Carolina colonists learned of this powerful Native American Savannah River nation soon after their arrival. Most lowcountry Indians feared the Westos, who had a warlike reputation. In early 1674 the earl of Shaftesbury instructed Dr. Henry Woodward to build a trade relationship with either the Westos or the Cussitaws. When a group of Westos appeared at St. Giles, a plantation at the head of the Ashley River, in the fall of 1674, Woodward returned with them to their village on the Savannah River. He noted that the Westos gave him both ritual friendship greetings as well as a lengthy discourse about their strength. From this visit, Woodward forged an alliance that launched a lucrative trade in skins and Indian slaves. Between 1674 and 1680 Carolina officials supplied the Westos with weapons in return for protection against the Spanish and any other enemies. The deerskin and slave trades made Indian traders wealthy, and the Westos became the best-armed Indian nation in the Southeast. They used their power to capture hundreds of neighboring Indians for the slave trade.
From 1674 to 1677 the trade with the Westos was conducted by private entrepreneurs. Troubled by the trade in slaves, however, as well as seeking to claim the lucrative business for themselves, the Lords Proprietors initiated a seven-year monopoly over the Westos’ trade beginning in 1677. Some disgruntled Carolinians continued a private trade with other Indians, some of whom were enemies of the Westos. Now unsure of their position with the Carolina government, the Westos killed two English subjects, and as a result the government forbade them from entering Charleston. The Westos also stole colonists’ cattle and raided other tribal allies of Carolina. Some sources indicate that private traders deliberately provoked hostilities with the Westos, hoping to profit in war with them from the sale of Indian slaves.
In spring 1680 the Carolina government dispatched the agents John Boone and James Moore to improve relations with the tribe. This effort failed. The Carolina Grand Council then placed a trade embargo on the Westos. Ultimately war erupted from 1680 to 1683 and the colonists secured the military service of the Savannahs, a new area tribe who desired Westo territory, and of the Creeks. The Westo War broke the power of the Westos, without “much Blood shed, or Money spilt” by the colony, as one source noted. Most of the Westos were killed or captured. The survivors at first moved north to join the Iroquois, then relocated to the Ocmulgee River in Georgia, where they were eventually absorbed by the Creek Confederacy.
Crane, Verner. The Southern Frontier, 1670–1732. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1928.
Milling, Chapman J. Red Carolinians. 1940. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1969.