Waccamaw Siouan

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Waccamaw Siouan Indians are one of eight state-recognized Native American tribal nations in North Carolina. Formerly Siouan-speaking, they are located predominantly in the southeastern North Carolina counties of Bladen and Columbus. They adopted this name in 1948. Their communities are St. James, Buckhead, and Council, with the Waccamaw Siouan tribal homeland situated on the edge of Green Swamp about 37 miles from Wilmington, North Carolina, seven miles from Lake Waccamaw, and four miles north of Bolton, North Carolina.[1]


According to the 2000 Census, the total Waccamaw Siouan Native American population in Columbus and Bladen counties was 2,343 (1,697 and 646, respectively). This represents 2.7% of the total combined Native American population of North Carolina. Current tribal enrollment consists of 1,245 members.[2]

Between 1980 and 2000, the two-county area experienced a small overall population increase of 6.7% compared with a 37% rate of growth for North Carolina. The growth in the two counties was mostly in the Native American and Hispanic populations€”61% and 295%, respectively. There was also a 7% increase in the black population, and a 0.6% decrease in the white population.[3]


The tribe is governed by the Waccamaw Siouan Tribal Council, Inc., consisting of six members who are elected by the tribal membership with staggered terms of one to three years. The Tribal Chief's position was formerly inherited or handed down in personal appointment. It is now an elected position. The tribe also has an Elders Review Committee, which conducts monthly tribal meetings to inform and educate members about issues of importance to the tribe as a whole. The opinions and suggestions of tribal members are solicited during these meetings and are incorporated into the decision-making process.

The tribal council employs a tribal administrator to handle the day-to-day operations of the tribe, with an annual budget of approximately $1 million. The administrator supervises the management of tribal grant programs and provides a monthly reporting of the status of grant activities to local, state, and federal agencies, private donors, the tribal council, and tribal members.[4]

State and Federal Recognition

The Waccamaw Siouan Indians were recognized by the state of North Carolina in 1971, and holds membership on the NC Commission of Indian Affairs as per NCGS 143B-407. The Tribe was incorporated as a 501(c)3 organization in 1977. Lumbee Legal Services, Inc. represents the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe in its administrative process for seeking Federal recognition.[5][6][7]


The earliest Europeans in the Carolinas were astounded by the linguistic diversity of what is now the Southeastern United States. Within the region now known as North Carolina, three language families were represented, as distinct from one another as Indo-European languages are from Finno-Ugric languages:

The ancestral Siouan Woccon language of the Waccamaw Siouan Indians of North Carolina was lost due to devastating population losses and social disruption of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


The Legend of Lake Waccamaw

Since its earliest recorded exploration in 1735 by the naturalist William Bartram, (who was assisted in his efforts by Waccamaw Indians), Lake Waccamaw has been the subject of many stories describing its legendary origin. Many have proved to be the fanciful inventions of early European settlers.

According to the Waccamaw Siouan Indians, thousands of years ago, an immense meteor appeared in the night sky toward the southwest. Flaming to a brilliance of suns as it hurtled earthward, the meteor finally struck, burning itself deep within the earth. The waters of the surrounding swamps and rivers flowed into the crater and cooled it, creating the gem-blue, verdant green lake. Some historians contend that this story is the mid-twentieth century invention of James E. Alexander.[8]

Sixteenth century

Some historians contend that the 1521 Spanish expedition led by Francisco Girebillo must have encountered a Waccamaw village when they traveled inland from the Carolina coast along the Waccamaw and Pee Dee rivers. Describing the inhabitants of the river valley as semi-nomadic, Girebillo noted that they relied on hunting and gathering, and limited agriculture. He wrote that the people practiced mortuary customs "peculiar" to them, but failed to describe their distinctive practices in any detail.[9]

Seventeenth century

A little less than 150 years later, the Englishman William Hilton recorded his encounter with the Waccamaw Siouan people, calling them the 'Woccon. In 1670, the German surveyor and physician John Lederer mentioned them in his Discoveries. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Woccon (Waccamaw), along with a number of Pee Dee River tribes, had been pushed north by a combination of Spanish and Cusabo forces. Some of the earliest English travelers to the interior of the Carolinas, John Lederer in 1670 and John Lawson some thirty years later, referred to the Waccamaw in their travel narratives as an Eastern Siouan people. They were repeating information from others; neither visited the area of wetlands where some of the Waccamaw were beginning to seek refuge from colonial incursions.

Eighteenth century

Settling around the confluence of the Waccamaw and Pee Dee Rivers, this amalgam of tribes had fragmented by 1705 to form a group of Woccon who moved farther north to the Lower Neuse River and Contentnea Creek.[10] The first written mention of the Woccon (or Waccamaw) by English colonials was recorded in 1712. The South Carolina Colony tried to persuade the Waccamaw, along with the Cape Fear Indians, to join the son of the former British colonial governor of South Carolina, James Moore, in his expedition against the Tuscarora in the Tuscarora War.

In fact, the Woccon Indians, the Siouan tribe which John Lawson had placed a few miles to the south of the Tuscarora in his New Voyage to Carolina (1700), ceased to exist for British colonial administrators by that particular name. Having moved southward as a group, the Woccon became listed in colonial records as the Waccamaw. Since differing colonial powers could only approximate the sound of the names of numerous Southeastern indigenous polities, tribal names were often arbitrarily changed or altered in their spelling. Waccamaw, for example, appeared in the historical record at about the same time that "Woccon" disappeared.

The Waccamaw continued to inhabit the region along the Waccamaw and Pee Dee River until 1718, when they relocated to the Weenee, or Black River area. In 1720, they joined with fleeing families of Tuscarora, Cheraw, Keyauwee, and Hatteras Indians along Drowning Creek, now known as the Lumbee, or Lumber River. Families of Waccamaw Indians continued to live along Drowning Creek until 1733, when some families again sought refuge elsewhere€”this time, along Lake Waccamaw and Green Swamp.

Historians and the Tuscarora Nation[ contend that most Tuscarora migrated to New York, where by 1722 they were accepted as the Sixth Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy or Haudenosaunee. The Tuscarora Nation says that any members who stayed behind were no longer considered to be members of the tribe.

By the second decade of the eighteenth century, many Waccamaw, also known as the Waccommassus, were located one hundred miles northeast of Charleston, South Carolina. In 1749, a war broke out between the Waccamaw and South Carolina Colony. By May 1778, the Council of South Carolina tried to offer the Waccamaw protection during the American Revolution, but their promises were found wanting in the chaos of war.

After the Waccamaw-South Carolina War, the Waccamaw sought refuge in the wetland region situated on the edge of Green Swamp, near Lake Waccamaw. They settled four miles north of present-day Bolton, North Carolina, along what is still known as the "Old Indian Trail."[11]

Nineteenth century

State land deeds and other colonial records substantiate the oral traditions of the Waccamaw Siouan Indians and their claim to the Green Swamp region. Given their three-century-long historical experience of European contact, the Waccamaw Siouan Indians had become highly acculturated. They depended on European-style agriculture and established claims to land through individual farmsteads.[12]

In 1835, following Nat Turner's slave rebellion, North Carolina passed laws restricting the rights and movements of free blacks. Because Native Americans were classified equally as "Free people of color," the Waccamaw Siouan Indians and others were stripped of their political and civil rights. They could no longer vote, bear arms, or serve in the state militia. Local whites intensified harassment of the Waccamaw Siouan Indians after the ratification of North Carolina's discriminatory state constitution.[13]


Through much of the nineteenth century, Waccamaw Siouan children received no public school education. None existed in the South before the American Civil War. During Reconstruction, Republican-dominated legislatures established public schools, but legislators had to agree to racially segregated facilities to get them passed by the multi-racial coalitions. Having been free before the war, Waccamaw Siouan parents decided they did not want to enroll their children in school with the children of freedmen. The public schools had only two classifications: white and all other (black and mixed-race or "people of color").

Late in the 19th century, the Croatan (now called Lumbee) managed to secure state recognition as Indians in North Carolina and establish a separate school. The Coharie tribes managed to build their own schools and later still, develop their own school system. The Waccamaw Siouans followed suit with the Doe Head School in 1885. The school, situated in the Buckhead Indian community, was open only sporadically. It closed in 1921, when the state sent a black teacher to the school, and the community asked the teacher to leave.[14]

Twentieth century

The first county-supported Indian school open to Waccamaw Siouans was called the "Wide Awake School." The school was built in 19xx in the Buckhead community in Bladen County. Classes were taught by a Lumbee teacher, Welton Lowry. Waccamaw Siouan students who wished to attend high school among self-identified Indians went to the Coharie Indian community's East Carolina High School in Clinton, North Carolina; the Lumbee Fairmont High School in Fairmont, Robeson County; or the Catawba Indian School in South Carolina.[15]

The Waccamaw Siouan Indians received state recognition in 1971. They are working on documentation to gain federal recognition.[8]

Relationship to other North Carolina Indian Tribes

Like most North Carolina Indian groups, the Waccamaw Siouan Indians have a long tradition of affiliation with other tribal nations. Kinship practices first observed in the colonial era continue through intermarriage with other tribes.

The occurrence of particular surnames found among the three groups: Campbell, Freeman, Jacobs,Patrick, Graham, Hammonds,Blanks, Hunt, Locklear, Moore, Strickland, Young, Bowen, Godwin, Lacewells, Daniels, Spauldings, and are common among the Lumbee, Coharie and Waccamaw Siouan Indians.[16]


  1. See Sylvia Pate and Leslie S. Stewart, Economic Development Assessment for the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe (Pembroke, NC: University of North Carolina, 2003), p.5; and Thomas E. Ross, American Indians in North Carolina: Geographic Interpretations (Southern Pines, N.C.: Karo Hollow Press, 1999), pp. 137-140.
  2. U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000 Census of Population, Social and Economic Characteristics: North Carolina (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2003); and Pate and Ste "Coverage Differences in the Census of a Rural Minority Community in North Carolina: the Little Branch area of the Waccamaw Sioux Tribe," Final Report-1990 Decennial Census report: Ethnographic Evaluation of the 1990 Decennial Census Report (Washington, DC: Center for Survey Methods Research, Bureau of the Census, 1992); and Ross, American Indians in North Carolina, p. 140.
  3. Pate and Stewart, Economic Development Assessment, p.9.
  4. Pate and Stewart, Economic Development Assessment, p.8.
  5. See Clarke Beach, "Congress Asked to Recognize Waccamaw Indians in State," Daily Times-News Burlington, N.C., (18 April 1950).
  6. "Congress Hears of Lost N.C. Tribe," Asheville Citizen, Asheville, N.C. (27 April 1950)
  7. Ross, American Indians in North Carolina, pp. 137-148
  8. 8.0 8.1 Ross, American Indians in North Carolina, p.137.
  9. Martin T. Smith, Archaeology of Aboriginal Culture Change in the Interior Southeast: Depopulation During the Early Historic Period (Gainesville, FLA: University of Florida Press, 1987).
  10. For some of the earliest accounts of the Waccamaw, refer to John Lederer, The Discoveries of John Lederer (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, Inc. 1966); and John Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina, ed. Hugh Talmadge Lefler (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967).
  11. For insightful analyses of the Native Southeast's formative post-Contact period, see Alan Gallay, The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670-1717 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002); James H. Merrell, The Indians' New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993); Patricia Lerch, "State-Recognized Indians of North Carolina, Including a History of the Waccamaw Sioux," in J. Anthony Paredes, ed., Indians of the Southeastern United States in the Late 20th Century (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1992), pp. 44-71; Charles Hudson, The Southeastern Indians (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1976); Chapman Milling, Red Carolinians (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1969); and Douglas L. Rights, American Indians in North Carolina (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1947).
  12. Jo E. Aldred, "No More Cigar Store Indians: Ethnographic and Historical Representations By and Of the Waccamaw-Siouan Peoples and their Socioeconomic, Legal, and Political Consequences", Dialectical anthropology, 1993, vol. 18, no2, pp. 207-244
  13. For elucidations of the complexities of race vis-a-viz Native peoples of the Southeast and South, see Peggy Pascoe, "Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of 'Race' in Twentieth-Century America," Journal of American History 83 (June 1996): 44-69; Eva M. Garoutte, Real Indian: Identity and the Survival of Native America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Virginia Dominguez, White By Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1986). For literature on similar tribal remnants and historical experiences, see Karen Blu, The Lumbee Problem: The Making of an American Indian People (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980); and Gerald M. Sider, Lumbee Indian Histories: Race, Ethnicity, and Indian Identity in the Southern United States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); James H. Merrell, "Cultural Continuity among the Piscataway Indians of Colonial Maryland," William and Mary Quarterly 36: 548-70; and Merrell's "The Racial Education of the Catawba Indians," Journal of Southern History vol. 50, no. 3. (Aug., 1984), pp. 363-384.
  14. Ross, American Indians in North Carolina, p.144.
  15. Columbus County Board of Education Minutes. Book 1, p.5., 1885; Ross, American Indians in North Carolina, p.144-145; Lerch, "State-Recognized Indians of North Carolina," pp. 44-71; Waccamaw Legacy: Contemporary Indians Fight for Survival (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004); and "Articulatory Relationships: The Waccamaw Struggle Against Assimilation," in James Peacock and James Sabella, eds., Sea and Land: Cultural and Biological Adaptations in the Southern Coastal Plain (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988), pp. 76-91.
  16. Julian T. Pierce, Cynthia Hunt-Locklear, Jack Campisi, Wesley White, The Lumbee Petition, 3 vols. (Pembroke, NC: Lumbee River Legal Services, 1987), pp.1-79.