Yamassi Indian Tribe

Editor’s Note: Yamassi Indians refers to the contemporary spelling of Yamasee Indians.

As early as the latter half of the sixteenth century, a tribe speaking a Maskoki language was settled on the shores of the Atlantic ocean, on lands included at present in the State of South Carolina, and from these shores they extended to some distance inland. In that country Rene de Laudonniere in 1564 established a fortification in Port Royal Bay, called Charlefort, and the terms transmitted by him, being all of Creek origin, leave no doubt about the affinity of the natives, yatiqui interpreter, tola laurel, Olataraca, viz.: holá hta láko, nom. pr. “the great leader.” Shortly after, the Spanish captain Juan Pardo led an expedition (1566-67) through the countries along Savannah River, and the local names found in the report made of it by Juan de la Vandera (1569) also point to the presence of a people speaking Creek established on both sides of that river: 1 Ahoya “two going”; Issa Cr. ídshu “deer”; Solameco, Cr. súli miko “buzzard chief”; Canosi, Cr. Ikanō’dshi “graves are there” the name of Cannouchee River, Georgia.

After the lapse of a century, when British colonists began to settle in larger numbers in these parts, a tribe called Yámassi (Yemasee, Yamasee, Yemmassaws, etc.) appears in the colonial documents as settled there, and in the maritime tracts of Georgia and Eastern Florida. Thus G. R. Fairbanks mentions the following dates from Spanish annals: “The Yemasees, always peaceful and manageable, had a principal town, Macarisqui, near St. Augustine. In 1680 they revolted, because the Spaniards had executed one of their principal chiefs at St. Augustine; and in 1686 they made a general attack on the Spaniards, and became their mortal enemies.” 2

The inroads of the Yamassi, in Cr. Yamassálgi, made in 1687 and 1706 upon the Christianized Timucua have been alluded to under “Timucua“.

The English surveyor Lawson, who traveled through these parts in 1701, calls them Savannah Indians, stating that they are “a famous, warlike, friendly nation of Indians, living at the south end of Ashley River.” (Reprint of 1860, p. 75.) Governor Archdale also calls them Savannahs 3 in 1695; hence they were named like the Yuchi, either from the Savannah River, or from the savanas or prairies of the southern parts of South Carolina. The Yuchi probably lived northwest of them. A few miles north of Savannah city there is a town and railroad crossing, Yemassee, which perpetuates their tribal name. Another ancient authority locates some between the Combahee and the Savannah River, and there stood their largest town, Pocotaligo. 4 Hewat (1779) states that they possessed a large territory lying backward from Port Royal Island, in his time called Indian Land 5. Cf. Westo and Stono Indians.

They had been the staunchest Indian supporters of the new British colony, and had sent 28 men of auxiliary troops to Colonel Barnwell, to defeat the Tuscarora insurrection on the coast of North Carolina (1712-13), when they suddenly revolted on April 15th, 1715, committed the most atrocious deeds against helpless colonists, and showed themselves to be quite the reverse of what their name indicates (yámasi, yámasi, the Creek term for mild, gentle, peaceable) 6. Among their confederates in the unprovoked insurrection were Kataba, Cheroki and Congari Indians. Wholesale massacres of colonists occurred around Pocotaligo, on Port Royal Island and at Stono, and the number of victims was estimated at four hundred. A force of volunteers, commanded by Governor Craven, defeated them at Saltketchers, on Upper, Combahee River, southern branch, and drove them over Savannah River, but for a while they continued their depredations from their places of refuge 7.

Names of Yamassi Indians mentioned at that period also testify to their Creek provenience. The name of a man called Sanute is explained by Cr. sanódshäs I encamp near, or with somebody; that of Ishiagaska (Tchiagaska) by íka akáska his scraped or shaved head; or issi akáska his hair (on body} removed. At a public council held at Savannah, in May 1733, a Lower Creek chief from Kawíta expressed the hope that the Yamassi may be in time reunited to his people; a fact which fully proves the ethnic affinity of the two national bodies. 8

A tradition is current among the Creeks, that the Yamassi were reduced and exterminated by them, but it is difficult to trace the date of that event. Bartram speaks of the “sepulchres or tumuli of the Yamasees who were here slain in the last decisive battle, the Creeks having driven them to this point, between the doubling of the river (St. Juan, Florida), where few of them escaped the fury of the conquerors. 9  There were nearly thirty of these cemeteries of the dead,” etc.; 10 Forty or fifty of them fled to St. Augustine and other coast fortresses, and were protected by the Spanish authorities. 11

After the middle of the eighteenth century the name Yamassi disappears from the annals as that of a distinct tribe. They were now merged into the Seminoles; they continued long to exist as one of their bands west of the Savannah River, and it is reported, “that the Yemasi band of Creeks refused to fight in the British-American war of 1813.”

All the above dates permit us to conclude that, ethnographically, the Yamassi were for the main part of Creek origin, but that some foreign admixture, either Kataba or Yuchi, had taken place, which will account for the presence of their local names of foreign origin. The Apalachian or Hitchiti branch of the Maskoki family must have also furnished elements to those Yamassi who were settled southwest of Savannah City, for that was the country in which the Apalachian branch was established.

Gatschet, Albert S. A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians. Pub. D.G. Brinton, Philadelphia, 1884.

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  1. Cf. Buck. Smith, Coleccion de Documentos ineditos, I, p. 15-19 (Madrid, 1857).[]
  2. Fairbanks, G. R. History of St. Augustine, p. 125, 1858.[]
  3. Description of Carolina, London, 1707. The Yamassi then lived about eighty miles from Charleston, and extended their hunting excursions almost to St. Augustine.[]
  4. Gallatin, Synopsis, p. 84, recalls the circumstance that Poketalico is also the name of a tributary of the Great Kanawha River. This seems to point to a foreign origin of that name.[]
  5. Hist. Ace., I, 213[]
  6. Verbified in tchayámassis: I am friendly, liberal, generous, hospitable. 8 Cf. Jones, Tomochichi, p. 31.[]
  7. Hewat, Histor. Ace., I, 213-222[]
  8. In Thomas Jeffery’s Map of Florida, which stands opposite the title page of John Bartram, Descr. of East Florida, London, 1769, 4to, a tract on the northeast shore of Pensacola Bay is marked “Yamase Land.”[]
  9. Bartram, Travels, p. 137[]
  10. Bartram, Travels, p. 183. 516.[]
  11. Bartram, Travels, p. 55. 485. 390[]

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