The Pee Dee tribe (also spelled Pedee and Peedee) are a nation of American Indians of the southeast United States; their population is concentrated in the Piedmont of present-day South Carolina. Four tribes claiming Pee Dee descent have been officially recognized by the state since 2005; none has federal recognition. In the 17th and 18th centuries, English colonists named the Pee Dee River and the Pee Dee region of South Carolina for the nation.
The Pee Dee were part of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture that developed in the region as early as 980 CE, extending into present-day North Carolina and Tennessee. Their Town Creek Indian Mound and village site has been designated a National Historic Landmark, the only such landmark in North Carolina to commemorate an American Indian culture. Scholars are unsure of the Pee Dee language, although it was likely related to the Siouan languages, as were the languages of neighboring small tribes in the Piedmont region.
The Pee Dee were part of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture, and part of a larger complex society known for building earthwork mounds for spiritual and political purposes. They participated in a widespread network of trading that stretched from Georgia through South Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and as well as the mountain and Piedmont regions of North Carolina. Archeological research has demonstrated that the Pee Dee had developed in the region as a culture by 980 CE and thrived in the Pee Dee River region of present-day North and South Carolina during the Pre-Columbian era. As an example, the Town Creek Indian Mound site in western North Carolina was occupied from about 1150—1400 CE.
In his 1970 work, anthropologist Charles Hudson had described the prehistoric and proto-historic ancestors of the Pee Dee as possibly a “southern chiefdom” of the southeastern Mississippian culture type. There was evidence that around 1550 A.D., some historical Pee Dee migrated from the lower Pee Dee River of the Atlantic Coastal Plain to the upper Pee Dee River of the Piedmont. Neighboring tribes in the Piedmont spoke Siouan languages, but those of the Lowcountry spoke Algonquian languages. Hudson thought the Pee Dee were concentrated in the Piedmont for about a century.
Extensive archeological research for 50 years since 1937 at the Town Creek Indian Mound and village site in western North Carolina near the border with South Carolina has provided insights into their culture.
Colonial and 19th-Century History
Francis Marion, the general under whom Pee Dee men fought in the American Revolution.
English colonists settled first in coastal areas, such as Charleston and Savannah. Their traders penetrated the interior, establishing relations with various American Indian tribes, including the Pee Dee.
American Indians resisted the encroachment of colonists, and in the early 18th century, the Tuscarora War broke out. The Tuscarora people were an Iroquoian-speaking tribe, and American Indians typically aligned along language lines. The Pee Dee allied with other American Indian nations and English colonial settlers against the Tuscarora, helping to defeat them. As a result, most of the Tuscarora left the area and migrated north, reaching present-day New York to join the related Iroquois tribes around the Great Lakes. Their leaders said that Tuscarora remaining in South Carolina after 1722 were no longer considered part of the tribe.
The political relationships formed between the Pee Dee and other tribes in the area at this time carried over into their alliances of the Yamasee War. The Yamasee War of 1715-1717 resulted in major changes among the southeastern tribes. By some accounts the Pee Dee, along with many other tribes, were “utterly extirpated”. But some survivors may have found refuge with the Siouan-speaking Catawba, who were located closer to the South and North Carolina border. Other survivors either remained along the lower Pee Dee River or returned in the years following the Yamasee War.
In 1737, the tribe petitioned South Carolina for a parcel of land to live upon. They, along with the Notchees (also spelled Nochis), were moved to a 100-acre (0.40 km2) reservation provided by James Coachman in 1738. This reservation was in Berkeley County, along the Edisto River.
Conflicts in 1744 led to the Catawba forcing the Pee Dee off the reservation lands and back into white settlements. South Carolina colonists referred to Indians living within the European-settled areas as “Settlement Indians.” A 1740s list of such tribes included the Pee Dee. In 1752 the Catawba asked South Carolina to encourage the Pee Dee “Settlement Indians” to move north and rejoin the Catawba.
During the American Revolution, a company of Pee Dee warriors fought for the Continentals under the British-American general Francis Marion. Known as the Raccoon Company, their company of riflemen was headed by Captain John Alston, a colonist. A group of Pee Dee men who had lived on John Coachman’s land were recorded as being under the command of Colonel William Thompson. Many of the militia received grants of land as a form of payment following the conclusion of the war.
Following the American Revolution, the Pee Dee tribe was mentioned only once in governmental documents. During the decades, Pee Dee descendants intermarried with both white and black residents. Under the terms of segregation, they were forced into one or another category. Some members of the remnant tribe began assimilation into the majority white society. This enabled their descendants to avoid removal to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) in the 1830s.
Such assimilation led to a number of issues in the 20th century. During the South’s period of racial segregation and classifying all people into a binary society, appearing and identifying as “white” brought people more privileges and freedom. Since many Pee Dee were of mixed ancestry, some began to identify as white to make their daily lives easier, and gradually assimilated to the white community. The state classified those of darker complexions as black and made their children attend segregated “black” schools. Some attended one of the few Indian schools around the Neeses and Charleston areas during that time.
Some Pee Dee institutions created during the years of segregation have continued to be maintained to this day. One example is the Rocky Swamp Methodist Church, with a majority Pee Dee congregation, in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Its members observe a combination of Methodist and Native American Church religions. Many Pee Dee people are buried in its historic cemetery.
The people identifying as Pee Dee live primarily in Dillon and Marlboro counties in South Carolina. Other descendants of the historic tribe have affiliated with several different tribes, such as the Catawba people: members live mostly in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia.
Since 2005, South Carolina has acknowledged organized Pee Dee groups as state recognized tribes. Some include descendants of other peoples who have organized with them. They include:
• Pee Dee Nation of Upper South Carolina (recognized in 2005), 532 members, living primarily in Dillon and Marlboro counties;
• Beaver Creek Indians (recognized in 2006), primarily in Orangeburg County between the forks of the Edisto River;
• Pee Dee Indian Tribe of South Carolina (recognized in 2006), and
• Pee Dee Indian Nation of Beaver Creek (recognized in 2007).
Issues of identity and politics have prevented these bands from uniting as one Pee Dee tribe. Each is also seeking federal recognition. The only tribe in South Carolina that has gained federal recognition is the related Catawba tribe.
Little is known about what kind of language the historic Pee Dee spoke. Based on a theory proposed by James Mooney in his 1894 Siouan Tribes of the East, and reinforced by John R. Swanton in his 1936 essay “Early History of the Eastern Siouan Tribes”, the Pee Dee are surmised to have spoken a Siouan language, specifically an “Eastern” or “Southeastern” Siouan language. The archeological research that documents Pee Dee culture in the Piedmont since the late 10th century suggests they may have spoken a Siouan language, in common with other tribes that emerged in this region.
Common Pee Dee Indian surnames that impact us are Bowen, Braveboy, Chavis, Lowery and Oxendine.