Blood, Silver, and Deer Skin Britches by Roger Pinckney

Island resident Roger Pinckney is the author of six books on Southern Culture. This is one of a series of articles he has written for Daufuskie Island Magazine on Daufuskie History.

Drawing of Spanish Ship

The Spanish explorers came to the New World for “God, gold, and glory.”

The Spanish explorers, the story goes, came to the New World for “God, gold and glory.” Maybe they found God, but there was more glory than most of them could stand. Consider Hernan Desoto, who came through here with a 650 man expedition in 1540. They blundered through fourteen states, and when survivors finally made Mexico, minus Desoto, there were only 35 men left alive.

And gold? Desoto never found any. Other explorers found it in Mexico and Peru, but mostly they found vast deposits of silver, which they mined with Indian slaves. From it they struck mountains of crude coins, Ocho Reales, about the size and weight of silver dollars, the “pieces of eight,” famed in pirate lore. Every two years the Spanish treasure fleet gathered off Panama. Across the Caribbean, through the Florida Straights, they rode the Gulf Stream northward. When they were just offshore of what would become Beaufort County, they could catch favorable winds back to Spain. Given the vulnerability of the treasure fleet, and the excellence of the harbors here, Spain would absolutely not tolerate other Europeans on this coast. But still, they came, French in 1562, English in 1670, Scots in 1682. The French starved out, the Scots were defeated by the Spanish but the English stuck. When the Spanish could not dislodge them, they called upon their Indian allies.

 

 

The original Indians on these islands were called Cusabo, the people of the river. They grew fat and indolent on fish and oysters from the creeks, venison and turkey from the woods, and corn, beans and squash from their gardens. They built log lodges, great sailing canoes, and walled villages, and the remains of one can still be seen on the Webb Tract in a place locals call Rabbit Point. Archaeologists say that site was continuously occupied for more than 3500 years.

While the Spanish were after treasure, the English wanted deer skins. Deerskin britches, or breeches as they called them then, were the current fashion rage in Europe where gentlemen of means felt under-dressed if they appeared in public without them.

Whitetail Doe

English traders fanned out across the Lowcountry, swapping pots and pans, trinkets, blankets and gee-gaws, knives and guns for deer skins

English traders fanned out across the Lowcountry, swapping pots and pans, trinkets, blankets and gee-gaws, knives and guns for deer skins which were salted down, packed in wooden barrels, and sent back to England. But there came a time when English colonists ran short of Indians. The Cusabo, it seemed, had little immunity to European diseases. While smallpox killed many, others were struck down by mumps, measles, even the common cold. In 1686, faced with a labor shortage, English enticed the Yemassee to move up from Florida.

It was not a good idea. While they were great hunters, the Yemassee were allies of the Spanish and the Spanish continuously urged them to revolt, offering cash bounties for English scalps and live African slaves. Meanwhile, English were turning herds of cattle loose upon the land. The deer harvest predictably declined and the Yemassees had to rely on credit advanced at exorbitant rates. On Good Friday, 1715, nine thousand Yemassees, fearing they would be sold into slavery, went on the warpath

The English smelled trouble brewing and sent a delegation to parley at the Indian village of Pocotaligo. The delegation, all experienced Indian traders, failed to notice the absence of women and children at the village. Halfway through the discussions, the Yemassee went for their knives and guns. Only one white man escaped, running through the woods and swimming the Whale Branch River to carry the alarm to Beaufort.

Painting from Bloody Point Clubhouse

Painting at Bloody Point Clubhouse depicting Battle between Yemassee Indians and English near current site of Bloody Point Cemetery

Several weeks previously, Beaufort authorities had impounded a smuggler’s ship. Panicked townspeople rushed aboard, anchored it out in the bay. A few hours later, a red tide rolled over Beaufort. Horrified Beaufortonians watched their town burn as the Yemassee ran down and tomahawked their neighbors who had not been lucky enough to get aboard. The ship sailed to Charleston and alerted the militia who were able to defeat the Yemassee just as they were entering the city. Figuring the Yemassee would make a run for Florida, the English planned to cut them off at the south end of Daufuskie, at a place we now call Bloody Point. It made good sense. There was no Intercoastal Waterway in those days. While the Indians could sail and paddle creek to connecting creek, when they got to Daufuskie the creeks ran out. Next was a nasty piece of surf. If the weather was bad, and it generally was–and still is–the Indians would have to camp until the surf lay down and they could make it to the Savannah River channel. Once in the Savannah, there were other creeks that would give them sheltered passage all the way to St. Augustine.

In August, 1715, three small English gunboats lay in wait in the New River. A contingent of militia hid in the woods about where the Bloody Point Cemetery is today. When the Yemassee war canoes appeared on the Mungen River, the English sprung the trap. After a rattle of musketry and shots from the ships’ small cannons, the Yemassee abandoned their canoes and rushed ashore– right into a withering fire from the militia. Thirty six warriors were killed, two captured, and several allowed to escape to carry the word: “This is what happens when you mess with us.”

Once again, a bad idea. In St Augustine, Indians and Spanish cooked up revenge. It took them a while but they finally got around to it. The English, realizing if the Yemassee were to come back, they would have to pass here again, built a small fort and left a detachment to man it. It was supposed to work like this: In the event of attack, the fort was to fire a cannon. Another fort on Hilton Head would hear the shot and loose a blast of their own. That shot would be heard on Parris Island, and so on until the signal reached Charleston. But the garrison tired of watching and became, in the words of a militia colonel, “a wild, idle people, continuously sotting if they could get rum for trust or money.” In January, 1728 Yemassee crossed the Savannah River un-noticed and surprised the garrison. All were killed but their commander, who was taken as hostage back to St. Augustine.

Finally, the English had a belly full of the Spanish and their Yemassee friends. Two months later, about a hundred colonial militiamen and Indian allies attacked the Yemassee at St. Augustine. The Yemassee knew it was coming, so they moved their village right under the city walls where they could receive protection from the Spanish cannon. But it did them little good. Fearing the English would lay siege to St. Augustine, the Spanish idly looked on as the English massacred their former allies–and when the fight was over, even gave them provisions to make it back to Carolina!

And so ended their terror of the Yemassee War. Never again would they threaten the English. And Daufuskie was finally open to white settlement and thus began the next chapter in this rich and bloody history– the age of the great plantations.

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