Archaeologists believe the Algonquians migrated from northern
regions into northeastern North Carolina around 10,000 years ago
and established small settlements in the coastal plain centered
around the Albemarle Sound and Pamlico River. They were a
farming people who navigated the sounds and rivers in
fire-hollowed canoes. At the time of the first contact of
Europeans with the Indians, the Algonquian tribes occupied the
tidewater areas of the Atlantic Coast extending from Canada to
as far south as the Neuse River in North Carolina.
By 1584, the estimated 7,000 Algonquians living in North
Carolina were relative newcomers to the Southeast. To some
extent, they retained cultural elements from their Northeastern
Algonquian traditions, but there was also a great deal of
cultural borrowing from their southern neighbors as they adapted
to the geographical and climatic conditions of the area.
The Algonquian tribes lived in villages of about ten to thirty
houses. Some villages were palisaded, and some were clusters of
houses surrounded by open fields. The houses were rectangular,
between 36 and 48 feet long, with barrel roofs, which early
explorers likened to English arbor. The basic frame was formed
by saplings lashed together and covered by bark or reeds.
Corn was their primary crop, although they also grew pumpkin,
beans, and, of course, tobacco. Fishing and shell fishing were
of major importance, and remnants of their fishings camps can
still be discerned from huge piles of oyster shells. Hunting
with bow and arrow was also a major source of food for the
Algonquians. Their religion was based on a large number of
spirits and gods, many of them found in the forces of nature.
They erected anthromorphic idols to represent their gods and
believed in an afterlife for all.
In a massive Iroquois migration from what is now New York around
1100, the Tuscarora forced their way into the region occupied by
the Algonquian tribes and established control of the southern
and western reaches of the Historic Albemarle region, forcing
the Algonquian tribes closer to the coast. Although relations
between the fierce Tuscarora and their Algonquian neighbors were
contentious, the tribes generally managed to co-exist
peacefully, establishing cultures and settlements that were
flourishing when the first Europeans arrived in 1584.