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The Cusabo of South Carolina

What were South American words doing in the South Carolina Low Country?

I was shocked when reading the opening pages of Captain René de Laudonniére’s “Trois Voyages.” The French explorer stated that the Native peoples around Port Royal Sound in present day South Carolina worshiped a deity named Toya, but also celebrated the Green Corn Festival at the Summer Solstice. Toya was a sun god worshiped in South America and by the Calusa Indians . . . who supposedly only lived in the southern tip of Florida. Just south of the Savannah River in the Wahale (Southerners) country of Georgia’s Coastal Plain, the French recorded an ethnic smörgasbård of standard Tupi-Guarani, Quechua, Muskogean, Arawak and Maya village names. They even saw cinchona (quinine) trees being cultivated along the Altamaha River. What in the world was going on back then?

The ethnic name Cusabo first appears in European archives about the same time that the Colony of Carolina was settled in 1674. Most South Carolinians remember them as tribe that once lived on the coast of the state. However, actually it was an alliance formed from several remnant provinces in the region between Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA. Members of this confederacy included the Asepo (Ashepoo,) Combahe, Kusaw (Coushaw~Coosoe,) Edisto, Etiwa (Etowah,) Eutaw, Kiowa (Keowee,) Sokee (Soque,) Stono, Wando, Wapoo and Wimbee. A band of the Natchez also settled in the Cusabo region in the 1740s. They Cusabo were also known as the Settlement Indians, because some of them continued to live among the South Carolina colonists into the mid-1700s.

The names of several members of the Cusabo Alliance appear in the earliest colonial archives. The French Huguenots at Charlesfort in Port Royal Sound mention “King Audesta,” ”King Macou,” “King Aresto,” and “King Ouede.” It is not clear if these are personal names or ethnic names. The High King of the region northeast of Port Royal Sound was named Chiquola by the French. Later Spanish colonists named his territory Chicora. French maps of Florida François show the Ashipou, Cousau and Etiwau living inland from Charleston Bay along the Ashely and Cooper Rivers.

The Spanish settled Port Royal Sound in 1566 after massacring the French colonists on the South Atlantic Coast in 1565. Initially, the local Natives, who they called Edisto and Oresto, cooperated. However, as the Spanish steadily tried to manipulate and force them into serfdom, they rebelled. The town of Santa Elena was burned and colonists were driven out in 1576. The Spanish returned in 1578 and punished the rebelling tribes. A smaller settlement was rebuilt, but it was permanently abandoned in 1587.

Little is known about the events along the South Carolina coast between 1587 and 1674. Anthropologists believe that horrific plagues swept through the Southeast, decreasing the population by as much as 90%. Along the coast, the effects of the plagues came much earlier. European ships would occasionally send landing parties to trade with coastal tribes, but leave behind deadly microbes.

The creation of the Colony of Carolina in 1659 marked the beginning of the end for South Carolina’s Native Americans. One of the Lord Proprietors of the planned colony was Sir William Berkeley, the newly reinstated Governor of Virginia. After packing the House of Burgesses with Royalist planters, Berkeley in 1660 pushed through bills which, for the first time in English history, institutionalized human slavery. Native Americans and Africans, who had been classified as bond servants, were now in perpetual slavery for all generations in the future. The Colony of Virginia also gave the Rickohocken Indians firearms and a contract to deliver as many Native American slaves as possible. Much of the new colony of Carolina was depopulated before the first British colonists arrived.

The Cusabo Alliance cooperated with early British settlers in the Low Country. They provided wild game and fish to the colonists in return for manufactured goods. As slavery became more prevalent in coastal plantations, the Cusabo functioned as slave catchers. Colonial authorities intentionally promoted hostility between the Cusabo and Africans so that they would not join forces. However, the archives are not clear as to what relationship the Cusabo had with Native American slaves. In 1710, twenty percent of the population of the Charleston Colony was Native American slaves, while forty percent was African slaves.

The Cusabo was the only Native Americans who initially supported the Carolina colonists when the Yamasee Alliance attacked colonists in 1715. After the ultimate British victory in 1717, many Cusabo relocated to the Chattahoochee River and joined the Creek Confederacy. Their name appears on maps until the mid-1700s. Other Cusabo continued to live in the Low Country in remote, swampy locations, where they essentially became invisible to government authorities.

Members of Cusabo Alliance Remain a Partial Mystery

Beginning with the work of the famous ethnologist, John Swanton, in the early 1900s, ethnological discussions of the Cusabo project a sense of great confusion by academicians. Only a handful of Cusabo words, recorded by European explorers and colonists, survive. Ethnologists failed to realize that the members of the Cusabo alliance were originally different ethnic groups, and so tried to discern a single language spoken by all the Cusabos. What one sees today, when the subject of the Cusabos is mentioned at all, is an attempt to fit them into the mold of a modern federally recognized tribe. Ethnologists compare the handful of surviving words from a dozen different provinces and try to match them with Muskogee-Creek, Catawba, Cherokee, Lenape (Delaware) or Iroquois.

An early colonial document stated that five of the member tribes of the Cusabo spoke a common language, but could that language actually been a trade jargon? The Yamasee Alliance used Yama (Mobile Indian language) as a trade jargon, while the Creek Confederacy used Mvskoke as a trade jargon. Each alliance was actually composed of several ethnic groups.

Much of the confusion can be traced to the assumption by anthropologists that Native Americans pronounced the ethnic names given them by Europeans exactly like contemporary alphabetic letters are pronounced in English. The English “bo” was actually closer to “po.” The English “ba” (as in Catawba) was actually “pa.” Both are Itza Maya and Itsate-Creek suffixes for “place of” or territory. The real name of the Catawba Indians was Katvpa (Kataapa on Georgia maps.) An internal “s” was pronounced “sh” by Eastern Muskogeans, while an external “s” was a “zjh” sound like in southern Mexico. Many “t’s” in Anglicized tribal names were actually pronounced closer to the sound of a “d.”

Someone in the past decided that the “bo” or “bou” suffix in South Carolina Indian names meant “river.” However, they never could figure out what language “bo” or “bou” came from. Someone else decided that the Westo’s were really Yuchi. Thus, the full name of late 17th century slave raiders, Westebo or Westobou was translated as Yuchi River. Weste or westo is a Muskogean adjective for “scraggly hair” that was applied by the Creeks as a pejorative name for the Rickohockens, who wore long, unkempt hair. Westepo means “Territory of the Rickohockens” in Itsate-Creek.

Let’s take a look at tribal names

Asipo (Ashipoo, Ashibou, Osebaw) – This is a Coastal Itsate name meaning “Yaupon Holly Territory.” Their original base was obviously on Ossabaw Island, immediately south of Savannah. They were Itsate Muskogeans, who spoke a hybrid language with many Mesoamerican words. Interestingly enough, early British settlers knew that Ossabaw meant “place of the Yaupon Holly,” but late 20th century scholars couldn’t figure out how the Muskogee-Creek equivalent of “place where the yaupon holly grows” could become Ossabaw. Muskogee can be very different than Itsate.

Combahee, Kampahechee, Kvmpahe – This province was located around Beaufort Sound when the first European explorers entered coastal South Carolina. Most died out or moved away during the 1600s. They are believed by anthropologists to have been a Muskogean tribe allied with the Cousaw.

Cousa, Coushaw, Coosa – This tribe was a branch of the Georgia Kusa, who settled in South Carolina. Their late 17th century presence in South Carolina might explain the cultural ties between the province where Kofitachiki was located and the capital of Kusa in NW Georgia.

Cusabo (Kusapo) – The name of the late 17th alliance has alternative interpretations. In Itsate, Kusapo literally means “Territory of the Kusa.” Kusa was actually pronounced Koushaw, so that makes sense. However, as will be seen below, there were peoples in South Carolina and Georgia with South American or Caribbean roots. Caçabi (Cashabe) is the Taino word for cassava bread. Kusa is the Quechua word for “good.” So Kusapo could be a hybrid word meaning, “Territory of the Good (People,)” This also makes sense because the title of many of the kings along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts was “parakusa,” which is of Peruvian origin. It means “water – good.”

Etiwa, Eutaw (Etalwa) – These are obviously Anglicized versions of a major division of the Creek People, the Etalwa. Etowah, NC near the SC line was originally called Etalwa. It was a Creek town.

Edisto and Oresto – These people worshiped a deity named Toya. Their king was called a parakusa. Their roots are obviously in South America. They probably were Calusas, who moved north sometime in the past. In fact, one of the kings that René de Laudonniére encountered inland from the Atlantic Coast was name Calusa. The “to” suffix probably means “people” or “territory” but cannot be translated with either a contemporary Quechua or a Tupi-Guarani dictionary. The “to” may be derived from the Itza Maya and Itsate Creek suffix “te,” which means “people.”

Keowa, Kiowa, Kiule, Keowee – There was a small branch of this ethnic group living on Kiawah Island until around 1678. This Muskogean tribe was primarily located in northeast Georgia and the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in present day South Carolina. Their mother town was located at a cluster of mounds on the Oconee River near present day Watkinsville, GA. Most moved to Wetumka, AL and became known as the Kiale-ke. One town helped form the original Chorakee Alliance in NW South Carolina in 1693. Coastal Kiawa Indians were given a reserve on the Combahee River in 1743,

Sokee, Soque, Joki, Joqui, Jocasee, Soco – This ethnic group once was one the most powerful provinces in present day South Carolina. They dominated the region around the headwaters of the Savannah River. Early English explorers noted that they had many advanced cultural characteristics that today would be labeled Mesoamerican. These included the flattening of foreheads. Their name was pronounced exactly like that of the Zoque in Mexico. This fact may, or may not, be significant. No Sokee words are known to survive, although they may be some of the town names mentioned by Juan Pardo.

Because they lived in large towns, the Sokee were severely debilitated by European plagues and then by English-sponsored slave raiders. By the late 1600s most became allied with the Cusabo and eventually moved with them to present day Alabama, joining the Creek Confederacy. Some remained in NE Georgia and North Carolina, while others migrated to the Tennessee Valley and joined the Overhill Cherokees. The last, ethnically distinct, Sokee town lasted until 1818 at the eastern end of the Nacoochee Valley, where Clarkesville, GA now stands.

Stono – The Stono were originally located on the southwest side of Charleston Bay and on Johns Island. Possibly, their real name was Este-ono. Little is known about them, other than they were culturally associated with the Cousa and Etiwa Indians. They are presumed to have been Muskogean. Their few survivors eventually joined the Creek Confederacy.

Wando – This Native American group lived along the Cooper and Wando Rivers, northwest of Charleston Bay. There real name was probably Oue-an-to, meaning roughly, “swamp water people” in Muskogean. They may or may not have been true Muskogeans, even though they were allied with definite proto-Creek tribes to the south. Ceramics found along the Cooper and Wando Rivers suggest that the Wando have been in South Carolina at least 1200 years. They may be indigenous Siouans, who fully absorbed Muskogean culture when Muskogeans moved into the region. Alternatively, they may represent the first wave of Muskogeans to arrive in South Carolina.

Wapoo (Ouepo) – This was an extremely small Muskogean tribe living on the west side of Charleston Bay. There name would mean “Place of Water” in a Coastal Itsate Creek dialect. Little is known about them other than that they joined the Cusabo Alliance.

Wambee (Wampe) – This is another forgotten small tribe of Natives, allied with the Cousa and later, the Cusabo, who disappeared in the 1700s. The river that they lived along was originally called the Coosahatchee, so the probably is high that they were either Muskogeans or had absorbed Muskogean culture via a Muskogean elite. Little else is known about them.

The archives of early French and Spanish explorers suggest that South Carolina was once the home to some of North America’s most advanced indigenous peoples. There was obviously a broad diversity of ethnic groups. Unfortunately, their populations were almost wiped out by the time that English settlers arrived on the scene. Undoubtedly, South Carolina’s archaeologists, ethnologists and historians have many decades more work to go before their rich Native American cultural heritage is fully understood.

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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.



    Loch er Ha jo and Loch a ha ( maybe also Loch a la) are two names I need translated from the Creek. Can you help me?

    • Those must be Anglicized names taken from a list of Creek men, written down by government officials The word in Mvskoke is Loco-harjo
      Turtle Frenzied

      Harjo was a war title that referred to a warrior, who fought with such frenzy in battle that he seemed temporarily crazy.


        I noticed Loch er Harjo as the name of a Creek translator in Arkansas. If these were translated, what do you suppose the names mean? Loch er Harjo (? ? friezied warrior ) Was Osceola the Creek anglicized name? bc some of these names show up with Osceola’s name.


    This information is invaluable! I am on the journey to understand who my ancestors are. So much information on Native people in South Carolina starts with the Spanish.
    Thank you for your diligence????

    Sue Rock


      Silly girl Sue Rock–Our history ends with De-Soto. Thank god that we are Human Beings who can trace our roots through a genetic connection and not written ( and usually bastardized) word.


    Richard Thornton,
    Furthering our previous conversation, I found the word “la” is water. Is this correct? Also, if you combine these words together would the first part Loch “la” with Harjo mean Warrior something water? How would you say “falling water” in Creek?

    • La is not water in the Creek or Cherokee languages, but apparently that syllable is part of one of the words for water among some Arawak peoples in South America.


    Why havent you made any mention of the Escamacu people of St Helena Island?

    • They may have had another name, but were not on the list of villages that later relocated to the Creek Confederacy. Nothing much is known about them. The matter is worsened by the fact that academicians got it all wrong about the ethnic identities of the others. Cusabo or Coçapoy is a Panoan word from eastern Peru. It means Strong (elite) – place of. Edisto is the Europeanization of a Uchee word that means “Uchee People.” The Guale did not speak a Muskogean language. Someone speculated that without asking a Creek scholar to check out their surviving words. The Gringo approach to anthropology is based on accepting the opinion of authority figures within the profession as facts then citing them as the proof of a fact. So in the case of the Escamacu there is no information at all other than they composed a small village in 1563. Being that I was not there and have no time machine, there is nothing I can say. Sorry.

      When reading the academic papers on the South Carolina coastal tribes, it is very difficult to discern facts from speculations of authority figures.


    Wapo would mean “Having many rivers” in Taíno. Just saying could be connection.


    Richard, do you know the history of Toxawa and Keowa (two towns in northwest South Carolina) in what is now the “Toxaway Keowee State Park”? Also curious what knowledge you may have on the history of the Cheoah Ranger Park area a little northwest in the Nantahala area between the years 1816-1830?

    • Toxawe is the Creek word for a outdoor kitchen shed. The Kiawa Creeks were an offshoot of the Okoni Creeks and had their capital in present day Watkinsville, GA on the Oconee River. Their three mounds still stand. Their descendants are members of the Kialeki Tribal Town in Oklahoma. Most Georgia Creek provinces established colonies in the mountains to assure access to resources only found in the mountains. I am very familiar with Cheoah Ranger Park in Graham County, NC. While camped out in Graham in the winter and spring of 2010, I often exercised my dogs there. I assume that some Cherokees lived there between 1816 and 1830.


    By the way, one of the first Cherokee Chiefs to interact with the English through Governor Philip Ludwell of Carolina in 1684 was named Adigellagitchi. I was able to break his name down as Adyghe-Gella-Gitchi. Adyghe is what Cherkessians (Circassians) call themselves. Gella is an ancient Anatolian-Phoenician word meaning “Golden Haired” and Gitchi is an Algonquian word for the “Great Spirit” or “Sun God”. I’m fairly certain at this point that the Cherokee began as a tri-racial creole tribe comprised of Powhatan male warriors under the command of Opechanacanough, 20 Ndongo (African) warrior women related to Queen Nzinga dropped off in Jamestown by a Dutch Pirate named Jope, and 30 Cherkessian (Circassian) women freed by the Ndongo women during the 1622 massacre of Jamestown. They became the Rickahockans (spelling) during the Powhatan-Virginia wars of Opechanacanough and the English began referring to them by a French word “Chouraqui/Cherokee” in 1684. Toxawa and Keowee were the first two towns the English recorded the “Cherokee” controlling in the south when they met to establish trade in animal skins and furs.

    Nine years later 20 Cherokee chiefs returned to Charles Town furious because Coosa and Esau (English spelling of two tribes) attacked their towns and took over 30 women as slaves, selling them to the Spanish. The English agreed to purchase future slaves from them and gave them 20 horses. The Cherokee requested very specific merchandise from a Sephardic Jewish merchant who operated the Charles Town slave market. He was able to acquire them: 20 traditional Circassian swords, feathered fur hats, and robes. Within 18 years later the English Governor Robert Johnson of South Carolina took a census of the Cherokee in South and North Carolina and estimated they possessed 30 towns with a population of atleast 11,000 and over 4,000 warriors with horses. The Cherokee he took the census from informed him that they were only the Lower Cherokee. When Johnson asked about the others he was informed that there are three other groups of Cherokee to the north and each had larger numbers than the Lower Cherokee. The largest group was led by a mysterious individual the French called “Le Carpentier” (The Carpenter). I believe Le Carpentier was Moytoy of Tellico who King George II ended up crowning as the Emperor of the Cherokee in 1730 through Sir Alexander Cumming. There is a very strong reason to believe that he was a direct male descendant of the English-French family “Carpenter/Carpentier” through his male line. Verifying this is proving to be very difficult as it seems Thomas Carpenter’s father had ties to the India Trading Company and the Cherokee Moytoy family may have been very early conspirators allied to the East India Trading Company whose flag became the “Sons of Liberty” flag, 13 Colonies flag, and then the United States flag.

    There is a reason so many white people wanna claim Cherokee. Most of them have no clue what that reason is but I believe it is rooted in the Cherkessian women referred to as “Circassian Beauties” all over the world. That’s why it’s always a “Cherokee Princess” because many of the Cherkessian women were royal concubines. Some of them rose to extraordinary heights because of their unusual beauty. Voltaire and Lord Byron wrote about them:

    Some went off dearly; fifteen hundred dollars
    For one Circassian, a sweet girl, were given,
    Warranted virgin. Beauty’s brightest colours
    Had decked her out in all the hues of heaven.
    Her sale sent home some disappointed bawlers,
    Who bade on till the hundreds reached the eleven,
    But when the offer went beyond, they knew
    ‘Twas for the Sultan, and at once withdrew.
    – Don Juan, canto IV, verse 114

    “More exquisite beauty has never been found among the daughters of man. Green or blue shimmering eyes and long, light hair, pale skin of translucent white color, blemish free as the finest porcelain, thin waists, slender body structures, and very good-looking hands and feet. They stand erect and move sensuously, speak softly and touch softly. To observe them unknowingly is a great blessing for they appear like great cats, fierce and yet feminine. The Abyssinian women detest them, envious because a Sultan would trade his entire harem of the darker skinned for a single Cherkess.”
    – Ayşe Osmanoğlu, Babam Abdülhamid

    • Very interesting! I have never seen this information before. You do know that the original Sequoyah Syllabary was almost identical to Medieval Circassian Script? Sequoyah probably never saw the syllabary that bears his name today.


        Some of the symbols, for sure. Many modern languages have been influenced by the Phoenicians. The writing of Sequoyah (or George Gist, son of Nathaniel Gist and Verde Sequeyra) was well known to the Ta’wodi Clan of the Cherokee and used by the Chickamauga during the war from 1775-1794. European settlers found it everywhere written on trees and referred to it as “Devil Scratches.” If you look at the original letter for “Ma” in the script Sequoyah actually used (not the Moravian revision under Elias Boudinot) you’ll notice the symbol is an inverted mirrored form of the ancient Phoenician symbol for “Ma.” The Phoenicians and the Cherokee both use the word “Ama” for water and the symbol. Sequoyah wrote it with the “A” looking like a cursive “fs” and then the “ma” symbol.

        The Cherokee history is much more interesting than that ol’ “Indian tribe encounters Europeans and loses everything” trope. It’s far older and much richer than folks claiming they’re Cherokee because they wanna be Injuns realize. If you trace the religion of the Cherokee (the Kituwa religion) it goes clear back to Abraham and earlier than that into ancient Sumeria. The fact that Sumerians called the Owl “Uku/Ukuku” and so do Cherokee makes the connection obvious. The Ani prefix connection ties the Cherokee to Anatolia and the oldest known human city (Gobekli Tepi). If the identity is rooted in the Kituwa sacred fire religion it makes the “Cherokee” history just the most recent chapter of a very ancient lineage. One of the oldest continuous religions on earth. And folks are trading it in for Christianity. That’s something I don’t understand. Jesus was cool. His teachings were on point. Incorporate him into the Kituwa tradition but don’t throw out something thousands of years older and replace it with a watered down Roman reworking of a Jewish Nazarene sect. My view. I could be wrong.

        Everybody knows about Abraham’s wives Sarah and Hagar because the Jews and Muslims been squabbling over their inheritance through them since Abraham bust those two nuts. They forget about Abraham’s third wife Keturah and the six sons and one daughter she bore him. Any Jewish rabbi worth his title can tell you that Jews are well aware of Keturah and her offspring. Racists Jewish orthodox rabbis refer to them as sorcerers the same way Christians called the Kituwa Adawehi “conjurors” and “witches.”


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