The Yemassee

by William Gilmore Simms

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

William Gilmore Simms begins by chronicling the English settlement of South Carolina, including the opposition from the Spaniards who moved up from Saint Augustine to raid the English town on the southern edge of the territory. While the Yemassee had originally been content with the relations with the English, Simms asserts, the Spanish influence and the increased presence of English hamlets near their territory had negative effects, and they seemed “sullen” (chapter 1).

Their chiefs began to show signs of discontent, if not of disaffection, and the great mass of their people assumed a sullenness of habit and demeanour, which had never marked their conduct heretofore. They looked, with a feeling of aversion which as yet they vainly lea poured to conceal, upon the approach of the white man on every side.

Simms has the indigenous characters refer to themselves in the third person. As Sanutee is complaining to his wife about their son, he refers to himself as Sanutee.

Occonestoga is a dog, Matiwan; he hunts the slaves of the English in the swamp, for strong drink. He is a slave himself, he has ears for their lies, he believes in their forked tongues, and he has two voices for his own people. Let him not look into the lodge of Sanutee. Is not Sanutee the chief of the Yemassee?

Simms writes of the whites’ “superiority,” which the Yemassee are being required to accept (chapter 3). He attributes “despotism” to the actions of a few people, which counter the good intentions of Christians. He explains what Sanutee has learned from the settlers’ proximity and encroachment.

Sanutee had already experienced many of those thousand forms of assumption and injury on the part of the whites, which had opened the eyes of many of his countrymen, and taught them, not less than himself, to know, that a people, once conscious of their superiority, will never be found to hesitate long in its despotic exercise over their neighbours. An abstract standard of justice, independent of appetite or circumstance, has not often marked the progress of Christian (so called) civilization, in its proffer of its great good to the naked savage.

Gabriel Harrison, the protagonist, enters the scene in time to stop an altercation between Sanutee and a European settler, apparently a former sailor, who is out hunting and kills Sanutee’s dog (chapter 4). Harrison is described as having the aura of a “cavalier” about him; about 30 years old, he is tall and handsome and well dressed, though his clothes are somewhat out of style. Blue-eyed and with a “rich” complexion, his finely molded features

combine manliness with so much of beauty as may well comport with it. He was probably six feet in height, straight as an arrow, and remarkably well and closely set.

Simms explains that the Spanish were jealous of the inroads that the English had made so far and were constantly trying to conduct surveillance on their settlements (chapter 6). Spanish ships plied the Atlantic water, and the smaller boats moved up the rivers as far as possible. The Spaniards encouraged the suspicious attitudes among the Native peoples, offering them support against further English incursions.

The settlement of the English in Carolina, though advancing with wonderful rapidity, was yet in its infancy; the great jealousy which their progress had occasioned in the minds of their Indian neighbours, was not a little stimulated in its tenour and development by the artifices of the neighbouring Spaniards . . . .

As the alliances are drawn and the Yamassees band together with neighboring groups, the English become nervous and try to...

(This entire section contains 748 words.)

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negotiate with Sanutee (chapter 10). As the English emissary tries to remind him of their friendship, Sanutee speaks in English of which he has learned a few words.

“You do us wrong, Sanutee, you have nothing to fear from the English."

. . . [T]he chief, who had acquired a considerable knowledge of the simpler portions of the language, and to whom this sentence was clear enough, immediately and indignantly exclaimed in his own addressing the chiefs, rather than replying to the Englishman.

"Fear? Sanutee has no fear of the English, he fears not the Manneyto. He only fears that his people may go blind with the English poison drink, that the great chiefs of the Yemassee may sell him for a slave to the English, to plant his maize and to be beaten with a stick. But let the ears of the chiefs hear the voice of Sanutee—the Yemassee shall not be the slave of the pale-face."