The Devastating Impact of Disease and Warfare on Native American Populations in South Carolina

The Lowcountry of South Carolina was once home to a variety of Native American tribes, but their presence has been largely forgotten. In the 17th and 18th centuries, settlers continued to invade indigenous lands, leading to catastrophic consequences for the native population. Disease, warfare, and unscrupulous traders all had a significant effect on the native population of South Carolina. The Tuscarora War of 1711-1715 was a major turning point for the native population of the Carolinas.

Tribes that had traditionally been enemies joined colonial forces to fight against the Tuscarora, hoping that the colonists would respect their land and their interests. This war may have been caused by a leptospirosis epidemic that was complicated by Weil syndrome. The geographical scope of this conflict extended to what is now known as the Lowcountry of South Carolina, an area stretching approximately eighty miles inland between the Savannah River and the Santee River. During this time, Indians in South Carolina's settlements were repeatedly harassed by hostile warriors from northern tribes, such as the Seneca, who were in alliance with distant French colonists.

In 1707, the provincial government passed a law requiring white settlers to obtain a license to trade with larger groups of Native Americans who resided outside the Lowcountry. This law was intended to prevent merchants from defrauding and enslaving neighboring tribes, abuses that provoked retaliation that threatened peaceful South Carolinians. The Yamasee War of 1715-1717 was a direct result of this conflict. An army of South Carolinians fought against the Yamasee, Catawba, Ochese Creek, and other Indians.

This bloody conflict caused most or all of the indigenous peoples who had resided along the southern coast of modern South Carolina to move north or west. The Sara and Eno people, who had recently lived in the northern Piedmont of North Carolina, joined the Cheraw in northeastern South Carolina. The Cheraw were also known as the Saraw or Charaw and were located on the border between North and South Carolina, south of present-day Charlotte. They are now recognized as the origin of the modern Catawba nation. Today, Gene Waddell's book Indians of the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1562—1751 is an invaluable resource for exploring the history of Charleston's first inhabitants.

It is clear that disease and warfare had a devastating impact on native populations in South Carolina.

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