Some Lowcountry families can trace their lineage back to Colonial times.
Members of the Varner Town Indian Community can speak proudly of ancestors who were here long before European settlers arrived. The Varners' ancestors walked, hunted and made homes beside South Carolina's creeks, rivers and beaches long before 1670, when the first ship arrived to populate Charles Town.
The Varners, some 500 to 800 descendants of Indian tribes, live today in Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston counties. Their greatest concentration is in neighborhoods near Carnes Crossroads (U.S. Highways 17A and 176) in Berkeley County.
Local Varners are pleased that after many years of efforts, a roadside marker has been placed near Carnes Crossroads in Berkeley County. The sign cites the family's heritage and contributions to local history and culture.
"It's a very big honor. Everybody is really proud of that sign," Edmund Ray Varner said.
Edmund Varner and his sister, Heidi Varner, serve as unofficial spokespeople for the Varner Town community. Heidi Varner said the sign, placed about six weeks ago, and the dedication ceremony for it were made possible by Alcoa Mount Holly, the Berkeley County Historical Society, Keeper of the Word Ministries, Lion of Judah Ministries and the Native American Committee of the United Methodist Church.
Alcoa donated most of the needed funds, about $1,575. Though the sign was a dream for the community for a long time, it became a reality in only about a year after the family contacted Alcoa, Heidi Varner said.
"We were just asking for any kind of help," she said.
The Varners maintain a community center on Benjamin Drive off Highway 17A near Carnes Crossroads, where the family gathers socially and to preserve its culture with programs, arts and crafts and music.
Music includes playing the family drum that was made from a hollow section of a pine tree felled by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The drum, which is covered with buffalo hide, is from a tree that was at least 500 years old, said Chris Weik, Heidi Varner's cousin.
He said the age of the tree was determined by counting rings. Because much of the tree's cross section is missing, it's probably older than the remaining rings indicate, he said. But like the tree, the ancestors of the Varner family stood proudly in the Lowcountry long before Europeans settled here. "Let's just say it was here before the first white man came," Weik said about the tree.
Passing on the music and the crafts to the younger members of the family helps keep the Varner heritage alive, Heidi Varner said.
"It's been a struggle to keep our identity," she explained. In the face of rapid development in the area around the family residences, "Our older people make sure we are aware of who we are," she added.
The family history states that the Varners descend from a family of tribes that came to be known as the Cusabo. These tribes included the Catawba, Cherokee, Edisto, Etiwan and others.
These tribes are described as "Settlement Indians" in several historical records because they lived among and near settlers and maintained close and friendly relationships with them.
These Indians helped defend the colonists in conflicts that included the Yemassee War of 1715, Varner records state.
In the 1940s, the S.C. Board of Education established a state-funded Indian school for the Wassamasaw tribe of Varnertown. The one-room school was closed by the state in 1963, forcing its students to integrate into the public school system.
Before the Varnertown Indian School was established, many of the children attended other Indian schools, such as the Summerville Indian School, also called St. Barnabas Mission, and the Pine View Indian School at Ten Mile Hill.