The Role of Native American Women in Shaping the History of Indian Land, South Carolina

Native American women have had a profound impact on the history of Indian Land, South Carolina. They were granted considerable autonomy in their marital decisions, with men returning to their mother's house if a couple separated. Agriculture was the mainstay of the North Carolina economy and society, and women were an invaluable source of agricultural labor. Native Americans had been living in the area since around 1000 A.

C., and they developed villages with fields of corn, sunflowers, pumpkins, beans and other vegetables tended by women. Women were responsible for most of the agricultural and domestic work, and all the residences, fields and agricultural tools belonged to them. The matrilinear kinship system followed by Native Americans, in which children traced their lineage through their mothers and not their fathers, further reinforced the influence of women. The authority and autonomy of Native American women surprised and shocked Europeans in colonial North Carolina. Only White focused on Indians, but he brought a deep interest to the field that would have a lasting effect on both Western and Indian history.

Most of the first Euro-Americans to move to North Carolina from Virginia in the 1650s were servants or women married to poor farmers looking for land in the new colony. Robert Berkhofer was a pioneer in literary analysis that told the story of India, and historian Jill Lepore furthered this work in her 1998 book, describing how literate colonists imposed new images on Indians. This article examines the role of Native American women in shaping the history of Indian Land, South Carolina. It looks at their involvement in lead mining and how it homogenized this ethnically diverse region. It also explores how European attitudes shaped descriptions of Indians and how white Americans later constructed images of Indians as “noble savages” or “primitive warriors” to support their interpretations of the past.

These images and writings led to hatred of the Indians, intensified by the incendiary rhetoric of the Seven Years' War, which racialized the Indians as savages and justified their annihilation. The Indians were only part of the most significant demographic changes that occurred when the war ended, but they often determined its results and dominated the British imperial agenda in London in 1763. New England colonists feared proximity to the Indians and the degeneration of their culture, while the Indians became centralized and hierarchical, a process that intensified with contact and led to processes of self-definition. Silver considers how human interaction with the landscape changed both Europeans and Indians; although settlers transformed Carolina's lands through agriculture, he states that “even when the colonists, the Indians, and the Africans were changing the land, the land was changing them.” This new emphasis on early American history attracted scholars who wrote about pre-contact history but linked it to post-contact changes brought about by encounter. This article changes history from one of conquest to one of a mutually invented middle ground where “cultural congruences” led to alliances between Europe and India. It demonstrates that despite an influx of settlers, Indians remained on their land and created a viable Natick community. Social activism in 1960s called this perspective into question as did growing activity from Commission on Indigenous Claims which required expert testimony to certify Indian claims. Reference works such as Handbook of North American Indians (Smithsonian) (Sturtevant 1978-200) summarize cultures before and after contact by specific region. Indian villages evolved independently from Europeans while in northwestern interior Indians chose to include or exclude or even ignore French or English.

Banks (2002) firmly establishes history of New France in transatlantic context although author does not address Indians.

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