Native American History in Myrtle Beach
When thinking about the history of the Grand Strand, many minds immediately go back to the days of plantation owners and slavery. While that is understandable, as we are reminded of plantation history through attractions such as Brookgreen Gardens, Hopesewee Plantation, and more, many don’t consider the impact that Native Americans had on this area long ago.
Sure, Myrtle Beach and the surrounding areas boast roads, bodies of water, schools, and more, which are named after Native Americans, but how much do we really know about these people whose identity we ascribe to things in our every day lives?
Out of the three main linguistic stocks of Native Americans, the group that was indigenous to that Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina were the Eastern Siouans. The Easter Siouans were split up into 17 different tribes in the Carolinas, with the Pee Dees, Sampits, Santees, Seewees, Waccamaws, and Winyahs settled in the Georgetown County area.
These tribes were forced to this area by the aggressive tactics of the Muskhogean and Iroquoan peoples, so learning to live off of the coastal land was imperative. The natives took to the Winyay Bay the Waccamaw Neck, and other bodies of water as sources for seafood, but they also learned how to hunt as well. Common animals the natives hunted included bear, turkey, deer, and more. And, as far as shelter is concerned, the natives had no issue using the abundance of tall pine and palmetto trees to build longhouses to live in.
Out of the tribes that settled our region, the most widely recognized are the Waccamaws and the Winyahs as they settled in the Pawleys Island area. These tribes would call the area Chicora,” meaning the land” and to this day evidence of this linguistic term is still thriving as there are real estate companies, rotary clubs, apartment complexes, and more, with the name Chicora.” These tribes are also the namesakes for the Waccamaw River and the Winyah Bay.
European Influence & Demise of the Tribes
Many scholars have stated that one of the first places that the European attempted to settle was the Waccamaw Neck area. A small group of Spaniards tried to settle the area, which is now called Hobcaw Barony, in 1526 but they didn’t last long: within a year, the Spaniards were driven from their new home by aggressive tribes and bad weather.
Fast forward to 1710 and the area was successfully settled by European colonists. They started trading with the natives and even established trading posts along the Winyah Bay and Black River. Trading was initially peaceful, as natives traded corn and deerskins for items like tools, knives, guns, ammunition, and more. Eventually, though, wars broke out and trade stopped until the natives were soon being sold as slaves amongst the Europeans.
Native slave trading is said to have begun around 1680 by colonists in the Carolinas. The Europeans would capture them in the Winyah Bay area and ship them off to the West Indies. Around 1683, a war broke out in order to capture more and more natives to sell as slaves, and by 1703, South Carolina was exporting more slaves than any other established colony. Many of those who were exported to the West Indies died, while those who were kept to work on plantations in South Carolina ultimately led a life dealing with agriculture.
Other tribes weren’t so lucky. The Seewees ultimately reached their demise by trying to take on the lifestyles of the settlers. Many drank themselves to death by consuming too much liquor, and others were exposed to smallpox. Also, a large group of Seewees attempted to make their way across the ocean by canoes and died in a large storm. By 1715, only 57 people from this tribe remained and eventually became extinct.
Around this same time, the Santee tribe was dwindling as well. The remaining 43 Santee natives were sold into slavery, and then, in 1720, the Waccamaw tribe was mostly destroyed. The Pee Dee natives went to Charleston to form a treaty, but inter-tribal wars were still an issue. They eventually merged with the Catawbas and this hybrid tribe became the last known tribe to maintain an identity in South Carolina.
Of course, the natives that once lived in the area that is now the Grand Strand don’t exist on the same level as they used to, but they will always have an impact on the history of the Myrtle Beach area. In fact, some tribes have existing members, such as the Waccamaw natives, who still live in our region to this day. To learn more about these communities, visit:
Chase, Eugene B., and Lee G. Brockington. Pawleys Island: Stories from the Porch. Pawleys Island, SC: Pawleys Island Civic Association, 2003. Print.
Rogers, George C. The History of Georgetown County, South Carolina. Columbia: U of South Carolina, 1970. Print.