Between the Tuscaroras and the numerous Sioux tribes by which they were partly surrounded there was incessant and murderous hostility. On the other hand, there was amity and alliance, at least for the moment, between the Tuscaroras and the Algonquin coast tribes whose lands the palefaces were invading. The first murders of white settlers occurred in Bertie Precinct at the hands of Meherrins, and seem to have been isolated cases. But a general conspiracy of Iroquois and Algonquin tribes was not long in forming, and the day before the new moon, September 22, 1711, was appointed for a wholesale massacre.
A few days before the appointed time the Baron de Graffenried started in his pinnace from New Berne to explore the Neuse River. His only companions were a negro servant and John Lawson, a Scotchman who for a dozen years had been surveyor-general of the colony. Lawson was the author of an extremely valuable and fascinating book on Carolina and its native races, a book which one cannot read without loving the writer and mourning his melancholy fate. No man in the colony was better known by the Indians, who had frequently observed and carefully noted the fact that his appearance in the woods with his surveying instruments was apt to be followed by some fresh encroachment upon their lands.
Lawson and Graffenried had advanced but little way into the Tuscarora wilderness when they were taken prisoners. The Indians were very curious to learn why they had come up the river; perhaps it might indicate that the people at New Berne had some suspicision of the intended massacre and had sent them forward as scouts. If any such dread beset the minds of the red men, it was probably soon allayed; for it is clear that, had there been any suspicion, Graffenried and Lawson would not thus have ventured out of all reach of support.
The barbarians were two or three days in making up their minds what to do. They then took poor Lawson, and thrust into his skin all over, from head to foot, sharp splinters of lightwood, almost dripping with its own turpentine, and set him afire. The negro was also put to death with fiendish torments, but Graffenried was kept a prisoner, perhaps in order to be burned on some festal occasion.
Before the news of this dreadful affair could reach New Berne, the blow had fallen, not only there, but also at Bath and on the Roanoke River. Some hundreds of settlers were massacred, at New Berne 130 within two hours from the signal. No circumstance of horror was wanting. Men were gashed and scorched, children torn in pieces, women impaled on stakes. The slaughter went on for three days.
Old Virginia and Her Neighbours by John Fiske, pages 350-353
Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston, 1902