March 7, 1685, may not ring a bell in regards to historical events, but early in the morning on that day, 60 Yamasee (a Native American tribe) attacked the Spanish village of Santa Catalina de Afuica in central Florida. They destroyed and stole much of the village and captured many of the inhabitants to sell as slaves. According to Peter Moore in Carolina’s Lost Colony, published by the USC Press, this noteworthy event marks a turning point in Colonial history. The catalyst of this shocking raid occurred the year before when two displaced groups, separated by the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, both converged in the present-day Beaufort area along the Port Royal Sound. The short-lived but powerful partnership formed there by the Yamasee and the Scots triggered a transformation of regional power among the Spanish, English, and Native Americans.
Native American tribes had been in flux since European contact in the late 16th century. Spanish missions in Florida, French fur trading in the Great Lakes region, and English trading in Virginia created disparities among the indigenous groups, resulting in the less powerful migrating to other areas. The Yamasee who originated in central Georgia along the Oconee River were pushed out by the Westos, an Iroquois tribe from the Lake Erie area who had been pushed out by the Five Nations tribes that were the favored trading partners of the French, who supplied them with guns. The Yamasee eventually ended up in the Port Royal Sound area only a few years before a group of Scots fleeing religious persecution arrived.
The English Restoration period of 1660-1688 was a time of persecution for Presbyterian Scots. They were excluded from trading within the British Empire and were subjugated under the national church of King Charles II. Seeking commercial as well as religious freedom, a group of Scottish Covenanters endeavored to establish a colony in Port Royal called Stuarts Town. Situated in a not clearly defined area between English and Spanish territories, Port Royal provided an ideal location for the Scots to trade with Native Americans and practice religious freedom.
Once established, however, they became intent on creating a regional power through an alignment with the Yamasee and the trading of slaves. Native Americans had a long history, before European contact, of capturing enemies and enslaving them. With the advent of European colonization and the demand for more slaves and slave trading, this practice became accentuated. The raid on Santa Catalina de Afuica was a slave raid, as much as anything else, for the benefit of the Scots and the Yamasee. According to Moore, this aggressive act shocked not only the Spanish but also the English in Charles Towne and, most importantly, other Native Americans who at that time were more powerful than the Europeans.
Stuarts Town and the Scot–Yamasee alliance did not last long. The English outmaneuvered the Scots and established a monopoly on trade with the Native Americans. From this point forward, the English projected their influence and power more forcefully in this region, thus thwarting the Spanish. The Scots also were having trouble surviving at Stuarts Town due to malaria, and the arrival of new settlers from Scotland proved problematic. Ultimately, the settlement did not last and thus became lost. The Stuarts Town debacle was a precursor to a much greater colonizing disaster for Scotland — the Isthmus of Darien, or Panama, project in the early 1700s. This failure practically bankrupted Scotland and weakened the country to the point that Scotland lost its sovereignty in 1707 to England.