Is it Auhotsky, ehorse skiní, or Ahoskie?

Published 4:52 pm Tuesday, March 14, 2023

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F. Roy Johnson was a master researcher and storyteller.

From his small office on Main Street in downtown Murfreesboro, Johnson was the writer, editor, and publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan Daily News. As a child, I remember walking past that office and seeing him at work through a large window at the front of his business.

We lost a treasure when he passed away in 1988. However, the good thing about print journalism is it lasts forever in the hands of those who still love the “ink on paper” tradition. I’m fortunate to have copies (not the originals) of some of his work, and today I want to share his vast research into how what is now the largest town in the Roanoke-Chowan area got its name.

Exactly where Ahoskie came from has been the subject of books, of conjecture, of legend and of tall tales. The truth is there may never be a definitive answer as to the name’s origins or its history.

One thing that is relatively certain is that Ahoskie’s motto of “The Only One” is likely true. Searches from history and through the internet have time and again turned up nothing that resembles Ahoskie.

“People of Ahoskie, North Carolina, claim their town is ‘the only one’ in the world which bears the name,” Johnson wrote in his 1962 book Legends and Myths of North Carolina’s Roanoke-Chowan Area. “The story behind it is so rare that before 1957 even the citizens of the town did not know from whence came the beautiful name.”

While Johnson was one of many to voice a theory about the origin of the name Ahoskie, he admitted freely the likelihood that no one would ever know for certain how the town came to bear its moniker.

“Even now its meaning is a mystery which may never be solved,” he wrote.

The name is mentioned in depositions made in a dispute between North Carolina and Virginia regarding the dividing line between the two states in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Johnson said the Wyanoke Indians were mixed up in the 40-year-long dispute between the two states.

He further said the English adopted the habit of calling some of the rivers by the names of the Native American nations living in them.

From that point, Johnson described what happened.

“Soon after 1700, Virginia named Philip Ludwell and North Carolina picked John Lawson as commissioners to gather information that might lead to resolving the dispute.

“The commissioners took depositions from the older English settlers and the Indians of the border areas. Little was accomplished toward settling the dispute, but the profit came in the history which was recorded.

“Ludwell visited one Tom Green, a white planter, near the present village of Sebrell, Virginia. Green told him that the Wyanokes had lived at Towawink on the Roanoke River and from thence moved to a fork at the head of a creek to ye southward of Marherink River called by ye Notttoways (Indians) Quaurauraughkek…Auhotsky which is the place they lived in Quarankeck. About six years later they removed to Warekeck on the Nottoway River, which was a site four miles upstream from present Courtland, Virginia.

“Green explained also the Wyanokes lived ‘at a place called Cotchawesco at ye head of the southern branch of Potticosy creek.’

“Ludwell proceeded to Wyanoke town or Warekeck on the Nottoway where old Wyanoke women told him the Wiccacon River or creek was called by their people ‘Wicoconsí’ which in the Wyanoke language ‘signifies a little river or creek.’ One Great Chief informed him the Wyanokes lived in a fort at the head of it (Wiccacon) which is surrounded with mystery swamps and pocosin. He explained also they ate up the tuccahoes (the edible root of a plant used by Native Americans of colonial-era Virginia) about ‘Auhotsky’ and moved on to ‘Cotchawescoí’ about three miles distant and erected a fort ‘in a fork at ye head’ where there was ‘much tuccahoe to subsist their old men and women.’

“The Wyanokes left at least four names behind when they returned to Virginia. The lower part of the stream which they called ‘Wicoconsí’ retained the name Wiccacon and the upper part became Ahoskie swamp.”

Another idea of how the town got its name came from the now late Roy Parker in his book “The Ahoskie Era of Hertford County.” There, Parker mentioned the old adage of ‘ehot skyí’ or ‘ehorse skiní’ on a swamp ridge that caused the Indians to sound out the name that years later gave Ahoskie to Hertford County.

Others shared their ideas.

According to J.N.B. Hewitt of the Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institute, “the name Ahoskie is not derived from the Tuscarora language, but is a corruption of ‘eHanakasi.’ No information is available about the word hanakasi.

The earliest information about Ahoskie was recorded in October of 1722 and when records of the General Biennial Assembly of North Carolina held in Eastern Chowan precinct referred to Ahotskey.

Town officials believe the name was known by Ahotskey as early as 1719 when it was known by the Indian name of Ahotskey, which was adopted by the white settlers. The English spelled the name in many ways after articulation of the unwritten Indian sound, and in 1894, with the coming of the railroad and post office, the name was spelled Ahoskie.

Maps of the area dating in the middle 1800s refer to the Ahoskey Church in what is currently the town of Ahoskie. Why the name has changed pronunciation and spelling over the years remains a mystery. But whether it’s Auhotsky, ehorse skiní, eHanakasi, or Ahoskie, being so unique is something people can take pride in.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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