Shefveland on Bossy, 'The Yamasee Indians: From Florida to South Carolina'

Denise I. Bossy, ed.
Kristalyn M. Shefveland

Denise I. Bossy, ed. The Yamasee Indians: From Florida to South Carolina. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2018. Illustrations. 372 pp. $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4962-0760-9.

Reviewed by Kristalyn M. Shefveland (University of Southern Indiana) Published on H-War (March, 2019) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)

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Scholars of the Native South have in recent years greatly expanded on and enriched our knowledge of the many diverse Native polities of the Eastern Woodlands and their complex histories. In spring 2015, Denise I. Bossy (associate professor of history at the University of North Florida) helped organize a conference with Chester DePratter (research professor at the SC Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina) in St. Augustine, Florida, which brought together scholars of various disciplines to shed light on the Yamasee people. This volume successfully recognizes both the adaptation and the perseverance of the Yamasee as they maneuvered their circumstances to face waves of colonization and trade.

The story of the Yamasee has often been obscured by a focus on their violent attacks in 1715 on the trade settlement of Pon Pon and other surrounding settler communities in South Carolina, a war that many believe marked an end of indigenous slavery in the South and a shift toward a decline for Native peoples in their trade supremacy in the region. In Yamasee Indians, the conference contributors have meticulously brought together the stories of the Yamasee as people, highlighting their remarkable adaptability, mobility, and long perseverance. Organized into three sections, these essays address identity, networks, and the aftermath of the Yamasee War.

Importantly, these series of essays move above and beyond the Yamasee War and the Yamasee role in enslavement to discuss Yamasee vulnerability to these threats and the development of Yamasee identity at the heart of the South:  European, Indian, and African. Who the Yamasee were and what it meant to be a Yamasee changed throughout the early colonial period as they “engaged in numerous instances of coalescence, migration, and reformulation over the course over a full century and more” (p. 19). By incorporating outsiders, networking extensively, and preserving their autonomy and sovereignty, the Yamasee both as individuals and communities “took decisive action as they negotiated their way through the shock waves caused by European colonization” (p. 20). Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Yamasees were a remarkably mobile community that reacted to European trade by shifting their homelands while maintaining links to previous settlements, including returning to harvest crops on former lands, and establishing a decisive role as militarized slavers in the Indian slave trade.

Throughout the volume, the authors emphasize adaptability, including traditions of resistance to European intrusions and expectations by preserving remarkable autonomy and liberty. Material evidence bolsters this assertion. The interweaving of historical and archaeological perspectives is the greatest contribution of this volume. For example, Eric C. Poplin and Jon Bernard Marcoux argue that Yamasee Confederacy raiders used material wealth to “convey a sense of ferocity and power” and these “outward expressions of wealth, ferocity, and strength conveyed the power and identity of the Yamasee Confederacy” (p. 93). Material objects are at the center of several of the essays that interweave the site reports of Yamasee towns with textual evidence of Yamasee trade with South Carolina colonists. Close reading of the textual evidence is an important focal point. For example, in Bossy’s essay, one can see how interpretations of a text and a story change over time and how small mistakes in the paleography of a primary source can affect the narrative. Many of these essays also suggest further avenues for exploration, showcasing how research in the Native South is collaborative and dynamic as new queries emerge. In an essay by Amanda Hall, Yamasee flexibility and adaptability at the town site of San Antonio de Pocotalaca is the center of the argument, correcting the pervasive declension model present in many histories of the region and group. By surveying evidence from 1716 to 1752, Hall works with the Yamasee story as the Yamasee reimagined themselves in the postwar era. With that in mind, John Worth’s excellent contribution continues this research on the Yamasee town sites and adaptability as he shifts from the Atlantic coast to the Gulf of Mexico, making an argument that the removal of the Spanish and their Native allies in 1763 is not the end of the Yamasee settlements in Florida.

This volume delivers an impressive approach to an anthology, essays that speak to and interact seamlessly with one another. The contributors offer a remarkably thorough discussion that is both interdisciplinary and accessible.

Citation: Kristalyn M. Shefveland. Review of Bossy, Denise I., ed., The Yamasee Indians: From Florida to South Carolina. H-War, H-Net Reviews. March, 2019. URL:

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