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The Origins of the Yamasee Identified

The Origins of the Yamasee Identified. There was a connection to the Yamacutah Site. Relevant to histories of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

Some of you people are so brilliant that I will have to start calling you “Sunny”. Chief Brenda “Red Crow” Webb – Grand Matriarch of the Yamassee Indian Tribe, wrote me several interesting emails in response to the Brainfood article on Tuckase-mikko. She is a descendant of Tuckase-mikko (aka John Hicks)!

That connection has great significance. Contemporaries of Tuckase-mikko said that his tribe spoke a language that was different than the Hitchiti and Muskogee spoken by most Seminoles. Although living in Madison County, FL in the early 1800s, the tribe previously lived in Southeast Georgia, where they were grouped with several other ethnic groups into the labels Yamasee and Yamacraw. Before that period they obviously lived in the Tuckasegee River Valley of North Carolina.

Anthropological orthodoxy is that the Yamasee are extinct; the name “Yamasee” comes from Muskogee /yvmvse-/, meaning “tame, quiet”; no one knows for certain what language they spoke; only that they originated in southeast Georgia.

No one can figure out Yamacraw yet either, but all Yamacraw names have Itza Maya etymologies. Perhaps they were Maya speakers within the Apalache Confederacy.

“Tame” or “gentle” just do not seem to apply to the Yamasee. They were known to be quite skilled in warfare. They painted their faces black for battle. The Tupi speaking people encountered by the French Huguenots on the coast of Georgia, painted their faces red for battle. They were enemies of the provinces within the interior.

We can provide an alternative meaning for Yamasee. Yvmase also means “Offspring of Yama.” Yama is the Creek name for the Mobilian Trade jargon and also the advanced people, who lived around Bottle Creek Mounds on the Mobile River in Alabama. Perhaps their ethnic name later became an adjective. Yama in Totonac means an agricultural clearing, cut out of a forest. Finally, Chief Red Crow, please pinch yourself to see if you are extinct.

The Biloxi, Apalache, Palache and Palachicola

Biloxi is the French spelling of the French misunderstanding of the word, Palache. The main body of the Palache lived in the upper Piedmont of north-central Georgia. Biloxi, Mississippi was just a tiny outpost of this people. Palachicola means “Palache (Biloxi) People in Coastal Choctaw. The Creeks originally used Palachicola and Apalachicola interchangeably. So the Apalachicola were once one and the same as the Biloxi. Perhaps their language was modified by membership in the Creek Confederacy. There was a Palachicola Province on the Lower Savannah River that the South Carolinians labeled “Yamasee.” However, they were members of the Creek Confederacy in 1733. Their war chief, Chikolili, presented the history of the Kashita People to Governor Oglethorpe, written with the Apalache writing system. Yamacutah’s stones once contained a writing system unknown to early Anglo-American settlers in NE Georgia.

In recent articles, we have discussed the Yamacraw Tribe that lived at Savannah Bluff and in northeast Georgia, the Yamacutah and Yamtrahoochee sites on the Oconee River. The Apalache People living on the Upper Oconee River, called it the Etaho River, which has no known meaning in Muskogee.

Did you know that the Tuskegee (Tvskeke) and Tusquite (Tvskete) when living in the North Carolina Mountains, spoke Yamasee? That was stated by a Spanish friar, Diega Peña, in 1716. Several Spanish sources tell us that the Guale (Wahale) also spoke Yamasee. The Ustanalli, visited by the French Huguenots in the vicinity of the headwaters of the Savannah River apparently spoke Yamasee. The Utina along the Ohoopee River in southeast Georgia and southward into northern Florida also apparently spoke a dialect of Yamasee. Thus, the region where Yamasee (or Apalache) was spoken composed a broad swath that began in the western North Carolina Mountains and continued to the Georgia coast.

Since last summer, Marilyn Rae and I have been struggling with the Native American ethnic names recorded by René de Laudonnier, when his trade reps visited the interior of southeast and northeast Georgia between 1564-1565; also, the Apalache words recorded by Charles de Rochefort for the Briggstock Expedition to the Georgia Mountains in 1563. Some words, such as Paracus for “high king” are clearly from Peru. Some words were also spoken by the Creeks, but all these words were Maya in origin. Other words can be found in a Biloxi dictionary.

Many Highland Apalache words cannot be translated in any known Southeastern indigenous language. This fact convinced me that the Apalache’s presence in the Southeast pre-dated that of the Muskogeans and may be South American or Central American in origin. The fact that their language seems to have mixed Maya and South American words, suggest a Central American origin. However, the Maya words may have been introduced by contact or absorption of Itsate Maya communities.

Cutout of the 1747 Map by Emmanuel Bowen

Cutout of the 1747 Map by Emmanuel Bowen

The region where, apparently, dialects of Highland Apalache (Yamasee) were spoken in the 1500s, correspond to the provinces of the Kingdom of Apalache in 1653, when visited by Mr. Briggstock. By 1701 these Apalache provinces were shown to be in southeast Georgia. The Emmanuel Bowen 1747 map of the Lower Southeast labels this same area as Yamacraw and Yamasee. Most historical references state that the Yamasee were virtually extinct after 1717, but obviously they were not. The map in finer print states that the Yamacraw and Yamasee lived in harmony with the English.

Apparently, when the Colony of Georgia expanded westward in the 1750s, some Yamasee stayed put in southern South Carolina, while most Yamacraw and Yamasee moved southward and westward. Those that moved westward joined the Creek Confederacy. When in 1763, Great Britain was awarded Florida from its victory in the Seven Years War, some Yamacraw and Yamassee moved further south into Florida. They became some of the ancestors of the Seminoles.

An ethnic upside-down cake

Like Southeastern anthropologists, I have long assumed that the Woodland Period Swift Creek and Weeden Island Cultures were ancestors of the Muskogee Creek Indians. Now I am beginning to wonder. The Yamasee, Hitchiti speakers and Apalachicola may be the remnants of the Swift Creek and Early Mississippian Period mound builders, while the Muskogees arrived in several waves between 1250 AD and 1600s AD.

Perhaps the Apalache-Yamasee began moving southward from western North Carolina in response to the arrival of Sephardic and Middle Eastern settlers in the 1600s. North America’s past becomes more and more complicated.

Whether in South Carolina, Florida or the Creek Nation, the Yamasee still live today.

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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.

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