north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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      During the 1586 Roanoke expedition, Ralph Lane, Thomas Harriot, and John White traveled up the Chowan River and visited Choanoac, principal village of the Choanoac Indians, the largest Algonquian tribe at the time. Lane believed the village was home to about 700 warriors, indicating a population of about 2,800.

      Lane described the leader, Menatonon, as a “man of great understanding and reputation.” Harriot described him as the greatest “weroance,” a word interpreted as district chief or king, that the explorers met. He was believed to have led as many as 25,000 people in eighteen settlements and to have had many allies. Lane reported having learned more from Menatonon about the land and people than from any other segment of his exploration.

      In 1622 John Pory traveled south from Jamestown on the Chowan River to Choanoac and described immense pine forests, fertile soils for crops, and other natural resources. With publicity such as Pory’s, settlers moved south in search of new lands. Choanoac Indians fell victim to disease after the Roanoke expeditions. Although there is not much evidence, some records indicate that the Choanoac Indians found life increasingly difficult as English settlers encroached upon their hunting, fishing, and agricultural tracts.

      Although they “submitted themselves to the Crown of England,” by 1675 tensions between colonists and Indians led to conflict. Once the Choanoac Indians were subdued, they were assigned “Land for their habitation . . . on the Southside of the Maherine River” and lived peaceably, although their numbers dwindled. The land assigned to them, on Bennett’s Creek in the Gates-Hertford area, was effectively the first Indian reservation in what is now North Carolina. By 1752 the Moravian missionary August Gottlieb Spangenberg recorded that “the tribe of Chowans is reduced to a few families” and that “their land had been taken away from them.”

      Historian Michael L. Oberg described the Choanoacs of the 18th century as a “lost tribe," indicating that " Menatonon’s descendants blended with others on the margins of colonial society.” While the exact location of the primary village of Choanoac is not yet determined through archaeological research, investigations are ongoing.


References:
Michael Leroy Oberg, The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand (2008)
Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony (2007)
William Saunders, ed., Colonial Records of North Carolina, I, 1886, 657-659
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