SC History Trail

Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge

Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge is composed of 54,000 acres of undeveloped land on the Waccamaw, Great Pee Dee and Little Pee Dee Rivers, with a state-of-the-art nature center overlooking Yauhannah Lake on the Great Pee Dee River off U.S. 701, approximately 15 miles south of Conway.


Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge
Visitor Center: 21424 North Fraser Street, Georgetown, SC 49440
Map: View Map and Directions
Web Site:
Phone: 843-527-8069
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Site Description
Established in 1997 on historic lands once the home to local Native-American tribes and later rice plantations and small yeomen farms, the Waccamaw Natural Wildlife Refuge encompasses 54,000 acres of undeveloped land on the Waccamaw, Great Pee Dee and Little Pee Dee Rivers. The lands were first settled untold ages ago by pre-Columbian Native-American people and by the time the Colony of South Carolina was established in 1670, the region was occupied by historic Indian tribes such as the Waccamaw, Winyaw and the Pee Dee.

When early English colonists ventured into this region - part of what English immigrants commonly called the "Howling Wilderness" - they encountered the Waccamaw and Winyah in the coastal region, and the Pee Dee - a larger tribe - farther inland. The Waccamaw, Winyah and Pee Dee were part of a loose confederation of approximately 20 tribes living in what is now eastern South Carolina. They navigated the local waterways in speedy, dugout canoes, lived in huts made of branches and bark, dined on venison, shad, mullet, raccoon, and other game, along with hickory nuts, acorns, roots, and domesticated crops like corn and squash. The Waccamaw were described by early English colonists as a "very wild and savage people". No one apparently recorded how the Waccamaw viewed English explorers who captured and sold large numbers of Native Americans as slaves, but they may have viewed the English explorers as a "very wild and savage people".

Initially, friendly relations developed between the early English colonists in what is now Georgetown and Horry Counties as trade relationships were established. The Waccamaws, Winyaws and Pee Dees, along with other tribes, produced South Carolina's earliest large-scale import to England - deerskins. English "factors" or trading posts were established in the Waccamaw-Winyaw territory, including a principal post near Yauhannah Lake on the Great Pee Dee River, between Georgetown and Conway.

The Waccamaws and Winyaws bartered deerskins with the English traders in exchange for colored cloth, pots, hatchets and beads. A Colonial Era English survey cited the Waccamaws as the largest tribe north Charleston, noting four villages and a population of more than 600. At the same time, the Winyaws reportedly lived in a single, large village populated by more than 100 residents.

Eventually, however, relations between the natives and the Colonial Era newcomers began to unravel. Tribes like the Waccamaw watched with growing concern as English settlers continued to arrive in a seemingly never-ending stream, encroaching on tribal hunting grounds and unintentionally spreading deadly European diseases. In 1715, a bloody massacre of English colonists by the Yamasee, west of Charleston, caused colonists settling in the Waccamaw-Pee Dee region to view local tribes cautiously and when settlers' cattle began disappearing some years later, the Indians were blamed.

Relations soured, tensions arose, and in 1720 warfare erupted between the English and the Waccamaws. The Waccamaw War produced a single notation in the British colonial records - "a small war with the vocamas", but the warfare apparently led most of the region's Native Americans to move westward where they may have joined larger tribes like the Catawbas. Local tribal names - the Waccamaw, the Winyaw, the Pee Dee, as well as the Sampit, the Seewee and the Santee - today remain as enduring reminders of the people who inhabited this region of South Carolina long before the arrival of Europeans.

The region now represented by the Waccamaw National Wildlife Trust eventually came to be populated by small, yeomen farmers and cultivated in many places as grand rice or cotton plantations. On Sandy Island alone, as many as ten rice plantations existed by the mid-19th century. After the Civil War, plantations declined due to the lack of affordable labor and because a series of hurricanes destroyed many of the rice fields. Nature reclaimed much of the sprawling, former plantation properties, although modern growth and the swell of population have lessened the amount of undeveloped land in northeastern South Carolina.

In 1994, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service studied the feasibility of creating a new national wildlife refuge to protect the large amount of undeveloped land that was former plantations. In 1997, the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge was established within Georgetown, Horry and Marion Counties along the Waccamaw, Great Pee Dee and Little Pee Dee Rivers. Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Refuge protects and preserves wildlife in a variety of habitats, including tidal rice fields, pine forests and swampland.

A Fish and Wildlife Service visitor and education center offering state-of-the-art environmental education exhibits now overlooks Yauhannah Lake, on the Great Pee Dee River, between Conway and Georgetown - near the site of the Yauhannah Colonial Era trading post. From the visitor center, outdoor enthusiasts can receive directions to hiking trails within the huge Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge and can enjoy picnic areas, birding opportunities, canoeing, kayaking, hunting and fishing. The Visitors Center is located near Yauhannah bridge on U.S. 701, approximately 15 miles south of Conway and 20 miles north of Georgetown.

Old-growth forests will take much time to renew, but the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge today enables visitors to envision northeastern South Carolina much as it appeared to the region's Native Americans and to area's first European colonists.
Access and Admission
Access Description: Mon-Fri: 8am-4pm, Closed Federal Holidays
Ownership: Public