Skip to main content

The archaeology of the Contact Period in North Carolina’s coastal regions is strongly supplemented by early English exploration and settlement which began here in the late 1500s. As in the Piedmont, contact period archaeology near the coast involves terminal Late Woodland societies entering into trade and political relationships with Europeans.

Following the failed late 16th-century attempt by Sir Walter Raleigh to colonize the North Carolina coast, the successful settlement at Jamestown in Virginia in 1607 gave the English the toehold they needed to expand. However, even with the successful founding of Jamestown, North Carolina’s Indians were given a fifty-year respite before having to deal with Europeans again.

Around 1650, Virginia settlers began to push southward along the coast, starting with the Albemarle region. For the most part, settlers did not venture very far inland at first. Instead they spread southward and stayed near the coast. By 1675 the southern shore of Albemarle was settled, and by 1691 newcomers were settling along Pamlico River. Soon after the beginning of the 18th-century the area of the Neuse River was settled.

Land-grabbing by aggressive colonists and the disruptions caused by the illegal, but lively, trade in Indian slaves that had sprung up after the founding of Charles Town in South Carolina, soon caused an unbearable state of relations between the colonists and tribes and lead to the Tuscarora War, in which two thousand Tuscarora were killed or sold into slavery. Many of the remnants fo the tribe moved to Pennsylvania and New York.

In coastal regions archaeology is just beginning to supplement early historic accounts. An Algonkian village thought to be Croaton has been excavated on Hatteras Island. Amity, a mid-17th century village near Lake Mattamuskeet in Hyde County, has been excavated, and work has been done on the historic Tuscarora communities and forts. There is a great deal yet to discover about the archaeology of the Contact period along the coast.

Pottery-making, subsistence, and patterns of settlement seem to have not changed much during the first part of the Contact period along the coast. Ceramics similar to those of the Cashie, Colington, and White Oak/Oak Island phases continued to be made. Longhouses were still used and a mixed economy based on hunting, gathering, fishing, shell-fish, and agriculture continued. However, aboriginal life was rapidly disrupted as outsiders moved in. By 1701 John Lawson was able to observe that the coastal tribes were “very much decreased.”