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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.

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: 

Such the great post here i like this very much.

Comment: 

Randy Davis lives in Sampson county he along with a few others are the remaining Croatan Indians of Sampson county. Croatan Indian was a separate race and appears on Randy and James David's Birth Certificates.

Comment: 

My Great Great Grandfather Enoch Manuel Wrote and published a book and in it act.1811 said Croatian Indians a forbidden to marry negroes. ? Is this true

Comment: 

Hello!

Great question. I tried to email you, but it bounced. Here is what I tried to send. 

There were a lot of laws that limited contact between slaves and free people of color with whites and native americans. I don’t think there was an act specifically limiting contact or intermarriage with a specific tribe.

As for 1811, there was no law at all that had to do with marriage. I think one of the very first laws about intermarriage was in 1715. Scroll down to page 65 section XV to read the law. (https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.php/document/csr23-0001). CSR has all laws through 1790 (https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.php/volumes scroll to te laws section). For laws beginning 1777-current, you can go to http://ncgovdocs.org/ and click on “session laws” on the right.

Hope this helps, and please let me know if I can help you further.

Erin Bradford, Governmet and Heritage Library

Comment: 

My father Robert Laney's mother was Croatan. Are there any Ancestors in this group? I want to know about my heritage.

Comment: 

I have had my DNA thru ancestry, it says 1% native american. I thought this was a lark since i have no Native American features. During my research i have just discovered that i do have a Native American ancestor named John Chaves(chavis) of the Croatoan Nation. I have trying to track down any information on these Native Americans. thanks

Comment: 

We still have Indian DNA, but more English,Irish Norwegian , Morracan . Free Union / Piney Woods nestled on the west side of Welch’s creek on south side of the Roanoke River. 50 miles inlet. The story told by my elders. the Tuscaroran came looking for the settlers, Croatoans took them in and hid them in this place. As the Indians where getting run off and killed, we took in a mixture of Moratac and Tuscaroran Indians along with some slaves that could mix in (light skin and straight hair) We have been here quietly. We claim free black land owners that was too light, almost white. They wouldn’t try to steal our land. Closed community for 100s of years now. We transferred the Indian ways to the church. The 1st of Disciples Christ was born here, Called Union Town. We link through several other communities. Some of our family went the White route and some intermarried. There is some ancestors that seem 100% Anglo. But are kin. I’m curious about any research done.

Comment: 

I am a Buck from Chowinity NC area my uncle recently took a DNA test and it said no native American heritage how can that be possible

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

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