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Rivers & Rich land

Wateree River

The Catawba River enters central South Carolina, flows into Wateree Lake, and after passing through Wateree Dam in Kershaw County, becomes the Wateree River. Approximately seventy-five miles in length, the remote Wateree follows a meandering path south through the upper coastal plain past Camden and then into several swamps including Betty Neck Swamp, White Marsh Swamp, and Gum Swamp. Along the way it receives the tributary waters of nine creeks before terminating at its junction with the Congaree River. The Wateree marks a heavily traveled path that has played a significant role in the prehistory and history of South Carolina.

Several Native American settlements, including the Mississippian capital of Cofitachequi, existed in close proximity to the Wateree River over seven hundred years ago. Later, various settlements of Siouan Indians (including the Wateree tribe, for whom the river was named) thrived along its banks. The first European settlement along the Wateree was Camden, which soon became an interior trading center for wheat, tobacco, indigo, and later cotton. Interestingly, most travel through the area during the colonial years was along the ancient Catawba path–also called the King’s Highway–that ran parallel to the river. This was to change. By the early nineteenth century the backcountry planters needed the Wateree to transport cotton from inland plantations to market in Charleston. To improve communication and transportation links with the coast, the Wateree Canal was begun north of Camden in 1821. For several years cotton barges were common sights along the Wateree. With the coming of railroads in the 1850s, river transport became less important, and the Wateree resumed its traditional role of supplying food and water to residents along its banks.

Written by Robert Stevens

Ernst, Joseph A., and H. Roy Merrens. “‘Camden’s Turrets Pierce the Skies!’: The Urban Process in the Southern Colonies during the Eighteenth Century.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 30 (October 1973): 549–74.

Kovacik, Charles F., and John J. Winberry. South Carolina: The Making of a Landscape. 1987. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.


(Click the map to see enlarged)

John Ogilby (1600-1676) was an English geographer and publisher, one of the most prominent of the seventeenth century. 


Nice example of the Ogilby/Montanus map of the Southeast, extending from the York River in Virginia to northern Florida.

Covering the area from the lower Chesapeake Bay to northern Florida, the map is a faithful reduction of Willem Blaeu's important prototype map of 1638, which Cumming considered to be the "most correct map of this area yet to appear." This reduced example is, "more decorative than the Blaeu in that it bears two large decorative cartouches depicting native scenes" -- Burden. The map was published in Montanus's landmark Amerika, perhaps the greatest illustrated book on the New World produced in the 17th century. Montanus's work contained over one hundred beautifully engraved plates, views and maps of North and South America.

The map also appeared in early issues of the English edition of Montanus, issued by John Ogilby, but was replaced c. 1673 by the famous First Lords Propreitors map, which gave a more up to date picture of the English presence in Carolina.

FireShot Capture 004 - Bracey - Google M


The town and ceremonial center of Cofitachequi was located near the present day city of Camden, South Carolina. Cofitachequi ruled a large number of towns in an area of several thousand square miles in the northeastern part of South Carolina. It was the easternmost extension of the Mississippian culture that extended over much of the southern part of the future United States.

Juan Pardo with a force of 125 Spaniards visited Cofitachequi (which he also called Canosi) on two expeditions between 1566 and 1568. Juan de Torres led 10 Spanish soldiers and 60 Indian allies to Cofitachequi on two expeditions in 1627–1628. He was "well entertained by the chief who is highly respected by the rest of the chiefs, who all obey him and acknowledge vassalage to him." In 1670, an Englishman, Henry Woodward, journeyed inland from Charlestown, South Carolina to Cofitachequi. He called the chief "the emperor" and said the town counted 1,000 bowmen. The "emperor" of Cofitachequi visited Charleston in 1670 and 1672. Sometime after that, Cofitachequi was abandoned. By 1701, when John Lawson passed through, the area of Cofitachequi was inhabited only by small settlements of Congaree Indians.

The Congaree lived along the Santee and Congaree rivers, above and below the junction of the Wateree, in central South Carolina. They occupied territory between the Santee tribe below them and the Wateree tribe above.[2]

Native Americans sold as slaves members of other tribes captured in war or raids. By 1693, 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 Townslave market.

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 Santee River. They were a small tribe, having lost heavily by tribal feuds, but more especially by smallpox, which had depopulated whole villages.[2] But a 1715 map shows their village as located on the southern bank of the Congaree and considerably above the previous area, perhaps about Big Beaver creek, or about opposite the site of Columbia, on the eastern boundary of Lexington county. They may have been moving upriver to get further from English colonists.

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 up the country 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.

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

Wateree River
Congaree to Wateree_edited.png
Congaree River


The ancients or moderns, and which appears to have been some part either of Carolina or Florida.* The following extract contains Verazzani's account of the new country, which he reached on the 20th of March, 1523 :


— "At first it appeared to be very low, but on approaching it to within a quarter of a league from the shore, we perceived by the great fires near the coast that it was inhabited. We perceived that it stretched to the south, and coasted along in that direction in search of some port, in which we might come to anchor, and examine into the nature of the country, but for fifty leagues we could dis- cover none in which we could be secure. Seeing the coast still stretching to the south, we resolved to change our course and stand to the northward, and as we still had the same difficulty, we drew in with the land, and sent a boat on shore. Many people, who were seen coming to the seaside, fled at our approach, but occasionally stopping, they looked back upon us with astonishment, and some at length were induced by various friendly signs to come to us. These showed the greatest delight in beholding us, wondering at our dress, countenance, and complexion. They then showed us by signs where we could more conveniently secure our boat, and offered us some of their provisions. Of their manners and customs, I will relate as briefly' as possible what we saw. "They go entirely naked, except that about the loins they wear skins of small animals like martens, fastened by a girdle of plaited grass, to which they tie all round the body the tails of other animals, hanging down to the knees ; all other parts of the body and head are naked. Some wear garlands similar to bird's feathers.


" The complexion of these people is black, not much different from that of the Ethiopians. Their hair is black and thick, and not very long ; it is worn tied back upon the head in the form of a little tail. In person, they are of good proportions, of middle statue, a little above our own, broad across the breast, strong in the arms, and well formed in the legs and other parts of the body ; the only exception to their good looks is, that they have broad faces,..."


Historical Account of Discovery and Travels in North America," by Hugh Murray, P.R.S.E. f " The North American Review for October, 1837, contains an account of the researches of George W. Green, Esq., the American consul at Rome. He found at Florence a manuscript of Verazzani's letter of the 8th of July, 1524, to the king of France. Mr, Green having furnished the Historical Society of New York » copy of this manuscript, a translation of it from the 'ltalian was made by Joseph G. Cogswell, Esq., a member of that society, and published in 1841, in the second series of the society's collection." — " Early Voyagers to America," by Conway Robinson.

In the 1670s, Dr. Henry Woodward was chosen by the recently organized colony of Carolina to befriend the Creek and turn them on the Spanish. Hernando de Soto was not the only adventuresome soul to wander through what is now the South Carolina backcounty.  The Spaniards Juan Pardo and Pedro de Torres explored much what is today South Carolina. By 1685, Dr. Henry Woodward and the Creek had successfully eliminated all the Spanish missions along the coast and internally, including the Spanish mission at the confluence of the Flint River and the Chattahoochee River. From this point onward, the Creek were in constant contact with the English, first with traders who wanted goods for coastal whites, then settlers who wanted land. It was an association the Creek would come to regret.


In 1674, under the leadership of Dr. Henry Woodward, the colony began trading with the Westoe Indians on the Savannah River. The Westoes told him that eight days journey west lived the "Chorakae Indians with whom they are at continual warrs". The Westoe's were to become the middlemen in trade between the Carolinians and the Cherokees in what Woodward called a trade in "drest deare skins furrs and young Indian Slaves." Similarly, the Occaneechi would, for years, serve as middlemen between the Cherokees and Virginians.


He then took passage on the Carolina fleet of 1669-1670, which established Charleston, South Carolina. Henry Woodward became an interpreter and Indian agent for the fledgling colony. Starting in 1670, Woodward began taking a series of expeditions into the interior, making contact with various Indian groups. While a few Spanish expeditions had explored the interior of the American southeast in the sixteenth century, Woodward was the first English colonist to do so.[2] Notably, Woodward was the last European to visit the paramount chiefdom of Cofitachequi in 1670.

As Baker (1974: 52, note 21) indicates, there is only one documentary reference to Cofitachequi in the Carolina archives for the years following 1672. That reference, dated 1681, makes only passing mention of Cofitachequi. By the time that John Lawson traveled up the Wateree/Catawba River Valley in 1701, the area formerly occupied by the Emperor Cofitachequi and his subjects was occupied by a new group of people known as the Congaree.

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