Museum exhibit honors Tuscarora
By Brenda Monty
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
SNOW HILL — The history of the Native Americans in Greene County is now on display in a summer-long Nooherooka and the Tuscarora exhibit at the Greene County Museum in Snow Hill.
George Mewborn, a retired educator, historian and past museum president, has displayed some of the artifacts unearthed from the 11-year archeological dig at Fort Nooherooka, as well as books, posters, maps and artifacts. The exhibit documents the local history of the Tuscarora, a branch of the northern Iroquois tribes, and their migration from the Great Lakes region to a new homeland along the Contentnea and Neuse rivers in the 1400s. At their apex, it is believed the Tuscarora numbered as many as 6,000 warriors in 24 large towns along Contentnea Creek between the Neuse and Pamlico rivers.
They controlled trade routes between the mountains and coastal tribes, and were responsible for the capture and sale of slaves captured from neighboring tribes.
Like a cork in a bottle, the large Tuscarora settlement along Contentnea Creek blocked westward expansion, which culminated in the decisive siege in 1713 at Fort Nooherooka in Greene County, once located north of Snow Hill along N.C. 58 North.
The Tuscarora War that began in 1711 claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Tuscarora.
“If it had not been for troops from South Carolina and mercenaries and conscripts who joined them, it’s very likely the North Carolina militia would not have been able to defeat the Tuscarora,” Mewborn said. “We have a North Carolina today because of what happened those three days.”
At the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Nooherooka Fort, where 1,000 Native Americans were killed or captured, a large monument was placed on a roadside, symbolizing the Iroquois Nation, which southern Tuscarora eventually joined in New York.
When discussing the attack, Col. John Moore reported he lost 22 white men with 24 wounded. He said 35 Indians from his group were killed and 58 others were wounded. He told the governor 392 Tuscarora were taken captive, 192 were killed and scalped and at least 200 burned to death inside the fort.
Mewborn has a personal history with the site. In 1909, his grandfather bought the land on which Fort Nooherooka once stood.
“The locals always knew where the fort had been. Everybody who lived on the farm knew it was adjacent to a branch of the creek called Fort Run, It was never lost; it just had to be discovered by people who wrote books and published papers and make National Register of Historic Places nominations,” Mewborn said.
The site was placed on the register in 2009.
From 1990 to 2001, an archeological dig by East Carolina University was conducted to both confirm Fort Nooherooka existence and to study Tuscarora culture. Artifacts uncovered at the site include pottery, cooking utensils, clay pipes, metal buckles, a leather pouch and charred remains of grain stores.
“They were not going to starve. They were in for the long haul. The siege had gone on for three weeks, but I think it could have gone on for longer,” Mewborn said.
Bowls of original seeds and carbonized grains found in bunkers at the site are part of the museum exhibit.
“Nooherooka was a town before it was a fort,” Mewborn said. “According to Barnwell’s diaries in February 1712, he burned the town of Nooherooka. After it was burned, (the Tuscarora) went back and built a fort.”
Mewborn is planning to make a full-scale oral presentation of the Fort’s history later this summer. The date and time will be announced.
Fix Cain, a North Carolina native now living in Virginia, was keenly interested in the grain stores and other agricultural history discovered at Fort Nooherooka. Cain, who is Tuscarora, has established the Skaroreh Katenuaka Seed Bank and the Alliance of Native Seedkeepers to preserve indigenous agriculture.
Greene County native Brenda Dudley and her daughter, Rebecca, also attended the exhibit opening.
“I lived within half a mile of this site all of my life,” Dudley said. “Before this came out in the public, this was one of the best kept secrets in Greene County.”
Dudley is particularly interested in the Tuscarora history because her grandmother was Tuscarora, she said, adding she was just seven years old when her grandmother died.
Also interested in the exhibit was Gary Gladson, the president of Grifton Historical Museum and Indian Village.
He said he was excited to see the artifacts and learn more about Tuscarora history.
Snow Hill resident Teresa Burress has always wanted to know more about the site.
“With us having the monument on N.C. 58, it makes me more interested. I go by it every day and am curious,” she said. “We always knew there were Indians around here, but didn’t know the location.
“I used to crop tobacco on that land when I was young,” said. “There was just so much history right under my nose and I never knew it.”
The Nooherooka and the Tuscarora exhibit is open through Aug. 28. The museum, 107 N.W. Third St., Snow Hill is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call 747-1999.