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Regions with significant populations
( South Carolina,  North Carolina)
Siouan, Catawban, Woccon[1]
Related ethnic groups
Winyaw,[2] possibly Catawba[1]

The Waccamaw people are an indigenous people of the Southeastern Woodlands, who lived in villages along the Waccamaw River and Pee Dee River in North and South Carolina in the 18th century.[1][3]


Very little remains of the Waccamaw's ancestral Woccon language today, it was one of the two Catawban branches of the Siouan language family. The language was lost due to devastating population losses and social disruptions during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is attested today in a vocabulary of 143 words, printed in 1709.


While the Waccamaw were never populous, they incurred devastating population loss and dispersal with the incursion of colonial settlers and their diseases beginning in the 16th century. Anthropologist James Mooney estimated that the combined population of the Waccamaw, Winyaw, "Hook, &c." was 900 in 1600.[4]

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.[5] The early 20th century ethnographer John R. Swanton believed that these nations were the Waccamaw and the Cape Fear Indians, respectively.[6]

Eighteenth century[edit]

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. The 1715 census listed their population as 610 total, with 210 men. The 1720 census recorded that they had 100 warriors.[7]

By the early 18th 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 but then made peace with the English.[1] The English colonists founded a trading post in Euaunee, "the Great Bluff," in 1716. The Waccamaw engaged in a brief war against the South Carolina colony in 1720, and 60 Waccamaw men, women, and children were either killed or captured as a result.[8]

In 1755, John Evans noted in his journal that the Cherokee and Natchez killed some Waccamaw and Pedee "in the white people’s settlements."[7]

Nineteenth century[edit]

The Waccamaw grew cotton, corn, and later tobacco, much the same as their African-American and European-American neighbors. Waccamaw Siouan people in the late 19th century in North Carolina farmed diverse crops on inherited lands and increasingly turned from agriculture to wage labor by the end of the century. Men collected turpentine from pine trees to supplement their income, while women grew cash crops, including tobacco and cotton—worked as domestic laborers and farm hands.[9]

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.[10]

Recent history[edit]

In 1910, the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe organized a council to oversee community issues. A school, funded by Columbus County, to serve Waccamaw children opened in 1934.[11] North Carolina recognized the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe of North Carolina in 1971.[12] The community is centered in Bladen and Columbus Counties, North Carolina.[3] They have unsuccessfully tried to gain federal recognition.[13]

South Carolina has recognized the Waccamaw Indian People[14] in 2005. A tribal office is located in Aynor, South Carolina.[15]

Both organizations claim descent from Waccamaw people.

Related Nations[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Swanton 100
  2. ^ Swanton 102–103
  3. ^ a b Lerch 328
  4. ^ Swanton 103
  5. ^ "First Descriptions of an Iroquoian People: Spaniards among the Tuscarora before 1522", Dr. Blair Rudes, Coastal Carolina Indians Center, 2004.
  6. ^ John R. Swanton, "Early History of the Creek Indians and their Neighbors", Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 73 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1922), 32–48
  7. ^ a b Swanton 101
  8. ^ Swanton 100–101
  9. ^ Leach 330
  10. ^ Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware, accessed 9 Mar 2008
  11. ^ Learch 331
  12. ^ "Chapter 71A. Indians". North Carolina General Assembly. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  13. ^ Learch 330
  14. ^ "Native American Heritage Federal and State Recognized Tribes". State Historical Preservation Office. SC Department of Archives and History. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  15. ^ "Updates". Welcome - Waccamaw Indians. 2018. Retrieved 2018-07-17.


External links[edit]