Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Pee Dee River Colony in SC

This post was first published on my original blog, Attala County Memories, on September 30, 2008. 

Pee Dee River Valley (SC)
Many who settled in the north central area of the Mississippi Territory and later migrated, sometimes en masse, to the counties formed there after statehood from Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Virginia. came from South Carolina. It is a well-known bit of history that many of those who settled in Attala County, Mississippi and in the surrounding area came there from the Pee Dee River in South Carolina. This area is sometimes called "the low country" or the coastal area because of its proximity to the marshlands of South Carolina.

Recently, while reading a book entitled "Black Indians, A Hidden Heritage,"written by William Loren Katz, I found some interesting information about the Pee Dee River area. According to Katz, the story of the Pee Dee River area is quite unique, and he calls it "the first foreign colony on U. S. soil." It seems that Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon, a wealthy Spanish official who lived in Santo Domingo on Hispaniola, founded a colony in the area in June 1526. The settlement, Katz says, was founded "six decades before Roanoke Island, eight decades before Jamestown, and almost a century before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock."

Katz believes that De Ayllon's effort was perhaps overlooked for two reasons: first, because most historians prefer to believe that life in the new world actually began when Anglo-Saxons who were British citizens and spoke English arrived; secondly, Ayllon's settlement suffered a tragic fate, including death, disease, and a slave revolt. Although the settlement"failed" in Ayllon's eyes, the inhabitants who survived these tragedies were reborn as a different people in the woods to which they escaped, and according to Katz, they were "not considered a part of the white U. S. heritage."

The two explorers sent to the New World were Captain Francisco Gordillo, who was charged with locating a suitable landing site and with building friendly relationships with the native inhabitants or local tribesmen, and a slavehunter, Pedro de Quexos. Their efforts during the initial landing included capturing seventy Native Americans, free men and women, and taking them to Santo Domingo to serve as slaves. De Ayllon was not pleased and with the assistance of Diego Columbus, "the Indians were declared free and ordered returned." Spanish records fail to show whether the order was actually carried out. Sometime later, after his explorers landed on the wrong coast and had to return to Santo Domingo, Ayllon formed another crew and sailed with other Spanish citizens who were his followers and settled near a "great river...probably the Pee Dee."

Sailing from Puerto de la Plata were a total of "six vessels carrying five hundred Spanish men and women, one hundred enslaved Africans, six or seven dozen horses, and physicians, sailors, and Dominican priests." As the ships arrived, the Native Americans who lived in the area took to the woods to escape the newly-arrived settlers. The Spanish colonists had difficulty coping with the climate, growing the food they needed, and adverse living conditions quickly caused uprisings within the colony. The discord that resulted caused many of the Africans to flee into the woods and live with the Native Americans. De Ayllon became ill and died, but he had named his nephew, John Ramirez to succeed him after death.

And thus the Pee Dee Colony, or "San Miguel de Gualdape" grew to be an amalgamation of people, Native Americans, Africans, and those who spoke Spanish as their native language.

1 comment:

  1. This is really intriguing. I never heard of this history, and my SC family comes from the Low Country, in particular the Pee Dee River area. Maybe this explains why there were so many sharecroppers, after the Civil War, who were part Indian and part black, living near my family. I was told, growing up, that this ethnic mix produced a fierce and relentless people. No wonder they were fierce, if they survived by escaping these original settlers.

    Huh. Eight decades before Jamestown, and "reborn as a different people in the woods." Thank you for this explanation!