The Sewees were a Native American nation based along the Santee River and the Sea Islands. Nicholas Carteret, an early settler, noted that when the English came to Carolina in 1670, the Sewees showed them the best harbors and gave them ritual greetings of friendship.
The Sewees helped the Carolinians militarily against the Spanish in Florida and with food when the colony ran short. Living in close proximity to Europeans, the Sewees fell victim to a variety of plagues, including smallpox. Interested in trade from the beginning, the Sewees noticed that various middlemen made profits on their trade with Charleston and that certain goods, such as furs and pelts, were sold for high profit back in England.
The Sewees determined to make direct trade contact with English merchants. Seeing ships from England appear on the horizon, they believed that their own sturdy canoes could easily traverse the seas to England, a voyage they imagined as very short. A large number of the nation set to work on this plan and, when ready, loaded their canoes with supplies and trade goods. On open sea they ran into storms that wrecked the fleet, and many Sewees drowned. A passing English slave ship picked up survivors, who were then sold in the West Indies. By 1700 only a handful of this tribe remained alive in the colony. Other tribes absorbed them, and they ceased to exist as a distinct group by the early eighteenth century.
Josephy, Alvin M. 500 Nations: An Illustrated History of North American Indians. New York: Knopf, 1994.
Milling, Chapman J. Red Carolinians. 1940. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1969.