The Congaree (also spelled Conagree) were a group of Native Americans who lived in what is now central South Carolina of the United States, along the Congaree River. They spoke a dialect distinct from, and not intelligible by, Siouan language speakers, the primary language family of the area (but, on the contrary, according to many opinions, more or less strictly related to Catawban Siouan).
Early European observers and later American scholars thought the Congaree were likely of the Siouan language family, given their geographic location and characteristics of neighboring tribes. Since the late 20th century, scholars more widely agree that the people were non-Siouan. Their language was distinct from the Siouan language, and not intelligible to their immediate Siouan neighbors, the Wateree.
The Congaree lived along the Santee and Congaree rivers, above and below the junction of the Wateree, in central South Carolina. They occupied territory between the Santee tribe below them and the Wateree tribe above.
Native Americans sold as slaves members of other tribes captured in war or raids. By 1693, Congaree, Esaw and Savannah slave-catchers had pursued the Cherokee as "objects of the slave trade to the extent that a tribal delegation was sent" to Governor Thomas Smith. They sought protection, claiming that Cherokee had been sold in the Charles Town slave market.
The English explorer John Lawson encountered the survivors in 1701, apparently on the northeastern bank of the Santee River below the junction of the Wateree. Lawson described their village as consisting of about a dozen houses, located on a small creek flowing into Santee River. They were a small tribe, having lost heavily by tribal feuds, but more especially by smallpox, which had depopulated whole villages. But a 1715 map shows their village as located on the southern bank of the Congaree and considerably above the previous area, perhaps about Big Beaver creek, or about opposite the site of Columbia, on the eastern boundary of Lexington county. They may have been moving upriver to get further from English colonists.
During the Tuscarora War of 1711, the Congaree fought on the side of English colonist John Barnwell, who raised a militia. In early 1715 John Barnwell took a census, which identified the Congaree as living in one village, with a total population of 22 men and 70 women and children.
During the Yamasee War of 1715, the Congaree joined with other tribes in the fight against the colony of South Carolina. Over half were either killed or enslaved by the colonists and Cherokee; some were sent into slavery in the West Indies. Following that, surviving Congaree moved up the country and joined the Catawba, with whom they were still living in 1743.
In the subsequent decades, Congaree survivors merged with the larger Catawba people. Different tribes lived in their own villages within the loose Catawba federation. The Congaree tribe maintained their distinction until the late 18th century, as they had a language different from the Siouan Catawba, but they are now extinct as a tribe.
Congaree National Park and the Congaree River are named after the tribe. Some members of the present-day Catawba and other tribes of the Carolinas are likely genetic descendants of the Congaree, among others.
- 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
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- "Conagree", South Carolina Indians
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- Wes Taukchiray (1985). A Summary of the History of the Congaree Nation of Indians from 1712 to 1760. Retrieved 2 December 2012.
- Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1854). "An Essay on the Antiquities of the Congaree Indians of South Carolina, by Rev. Geo Howe". Historical and Statistical Information, Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Coll. and Prepared Under the Direction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Per Act of Congress of March 3rd 1847. Lippincott, Grambo. Retrieved 2 December 2012.