“The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians, 1540-1760”Robbie Ethridge and Charles Hudson, ed.
The essays in “The Transformation” focus on the question of what historical forces, trends, and events caused the formation of the Indians of the colonial Southeast. In addition, these essays consider the historical processes that shaped the destinies of the Southeastern natives as historical actors. (xii)
In Marvin T. Smith’s essay, “Aboriginal Movement in the Postcontact Southeast,” he correctly claims that there were many factors that impacted population movement in the early Southeast. These factors, such as disease, power imbalances, and warfare, could have occurred simultaneously adding to the population movement. He gave the Coosa drainage as an example that led to well documented population movement. A fine point Smith makes was the impact of the Indian slave trade in the Southeast. Towards the end of the trade in 1716, many Indian groups migrated out of the Carolinas shifting the protection they afforded the colony to different regions. But in what other way did these push/pull native population movements affect other colonies or territories?
In Paul Kelton’s “The Great Southeast Smallpox Epidemic, 1696-1700,” he argues that the first smallpox epidemic occurred between 1696 and 1700 in Spanish Florida and Virginia, but not spreading beyond those borders until the acceleration of the slave trade in the seventeenth century. He questions that smallpox as an epidemic arrived at a date earlier than 1696. Kelton gives a lengthy epidemiological history of the smallpox virus, argues that even though the disease was the most likely to accompany Europeans and spread as a virgin soil epidemic, the documentation is inconclusive and improbable. He emphasizes that the Spanish documents reveal that none of the Spaniards who arrived in Spanish Florida were suffering from smallpox, but likely other transmittable diseases. With the Great Southeastern Smallpox Epidemic that began in 1696, a series of epidemics began to erupt in the region about every 3-5 years. Kelton argues that 1700 should be considered a defining moment in native history with significant population decline followed by one hundred years of continued epidemics that brought demographic disaster to the Native American.
In “Trouble Coming Southward” by Helen C. Rountree, the focus is on the movement into the south by both Europeans and natives through Virginia from 1607 to 1675. Rountree establishes that trade routes were already in existence when Europeans arrived in 1607 and the natives continued to use these trade routes for another century. As trade became a major economic venture for Virginia, traders traveled further southward to deal with the Indians. After the 1650 Bland expedition, the English sent more explorers into the southern frontier for trading opportunities. Increasingly, more English moved south surrounding the Indians, which resulted in conflict with the Tuscaroras in 1663. Here was an interesting fact. Because the English feared the Tuscarora “the grand assembly felt impelled in the year to forbid the ‘entertaining’ of any Indians who did not bring an identifiable badge with them into the English settlements.” (77) Are there any other occurrences where native groups are required to wear IDs before they enter an European settlement? Rountree argues that Indians were long-distance travelers, but not until of the 1670s was this actually documented in detail.
In Steven C. Hahn’s “The Mother of Necessity,” he argues that the Yamasee War of 1715 was a result of the Creek’s dependency on English trade goods, not as a result of the inevitable spread of trade, but as a result of their own affinity to essential “needs” versus European “luxuries.” (82) Hahn gives a brief history of the founding of the Carolina colony to establish a foundation for the transformation in the colonists’ economic behavior. Indian trade was the first prominent economic venture for the proprietors who desired the colony to give them an economic return. His argument on dependency theory is thorough as he points out that the Indians were interested in the trade goods more for their aesthetic value. Hahn states, “southeastern Indians were loath to return to the ‘primitive’ technologies of their forefathers.”(109) This appears a somewhat broad statement to make including all southeastern Indians. While pottery may not be considered a technology, many Indians in the southeast never left this craft behind. It would be interesting to consider other scholars viewpoints of the dependency theory.
In “The Cultural Landscape of the North Carolina Piedmont at Contact,” R.P. Stephen Davis, Jr. argues that geographically there was culturally diversity among the native groups that lived in the Piedmont region. He considers the cultural landscape by reviewing the ethnohistory of the region beginning with the exploration of Hernando de Soto in 1540 and ending with John Lawson in 1701. Lawson witnessed changes in the cultural landscape due to depopulation, the Iroquois raids, the fur trade, and the Tuscarora, Yamasee, and Cheraw Wars. Davis provides mapping to illustrate the change in the cultural landscape through approximated population data from 1540 to 1600. He emphasizes that the factors listed above contributed to an “ever changing cultural landscape” in the southeast, which affected all tribes in the region.
Books related to trade:
Fiske, Jo Anne, ed. New Faces of the Fur Trade: Selected Papers of the Seventh North American Fur Trade Conference, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1995. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1998.
Waselkov, Gregory. “Seventeenth-Century Trade in the Colonial Southeast.” Southeastern Archaeology 8 (1989): 117-133.
White, Richard. The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change Among the Choctaw, Pawnees, and Navajos. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.
____. Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.