Exploring the Indigenous Tribes of South Carolina

The Catawba, Pee Dee, Chicora, Edisto, Santee, Yamassee and Chicora-Waccamaw tribes are still present in South Carolina, as are many Cherokee descendants. Unfortunately, the indigenous population in South Carolina and across the United States declined drastically after the arrival of Europeans. The tribes were weakened by European diseases, such as smallpox, against which they had no immunity. Epidemics killed large numbers of indigenous people, reducing some southeastern tribes by as much as two-thirds.

The population declined even more because of conflicts with the colonists over trade practices and land. The Catawba lived in villages with circular bark-covered houses, and temple structures were used for public meetings and religious ceremonies. Agriculture, for which men and women shared responsibility, produced at least two crops a year and was largely complemented by hunting and fishing. For hundreds of years, the Catawba Indians occupied what was organized as Lancaster County as part of their historic tribal lands. The Siouan-speaking Catawba were once considered one of the most powerful tribes in the Southeast.

The Catawba and other Siouan peoples are believed to have emerged and united as individual tribes in the Southeast. The Catawba, who were mainly sedentary and grew their own crops, were friendly with the first European settlers. The geographical scope of this conversation encompasses what is commonly referred to as the “lowlands” 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. For an analysis of the documentary evidence of the term “Cusabo”, see Gene Waddell's book Indians of The South Carolina Lowcountry 1562-1751 (Southern Studies Program, University of S.) Members of this tribe still live near the coast of South Carolina and are represented by the Chicora-Siouan Indian nation near Andrews, South Carolina, and Chicora-Waccamaw near Conway. During the second quarter of the 18th century, Indians in South Carolina's settlements were repeatedly harassed by hostile warriors from northern tribes, such as the Seneca, who were in league with distant French colonists. When settlers began showing up in what are now Marlboro, Marion, and Dillon counties in South Carolina around 1730s, they were able to live with the Pee Dees without problems. The Santee tribe is one of the most unique in South Carolina because of its limited population.

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. It was reached a few miles south of the North Carolina state line where Patriot forces were defeated at the Battle of Waxhaws. The many places in South Carolina that bear names of these tribes attest to their important role in state's history. Some Pee Dee fought for South during Civil War and there are many tribesmen who trace their indigenous origins to those soldiers. The colony of South Carolina first granted a grant to settlers in area in 1752; it included protruding rock mass that gave stream its name.

In 1768, South Carolina was divided into seven judicial districts and Lancaster was located in Camden district. Today there are still many indigenous peoples living in South Carolina who can trace their ancestry back to these original inhabitants. The Catawba Nation is one such tribe that has been able to maintain its culture and traditions despite centuries of displacement and hardship. The Cherokee Nation also has strong presence in South Carolina today.

For those interested in learning more about these tribes and their history in South Carolina Gene Waddell's book Indians of The South Carolina Lowcountry 1562-1751 is an excellent resource. The history of indigenous peoples in South Carolina is a long one filled with both tragedy and triumph. Despite centuries of displacement and hardship due to European colonization and disease epidemics many tribes have been able to maintain their culture and traditions throughout time. From Catawba villages with circular bark-covered houses to Pee Dee warriors fighting for their homeland during The Civil War - these stories are an important part of our state's history.

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