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Total population
Regions with significant populations
Virginia, North Carolina
English, formerly Iroquoian Meherrin
Christianity, Longhouse Religion
Related ethnic groups
Tuscarora Nation, Nottaway Tribe, Coree Indians

The Meherrin Nation (autonym: Kauwets'a:ka, "People of the Water")[1] is one of seven state-recognized nations of Native Americans in North Carolina. They reside in rural northeastern North Carolina, near the river of the same name on the Virginia-North Carolina border. Historically the Iroquoian-speaking tribe had lived in the Piedmont of Virginia but moved south in the early 18th century under pressure of English colonists' encroachment on their territory.

Assigned a reservation in the area of Hertford County, North Carolina in the early 18th century, they lost most of their land to encroachment by colonial settlers. They had maintained cultural continuity through supporting independent churches and schools. In the late 20th century, the people reorganized and established a government. In 1986 the Meherrin Nation was recognized by the state of North Carolina. The Meherrin have an enrollment of 900+ people.[2]


The Meherrin are among the Native American tribes that traditionally spoke an Iroquoian language and as such, are connected in the distant past to the nations of the Iroquois League in New York around the Great Lakes. Today the first language of the Meherrin is English. They are also related to the Tuscarora, who were a neighboring Iroquoian tribe in historic times in Carolina. After destructive warfare, the surviving Tuscarora migrated north to New York in the early 18th century. The nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, historically based in New York and Pennsylvania, are the best-known Iroquoian peoples and were the most powerful in the colonial era.

The Meherrin inhabited the Piedmont region of Virginia above the fall line at the time of European encounter. They moved south into North Carolina in the early 18th century to evade encroachment by Anglo-American colonists. Linguistic evidence indicates that the Meherrin share common ancestry with the Tuscarora and the Nottoway, and likely spoke the same Iroquoian language or a similar dialect. Common origins are also indicated in Tuscarora oral history.[3]

In 1705 the Virginia Colony established a reservation for the Meherrin at Maherrin Neck (later renamed Manley’s Neck), in an area claimed by both Virginia and Carolina. It was finally assigned to Carolina, and in 1706 Carolina ordered the Meherrin out of her territory, threatening violence to expel them. The Meherrin asked for more time, a year in order to harvest their crops, and asked for help from the Virginia colonists to make their case. Virginia took their side in the quarrel, but in August 1707 Carolinian official Thomas Pollock, leading a troop of 60 men, attacked Meherrin Town, destroying crops, homes, and all belongings; his forces seized 36 men, depriving them of water for two days. In September the Virginia militia met with the chiefs, promising Virginia’s protection to prevent them from retaliating against Carolina. Col. Edmond Jennings, Virginia Council President, wrote a harsh reprimand to leaders of Carolinia. By 1707 the Meherrin had resettled on lands previously occupied by the Chowanoke near the mouth of the Meherrin River.[4]

In 1711–1712 the Meherrin were allies of the Tuscarora against the English colonists and allies during the Tuscarora War. In 1713 they had to deliver two of their paramount chief’s sons as hostages to be kept by the English at William and Mary’s College in Bufferton to ensure that they would keep the peace. In 1720 they made a treaty of peace with the Susquehanna, another Iroquoian tribe.

In 1717 the Meherrin were given a reservation along the western shore of lower Chowanoc River, not far from its mouth in Albermarle Sound, near modern Colerain (Bertie County, N.C.). At the time, Governor Charles Eden thought that the reservation only contained 10,000 acres, but Surveyor Col. Edward Moseley later discovered that the reservation contained more than 40,000 acres.

In 1723, the Virginia Colony confirmed the Meherrin right to the reservation land and severely criticized North Carolina for an illegal taking of Meherrin land. Most of the Tuscarora were driven off after many were killed and taken captive in the above war. The North Carolina authorities reviewed petitions by the Meherrin and by English squatters on their land. Although by 1726 the Meherrin reservation had been greatly reduced in size and relocated to the old and abandoned Chowanoke fields, the North Carolina Colony confirmed in a treaty that it belonged to the Meherrin.[2]

The Meherrin lived in cohesive, distinct communities through the 19th and 20th centuries, maintaining their own schools and churches as part of their identity as a people. In 1975, Meherrin descendants reorganized the tribe and reclaimed its identity under Chief Wayne Brown. It became chartered in 1977 after increasing activism by members. They were recognized by the state in 1986. Many Meherrin can trace their ancestry to Sally M. Lewis (1838–1904), who sold several tracts of reservation land.

The Meherrin tribal seat is Winton, North Carolina. The Nation's residents principally reside in and around the "Little California/Pleasant Plains/Union" area of Hertford County, North Carolina. They work in a wide variety of professional fields, as a high proportion of the tribe have college degrees compared to the general population in the county. [2]

Historical Iroquoian Peoples[edit]


  1. ^ ""Culture"". Meherrin Indian Nation. Retrieved June 11, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b c Brenda Linton and Leslie S. Stewart, "Economic Development Assessment for the Meherrin Tribe", University of North Carolina, Jul 2003. Accessed: October 26, 2009.
  3. ^ Rudes, Blair A. "Cowinchahawkon/ Akawęč?á:ka:?: The Meherrin in the Nineteenth Century", Algonquin and Iroquoian Linguistics. 6 (3) p. 32-34. London, Ontario
  4. ^ Meherrin Nation official website. Accessed: October 26, 2009.

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