Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

UNF Professor Tries to Bring Awareness to Lost Southeastern Indian Tribe

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

UNF Professor Tries to Bring Awareness to Lost Southeastern Indian Tribe

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Soergel

The Yamasee Indians were hard to pin down.

That was a necessary survival strategy for the Southeastern native people, who as the 1600s bled into the 1700s found themselves caught between rival Indian groups and Europeans trying to capture them for slaves, land-hungry American colonists, and the ruling powers of the British in South Carolina and the Spanish in St. Augustine.

It worked this way, says Denise Bossy, a University of North Florida history professor who's writing a book on the Yamasee: They made themselves valuable to the British when convenient, to the Spanish when needed. They took in new members, new life, including other Indians and many escaped African slaves. They joined other tribes, including the disparate groups that eventually become known in Florida as the Seminole.

They stayed on the move: When things got too hot in one place, they simply slipped away to some place more hospitable. The Georgia coast, the South Carolina low country, Amelia Island, the St. Johns River, St. Augustine and even as far as Cuba.

Though no place stayed hospitable for too long, not in this rapidly changing world.

So when they had to, they fought: The Yamasee War, which began in 1715, was a bloody affair that created fear across South Carolina, causing far-flung colonists to flee for the relative safety of what was then called Charles Town. Several hundred colonists were killed, along with almost 100 British traders with the Indians.

The Yamasee didn't ask for the changes that came to their land. But they had to adapt, and they did.

"The story of the Yamasee really tells us how this community responds to what could have shattered them - colonization, slavery, multiple wars - by crafting this culture of mobility that let them survive, by moving, but always in the South," Bossy said.

In 2015, she was one of the organizers of a first-of-its-kind conference on the Yamasee, held at Flagler College, that attracted historians and archaeologists and scholars. She's now writing a book on the Yamasee, supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. UNF said it's worth more than $50,000. …

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