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Who actually lived on the South Atlantic Coast?

Who actually lived on the South Atlantic Coast?

The South Atlantic Coast is the ONLY location in North America in which detailed and multiple descriptions of ethnic names, village names and customs in the 16th century survive. Beginning with the slave raid in 1521 by Francisco Gordillo and Pedro de Quejo, and continuing with the nautical log of Verrazano, the detailed observations of Captain René de Laudonnière, the journal of Captain Juan Pardo and the a voluminous book by Richard Hakluyt in 1588, there is a treasure trove of ethnological evidence.

And yet . . . late 20th century anthropologists were content to give English names to some pottery styles and “cultural phases” then move on. There has been no effort by archaeologists since then to find the village sites mentioned by Gordillo, de Laudonnière, Pedro Menendez, Juan Pardo and Sir Francis Drake or even the ruins of large Native American towns, visited by William Bartram in 1776 on the Georgia coast. Until POOF came along, no one seems to even thought about translating the hundreds of words that René de Laudonnière and Juan Pardo’s secretary left us.

This is the first of a series of articles on the peoples who occupied the South Atlantic Coast, when contact was first made with Europeans in the 1500s.  We will begin in the next article at the mouths of the Pee Dee and Santee Rivers then work our way south to Key West, Florida.

All translations in this series are from published dictionaries, most of which are available online to the public.

The answers to our question will often fly in the face of orthodox history.  During the 20th century, academicians defined the Pre-European past of the South Atlantic Coast in a framework defined by modern, federally-recognized tribes.  Discrete sections of the coast were labeled tribal names, as often as not originally created by the Spanish conquerors.   The presumption was that one ethnic group, speaking one language, inhabited each district.   René de Laudonnière’s description of many provinces, speaking several languages was forgotten.   William Bartram’s description of seeing the ruins of several large Native American towns with mounds, plazas and ball courts was forgotten.  In general, the cultures of the region were “dumbed down” to that of primitive hunter-gatherers.

There is one question that cannot be answered finitely at this time:  “Were there European colonists on the South Atlantic Coast before Columbus?”   We have eyewitness accounts from the 1500s and 1600s that say, yes.  We have the discovery by archaeologist, James Ford, of bronze weapons and tools deep beneath the surface of the banks of the Altamaha River in Georgia.  We have the map from the Verrazano voyage, which labels two towns with Nordic names somewhere in the vicinity of the Georgia or northern Florida coast.  However, without professional archaeologists confirming a European settlement in the region, the answer must remain, “possible, but not proven.”

There are two bits of linguistic evidence that are particular troubling.  The Savannah River Uchee, the Muskogee Creeks and the pre-Celtic Bronze Age people of northwestern Europe all used the same word for water . . . roughly “oue”.   Why?

Then there’s the fact that the Panoans of the Amazon headwaters in South America and Scandinavians have similar meanings for the word, “bo” . . .  meaning living or living location.  How could that be?

Using linguistics as an analytical tool

Most of the indigenous languages of the Americas are agglutinative, which means that many complex thoughts and proper nouns were originally assembled from two or more other words. About ten years ago, I figured out that most ethnic names in the Lower Southeast were agglutinative and ended either with the word for people in various languages or the Northeast Mexican/Muskogean suffix for “offspring of” – se/si – which most Europeans wrote down as “che.” Even today, there are quite a few old villages in Tamaulipas State, Mexico, whose name was composed of a Muskogean root word combined with “che.”

Word of warning . . . there are dozens of Arawak dialects, most of whom are not mutually intelligible.

The common South Atlantic suffixes for “people” are”:

  1.  Te –  Itsate Maya,  Itsate Creek, Koasati, Miccosukee
  2.  Le or tli – Northeastern Mexico,  Coastal Muskogean
  3. Qui or ke –  Southern Arawak, Muskogee
  4.  Kau – Amazon Arawaks
  5.  Go, Goa, Coa – Tupi,  Amazon Arawaks
  6.  Cora, cola, curo – Peruvian, Apalache
  7.  Joni –  Shipibo
  8.  Ara – Taino Arawak
  9.  Aro – Carib
  10. Ye – Catawba, Southern Siouan
  11. Ya – Uchee

The common South Atlantic suffixes for “living place of” are:

  1. Bo –  Panoan
  2. Hica, haica –  Arawak
  3. Pa, Po & Pas –  Itza and Tabasco Maya
  4. Yara –  Taino Arawak

Other common suffixes were:

  1. Haw (Itza Maya) – River
  2.  Aha, Ahaw (Itza Maya, Itsate Creek) – Lord
  3.  Hatchee, hachee (Muskogean) – river or stream
  4. Iswa (Catabaw) – River
  5.  Hi (Totonac, Itza Maya, Itsate Creek) – added to root verb to make a noun,  especially a proper noun
  6.  Chiki (Totonac, Itza Maya, Itsate Creek) – house
  7. Mako (Totonac, Itza Maya, Itsate Creek) – king
  8.  Meko (Muskogee) – king
  9.  T’ulamako & Ulamako (Itza Maya, Itsate Creek) – capital
  10.  Talwameko & Talimeko (Muskogee) – capital
  11. Si, Se or Che (Muskogean) – Off spring of, satellite village of

Common prefixes were:

  1. Oue, Ue or We (Uchee, Muskogee, pre-Celtic Europe) – Water
  2. Oka (Itsate Creek) – Water
  3.  A (Panoan, Highland Apalache) –  From
  4.  Para or pala (Panoan, Highland Apalache) – ocean, water
  5.  Ana (Southern Arawak, Florida Apalache)  – elite, rulers
  6.  Ye (Southern Souian) – People

This is a very powerful tool for determining ethnicity of a word. Once you know from which language the suffix is, it is much easier to pinpoint the right dictionary for looking up the root word.

One also has to watch out for Anglicized consonant shifts.   I am forever running into people, who start with Anglicized Native American words and then use them in an attempt to prove that someone other than indigenous Americans built the mounds. Europeans typically wrote down a Southeastern indigenous V and B as a P, plus an indigenous T as a D.  The Spanish and English could interpret a Muskogean V sound (sounds like Ah! in English) as either a U, A, O or I.

One of many surprises

Here is an example of the many surprises that you will learn in future articles of this series:  Southeastern anthropologists and historians have, for unknown reasons, placed the Province of Chicora in the northeastern corner of South Carolina and labeled them “Siouans.”  Guess what the South Carolina Siouan word is for the Uchee living along the Lower Savannah River?     Chicora!

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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.



    and along with your point… the Euchee (Uchee..:o) …with their name , they include/combine “children of the sun”as part of their name … (where they are from…….). good

  2. The information about Chicora came from a PUBLISHED Catawba Dictionary! This is unbelievable. For well over a century, South Carolina scholars have been labeling the Chicora People as being a branch of the Catawba, located in northeastern corner of their state. There is even a state recognized tribe near Georgetown, SC that calls itself the Chicora. Didn’t anyone in the past two centuries pick up a Catawba dictionary and look up the word?


    so,… do these “recognized” folks have to give up their status? (bless their hearts.. they are just keeping on). thanks for using the dictionary. :o)


    Richard, Our Ancient elders clearly stated that there was a Tall, “red – auburn hair” Amorite people “and among them were Giants” that lived in the Americas and other locations long ago. The native people of the South were noted as being Very Tall in Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama during the 1540 time of Desoto. The “Giants” were clearly different from the rest of those Native people.
    Some people don’t believe in Giants… even when the Torah and their elders and 1000’s of written accounts of Giant bones were dug up and measured. “Do you see those bones?” that were not added to the understanding of that “evolution” theory? I’m glad Native Americans like you, are rewriting the real history of this land.
    Big changes are on the way…., as predicted in the last Book of GOD and it is clear to me that DNA research has most likely been going on for many years on those “old Giant bones” by someone. GOD’s WORD will not be changed by man.
    NOAH’s family time could have been 50,000 years ago according to DNA research that clearly indicates “man” almost died off then. Carbon test dates have been found of man habitation in New Mexico of 44,000 years old by scientist. So we do know people did make it here by fishing boats? that long ago but that data is not accepted by many.
    As stated by the elders of the Yuchi, Cherokee, Maya and as you have clearly indicated some cross migration across the Atlantic Ocean could have happened before the 1400’s.
    As of late…I have been researching the “Albaamaha” people who have a word for moving around: “Atanatlichi” and always: “Yatti”
    Perhaps you? can give me some information of those Native people Creek people about their elders origin oral history statements… if known. GOD bless you!!

    • Yes, that is what I have been writing from. The branches of the Confederacy came from several parts of the Americas” NE Mexico, NW Mexico, East Central Mexico, SW Mexico, the Chiapas Highlands, the Toa River Valley of Cuba, Paracas Province, Peru, Satipo Province, Peru, Conas Province, Peru and the region immediately east of the Andes in South America.


    Does anyone know how accurate the list of sites and peoples are who were visited (recorded) by Hernando de Soto in the years 1539 – 1543?

    Based on a proposed route for the de Soto Expedition, on a Charles M. Hudson map of 1996; you can find the word/name “Chalaque”.

    • The words are accurate as to what the Spanish thought they heard and wrote down in Late Medieval Iberian languages, but they should not be pronounced as if they were modern English. Some of De Soto’s chroniclers wrote down Chalaque. Others wrote down Chiliqui or Chilique. Chiliki is the Totonac, Itza Maya and Itsate Creek word for a barbarian. It originally was applied to the Chichimecs by the Totonacs.

      As for the interpretation of the words, Hudson was way off. He called all the words in the Highlands of the Carolinas “Ancient Cherokee words, whose meanings have been lost.” That they were not. They were Creek words that can be found in contemporary dictionaries.

      Later maps traced the migration of the Chilique’s or Chaloques southwestward to first SE Georgia and finally SW Georgia on the Lower Flint River. At that point, they were members of the Creek Confederacy.


        Thank you for your reply.

        The origin of the Cherokee remains a mystery.
        In an earlier article “Bama’s Stone Bola Balls”
        it is very tempting to say that there was a
        Central American people present in pre-
        Columbian times, especially from the Costa
        Rica Diquis region which was part of the
        “Chiriqui” kingdom in Costa Rica and Panama.

        I wonder if at some point in time there were
        atleast two tribes with similar names living
        in the same area.
        The Chiriqui which the stone balls/spheres
        could have belonged to and the Cherokee
        who seem to be more Eurasian based on the
        writing system, several words to describe a
        people or nation and female familial relation-

  6. I read that old news article about the man with a Scottish name, who claimed to be a full blooded Uchee. I am full blooded Mixed Heritage Trash myself. Actually, Taube is the Itza Maya and Itsate word for salt, not (at least) the Uchee language spoken in Oklahoma. It is possible that Uchee living around Savannah, GA used the Itza word for salt.


      That Savannah Morning News article was all most people had to go on in their search for the meaning of the word, “Tybee” many years ago. Unfortunately, most texts still refer to it as a Euchee/Uchee word, regardless of who used it, or where it came from.


        The man from Ocmulgee, Oklahoma who dug up the information on Tybee being the ‘Euchee’ word for salt was named Tony Hill. He said he was Superintendent of the Methodist Central District Indian Mission Conference, and a full-blooded Indian. Two years earlier, Tybee Island’s police chief, David McCutchen had written letters to a number of reservations hoping to clear up the mystery concerning the origins of the name. At the time, I’m told, McCutchen was just thrilled to have gotten a response.

  7. I read that old news article about the man with a Scottish name, who claimed to be a full blooded Uchee. I am full blooded Mixed Heritage Trash myself. Actually, Taube is the Itza Maya and Itsate word for salt, not (at least) the Uchee language spoken in Oklahoma. It is possible that Uchee living around Savannah, GA used the Itza word for salt.


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