South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948

By David Duncan Wallace | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
THE YEMASSEE WAR, 1715-1717

THE HAPPY period of Governor Craven's administration was succeeded by one of tragedy followed by prolonged depression; but the Governor met the crisis of war as splendidly as he had led in the constructive work of peace.

The Indians (as far west as the Mississippi) supposed to owe allegiance to South Carolina in 1715 numbered 26,731, of whom 9,004 (plus the probable 18 or 20 among the 57 Seewees) were men.1 The Yemassees were a Muskhogean tribe who in the 1680's moved from the Georgia coast to South Carolina and finally located on Coosawhatchie Island and the mainland between the Combahee and Savannah rivers.

The cause of the Yemassee War may be summarily stated as Indian resentment of long-standing abuses by traders, followed by settlers' taking up Yemassee lands. The Carolinians were fully aware for years before this of the danger of wars of revenge on account of traders' abuses. The submission of the Indians to wrong, such as cheating, beatings, seduction of their women, burden bearing, etc., when they felt helpless was as marked as their "insolence" when they felt in a position to be feared. An abuse against which there were frequent warnings, and sometimes prohibitions, was the persuading or permitting of Indians to run in debt to the traders. Heavy debts either made the Indians indifferent, drove them to flight, or inflamed them to wiping out their debts in blood. Estimates of the burdens that the Indians in 1715 planned thus to throw off are wild: £10,000 sterling; £50,000 sterling; 100,000 deerskins. A weighty cause with the Yemassees, though hardly with the more distant tribes, was encroachments on their lands.

The common assertion of South Carolina historians that the St. Augustine Spaniards instigated the rising has never been proved. That the Spanish were delighted and that the Governor of St. Augustine extended the Indians aid for years after the war is certain. Neither have we proof of instigation by the French. The Creeks were accused by some of being the originators of the conspiracy, but the following from trader Samuel Sleigh's journal disproves this, which was in itself improbable: At a great council of the chiefs and head warriors of the

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1
See accompanying table, from a contemporary chart; original spelling.

-86-

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