Sunday, April 15, 2007

Boneyard Beach

Find Wappetaw, out past Wando, near Awendaw Creek and you might hear this story:

The Seewee Indians lived on the islands along the coast of South Carolina. In 1699, the Seewees were dissatisfied with the deals that local traders offered them for deerskins, and determined that they would transport the skins to England themselves. They set out in twenty-foot canoes and that’s the last anyone knew of them. The tribe was decimated by their loss.

It’s haunting, when you look out from Boneyard Beach across the vast expanse of the Atlantic, and imagine the Seewee families standing at the edge of the ocean, watching their men paddling into the distance. I don’t know if any part of the European invasion affected the Southeastern Indians like the century of the deerskin trade. It hit a peak in 1707, with more than 121,000 skins exported from Carolina in that year.

By 1730 and the season of Sir Alexander Cuming in Nequassee and the Tannassy, the Cherokees lived in a much different world from the world of their grandparents. Traditional subsistence skills were already being lost. A market economy had taken hold. Having deerskins to sell meant you could buy more ammunition, cloth and tools. Manufacturers and merchants found new markets among the Indians, and there was a well-worn path from the urban trade center of Charleston all the way to the Cherokee villages of the mountain South. Three hundred years ago. It was a long way from the mountains to the sea and then again it wasn’t.

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