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Meherrin Indians

by Ruth Y. Wetmore, 2006

Tribal land of Meherrin Indians, Powwow still held here annually. Image courtesy of the Meherrin Indian Tribe website. The Meherrin Indians, in the mid-seventeenth century, were living in two settlements on the north side of the Meherrin River in the eastern part of present-day North Carolina. The Meherrin spoke an Iroquoian language and were related to the Nottoway north of them and the Tuscarora to the south. In 1669 they were reported as having "50 fighting men," suggesting a population of about 160 persons.

Like the Nottoway, the Meherrin supported the Virginia government in Bacon's Rebellion and were subsequently considered "tributary" Indians of that colony. By 1691 they had moved southeast to the mouth of the Meherrin River. In 1705 Virginia opened new lands for colonial settlement by eliminating the former Indian boundary on the Blackwater River. While the Meherrin were assigned land equal to the area within a circle six miles in diameter, this change allowed settlers to expand around the Indian lands so that they were incorporated into the Virginia colony. Subsequent land disputes between Indians and colonists were complicated by a lack of agreement on the location of the Virginia-North Carolina boundary and the failure of North Carolina citizens to recognize Virginia's treaty obligations to the Meherrin.

Although the Meherrin sided with the colonists against the hostile Tuscarora during the Tuscarora War (1711-13), colonial records contain few references to them after that time. In 1731 fewer than 20 Meherrin families had taken refuge near the Chowan River settlements in North Carolina for protection against their Indian enemies. Between 1755 and 1761, the Meherrin were living on the Roanoke River in Northampton County together with remnants of the Tuscarora, Saponi, and Mattamuskeet tribes. The number of Meherrin "fighting men" increased from 8 in 1755 to 20 in 1761, which may indicate the incorporation of additional refugees.

It is not known when the Meherrin ceased to exist as a group, although some scholars believe they went north with the Tuscarora in 1802. Just as likely is that members of the tribe became acculturated, intermarried, and continued to live in North Carolina. There is some indication that unsuccessful attempts to reestablish their Indian identity were made in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

A Meherrin tribal group was chartered in 1977. Nine years later, the Meherrin Tribe of Hertford County became the sixth Indian tribe recognized by the state of North Carolina. In the early 2000s approximately 700 Meherrin Indians lived along the lower Meherrin River near Winton.

References:

Lewis Binford, "An Ethnohistory of the Nottoway, Meherrin, and Weanock Indians of Southwestern Virginia," Ethnohistory 14 (1967).

Douglas W. Boyce, "Iroquoian Tribes of the Virginia-North Carolina Coastal Plain," in Bruce B. Trigger, ed., Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 15 (1978).

Additional Resources:

Meherrin Indian Tribe: http://www.meherrintribe.com/history/history.htm

Image Credit:

Tribal land of Meherrin Indians, Powwow still held here annually. Image courtesy of the Meherrin Indian Tribe website. Available from http://www.meherrintribe.com/history/history.htm (accessed May 23, 2012).

 

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Copyright notice

This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

Educator Resources on North Carolina American Indians

NC Humanities Council, 2009 - 2011. "Teaching about North Carolina American Indians." Online at Learn NC.

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