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Total population
Regions with significant populations
South Carolina, United States
Traditional tribal religion
Related ethnic groups
Arawak (theorized)[citation needed]

The Cusabo or Corsaboy were a group of historic Native American tribes who lived along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in what is now South Carolina, approximately between present-day Charleston and south to the Savannah River, at the time of European encounter. English colonists often referred to them as one of the Settlement Indians of South Carolina, tribes who settled among the colonists.

Five of the groups were recorded by the settlers as having spoken a common language, although one distinctly different from the major language families known nearby, such as Algonquian, Iroquoian, Muskogean, and Siouan. With the English settling on their land at Charleston beginning in the 17th century, the Cusabo developed a relationship of accommodation with the colony that persisted through the early 18th century. After the Yamasee War of 1715, surviving tribal members migrated to join the Creek or Catawba.

Political divisions[edit]

Subtribes of the Cusabo included the Ashepoo, Combahee (also spelled Coosaw, Cussoe, or Kussoe; not the same people as the earlier Coosa chiefdom of the Mississippian culture in Georgia), Edisto (also spelled Edistow), Escamacu (also St. Helena Indians), Etiwan (also Irwan or Eutaw), Kiawah, Stono, Wando, Wappoo and Wimbee.[1] Non-Cusabo Settlement Indians listed in a 1696 report include the Sewee and Santee.[2]


Region Carolina
Extinct 18th century
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Glottolog cusa1237[3]

Although in the 1930s anthropologist John Swanton theorized that the Cusabo may have spoken a form of the Muskogean language, more recent research disputes this. The language spoken by the Cusabo is virtually unknown and now extinct. It did not appear to be related to other known language families on the North American continent.

There is evidence that at least five tribes on the coast, in the territory from the lower Savannah to the Wando River (east of Charleston), spoke a common language which was different from the Guale and Sewee languages of neighboring peoples. It is likely the Ashepoo, Combahee, Escamaçu, Etiwan, and Kiawah also spoke this language, which has been referred to as Cusaboan. Only a few words (mostly town names) of this language were recorded in the 16th century by the French explorer René Goulaine de Laudonnière. (One example was Skorrye or Skerry, meaning "bad" or "enemy"). Most words lack translations. Approximately 100 place names and 12 personal names in Cusabo have survived.

The place names do not seem to be related to Algonquian, Iroquoian, Muskogean languages or Siouan languages used by other South Carolina coastal and Piedmont tribes. (In places where the Sewee and Santee lived, the place names are in the Catawban languages.)

John R. Swanton thought that the bou or boo element, presumably the same bou in the Cusabo word Westo boe meaning "Westoe River", which occurs in many coastal place names, is related to the Choctaw -bok (river). He speculated that Cusabo was related to the Muskogean family. Later scholars think this relation of sounds might have been a coincidence without meaning, especially since the older Choctaw form was bayok (small river, river forming part of a delta). They believe that Cusabo was a different language.[4]

Blair Rudes has suggested that the ⟨-bo⟩ suffix and other evidence may indicate a relationship to the Arawakan languages of the Caribbean indigenous peoples.[5] If true, it would mean that parts of the Atlantic Coast may have been settled by indigenous peoples from the Caribbean islands.


The names of many subtribes of the Cusabo and Catawba may be recognized among the provinces that were described by Francisco de Chicora (he was a native who was kidnapped from the Pee Dee River area by Spanish in 1521, and accompanied an expedition back to Spain, where he learned the language. His Testimony of Francisco de Chicora was recorded by the court chronicler Peter Martyr and published in 1525.) In 1526, Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón's party visited this area and recorded some names.

The English colony of South Carolina was founded in the midst of Cusabo land, and the loose group of tribes became closely tied to the colony. In the first decade after the founding of Charles Town in 1670, there was conflict and warfare between some of the Cusabo and the new colony. The Kussoe (Coosa) subtribe was the first to come into violent conflict; Carolina declared war against them in October 1671. The Kussoe went into hiding but remained in the area. In the early years of the colony, it was not difficult for Indians to "lie low" if they wanted. For three years, colonial records make no mention of the Kussoe or the war.[2]

In 1674 records note an alleged Kussoe attack in which three colonists were killed. During the same year the Stono, a Cusabo subtribe, fought with the colony. This conflict (not to be confused with the later Stono Rebellion of African slaves) was similar to the Kussoe War. Colonial records are unclear on how the Kussoe-Stono War ended, except that it was resolved in South Carolina's favor. The colony forced the tribes to cede large tracts of rich land. In addition, they required the Kussoe to make a symbolic tribute payment of one deerskin per month. The Kussoe, Stono, and other Cusabo subtribes remained in the area, living in relative accord with the colonists until the Yamasee War of 1715.[2]

One of South Carolina's first powerful Indian allies was the Westo tribe, who during the 1670s conducted numerous slave raid attacks on nearly every other Indian group in the region. Contemporary scholars believe the Westo were an Iroquoian tribe who had migrated from the Great Lakes area, possibly an offshoot of the Erie during the Beaver Wars.[6][7][8] By the late 1670s, South Carolina colonists came into direct conflict with the Westo. The colony demanded that the Westo cease attacking the Cusabo and other Settlement Indians. Continued Westo attacks played a role in South Carolina's decision to destroy the Westo, which they did with assistance from other Native Americans in 1679-1680.[2]

By the turn of the eighteenth century, the Cusabo had become fairly integrated into South Carolina's society, although they retained their tribal identities and lived in their own villages. A relationship developed between the two groups, with the Indians serving as a kind of police and security force in exchange for trade goods, weapons, and money. The colony paid the Cusabo for killing "vermin" such as wolves, "tigers" (cougars), and bears. The Cusabo also hunted game animals and sold the meat to colonists. But their chief service was in capturing fugitive African slaves. South Carolina colonial authorities tried to encourage hostility between the two groups to avoid an alliance between them. They passed laws to reward Indians for capturing runaway slaves, and absolved them of liability if runaways were killed in the process. In contrast, Africans were punished severely for attacking Indians. As late as 1750, reportedly more than 400 "ancient native" (or Settlement Indians) lived within South Carolina, with their "chief service" being "hunting Game, destroying Vermin and Beasts of Prey, and in capturing Runaway slaves."[2]

During the Tuscarora War, the Cusabo joined the first South Carolina army under John Barnwell. They fought against the Tuscarora in North Carolina in 1711 and 1712. Part of the "Yamasee Company", the Cusabo troops numbered fewer than 15 men.[2]

In 1712, South Carolina granted Palawana Island, near Saint Helena Island, to the Cusabo, where many were already living.[1] Barnwell took a census in early 1715 that listed the Cusabo ("Corsaboy") as living in five villages and having a population of 95 men and 200 women and children. The "Itwan", a Cusabo subtribe, was listed separately as living in one village with a population of 80 men and 160 women and children.[2]

During the Yamasee War of 1715, the Cusabo were one of the few Indian groups who sided with the colony of South Carolina.[1] After the war, most of them migrated out of the area, joining either the Creek or Catawba to the west and south.[2]


  1. ^ a b c "Cusabo", South Carolina Indians, South Carolina Information Highway
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Gallay, Alan (2002). The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South 1670-1717. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10193-7.
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Cusabo". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Goddard, Ives. (2005). "The indigenous languages of the Southeast", in Anthropological Linguistics, 47 (1), 1-60.; Martin, Jack. (2004). "Languages", in R. D. Fogelson (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians: Southeast (Vol. 14, pp. 68-86). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.; Waddell, Gene. (2004). "Cusabo", in R. D. Fogelson (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians: Southeast (Vol. 14, pp. 254-264). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
  5. ^ Rudes, Blair A. "Pre-Columbian Links to the Caribbean: Evidence Connecting Cusabo to Taino", paper presented at Language Variety in the South III conference, Tuscaloosa, AL, 16 April 2004.
  6. ^ Worth, John E. (2000), "The Lower Creeks: Origins and Early History", in Bonnie G. McEwan (ed.), Indians of the Greater Southeast: Historical Archaeology and Ethnohistory, Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, p.17
  7. ^ Bowne, Eric E. (2000), "The Rise and Fall of the Westo Indians", Early Georgia: Journal of the Society for Georgia Archaeology 28 (1): 56–78, OCLC 1567184
  8. ^ Bowne, Eric E. (2005), The Westo Indians: Slave Traders of the Early Colonial South, Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press