Native Americans in Early North Carolina: A Documentary History

By Stremlau, Rose | South Carolina Historical Magazine, October 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Native Americans in Early North Carolina: A Documentary History


Stremlau, Rose, South Carolina Historical Magazine


Native Americans in Early North Carolina: A Documentary History. Edited by Dennis L. Isenbarger. Colonial Records of North Carolina, Special Series. (Raleigh: Office of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 2013. Pp. xiii, 362; $20, paperback.)

In 1886 the state government of North Carolina began publishing some of its colonial records. Most recently, this ongoing initiative has issued a series of affordably priced paperback books on topics, including African American and social history, considered to be of interest to general readers and students. The newest installment, Native Americans in Early North Carolina, focuses on American Indian experiences during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

For this volume, Dennis L. Isenbarger, a former editor with the North Carolina Office of Archives and History's Historical Publications Section, chose texts from the following sources: "British records, county records, court records, published documentaries, governors' papers, journals and private correspondence, land records, legislative documents, military records, and newspapers" (p. xvii). Christopher Arris Oakley, associate professor of history at East Carolina University and author of Keeping the Circle: American Indian Identity in Eastern North Carolina, 1884r-2004 (2005), wrote the introduction.

Isenbarger organized the collection thematically into chapters on folkways, religion, trade, land, war, colonial interaction, and reservations. The editor's remarks appear in bold print, which differentiates them from the primary sources. In the chapter on folkways, Isenbarger inserts information about appearance, social organization, and food production. The editor selected passages about ceremonial life for the first and second chapters, the latter of which focuses exclusively on religion, including spiritual understandings of epidemic disease. In this chapter, in particular, the inclusion of a modern-day explanation of cosmology from surviving Indians tribes in the state would have helped readers to make sense of the historical material. For example, although European settlers did not understand Cherokee cosmology, it has been well documented elsewhere since then, and this knowledge is maintained by some in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians today. A bit more explanation would have allowed readers to better comprehend the colonial sources.

The chapter on trade emphasizes the evolution of the pre-existing and thriving intertribal trade to embrace the market-oriented exchange of hides and slaves for manufactured goods and the introduction of credit and, therefore, debt by merchants. Government officials pointed to trader abuses and irregularities as causes of conflict, but the resistance of indigenous people to incursion also is visible in these texts, even when their European contemporaries failed to see it for what it was. The chapter on land begins with several descriptions of the region characterizing it as both settled and developed. Colonists had no illusions that they were moving into unoccupied lands. Their inherent need for arable land, however, particularly cleared Indian village sites along rivers, led to numerous conflicts such as the Tuscarora War between 1710 and 1713. …

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