The Yemassee

by William Gilmore Simms

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Yemassee: A Romance of Carolina is a novel written in 1835 by William Gilmore Simms. It is the story of the politics of colonization and the start of a brutal genocide. The story is filled with racist tropes and controversially places whites as the protagonists of the story; in opposition are the brutishly proud Yemassee Indians. Colonists who land on the shore of South Carolina originally receive help from the Yemassee Indians. However, the colonists quickly gain power and begin to take advantage of the kindness offered by the native peoples. The colonists develop land closer and closer to the Indian boundaries. Eventually Sanutee, a Yemassee chief, strategizes with the Spanish and other neighboring tribes to defeat the English settlers.

There is tension in Sanutee’s family life as his son, Occonestoga, falls prey to the English. He becomes an alcoholic and, in the process, befriends the settlers. Sanutee wants to disown his son; however, at his wife’s wishes, he does not.

Gabriel Harrison is a young English Settler who is considered strange in the town. He, his dog, and his slave, Hector, are known for wandering around the town. Harrison comes across Sanutee in the middle of a fight with another settler, Dick Chorley. Chorley states that he is in town on trading business. Harrison distrusts the man and sends Hector to spy. It becomes known that Chorley is one of the Spaniards sent to defeat the colonists. Hector is captured by Chorley and held captive. Harrison fights with Chorley, which angers members of the town who have come to trust him.

Meanwhile, the Yemassee tribe has a community meeting to decide whether or not to sell more of their land. There is much dispute over the topic. Sanutee strongly opposes selling and rallies the tribe in opposition of other chiefs. In the chaos that ensues, Occonestoga runs from his family in fear. While in the forest, he saves a townswoman from a rattlesnake. Harrison befriends Occonestoga and sends him back to the tribe to spy.

Sanutee discovers his son hiding with his wife. He orders his son to be killed and to have the tribal marker cut from his skin. Out of desperation, his wife kills their son first, because the tribal marker cannot be taken off a dead man. Harrison realizes that the tribe is about to revolt and gathers townspeople. He is captured but then saved by Sanutee’s wife. In a series of battles, the town is held secure momentarily. Harrison orders the people to be sent to the city of Charleston until the militia can arrive. Harrison then revels that he is, in fact, Governor Charles Craven. He offers Hector his freedom; however, Hector refuses to leave. The militia arrive, and the tribe is permanently defeated.

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