The Congaree lived along the Santee and Congaree rivers, above and below the junction of the Wateree, in central South Carolina. They occupied territory between the Santee tribe below them and the Wateree tribe above.
Native Americans sold as slaves were members of other tribes captured in war or raids. By 1693, Congaree, Esaw and Savannah slave-catchers had pursued the Cherokee as "objects of the slave trade to the extent that a tribal delegation was sent" to Governor Thomas Smith. They sought protection, claiming that Cherokee had been sold in the Charles Town slave market.
In 1698, the Congaree lost "most tribe members to smallpox."
The English explorer John Lawson encountered the survivors in 1701, apparently on the northeastern bank of the Santee River below the junction of the Wateree. Lawson described their village as consisting of about a dozen houses, located on a small creek flowing into Santee River. They were a small tribe, having lost heavily by tribal feuds, but more especially by smallpox, which had depopulated whole villages. But a 1715 map shows their village as located on the southern bank of the Congaree and considerably above the previous area, perhaps about Big Beaver creek, or about opposite the site of Columbia, on the eastern boundary of Lexington county. They may have been moving upriver to get further away from English colonists.
During the Tuscarora War of 1711, the Congaree fought on the side of English colonist John Barnwell, who raised a militia. In early 1715 John Barnwell took a census, which identified the Congaree as living in one village, with a total population of 22 men and 70 women and children.
During the Yamasee War of 1715, the Congaree joined with other tribes in the fight against the colony of South Carolina. Over half were either killed or enslaved by the colonists and Cherokee; some were sent into slavery in the West Indies. Following that, surviving Congaree moved up country and joined the Catawba, with whom they were still living in 1743.
In 1718, Fort Congaree was established near the Congaree village, near today's Columbia. It became an important trading station and a European-American settlement formed around it.
In the subsequent decades, Congaree survivors merged with the larger Catawba people. Different tribes lived in their own villages within the loose Catawba federation. The Congaree tribe maintained their distinction until the late 18th century, as they had a language different from the Siouan Catawba, but they are now extinct as a tribe.
Based on colonial accounts, Mooney (1928) described the Congaree as: "A friendly people, handsome and well built, the women being especially beautiful compared with those of other tribes.*