Native Americans

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The following article was written by DIHS Board Member and Co-Founder Michael Dahlman and published in the Daniel Island News on November 9, 2011.

Native American Indians have lived on Daniel Island for at least 4,000 years. Archeologists from Brockington and Associates, a cultural resource consulting company who has been working on the Island for the past 17 years, have recovered Native American clay pottery pieces from dozens of sites they have investigated. Many of these artifacts date to a period called the Ceramic Late Archaic Era, which covers the timeframe of 2500 to 1000 BC. Native Americans did not live along the coast year round until the 16th century, and most of the sites identified are consistent with limited occupation. In the fall and throughout the winter, the tribes moved inland, returning to the coast in the spring. The sites are close to the rivers that surround Daniel Island, or along creeks and marsh that would allow access by small canoe.

 The first written record of the Etiwan occurs in the reports of Spanish Captain Francisco Fernandes de Ecija who sailed from St. Augustine Florida and entered Cayagua (pronounced Kiawah) or today’s Charleston Harbor in August 1605 and again in August 1609. Both reports make careful note of the names of the tribes in the area which included the Cayagua, Xoye (Sewee), Sati (Santee) Oriesta (Edisto), Ostano (Stono) and the Ypaguano (Etiwan). While at anchor in 1609, an Etiwan Indian who had claimed to have visited the English settlement in Virginia and seen “many people, one fort” was taken prisoner and interrogated at length. The earliest English reports referred to the occupants of present day Daniel Island as Ituan (1670), Ittiwan (1671) Etttowan (1672) and described them as living on the island at the junction of the Wando and Ittiwan (the present day Cooper) Rivers, and north along the Ittiwan River.

In 2002, a major Native American site was discovered on the west bank of Ralston Creek. Extensive archeological work by Brockington and Associates in 2003 determined this to be the location of significant seventeenth century Indian activity, including, hearth sites, trash pits, four dwellings and one burial site. Presumably, these features reflect the Etiwan Indian occupation of Daniel Island. Artifacts were recovered from the Ceramic Late Archaic Era up to and including evidence of occupation through 1670. Investigative work continues on the material recovered from this site that is proving to be one of the best preserved and most carefully investigated Native American sites on the southeast coast.

The first named reference to Daniel Island occurred in a 1676 grant to William Jones where it was called Ittiwan Island. This name was used consistently for the next 30 years, although at times it was known as Thomas Island in deed abstracts due to confusion with ownership on the adjacent Thomas Island. Starting in 1706, the use of Daniell’s Island became standard and referred to Lieutenant Governor Robert Daniell, who owned most of the island in the early 1700’s. Over time, this was shortened to today’s Daniel Island.

The Etiwan Indians were steadfast supporters of the newly arrived English settlers. They were counted amoung the tribes that pledged support to defend them against the Spanish and their Indian allies, who landed on Kiawah Island near the mouth of the Stono River in August of 1670, just months after the English landing at Albemarle Point. The Sewee and Etiwan were also mentioned frequently as early traders of deerskin and providers of maize, fish and venison during the critical first few years of the colony. The Etiwan were also among the 100 or so free Indians that fought with the English in the 1715 Yemassee War.

In 1675, the Etiwan, Sampa, Sewee and Wando tribes approached Maurice Mathews and asked to be relocated to a “town in some convenient place not injuring the English settlements.” Mathews, at the direction of the Grand Council, established an area for the Native Americans who lived in the vicinity of the harbor. Land on both sides of the Wando, more than three miles north of the mouth of the Wando “… was allowed for our Neighbor Indians, for we thought it not Justice though with our own consent and with a valuable consideration paid them too, to remove them from their old habitations without providing for and securing to them a place where they might plant and live comfortably, or that any of their former conveniences of life should be taken from them in the vicinity of present day Goose Creek.” (Mathews, A Contemporary View of Carolina in 1680, spelling variations corrected from original source).

The Wando and Sewee settled to the south of the Wando, the Sampa and Etiwan to the north. The Etiwan also established a large presence in areas near present day Goose Creek.

A great deal is known about the Etiwan Indian tribe after their relocation to Goose Creek. Francis Le Jau, the first Rector of the Church of England of the Parish of St James Goose Creek wrote a series of letters which span a period from 1706 through May 1717. A census taken in 1715 found one village with a total population of 240 Etiwan.

After this time, the historical record of the Etiwan tribe becomes scarce. References after 1730 are mostly in relation to Acts that were passed to control the very lucrative trade with Indian tribes throughout the colony. Several tribes, referred to as “settlement Indians” were exempt form these laws and could trade freely with the English. By 1750, the Etiwan were subject to hostile Indian raiding parties from the North who sought to capture them and trade them as slaves to the Spanish. Governor Glen makes the last historical mention of them as a tribal nation in 1751, as he proclaimed the “Etavans (sic) as a tribe in alliance with the English Government.”

Today, in the Carnes Crossroads area just north of Goose Creek, descendants of the Etiwan, Edisto, Sewee, Santee, and other coastal tribes have lived for hundreds of years in relative obscurity. Before desegregation, five schools served the children of Varner Town Community from the 1880s until 1963. Greater recognition occurred in 2007 with the establishment of an historical marker at near Carnes Crossroads. Today, the Varner Town Indian Community Economic, Health and Cultural Development Council is continuing to advance the awareness of Native Americans and look after their economic and social needs.

Postholes clearly outline one of the four structures identified at the Ralston Creek site. Radiocarbon analysis of the organic posthole material provides a date of 1120 A.D ( +/- 40). Measuring 3.5 meters by 2.5 meters, archeologists believe this structure was a corn crib. It is too small to have been a living area, and is similar to corn cribs recovered at other southeastern Native American sites. The earliest structure was dated to 680 – 810 A.D. (Courtesy Brockington and Associates).

Corn cobs, peach pits, and hickory nuts recovered from refuse pits at the Ralston Creek Site. Artifacts such as these help establish the dates over which a site was inhabited. Peaches were introduced to the Americas by the Spanish. Their presence here indicates a site that was active after 1540 as well as a pattern of trade with Native Americans from the south (Courtesy Brockington and Associates)Structure “8” from the Ralston Creek site measures 7.5 meters by 6.5 meters. Radiocarbon dating, as well as other artifacts gathered from the hearth and nearby refuse pits have led archeologists to believe this dwelling was in use between 1630 and 1670. (Courtesy Brockington and Associates)

© Copyright The Daniel Island News

And here’s another DI News Article written by DIHS co-founder Beth Bush in November 2021.

Historic Treasures tell story of DI’S Native American Heritage

They may have called Daniel Island home hundreds and even thousands of years ago, but you can still spot evidence of their existence today. 
An oyster shell midden on the banks of the Wando River. 
A piece of clay pottery jutting out from the sand along the coastline at low tide. 
A modern roadway that traces an ancient trading route. 
An arrowhead buried beneath layers of soil. 
Native Americans were the first to lay claim to this land. Archaeologist Dr. Eric Poplin, vice president of Brockington & Associates, an industry leader in cultural resources management, has been studying Daniel Island’s history for more than 30 years. 
“I think the most important thing that our research revealed concerning the Native Americans who lived on Daniel Island and around Charleston Harbor is their adaptability, the way they utilized so much of their environment and surroundings to maintain themselves, their families, their communities, and at times, even larger social groups,” Poplin said. “… These people understood how to survive very well in this place where we live today. This demonstrates the abilities of people to make fruitful lives, much more than just surviving, in a most efficient and commodious manner.” 
November has been designated as Native American Heritage Month, a time to remember the rich ancestry and traditions of a people known for their strength, resilience, and immeasurable contributions to the societies in which they lived. Daniel Island’s ties to Native Americans are well documented. The island was once known as Ittiwan or Etiwan Island, a tribute to the tribe that settled in the area centuries ago. 
“Native American artifacts occur in fairly large quantities along the margins of the island, with several large concentrations that likely reflect longer term occupations — like villages or farmsteads, particularly during the 1400s-1600s,” Poplin noted. “One of these sites lies near the Volvo Cup Tennis Center (now the Credit One Stadium) and the I-526 Wando River bridge and the other lies to the north on Ralston Creek. However, there is evidence that people have been visiting and spending some time on Daniel Island for the last 13,000 years.”
Former Daniel Island resident Mike Dahlman, co-founder of the Daniel Island Historical Society, described Native American occupation of the island in the book “Daniel Island,” which he co-authored with his son, Michael K. Dahlman Jr. 
According to the book, nearly every excavated site has revealed Native American relics, including some of the oldest ceramics found anywhere in North America. “Archaeologists have uncovered arrowheads that date from 10,000 years ago, along with pottery shards that indicate Etiwan Island … was an important living area from at least 2500 B.C.,” Dahlman wrote.
“A place like Daniel Island would have had an abundant food supply, fishing access, good climate, and the proximity to water was important for everything from transit and trade, to spiritual significance and ritual,” said Daniel Island Historical Society President Jessica Knuff, who is of Cherokee/Pee Dee descent and serves as a board member for the U.S. Department of State’s Native American Foreign Affairs Council. “Many of the reasons people lived on Daniel Island thousands of years ago may be very similar to why we chose to live here now.”
Although not much is known about the Etiwan Tribe specifically, due to the fact that they had no written language, they likely shared many of the common beliefs and cultural practices of neighboring Lowcountry tribes.
“The Etiwan had a Muskogean-based language, so they most likely shared similar cultural connections to the nearby Cusso, Kusso-Natchez, Kiawah, Stono and Yemassee tribes,” Knuff continued. “The beliefs and practices of the historic Etiwan tribe would have morphed over the years with influence from Edisto, Catawba and Cherokee cultures as colonial pressure to move inland brought various Native cultures into settlement towns for survival. South Carolina had a robust Native trading path running directly through the state from the coast to the mountains, so Carolina tribes shared many common cultural influences through travel and trade.”
As part of their 2004 investigation of the Ralston Creek site in what is now Daniel Island Park, Poplin and his team made a significant discovery – a Native American burial.
“This person was buried near one of the Ashley phase houses that once stood on the site,” Poplin noted. “Likely sometime between AD 1570 and 1650. Encountering human remains is always sobering and exciting. So much of what we do as archaeologists involves just pieces of refuse that people used but left behind. We do not deal with actual people that often, but when we do, it is always in the most respectful and sensitive manner possible.”
The remains were ultimately relocated in a manner consistent with Native American traditions. “A Catawba Shaman, or spiritual leader, was present when the remains were removed and reburied on Daniel Island in an area that will not be developed,” Dahlman wrote.
“Special care was taken to retain the geographical alignment of the body.”
It is that tradition and many others that defined Native American life — and it is hoped that through initiatives like Native American Heritage Month their contributions will continue to be recognized.
“South Carolina’s role in shaping Native American culture, religion and existing tribal structures cannot be understated,” Knuff added. “Because South Carolina was an early contact state, much of this influence was due to the slave trade. Spanish and French exploration prior to the arrival of English settlers resulted in diminished numbers of Lowcountry Natives, due to both disease and slavery. Early Carolina settlers arriving from Barbados depended on slave labor for the plantation-style agricultural systems they replicated in the Lowcountry.”
In fact, significant numbers of Native Americans were captured and used in slavery for the purposes of farming, making “Charles Towne” the epicenter of the American Indian Slave Trade, according to Knuff. It is believed that between 1670 and 1720, more Native American slaves were exported out of Charleston than Africans were imported.
“Many Lowcountry Natives were shipped to the West Indies or elsewhere for profit,” Knuff noted. She said the purpose of the American Indian Slave Trade “was not only profit, but also to break up existing community and political institutions of Native tribes on the East Coast. In South Carolina, some of the tribes that exist today, in their modern form, are descendants of tribal groups that escaped the Lowcountry as a result of these colonial influences.”
Today, many descendants of the Etiwan Tribe live in the Summerville/Carnes Crossroads area and are known as the Wassamasaw Indian Nation and the Wassamasaw Tribe of Varnertown. 
Poplin said, “We should never think of Native Americans as living just in the past,” since there are many Native American people living in our communities today. “And not just people from the major tribes that we know about,” he added. “They are still here and trying to maintain their identities as Native Americans.”
In a 2019 presentation for the Daniel Island Historical Society, Knuff encouraged all community members to ponder some important questions.
“Whose land do you live on? What do/did they call themselves? What was done to them? How do you benefit from that? What are they doing now? If you can’t answer these questions, ask yourself why — and then find out.”
Also in November of 2019 our monthly program was a presentation by Jessica Knuff…who later went on to be the vice president and, later, president of DIHS.   To see a summary of her presentation, including her slides, some fascinating graphics and lots of relevant links CLICK HERE


Another great resource is the website of the Wassamasw Tribe of Varnertown Indians website. CLICK HERE


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