Published on December 11, 2012 by Amy
The Cheraw variously spelled Charaw, Charraw, Sara, Saraw, Saura, Suali, Sualy, Xualla, or Xuala, were a tribe of Siouan-speaking Amerindians first encountered by Hernando De Soto in 1540. The name they called themselves is lost to history but the Cherokee called them Ani-suwa’ii and the Catawba Sara (“place of tall weeds”). The Spanish and Portuguese called their territory Xuala (or Xualla). The later English colonists spelled their name Saraw, Saura, Suali, Sualy, Charaw, Charraw, etc. in an attempt to transliterate the Spanish term. The early explorer John Lawson included them in the larger eastern-Siouan confederacy, which he called “the Esaw Nation.”
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They may have been encountered by De Soto in the mountains near present-day Asheville and Henderson, Polk, and Rutherford counties in North Carolina in 1540. In 1600, they may have numbered 1,200. By 1672, they may have moved to the Stokes County region, where the Saura Mountains are. Prior to 1700, they moved near the Dan River on the present Virginia-North Carolina border.
In 1710, due to attacks by the Iroquois from the north (whose empire by then extended along the colonial frontier northward, with hunting grounds in the St. Lawrence River valley), the Cheraw moved southeast and joined the Keyauwee tribe. They were recorded in The Journal of Barnwell as maintaining a village on the east bank of the upper branches of the Pee Dee River circa the Tuscarora War in 1712.
In the early 18th century, they were living in present-day Chesterfield County in northeastern South Carolina. This region, which now encompasses present day Chesterfield, Marlboro, Darlington, and parts of Lancaster counties, was known in the 18th and 19th centuries as “The Cheraws”, the “Cheraw Hills”, and later the “Old Cheraws”. Their main village was near the site of present-day Cheraw, close to the North Carolina border. Cheraw was one of the earliest inland towns which European Americans established in South Carolina. Cheraw, Colorado was named by an early settler who was born in Cheraw and migrated west.
In 1738, a smallpox epidemic decimated both the Cheraw and the Catawba. The remnants of the two tribes combined. At some point, some of the tribe may have moved north and founded the “Charraw Settlement” along Drowning Creek, (present-day Robeson County) North Carolina. The tribe was mostly destroyed before the middle of the 18th century and European encroachment on their old territory.
They were last noted as a distinct tribe among the Catawba in 1768, when they numbered only 50-60 individuals. During the Revolutionary War, they and the Catawba removed their families to the same areas near Danville, Virginia where they had lived earlier. Their warriors served the Patriot cause under General Thomas Sumter.
The state-recognized Lumbee Indians of Robeson County, North Carolina and the Sumter Band of Cheraw Indians of Sumter County, South Carolina claim descent from the Cheraw.