The Impact of Native American Cultures and Traditions on Early Settlers in South Carolina

In the second quarter of the 18th century, settlers in South Carolina's Indian land were repeatedly harassed. The Catawba tribe, who had been living in the area for some time, helped the whites in their wars with the Tuscarora and, although they participated in the Yamassee uprising in 1715, peace was quickly restored and they remained faithful friends with the colonists. By 1720, the Catawba had begun to adopt many of the customs of English colonists, but in the process they were losing their own culture. A third major change related to this new trade was slavery.

European colonists needed workers to help them build houses and clear fields. They soon realized that they could offer commercial goods such as tools and weapons to certain American Indian tribes who would bring them other Indians captured in tribal wars. These captured Indians were enslaved and bought by European colonists. It is surprising to learn that before 1700 in the Carolinas, a quarter of all enslaved people were American Indian men, women and children.

Before 1700, the port city of Charleston sent many enslaved natives to work in the Caribbean or to be sold to northern cities such as Boston. Slavery led to war between tribes and to many hardships. Many tribes had to move to escape the slave trade, which destroyed some tribes completely. Over time, the practice of enslaving native peoples ended. However, it had largely affected American Indians in the South and Southwest.

The geographical range of this conversation encompasses what is commonly called the “lowland region” of South Carolina; that is, the coastal plain that stretches approximately eighty miles inland between the Savannah River to the south and the Santee River to the north. During the so-called Yamasee War, led by a distant tribe that had moved to South Carolina thirty years earlier, some of the natives who had once sided with the English turned against their white neighbors, while other Lowcountry natives fought with the colonists against the hostile Indians. The Catawba, Cherokee, Chicora, Edisto, Pee Dee and Santee tribes are still present in South Carolina. Colonial documents from South Carolina indicate that the Santee and Congaree were isolated by Itwan and Cossabos, coastal tribes fighting for the English, and that Santee prisoners were sold as slaves in the West Indies in 1716. Unfortunately, the Indian population in South Carolina and across the United States declined considerably after the arrival of Europeans. A Catawba protest in South Carolina in 1763 was answered with a promise to evict intruders, but nothing was ever done.

The Chicora Los Chicora were traditionally a coastal Native American tribe that lived near Pawley's Island, South Carolina. For the next twenty-odd years, Spanish agents sailing north from their new capital continued to explore the coast of present-day South Carolina and encountered other groups of indigenous peoples. As a result of this bloody conflict, sometimes called Escamacu War, most or all of the indigenous peoples who had resided along the south coast of present-day South Carolina moved north or west. The conflicts and expulsions of 1670s and 1680s marked beginning of decline of Native American population in lowlands of South Carolina. Soon after South Carolina became a colony in 1670, Kusso faced series of conflicts with white settlers. On several occasions during 1670s and 1680s local Indians joined with Carolina colonists to drive away hostile inhabitants of Westo who came from south of Savannah River to kill and enslave indigenous people allied with English.

Some Pee Dee fought for South in Civil War, and there are many tribesmen who trace their Indian heritage to those soldiers. In 1840 Catawba sold all their land to state of South Carolina which agreed to obtain new territory for them in North Carolina. Their relations with whites were generally friendly until 1759 when natives refused to hand over two of their chief chiefs to governor of South Carolina for execution because they had killed a white man.

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