Eastern Carolina Indian Ancestral Roots
Various groups of Native Americans living in eastern North Carolina settled on lands along the local rivers for centuries. Surviving from among those various Indian groups and descendants of a mixture of those tribes are the Lumbee, Waccamaw Siouan, Coharie, Tuscarora and Haliwa-Saponi tribes. These all chose to live peacefully among early English settlers in eastern North Carolina in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They maintained their native identity while adapting to the shared life among English neighbors. English influence upon the Native tribes revealed itself in noticeable ways, including language and lifestyle. This influence was and remains strongly evident so that the quest for ancestral origins has occupied much of the scholarly historical research focused upon these tribes.
A widely held view is that the Indians of eastern North Carolina are descended from a mixture of Native tribes who lived among John White’s lost colony and continue to survive today in strong numbers. While many embrace that theory, others hold to an idea that eastern North Carolina Indians are more ethnically aligned with the blending of several Indian tribes in this region apart from much mingling with Anglo blood. In the late 1800’s, most of these North Carolina Indian groups were designated by the White community leaders as the "mixed" race. The Indians themselves were offended by such designations and insisted on their ancestral Indian heritage. Neither would they agree that they all are of the same specific tribal ancestry.
The five distinct tribes listed in this paragraph bear tribal names that are relatively modern nomenclature based on each tribe’s research into their origins and native culture. The developing story of the Baptist faith among Indians of the Burnt Swamp Baptist Association contains the participation mainly of the five tribes mentioned above. At least five other North Carolina Indian tribes exist today that have no affiliation with Burnt Swamp Baptist Association.
Burnt Swamp Association History
The Burnt Swamp Baptist Association includes seventy Baptist churches comprised primarily of Native Americans from eastern North Carolina. All of the churches affiliate with North Carolina Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention. Five tribal groups identified as Lumbee, Waccamaw-Siouan, Coharie, Haliwa-Saponi and Tuscarora make up the more than ten thousand church members of the Association. The Lumbee are the largest tribal population group of the Burnt Swamp Association tribes. The Lumbee Tribe has fifty-five thousand enrolled members, most of which live in rural Robeson County, North Carolina. Five of the seventy Burnt Swamp churches are not majority Lumbee in their membership. There are two Waccamaw-Siouan congregations, two Haliwa-Saponi congregations and one Coharie congregation. Some Lumbee families may live among the other tribes, but the other tribal territories are definitely not known as Lumbee communities.
Geographic boundaries often define the territory of Baptist associations. Burnt Swamp Association churches are located in ten counties and within three states. While North Carolina is home to sixty-seven churches of the Association, there are two churches in South Carolina and one church in Baltimore, Maryland. The Lumbee and Tuscarora live mainly in Robeson and the immediately surrounding counties of Hoke, Scotland, Cumberland, Columbus and Marlboro (South Carolina). The Coharie communities are located in Sampson and Harnett counties, the Haliwa-Saponi live in Halifax and Warren counties and the Waccamaw-Siouan live in Bladen and Columbus counties. The one affiliated church in Baltimore, Maryland began as a congregation primarily of Native Americans from Robeson and Hoke Counties in North Carolina who moved to this northern city in search of livelihood.
The account of the Burnt Swamp Association history written in this article is but a summary of a more detailed and precise report found in "The History of Burnt Swamp Baptist Association and its Churches: The Spread of the Gospel Across America and Beyond by the Lumbee, Waccamaw-Siouan, Coharie, and Haliwa-Saponi, Cumberland County Indians, and Eastern Band of Cherokee Native American Tribes", written by former Association missionary Tony Brewington and printed by the Association in 2002. You may also read more of this history on the "History" page of this website.