A Colonial Complex: South Carolina's Frontiers in the Era of the Yamasee War, 1680-1730

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Lincoln 2004 Softcover 399 pages. Softcover. Brand new book. SOUTH CAROLINA. 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 stud Read more Show Less

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Overview


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.

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Editorial Reviews

Chronicle of Higher Education

A study of tensions and later warfare between South Carolina colonists and the Yamasee Indians, who were nearly annihilated in 1717, with survivors seeking refuge in Spanish Florida.
Journal of Southern History

"With the publication of Steven J. Oatis''s excellent book, we finally have a comprehensive and persuasive interpretation of this critical war."—Journal of Southern History

— Joshua Piker

Itinerario

“This well-written volume will appeal to scholars of the American frontier and the early American South. It effectively draws upon a wide range of English and Spanish sources to provide by far the most detailed account of the war and the events that surrounded it, and readers will appreciate its insights.”—Andrew K. Frank, Itinerario

— Andrew K. Frank

Journal of Military History

"A welcome addition to the growing body of literature addressing the early colonial period in the American southwest."—William Wall, Journal of Military History

— William Wall

South Carolina Historical Magazine

“Oatis allows the reader to appreciate the ''kaleidoscopic complexity'' of the eighteenth-century southern frontier with its ''fluid identities and ambiguous alliances''. . . . Oatis has produced a work that is a must read for serious students of South Carolina’s early history.”—Mary Ferrari, South Carolina Historical Magazine

— Mary Ferrari

Southern Historian

"A Colonial Complex is noteworthy because Oatis provides an insightful look into a conflict that is usually only mentioned as a side note in the history of the Creek Indians. But Oatis''s research goes well beyond the Yamasee War, and as a result anyone studying colonial interaction with Indians in the Southeast will find this book useful."—Michael Hoekstra, Southern Historian

— Michael Hoekstra

The Americas

“Oatis’s writing skills, powers of analysis, and command of the South Carolina materials are impressive.”—Amy Turner Bushnell, The Americas

— Amy Turner Bushnell

The Georgia Historical Quarterly

"Steven J. Oatis has written a superb account and analysis of the Yamasee War, an event that most historians either simplify or forget but one that had repercussions for all empires, native and foreign, interested in the Southeast. . . . A Colonial Complex will surely rank as a classic text in the study of the colonial South for years to come."—Julie Anne Sweet, The Georgia Historical Quarterly

William and Mary Quarterly

Reviewed by L. H. Roper, State University of New York at New Paltz

Steven J. Oatis situates the colonial Southeast within a “frontier complex” (7) of engagements between Indian and European societies. Here, the frontier generated mixed results for “South Carolina imperialists” (43) and the Indians, Africans, and Europeans with whom they came into contact on their quest “to expand their influence over the unsettled areas of their perceived domain” (11). These consequences included the Yamasee War, the region’s counterpart to King Philip’s War.

Oatis bookends his account with the collapse of the Spanish mission system north of Saint Augustine and the appointment of Robert Johnson as governor of South Carolina. During this half century, harried officials in Louisiana, Florida, and Virginia labored to block the expansion efforts of their Carolina neighbors. At the same time, the Carolinians used their indigenous connections, especially with the Yamasee, to create a defensive “buffer zone” (83) for their province. Elsewhere in the region, factions within Lower Creek, Cherokee, Catawba, Chickasaw, and other Indian communities played the Europeans against each other to gain political and economic advantage.

After 1713 the situation of the Yamasee became critical. Oatis cites well-known contributions to their decline, including the trade deficit they created with South Carolina traders, alcohol consumption, and the “abusive” behavior of the “arrogant” (116) Carolinians. These phenomena, though, constituted “the tip of the proverbial iceberg” (116). The southerly push of low-country settlement after Queen Anne’s War severely disrupted the Yamasee economy and compelled the Indians either to turn to slave catching as the chief means of repaying their debts or to face the prospect of enslavement themselves. Anticipating no satisfaction from the South Carolina government, they attacked the colony in April 1715. Ultimately involving the Creek and other Indians, backed by whatever support the Spanish could offer, the war devastated South Carolina, driving the beleaguered survivors to Charles Town.

By 1717, thanks largely to intervention by the Cherokee, most of South Carolina’s enemies had withdrawn south, though they kept the province on edge for another decade. During this period the colony’s government sought to rebuild its relationships with its Indian neighbors. It also made repeated efforts to restore the “pax Caroliniana” (252) that purportedly existed before the outbreak of the war.

The carrot-and-stick methods that these missions employed reflected the deeper changes that had occurred on South Carolina’s frontiers as a consequence of the war. The uprising shocked white Carolinians out of their arrogance and compelled them to seek relief, first from their colonial neighbors and, later, from the Crown after they rebelled against the colony’s lords proprietors in 1719. They also had to resolve anxieties created by the necessity of arming blacks during the emergency. These concerns combined to shift the South Carolinians from “their old brand of semiautonomous imperialism” to a position “closer to the mainstream of the British Empire between 1715 and 1720” (166).

On the other hand, the Cherokee found themselves having to endure the insolence of their Carolina allies after Virginia traders shifted their attentions northward and as they suffered continuing pressure from their old enemies, the Lower Creek, who had sided against them in the war. Even so, these peoples, as well as the Chickasaws and others, remained able to keep the Carolinians at arm’s length.

In the end, despite “all of the significant frontier transformations brought on by new trade networks, new weapons, new alliances, and new colonial settlements, most groups of people in the Southeast managed to maintain at least some hold over the traits and beliefs that distinguished them from other groups” (308). Moreover, when “the dynamics of the exchange process” broke down, “all these cultures chose to fight in order to make themselves understood”: the Yamasee War’s “greatest significance—one that can be applied to the entire southeastern frontier complex—was as a collection of tragic but temporarily effective forms of expression” (310).

Much of this history should be unsurprising to students of the colonial Southeast. From the work of scholars such as James H. Merrell and James Axtell, historians have known for some time of the efforts of the region’s Indians to deal with the new world generated by the arrival of the English. The “new Indian history” (6), as Oatis notes, has substantially revised the classic account of the Southern frontier by Verner W. Crane. Scholars also have considerable familiarity with the character and influence of the Yamasee War thanks to the contributions of Axtell, Alan Gallay, Tom Hatley, Merrell, and others.1 Despite having conducted substantial research, though, Oatis neither engages this literature—except to regard Gallay’s treatment as unsatisfactory—nor compares his Southeast with other early American frontiers.

Oatis’s contention that the frontier “remains the best and most concise way to express a historical process of profound importance to early America in general and to the colonial Southeast in particular” (6) remains unexplained, which calls into question its utility as a framework for understanding the early American past. The case of South Carolina constitutes a particularly shaky foundation on which to rest the historiographical case for the frontier’s significance. Though the English settlers who founded the colony immediately set to work cultivating ties and fomenting a cycle of war and enslavement with their indigenous neighbors, they maintained a Janus-faced perspective in their quest for political and economic advancement, pursuing patronage in the metropolis with the same vigor with which they sought connections among the Indians.

Moreover, it is problematic to characterize the Carolinians as imperialists, a term that Oatis applies to a range of incommensurate actors from trader-politician Thomas Nairne to veteran colonial administrator Sir Francis Nicholson. “Trader-imperialists” (68) neither advocated nor planned the expansion of South Carolina or of the British Empire except when it suited their more immediate and pecuniary aims. Indeed, when settlement, such as at Stuart’s Town, threatened their interests, they moved quickly against it. Oatis’s analysis, then, misses the crux of the province’s politics as evidenced by his claim that necessary reform of the Indian trade had to come from Charles Town; in reality, the traders in Indians habitually controlled the South Carolina government prior to 1721.

Ironically, the Yamasee War, which by all accounts their abuses caused, deflated the longstanding preeminence of Johnson and his cohort of Indian slavers, known as the “Goose Creek men,” in South Carolina and reduced the economic importance of the frontier to the province. Yet, though Oatis notes that the tumultuous politics of South Carolina gave way to a celebrated harmony after 1730, he expresses remarkable reluctance to accept the verdict against the traders, preferring to blame the war and the problems of the Southeast “frontier complex” generally on economic “tensions” (104). Scholars should not acquit the dealers in Indians so readily.

1 James H. Merrell, The Indians’ New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1989); Tom Hatley, The Dividing Paths: Cherokees and South Carolinians through the Era of Revolution (New York, 1993); James Axtell, The Indians’ New South: Cultural Change in the Colonial Southeast (Baton Rouge, LA, 1997); Alan Gallay, The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670–1717 (New Haven, Conn., 2002).

— L. H. Roper

Southern Quarterly

“While the broad outlines of the Yamasee conflict are well known, Oatis’ exploration of the conflict and the years leading up to and after the war are the best I have read. . . . Rather than casting the war as a turning point in the history of the English South, Oatis deftly reveals how it ended some peoples’ ability to shape their own destinies but, at the same time, it did little to change the imperatives, strategies, and practices that characterized politics and diplomacy in the region. The book is a welcome addition to the recent spate of frontier studies for its subject matter, and Oatis’ rehabilitation of the concept of frontier offers interesting theoretical challenges to studies that have focused instead on region-making and borderlands.”—James Taylor Carson, Southern Quarterly

— James Taylor Carson

American Historical Review - Charles Hudson

"Steven J. Oatis's book is the most important contribution to our understanding of the Yamasee War since Verner Crane's magisterial The Southern Frontier. . . . first published in 1928. . . . Oatis makes it abundantly clear that whatever the causes of the Yamasee War, it powerfully reordered the political landscape of the lower South for a very long time to come."—Charles Hudson, American Historical Review
Journal of Southern History - Joshua Piker

"With the publication of Steven J. Oatis's excellent book, we finally have a comprehensive and persuasive interpretation of this critical war."—Journal of Southern History
Itinerario - Andrew K. Frank

“This well-written volume will appeal to scholars of the American frontier and the early American South. It effectively draws upon a wide range of English and Spanish sources to provide by far the most detailed account of the war and the events that surrounded it, and readers will appreciate its insights.”—Andrew K. Frank, Itinerario
Journal of Military History - William Wall

"A welcome addition to the growing body of literature addressing the early colonial period in the American southwest."—William Wall, Journal of Military History
South Carolina Historical Magazine - Mary Ferrari

“Oatis allows the reader to appreciate the 'kaleidoscopic complexity' of the eighteenth-century southern frontier with its 'fluid identities and ambiguous alliances'. . . . Oatis has produced a work that is a must read for serious students of South Carolina’s early history.”—Mary Ferrari, South Carolina Historical Magazine
Southern Historian - Michael Hoekstra

"A Colonial Complex is noteworthy because Oatis provides an insightful look into a conflict that is usually only mentioned as a side note in the history of the Creek Indians. But Oatis's research goes well beyond the Yamasee War, and as a result anyone studying colonial interaction with Indians in the Southeast will find this book useful."—Michael Hoekstra, Southern Historian
The Americas - Amy Turner Bushnell

“Oatis’s writing skills, powers of analysis, and command of the South Carolina materials are impressive.”—Amy Turner Bushnell, The Americas
The Georgia Historical Quarterly - Julie Anne Sweet

"Steven J. Oatis has written a superb account and analysis of the Yamasee War, an event that most historians either simplify or forget but one that had repercussions for all empires, native and foreign, interested in the Southeast. . . . A Colonial Complex will surely rank as a classic text in the study of the colonial South for years to come."—Julie Anne Sweet, The Georgia Historical Quarterly
William and Mary Quarterly - L. H. Roper

A Colonial Complex: South Carolina’s Frontiers in the Era of the Yamasee War, 1680–1730. By STEVEN J. OATIS. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. 399 pages. $65.00 (cloth).
 
Reviewed by L. H. Roper, State University of New York at New Paltz
 
Steven J. Oatis situates the colonial Southeast within a “frontier complex” (7) of engagements between Indian and European societies. Here, the frontier generated mixed results for “South Carolina imperialists” (43) and the Indians, Africans, and Europeans with whom they came into contact on their quest “to expand their influence over the unsettled areas of their perceived domain” (11). These consequences included the Yamasee War, the region’s counterpart to King Philip’s War.
Oatis bookends his account with the collapse of the Spanish mission system north of Saint Augustine and the appointment of Robert Johnson as governor of South Carolina. During this half century, harried officials in Louisiana, Florida, and Virginia labored to block the expansion efforts of their Carolina neighbors. At the same time, the Carolinians used their indigenous connections, especially with the Yamasee, to create a defensive “buffer zone” (83) for their province. Elsewhere in the region, factions within Lower Creek, Cherokee, Catawba, Chickasaw, and other Indian communities played the Europeans against each other to gain political and economic advantage.
 
After 1713 the situation of the Yamasee became critical. Oatis cites well-known contributions to their decline, including the trade deficit they created with South Carolina traders, alcohol consumption, and the “abusive” behavior of the “arrogant” (116) Carolinians. These phenomena, though, constituted “the tip of the proverbial iceberg” (116). The southerly push of low-country settlement after Queen Anne’s War severely disrupted the Yamasee economy and compelled the Indians either to turn to slave catching as the chief means of repaying their debts or to face the prospect of enslavement themselves. Anticipating no satisfaction from the South Carolina government, they attacked the colony in April 1715. Ultimately involving the Creek and other Indians, backed by whatever support the Spanish could offer, the war devastated South Carolina, driving the beleaguered survivors to Charles Town.
 
By 1717, thanks largely to intervention by the Cherokee, most of South Carolina’s enemies had withdrawn south, though they kept the province on edge for another decade. During this period the colony’s government sought to rebuild its relationships with its Indian neighbors. It also made repeated efforts to restore the “pax Caroliniana” (252) that purportedly existed before the outbreak of the war.
 
The carrot-and-stick methods that these missions employed reflected the deeper changes that had occurred on South Carolina’s frontiers as a consequence of the war. The uprising shocked white Carolinians out of their arrogance and compelled them to seek relief, first from their colonial neighbors and, later, from the Crown after they rebelled against the colony’s lords proprietors in 1719. They also had to resolve anxieties created by the necessity of arming blacks during the emergency. These concerns combined to shift the South Carolinians from “their old brand of semiautonomous imperialism” to a position “closer to the mainstream of the British Empire between 1715 and 1720” (166).
 
On the other hand, the Cherokee found themselves having to endure the insolence of their Carolina allies after Virginia traders shifted their attentions northward and as they suffered continuing pressure from their old enemies, the Lower Creek, who had sided against them in the war. Even so, these peoples, as well as the Chickasaws and others, remained able to keep the Carolinians at arm’s length.
 
In the end, despite “all of the significant frontier transformations brought on by new trade networks, new weapons, new alliances, and new colonial settlements, most groups of people in the Southeast managed to maintain at least some hold over the traits and beliefs that distinguished them from other groups” (308). Moreover, when “the dynamics of the exchange process” broke down, “all these cultures chose to fight in order to make themselves understood”: the Yamasee War’s “greatest significance—one that can be applied to the entire southeastern frontier complex—was as a collection of tragic but temporarily effective forms of expression” (310).
 
Much of this history should be unsurprising to students of the colonial Southeast. From the work of scholars such as James H. Merrell and James Axtell, historians have known for some time of the efforts of the region’s Indians to deal with the new world generated by the arrival of the English. The “new Indian history” (6), as Oatis notes, has substantially revised the classic account of the Southern frontier by Verner W. Crane. Scholars also have considerable familiarity with the character and influence of the Yamasee War thanks to the contributions of Axtell, Alan Gallay, Tom Hatley, Merrell, and others.1 Despite having conducted substantial research, though, Oatis neither engages this literature—except to regard Gallay’s treatment as unsatisfactory—nor compares his Southeast with other early American frontiers.
 
Oatis’s contention that the frontier “remains the best and most concise way to express a historical process of profound importance to early America in general and to the colonial Southeast in particular” (6) remains unexplained, which calls into question its utility as a framework for understanding the early American past. The case of South Carolina constitutes a particularly shaky foundation on which to rest the historiographical case for the frontier’s significance. Though the English settlers who founded the colony immediately set to work cultivating ties and fomenting a cycle of war and enslavement with their indigenous neighbors, they maintained a Janus-faced perspective in their quest for political and economic advancement, pursuing patronage in the metropolis with the same vigor with which they sought connections among the Indians.
Moreover, it is problematic to characterize the Carolinians as imperialists, a term that Oatis applies to a range of incommensurate actors from trader-politician Thomas Nairne to  veteran colonial administrator Sir Francis Nicholson. “Trader-imperialists” (68) neither advocated nor planned the expansion of South Carolina or of the British Empire except when it suited their more immediate and pecuniary aims. Indeed, when settlement, such as at Stuart’s Town, threatened their interests, they moved quickly against it. Oatis’s analysis, then, misses the crux of the province’s politics as evidenced by his claim that necessary reform of the Indian trade had to come from Charles Town; in reality, the traders in Indians habitually controlled the South Carolina government prior to 1721.
 
Ironically, the Yamasee War, which by all accounts their abuses caused, deflated the longstanding preeminence of Johnson and his cohort of Indian slavers, known as the “Goose Creek men,” in South Carolina and reduced the economic importance of the frontier to the province. Yet, though Oatis notes that the tumultuous politics of South Carolina gave way to a celebrated harmony after 1730, he expresses remarkable reluctance to accept the verdict against the traders, preferring to blame the war and the problems of the Southeast “frontier complex” generally on economic “tensions” (104). Scholars should not acquit the dealers in Indians so readily.
 
1 James H. Merrell, The Indians’ New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1989); Tom Hatley, The Dividing Paths: Cherokees and South Carolinians through the Era of Revolution (New York, 1993); James Axtell, The Indians’ New South: Cultural Change in the Colonial Southeast (Baton Rouge, LA, 1997); Alan Gallay, The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670–1717 (New Haven, Conn., 2002).

Indian Artifact Magazine - DON'T USE: repeats copy

"In the first detailed study of this crucial conflict, Stephen 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."—Gary L. Fogelman, Indian Artifact Magazine
Southern Quarterly - James Taylor Carson

“While the broad outlines of the Yamasee conflict are well known, Oatis’ exploration of the conflict and the years leading up to and after the war are the best I have read. . . . Rather than casting the war as a turning point in the history of the English South, Oatis deftly reveals how it ended some peoples’ ability to shape their own destinies but, at the same time, it did little to change the imperatives, strategies, and practices that characterized politics and diplomacy in the region. The book is a welcome addition to the recent spate of frontier studies for its subject matter, and Oatis’ rehabilitation of the concept of frontier offers interesting theoretical challenges to studies that have focused instead on region-making and borderlands.”—James Taylor Carson, Southern Quarterly
American Historical Review

"Steven J. Oatis's book is the most important contribution to our understanding of the Yamasee War since Verner Crane's magisterial The Southern Frontier. . . . first published in 1928. . . . Oatis makes it abundantly clear that whatever the causes of the Yamasee War, it powerfully reordered the political landscape of the lower South for a very long time to come."—Charles Hudson, American Historical Review

— Charles Hudson

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803220720
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2008
  • Pages: 399
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Steven J. Oatis is an assistant professor of history at the University of the Ozarks.
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Read an Excerpt

A Colonial Complex

South Carolina's Frontiers in the Era of the Yamasee War, 1680-1730
By Steven J. Oatis

University of Nebraska Press

Copyright © 2004 University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.




Introduction

THE SOUTHEASTERN FRONTIER COMPLEX

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 South Carolinians had begun to hear disturbing rumors of Indian discontent, Nairne considered the Yamasees to be old friends and loyal allies and felt entirely capable of appeasing them in the name of the provincial government. Nairne's small circle of fellow ambassadors put great stock in his abilities; in their eyes he was a highly respected soldier, trader, scholar, planter, and gentleman who knew more about the Indians than did any white man in South Carolina. Most of the Yamasees, however, had gradually come to see Nairne as a leader of an irredeemable collection of bullies, trespassers, and slave mongers. On the morning after the South Carolinians' latest assurances of friendship, a parcel of Yamasee warriors burst into Nairne's lodgings and dragged him to Pocotaligo's town square, where they tied him to a post and pierced his body with burning splinters of wood. While most of his colleagues diedquickly in their bedrolls, it probably took Nairne several agonizing hours-and perhaps days-to meet his end.

The murders at Pocotaligo quickly mushroomed into one of the most disruptive and unsettling conflicts in the history of colonial North America. Before the alarm could spread, the Yamasees killed most of the British traders among them and raided several of South Carolina's most prosperous coastal parishes, sacking plantations and killing more than a hundred colonists and slaves. Within weeks they were joined by a number of other disgruntled Indian societies that appeared intent on driving the remaining South Carolinians into the sea. Despite swift and successful countermeasures from the South Carolina militia, by late summer the colony's prospects seemed grim. Terrified sentries faced the threat of renewed Indian invasion from nearly every direction, women and children began to starve in the streets of a fortified Charles Town, and help proved slow to arrive from the homeland and other British colonies. Only after a timely alliance with the powerful Cherokee Indians in early 1716 did most South Carolinians allow themselves to breathe a little easier. By the time the last of the colony's major Indian foes withdrew from the conflict in the fall of 1717, the South Carolinians had already embarked on the slow and uncertain process of repairing their severely shaken economy, diplomacy, and sense of security.

Most Americans have probably never heard of the Yamasee War, but it has rarely failed to spark at least some interest among those who have. The war not only constituted one of the American Indians' most serious challenges to the dominance of European colonists, but it also stands as one of the most significant episodes in the colonial history of the North American Southeast. While inherently intriguing to anyone with an interest in the histories of early America and European-Indian relations, the Yamasee War also contains epic doses of heroism, scandal, treachery, and revenge. Not surprisingly the Yamasee War has provided inspiration for dramatists as well as historians.

In the mid-1830s one young and ambitious author chose to approach the Yamasee War from both a historical and a literary perspective. The Yemassee: A Romance of Carolina (1835) was William Gilmore Simms's attempt to glorify his home state in the popular style of Sir Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper. As Simms saw it, the Yamasee War boiled down to a noisy and dramatic collision between two incompatible worlds. Simms instilled his Indians with a bit more complexity than the noble savages of Cooper, but he had no trouble concluding that their way of life had to give way before the advance of the South Carolinians, who-led by a core of chivalrous, highborn characters-managed to triumph over the impediments laid down by crude traders, Spanish spies, and other base-hearted colonists. According to Simms, the triumph of a gentrified English civilization over barbarism marked the defining event of South Carolina's history and even the history of the entire South as a region.

Simms continues to draw praise as one of the United States' most significant writers of the Romantic era, but his reputation as a historian of the early South has withered over the years. Since Simms's day, however, there have been remarkably few attempts to understand the Yamasee War and its role in shaping the early development of South Carolina. When American history textbooks mention the Yamasee War at all, they afford it little more than a few lines, and even more specialized works tend to gloss over it. Synopses and broad generalizations about the Yamasee War are no longer difficult to find, but anyone looking to swim in deeper waters is bound to find them murky at best. Nearly thirty years ago one of the foremost scholars of colonial South Carolina lamented that the history of the Yamasee War "has never been adequately pieced together." Despite some valuable contributions to the historiography over the last several decades, this judgment still rings true, and those in search of the war's deeper ramifications have to look to scattered and less accessible sources.

Though often difficult to interpret and analyze, these sources indicate quite clearly that the Yamasee War did not simply amount to Indians and colonists offending each other, betraying each other, and killing each other. The carnage of the colonial Southeast's most violent Indian war was merely one, short-lived form of expression of the numerous, long-standing ties that connected the region's distinct and contesting groups of people. Greater appreciation of the causes and consequences of this intense conflict requires a long, hard look at a lengthy period.

During the era of the Yamasee War, three European empires and dozens of Native American societies attempted to assert their own ideas and interests within the vaguely defined areas where they impinged on one another. Such intermediary zones necessarily gave rise to interaction between different peoples and cultures. Here at first there were no rules or rulers acknowledged by all concerned: no universal standards, no established laws, no ultimate appeal, no official truth, no single hierarchy of anything. Stability, when it came at all, was usually fleeting and often came at tremendous cost to one group or another. Within these zones all was in flux and all were at risk, no more so than in the half-century after 1680. Careful study of these fluctuations-some gradual, some dramatic-is essential to understanding the Yamasee War in its proper historical context.

The idea of linking the Yamasee War to these kinds of changes is not a new one. More than seventy-five years ago, historian Verner Crane wrote what is widely considered the most authoritative treatment of the Yamasee War as a twenty-five page chapter of The Southern Frontier, 1670-1732 (1928). Crane's eloquent prose, thorough research, and path-breaking scope have established his work as a classic in American historiography, giving it great influence in the study of Indian-white relations in the early colonial Southeast. For all its obvious merits, however, Crane's book is neither infallible nor exhaustive. While it remains a compelling treatment of Britain's imperial strategy in the North American Southeast, it leaves many key aspects of the "southern frontier" unexplained. Any critique of this important work would have to begin with Crane's understanding of the "frontier," a concept that seemed deceptively simple, even intuitive, to most of his generation. Crane's take on frontiers was based firmly on that of Frederick Jackson Turner, the man who had helped train him as a historian during the early years of the twentieth century. Turner's brief, eloquent, and phenomenally influential treatise on "The Frontier in American History" (1893) essentially defined the concept as the outer edge of a "wave" of European American settlement making its way through a hostile, character-building wilderness. Turner argued that the patterned phases of westward expansion-from trapper, to trader, to farmer, to merchant, and so on-had molded a uniquely American quality of progress, persistence, and democratic individualism. While Turner and his generations of disciples never completely ignored the importance of the peoples on the other side of the advancing frontier, they clearly afforded these peoples much less attention and consideration than they deserve. When Crane concisely depicted his southern frontier as a zone of European influence "merging into the wilderness," he showed little appreciation for the complex and diverse Indian societies that had inhabited the region for centuries. Crane acknowledged that the Indians-or rather, "a sphere of influence over the Indian tribes"-formed an important part of the frontier, but he held that as this frontier expanded, it did so in only one direction.

For the last forty or so years, Turner's frontier thesis has taken its lumps, especially from a generation of critics more attuned to its obvious ethnocentrism. Though Crane remains less well known than Turner, his epic work on the early colonial Southeast is subject to similar attacks. But over the years the best critics of the Turner school of frontier historiography have done more than simply wave the banner of cultural relativism. More significantly these revisionists have worked toward alternative models to help students wrestle with questions and themes similar to those that occupied the Turner school: the dynamics of migration and settlement, intercultural contact, cultural ecology, and cultural change. In building a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of frontiers, a recent generation of scholarship has cast a new light on important topics that once seemed so cut-and-dried.

The most forceful challenge to the Turner thesis has developed in the past twenty or so years among historians working with the North American West, a section of the continent more steeped than any other in frontier myths and legends. For Patricia Nelson Limerick, Donald Worster, William Cronon, and other "New Western historians," the Turnerian view of an advancing frontier line is too static, predictable, and triumphal to do justice to a history that they see as a patchwork of racial, class, and ecological conflicts, many of which remain relevant to the North American West to this day. The New Western historians share an aversion to the very word "frontier," believing that more than a century of misuse and oversimplification has rendered it all but meaningless. Instead, they choose to work within the conceptual framework of "region," staking out a broad geographic space and observing the salient conflicts and innovations that have taken place within it. By highlighting such topics as labor activism, ethnic identity, water usage, and immigration quotas, these historians have helped depict a West far more diverse, dynamic, and contentious than the one defined by dime novels, John Wayne movies, and older frontier histories.

Significantly the "regional" methodology of the New Western historians can also be applied to regions outside the West. In The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670-1717 (2002), the first comprehensive study of the Southeast in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries since Crane's Southern Frontier, historian Alan Gallay tackles the interaction between diverse groups of European colonists, Native Americans, and African slaves and discerns a regionwide pattern of social and economic exploitation driven by the English South Carolinians through their successful trade, diplomatic aggression, and enslavement of racial "others." Gallay, like Crane, includes a section on the Yamasee War as part of his narrative. Unlike Crane, however, Gallay treats the Yamasee War less as an outgrowth of an advancing South Carolina frontier than as a milepost on the way to the racially cast, plantation-based society that would serve as the basis for the more familiar "Old South" of the nineteenth century.

Gallay and other New Western historians who would study the Yamasee War as an episode in "region making" tend to distance themselves from the Turnerian view that intercultural contact and conflict can be consigned to any single, overarching model. Their cautionary points about the potential pitfalls of frontier studies are well taken, but their outright rejection of the Turner thesis is excessive. In their eagerness to debunk the myths of the "frontier," these revisionists turn away from a concept that, if qualified properly, remains the best and most concise way to express a historical process of profound importance to early America in general and to the early colonial Southeast in particular.

Unlike the New Western historians, "New Indian historians" such as James Axtell, James Merrell, Daniel Usner, and Daniel Richter have immersed themselves in the study of frontier relationships. In the past thirty or so years, these and other like-minded scholars have demonstrated that the concept of the frontier popularized by Turner and Crane-while undeniably rigid and ethnocentric-is valuable in its ability to evoke both process and place. Turner and Crane correctly contended that wherever European Americans moved up against unfamiliar cultural and ecological environments, they changed, and were in turn changed by, these environments. What Turner and Crane failed to grasp adequately was the complexity of this process, not only insofar as it shaped the character of Europeans, but also as it challenged and changed human cultures that had some very different needs and priorities from those of Europeans. In contrast the New Indian historians have looked to a wide range of archival and anthropological sources in order to analyze the meaning of intercultural contact, interaction, and conflict for all groups involved. Their efforts have resulted in a far more nuanced and satisfying usage of "frontier" than the usage of old, defining the concept not as an advancing line of civilization against emptiness or savagery but as a broader geographic zone in which various groups of people traded with, lived with, fought with, and ultimately changed one another.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from A Colonial Complex by Steven J. Oatis Copyright © 2004 by University of Nebraska Press . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Introduction : the southeastern frontier complex 1
1 Builders and borrowers : South Carolina's early frontier expansion 12
2 Contested empires : the Southeastern theaters of Queen Anne's War 42
3 Beneath the buffer zone : strains on South Carolina's Indian Alliance Network 83
4 Conspiracy theories : inter-Indian alliances and the outbreak of the Yamasee War 112
5 Crisis and change : wartime adjustments of the South Carolinians 140
6 Distances bridged and widened : wartime adjustments of the southeastern Indians 176
7 Inchoate resistance : Indians and imperialists in the Creek-Cherokee War 223
8 Designs on a debatable land : the watershed of South Carolinian expansion 264
Conclusion : the significance of the Yamasee War 299
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