6.1 About the Meherrin
The Meherrin Tribe is located in northeastern North Carolina, in Hertford County. As of 2011, there are approximately 900 enrolled members. The tribe maintains an official website with more information.
Official tribal contact information
Meherrin Indian Tribe
P.O. Box 508
Winton, NC 27986
Meherrin Indian tribal seal
The tribal seal shows two Meherrin people in a canoe traveling on the Meherrin River. The two symbols under the canoe represent the signatures of the two Meherrin chiefs as they appeared on the first known treaty with the colonists. The seal is on the back of a turtle, which represents Mother Earth.
Tribal government structure
The Meherrin Indian Tribe is incorporated as a non-profit Indian tribe. It is governed by a seven member Tribal Council and a Tribal Chief, elected by the enrolled membership of the tribe.
Tribal history and contemporary community
The Meherrin Indian Tribe is a small tribe in northeastern North Carolina. It is of the Iroquoian language group, which is the same as the Cherokee, Tuscarora, and other tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy of New York and Canada. The Meherrin Indians spoke a language that was very similar to the Tuscarora language. The Europeans used various spellings of the Meherrin Tribal name in documents and historical writings. These spellings include: Meherrin, Maherineck, Maharineck, Maherrin, Menheyricks, Maherine, Meherins, Meahaearin, Meheren, Macherine, Maherring, Meherron, Maherin, Mecharens, Mehorin, Meherring, Maherians, and Meharins.
The Meherrin Indians were first encountered by English colonists on August 29, 1650. An English merchant named Edward Bland arrived in the Meherrin village of Cowochahawkon on the north bank of the Meherrin River, two miles west of the present-day city of Emporia, Virginia. He was accompanied by five other Englishmen, one Nottoway Indian, and one Appamattuck Indian. There were two other Meherrin villages in the same vicinity at that time: Taurara, near present-day Boykins, Virginia and the village of Unote, which was on the Meherrin River between Emporia and Boykins. Much of the Meherrin territory extended beyond the villages and included the land bordering the Meherrin River, which they used for hunting, fishing, and farming. The river begins in present-day Lunenburg County, Virginia, and runs southeast for more than eighty miles into Hertford County, North Carolina, where it feeds into the Chowan River. The land, river, streams, and creeks of the area provided the wild game and other natural resources that fulfilled the needs of the tribe.
The Meherrins faced many challenges when the English spread across the coastal plain to form the colonies of Virginia and North Carolina. These English newcomers were different in many ways, including in their appearance, and their language. They moved onto lands that Meherrin Indians had lived on for centuries. This greatly disrupted the Meherrin way of life. To make matters worse, the Meherrin River, along which they lived, crossed the boundary line separating Virginia and North Carolina. The two colonies had an ongoing dispute over that boundary line.
The Meherrin Indians, and other tribes in Virginia were attacked during Bacon’s Rebellion from 1675 to 1676. The Virginia Governor responded by meeting with the tribal leaders and negotiating a peace agreement with the tribes. This agreement between the Virginia Colony and the Virginia tribes (including the Meherrin) was called the Treaty Between Virginia and the Indians (also known as the Treaty of Middle Plantation). The Meherrin tribal chiefs signed the Treaty of Middle Plantation with England’s Virginia Colony in 1677. The treaty was supposed to prevent English colonists from moving onto Meherrin lands, in exchange for friendship and military support from the Meherrin Tribe during conflicts of the colony with other tribes. In spite of the treaty, colonists did move onto their land. The Meherrins repeatedly sought assistance from the Virginia Governor to stop colonists from claiming their farm lands, hunting lands, and crops. However, colonists continued to ignore the rulings of the Governor and Executive Council, causing the Meherrin Indians to move further down the Meherrin River into land that is now in Hertford County, North Carolina. They settled at the mouth of the Meherrin River around 1706. The Meherrins had close ties with neighboring tribes, the Nansemond Tribe, the Chowanoke Tribe, and the Nottoway Tribe. They were also allies of the Tuscarora Indians, and played a supportive role in the Tuscarora War, which lasted from 1711 to 1713.
In October 1726, the Meherrin Indians petitioned the North Carolina government asking that their land be protected because more English families were settling on the land. In response, the North Carolina Council ordered a land survey. This survey provided the tribe with reservation land between the Meherrin River and Blackwater River. This was called Meherrin Neck, but is known today as Parker’s Ferry. Colonists continued to ignore the tribe’s land boundaries, planting crops and building homes on Meherrin land. The tribe complained again in 1729, “that the English people disturbed them in their settlements” and that their lands did not extend far enough up from the fork of Meherrin Neck. The 1729 Act of the North Carolina General Assembly extended the Meherrin reservation land and removed offending people from the land.
The steady encroachment of colonists onto the reservation did not stop, and by 1742, colonists were allowed by the North Carolina Governor’s Council to stay on Meherrin lands. Even though the Council agreed that the lands did belong to the Meherrin, it also stated “that the said petitioners and others in possession of Lands within the said bounds may hold the said Lands upon payment to the said Indians a sum not exceeding five pounds per hundred acres Virginia money, if they shall demand same.” This meant that the tribe could not make the colonists (petitioners) leave and could not keep more colonists from settling there. During this time, some Meherrin tribal members began to purchase land in other, less desirable areas of Hertford County near Potecasi Creek. However, the tribe continued to live on the reservation and were recognized as Meherrin people. For example, in 1761, the Lords Commissioners for Trade and Plantations were told that there were “about 20” Meherrin fighting men. This number does not include the many women and children in the tribe. Some of the men who were counted, served as members of the Northampton County Militia during that time.
By the late 1700s, the tribe had lost many people due to conflicts with colonists and other tribes, and European-introduced diseases. Also, they had been pushed off of their land by the constant stream of Europeans coming to the colony and staking claim to their land. More Meherrin families purchased land on the south side of the Meherrin River, near Potecasi Creek. They continued to live as a community in this area, which became known as Meherrin Indian Town. After becoming individual landowners, the Meherrin Indians lived quietly in their community. The families farmed together and maintained their tribal connections.
1800s and 1900s
The 1800s brought more tensions. Throughout the former colonies (now states), Indian people were seen as obstacles as more European immigrants arrived on these shores. The government wanted to make desirable Indian lands available for them. Indian nations living east of the Mississippi River were encouraged, by the United States government, to move to lands west of the Mississippi River. Many refused to leave their homes, and in 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. This law required these Indian tribes to “remove” themselves from their lands and settle west of the Mississippi River on land set aside for them by the U.S. government. As individual landowners, (since the tribe did not own this land), the Meherrins were able to avoid this forced removal.
In 1851, the ancestors of current Meherrin tribal members organized Pleasant Plains Church. Shortly thereafter, Pleasant Plains School was built next to the church. This small school provided an education for the children. The church and school were the heart of the community.
Throughout the 1900s, the Meherrin Indians remained a close-knit community while being active participants in the state and nation. Men from the community served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In 1977, the Meherrin Indian Tribe chartered itself as a nonprofit organization. In 1986, the Meherrin Indian Tribe was officially recognized by the state of North Carolina.
The present-day Meherrin Indians reside in a number of small communities in Hertford, Bertie, Gates and Northampton Counties in rural northeastern North Carolina. The majority of the tribal members live in Hertford County, in and around the county seat of Winton, North Carolina. There is a very low unemployment rate within the tribe. Many tribal members travel to the neighboring state of Virginia to work in the shipyards. Others are employed in the area, in various careers such as teachers, administrators, doctors, building contractors and agricultural workers. A number of tribal members own businesses.
The Meherrin people continue to practice many of their traditions, such as farming, hunting, and fishing. Also, in certain families, the art of brain tanning of deer hides has survived, as well as, some knowledge of herbal use for medicinal purposes. Traditional arts, crafts, dancing, and singing are celebrated at the annual Pow-Wow. This is held the fourth weekend in October, and includes special activities for school groups on Friday. The Pow-Wow takes place on the Tribal land, on NC Highway 11, between Ahoskie and Murfreesboro, North Carolina. Members of tribes from North Carolina and Virginia, as well as, tribes throughout the country attend to share in native culture.
The Meherrin Indian Tribe is governed by a seven-member Tribal Council and a Tribal Chief, elected by the enrolled membership of the tribe. Monthly meetings are held to make decisions that affect the tribe. Meherrin tribal members also gather throughout the year for various events.