The meaning of the name Cusabo is perhaps "Coosawhatchie River people."
There is little doubt that the Cusabo belonged to the Muskhogean linguistic family. Their closest connections appear to have been with the Indians of the Georgia coast, the Guale.
The Cusabo primarily lived in the southernmost part of South Carolina, between Charleston Harbor and Savannah River, and including most of the valleys of the Ashley, Edisto, Ashepoo, Combahee, Salkehatchie, and Coosawhatchie Rivers.
These people should be divided first into the Cusabo proper, who occupied all the coast, and the Coosa, who were inland upon the rivers above mentioned. The Cusabo proper seem to have consisted of a northern group of tribes or sub-tribes, including the Etiwaw (on Wando River), Wando (on Cooper River), Kiawa (on the lower vourse of Ashley River), and perhaps the Stone (about Stono Entrance); and a southern group including the Edisto (on Edisto Island), Ashepoo (on lower Ashepoo River), Combahee (on lower combahee River), Wimbee (between the latter and the lower Coosawhatchie River), Escamacu (between St. Helena Sound and Broad River), and perhaps a few others. Sometimes early writers erroneously include the Siouan Sewee and Santee as Cusabo.
Ahoyabi, near the preceding.
Aluste, near Beaufort, possibly a form of Edisto.
Awendaw, near Awendaw Creek; it may have been Sewee
Bohicket, near Rockville.
Cambe, near Beaufort.
Mayon, probably on Broad River.
Talapo, probably near Beaufort.
Touppa, probably on Broad River.
Yanahume, probably on the south side of Broad River.
While their country was most likely skirted by earlier navigators, the first certain appearance of the Cusabo in history is in connection with a slave-hunting expedition sent out by Vasques de Ayllon. This reached the mainland in 1521, probably a little north of the Cusabo territory and introduced the blessings of white civilization to the unsuspecting natives by carrying away about 70 of them.
One of these Indians was finally taken to Spain and furnished the historian Peter Martyr with considerable information regarding his country and the names of a number of tribes, some whom were certainly Cusabo.
In 1525, Ayllon sent a second expedition to the region and in 1526 led a colony there. Dissatisfied with his first landing place, probably near the landfall of the expedition of 1521, he moved the colony "40 or 45 leagues" to what is present-day Georgetown, South Carolina. But it did not prosper, Ayllon died, trouble broke out among the survivors, and finally they returned to Haiti in the middle of the following winter.
In 1540, Hernando De Soto passed near this country, but apparently he did not enter it, and the next European contact was brought about by the settlement of Ribault's first colony at Port Royal in 1562. The small number of people left by Ribault managed to maintain themselves for some time with the assistance of friendly natives, but, receiving no relief from France, they became discouraged, and built a small vessel in which a few of them eventually reached home.
In 1564, a Spanish vessel visited this coast for the purpose of rooting out the French settlement. Later the same year, a second Huguenot colony was established on St. Johns River, Florida, and communication was maintained with the Cusabo Indians.
In 1565, this colony was destroyed by the Spaniards who visited Port Royal in quest of certain French refugees, and the year following Fort San Felipe was built at the same place. From this time until 1587 a post was maintained here, although with some intermissions due to Indian risings. The Spanish also had a small settlement on Port Royal, named Santa Elena.
In 156870, a vain attempt was made to missionize the Indians. In 1576 a formidable Indian uprising compelled the abandonment of the fort, but it was soon reoccupied and an Indian town was destroyed in 1579 by way of reprisal. Next year, however, there was a second uprising, making still another abandonment necessary.
The fort was reoccupied in 1582 but abandoned permanently five years later; and after that time there was no regular post in the country but communication was kept up between the Cusabo and St. Augustine and occasional visits seem to have been made by the Franciscan Friars.
Between 1633 and 1655, we have notice of a new mission, in Cusabo territory, called Chatuache, but when the English settled South Carolina in 1670 there appears to have been no regular mission there and certainly no Spanish pest.
Charles Town was founded on Cusabo soil, and from the date of its establishment onward relations were close between the English and Cusabo: In 1671 there was a short war between the colonists and the Coosa Indians, and in 1674, there was further trouble with this people and with the Stono.
In 1675, the Coosa Indians surrendered to the English a large tract of land which constituted the Ashley Barony, and in 1682 what appears to have been a still more sweeping land cession was signed by several of tie Cusabo chiefs.
In 1693, there was another short war, this time between the whites and the Stono.
A body of Cusabo accompanied Colonel John Barnwell on his expedition against the Tuscarora in 1711-12, and this fact may have quickened the consciences of the colonists somewhat, because in 1712 the Island of Palawana, "near the' Island of St. Helena," was granted to them. It appears that most of the Cusabo plantations were already on it but it had inadvertently been granted to a white proprietor.
The Cusabo here mentioned were those of the southern group; there is reason to think that the Kiawa and Coosa were not included.
Early in 1720, "King Gilbert and ye Coosaboys" took part in Colonel John Barnwell's punitive expedition against St. Augustine (Barnwell, 1908).
In 1743, the Kiawa were given a grant of land south of the Combahee River, probably to be near the other coast Indians.
Part of the Coosa may have retired to the Catawba, since Adair (1930) mentions "Coosah'" as one of the dialects spoken in the "Catawba Nation," but others have probably gone to Florida, because, in "A List of New Indian Missions in the Vicinity of St. Augustine," dated December 1, 1726, there is mention of a mission of San Antonio "of the Cosapuya nation and other Indians" containing 43 recently converted Christians and 12 pagans. Two years later we are informed that "the towns of the Casapullas Indians were depopulated," though whether this has reference to the ones in Florida or to those in their old country is not clear.
Mooney (1928) estimates the number of southern Cusabo, exclusive of the Edisto, at 1,200 in 1600, the Edisto at 1,000, the Etiwaw at 600, and the Coosa at 600. He classifies the Stono with the Westo, thereby falling into a common error.
The colonial census of 1715 gives the number of southern Cusabo as 295, including 95 men, in five villages, while the Etiwaw (probably including the other northern Cusabo) had one village, 80 men, and a total population of 240.
There were thus 535 Cusabo over all. The Coosa are nowhere mentioned by name and were probably included with one or the other of these.
The 55 Indians at the Florida mission mentioned above, consisting of individuals of "the Cosapuya nation and other Indians," included 24 men, 13 women, and 18 children.
The first part of the name Coosa is identical in origin with the first part of the of the name of Coosawhatchie River, SC, and a post village.
The people themselves are noted in history as the first in eastern North America north of Florida among whom European settlements were begun. They had an earlier and longer contact with the Gulf of St. Lawrence.