Periagua

In colonial South Carolina the periagua was the workhorse of river travel. It took settlers to the backcountry and served as their main vehicle of transportation and supply.

A periagua was a long narrow canoe made from the hollowed trunk of a tree, sometimes widened by being built of two sections with a flat bottom inserted between. The addition of planks along the sides could deepen the vessel. The name derives from piragua, the Carib word for dugout canoe, which the Spanish adopted.

In colonial South Carolina the periagua was the workhorse of river travel. It took settlers to the backcountry and served as their main vehicle of transportation and supply. The commissioners of the Indian trade utilized periaguas to send trade goods such as cloth, blankets, tools, salt, gunpowder, guns, and rum to Indian nations and to bring back deerskins that were exported at great profit. The provincial legislature authorized periaguas as scout boats to patrol the inland passages south of Charleston to protect the colony against hostile Indians and Spanish raiders from St. Augustine.

Because individuals working independently constructed boats using available materials to serve their own needs, the sizes and shapes of boats classified broadly as periaguas differed widely. The builders used local cypress with a basic Indian dugout design enhanced by European boat-building techniques. Four to ten oarsmen supplied the motive power in narrow rivers, but some periaguas carried sails and removable masts for coastal bays or brief forays into open ocean. It is likely that a schooner rig was common, and the terms “schooner” and “periagua” were probably interchangeable because “schooner” describes the rigging and “periagua” refers to the hull. The average periagua had the capacity to carry thirty to fifty barrels of rice.

Braund, Kathryn E. Holland. Deerskins and Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685–1815. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Crane, Verner. The Southern Frontier, 1670–1732. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1928.

Fleetwood, William C., Jr. Tidecraft: The Boats of South Carolina, Georgia and Northeastern Florida, 1550–1950. Tybee Island, Ga.: WBG Marine Press, 1995.

Ivers, Larry E. “Scouting the Inland Passage, 1685–1737.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 73 (July 1972): 117–29.

Lawson, John. A New Voyage to Carolina. 1709. Reprint, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967.

Linder, Suzanne C., with Emily Linder Johnson. A River in Time: The Yadkin– Pee Dee River System. Spartanburg, S.C.: Palmetto Conservation Foundation, 2000.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Periagua
  • Author
  • Keywords long narrow canoe made from the hollowed trunk of a tree, workhorse of river travel,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date September 23, 2020
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update October 24, 2016
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