- A Colonial Complex: South Carolina’s Frontiers in the Era of the Yamasee War 1680–1730
A Colonial Complex by Steven J. Oatis is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature addressing the early colonial period in the American southeast. Historical treatments of colonial encounters in eastern North America (1607–1776) face the inherent difficulty of creating an explanatory narrative in the absence of data informing the actions and behaviors of Indigenous participants. Colonial histories are especially problematic endeavors because it is difficult to incorporate meaningful Indigenous perspectives, which can only be glimpsed at through the opaque surface of documentary records. Oatis's text is a beneficial addition to the growing corpus of historical accounts concerned with the colonial southeast primarily because he approaches the subject matter with an awareness of these methodological difficulties.
Oatis makes excellent use of secondary sources and available documentary evidence. Anchored by the nineteenth-century scholarship of South Carolina historian William Rivers and Spanish historian Andrès de Barcia, Oatis supplements these early historical perspectives with twentieth-century accounts from Verner Crane, David Corkran, Alan Gallay, and Steven Hahn. Additionally, he integrates careful interpretations of Spanish, French, and English documentary evidence to explore the events surrounding [End Page 496] a critically important moment in the history of North America. To his credit, Oatis acknowledges the existence of Indigenous American historical influences, particularly the legacy of late Mississippian trade and diplomacy, and diligently includes Native voices when they present themselves in the documentary record. While Oatis exhibits an awareness of the inherent shortcomings of historical methodologies and he consciously attempts to balance his analysis of events by carefully considering Indigenous circumstances and Native behaviors, ultimately his text is able to provide only limited insights into the multicultural nature of colonial encounters in the American southeast.
Oatis insists on referring to Native southeastern societies surrounding Charles Town as a defensive perimeter even though Native acceptance of English settlement prior to the Yamasee War was decidedly mixed. Within the self-proclaimed limits of South Carolina's colonial jurisdiction, Charles Town's interaction with Native peoples was characterized by the enslavement and victimization of "Settlement Indians" by the colony's armed Indigenous allies. Prior to the eruption of war with the Yamasee, Charles Town had allied with and subsequently enslaved many of its former Indigenous allies, including the Stono and other Cusabo peoples situated on the coast, the Westo, the Savannah, and the Winyah. Given the ultimate outcome of South Carolina's previous alliances, the colony's partnership with the Yamasee and Ochese Creek peoples was an uneasy one at best. It would be unrealistic to assume that Yamasee peoples were unaware of these circumstances. Moreover, Oatis fails to acknowledge the significance of kinship in Native conceptualizations of appropriate behavior, especially with regards to trade and diplomacy. When English traders married into Native societies to promote trade, they incurred obligations and responsibilities that extended well beyond the parameters of business relationships. While they may not have been aware of such obligations initially, by the second decade of the eighteenth century, South Carolina's officials must have obtained at least a vague understanding of the machinations of Indigenous concepts of justice, equity, and social control. By marrying into Native societies, English traders and colonial officials willingly subjugated themselves to the Law of the Clan, which from an Eurocentric perspective could seem both harsh and indiscriminate. By disregarding or failing to recognize such responsibilities, traders alienated themselves from vitally important clan relationships, the foundations of their personal safety and economic security. Because Oatis has difficulty addressing the most fundamental aspects of Indigenous social organization, he is unable to offer his readers a substantially different vision of the cross-cultural encounters that characterized southeastern colonial encounters. While his text is informative and offers a number of important insights into South Carolina's imperial desires and objectives, it remains a slanted interpretation of the complex processes of resistance...