The Yamasee were a Native American tribe that lived in coastal region of present-day northern Florida and southern Georgia near the Savannah River. Starting in the late 16th century, the Spanish established Catholic missions in the area in which the Yamasee lived. In the 1670s the Westo tribe forced the Yamasee to move south from the Savannah River. They were mentioned regularly on Spanish mission census records in northern Florida and the missionary provinces of Guale and Mocama, but usually did not convert to Christianity and remained somewhat segregated from the Christian Indians of Spanish Florida.
Pirate attacks on the Spanish missions in 1680 forced the Yamasee to migrate again. Some moved to Florida. Others returned to the Savannah River lands, safer after the destruction of the Westo. The Yamasee near the Savannah River became allies of the new colony of South Carolina, while those in Florida grew increasingly disenchanted with the Spanish. They revolted against Spanish rule in 1687 and fled to South Carolina where they were allowed to settle. For years, the Yamasee and the Carolinians conducted slave raids upon Spanish-allied Indians and attacks on St. Augustine itself. However, in 1715, the Yamasee began to attack South Carolinian colonists, triggering the Yamasee War, which lasted until at least 1717. Many tribes allied themselves with the Yamasee. In 1716 the Cherokee allied themselves with South Carolina and began to attack the Creek, which turned the tide of the war. While the South Carolina militia could not fight the powerful Creek, they did defeat the Yamasee in pitched battle at Salkehatchie on the Combahee River.
The Yamasee then migrated south to the area around St. Augustine, Florida, and became allied with the Spanish against the English. In 1727, the British attacked the tribe's settlement and slaughtered most of them; this and conflicts with the Creek decimated the Yamasee population. The survivors eventually assimilated into the Seminole tribe.
The Yamasee spoke an unknown language. It is reportedly preserved in works by missionary Domingo Báez. Diego Peña was told in 1716-1717 that the Tuskegee also spoke Yamasee (Hudson 1990).
Hann (1992) claims that Yamasee is related to the Muskogean languages based upon a report that a Yamasee spy within a Hitchiti town could understand Hitichiti and was not detected as a Yamasee. However, Diego Peña obtained information in 1716 and 1717 that shows that Yamasee and Hitchiti-Mikasuki were considered separate languages. Francis Le Jau stated in 1711 that the Yamasee understood the Creek and also that many Indians throughout the region used Creek and Shawnee as lingua francas.
Inconclusive evidence has been offered suggesting the Yamasee language was similar to Guale resting on two facts: (1) a copy of a 1681 Florida missions census states that the people of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de la Tama speak "la lengua de Guale, y Yamassa" [the Guale and Yamasee language], and a summary of two 1688 letters sent by the Florida governor mention prisoners of the "ydioma Yguala y Yamas, de la Prova de Guale" [the Yguala and Yamas language of the province of Guale]; and (2) the Guale called the Cusabo Chiluque which is probably related to the Creek word čiló·kki "Red Moiety". However, the Spanish documents are not originals and may have been edited at a later date. The name Chiluque is probably a mere loanword and seems to have also been borrowed into the Timucua language. Thus, the connection of Yamasee with Muskogean is unsupported.
Steven J. Oatis and other historians describe the Yamasee as a multi-ethnic amalgamation of several remnant Indian groups, including the Guale, the "La Tama", Apalachee, Coweta, and Cussita Creek, among others. Chester B. DePratter describes the Yamasee towns of early South Carolina as consisting of Lower Towns, consisting mainly of Hitchiti-speaking Indians, and Upper Towns, consisting mainly of Guale Indians.
A document in a British Colonial Archive indicates that the Yamasee originally spoke Cherokee, but had learned another language.