The Cusabo

Please note that while we cannot do research, we hope to provide assistance, through data and links, to Native Americans with roots in South Carolina.

NOTE: the publication date for the source information contained in the following article was 1920.

Contributed by: 
Paul R. Sarrett, Jr. Aug. 11, 1998                         (

Cusabo tribe.- Meaning perhaps "Coosawhatchie River (people)."

Cusabo Connections.- There is little doubt that the Cusabo belonged 
to the Muskhogean linguistic family. Their closest connections appear 
to have been with the Indians of the Georgia coast, the Guale.

Cusabo Location.- In the southern-most part of South Carolina between 
Charleston Harbor and Savannah River and including most of the valleys 
of the Ashley, Edisto, Ashepoo, Combahee, Salkehatchie, and Coosawhatchie 

Cusabo Subdivisions
These people should be divided first into the Cusabo proper, who occupied 
all of the coast, and the Coosa, who were inland upon the rivers above 
mentioned. The Cusabo proper seem to have consisted of a northern 
group of tribes or subtribes, including the Etiwaw (on Wando River), 
Wando (on Cooper River), Kiawa (on the lower course of Ashley River), 
and perhaps the Stono (about Stono Entrance); and a southern group 
including the Edisto (on Edisto Island), Ashepoo (on lower Ashepoo 
River), Combahee (on lower Combahee River) Wimbee (between the latter 
and the lower Coosawhatchie River), Escamacu (between St. Helena Sound 
and Broad River), and perhaps a few others. Sometimes early writers 
erroneously include the Siouan Senee and Santee as Cusabo.

Cusabo Villages, SC:
Ahoys or EIoya, on or near Broad River.
Ahoyabi, near the preceding.
Aluste, near Beaufort, possibly a form of Edisto.
Awendaw, near Awendaw Creek; it may have been Sewee (q. v.).
Bohicket, near Rockville.
Cambe, near Beaufort.
Chatuache, 6-10 leagues north of Beaufort.
Mayon, probably on Broad River.
Talapo, probably near Beaufort.
Touppa, probably on Broad River.
Yanahume, probably on the south side of Broad River.

Cusabo History.- While their country was most likely skirted by 
earlier navigators, the first certain appearance of the Cusabo in 
history is in connection with a slave-hunting expedition sent out 
by Vasques de Ayllon. This reached the mainland in 1521, probably 
a little north of the Cusabo territory and introduced the blessings 
of White civilization to the unsuspecting natives by carrying away 
about 70 of them. One of these Indians was finally taken to Spain 
and furnished the historian Peter Martyr with considerable information 
regarding his country and the names of a number of tribes, some of 
whom were certainly Cusabo. In 1525 Ayllon sent a second expedition 
to the region and in 1526 led a colony thither.

Dissatisfied with his first landing place, probably near the landfall 
of the expedition of 1521, he moved the colony "40 or 45 leagues," 
perhaps to the neighborhood of Savannah River. But it did not prosper, 
Ayllon died, trouble broke out among the survivors, and finally they 
returned to Haiti in the middle of the following winter. In 1540 De 
Soto passed near this country, but apparently he did not enter it, 
and the next European contact was brought about by the settlement 
of Ribault's first colony at Port Royal in 1562. The small number 
of people left by Ribault managed to maintain themselves for some 
time with the assistance of friendly natives, but, receiving no relief 
from France, they became discouraged, and built a small vessel in 
which a few of them eventually reached home. In 1564 a Spanish vessel 
visited this coast for the purpose of rooting out the French settlement.

Later the same year a second Huguenot colony was established on St. 
Johns River, Florida, and communication was maintained with the Cusabo 
Indians. In 1565 this colony was destroyed by the Spaniards who visited 
Port Royal in quest of certain French refugees, and the year following 
Fort San Felipe was built at the same place. From this time until 
1587 a post was maintained here, although with some intermissions 
due to Indian risings. 

In 1568- 70 a vain attempt was made to missionize the Indians. In 
1576 a formidable Indian uprising compelled the abandonment of the 
fort, but it was soon reoccupied and an Indian town was destroyed 
in 1579 by way of reprisal. Next year, however, there was a second 
uprising, making still another abandonment necessary. The fort was 
reoccupied in 1582 but abandoned permanently 5 years later; and after 
that time there was no regular post in the country but communication 
was kept up between the Cusabo and St. Augustine and occasional visits 
seem to have been made by the Franciscan Friars. 

Between 1633 and 1665 we have notice of a new mission in Cusabo territory, 
called Chatuache, but when the English settled South Carolina in 1670 
there appears to have been no regular mission there and certainly 
no Spanish post. Charleston was founded on Cusabo soil, and from the 
date of its establishment onward relations were close between the 
English and Cusabo. In 1671 there was a short war between the colonists 
and the Coosa Indians and in 1674 there was further trouble with this 
people and with the Stono. 

In 1675 the Coosa Indians surrendered to the English a large tract 
of land which constituted Ashley Barony, and in 1682 what appears 
to have been a still more sweeping land cession was signed by several 
of the Cusabo chiefs. In 1693 there was another short war, this time 
between the Whites and the Stono. A body of Cusabo accompanied Colonel 
Barnwell in his expedition against the Tuscarora in 1711-12, and this 
fact may have quickened the consciences of the colonists somewhat, 
because in 1712 the Island of Palawana, "near the Island of St. Helena," 
was granted to them. 

It appears that most of their plantations were already upon it but 
it had inadvertently been granted to a white proprietor. The Cusabo 
here mentioned were those of the southern group; there is reason to 
think that the Kiawa and Coosa were not included. Early in 1720 "King 
Gilbert and ye Coosaboys" took part in Col. John Barnwell's punitive 
expedition against St. Augustine (Barnwell, 1908). In 1743 the Kiawa 
were given a grant of land south of the Combahee River, probably to 
be near the other coast Indians. Part of the Coosa may have retired 
to the Catawba, since Adair (1930) mentions "Coosah" as one of the 
dialects spoken in the "Catawba Nation," but others probably went 
to the Creeks. At least one band of Cusabo may have gone to Florida, 
because, in "A List of New Indian Missions in the Vicinity of St. 
Augustine," dated December 1, 1726, there is mention of a mission 
of San Antonio "of the Cosapuya nation and other Indians" containing 
43 recently converted Christians and 12  pagans. 

Two years later we are informed that "the towns of the Casapullas 
Indians were depopulated," though whether this has reference to the 
ones in Florida or to those in their old country is not clear.

Cusabo Population.- Mooney (1900) estimates the number of southern 
Cusabo, exclusive of the Edisto, at 1,200 in 1600, the Edisto at 1,000, 
the Etiwaw at 600, and the Coosa at 600. He classifies the Stono with 
the Westo, thereby falling into a common error. The colonial census 
of 1715 gives the number of southern Cusabo as 295, including 95 men, 
in 5 villages, while the Etiwaw (probably including the other northern 
Cusabo) had 1 village, 80 men, and a total population of 240. There 
were thus 535 Cusabo over all. The Coosa are nowhere mentioned by 
name and were probably included with one or the other of these. The 
55 Indians at the Florida mission above mentioned, consisting of individuals 
of "the Cosapuya nation and other Indians," included 24 men, 13 women, 
and 18 children.

Cusabo tribe Connection in which they have become noted.- The first 
part of the name Coosa is identical in origin with the first part 
of the name of Coosawhatchie River, S. C., and a post village. The 
people themselves are noted in history as the first in eastern North 
America north of Florida among whom European settlements were begun. 
They had an earlier and longer contact with Europeans than any other 
Indians on the Atlantic seaboard except those of the Gulf of St. Lawrence 
Eno. This tribe moved into the northern part of the State after 1716 
and perhaps united ultimately with the Catawba. At some prehistoric 
period they may have lived on Enoree River. (See North Carolina.)


Back to Native Americans of South Carolina Page

SCGenWeb Home Page

Copyright 2003 Victoria Proctor
All rights reserved.