The Yemassee Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1835

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure

Time of work: Early eighteenth century

Locale: South Carolina

Characters DiscussedGabriel Harrison

Gabriel Yemassee, TheHarrison (Governor Charles Craven), a young man of commanding presence and gay, worldly manner. A stranger looked on with suspicion by some of the South Carolina frontiersmen, he wins them over through his valiant leadership in defending the colony against the Yemassee uprising. He then reveals that he is the new governor of the province in disguise.

Parson Matthews

Parson Matthews, who dislikes Harrison until won over by his heroism. Matthews’ insistence on the friendliness of the Indians, in spite of Harrison’s warnings, results in his and his daughter’s capture and in their subsequent rescue by Harrison.

Bess Matthews

Bess Matthews, the parson’s daughter, who is in love with and loved by Harrison. The parson finally gives permission for their marriage.


Hector, Harrison’s devoted slave and constant companion. After undergoing various ordeals on behalf of or with his master, he refuses Harrison’s offer to give him his freedom.


Sanutee, the last great Yemassee chief. Proud and suspicious of the increasing encroachments of the colonists on Yemassee territory, he rouses his people to cast out the land-selling chiefs and to make war on the settlers. He is killed in battle.


Occonestoga, Sanutee’s son, a drunkard. He is friendly with the whites, an alliance that forces him to flee his tribe. He saves Bess Matthews’ life and is consequently befriended by Harrison. Returning to the Indian stronghold to spy for Harrison, he is discovered by his father.


Matiwan, Sanutee’s wife, who is torn between loyalty to her husband and devotion to her son. Finally, to prevent the carrying out of Sanutee’s order that Occonestoga have the tribal mark cut from his skin and be executed, she kills her son.

Hugh Grayson

Hugh Grayson, a rival of Harrison for the affections of Bess Matthews. He, too, is finally won to friendship by Harrison’s bravery. After revealing himself as the governor, Harrison makes Hugh Grayson commander of the garrison forces.

Walter Grayson

Walter Grayson, Hugh’s brother, an honorable young farmer.

Dick Chorley

Dick Chorley, a sailor whom Harrison discovers to be a Spanish agent come to arm the Indians against the English settlers.


Ishiagaska, another Yemassee chief.

Enoree Mattee

Enoree Mattee, an Indian prophet who aids Sanutee in rousing his people against the settlers.


Granger, a trader.

Mrs. Granger

Mrs. Granger, his brave and quick-witted wife.


Dugdale, Harrison’s strong and faithful dog.

BibliographyCowie, Alexander. Introduction to The Yemassee, by William Gilmore Simms. New York: American Book Company, 1937. Summarizes Simms’s life and literary career and relates The Yemassee to general characteristics of his fiction and literary theory. Contains a contemporary news account of the 1715 Yemassee uprising.Ridgely, J. V. William Gilmore Simms. New York: Twayne, 1962. This critical biography discusses theme and setting of Simms’s works and argues that Simms’s own preface to The Yemassee forgives historical inaccuracies by claiming the writer’s license “to weave the facts of history into a wholly fictional main plot.”Rubin, Louis O., Jr. “The Romance of the Colonial Frontier: Simms, Cooper, the Indians, and the Wilderness.” In American Letters and the Historical Consciousness, edited by J. Gerald Kennedy and Daniel Mark Fogel. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987. Discusses the genre of frontier romance and evaluates Simms’s portrayal of Native Americans.Trent, William P. William Gilmore Simms. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1892. This early critical biography discusses the writing, publication history, and critical reception of The Yemassee. Finds the white characters weak, but praises Simms’s portrayal of Native Americans, calling Matiwan “the loveliest and purest Indian that I have met with in fiction.” Claims chapter twenty-five (Matiwan’s rescue of Occonestoga) is as great as the best of James Fenimore Cooper or Charles Brockden Brown.Wimsatt, Mary Ann. The Major Fiction of William Gilmore Simms: Cultural Traditions and Literary Form. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989. Discusses the backgrounds and traditions of the romance genre (influenced by Sir Walter Scott) that Simms used for his long fiction.
Categories: Characters