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Native Americas

North American Natives Compendium

by Mick Baker, 24 May 2019

North American Natives Compendium Introduction



Mahican  Meherrin  Metoac  Miami 




Main Page - Meherrin / Kauwets'a:ka

Archaeologists confirm that the ancestors of the Meherrin were living in the North Carolina and Virginia region by around AD 800. The pottery style which was shared between them and other North Carolina Iroquois people is labelled 'Cashie'.

The Meherrin grew corn and beans. They also ate hickory nuts, turkey, deer, raccoon, bear, possum, and rabbit, as well as fish, turtle, and mussels. Some Meherrin villages were surrounded by stockades, others had no walls.

Cashie or Meherrin people buried their dead in ossuaries (shared graves) and included grave goods in those deposits.

Migration into North Carolina and Virginia

According to the available oral history and archaeological evidence, the proto-Iroquois group eventually found itself at the confluence of three great rivers (most probably the Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio rivers). The main body of Iroquois travelled east, up the Ohio River. They encountered a 'people who made friends with wild dogs and made them work for them'. These were very likely the Pawnee people who had managed to domesticate wolves.

A major split occurred thanks to the tribal custom of dividing whenever a hunting ground became so crowded that feeding all the people became problematic. At this major divergence, it is almost certain that the Cherokee branch of the Iroquois moved south. Linguistic and archaeological evidence supports the Cherokee breaking off much earlier than the other Iroquois nations.

The larger group of Iroquois (ancestors of the Five Nations of the league, plus the Tuscarora, Meherrin, and Nottoway) continued to migrate up the Ohio River toward the Great Lakes.

Tuscarora oral history places the ancestors of the Meherrin in what is now North Carolina and Virginia between about one to two thousand years ago.

In Sketches of Ancient History of Six Nations (1828), David Cusick - a Tuscarora in terms of his heritage - recounts the oral traditions of Iroquois ancient history. According to him, after the Iroquois became divided into six 'families' (or nations), the sixth family migrated into what is now North Carolina, leaving the others in New York [state] and the surrounding area. The sixth family carried on to the Atlantic. This group was the Kau-ta-noh, (Tuscarora).

Once there, this 'sixth family' divided into three nations, which formed a North Carolina and Virginia Iroquois league of its own which consisted of three tribes: the Kautanohaka, Kauwetseka (Meherrin), and Kautanoh (Tuscarora). They were often to be found at war against the Eastern Algonquian Nanticoke.

Meherrin home
As opposed to the colonial homes they were sometimes accused of burning, Meherrin houses were typical of those of all Iroquoian stock which shared the same otherwise unique building style


English colonist Ralph Lane wrote in 1585. He described how the Meherrin traded a 'pale metal' called 'wassador', which was referred to by the colonists as copper.

This was very valuable and was sought after by all the natives along the east coast. Although there is some debate over whether the copper was collected from local rivers, or traded from other regions, it was definitely refined and fashioned by the Meherrin and others in the region. Copper was melted down several times and collected in 'great fires' until a pure form of ore was collected and hammered. Artisans then fashioned it into plates, and it was said that the Iroquois longhouses were decorated with 'fine parts' and 'great plates' of wassador.


With regard to Meherrin customs and hospitality Edward Bland says:

It was night when we entred into Mahar-ineck, where we found a House ready made for us of Matts; and Corne stalkes layd in severall places for our Horses, the Inhabitants standing, according to their custome, to greet us: and after some discourse with their Werrowance [a head chief, possibly the war chief], a Youth, to whom wee presented severall gifts, we certified them the cause of our comming was to Trade in way of friendship, and desired the great men that what Wares or Skins the Town did afford, might be brought to our Quarters next morning; and also a measure for Roanoak, which they promised should be done, and so left us to our selves a while, untill wee had refreshed our selves with such provisions as they had set before us, in most plentifull maner; and afterwards the great men and Inhabitants came, and performed divers Cere-monies, and Dancings before us, as they used to doe to their great Emperour Apachancano, when they entertain him in most solemne maner and friendship.

This day in the morning the Maharineck great men spake to heare some of our guns go off: Whereupon we shot two guns at a small marke, both hitting it, and at so great a distance of a hundred paces, or more, that the Indians admired at it: And a little before night the old King Maharineck came to us, and told us, that the people in the Towne were afraid when the guns went off, and ran all away into the Woods. This night also we had much Dancing.

Bland also describes 'old Indian fields of exceeding rich Land, that beare two Crops of Indian Corne a yeare'.

Iroquois (Meherrin, Tuscarora, Nottoway) towns in North Carolina were autonomous. Although they belonged to a confederacy or league, each town was self-governed and politically independent, much like the Haudensaunee, the Five Nations of the Iroquois.


Main Sources

Binford, Lewis R - Archaeological and Ethnohistorical Investigation of Cultural Diversity and Progressive Development Among Aboriginal Cultures of Coastal Virginia and North Carolina (PhD dissertation, University of Michigan, 1964)

Colonial Records of North Carolina, Second Series - Volume VII - Records of the Executive Council - 1674-1734, pp 167-169

Cusick, David - Sketches of the Ancient History of the Six Nations, 1828

Dawdy, Shannon Lee - The Meherrin's Secret History of the Dividing Line, North Carolina Historical Review, 1995 72 (4): 385- 415

DeMarce, Virginia Easley - The National Genealogical Society Quarterly, March 1992

Dobbs, Arthur - The Colonial Records of North Carolina, Volume 6 (Report), BPRO North Carolina B T Vol 14, E53

Encyclopaedia Virginia: Edward Bland

Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia, 3 Aug 1699- 27 April 1705, Vol II, p 381 (The Virginia State Library, 1927)

First Nations: Issues of Consequence website

Fogelson, Raymond - Handbook of North American Indians: Southeast, 2004

Frantz, John B - Bacon's Rebellion: Prologue to the Revolution? 1969

Hodge, Frederick Webb - Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, University of Michigan, 1910, p 33

Lefler and Powel - Colonial North Carolina

Mathis, Mark A & Crow, Jeffrey J - The Prehistory of North Carolina: An Archaeological Symposium, NC Division of Archives & History, 2000

McIlvenna, Noeleen - A Very Mutinous People: the Struggle for North Carolina, 1660-1713, Chapel Hill, NC, University of North Carolina Press, 2009

Mithun, Marianne - The Proto-Iroquoians: Cultural Reconstruction from Lexical Materials, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1984

North Carolina Colonial Records: 23 December 1712

North Carolina, General Assembly, 27 November 1729, Volume 25, pp 211-213

Oberg, Michael Leroy - The Head in Edward Nugent's Hand: Roanoke's Forgotten Indians, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2007

Official papers of Lt-Governor Francis Fauquier of Virginia, Pennsylvania Archives - 199-200

Perdue, Theda - Native Carolinians: The Indians of North Carolina, Division of Archives and History - Raleigh 1985, 2003-54

Petition of Meherin Indians to the governor, 9 September 1723, Colonial Papers, Folder 31, No 19, Record Group 1, Library of Virginia

Quinn, David B - Set fair for Roanoke: voyages and colonies, 1584-1606, North Carolina, America's Four Hundredth Anniversary Committee

Rountree, Helen C - Pocahontas's people: the Powhatan Indians of Virginia through four centuries, University of Oklahoma Press, 1996

Rudes, Blair A - Cowinchahawkon/ Akawęč?á:ka:?: The Meherrin in the Nineteenth Century, Algonquin and Iroquoian Linguistics, 6 (3) pp 32-34, London, Ontario

Salley, Alexander S - Narratives of Early Carolina, 1650-1708, C Scribner's Sons, New York, 1911

Smallwood, Arwin - Bertie county: An Eastern Carolina History, Arcadia, 2002, p 49

Swanton, J R - The Indian Tribes of North America, US Government Printing Office, 1952

Virginia Colonial Records

Virginia state papers

Ward, H Trawick & Davis, R P Stephen - Time Before History: The Archaeology of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999

William Byrd II - The History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina



Text copyright © Mick Baker. An original feature for the History Files.