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Total population
Extinct as a tribe (very few descendants)
Regions with significant populations
Eastern North Carolina
Algonquian (estimate)
Native American
Related ethnic groups
Coree, Chowanoke

The Machapunga were a small Native American tribe of the Algonquian language family, one of a number in the territory of North Carolina. They were a group who had migrated south from the Algonquian peoples of the Powhatan Confederacy in present-day Virginia. They are now extinct as a separate tribe. They spoke an Algonquian language and historically occupied a coastal area of northeastern North Carolina.


Indigenous peoples of varying cultures lived along the waterways throughout the South. Over time they gave rise to the historical tribes known at the time of European encounter. Other peoples migrated into the area as well.

The early 20th-century ethnographer Frank Speck believed that the historical Machapunga and other Algonquian tribes in North Carolina had probably been earlier connected to the larger population based in coastal Virginia. He believed the tribes in North Carolina were part of an early and large Algonquian migration in a southerly direction in historical times. He noted the presence of Algonquian-speaking tribes on the Northeast coast and in eastern and central Canada.[1]

One of a number of small, Algonquian-speaking tribes in coastal North Carolina, the Machapunga (meaning "bad dust" or "much dirt," which sounds like an exonym given by a competing tribe, rather than an autonym they would identify with) lived in the Pungo River area. Many lived in a village called Mattamuskeet on the shore of Lake Mattamuskeet in present-day Hyde County. In 1701 English colonists described the tribe as containing roughly 100 members.

In 1711 they participated in the Tuscarora War against the colonists. By 1715, the remaining members of the Coree, who lived to the south, had been merged into the Machapunga and lived together with them in Mattamuskeet.

Because of colonial concerns about slavery and racial control, officials organized society in a binary way, classifying people as white and colored (the latter category essentially covered all non-whites). Living conditions and arrangements were often more fluid than the record keeping. When the United States starting keeping census records in 1790, it had no category for Indian and did not establish a separate one until late in the 19th century. Those not living on reservations were included among "Free blacks," "Other free," or "Mulatto", which were different categories used to classify free non-whites. Before that time, the surviving Native Americans in the states were generally classified as mulatto, free people of color or black, if of identifiably African descent. In Maryland, Catholic churches kept parish records that continued to indicate families and individuals who identified as Indian, regardless of whether they were of mixed race, but the states did not.

Descendants of the Machapunga tribe reside in the Inner Banks of eastern North Carolina. Some of the Machapunga descendants traditionally had the surname Mackey, sometimes spelled Mackee, Mackie or Macky. Other known surnames among the people were Barber, Clark, Collins, Morris, and King. Survivors intermarried with other ethnic peoples, and their children and grandchildren carry all their ancestry.

Ethnographers and anthropologists such as Speck studied the peoples of the Southeast in the early 20th century, trying to determine if Native American cultures had survived. Speck found little evidence of the Machapunga and other Algonquian cultures. He did note that people had continued fishing with their traditional nets, and the women wove baskets according to traditional skills and styles.[1]


  1. ^ a b Frank G. Speck, "REMNANTS OF THE MACHAPUNGA INDIANS OF NORTH CAROLINA", American Anthropologist 18 (1916): pp. 271–276, Carolina Algonkian Project, Rootsweb, permission by American Anthropologist, accessed Apr 22, 2010

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