The Yemassee

by William Gilmore Simms

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In this historical novel of South Carolina, the protagonists are the English settlers and rulers of the colony. William Gilmore Simms favors the English colonists over the Yemassee, the original Native American residents of the territory. Viewing English rule as the inevitable outcome, he portrays the indigenous opposition as futile and archaic. Native peoples are also depicted as dupes of the Spanish. Although Simms acknowledges that Native Americans were the legitimate possessors of their homeland, he associates those rights with the past.

Gabriel Harrison (Governor Charles Craven) is a noble, heroic young man with an impressive demeanor who proves himself a natural leader. He attracts attention when arrives as a stranger in town, accompanied by an enslaved man. Harrison gains the support of the frontier settlers, who arm themselves to contain the indigenous “uprising.” It later turns out that he is Governor Charles Craven, the British governor, who has been circulating in disguise.

Bess Matthews, the daughter of the local minister, falls in love with Harrison. They are later married.

Hector is an enslaved African American who is Harrison’s servant. He is captured while spying on Chorley. After Harrison Craven rescues Hector, Hector refuses an offer of liberty.

Sanutee is a Yemassee chief who enlists Spanish support for his multi-tribal alliance; its members oppose selling land to the English. When he discovers his friend’s treason, he sentences him to death. During the battles with the English, he is killed.

Occonestoga, Sanutee’s son, is an alcoholic who sides with the English. After becoming friendly with Harrison, he turns into an informer for him against his own people.

Dick Chorley, ostensibly an English trader, is a Spaniard who supports the Yemassees. 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 Matiwan.

Matiwan, Sanutee’s wife, knows she cannot support her son and still be loyal to her people. She kills Occonestoga to save his honor.

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