Larry E. Ivers. This Torrent of Indians: War on the Southern Frontier, 1715-1728. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2016. 292 pp. $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-61117-606-3.
Reviewed by Matthew Jennings (Middle Georgia State University, Macon)
Published on H-War (June, 2017)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)
A Torrent of Yamasee War Scholarship?
After languishing in near obscurity for decades (how many copies of Columbia physician Chapman J. Milling's 1940 Red Carolinians, or even the 1969 reprint, can there possibly be?), the Yamasee War has garnered renewed scholarly attention in the early twenty-first century. Larry E. Ivers's This Torrent of Indians joins a short, but growing, stack: Alan Gallay's Bancroft Prize-winning The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670-1717 (2003) features a chapter on the war, and it plays a prominent role in Steven Hahn's Invention of the Creek Nation, 1670-1763 (2004). The field of Yamasee War studies flowered with the publication of Steven J. Oatis's A Colonial Complex: South Carolina's Frontiers in the Era of the Yamasee War, 1680-1730 and William L. Ramsey's The Yamasee War: A Study of Culture, Economy and Conflict in the Colonial South, which appeared in 2004 and 2008 respectively. Ivers attempts to accomplish something that none of these other texts have, namely, a blow-by-blow account of the campaigns of the war, and in this task, the work succeeds admirably.
After a brief introduction and a chapter that deals with the days or warnings and rumors immediately prior to the outbreak of the war, Ivers pauses the narrative to explain, in parallel fashion, how South Carolina and the Native Southeast had developed in the years prior to the war. Then he sets the pieces in motion and the lengthy conflict comes into sharp focus. Yamasees and their allies achieved nearly complete surprise on Easter Weekend 1715, killing traders in their towns and attacking outlying English plantations, ostensibly as payback for unscrupulous trading practices. Carolina fought back, somewhat ineffectively at first, and remained in a weakened state when Catawbas and others attacked the colony from the north later that spring. Carolina survived these blows, and strengthened its position by encouraging its Cherokee allies to attack the Creeks intermittently through the 1720s, thus ensuring that the two largest Native polities would pose more of a threat to each other than either would pose to Carolina. To the south, an English invasion of Spanish Florida in 1728, the abandonment of the Yamasees by their erstwhile allies, and, finally, the establishment of Georgia brought the lengthy era of conflict to a close and set the stage for the next round of imperial rivalry in the region. Small communities of Yamasees would eventually evacuate with the Spanish in the 1760s, while other survivors were absorbed into various Native communities or otherwise submerged their Yamasee identities.
Specialists in southern colonial history may recognize Ivers's name. His 1974 British Drums on the Southern Frontier: The Military Colonization of Georgia, 1733-1749 combined military history with a smattering of Anglo-Indian diplomacy and imperial politics in its approach to the colonization of Georgia, and This Torrent of Indians unfolds in similar fashion. Ivers employs matter-of-fact, jargon-free, direct prose to narrate the events of the war. Readers expecting a "New Military History" approach, in which scholars view war through a cultural lens, will have to look elsewhere. Similarly, the book touches on the causes and implications of the war, but expends most of its energy elsewhere. This should not be perceived as a fault, necessarily, especially since there has never been a book-length military history of the war, regardless of the approach, and Ivers's work fills that historiographical gap.
This Torrent of Indians rests on a solid foundation of archival research in the records of colonial South Carolina. Ivers makes extensive use of the journals of the commissioners of the Indian Trade, the South Carolina Commons House and Upper House journals, the Calendar of State Papers for America and the West Indies, and sources from the British Public Record Office as well. The result is somewhat tilted toward South Carolinian points of view, and away from Native perceptions, though that may be unavoidable given the relative dearth of Native-penned sources from the era of the Yamasee War.
Local historians, historical commissions, and teachers at all levels in South Carolina owe Ivers a special debt. This Torrent of Indians lists every fortification planned and constructed in early colonial South Carolina, and every engagement in the Yamasee War, no matter how small, and, in many cases, ties the historical events and structures to modern landmarks and highways. Teachers could enliven colonial era history with field trips, and new historical markers, or perhaps even a Yamasee War driving tour, could help South Carolina come to terms with its colonial past. In conclusion, specialists and students alike will find value in This Torrent of Indians, and it is likely as fine-grained an account of the actions of the Yamasee War as we are to possess for decades.
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Matthew Jennings. Review of Ivers, Larry E., This Torrent of Indians: War on the Southern Frontier, 1715-1728.
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