History of Tybee Island Series – July 2010

August 4, 2010 by  
Filed under History & Folklore, News

In The Beginning
By Reginald Frasier

The Prehistoric Tybee Island

Approximately 3 million years ago, the isthmus of Panama uplifted and closed off the flow of warm tropical water from the Pacific Ocean into the Atlantic Ocean. This resulted in closing off the beneficial thermohaline circulation in the Atlantic Ocean, thermo for temperature and haline for salinity, components necessary for equilibrium in Earth’s overall temperature and weather patterns. This shutdown of the thermohaline flow resulted in the formation of ice caps covering the North American and European continents, which we refer to as the Pliocene-Quaternary Glaciation, of which we are currently in the Holocene interglacial stage.

At the end of the last Ice Age,12,000 years ago, melting of the ice caps resulted in cold freshwater overfilling Lake Aggasiz which was a megalake of enormous proportions covering the area from the great lakes to cover most of Ontario and Quebec. When the Laurentian ice dam broke, this tremendous amount of cold fresh water poured into the north Atlantic along the path which marks the course of the St. Lawrence River today. This inflow of cold fresh water started the thermohaline belt once again. This raised sea levels over 150 feet causing Tybee Island to be cut off from the mainland and initiated the Gulf Stream current in the north Atlantic. Tybee Island then took the  shape and dimensions we see today, with small variations during the ensuing millennium.

Approximately 11,000 years ago, one thousand years after the end of the last ice age, Tybee Island exhibited evidence of human habitation. From that time to the time of the Spanish invasion, numerous Native American tribes visited Tybee Island for various reasons. The Native Americans, notably the Muscogee Creek, Chickasaw, Savannah River Shawnee (Savannah Indians), Cherokee and Euchee, used dugout canoes of Cyprus trees from the Ogeechee swamp area to navigate the coastal waterways. These nomadic tribes hunted and camped in Georgia’s coastal islands for thousands of years.

Tybee Island was rich in wildlife, game and wild grains, as well as large deposits of salt, the one mineral most useful to the roving tribes of the early southeast.

There is archeological evidence on the islands of these wayfaring tribes continuing to the time of the Spanish explorers arrival in the area in the 1500s when written records began to be kept. The Euchee tribe was the predominant tribe inhabiting the island in the years preceding the arrival of the first Spanish explorers and shortly thereafter. “Tybee” means “salt” in the Euchee language.

The Euchee Language

The Euchee language was an isolate, unrelated to nearby tribes, much as the Basques of northern Spain remained separate and distinct among their territory from the Spanish, and whose language is not related to any other nearby peoples. As the Basques were primarily fishermen, the Euchee were likewise, although the Euchee did subsist on local flora and fauna also.

They called themselves the Tsoyaha, meaning “Children of the Sun” reflecting a beliefs system different from their neighbors, not relating to a Creator, or benevolent Father, but rather relating to the elements.  The Euchee language does not closely resemble any other Native American language, suggesting a long period of isolation from other Native American Tribes of the historic era, which would make sense in their isolated habitation on the island during their formative years. The Euchee were the Indian tribe encountered by the exploring Spaniards when they arrived on the island in the 1520s.

The Euchee

The Euchee, also spelled Uchee and Yuchi, were a Native American Indian tribe who historically lived in the eastern Tennessee River valley in Tennessee, northern Georgia, and northern Alabama. In this area they came into conflict with neighboring tribes, like the Muscogee Creek, the Chickasaw and especially the Cherokee throughout their history. These conflicts with neighboring tribes drove a contingent south toward the area which historically became Savannah. These became the Savannah Euchee and the early inhabitants of Tybee.

The origin of the Euchee has long been a mystery. European colonial records note the Euchee dating back to the 17th century. Some scholars have suggested that the Euchee and the Westo were the same people, but this theory has since been discarded.

Both historical and archaeological evidence exists documenting several Euchee towns of the 18th century. One of the earlier towns to be recorded to colonial records is that of Chestowee in southeastern Tennessee. In 1714, instigated by two traders from South Carolina, the Cherokee attacked and destroyed the Euchee town of Chestowee. The Cherokee were prepared to carry their attacks to the Savannah River Euchee settlements, but when word that the government of South Carolina did not condone these attacks, the Cherokee held back.
The Cherokee destruction of the Euchee Chestowee marked the emergence of the Cherokee as a major indigenous power in southern Tennessee, western North Carolina and northern Georgia.

Another early Euchee town was at Mount Pleasant on the Savannah River in present-day Effingham County, Georgia, from about 1722 to about 1750.

A large Euchee town known as “Uche town” existed on the Chattahoochee River during the middle to late 1700s. It was located near Uche Creek, about 10 miles downriver from the Creek settlement of Coweta Old Town. The artist William Bartram visited the town in the 1770s, and praised its layout and thriving population in his letters. A Euchee town existed at Silver Bluff in Aiken County, South Carolina from 1746 to 1751. “Patsiliga” was noted on the Flint River in the late 1700s. There were also possible Euchee towns on the Oconee River near Uchee Creek in Wilkinson County, Georgia, and on Brier Creek in Burke County, Georgia or Screven County, Georgia.

It can easily be seen the Euchee, though separate from other Native American tribes, spread their influence throughout the territory marked by the boundaries of the state of Georgia.

The Spanish Invasion

In 1526 Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón’s expedition into South Carolina and Georgia laid claim to what is now Tybee Island and named it Los Bajos (the Low Country). It was at the northern end of the Guale missionary province of Spanish Florida.

During the late 16th and early 17th century, the Spanish, expanding north from its Florida settlements, established missionary settlements along the lines of the Roman Catholic missionary system, to incorporate the natives into manageable areas. The most prominent of these was the Guale, named after one of the main chiefdoms of the area. The Guale was an historic Native American chiefdom along the coast of present-day Georgia, mostly the Sea Islands, of which Tybee was the northernmost. Another missionary settlement was the Mocama, who mainly inhabited the southern Sea Islands from the Altamaha River to the St. John’s River of northern Florida.

During the late 17th century and early 18th century, Guale society was shattered from extensive epidemics of new European infectious diseases and warfare with other Native American tribes. Some of the surviving remnants migrated to the mission areas of Spanish Florida while others remained near the Georgia coast. Joining with other survivors, they became known as the Yamasee, an ethnically mixed group forced into the Savannah River coastal area by both the Carolina English and the Florida Spanish.

Together with Mocama survivors, 89 “mission Indians”, some Euchee included, evacuated with the Spanish to Cuba in 1763, after they ceded the missionary provinces to the Carolina English.


(Next edition discover Tybee’s real  connection with Pirates, English Settlers, the Yamasee and James Oglethorpe.)

Reginald Frasier is an historian and freelance writer who lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Contact him at: reggiefras@aol.com

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2 Responses to “History of Tybee Island Series – July 2010”
  1. peaire photobee says:

    The uchee or euchee or Uchean still exist today along the savannah river on both sides of Allendale county south carolina and screven county ga. The savannah river band of euchee indian tribe. you can fine them on facebook. savannah riverband of euchee indians. and there website is http://www.srbeucheetribalnation.org

  2. Editor says:

    Peaire Photobee: Yes. I have studied their history and learned much about them, including the fact that they are one of the oldest tribes in North America, with a very unique and distinct language unlike any of the others. I’m personally interested in the early settlements along the Ogeechee River, and will definitely look for them on Facebook. Thank’s for the comment.

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