Few American Indian wars were more devastating to colonists and
more influential on the development of the south than the Yamasee
War of 1715. April 15 will mark the 300th anniversary of the start
of that war, which ended with the death of 400 British. On April 16,
the first conference to bring recognition of the war will be held
in Saint Augustine, Florida, mere steps from Yamasee archaeology sites.
slaves joined the Yamasee in Georgia, and later the Seminoles
in Florida. (photo courtesy of Gutenberg.org)
"The Yamasee as a people have been overlooked by the mainstream
and only one book has been written about the war," Denise Bossy,
associate professor of history at the University of North Florida,
said. Bossy is one of the co-organizers of the conference, entitled,
"The Yamasee Indians: From Florida To South Carolina."
"It's a really important event in Southern and North American
history, yet it is one of the least well known of wars compared
with its importance," she said.
The late 1600s and early 1700s were a time of great disruption
and loss of lands, as colonization forced tribes to be on the move,
Chester DePratter, archaeologist and co-organizer of the conference,
explained. By the time the Yamasee made their way to Charles Town,
South Carolina, (now Charleston) the Spanish had already been missionizing
tribes in Florida for 100 years. The the British were involved in
the slave trade throughout the Southeast and the Atlantic World,
which included trade routes of importation and exportation of plants,
goods, slaves, diseases, and all other items of colonization.
"Other Indians, like the Chickasaw, were making people move.
The Erie had been forced out of Western Pennsylvania by the Iroquois,
and as they moved south, they became known as the Westo. They pushed
the Yamasee toward the Georgia coast. The Erie had traded for guns
with the French and British, but in the south, the tribes were unarmed.
The Spanish had been more interested in missionizing than trading
with the Natives," DePratter said.
According to him, arms could have been a major incentive for
the Yamasee's move up the coast to Charles Town. While there, they
joined in the deerskin trade, however, DePratter noted, "They were
also sent off to bring in Indian slaves. There is clear evidence
that there was slaving," he said.
Donald Grinde, Yamasee, Haudenosaunee scholar, and professor
of Transnational/American Studies at SUNY Buffalo, will also be
presenting at the upcoming conference. "For several years, white
slave traders would come in and run up the Yamasee's debts for pots
and pans and guns," he said. "When people couldn't pay the debts,
the traders would demand women and children and take them into Charles
Town to sell them. This went on for 10 years, and then there was
The lifestyle of most the Natives in the region had deteriorated.
A diplomatic meeting was called between the Yamasee and Lower Creeks
to address the state of affairs. Bossy said that when the British
heard about the meeting, they sent some of their own traders and
diplomats. "Some of the traders tried to smooth things over, but
one trader, John Wright, threatened the Yamasee, basically with
enslavement and murder," Bossy said. "The next day, the Yamasee
were no longer eager to trade with them and that is the start of
In the book, "The Yamasee War," author William Ramsey wrote,
"Warriors from virtually every nation in the South, from the Catawbas
and their Piedmont neighbors in the Carolinas to the Choctaws of
Mississippi, joined together in one of the most potent Native coalitions
ever to oppose the British in colonial North America." The warriors
surrounded Charles Town on every front but the sea, wrote Ramsey,
who will also be a speaker at the conference.
Grinde and Ramsey both described the Yamasee War as one of the
bloodiest in colonial America. "There is a reason why it hasn't
been talked about muchbecause we almost won," Grinde said.
"Almost 10 percent of the white population in South Carolina were
killed and almost all of them were slave catchers."
After the devastating loss of lives and the destruction of outlying
settlements, North Carolina and South Carolina ended the Native
slave trade by the British, though slavery among some of the tribes
continued. While those already enslaved were not freed, the British
turned exclusively to trading African slaves.
After the war, "South Carolina kind of retracted into itself
and the south was completely reshaped in a number of different ways,"
Bossy said. It was more than a decade after the war before resettlement
began. "As for the Indian communities, many coalesced and committed
to being confederacies. One of the things you can take from this
war is that Indians brought an end to the slave trade of Indians."
In the following years, the Yamasee dispersed to safety in several
different locations. Grinde said many Yamasee relocated to Georgia,
which was not yet settled. Others went with the Creeks, and still
others joined the Guale in Saint Augustine, DePratter reported.
The Yamasee became known as a refugee tribe, picking up people
from different groups along the way. Grinde said that after the
war, those who relocated to Georgia were safe from slave catchers,
no matter their race or heritage. "That explains the rise of our
multi-racial heritage. Black slaves who ran away from South Carolina
knew if they could make it across the Savannah River they would
be free. They could join us in the same way they later went into
Florida to join the Seminoles. Georgia wasn't founded until 1733."
St Augustine, Florida recently celebrated 450 years since the
arrival of Ponce De Leon, but Bossy said Native voices were lost
in the celebration. With the conference, this group is reminding
St. Augustine that there are other anniversaries to think about.