Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Yamasee War & The Cherokee Factor

From Jackson's Way, by John Buchanan, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2001, pp. 18-19:

    The Yamasee War came close to destroying South Carolina. Four hundred settlers (6% of the population) were killed. Ninety percent of the traders were killed in the Yamasee and Creek Nations, from South Carolina’s Low Country to central Alabama. Charleston’s defensive perimeter was reduced to a radius of some thirty-five miles and that was not totally secure. In August 1715 several hundred warriors penetrated the outskirts of Charleston before being repulsed. The degree of danger can be measured by the arming of hundreds of black slaves to fight alongside white militiamen. All of the southeastern tribes had risen except two: the Chickasaws on the Mississippi, who stayed loyal and protected their traders; and the Cherokees, who were thinking over Creek overtures. The Chickasaws were too far away and too few to intervene. The Cherokees, however, were quite a different story. They were on the doorsteps of both Carolinas and they could muster 4,000 warriors. If the Cherokees joined the alliance, what could follow? The evacuation of Charleston?
    In the late fall of 1715 Colonels James Moore and George Chicken with 300 militiamen were sent up-country to the lower Cherokee towns as a show of force and to negotiate an alliance. At the same time Creek envoys were in the towns seeking their own alliance, and a large force of Creek warriors were concealed in the forests awaiting the signal for a Cherokee-Creek attack on the English force. The Cherokees took their time and negotiated with both sides. Finally, in January 1716, they made their decision. The Creek envoys were murdered by their hosts and a Cherokee-English force did the attacking and sent the waiting Creek warriors fleeing for their lives.
    The Cherokee decision saved South Carolina. Historians have given pride of place to the Indian alliances that led to the Pequot War (1636–1638) and King Philip’s War (1675–1676) in New England, and the rising of the northwestern tribes in Pontiac’s Rebellion (1763–1765). This is not unusual, given the general neglect of southern history during the colonial and revolutionary periods. But the alliance that led to the Yamasee War was the “greatest Indian alliance in colonial history with the potential to eradicate not just South Carolina but also North Carolina and Virginia.”