History of the Old Cheraws

The book, “History of the Old Cheraws” by Alexander Gregg (1819-1893) was written and published in 1867.  When I ordered this book, I expected this was about the Cheraws, meaning, the Indians, but for the most part, it wasn’t.

The opening chapters, which are untitled, do reflect some about the early heritage of the area, but nothing like I was hoping.  I extracted, transcribed and in some cases, excerpted the information relevant to the Native inhabitants of that region.

P 1-4 – When first known to the colonists, South Carolina is said to have contained not less than 28 tribes of Indians, with settlements extending from the ocean to the mountains.  Of these tribes but a few names survive to mark the localities they once inhabited, and these with such scattered remains as the waste of time and the leveling work of the white man have spared, are the only memories left to tell of their early occupancy of the soil.  Of the tribes which dwelt upon the Pedee and its tributaries, the Saras or Saraws as they were first called – afterwards Charrows, Charraws and Cheraws – occupied the region still identified by the name: their territory extending thence to the coast, and along the coast from the Cape Fear to the Pedee.  This extensive region has been assigned to the Cheraws by one of the most eminent ethnologists of America, as European, about the year 1600, along the coast of the Atlantic.

If such was the extent of their territory at that early period, it would indicate a population which must have been greatly diminished, when, upon the approach of the Catawbas, a half century later, the supremacy of the Cheraws over the smaller tribes around them, and even over their own distinct nationality, would seem to have been lost or at least acknowledged.  Within these early territorial limits of the Cheraws and along the middle and lower parts of the valley of the river, must be assigned the Pedees; and about the mouth of the river, the Winyaws.  The Kadapaws were found on Lynche’s Creek, after the name of which tribe that stream was called in the Indian tongue.  Of these, the Cheraws – however they may have been diminished in number by disease and war, or perchance by some dismemberment of their nation, and the removal of many, of which no record of tradition remains – continued to be the dominant race on the Pedee; the others having ever been reckoned among the smaller and inferior tribes. Of their origin nothing is known beyond the conjectures of ethnologists.  They have been assigned, but upon what grounds does not appear, to the extensive family of Algonkins.  These occupied that portion of North America on the east extending from 35 degrees to 60 degrees latitude and reaching along the northern line of extension almost to the Pacific on the west.  Beyond this, as the track of aboriginal descent and migration begins to be traced back, even conjecture is lost in a sea of uncertainty.

The tribes on the Pedee continued in their feeble and disconnected state (the Cheraws maintaining the supremacy) until the arrival of the Catawbas from the north, with the history of whom their own was ever after to be inseparably blended.

According to their traditions[1] as it has been handed down to the very recent times, the Catawbas, at a period prior or not long subsequent to the discovery and settlement of North America by the whites, occupied a region far to the northward, from whence, in course of time, they removed to the south.  Being a numerous and warlike race, they vanquished the tribes with whom they came successively in conflict on the way, until they met the Cherokees on the banks of the river, afterwards called by their own name, Catawba.

Here, as the tradition relates, a sanguinary battle ensued between them, which lasted from morning until night, darkness alone serving to put an end to the conflict.  The loss on both sides was heavy, though neither party gained the victory.  They slept on the field of blood among their dead and wounded.  With the approach of morning, propositions of peace were made by the Catawbas and accepted by the Cherokees.  According to the terms of the agreement, the former were to occupy the county east of the river and the latter the territory on the west.  Here they solemnly agree to live together as brothers; and, after burying their dead, and erecting piles of stones as monuments like of their common loss, and of the peace and friendship established between them, returned to their encampments, ever afterwards sacredly observing the terms of the compact.  This tradition of the Catawbas is confirmed throughout by the fuller details which ethnological research has added to their history.  They appear to have been a Canadian tribe and to have left their ancient home about the year 1650, pursued by the Connewangas, a superior and more warlike tribe with whom they had come in conflict.  Forced thus to remove, they turned their faces to the southward and fought their way, when necessary to do so, until they approached the headwaters of the Kentucky River.

Here a separation took place, the larger number becoming absorbed in the great families of the Chickasaws and the Choctaws.

The remainder of the tribe stopped in what was afterwards known as Botetourt County, Virginia, but without making any permanent settlement.

They removed thence in the year 1660, continuing their journey to the south and as Adair, wrote, “settled on the east side of a broad, purling river, that heads in  the great blue ridge of mountains and empties itself into Santee River, in Amelia township, then running eastward of Charlestown, disgorges itself into the Atlantic.”

How the approach of the Catawbas was regarded by the Cheraws and whether any conflict ensued between then, tradition does not inform us.

P 5 – By 1743 the language of the Catawbas is said to have consisted of 20 different dialects of which “Katahba” was the standard and “Cherah” being another. Scarcely anything beyond a bare allusion to them by name is found relating to the tribes on the Pedee in the earliest accounts of the Indians of Carolina.

John Lederer mentioned the “Sara” and “Saras” in 1669 and 1670 where he mentions they are 30 miles west of “Watery” and they had cakes of white salt.

P 8 – The earliest mention in the provincial records of any of the tribes inhabiting the valley of the Pedee is found in the proceedings of the Council or Upper House of Assembly Dec. 15, 1732 where a reference of the murder of a Pedee Indian, Corn-White Johnny, by one Mr., Kemp is mentioned.

The Council then ordered “some of the relation of the deceased”, King Harry, Captain Billy, George and Dancing Johnny to give an account of what they knew.

This record is of interest now as evincing the jealous care exercised by the Provincial Government for the protection of those scattered and defenseless remnants of the Indian tribes whose domain was fast passing away from them, and who continued faithful to the whites to the close of their history.

In 1743, Pedee Indians were reported to be in Charleston and were gifted.  “To the three headmen, each of them a gun and knife, to the others, each of them, a knife.  For the 3 women each of them a looking glass, twenty bullets, half a pound vermillion to be divided among them.  Also on order of Col. Brewton for 10 poiunds of gunpowder for use of said Indians.”

In 1744 it was noted that 7 Catawbas has been barbarously murdered by the Notchee Indians who live among them and confirmed by Mr. Matthew Bird who lives at Goose Creek.  The Catawba were drunk and murdered in their sleep.

P 11 – In 1746, the records reflect that the Governor visited the Congarees and the Catawbas.  The following account was preserved.  “The Governor arrived at the Congarees April 27, 140 miles distance hence, where on the bank of he Santee, the king and a few of the head men met him.  Yenabe Yalangway the King, the old leader, Captain Taylor, Nafkebee and some others awaited on his Excellency. The next day the Governor addressed them.  A place being erected for the Governor to sit under, and the Union Flag hoisted, our men were drawn out in two lines, through which the Indians marched, when they were received with drums beating and colours flying and saluted with some small pieces of cannon: after they had all taken the Governor by the hand and the King with some of his head-men had placed himself near his excellency, a person was sworn truly to interpret all that should pass betwixt the governor and the Indians and then his Excellency addressed them in words, the purport of which was to dissuade them from agreeing to a proposition which had been made to them by some of the other Indian nations to join in a French war against the people of Carolina.  After which presents were distributed consisting chiefly of powder, guns, pistols, paint and c.  That morning the Governor had received an express from Mr. Brown who trades among the Catawbas acquainting him that some of the Pedees and Cheraws, two small tribes who have long been incorporated with the Catawbas intended to leave them, which might prove of dangerous consequence at a time when they were so closely attacked by their enemies, the Northern Indians.

P 12 – The governor ordered the rammers of all the pistols which he had delivered to the Indians to be laid upon the table, desiring that such as were Pedees and Charraws might advance and they, being in a body near him, he spoke to them in these words: “It gives me great concern, my friends, to hear that you entertain the least through of leaving the Catawbas with whom you have been so long and so closely united.  This union makes you strong and enables you to defend yourselves and annoy your enemies; but should you ever separate, you would thereby weaken yourselves and be exposed to every danger.  Consider that if you were single and divided, you may be broke as easily as I break this stick” (at the same time breaking one of the rammers), “but if you continue united together and stand by one another it will be as impossible to hurt or break you as it is impossible for me to break these” (his excellency then taking up a handful of rammers).”

P 13 – In a 1748 record  a negro slave who was “taken up” said that he had been sold to Billy, King of the Pedee Indians, that the Catawba Indians took him from King Billy and carried him to their nation and the when endeavoring to escape from the Catawbas he was lost in the woods.

The Peedees and other smaller tribes who now led a wandering life were in constant danger of being enticed off by the more powerful and hostile nations of Indians to join them in their predatory excursions.  In 1750, the King of the Catawba in a letter to James Glen, the Governor said that “there are a great many Pedee Indians living in the settlements that we want to come and settle amongst us.  We desire for you to send for them and advise them to this and give them this string of wampum in token that we want them to settle here and will always live like brothers with them.  The Northern Indians want them all to settle with us, for as they are now at peace, they may be hunting in the woods or straggling about, killed by some of them, except they join us and make but one nation which will be a great addition of strength to us.”

In 1751, the Governor of New York had written to Governor Glenn of North Carolina asking him to help remove any obstacles to peace.  His letter included the six Nations, the Delawares and the Susquehanna.  He then mentioned all of the different tribes “who may be in friendship with them, particularly those on the Ohio River, being the Cherokees, the Catawbas, the Creeks, called sometimes the Muskogee, the Chickasaws and such part of the Chactaws as are in our interest and all tribes in friendship with these nations that live amongst the settlements such as Charraws, Uchees, Pedees, Notches, Cape Fears or other Indians and I hope that all prisoners on each side will be mutually delivered back.”

In 1755, John Evans made a visit to the Catawbas ordered by the government and his records are preserved.

P 15 – “Met a Catawba man and woman and informed by them that in the summer the Cherrackees and Notchees had killed some Pedees and Waccamaws in the white people’s settlements.”

His further records show that the murder occurred at Goose Creek, 2 women were killed and scalped and 2 boys were taken prisoner as well.  This was reportedly done by a Notchee called the Notchee Doctor.

Evans notes state that Lewis Jones was the chief and another Indian is named Prince who lived at Goose Creek.

P 16 – In 1759, King Johnny is noted as the head of the Charraws who brought the governor the scalp of one of the French Indians taken near Loyal-Henning near Fort Du Quesne with Gen. Forbes.

P 17 – In December 1759, the Gazette reported that “It is pretty certain that the small-pox has lately raged with great violence among the Catawba Indians, and that it has carried off near one half of that Nation, by throwing themselves into the river as soon as they found themselves ill.  This distemper has since appeared among the inhabitants at the Charraws and Waterees, where many families are down, so that unless especial care is taken, it must soon spread through the whole country.  The smallpox went almost through the Province in the year 1738 when it made prodigious havoc.  Ignorant and grossly superstitious, they regarded it as a visible embodiment of the Spirit of Evil, the sentence or wrath from heaven let loose upon them, from which there was no escape. The white families at the “Charraws” and “Waterees” who appear to have suffered severely at this period, where doubtless unprepared for such a visitant and yielded for a time, like their savage neighbors, to the fell destroyer.  At a later period about the time of the Revolution, some of the Catawba warriors having visited Charleston, there contracted the disease again and returning, communicated it to their Nation, which, according to contemporaneous accounts, came well nigh being exterminated.  It was after this that they were advised by their friends to invite the Cheraws to move up and unite with them as one tribe.

P 18 – About the year 1700, the Catawbas numbered about 1500 warriors.  Only half a century later this proud band had dwindled to 400.  Their principal settlement about this latter period was on the Wateree where their country was described as being “an old waste field, 7 miles in extent, with several others of smaller dimensions, which shows that they were formerly a numerous people, to cultivate so much land, with their dull stone axes, before they had an opportunity of trading with the English, or allowed others to incorporate with them.”

In 1787 the Catawba were the only organized tribe under a distinct name of its own in SC. Their town “Catawba” contained then about 450 inhabitants of which not more than 150 were fighting men.

In 1798 they are said to have been in the habit of holding an anniversary meeting of a sadly interesting character intended to commemorate their former greatness by recounting the numbers and deeds of their ancestors, of which tradition had kept them informed.

P 19 – A portion of them had removed at an earlier period to Buncombe County, NC west of the Blue Ridge and thither the miserable remnants with few exceptions followed a few years since.  Reduced in numbers by disease and intermarriage, by the contracted territory to which they had been confined while yet unfitted by the slow process  through which the Indian must always pass, and withal by those habits of idleness and dissipation which the custom of leasing their lands to the whites, and the consequent want of employment had subjected them; drunken and wandering from place to place, their condition became as abject as it had once been elevated among the red men of Carolina.

P 20 – Cheraw means “fire eater” or “fire town” in Cherokee.  The first mention of the Pedee is found I the account of the Eleven Townships, one of which was to be laid out on the river about the year 1731-1732.  But then it was spoken of as having been in familiar use.  It was spelt too as if it had come from 2 capital letters, the initials of a proper name. Nothing is known of the meaning of Cheraw.

P 32 – At the time of the division into counties, 1682, Craven was so sparsely settled as not to be politically considered but 20 years afterwards was described as being pretty well inhabited, the Huguenots having settled on the Santee.

P 36-37 – In the Marion district, with Darlington and Chesterfield above on the west and Marlborough on the east of the Pedee, though more than 70 miles in length and in width from 30-35, there is nothing to indicate that any settlements had been made previous to the year 1730.  In writings 50 years later, the Pedee is not classed in rivers of note.

P 42-43 – From 1696 to 1730 the population gradually increased.  About 1730 a scheme was adopted to promote the settlement of the province which proved successful.  Gov. Johnson was instructed to mark out 11 Townships in square plots on the sides of rivers each consisting of 20,000 acres and to divide the land into shares of 50 acres for each man woman and child that should come to occupy and improve them.  Each township was to form a parish and all had an equal right to the river.  Each settler was to pay 4 shillings a year for every hundred acres of land, excepting the first 10 yeas, during which term they were to be rent free.  The eleven original townships were two on the River Alatamah, two on Savanna, two on Santee, one on Pedee, one on Waccamaw, one on Wateree and one on Black River.  The one in Pedee called Queensborough was marked out in 1731-1732.

P 45 – The inducements to come led to a visit from some of the Welch from Pennsylvania in 1735 for the purpose of exploration and settlement.  Shortly thereafter the migration from Wales to Pennsylvania and from there to the Pedee proceeded.

P 52-53 – In 1736, the large Welsh tract grant was made.  In 1737, they stated that they were concerned that the Indians would molest and disturb them and that Thompson, a trader, holds a great amount of land there and claims it by Indian right.

At this point, the book turns to record the stories of the various Welsh families who settled this region of South Carolina known as the Old Cheraws.

You can download the book for free at this link:  http://archive.org/details/historyofoldcher00gregrich

[1] Given by W. H. Thomas, Esq of Qualla Town, NC who has been intimately connected with them as their head man or chief since their removal to the western part of that state.


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Cape Fear, Catawba, Cheraw, Cherokee, Notchee, Peedee, Uchee. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to History of the Old Cheraws

  1. Angie says:

    I loved Gregg’s account and believe we haven’t paid enough attention to his points about the Cheraw and Cherokee. I say this because of various history and oral history from family. Someday,I think it is going to be made clear. Just remember, Tsalagi is not even a Cherokee word. My ggrandfather told us that is “our” Indian name! Evidence all around but just leave it to the experts?

  2. Angie says:

    I have been working on a book regarding this history. I have put together some pretty interesting facts. Thanks for reading my previous post and taking the time to look into this.

    • I can’t wait to see your book Angie.

    • Paul Campbell says:

      Angie, I am researching the Cheraws as well. In 1748 John Evans (who married into the Cheraws) requested a “Commission” for his mix-blood son to rule the Cheraws. Would you have any info on his son? Was he King Johnny? Evans is my ancestral line. Thank you for your help.

      • angie says:

        Paul Campbell, would you please share with me this information about John Evans, who married into the Cheraws, and requested a commission for his mixed-blood son to rule the Cheraw. I have some Evans, also. If you like, you may send me an email. I have a lot of information and cannot put it all here. baldeaglefeather@gmail.com

      • angie says:

        Paul Campbell, please contact me at baldeaglefeather@gmail.com. I am also related to the Evans and would like to discuss this information about John Evans who married into the Cheraws and requeted a Commission for his mix-blood son to rule the Cheraws. I do have some info and I need your information as well. Thank you.

  3. Peter B Irvine says:

    Roberta, My grandfather had a copy of this book, which he annotated to highlight references to our family. Although his surname did not appear in the book, the name of my third great-grandmother, Rebecca Ann Ellerbe, does appear (her parents are listed on p. 64). My atDNA shows 1 percent Native American (see MDLP Project on gedmatch.com). The name Ellerby is listed on the roll of the Lumbee Tribe, which is known to descend from the Old Cheraws. What more proof do I need?

  4. Dawn says:

    Is there a way to find out the Chiefs in these different tribes through the years?

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