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The Waccamaw Indians of South Carolina, distinct from the Waccamaw Siouan Native Americans of North Carolina, are the first state-recognized tribe of Native Americans in South Carolina. They organized as a non-profit corporation in 1992, when they established their government and began to seek recognition.
The South Carolina branch of the Waccamaw are descendant from a community known as the Dimery Settlement of South Carolina. They have long inhabited territory in present-day northeastern South Carolina. The ancient Waccamaw were river dwellers who lived along the Waccamaw River from present-day North Carolina’s Lumber River to Lake Waccamaw to Winyah Bay near Georgetown, South Carolina.
While the Waccamaw were never populous, they incurred devastating population loss and dispersal with the incursion of colonial settlers and their diseases during the eighteenth century.
According to the ethnographer, John R. Swanton, the Waccamaw may have been one of the first mainland groups of Natives visited by the Spanish explorers in the 16th century. Within the second decade of the 16th century, Francisco Gordillo and Pedro de Quexos captured and enslaved several Native Americans, and transported them back to Hispaniola. Most died within two years, although they were supposed to be returned to the mainland. One of the men whom the Spanish captured was baptized and learned Spanish. Known as Francisco de Chicora, he worked for Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón, who took him to Spain on a trip. Chicora told the court chronicler Peter Martyr about more than twenty indigenous peoples who lived in present-day South Carolina, among which he mentioned the "Chicora" and the "Duhare" — these were tribal territories that comprised the northernmost regions. The early 20th century ethnographer John R. Swanton believed that these nations were the Waccamaw and the Cape Fear Indians, respectively.
European contact nearly wiped out the Waccamaw. Having no natural immunity to endemic Eurasian infectious diseases, such as smallpox and measles, the Waccamaw, like many southeastern Native peoples, died by the hundreds. By the early eighteenth century, the Cheraw, a related Siouan people of the Southeastern Piedmont, tried to recruit the Waccamaw to support the Yamasee and other tribes against the English during the Yamasee War in 1715. The Waccamaw engaged in a brief war against the South Carolina colony in 1720 to stem the tide of English incursions into the Piedmont. Colonial accounts state that the English killed, or took captive numerous Waccamaw men, women and children.
Such events occurred again. Caught in the middle of the accelerating deerskin and slave trades, the Waccamaw were forced into slavery. While George II of Great Britain ordered all plantation owners to free their Native American slaves in 1752, some slaveholders refused to do so without compensation. Slave owners simply insisted that they did not own any Native American slaves and proclaimed their Native American slaves to be Negro.
In 1755, John Evans noted in his journal that the Cherokee and Natchez killed some Waccamaw and Pee Dee Native Americans "in the white people’s settlements." Their location at this time is uncertain, but some (WHO?) believe that the Waccamaw were living near present-day Moncks Corner, South Carolina.
By the mid-eighteenth century, the Dimery settlement, near Dog Bluff, South Carolina, was formed. There, a core community of allied Waccamaw families: Dimery, Cook, Hatcher, and Turner, was formed. It was commonly called an "Indian" community. In 1809, John Dimery married Elizabeth Hardwick in Marion County, South Carolina. By 1813, John and Elizabeth Hardwick Dimery had moved to Horry County, where they purchased 300 acres (1.2 km2) of land on the east side of the Little Pee Dee River. John Dimery and his sons added to their land holdings in subsequent years—lands that formed the heart of the Waccamaw Dimery Settlement.
By 1850, the Dimery Settlement had grown to at least four families: that of John Dimery, Willis Thompkins, Cockran Thompkins, and Sara Cook, for a total of some 27 individuals. Oral tradition states that around this time John Dimery donated the land for the raising of Pisgah Church. The Waccamaw grew cotton, corn, and later tobacco, much the same as their neighbors. They participated in community activities such as hog killings, barn raisings, and lumbering in which community members combined their efforts to help individual members of the settlement.
Census classifications that listed the Waccamaw as "free persons of color," threatened their native identity in the nineteenth century, as the census did not use "Indian" as a category for non-reservation Indians until 1870. John Dimery first appeared on the Horry County Census in 1820 as a "free person of color." Historian and genealogist Virginia DeMarce and Paul Heinegg have found that 80 percent of the individuals listed as free persons of color in 1790 and 1810 were descended from African Americans free in colonial Virginia. Most of those were descended from unions and marriages between white women and African men, people who lived and worked together as free, servants, or slaves. Some of the Africans were freed as early as the mid-17th century.
The example of members of the Hatcher family show the variability of identification as Indians in official records of the Waccamaw of the Dimery Settlement, and other Native peoples in the South, as they were seldom asked how they identified. In the 1920 federal census, William I. Hatcher, who lived in Galivants Ferry Township, was classified as white. His brothers Noah, Julius, Robert and Vander, living in Dog Bluff Township, were recorded as "mulatto;" and their uncles, Peter and William Hatcher, who lived in Robeson County, NC, were enumerated as "Indians". Such classifications may also have been accurate representations of their appearances and ethnic affiliations at the time. With intermarriage with other races, some American Indian descendants became more affiliated with other ethnicities.
Today, the Waccamaw of South Carolina consist of about 400 members. The Waccamaw petitioned the state for recognition as a Native American tribe, and received formal recognition from the South Carolina Commission for Minority Affairs on February 17, 1995. The tribe is headquartered and bounded by the Waccamaw River and the Little Pee Dee River in Aynor, Horry County.
The majority of tribal members live along the Waccamaw River in Georgetown and Horry counties, especially near the area now known as Dog Bluff. In May 2004, the Waccamaw people of South Carolina received 20 acres (81,000 m2) of land in the tribe's ancestral homeland in the Dog Bluff community near Aynor in Horry County.
The Waccamaw of South Carolina are one of the founding members of the South Carolina Indian Affairs Commission, the National Organization for the Unification of Native Americans (NOUNA), and the National Coalition for Indian Sovereignty.
- "First Descriptions of an Iroquoian People: Spaniards among the Tuscarora before 1522", Dr. Blair Rudes, Coastal Carolina Indians Center, 2004.
- John R. Swanton, "Early History of the Creek Indians and their Neighbors", Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 73, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1922, pp. 32–48
- Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware, accessed 9 Mar 2008
- Milling, Chapman J. Red Carolinians. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1969.
- Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1984, pp. 100–101