The Forgotten History of Cofitachequi, Cofaqui and the Cofitachete’s
It is perhaps the most romanticized and distorted segment of the De Soto Chronicles. A legion of professional papers, theses, dissertations and books have been written about “The Lady of Cofitachequi, queen of the “paramount chiefdom” of Cofitachequi. She met Hernando de Soto at a river and was carried on a litter. De Soto kidnapped her, but she eventually escaped and ran off with an African slave (oh horrors!)
Meanwhile, maps published in the 1600s and first decade of the 1700s displayed in large type, Cofitache or Cofitachete. This province started out in south central Tennessee then as years went by, cartographers showed it next in northeast Alabama and then either in extreme northeast Georgia or the region, immediately adjacent, in the Carolinas.
No one caught the connection for 300 years. Among many other details, they also missed an important statement in the De Soto Chronicles. Cofitachequi was ultimately described as an abandoned town . . . only two days walk from the Atlantic Ocean.
The Indigenous Peoples of the South Atlantic Coast: Part Two
Early European maps showed Cofitachequi to be about 30 miles from the Atlantic on the Santee River or perhaps the Cooper River, but as the years went on, it was progressively moved inland, then disappeared short after Charleston was founding in 1671. In 1939, the De Soto Trail Commission placed Cofitachequi on the Savannah River, just south Augusta, GA. In the 1980s, a team of Dixie professors placed the town of Cofitachequi at the Mulberry Site on the Wataree River in South Carolina near the Fall Line. Nevertheless, why would De Soto’s chroniclers place the town near the Atlantic, unless it was true?
Meanwhile, back in lala land . . . 12 years ago anthropology professors spent an entire Saturday morning at a Southeastern Archaeological Conference meeting in Charlotte, arguing whether Cofitachequi was a Cherokee or Catawba word. Of course, they knew neither language, but that didn’t matter. It was really a pure Muskogee Creek word that meant “Mixed Race-Offspring-of-People.”
There are several other details left out of modern academic discussions. Cofitachequi was an empty town, recently scourged by a plague. The people, who greeted De Soto were from the capital of a province, named Tallimeco (aka “The king’s town”) . Its late occupants were so disdained by the so-called “Lady of Cofitachequi” that she invited De Soto to dig up the graves of ghost town’s deceased in order to obtain their pearls. That sounds like the people of Cofitachequi were really, really not liked by their masters.
By the way, not only was the Lady aka Queen of Cofitachequi not from Cofitachequi, but she was merely the niece of the province’s ruler. The Spanish were so ethnocentric that they didn’t even bother to write down her name.
The forgotten Cofitachetes
Until 2013, the only scholar to mention the Cofitachetes was the pioneer French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort. His 1658 book, L’Histoire Naturelle et Morale des isles Antilles de l’Amérique, had a full chapter on them. He said that they were the ancestors of the Caribs. They had once lived on the South Atlantic Coast in what is now South Carolina and Georgia, and had been the most advanced people in La Florida (Dixie).
Marilyn Rae and I analyzed De Rochefort’s book in 2013. The word, Cofitachete, was labeled “poppycock” by scholars for over 300 years. However, I instantly recognized it as a legitimate Itsate Creek word. There is no way that a French Huguenot minister, sitting in a church office in Rotterdam, could have known the correct grammar and spelling of an Itsate Creek word. It had to be a word that explorer, Richard Briggstock, had heard while in the future state of Georgia . . . then told it to De Rochefort. [ Rae & Thornton (2013) The Apalache Chronicles: Ancient Cypress Press]
The Itsate Creek word, Cofitachete, means exactly the same as the Muskogee Creek word, Kofitacheke (Cofitachequi).
Very few now lived near the Atlantic Coast. Most had gradually migrated southward till they reached South America then began migrating northward, where they made life miserable for the Taino Arawaks. By this time the Caribs language had changed so much that it could not be understood by those who remained in North America.
Most of those who remained in North America had divided up into three large bands. They became parasitic, transient peoples, who wandered across the landscape plundering advanced civilizations. When they had consumed all the available food in one province, they would move onto to destroy another.
After they had done much damage to the Apalache Kingdom, the Apalache finally defeated them and placed the surviving Kofitachete on their southeastern periphery.
Cofaqui or Kofita
While traveling from the province of Okvte (Okau-te) to Cofitachequi, De Soto passed through the town of Cofita, which was the capital of a province of the same name. It was on a river along a line running from Sparta, GA to Augusta, GA. There are the ruins of a large Native American town on the Upper Ogeechee River in Taliaferro County is situated on that line. It has three large mounds. The maps, produced just after the founding of Charleston, labeled the town Cofita, which means the same as Cofaqui.
Cofaqui means “Mixed Race People” in Muskogee Creek.
Here is the thing about the Ogeechee River town that is interesting. That province was occupied by a branch of the Uchees at the time Charleston was founded until 1773, when it was ceded to the Colony of Georgia. The upper Ogeechee was labeled Cofita during that time period. So apparently, the Cofita were a branch of the Uchee mixed with some other ethnic group.
The Cofitachete were apparently migratory bands that broke off from the people on the Upper Ogeechee River. Cofetachequi could have been a colony of Cofita or else a town composed of the handful of Proto-Carib peoples remaining on the Atlantic Coast.
When the British colonists arrived on the coast of South Carolina in the 1670s, the indigenous people living between the mouths of the Santee and Pee Dee Rivers were called the Winya. As discussed in Part One, “ya” is the Uchee suffix for people or tribe. However, I could not find any indigenous Southeastern language that had a word like “vin.” It is just not a syllable that one sees in Southeastern indigenous place names.
HOWEVER, vinju (Bronze Age Norse) and vinje (Archaic Icelandic) mean pasture, and later farm. Vinje is pronounced roughly win-yeh. Could the Winyah People have been the mixed-race descendants of refugees from Greenland? It’s possible. Hm-m-m.
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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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