SC Native Americans – Wassamasaw Tribe of Varnertown
South Carolina SC Native Americans SC Indian Tribes SC Wassamasaw Indians of Varnertown
- Alternate spellings: Wasamasaw may have been the orginial spelling, but over time it has changed to Wassamasaw. The group is also known as the Varner Town (or Varnertown) Indian Community.
- Possible meanings: Wassamasaw may mean "connecting water"
- Language family: Muskogean
SC Location, Territory
- Traditional: Berkeley County, Charleston County, Dorchester County
- Today: Headquartered in Moncks Corner, Berkeley County
The Varner Town Indian Community is located in Moncks Corner on 17A about ¼ of a mile from the intersection of US 17A and SC 176 (Carnes Crossroads). Members of the tribe have lived in or near this location for hundreds of years, though they have also lived in the neighboring counties of Charleston and Dorchester.
- The Varnertown Indians are descendants of the Etiwan and Edisto tribes, which were members of the Cusabo family of tribes. They also descend from the Catawba and Cherokee tribes, as well as other tribal entities.
- Known as "Settlement Indians" in several historical records, the Varnertown Indians maintained a close and friendly relationship with the colonial settlers and lived among or near the colonial settlements. Several Native American families of Catawba and Cherokee heritage also settled in the same area in the late eighteenth century and became part of the community. In addition to helping defend colonists against invading hostile Indians during the Yemassee War, the ancestors of this community continued to defend the colonists against hostile Indians for many years after the war. Several ancestors also served in the Revolutionary War and some were members of Marion's Brigade.
- 1880s to 1960s – Before desegregation, there were a total of five Indian schools that served the children of the Varner Town Community from 1883 to around 1963. Four of these schools were located on US 17A from the corner of Galliard Road in St. Johns Berkeley to the intersection of US 78 and US 17A in Summerville.
The Varner Indian School was located in Varner Town and was established by the South Carolina Board of Education in the 1930s. The school closed in 1963 forcing integration of its pupils into the public school system. The Indian school located in St. Johns Berkeley was known as the Barrows Mission School and operated from 1887 until the 1920s or 1930s. The Pine Ridge or Ridge School was located on 17A between Carnes Crossroads and Ridge Baptist Church. The Red School, part of the St. Barnabas Mission, was located in Summerville at the intersection of US 17A and US 78; it operated from 1883 until the 1940s. The fifth school, the Pine View Indian School, was located in the Ten Mile Hill area (present-day Rivers Avenue) in North Charleston. This school was created for the children of some family members who moved to that area to find work in the 1930s and early 1940s.
- October 7, 2007 – The Varner Town Indian Community received a Berkeley County Historical Marker near Carnes Crossroads at US 17A and SC 176 in Berkeley County. The roadside marker pays tribute to the tribe's history and culture. Read the Post and Courier article documenting the event.
The front of the sign reads: "Varner Town (or Varnertown) is a distinct Native American community including descendants of the Etiwan, Catawba, Cherokee, Edisto, and other area tribes. This area, located near Carnes Crossroads and Goose Creek, was named for William Varner (d. 1927) and his wife Mary Williams Varner (d. 1924).
The back of the sign reads: "Several Indian schools served this community. The Varner School, also called the Varner Indian School, was built here in 1939 and closed in 1963. The church nearby has been the center of the community for many years. Nearby Williams Cemetery was named in honor of William W. Williams, an Indian ancestor.
- The following photos were taken in 1938 by Marion Post Wolcott. They show Geneva Varner Clark and her family, their home, and their grinding mill. According to Bo Petersen, reporter for the Post and Courier newspaper, Ms. Clark "was the only resident who identified herself as an Indian. Today, her photo is the only one of a Lowcountry Indian in the Library of Congress."
You can click on the thumbnails of all these photos to enlarge them.
Indian family near Summerville, South Carolina
Home of Indian family near Summerville, South Carolina, with sorghum cane grinder in foreground
Grinding mill for sorghum cane made by Indian family near Summerville, South Carolina
Mud chimney on home of Indian family near Summerville, South Carolina - shows children in front of the Varner porch
Mud chimney on home of Indian family near Summerville, South Carolina - shows mud chimney and children
Beliefs and Practices
Wassamasaw Tribe of Varnertown Indian People
(Submitted by Heidi Varner, 2005)
The Wassamasaw Tribe of Varnertown Indians is a Native American group consisting of bloodline members from the Varnertown Indian community. The Varnertown Indians are descendants of ancient historical tribes that were in the areas of Charleston and Berkeley Counties including Catawba, Cherokee, Edisto and Etiwan, and other tribal entities. The Varnertown Indian Community has over a 150 year history of existence in the Berkeley County area as a Native American Tribal community.
In early times, most of the families were farmers, and the community also established its own local church and the extended family opened their own stores and bars in the community. Other historical documentation includes pictures of family member Geneva Varner Clark and her family. They were taken in 1938 by Marion Post Wolcott. A picture is currently in the Library of Congress entitled "An Indian Family Near Summerville."
The mission of the Wassamasaw Tribe of Varnertown Indians is to provide economic enhancement to the Varnertown Community, to educate its members in their history and culture, to provide opportunities for its people to share their arts, to preserve the history and traditions of its ancestors, and to promote public awareness of the community's existence and contributions to the general population.
Varnertown Indians are proud to be one of the five organizations recognized in 2005. We hope this is the first step in the process to bring programs and services to the Native Americans in this State.