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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: 

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

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!

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