The Sewee, Santee, Wateree, and Congaree Indians

The Santee and its branches, the Wateree and the Congaree, were held by the Sewee, Santee, Wateree, and Congaree tribes, whose territory extended to the neighborhood of the Waxhaw and Catawba. Nothing is known of their linguistic affinities, but their alliances and final incorporation were with the Catawba.

Sewee Indians

The Sewee occupied the coast and the lower part of the river below the Santee, extending westward to the divide of Ashley river about the present Monks Corner, in Berkeley county, South Carolina, where they adjoined the Etiwaw 1 . Their name is preserved in Sewee Bay. Lawson, who met them in 1701, states that they had formerly been a large tribe, but, like the other tribes of Carolina, had been much wasted by smallpox and other diseases, and through the effect of liquor introduced by the whites. The great mortality always produced among them by smallpox was owing chiefly to their universal habit of plunging into the water at the critical stage of the disease in order to ease themselves of the feverish burnings.

The destruction of the Sewee was the immediate result of the failure of a great trading scheme which they had elaborated, but which proved disastrous to the originators. Being dissatisfied with the bargains that the traders drove with them, and having noticed that the English vessels always came in at one particular harbor, they concluded that by starting from the same point with their canoes they could easily reach England, which they would not believe was so far off as the whites said, and there do their own trading to better advantage. Accordingly, after having deliberated the matter in council, they prepared a fleet of large canoes, which they loaded with a full stock of their finest furs and what they supposed were sufficient supplies for the voyage. In order not to be cheated out of the reward of their enterprise, the plan and preparation were kept a secret from their neighboring tribes. When the fleet was ready they embarked nearly all their able-bodied men, leaving only the old people and children at home to await their return, and put out into the Atlantic. Unfortunately they were hardly out of sight of land before a storm came up, which swamped most of their canoes and drowned the occupants, while the survivors were taken up by an English ship and sold as slaves in the West Indies. Aboriginal free trade thus received its death blow in Carolina, and their voyage to England remained a sore topic among the Sewee for a long time thereafter. Lawson describes the remnant as tall, athletic fellows, and excellent canoe men, and incidentally mentions that they used mats as sails. Avendaughbough, a deserted village which he found on Sewee bay, was probably one of their settlements 2 .

Only one later reference to the Sewee is known. It is said that in January, 1715, they numbered 57 souls and occupied a single village 60 (?) miles northeast of Charleston (Rivers). The Yamasi war, which began three months later and involved all the tribes of that region, probably put an end to their existence as a separate and distinct tribe.

Santee Indians

The Santee or Seratee lived on Santee River from the Sewee settlements up about to the forks. They were a small tribe, even in 1701, although their chief had more despotic power than among other tribes. They had several villages, one small one being called Hickerau, known to the traders as “the black house.” They were a generally hospitable people and friendly to the whites, but were at that time at war with the tribes below them on the coast. They made beautiful feather robes, wove cloths and sashes of hair, and stored their corn in provision houses raised on posts and plastered with clay, after the manner of the Cherokee and other southern tribes. It is recorded that their chief was an absolute ruler with power of life and death over his tribe, an instance of despotism very rare in that region but probably in accordance with the custom of the Santee, as we learn that his predecessor had been equally unquestioned in his authority and dreaded by all his enemies for his superior prowess.

Their distinguished dead were buried on the tops of mounds built low or high according to the rank of the deceased, and with a ridge roof supported by poles over the grave to shelter it from the weather. On these poles were hung rattles, feathers, and other offerings from the relations of the dead man. The corpse of an ordinary person was carefully dressed, wrapped in bark, and exposed on a platform for several days, during which time one of his nearest kinsman, with face blackened in token of grief, stood guard near the spot and chanted a mournful eulogy of the dead. The ground about the platform was kept carefully swept, and all the dead man’s belongings, gun, bow, and feather robes, were placed near by. As soon as the flesh had softened it was stripped from the bones and burned, and the bones themselves were cleaned, the skull being wrapped separately in a cloth woven of opossum hair. The bones were then put into a box, from which they were taken out annually to be again cleaned and oiled. In this way some families had in their possession the bones of their ancestors for several generations. Places where warriors had been killed were sometimes distinguished by piles of stones, or sometimes of sticks, to which every passing Indian added another 3 . The custom of cleaning and preserving the bones of the dead was common also to the Choctaw, Nanticoke, and several other tribes.

According to an old document the Santee in January, 1715, still had two villages, 70 (1) miles north of Charleston, with 43 warriors (Rivers), equal to about 160 souls. As nothing is heard of them later they probably were destroyed as a tribe by the Yamasi war, which broke out soon after.

Congaree Indians

The Congaree lived on Santee and Congaree rivers, above and below the junction of the Wateree, in central South Carolina. They had the Santee tribe below them and the Wateree tribe above. Lawson found them in 1701, apparently on the northeastern bank of the river below the junction of the Wateree; but on a map of 1715 their village is indicated on the southern bank of the Congaree and considerably above, perhaps about Big Beaver creek, or about opposite the site of Columbia, on the eastern boundary of Lexington county. A fort called by their name was established near this village and about the present Columbia in 1718, and according to Logan became an important trading station. Lawson described their village in 1701 as consisting of only about a dozen houses, located on a small creek flowing into Santee River. They were then but a small tribe, having lost heavily by tribal feuds, but more especially by smallpox, which had depopulated whole villages. They were a friendly people, handsome and well built, the women being especially beautiful. Although the several tribes were generally small and lived closely adjoining one another, yet there was as great a difference in their features and disposition as in language, which was usually different with each tribe 4 .

The Congaree, like their neighbors, took part in the Yamasi war in 1715, as a result of which they were so reduced that they were obliged to move up and join the Catawba, with whom they were living in 1743, still preserving their distinct dialect 5 .

Wateree Indians

The Wateree were first met by the Spaniards under Juan de Pardo in 1567, and were described by La Vandera two years later under the name of Guatari. The name is derived from the Catawba word wateran, “to float in the water” (Gatschet). From the Spanish account they were then living at a considerable distance from the coast and near the Cherokee frontier. They are described as being 15 or 16 leagues southeast from “Otari-yatiqui,” a misconception of an Indian term for an interpreter of the Otari, Atali, or Mountain Cherokee. They were ruled by two female chiefs, who held dignified court with a retinue of young men and women as attendants 6) .

More than a century later (in 1670) Lederer found them apparently on the extreme upper Yadkin, far northwest of their later location, with the Shoccoree and Eno on their northeast and the Sara on their west. It is probable that in this position they were not far from where they had been found by Pardo in 1567. There is reason to believe that the name Wateree was formerly applied to Pedee and Yadkin rivers instead of the stream now known by that name 7 . Pardo describes the Wateree as differing from other Indians in being slaves, rather than subjects, to their chiefs, which agrees with what Lawson says of the Santee. While Lederer was stopping with the Wateree their chief sent out three warriors with orders to kill some young women of a hostile tribe in order that their spirits might serve his son, who was dying, in the other world. In accordance with their instructions they soon returned with the scalps and the skin from the faces of three young women. These trophies they presented to the chief who, it is related, received them with grateful acknowledgment 8) .

In the first half of the eighteenth century the Wateree lived on Wateree river in South Carolina, with the Congaree below them and the Catawba and Waxhaw above. On a map of 1715 their village is marked on the western bank of the river, perhaps about the present Wateree creek in Fairfield County. Moll’s map of 1730 places their village on the northern or eastern bank of the river, and Mills states definitely that it was on Pinetree creek below Camden 9 . It seems to have been here that Lawson found them in 1701. He calls them in one place “Wateree Chickanee” Indians, the latter part of the compound perhaps designating a particular band of the tribe. He describes them as tall and well built, friendly, but great pilferers and very lazy, even for Indians. At that time they had but few guns or other articles obtained from the whites. Their houses were as poor as their industry. They were a much larger tribe than the Congaree, and spoke a different language 10 . The Yamasi war in 1715 probably broke their power, and in 1743 they were consolidated with the Catawba, though still constituting a large village and retaining their distinct dialect 11 .


Seawees.-Document of 1719 in Rivers, Hist. of South Carolina, 1874, p. 93.
Seewas.-Rivers (anonymous), History of South Carolina, 1856, p. 38.
Sewee.-Purcell, Map of Virginia, etc., 1795.
Sewees.-Lawson (1714), History of Carolina, reprint of 1860, p. 25.
Santees.-Lawson (1714), op. cit., p. 34.
Seratees.-Mills, Statistics of South Carolina, 1826, p. 735.
Seretee.-Lawson, op. cit., p. 45.
Zantees.-Howe .in Schoolcraft, Indian Tribes, 1854, vol. iv, p. 155.
Chichanees.-Rivers (anonymous), History of South Carolina, 1856, p. 36.
Chickaree.-Howe in Schoolcraft, op. cit., p. 158.
Guatari.-La Vandera (1569) in Smith, Documentos Indiétos, 1857, vol. i, p. 17.
Watarees.-Jeffreys, French Dominions in America, 1761, part i, map, p. 134.
Watary.-Lederer, Discoveries, 1672, p. 16.
Wateree.-Lawson (1714), op. cit., p. 56.
Wateree Chickanee.-Ibid., p. 59.
Waterrees.-Ibid., p. 99.
Watteree.-Moll, Map of Carolina, 1720.
Canggaree.-Adair, Hist. Am. Indians, 1775, p. 225.
Congares.-Doc. of 1719 in Rivers, Early Hist. of South Carolina, 1874, p. 92.
Congarees.-Ibid., p. 93.
Congeres.-Moll, Map of Carolina, 1720.
Congerees.-Lawson (1714), op. cit., p. 34.
Congree. -La Tour, Map of United States, 1784.
Conqerees-War map of 1715 in Winsor, Hist. of Am., 1887, vol. v, p. 346.Citations:

  1. Rivers, W. J. A Sketch of the history of South Carolina to the revolution of 1719, with an appendix, p. 37. Charleston 1856.[]
  2. Lawson, John. The history of Carolina, containing the exact description and natural history of that country, etc., pp. 24-31. (Reprint from the London edition of 1714.) Raleigh, 1860.[]
  3. Lawson, John, Ibid., pp. 34-35.[]
  4. Lawson, John, Ibid., pp. 56-59.[]
  5. Adair, James. The history of the American Indians, particularly those nations adjoining to the Mississippi, east and west Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina, and Virginia, etc., p. 225. London, 1775.[]
  6. French, B. F. Historical Collections of Louisiana, vol. ii, p. 290. New York, 1875. (Contains narration of Juan de la Vandera, 1569.[]
  7. Gregg, Alexander. History of the old Cheraws, containing an account of the aborigines of the Pedee, the first white settlements, etc., extending from about A. D. 1730 to 1810, with notices of families and sketches of individuals; p. 7. New York, 1867.[]
  8. 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, pp. 16. Map and 33 pages. (Copy in Library of Congress.[]
  9. Mills, Robert. Statistics of South Carolina, p. 108. Charlestown, 1826.[]
  10. Lawson, John, op. cit.[]
  11. Adair, James, op. cit., p. 224.[]

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

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