Surviving In A Changing World

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Catawba tribe faced enslavement, disease, warfare, and European settlers occupying their homeland. Though their demise seemed obvious, they managed to survive. Archaeologists are learning how they did it.

1927
A British soldier shakes hands with a Catawba warrior. A key to the Catawbas’ survival during the Colonial era was the military and economic alliance with the colony of South Carolina. Catawba warriors protected the colony from attacks by natives allied with the French and Spanish and served with the English in their frontier wars. In return, South Carolina granted favored trading status to the Catawba and provided them with firearms, ammunition, and supplies that were critical to their survival. Credit: Carolyn Arcabascio.
A British soldier shakes hands with a Catawba warrior. A key to the Catawbas’ survival during the Colonial era was the military and economic alliance with the colony of South Carolina. Catawba warriors protected the colony from attacks by natives allied with the French and Spanish and served with the English in their frontier wars. In return, South Carolina granted favored trading status to the Catawba and provided them with firearms, ammunition, and supplies that were critical to their survival. Credit: Carolyn Arcabascio.

Fall 2017: By Beth Howard.

On a picnic-perfect day in South Carolina’s Lancaster County last June, University of North Carolina (UNC) archaeologist Stephen Davis and his students meticulously scraped loose subsoil and dug, spoonful by spoonful, in search of clues to the lifeways of the Catawba tribe in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Based in the Catawba River Valley of South Carolina, just south of the North Carolina border, the Catawba came to prominence during the tumultuous centuries following the arrival of the English in the New World.

In the century preceding the American Revolution, native peoples in the Piedmont of the Carolinas, a plateau region sandwiched between the Appalachian Mountains and the Coastal Plain, experienced seemingly insurmountable threats—the ravages of European diseases, intense conflict between tribes that was exacerbated by encroaching white settlers, and a large-scale slave trade. “They were being captured, enslaved, and then shipped out of Charleston to the Caribbean to work on sugar plantations,” said Davis, explaining that Indians escaped more easily than Africans because they knew the land so well, so the Native Americans were sent to the Caribbean where the land was unfamiliar and escaping was more difficult. “It has been estimated that, prior to 1715, there were more Indian slaves being exported out of Charleston than there were Africans being imported.”

When a young Englishman named John Lawson traveled through the area in early 1701, he observed the chaos of collapsing native communities firsthand. But the Catawba stood out as stable and thriving, a testament to their resourcefulness and adaptability. The Catawba’s survival was put to the test over the next century and a half, Davis said, but they met the challenges with savvy economic and political strategies.

Excerpt.

Read More in our FALL 2017 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 20 No. 4. Browse Content of this Issue: Fall 2017 . Browse Articles Excerpts from our last issue, SUMMER 2017.

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