In the mid-seventeenth century, the Meherrin lived on the north side of the Meherrin River in eastern North Carolina. They spoke an Iroquoian dialect and were related to the Nottoway and Tuscarora. The Meherrin language was similar to the Tuscarora language. On August 29, 1650 the Meherrin came into contact with English colonists. English merchant Edward Bland arrived in the Cowochahawkon village on the north end of the Meherrin River. As the English settled on Meherrin lands, disputes arose over colonial boundary lines between North Carolina and Virginia.
The small tribe assisted the Virginia colonists in Bacon’s Rebellion (1676). As Meherrin were attacked during Bacon’s Rebellion, the Virginia colony and Indian tribes within Virginia, including the Meherrin at that time, settled their disputes in the Treaty of Middle Plantation. Meherrin chiefs signed the treaty in 1677. The treaty prohibited English colonists from settling on their lands in which the Mehrrin would assist the English in warfare if necessary In the early-eighteenth century colonial land along the Blackwater River for settlement was expanded in Virginia as colonists disregarded the treaty. The Meherrin moved farther down the Meherrin River into present-day Hertford County in 1706.
During the Tuscarora War in 1711 the Meherrin fought with the Tuscarora against the colonists. In 1726 the Meherrin asked the North Carolina government for land protection against English encroachment. The government conducted a land survey and allotted the tribe a reservation between the Meherrin and Blackwater River known today as Parkers Ferry. The encroachment of English colonists continued and by 1742, colonists were given permission by the North Carolina Governors Council to occupy Meherrin land upon payment. The tribe continued to stay on the land and some members began to purchase land in nearby Potecasi Creek, which became known as Meherrin Indian Town. From 1755 to 1761 many Meherrin Indians were living along the Roanoke River with the Saponi and Mattamuskeet tribes. Although many scholars believe that the Meherrin migrated north by 1802 many members stayed in North Carolina.
In 1851, Meherrin tribal members founded Pleasant Plains Church and Pleasant Plains School to provide a place to educate members of the nation. In 1977 the Meherrin Indian tribe was chartered as a nonprofit organization. In 1986, the Meherrin Nation in Hertford County, were the sixth Indian tribe recognized in North Carolina. The Meherrin Indians are a non-profit tribe and is administered by a seven-member tribal council and chief. By the early 2000’s 700 Meherrin lived along the lower Meherrin River.
Today, most Meherrin live in Hertford County, but a few prominent communities are located in Bertie, Gates and Northhampton counties in northeast North Carolina. Many maintain tribal traditions of hunting and farming, herbal medicinal practices, and tanning deer hides. A Pow-Wow, featuring traditional dancing and singing, is held at the end of October on tribal land.
“Meherrin Indians.” NCPedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Jun 2012. http://ncpedia.org/meherrin-indians; "About the Meherrin." www.learnnc.gov. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Jun 2012. http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nc-american-indians/7272; "History of the Meherrin Indians." www.meherrintribe.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Jun 2012. http://www.meherrintribe.com/mehhistory.htm.
By Shane Williams, North Carolina History Project
See Also:Related Categories: Colonial North Carolina