In a time when scientific study has taught us a great deal about earlier civilizations, we know relatively little about Eastern North Carolina’s original inhabitants.
The indigenous peoples of the region were relatively isolated. Today, sandy soils make archeology difficult. But researchers believe that native Americans arrived in the Cape Fear area by at least 10,000 B.C.
Shell middens found on Bald Head Island, where Indians left the remains of their oystering and shellfishing, have been dated back eight hundred years.
When the Italian explorer Giovanni Da Verrazano visited the area in March 1524, sailing for Francis I of France, he found the natives friendly.
“They go nude of everything,” Verrazano wrote in his report to the king on July 8, 1524, “except that at the private parts they wear some skins of little animals . . . a girdle of fine grass woven with various tails of other animals which hang around the body as far as the knees; the rest nude; the head likewise. Some wear certain garlands of feathers of birds.”
Scholars believe these people were the Cape Fear Indians, who inhabited the river areas in present- day Brunswick and New Hanover Counties.
Like their northern neighbors, the Croatans, the Cape Fear Indians probably relied heavily on coastal estuaries for food, seining the sounds for small fish and collecting oysters and clams.
The Cape Fear Indians might have hunted extensively in coastal swamp- lands, stalking deer, bear, turkeys, and game birds with bow and arrow.
When Capt. William Hilton scouted the area for the English colonists from Barbados in 1662, he visited Necroes, a Cape Fear village in Brunswick County about twenty miles north of the river’s mouth.
The Indians seemed eager to trade, offering a variety of fish and acorns. This festival of friendship climaxed on December 1, 1663, when the chief WatCoosa deeded the river and contiguous lands to the English settlers.
The chief even gave the English two of his daughters to cement the deal.
From this point, however, American history slipped into a pattern it would often repeat. Disease introduced by the white explorers accounted for dreadful loss, and wars between the Indians themselves were made worse by the introduction of the white men’s firearms.
In 1715, Col. Maurice Moore and a force of Tuscaroras, heading to fight the Yamassee Indians in South Carolina, detoured to fight the Waccamaws and the Cape Fear Indians, driving most of them from the region.
The Yamassee War largely finished the native Americans in coastal North Carolina. In southeastern North Carolina, traveler Hugh Meredith reported to Benjamin Franklin in 1730, “There is not am Indian to be seen in this place.”
Not all Indian presence was eradicated, though. Many Native American groups survived, apparently by moving inland through the Green Swamp into counties where their descendants can be found today.
The Museum of Coastal Carolina in Ocean Isle Beach devotes an entire section to the first inhabitants of this region, with many artifacts found in the immediate area. It is well worth a trip to see some of its wonderful exhibits.
The excerpt you are reading is from the book “Tales of the Silver Coast” by author and illustrator Miller Pope and author Jacqueline DeGroot.