The Chicora is the oldest and at one time the largest Nation in South Carolina. The Nation originally stretched a little south of the Winyah Bay in Georgetown County to the Cape Fear River in North Carolina and as far west as the piedmont region. The Chicora people grew corn, tobacco, gourds, squash, and beans in their gardens and domesticated animals like deer and chickens. They fished the rivers and salt water marshes of the area as well as sea fishing.
Because of their location, the Chicora may have been some of the first Native Americans to see the Spanish explorers arrive on June 24, 1521 on Saint John The Baptist Day. According to writer Paul Quattlebaum, the Spaniards were led by Francisco Gordillo, a skipper for Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon. More than likely the Spanish entered through the north channel of what is now known as Winyah Bay in Georgetown, SC.
The name Chicora is said to have come from the natives themselves, though it has sometimes been seen as Shakori or Chiquola. Historians Oviedo and Peter Martyr used the word Chicora; Martyr also used Chicorana. The Frenchman, Laudonniere, who heard the names from the Indians at Port Royal in 1562, wrote it Chiquola.
Quattlebaum, in The Land Called Chicora, relates that the Indians who were on the beach when the first Spaniards arrived thought these newcomers to be “great sea monsters or gods” and ran to the woods. Two of them were overtaken by the Spaniards and taken to the ships, dressed in Spanish clothing, and given many presents. They were allowed to return to their people, thus presenting the Spaniards as friends. Many natives then approached the Spaniards, who gave them gifts and began friendly exchanges. In confidence of this new relationship, the Chicora Chief sent fifty men to the ships to deliver gifts of skins, little pearls, and a bit of silver. The chief provided guides to help the Spaniards cross the bay and explore the countryside, noticing its rich soil. On Sunday, June 31, 1521, Gordillo, with another captain, took possession of the land in the name of their king, cutting crosses in the trees.
The hospitality of the people who called themselves “Chicora” was to be rewarded with cruelty. With one hundred and forty Chicorans aboard ship for entertainment, the Spaniards set out to sea with the first Chicoran slaves, destined for Hisponiola. Ayllon, who did not approve of the taking of slaves, declared them to be free and issued an order for them to be returned to their land. Waiting for travel, these Chicorans were left in Ayllon’s custody.
Ayllon travelled to Spain with one of the Indians, whom he named Francisco Chicora. While in Spain they met historians Oviedo and Peter Martyr, both of whom wrote about Francisco Chicora. Martyr wrote that these Indians had no written language, but that traditions and tales were passed down from father to son. The story of Vasquez de Ayllon and the unsuccessful attempts to firmly settle on the rich land of South Carolina is the story of the beginning of the decimation of the Chicoras.
Not only the Spanish but also the French were exploring the coast of South Carolina. Captain Jean Ribaut and his crew struck their sails, casting anchor at what is now Port Royal, which to the Spaniards was known as Santa Elena. While there, Ribaut found the natives to be hospitable and friendly, inviting him and his men to their homes and showering the Frenchmen with well-tanned skins, some pearls, and baskets made of palm leaves. Two young Indians, who were serving to guide Ribaut and one of his lieutenants, Rene de Laudonniere, offered to take the Frenchmen “to see the greatest Lord of this country whom they called Chiquola,” who lived within the land toward the north.
The French-Spanish contention for the Santa Elena section of the land of the Chicoras resulted in many battles. The Spaniards are said to have attacked and either killed or drove the Frenchmen into the sea. Those who retreated into the interior of the land were said to be conquered later by the Spanish. There followed several renewed attempts by the French to take the land from the Spaniards; in the midst of these battles and revolts, the native Chicorans were forced to take sides. In the process many were massacred.
One hundred and fifty years after the first discovery of the land the Indians called Chicora, the English settlers came to stay. With them came many diseases the natives had no immunity to withstand, such as smallpox, measles, and typhus. With the settlers came many battles and the deaths of more than eighty percent of the accepted number of one million Southern Indians.
Those who were not killed or forcibly moved north or west took themselves into the swamps and remained hidden, or at least silent, for several hundred years. In one of the last recorded Chicoran activities, Chief Eno Jemmy Warrior and many of his warriors met at Cherawtown with the Catawbas in 1743 during an attempt by the government to force all remaining Indians to move to the Catawba community.
The Chicora Indians, like many other Native American tribes, have deep gaps in their recorded histories. These gaps make their history none-the-less real and none-the-less important. Suffering death and destruction by European imperialists, the Chicora met the same fate as millions of other native peoples in North America. The history of the Chicora Indian includes the forced assimilation of tribal members into white communities, even though white people rarely were concerned about Indian matters. According to a character in a novel by Linda Hogan, “Indians were a shadow people, living almost invisibly on the fringes.
A peaceful tribe, the Chicora traded gifts with the Spanish, but the Spanish explorers to the New World had few good intentions. Many Chicora were taken from their land as slaves. D’Allyon, one of the earliest Spanish explorers of America, traveled to Spain with Francisco Chicora, a member of the Chicora tribe that received a baptismal name Francisco. There, Francisco learned Spanish and told the Spanish royalty about the beauty of his tribal lands.
The history of the Chicora people shares much in common with the history of other tribes in South Carolina. They often suffered from discrimination and were forced to attend separate schools, but throughout their struggle they have kept a bond with their Native American roots. Members of our tribe still live near the South Carolina coast.