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The Yamasee Pushed to the Brink
From its founding in the 1660s through the early 18th century, South Carolina was a sparsely populated British colony on the outskirts of major population centers. The settlers established large plantations and used African slave labor. But they wanted additional slaves, and sought to capture them from nearby Indian tribes.
The Yamasee Indians were the settlers' allies. In return for valuable trade goods, the Yamasee were happy to help the Carolinians capture other Indians to use as slaves. But the Yamasee couldn't supply the traders with enough slaves to pay off the debts they built up. By 1715, the Yamasee owed traders in South Carolina debts worth 100,000 deerskins. It would take five years' hunting for the Yamasee to acquire that many skins!
More concerning to the Yamasee was that slave raiders began seizing Yamasee women and children to cover the Indians' mounting debts. Pushed to the brink, the Yamasee rebelled in April 1715.
The Yamasee War, 1715-1717
The Yamasee War began when the Yamasee joined with other Indians who had been wronged by settlers--namely the Catawba and the Lower Creek. Together, this powerful confederacy killed traders and settlers, destroyed livestock, and set fire to plantations around Port Royal in South Carolina. After only a few months, the Yamasee and their Indian allies had killed over 400 colonists, and hundreds more flooded as refugees into Charles Town.
The Yamasee quickly came to see, however, that they had become too dependent on trade with the English settlers. They were running out of guns and ammunition! As the Indians pondered their next move, the Carolinians took the initiative. They placed an embargo on the trade in weapons and powder to the Yamasee, and at the same time resupplied their own war goods from Virginia.
The deathblow came to the Yamasee when the Carolina settlers allied with the powerful Cherokee and Iroquois, who relished the opportunity to strike at their age-old enemies, the Yamasee and the Lower Creek. Low on weapons and ammunition, and now outnumbered by settlers and powerful Indian tribes, the Yamasee and their allies cut their losses and fled southward out of Carolina.
The Yamasee, Lower Creek, and Catawba eventually found refuge in Spanish Florida. Practical minded, the Spanish welcomed the Indians as useful associates in protecting Florida from English incursions.
Effects of the Yamasee War
The Yamasee War drove out the Indians and opened up the interior of South Carolina to further settlement. The governor of North Carolina observed the 'thinning of the Indians to make room for the English.'
Population statistics help make this point. In 1700, the Yamasee almost matched the British in population: 15,000 Indians to 16,000 colonists. By 1720, the population was 37,000 colonists compared to only 4,000 Indians.
Mounting debt and slave-raiding drove the Yamasee Indians and their allies to rebel against the Carolina settlers in 1715. After months of hard fighting, the Indians had difficulty acquiring the needed weapons and ammunition to continue the Yamasee War. The settlers responded by allying with the Yamasee's Indian enemies, thus pushing the Yamasee out of the colony and into Spanish Florida. The settlers' victory in the Yamasee War opened up the interior of South Carolina to further British settlement.
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