September 20, 1711: NC Explorer John Lawson Executed By Native Tribe

On September 20, 1711, explorer and surveyor John Lawson was killed by the Tuscarora.

Lawson and Baron Christoph von Graffenried planned to travel up the Neuse River from New Bern in an attempt to explore the area and discover the river’s source. The Tuscarora, angry about incursions into their lands, the kidnapping of their women and children, and disrespectful treatment by traders, stopped the expedition and imprisoned the leaders.

Graffenried’s account of the incident stated that Lawson got into an angry exchange with a leader which resulted in the seizure and burning of their hats and wigs, and a sentence of death being pronounced over them.

The next morning, Graffenried reportedly chastised Lawson for antagonizing their captors and spoke with an Indian interpreter.

After several days, one of the Indians made a plea on Graffenried’s behalf. He was released but kept in a hut, during which time Lawson was executed. It is believed that the Tuscarora thought Graffenried was the governor and that they would incur the wrath of the English if they killed him.

Graffenried later heard of several ways in which Lawson was supposedly executed but the actual method of death was uncertain.

Other related resources:

·         An overview of the Tuscarora War from Historic Bath

·         How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Baron Christoph von Graffenreid from the State Library

·         Indian Wars in North Carolina, 1663-1763 from N.C. Historical Publications

·         The  Tuscarora Indians and other articles related to the Tuscarora War on NCpedia

·         Resources on Native American Heritage from the State Library of North Carolina

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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