The Waccamaw Indian People of Conway, South Carolina, are the descendants of a group of people who lived and farmed in the area of South Carolina now known as Dog Bluff. Although the inhabitants of the Dimery settlement conducted business and existed as a separate community throughout the years, it wasn’t until 1992 that a formal organization was formed to protect the history and traditions of our people.
The tribe was chartered as a non-profit organization in October of 1992, with the initial organizational meeting held on October 17, 1992. At this meeting, the original founders relinquished all control to the tribal council. The word “Chicora” was added in January 1993 by a majority vote of the governing council. This addition was intended to define the area of our people and to establish the boundaries of the Waccamaw. In January of 2002, the tribal community voted to eliminate the term “Chicora” from its name in order to avoid confusion with another group in the area using the word to denote their people.
The Ancient Waccamaw
The ancient Waccamaw were river dwellers who lived along the Waccamaw River covering an area that reached from North Carolina’s Lake Waccamaw to Winyah Bay near Georgetown, South Carolina. If the conclusions of Dr. John R. Swanton are correct, the Waccamaw People may have been one of the first mainland groups of Natives visited by the Europeans. The Spanish, under Francisco Gordillo and Pedro de Quexos (c1521), took several ships loaded with Indian people and carried them off into slavery. One of those enslaved was a man who became known as “Francisco de Chicora.” Francisco identified more than twenty tribes who lived in this area. The greatest importance, however, seems to attach to “Chicora” and “Duhare,” the northern most provinces on Francisco’s list. Considering Dr. Swanton’s findings, it appears that these nations were the Waccamaw and the Cape Fear respectively.
The Waccamaw were adept at the domestication of animals, including deer. They manufactured cheese from does’ milk. Additionally, they kept a variety of chickens, ducks, geese, and other domestic fowl. There were gardens to tend, both private and communal. Everyone worked in the community garden, including the chiefs, who were seen planting and gathering the crops along with their tribe. Among their crops were corn, pumpkins, kidney beans, lima beans, squash, melons, gourds and tobacco.
European contact nearly wiped out the Waccamaw. Because we had no defense for the diseases they brought, our people died by the hundreds. When the Europeans needed labor, our people were forced into slavery. The king ordered all owners to free their Indian slaves (c1752). The loss of their slaves, however, would have devastated the plantations, and so the owners simply tried to turn us Black. After the Emancipation Proclamation, thousands of Indians walked off the cotton fields along with the Blacks.
Matters of Identity
People tend to identify with those who possess the same features and traits; because we didn’t fit with either the “White” or “Black” race, we banded with our own. Our people migrated across South Carolina several times but continued to retain a community of their own. In the mid 1700s the Dimery settlement, near Dog Bluff, South Carolina, was formed. There was a dedicated school and church, and this community of Dimerys, Cooks, Hatchers, Turners, and others was widely known as Indian.
In 1934 the local county officials, attempting to save tax dollars, decided to re-designate the Dimery School as “Colored.” The people of the settlement refused to relinquish their identity and would not allow their children to attend Colored school. They took the children to the nearby “White” school, where they were denied entry. The case was settled after Vander Hatcher, along with other community leaders, filed a lawsuit against the county. The suit demanded that proper school facilities be provided for the settlement’s inhabitants “who had no Colored blood in their veins.”
Rather than provide a separate school, the county officials designated a group of individuals to look at each child and decide the race based upon facial features, skin color, and other traits. In one case a brother attended a “Colored” school while his sister, with the same mother and father, attended a “White” school.
At that time, the law required that legal records such as birth certificates, death certificates, school records, etc., list our people as “White,” “Black,” or “Mulatto.” The term “Indian” was not allowed. However, when venturing outside the settlement, residents of the Dimery Settlement were treated differently from the Whites or Blacks. For example, they were hired and trusted to do local work but were not allowed to eat in restaurants unless they sat at the counter and ate from paper plates. If any of them married outside the settlement, they were often prosecuted and imprisoned for the crime of miscegenation, as were any Whites who married them.