Professor of History Dr. William Ramsey, one of two Lander University educators granted sabbatical leave for the current school year, is spending the spring semester working on his new book, “The Yamasee Nation in Peace and War.”
The book expands upon ideas that Ramsey first explored in “The Yamasee War,” published in 2008 by the University of Nebraska Press.
“I’m researching the evolution of the Yamasee political leadership within the nation itself, and their early involvement and the consequences of their involvement in market relations with Europeans,” he said.
The Yamasees, a lowcountry tribe that occupied territory near the present-day town of Yemassee, were among the South Carolina colonists’ most important allies during the first two decades of the 1700s, supplying the South Carolina plantation system with labor in the form of Indian slaves captured in Florida.
“The Spanish friars of Florida did not give firearms to their converts, and the Yamasees recognized that as a soft target, as we would say nowadays. The Yamasees acquired firearms from South Carolina and made use of that power advantage to attack and enslave the Indians of the Spanish mission system and others around the southeast,” Ramsey said.
Asked if he would describe the Yamasees as a warlike people, he said, “Not originally. They became warlike because it served their purposes and South Carolina’s purposes.”
The partnership didn’t last. The competition between England, France and Spain for trade and influence in the region destabilized the relationship between South Carolina and its native American allies, leading, in 1715, to war. “The Yamasees and virtually every other Indian nation in the South rose up to attack South Carolina and nearly destroyed the colony,” he said.
Ultimately, it was the Yamasees who were destroyed. Some retreated to Florida. Others traveled westward and merged with the Lower Creek Indian Nation. “Others simply disappeared,” he said.
Ramsey said that his new book will discuss how the Yamasees’ activities as slave raiders transformed their society, and how the Yamasee War reshaped the region.
The Yamasees didn’t produce documents themselves, according to Ramsey. The only way to research them, therefore, is to locate letters, inventories and other documents from governors, traders and others who had commerce with them.
Ramsey will not finish the book in the spring. However, he said, “the sabbatical will allow me to visit some archives, most importantly the British Archives in the British Colonial Records Office in London, and make more progress than I’ve been able to make over the last few years.”