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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.

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Croatoan Indians

by Phillip W. Evans, 2006

Theodore de Bry Map, 1590. Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. The Croatoan Indians were a tribal group of Carolina Algonquians who probably inhabited both present-day Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands at the time of the arrival of the English explorers and colonists sent by Sir Walter Raleigh in the 1580s. Also called the Croatan, and later known as the Hatteras Indians, they were recognized as a distinct tribal group until the second half of the eighteenth century. Although they hunted and fished all along the northern Outer Banks and in its surrounding waters, their fields and towns were originally located on the forested sound side of Hatteras Island between modern-day Buxton and Hatteras. Theodore de Bry's 1590 map of Raleigh's Virginia showed three village symbols on Croatoan Island, now roughly the part of Hatteras Island that runs east to west. It is possible that the Croatoan also had a small habitation in the vicinity of present-day Ocracoke, then called "Wococon."

A scholar of Algonquian linguistics has suggested that the word "Croatoan" means "council town" or "talk town," which likely indicates the residence of an important leader and a place where councils were held. Archaeological remains of at least two other Croatoan villages have been located elsewhere on Hatteras Island. The Croatoan are best remembered today because the word " CROATOAN," carved in a post, was found by John White in 1590 in his search for the famous Lost Colony.

The Croatoan's principal town, Croatoan, was possibly located at a site on Cape Creek that has been identified and partially excavated by archaeologists. Undoubtedly, some modern-day residents of coastal North Carolina can claim with considerable justification to be the descendants of the Croatoan/Hatteras and other Algonquians of over two and three centuries ago, but no recognizable tribal entities survive. The remains of a sizable Indian village on Cape Creek and Pamlico Sound near Cape Hatteras have been discovered and to some extent explored by archaeologists under David Phelps of East Carolina University. In addition to artifacts of Indian manufacture, European trade goods have been recovered, giving added credibility to the recorded history of the Croatoan.

References:

F. Roy Johnson, The Algonquians: Indians of That Part of the New World First Visited by the English (2 vols., 1972).

David B. Quinn, Set Fair for Roanoke: Voyages and Colonies, 1584-1606 (1985).

David Stick, ed., An Outer Banks Reader (1998).

Image Credit:

Theodore de Bry Map, 1590. Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. Available from http://www.library.upenn.edu/exhibits/rbm/kislak/promotion/debry4.html (accessed May 22, 2012).

Origin - location: 

Comments

Comment: 

The Smiling group lived separately from the Lumbee. Are they truly part of the Lumbee tribe?

Comment: 

Dear CJ,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and especially taking time to share this. I do not find any references to this. Do you have a reference that you could share with us and we will see what we can locate?

Thank you and we look forward to hearing back.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

It's very strange that my grandmother's name was Midgett White....But her name is different in one social security record and Cant find her in census even after searching new name?

Comment: 

My ggggpa was said to have been of Lumbee or Croatoan heritage. His spouse was Patience OQuinn and they had a son named Silas. His was born approx 1763 in Roanoke, NC and said to be of the lost colony. Could you direct me to any documents or sites that I might be able to locate some information?

Thanks

Comment: 

Hi Stacey,

Thank you for your inquiry and for visiting NCpedia. Unfortunately, there really aren’t many records for the time period you are interested in. The US Census did not begin until 1790 and there was a 1784-87 State Census for NC. There very little information was gathered in these early censuses; only the name of the head of household was listed and an age range for the other inhabitants of the home. Also, birth and death records did not begin in NC until 1913. There is some documentation in the Colonial and State Records of North Carolina which has been digitized by UNC Chapel Hill: https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/  If you have any further questions please email our reference team at slnc.reference@ncdcr.gov

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,

Elizabeth Hayden, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

Do you have any record of the surname Freshwater in the tribe? When I was a little girl, my great grandmother told me we were related to the tribe. I have been trying to find out for years, but I can't find anything. I do know most of my family from that side is from the NC area.

Comment: 

I'm trying to solve the mystery of the lost colony and amazingly it has to do with the Europeans, converting to natives!

Comment: 

Thank you for contacting NCpedia. That is a great question! By posting here, I hope it generates responses. Native American history and genealogy can be very difficult. 

Best, 
Kelly Eubank, NC Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

This is awesome material. Question?

Can you draw parallels between Croatoan and the African lineage? Do you have any lineage lines (surnames) that can be compared?

I have direct lineage within this group via DNA and supporting material such as "Floyd Sweat vs Board of Education" (1908)" (SC) www.sweattgenealogy.com

Its my understand that its probable that its Haplogroup E an African lineage. It is currently believed that this haplogroup dispersed south from northern Africa with the Bantu agricultural expansion. E is also the most common lineage among African Americans. It is a diverse haplogroup with many branches and is found distributed throughout Africa today.

Do you have any additional projects that may run in parallel with your efforts?

Comment: 

Nunowam croatan. I descend from the croatan tribe. I can guarantee you for a fact that our tribe did not come from Africa. Our creation stories say that the great creator has put us in the Carolinas and virginia areas since creation. Our first contact with wutushuntasac (foreigners) were white eastern europeans, like Scots and brittish. We did not see Africans until years later. We were one of the first indigenous people's with European contact on the east coast, we were very low numbers. My family know the kurowoten (croatan) history well, because we live it, and always have. To answer your question if you have any DNA in you that IS from our tribe it did not come from north africa, or any part of africa. People have been trying to destroy our culture by telling us where we have came from, but we actually know where we are from. Croatoan is also not the correct term for our tribal name. This is what was wrote on when the "lost colony" returned to Roanoke. Media and plays kept rolling with the name. Kenah for the question. Anah nitaup. Good day.

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