Located in the cradle of North Carolina, the territory that is now Gates County was once inhabited by the Weapemoc Indians, a branch of which was later known as the Chuwon (or Chowanoc). It is from Chuwon that the name Chowan derives. Lawson’s 1709 account of these Indians lists the Chuwons as having a single town, that being on Bennetts Creek in present Gates County; their strength was listed as “15 Fighting Men.”
Preliminary archaeological investigations undertaken in the late 1970’s suggest that this settlement began about 500 A.D., thus indicating an Indian site 1,200 years old when reported by Lawson. Amateur collectors throughout the county have for years unearthed sizable numbers of Indian artifacts, including weapon points, stone tools, and pottery shards.
A three-week reconnaissance archaeological survey of Gates County, concurrent with the architectural survey, was undertaken in April 1987 by Ann Tippitt in association with East Carolina University and the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. The project recorded a number of promising sites for future study, some suggesting occupation for several hundred years earlier than previously believed.
Because of the bounty of the Chowan River and the Great Dismal Swamp, it is highly probable that neighboring Indian tribes -such as the Nansemonds, Chesapeakes, and the Meherrins to the north – traversed through the Gates area. In the early days of English settlement in Virginia, an Indian trail ran from the James River southward to the Chowan River. This trail was later used by whites migrating south. Local tradition says this trail ran along the eastern side of the county area near the Great Dismal Swamp, through what is now Corapeake.
The first recorded European visit to the Gates County territory was an expedition from the Roanoke Colony in 1585. One of Governor Ralph Lane’s exploration parties journeyed westward and explored the Chowan River region, supposedly continuing to near the head of the Chowan River. They also spent time among the Chowanoc Indians, possibly at their Bennett’s Creek town; this was more than a century before Lawson’s record.
Submitted by Buddy Mashburn on July 26, 2000.
Butchko, Thomas R. Forgotten Gates: The Historical Architecture of a Rural North Carolina County, n.p.: Published by the Gates County Historical Society, n.d.
Chowan In Decline
In 1718 and 1720 petitions were filed by Chief Hoyter complaining that the settlers were continually intruding upon the lands of the Indians and that the limits of the territory had never been determined. In the former petition he also asked for payment due one of his tribesmen by a settler for an Indian slave of the Core Sound region. In 1723 a reservation of 53,000 acres was laid out for the Tuscarora and the Chowan.
By the year 1731 the tribe had dwindled to less than twenty families. Two years later the council gave them permission to be incorporated with the Tuscarora.
On 8-3-1733 Thomas Hoyter, King and Chief man of the Chowan Indians, sold 200 ac to Michael Ward on Catherine Creek Wit: John Freeman, Robert Hicks, (NCReg 2-609).
In 1752 Bishop Spangenberg wrote from Edenton, “The Chowan Indians are reduced to a few families, and their land has been taken away from them.” A report of Governor Dobbs in 1755 stated that the tribe consisted of two men and five women and childres who were “ill used by their neighbors.”