The Waxhaw and Sugeree Indians

The two small tribes bearing the above designations are hardly known except in connection with the Catawba Indians, with whom they were afterward incorporated. They may be treated together. The tribes lived, respectively, about Waxhaw and Sugar (i. e., Sugeree) creeks, two small streams flowing into Catawba River from the northeast, within, what is now Lancaster County, South Carolina, and Union and Mecklenburg counties, North Carolina. As previously mentioned (The Eno, Shoccoree, and Adshusheer indians) the Waxhaw practiced the custom of flattening the head, a custom probably followed also by the Catawba and other neighboring tribes, whence they were called Flatheads. The first notice of either tribe seems to be that of Lederer, who visited, the Wisacky (Warsaw) in 1672, and found them living next south of the Sara, i. e., about where they were afterward known. He dismisses them with the brief statement that they were subject to the Ushery (Catawba) and might be considered a part of that tribe 1 .

In 1701 Lawson visited the Waxhaw and was received in the most hospitable fashion. He mentions two of their villages as being situated 10 miles apart, showing that they might be considered a tribe of some importance at that time. From incidental references in Lawson’s work it is evident that at the time of his visit they were on good terms with their neighbors as well as with the Saponi farther toward the north. He says that the Waxhaw were very tall, and describes in detail their method of flattening the head. This was accomplished by laying the infant in a sort of cradle, consisting chiefly of a flat board, with its head resting on a bag of sand. Swaddling cloths were then wrapped tightly around baby and cradle from head to foot and a roll (of cloth?) was placed over its forehead and pulled down tightly in the same Manner. The bandages were loosened or tightened from time to time, and the child was kept in this press until the soft skull was permanently distorted. The process had the effect of disfiguring the countenance by making the eyes stand very wide apart and causing the hair to hang over the forehead, as Lawson says, “like the eves of a house.” The reason given by the Indians for this strange custom was that it improved the eyesight, so that they became better hunters.

The dance ceremonials and councils of the Waxhaw were held in a large council house, much larger than the ordinary houses in which they dwelt, with a very low entrance and with benches of cane inside next to the wall. Instead of being covered with bark like their dwellings, this state house was neatly thatched with sedge and rushes. One of their principal old men had his residence in it as guard and keeper. The interior of the structure was dark and the fire was kept up on public occasions by means of a circle of cane splits in the middle, the canes being constantly renewed at one end as they were consumed at the other. According to personal information, the same method of making and renewing the fire was used among the Cherokee on certain ceremonial occasions.

Soon after leaving the Waxhaw and Esaw (Catawba), Lawson met the Sugeree, who, according to his statement, occupied a very fertile country and inhabited “a great many towns and settlements.” Near them were the 44 Kadapau,” who to all appearances were a detached band of the Catawba 2 .

No later reference to these tribes is found excepting a brief mention of the “Elaw ” (Catawba) and Waxhaw in 1712, from which it seems that the hostile Tuskarora and their allies in the north were making inroads upon them. They were probably so far reduced a few years later by the Yamasi war, in which nearly all the Carolina tribes took part against the English, that they were no longer able to stand alone and were obliged to incorporate with the Catawba.

Waxhaw and Sugeree Synonymy

Flatheads.-General (see Catawba).
Wacksaws.-Craven (1712) in Col. Records of North Carolina, 1886, vol. i, p. 898.
Wassaws.-Catawba manuscript in Schoolcraft, Ind. Tribes, 1853, vol. iii, p. 294.
Waxaus.-Map of North America and the West Indies, 1720.
Waxaws.-Document of 1719 in Rivers, South Carolina, 1874, p. 93.
Waxhaws.-Logan, History of upper South Carolina, 1859, vol. i, p. 182.
Waxsaws.-Lawson (1714), History of Carolina, reprint of 1860, p. 60.
Wisack.–Ibid., p. 72.
Wisacky.-Lederer, Discoveries, 1672, p. 17.
Sugans.-Vaugondy, map of “Amérique,” 1778 (misprint).
Sugaus.-Bowen, Map of the British American Plantations, 1760.
Sugeree.-Lawson (1714), History of Carolina, op. cit., p. 76.
Suturees.-War map of 1715 in Winsor, History of America, 1887, vol. v, p. 346.

Mooney, James. Siouan Tribes of the East. Bulletin 22. Washington: Bureau of Ethnology. 1894.

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  1. Lederer, John. The discoveries of John Lederer, in three several marches from Virginia to the west of Carolina, and other parts of the continent. Begun in March, 1669, and ended in September, 1670. Together with a general map of the whole territory which he traversed. Collected and translated out of Latin from his discourse and writings, by Sir William Talbot, baronet, etc. London, etc. 1672, p. 17. Map and 33 pages. (Copy in Library of Congress.[]
  2. Lawson, John. The history of Carolina, containing the exact description and natural history of that country, etc., p. 16. (Reprint from the London edition of 1714.) Raleigh, 1860.[]

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