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A Colonial Complex

South Carolina's Frontiers in the Era of the Yamasee War, 1680-1730

Steven J. Oatis

Publication Year: 2004

In 1715 the upstart British colony of South Carolina was nearly destroyed in an unexpected conflict with many of its Indian neighbors, most notably the Yamasees, a group whose sovereignty had become increasingly threatened. The South Carolina militia retaliated repeatedly until, by 1717, the Yamasees were nearly annihilated, and their survivors fled to Spanish Florida. The war not only sent shock waves throughout South Carolina's government, economy, and society, but also had a profound impact on colonial and Indian cultures from the Atlantic Coast to the Mississippi River.

Drawing on a diverse range of colonial records, A Colonial Complex builds on recent developments in frontier history and depicts the Yamasee War as part of a colonial complex: a broad pattern of exchange that linked the Southeast’s Indian, African, and European cultures throughout the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In the first detailed study of this crucial conflict, Steven J. Oatis shows the effects of South Carolina’s aggressive imperial expansion on the issues of frontier trade, combat, and diplomacy, viewing them not only from the perspective of English South Carolinians but also from that of the societies that dealt with the South Carolinians both directly and indirectly. Readers will find new information on the deerskin trade, the Indian slave trade, imperial rivalry, frontier military strategy, and the major transformations in the cultural landscape of the early colonial Southeast.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page

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pp. iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv

Table of Contents

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

In researching, planning, and writing this book, I have benefited from the advice, inspiration, and comfort of a number of individuals and organizations. My interest in the Yamasee War was first piqued in a graduate seminar at Emory taught by John Juricek. From that point on, he offered expert guidance as I worked a seminar paper into a dissertation. I could not have asked for a better advisor, not only for his vast knowledge on the colonial Southeast, but also for his patience with...

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Introduction: The Southeastern Frontier Complex

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pp. 1-11

When Thomas Nairne went to sleep on the eve of Good Friday, 1715, he had no idea that he would wake to star in his own passion play. Nairne, one of the most prominent and influential residents of the British colony of South Carolina, spent the night in the Yamasee Indian village of Pocotaligo, a few miles inland from Port Royal Sound. Though...

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1. Builders and Borrowers: South Carolina’s Early Frontier Expansion

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pp. 12-41

Well before its first colonists stepped ashore, Carolina existed as a name on English maps. As early as 1629, the term was used to identify a vast portion of the North American Southeast that stretched south from Virginia to the Florida peninsula and west from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Though the English Civil...

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2. Contested Empires: The Southeastern Theaters of

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pp. 42-82

For all their apparent greed, many of the colonists who improved their fortunes on the plantations and frontiers of South Carolina were driven by a desire to serve something greater than themselves. They were imperialists: men who believed in the superiority of their own culture and the need to impose their economic and political authority on inferior parts of the world. South Carolina’s...

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3. Beneath the Buffer Zone: Strains on South Carolina’s Indian Alliance Network

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pp. 83-111

Despite its wartime success, South Carolina retained a rather unsavory reputation in some circles. If a British farmer, craftsman, laborer, or merchant were to consider trying his luck across the Atlantic, he was likely to hear at least something about the insects, humidity, and diseases that prevailed in the Southeast...

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4. Conspiracy Theories: Inter-Indian Alliances and the Outbreak of the Yamasee War

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pp. 112-139

The last official assessment of South Carolina’s Indian buffer zone came in the early months of 1715, when provincial authorities commissioned a report on “the number and strength of all the Indian nations . . . subject to the government of South Carolina.”1 Culled from the notes and estimates of the province’s most knowledgeable frontiersmen, this census listed a grand total of 28,041 friendly Indians...

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5. Crisis and Change: Wartime Adjustments of the South Carolinians

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pp. 140-175

Three weeks after losing his plantation to a pillaging band of Yamasee warriors, George Rodd was unable to take much solace in the fact that he was still alive. By May 1715 South Carolina’s unexpected Indian war had burdened him with an array of troubles that seemed “a hundred times worse than death.” The devastated plantation was the least of Rodd’s worries. In a desperate letter to a friend in London,...

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6. Distances Bridged and Widened: Wartime Adjustments of the Southeastern Indians

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pp. 176-222

Shortly after the outbreak of the Yamasee War, many observers considered the South Carolinians to be at a distinct disadvantage. While the South Carolina government could place no more than fifteen hundred men in the field, it was widely assumed that the “enemy” included anywhere from three thousand to seventeen thousand elusive, highly trained killers.1 These odds seemed even more lopsided...

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7. Inchoate Resistance: Indians and Imperialists in the Creek-Cherokee War

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pp. 223-263

William Hatton, South Carolina’s agent among the Cherokees, was making his rounds one November day in 1724 when he heard that a major crisis had erupted in the nearby town of Tugaloo. Hatton gathered up all the men and guns he could find on such short notice but arrived far too late to stop an act of destruction as disturbing as anything he had witnessed during the Yamasee...

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8. Designs on a Debatable Land: The Watershed of South Carolinian Expansion

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pp. 264-298

Istawekee never forgot his homeland. Long after the South Carolinians had driven him and his people away from the inlets of Port Royal Sound, he continued to make frequent and unscheduled visits to the area. Some of the local colonists were more hospitable than others; one man named Blakeway often took the illegal risk of sheltering Istawekee and his compatriots and buying their deerskins. During one such transaction in the fall of 1723, Blakeway and his guests suddenly discovered that Colonel John Barnwell was...

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Conclusion: The Significance of the Yamasee War

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pp. 299-310

The Lower Creeks who described the mysteries of Okefenokee Swamp to William Bartram in 1776 were storytellers, no less so than William Gilmore Simms, the South Carolinian who crafted his own “romance” of the Yamasees nearly fifty years later. Like Simms, Bartram’s Lower Creek guides drew from a deep well of local legends to explain an important and tumultuous episode from the past. Unlike Simms...


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pp. 311-368


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pp. 369-389


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pp. 391-399

E-ISBN-13: 9780803204805
E-ISBN-10: 0803204809

Publication Year: 2004