Congaree people

The Congaree (also spelled Conagree) were a group of Native Americans who lived in what is now central South Carolina of the United States, along the Congaree River. They spoke a dialect distinct from, and not intelligible by, Siouan language speakers; it is considered unclassified. This was the primary language family of Native Americans in the Piedmont, such as the Catawba. Some linguists, however, believe that the language was related to Catawban Siouan.

Unclassified languageEdit

Extinct18th century
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)

Early European observers and later American scholars thought the Congaree were likely part of the Siouan language family, given their geographic location and characteristics of neighboring tribes. The Catawba and other tribes in this area spoke Siouan languages. The Cherokee, located to the west, spoke an Iroquoian language, associated more with tribes around the Great Lakes to the north.

Since the late 20th century, scholars more widely agree that the Congaree people were not a Siouan people. Their language was distinct from the Siouan language, and not intelligible to their immediate Siouan neighbors, the Wateree.[1]


The Congaree lived along the Santee and Congaree rivers, above and below the confluence of the Wateree River, in central South Carolina. According to James Mooney's 1894 history of the Siouan tribes, the Congaree occupied territory between the Santee tribe downriver of them and the Wateree tribe above.[2]

In Native American practice, people taken as captives in warfare, particularly women and children, were often kept or sold as slaves. English and European colonists encouraged the tribes to take and sell Indian captives into their domestic slave trade. By 1693, the Congaree, Esaw and Savannah slave-catchers had pursued the Cherokee as "objects of the slave trade to the extent that a tribal delegation was sent" to Governor Thomas Smith. They sought protection, claiming that Cherokee had been sold in the Charles Town slave market.[3][4][5]

In 1698, the Congaree lost "most tribe members to smallpox." The Native Americans suffered high mortality from new infectious diseases that had become endemic for centuries among Europeans, leading to some acquired immunity for the latter.[6]

The English explorer John Lawson encountered the survivors in 1701, apparently on the northeastern bank of the Santee River below the junction of the Wateree. Lawson described their village as consisting of about a dozen houses, located on a small creek flowing into the Santee River. He described them as a small tribe, having lost population because of tribal feuds and raids, but more especially by smallpox, which had depopulated whole villages.[2] A 1715 map shows their village as located on the southern bank of the Congaree and considerably above the previous area, perhaps near Big Beaver creek, or about opposite the future site of Columbia, on the eastern boundary of Lexington County. They may have been moving upriver to get further from English colonists.

During the Tuscarora War of 1711, the Congaree fought on the side of English colonist John Barnwell, who raised a militia.[4] In early 1715 John Barnwell took a census, which identified the Congaree as living in one village, with a total population of 22 men and 70 women and children.[7]

During the Yamasee War of 1715, the Congaree joined with other tribes in the fight against the colony of South Carolina. Over half were either killed or enslaved by the colonists and Cherokee; some were sent into slavery in the West Indies.[8] Following that, surviving Congaree moved upriver and joined the Catawba, with whom they were still living in 1743.[9]

In 1718, Fort Congaree was established near the Congaree village, near today's Columbia. It became an important trading station and a European-American settlement formed around it.[2]

In the subsequent decades, Congaree survivors merged with the larger Catawba people. Different tribes lived in their own villages within the loose Catawba federation of peoples. The Congaree maintained their distinction until the late 18th century, as they had a language different from the Siouan Catawba, but they became extinct as a tribe. Their descendants intermarried with the Catawba and other peoples of the confederation.

Based on colonial accounts, American anthropologist James Mooney (1928) described the historic Congaree as: "A friendly people, handsome and well built, the women being especially beautiful compared with those of other tribes.[9]

Keyauwee Jack, a Congaree by birth, became chief of the Keyauwee by marriage.[10]


Congaree National Park and the Congaree River are named after the tribe. Some members of the present-day Catawba and other tribes of the Carolinas are likely genetic descendants of the Congaree, among others.


  1. ^ James Hart Merrell, The Indians' New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989. p. 110
  2. ^ a b c Mooney, James (1894). The Siouan Tribes of the East : James Mooney. Retrieved 2012-12-03.
  3. ^ Patrick Neal Minges. "All my Slaves, whether Negroes, Indians, Mustees, Or Molattoes". Retrieved 2012-12-03.
  4. ^ a b Joseph Norman Heard (1987). Handbook of the American Frontier: Four Centuries of Indian-White Relationships : The Southeastern Woodlands. Scarecrow Press. pp. 110–. ISBN 978-0-8108-1931-3. Retrieved 2 December 2012.
  5. ^ Lauber (1913). Indian Slavery in Colonial Times. Retrieved 2012-12-03.
  6. ^ "History & Culture - Congaree National Park". National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-12-03.
  7. ^ Gallay, Alan (2002). The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South 1670-1717. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10193-7.
  8. ^ "South Carolina Indian Tribes". Access Genealogy. Retrieved 2012-12-03.
  9. ^ a b "Congaree Indian Tribe History". Retrieved 2012-12-03.
  10. ^ "Keyauwee Indians". Access Genealogy. Retrieved 2012-12-03.

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