Yemassee nation composed of two separate nations

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Yemassee nation composed of two separate nations

By GERHARD SPIELER
Published Tuesday, February 20, 2001 in The Island Packet  |  912 Words  |  /BeaufortGazette/local_news

A recent article in <i>The Beaufort Gazette</i>, by David Jakubiak, writing from "Okatie," stated that developers of Heyward Pointe "have paused in plans to build over the former capital of South Carolina's Yemassee Indian community, officials said last week." 'Over the past 30 years, a great deal has been written about Yemassee Indians, but very little is known about them. "The Yamassee (spelling often differs) nation was actually composed of two separate nations: Guale and Yamassee," according to Dr. Larry E. Ivers, who spoke to members of the Beaufort County Historical Society in April 1983. 'Initially, the "Yamassee were settled inland, in present Georgia, from the forks of the Altamaha River East to the Savannah River." At that time, prior to the 1670 English settlement of Charles Town, the Spanish still claimed dominion by virtue of prior settlement (St. Helena). '"By 1684, the Yamassees remained in Apalachee, in present day West Florida, under Spanish protection. About the same year, they were offended by some act of the Spanish governor, and moved North, probably to Yamacraw (Savannah), an old Yamassee town site." 'Seeking a barrier to protect against Spanish incursions, the Carolina government at Charles Town invited the Yemassee chiefs to settle their people in the coastal regions between the Savannah and the Combahee Rivers. That area became known as the "Indian lands" even after the Yemassees were driven out after the 1715 Yemassee Indian War. 'Swanton, in his classic book, Indian Tribes of North America, listed 10 known Yemassee "towns" and naming them Sedkeche, Pocotaligo, Tomatly, Youhaw, Huspau, Tulafina, Altimaha, Oketee, Chasee and Pocasabo. Most of those names have come down to the present the same or in different spellings. 'The 10 Indian towns were primitive, even by the standards of those days. They consisted mostly of clearings, but retaining some trees; rough log huts with thatched roofs of palmetto fronds. Huts were in clusters for communal living and each town was on the banks of a stream or river. 'Earlier, in March 1995, residents of the Camp Mary's community objected to another proposed development, in part because it "might damage the site of an old Yemassee Indian village." The development, planned for a 920-acre tract on S.C. 170, across from the Beaufort-Jasper Career Education Center, was thought to be on the site where the Yemassee town of Oketee once was located. 'In 1707, following increasing white intrusions and settlement of the coastal islands, the Charles Town government established a reservation for the Yemassees. It included the mainland between the Combahee and Savannah rivers, which were long known as "the Indian lands." 'According to Dr. Larry E. Ivers, "there were apparently two major Yamassee towns: Altamaha and Pocotaligo." Yemassee Indians also settled on St. Helena Island and Port Royal. "Soon afterwards, they were given Hilton Head Island as well." 'In 1686, Spanish and their Timucua Indian allies, destroyed Stuart's Town, on Port Royal Island. They also "attacked Yammassee and Guale, killing and capturing several women and children." The Yemassees near Stuart's Town "fled to the Northwest and reestablished their towns on the Ashepoo River from Deer Creek North to Horseshoe Creek." By 1700, most of the above moved back to Port Royal and "began settling the islands there," and rebuilding their towns on the mainland. 'The total Yemassee population "in 1715 was 413 men, 345 women, 234 boys, 223 girls, for a total of 1,215 people." At the same time, the total white population of the Port Royal region was probably between 300 to 400 people. 'The Yemassee men "spent a large part of their time harvesting deer skins to exchange for guns, rum, tools, cloth and trinkets sold by South Carolina Indian traders." The latter mostly had their trading stations close to or near Indian towns. 'Then there were the wealthy planters "who engaged in the trade. They did not deal first-hand with the Indians, but employed the first group for that duty." 'A sketch accompanying the text of Dr. Larry E. Ivers talk showed a Yemassee Indian town to consist of rectangular huts with thatched roofs; round huts, raised off the ground and on a square platform (presumably for storing crops.) In the center of the town, on a raised hill of earth, was "the round community building called the town house." 'The description corresponds to a contemporary account of the day at a Pocotaligo Indian town preceding the outbreak of the 1715 War: "That evening the Pocotaligo traders returned to their houses and the Indians provided the visitors with a good supper and beds in the large, round community building called the town house." 'A Yemassee town was distinguished by numerous open spaces. Several family huts were often close together, but separated by open spaces from other familial groups. There were open spaces for growing crops, play grounds for children, trees scattered throughout the town which was located on the banks of a navigable river. 'William Green, in an unpublished thesis for the University of South Carolina Department of Anthropology,wrote: "The town of Altamaha appears to have been composed of dispersed residential clusters of households." 'Beaufort's John Barnwell wrote in 1721 from Fort King George, near present-day Darien, Ga., of "an old Indian town containing 40 acres of land. At this place, the Huspah people belonging to the Yamassee lived all the summer of 1715 ... It is all light and sandy land good for Indian corn and potatoes (and) produced excellent Grass ... there are many heaps of oyster shells all over the fields and here and there a Large Life Oak Tree."