COLONIAL DIXIE: BARNWELL’S EXPEDITION

Cary’s Rebellion had come at a time when North Carolina least need it however, and even though casualties were low and the colony hardly received any damage, the cost of such an event did harm it, leading North Carolina to be unable to help the New Bern Colony when it was attacked. On top of that, what the Albemarle did offer was cowardly militiamen that were outnumbered anyhow. This meant that support would have to come from outside the colony which meant either Virginia or South Carolina. Virginia offered its hand by using its influence over the Northern Tuscarora which would come in handy later. Virginia only offered to use its 2,000 militiamen in exchange for control of the Albemarle region, something North Carolina could not nor would not give up. So North Carolina looked south, to its sister colony for help.

South Carolina was much more willing to help, in fact, they were eager to help. South Carolina had to its advantage a larger and more able population (the Quakers in North Carolina turned out to not be willing to fight) as well as plenty of Native American allies, especially the Yamasee. These Native allies were staunch enemies of the Tuscarora and so were just as eager to help fight them. So, in November South Carolina assembled an expedition that was to be headed by Col. John Barnwell. It consisted of about 700 Indian warriors making up four companies and 30 English mostly mounted militiamen. Their route consisted of a westward swing so that they would hit the Tuscarora from the west.

They left in December and made good progress. Desertions however struck the army hard and by late January his army had decreased to just 528 men, though he did manage to recruit Saxapahaw refugees who were fleeing the Tuscarora, having been attacked for not attacking the English.

They struck Torhunta first, in present-day Wayne County. Towns like Torhunta were spread out and more or less a collection of hamlets than a town. Knowing this, the Tuscarora had erected nine palisaded forts but only a few were finished. Since it was hunting season, many of the men were away, leaving the old to defend the forts. They huddled together in one that Barnwell calles “Fort Narhantes”. Once inside the walls, Barnwell’s men were faced with two blockhouses. After thirty minutes, the battle was over with about 30-40 dead Tuscarora and 30 captives. The next morning Kenta warriors ambushed the expedition as the woke in the captured town. Barnwell ordered a flanking attack and soon the attack was over with nine more dead Kenta and two more captives. After these victories, Barnwell’s Indian allies deserted en masse, believing they had won a great victory. Though it was a relief to avenge William Brice’s failed expedition, Barnwell knew the war was far from over.

On February 4, Barnwell moved again, this time towards Bath where he hoped to find North Carolinian militiamen he had ordered North Carolina to prepare. His order however was lost when Christopher Gale, the man that was to deliver the message on his return trip to North Carolina, was captured by French privateers. On there way to Bath they looted Neoheroka before continuing on their way. Skirmishes continued the next few days until the expedition finally reached Bath on the 11. There were of course no North Carolina militiamen to be found at Bath and supplies were low due to the 150 militiamen that had been there just a few months prior.

At this point, the fighting came to a lull as Barnwell waited for adewuate supplies to attack and Edward Hyde and Thomas Pollock desperately tried to provide them. Barnwell had a bad habit of running his mouth however and he ranted on governor Edward Hyde and the council until they supplied and reinforced him. Well, they didn’t “supply” him with food but rather 67 militiamen under William Brice. Barnwell grew furious as they had not brought their own food but nevertheless decided the time was right to march on Catechna. Pollock ordered him to make no treaties with the Tuscarora until King Hancock was captured.

When Barnwell began his march his army had dwindled to 27 South Carolina officers, 148 Yamasee Indians, and 68 North Carolina militiamen. They arrived at Catechna on March 2 only to find it abandoned. The next day Barnwell captured a Tuscarora warrior that revealed that 130 warriors were holed up in a fort to the south. On the 5th and after some skirmishes along the Contentnea, the expedition prepared to attack the fort. The fort in question was very European-styled as it had been directed by an escaped African slave that had worked on forts in South Carolina.

Barnwell positioned himself and hundred men behind the fort while Brice approached the front. The North Carolinians attacked early and with little courage, retreating after a short charge except for 23 who held out and fought. The South Carolinians and Yamasee soon joined the attack and fared better but Barnwell knew he didn’t have enough men and so he called for retreat. Barnwell’s men suffered just one wounded while the North Carolinians had four killed and 20 wounded. Barnwell then settled his army into breastworks overlooking the fort’s water supply. They would siege the fort.

Unfortunately however, inside the fort was 12 English captives. The Tuscarora began torturing them and using them as a bargaining chip. Seeing as how Barnwell was short on manpower and the captives were demoralizing to his men, he organized a truce. Two canoes would be provided and the warriors down river would not fire on the expedition. The captives would also be handed over and in exchange, Barnwell would withdraw to New Bern. Barnwell also agreed to negotiate a peace between them and North Carolina later but the Tuscarora never showed. Another lull in the war had been reached

As North Carolina prepared to outfit another attack, the Quaker-led assembly protested by refusing to purchase war supplies or even food to feed the expedition. Still, food did find its way into Barnwells newly established “Fort Barnwell”, as did 70 North Carolina militiamen and a few Chowan Indian allies. He also received two three-pounders, seven granardo shells (hand grenades), and 22 cannonballs.

On April 7, Barnwell and his men marched back to Hancock’s fort and surrounded it. There they found a second palisade as well as a wide ditch. Barnwell, having learned from his first attempt, settled into a siege and had his men build trenches in order to slowly approach the fort. The Tuscarora gave them hell as they worked though, shooting at them and occasionally sallying out. Barnwell’s men did reach the palisade but they were unable to do much to it. Due to lack of food and high casualties, Barnwell broke the siege and made a treaty with the Tuscarora, disobeying Pollock’s orders.

Barnwell demanded the Tuscarora hand over all captives they held, all corn inside the fort, all plunder they had captured, forfeit all claims to lands between the Neuse and Cape Fear River, hand over King Hancock, his brother, and the Core king to Barnwell, and finally demolish the fort. The Tuscarora agreed except for handing over King Hancock who was away. They did hand over Harry, the escaped slave; Harry’s fate was to be executed shortly after being handed over. Barnwell returned to New Bern on May 1.

Two months later, a council was called at Core Town between the English and Tuscarora allies. The Indians believed it was to make a final peace and so they brought whole families with them. The council soon turned violent however, and 40-50 Indians were killed with 200 women and children captured. Whether North Carolina did the attack or Barnwell is unclear. Barnwell finally left North Carolina in late June.

Barnwell’s Expedition was largely inconclusive. The Tuscaroras had not met their goals and neither had North Carolina. With neither North Carolina nor many of the Tuscarora allies recognizing Barnwell’s treaty, as well as the recent attack at Core Town, bad blood still had to be settled and the war would continue.

Sources:
Vere, David La. Tuscarora War: Indians, Settlers, and the Fight for the Carolina Colonies. Univ Of North Carolina Pr, 2016.

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