Wateree people

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The Wateree were a Native American tribe in the interior of the present-day Carolinas. They belonged to the Siouan-Catawba language family. First encountered by the Spanish in 1567 in western North Carolina, they migrated to the southeast by 1700, where English colonists noted them. They had settled along the Wateree River near what has become present-day Camden, South Carolina. Originally a large tribe, they were diminished by the Yamasee War of 1715 and became extinct as a tribe by the end of the century.


They were recorded in 1567 by Spanish captain Juan Pardo's scribe Juan de la Bandera during their expedition through the interior of the Carolinas. Bandera called them the Guatari in his journal, which was also given as the name of their village.[1] Bandera described them as ruled by two female chiefs.[2]

From what little is known, scholars believe the Wateree were a Siouan-language tribe, an outlier of the much larger language group of peoples whose territories were by then centered on the Great Plains of North America. The Wateree were believed to have spoken Siouan–Catawban languages. The name Wateree may come from Catawban wateran, "to float on the water."[2]

The Spaniards noted that Guatari was far from the coast. The settlement is believed to have been in present-day Rowan County, North Carolina. In 1670, English colonists and explorers mentioned the Wateree as inhabiting the area of the upper Yadkin River, to the northwest of their later habitat.

By 1700, when observed by John Lawson's English expedition, the Wateree had migrated south to settle near present-day Camden, South Carolina along the Wateree River.[2] The Europeans observed that the chiefs of the Wateree had a higher degree of power than those of other Indian tribes of the region. Originally a large tribe, the Wateree had their power broken during the Yamasee War of 1715 against Carolina colonists. The Wateree became allies in a tribal confederation dominated by the Catawba. The latter tribe absorbed remnant bands of many other tribes of the region from the chaos of intertribal fighting.[2]

"James Adair heard more than twenty different languages spoken by the Indians in the Catawba River settlements when he trade there between 1736 and 1743. This included Eno, Cheraw, Wateree, Congaree, Natchez, Yamasee, Coosah, and others. He could probably have added Saponi, Waccamaw, Pedee, Santee and others to his list. The groups varied in size. If large enough, each language tribe tended to create its own village and appoint its own leaders." [3]

The Wateree appeared to have been able to maintain their culture and distinct language as late as 1744. A record of land sale noted that Wateree Indians sold to a white man. The tribe as a group culture has become extinct, but some present-day Catawba are likely genetic descendants of the Wateree.


  1. ^ Catherine Clabby, "Dig finds evidence of Spanish fort", News Observer, 1 Aug 2004, accessed 26 Jun 2008
  2. ^ a b c d "Wataree Indian Tribe History", Access Genealogy, Indian Tribal Records, from Handbook of American Indians, 1906, accessed 13 Mar 2009
  3. ^ James Hart Merrell, The Indians' New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989. p.110


  • "Wateree Native American Indians from South Carolina", SCIway.net
  • Hodge, Frederick W. Handbook of North American Indians. Washington, DC.: Government Printing Press, 1910.
  • Mooney, James. Siouan Tribes of the East. Washington, DC.: Government Printing Press, 1894.
  • Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1952; reprint, 1984, pp. 90–92.