Early Explorers of the Piedmont

As part of Indian Trail’s 105th anniversary, we’re running a series of short articles about the town’s history.

Unknown fur traders were the first early European explorers of the interior Carolinas. They were followed in 1540 by Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto who marched his men from Florida to make first contact with the Native Americans near the present town of Cherokee. He came in search of gold. Old Spanish helmets and bayonets have been found near some mineshafts there.

Two decades later, Spanish explorer and conquistador Juan Pardo and a group of approximately 125 men arrived from the Gulf of Mexico. They came to establish a series of forts and lay claim to the coast and interior of the Carolinas for Spain. One short-lived garrison named Fort San Juan was established near a tribal town called Joara near Morgantown. Another fort was at Santa Elena (Paris Island). He also is thought to be the first known European to make contact with the Native Americans in the Waxhaws.

In 1670, explorer John Lederer, a German physician seeking a way through the Appalachia Mountains reached what later became Union County. He followed Native American paths and likely passed near Indian Trail on his way to the Waxhaws. Lederer’s writings were published in 1672 as “The Discoveries of John Lederer, In Several Marches from Virginia to the West of Carolina.”

Following the Trading Path in 1700-1701, English explorer John Lawson led a small party on a journey through the interior of the Carolinas. Lawson encountered several Indian tribes including the Santee, Congaree, Sugaree, Wateree, Waxhaw, and the Catawba in the present-day Charlotte area and region. Lawson recorded his travels in his 1709 book, “A New Voyage to Carolina.”

In September 1711, the Tuscarora tribe captured Lawson and a companion while exploring the Neuse River in eastern Carolina. The Tuscarora released the companion, but tortured and killed Lawson. Tensions that had been building between Native Americans and settlers then erupted into a bloody conflict known as the Tuscarora War, fought in North Carolina between autumn 1711 and February 1715. When the war was over, many native communities were wiped out.

– Text by Roger J. Fish, Indian Trail, NC

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