started by Powhatan.

As the raids to capture them as slaves persisted, the Tuscarora under Chief Hancock waged a war of resistance (1711-1715) against Europeans, some involving bloody massacres. This was called the ‘Tuscarora Wars.’ For a time, those under Chief Blout defended the Europeans against Chief Hancock, leading the Hancock’s death. But the slave owners in the south around Charles Town, enlisting native warriors from other tribes, marched north and continued all-out attacks on all the Tuscarora. In the end, the bulk of the Tuscarora who Hancock had led, packed up and left the Carolinas altogether and made a long march through Virginia and Western Pennsylvania until finally reuniting as the ‘Sixth Nation’ with their ‘Five Nation’ cousins among the Iroquois near Niagara. A smaller group under Blout was encircled and restricted to a small reservation along the Roanoke River, which was constantly encroached upon and reduced in size. A small area of this still remains with them today.

As a consequence of these upheavals, starting in 1710, the European residents of both regions of the Carolina province petitioned the King to subdivide the area into the colonies of North and South Carolina, which was made official in 1729. African slaves continued to grow in number in South Carolina, while European immigrants, especially the Ulster-Scots or ‘Scots-Irish,’ flowed into the Piedmont of North Carolina from the north. Other native peoples were continually pushed westward, and African slavery grew in both new colonies. More to come.

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