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Chicora . . . Looking for Love In All the Wrong Places

Forgotten Peoples of the Southeastern United States: Part Two

The segregation of Caucasian historians, anthropologists and archaeologists from the indigenous peoples that they claim to be experts on, has been a fatal flaw of these professions from the very beginning of their existence in the Southeast. Mid-20th century academicians started off on the wrong track by not knowing the languages spoken by the indigenous peoples. Speculations of one generation became the flawed assumptions of the next. Successful doctoral level research was defined by the number of late 20th century authority figures, quoted and endorsed. This problem is still as bad as ever.

In April of 2014, the Mercer University Department of History sponsored a symposium entitled, “Excavating the Native South.” In promoting the event, Mercer Online News provided the following description: “The area that is now Middle Georgia has been inhabited for thousands of years. Generations of indigenous people lived here, and built enormous mounds and massive cities. Native Americans were forcibly removed to make way for cotton plantations, but their legacy and their descendants remain. This symposium will explore Native Americans’ role in the South’s history and culture, said Dr. David A. Davis, assistant professor of English at Mercer and organizer of the symposium.”

Not one Native American descendant from Georgia was invited to speak. In fact, only one of the speakers was even a Caucasian born in Georgia. When the call for speakers went out in the previous year, I sent Dr. Davis a list of “card carrying” Choctaw, Creek and Seminole persons in the Southeast, who held PhD’s in Anthropology. None were invited to speak. I offered myself, Savannah River Euchee Principal Chief Lonzando Langley, plus several other “card carrying” Native Americans in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina to speak on the topic of Native American traditions among contemporary Southeastern families. None of us were invited.

Poet Janet McAdams, a professor at Kenyon College in Ohio, has some Alabama Creek heritage and minimal Native American physical features. She was invited to read her poetry for 50 minutes. There is no need to say anything else about this particular issue. The record speaks for itself.

The lost province of Chicora

In 1520, Francisco Gordillo and Pedro de Quejo commanded a two ship, covert slave raid onto the South Atlantic Coast. The earlier explorations of Don Juan Ponce de Leon had made the Spanish in Santo Domingo aware that there was a large island or mainland to the northwest. While being friendly with some provinces such as Duhare (Tuhali), they tricked about 80 men and women from the province of Chicora into coming aboard their ships to see the superiority of Spanish civilization.

Half of the hapless captives drowned when one of the ships sank on the way back to Santo Domingo. Many of the survivors died of starvation, disease and heartbreak in the other ship. The bishop in Santo Domingo immediately ordered the few survivors freed, but they were not returned to their homes. Instead they became paid house servants and laborers for the Spanish elite.

One particularly bright young man, whom the Spanish named Francisco, caught the attention of church authorities. He was given the education of a Spanish hidalgo and worked as an assistant to Don Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón, both in Santo Domingo and in Spain. Church officials aspired that he become ordained or at least be a lay brother, who could translate Native languages into Spanish. The young man became known as Don Francisco de Chicora.

Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón took Francisco along in 1526, when he led 600+ colonists in an attempt to found the first Spanish colony on the coast of North America. However, Francisco escaped when the fleet neared his homeland. The fleet sailed farther south before landing on an island to found the ill-fated Colonia San Miguel de Gualdape.

There is chronic debate among historians and archaeologists about the location of this colony. The descriptions of its environs match the mouth of the Altamaha River in Georgia. However, the recorded distance southward, traveled by De Ayllón’s fleet from the known location of Chicora near the Santee River of South Carolina, places the location of the failed colony near Charleston Bay. There has been many an argument on the subject at archaeological conferences. In recent years, Sapelo Island, GA has been the favored location of the colony, even though it does not jive with Chicora’s assumed location.

Wikipedia tells the reader: “The Chicora tribe was a small Native American tribe of the Pee Dee area in northeastern South Carolina, ranging to the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. Scholars consider them a Catawban group, likely to have spoken a Siouan language.”

Wikipedia also tells us that: “In 1526 Franciso de Chicora accompanied another Spanish expedition to North America. When the party reached land at the Santee River, he escaped and rejoined his people.”

Many anthropology textbooks, plus Wikipedia tell us that Chicora was another name for the Cheraw People in extreme northeastern South Carolina. Wikipedia adds: “Remnants of the tribe are centered in Conway, South Carolina and are seeking official recognition by the state.“

Today, there is a Chicora Archaeological Foundation in Columbia, SC. In the region around Myrtle Beach and Georgetown, SC, one can find public schools, automobile dealerships, restaurants, a Boy Scout regional organization, subdivisions and a environmental conservation group named Chicora . . . but no Injuns by that name either today. They are assumed to have been extinct by the time English-speaking colonists arrived on the scene in 1670.

But wait a minute . . . nowhere in any book from the 1500s, are there rivers named the Pee Dee and the Santee. The placement of Chicora in northeastern South Carolina was made by a South Carolina historian about 250 years after Francisco de Chicora’s lifetime. What justification did that historian of long ago have for locating Chicora near the Santee River of South Carolina? Since then, scholars have built a stack of cards, whose foundation is that very questionable assumption.

Duh-h-h . . . How could they make such a mistake?

In the summer of 1562, a barque filled with colonists from Charlesfort in Port Royal Sound, SC sailed southward past present day Kiawah Island to enter the mouth of the Savannah River. They were greeted by the Chicola emissaries then sailed up the river about 16 miles farther to meet with the King of Chicola at his island capital of Chikoli. Chikoli was most likely the sophisticated ceremonial complex known today as the Irene Mound Complex. It was destroyed during World War II to build docks for the Georgia Ports Authority.

The place name Chicola, Chicoli or Chikili appeared on most maps of Southeastern North America throughout the late 1500s and most of the1600s – always shown to be a major town on the lower Savannah River. After Charleston was settled in 1674, English-authored maps began to show the same town as being named Palachicola, Palachucola or Pollachucola.  Do you see the “Chicola” in the name?

In his memoirs, written prior to his death in 1574, Captain Rene de Laudonnière, commander of Fort Caroline, specifically equated Chicola with Chicora. These statements are on pages 29-30 of Three Voyages by Charles Bennett.

The famous French captain’s statement is a no-brainer for most Southeastern Native Americans. We know that many tribes spoke something like an “L” sound for the European R, while others spoke something like an “R” sound for the European letter “L.” This common knowledge never seeped into academia, evidently.

By the time that South Carolina was settled, Chikoli had moved upstream on both sides of the Savannah River to Screven County, GA and Allendale County, SC. The mikko of Chikoli was the author of The Migration Legend of the Creek People, but he had grown up in Northeast Georgia near where I live today, in the Province of Apalache. Palachicola continued to be on the maps as Palachicola until the American Revolution. After a horrific smallpox epidemic in 1745, most of the Apalache citizens of Chikola moved westward to the Flint River or back to Northeast Georgia. The Euchee residents either continued to live in remote hamlets or else moved up the Savannah River, near present day Augusta, GA.

Given the zealously enforced policy by historians and anthropologists of not considering the direct input of Native American descendants, the omission of the L and R switch is understandable. However, in the case of Chicora-Chicola equivalency, there is really no excuse at all.

That information was written by Monsieur de Laudonnière  a highly educated French naval officer, who visited Chicora-Chicola in 1562 and has been published in books since 1578. One can only assume that in the 437 years since then, many a student or young professor has read De Laudonnière’s account, but lacked the intestinal fortitude to publicly state, “The presumed location of Chicora in northeastern South Carolina was always nonsense. “

Probable appearance of the Irene Ceremonial Complex - Savannah, GA

Probable appearance of the Irene Ceremonial Complex – Savannah, GA

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

1 Comment


    With great anticipation in learning more about the Native American culture in the southeast, I along with several other historians attended the symposium entitled, “Excavating the Native South.”
    I wish I could say that I took pages of notes and totally enjoyed the program, but to be honest all of us were very disappointed.
    Any time the speakers read their speeches, it makes for a long boring day.


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