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Cherokee War - 1759-1761

It was not until 1654 that the English first came into contact with the Cherokee, called in the records of the period Rechahecrians, a corruption of Rickahockan, apparently the name by which they were known to the Powhatan tribes. In that year the Virginia colony, which had only recently concluded a long and exterminating war with the Powhatan, was thrown into alarm by the news that a great body of six or seven hundred Rechahecrian Indians — by which is probably meant that number of warriors — from the mountains had invaded the lower country and established themselves at the falls of James River, where now is the city of Richmond.

The result was a bloody battle, with disastrous outcome to the Virginians, the Pamunke chief with most of his men being killed, while the whites were force to make such terms of peace with the Rechahecrians that the assembly cashiered the commander of the expedition and compelled him to pay the whole cost of the treaty from his own estate. Owing to the imperfection of the Virginia records there is no means of knowing the causes of the sudden invasion or how long the invaders retaine their position at the falls. In all probability it was only the last of a long series of otherwise unrecorded irruptions by the mountaineers on the more peaceful dwellers in the lowlands.

In 1693 some Cherokee chiefs went to Charleston with presents for the governor and offers Of friendship, to ask the rotection Of South Carolina against their enemies, the Esaw (Catawba), Savanna (Shawano) , and Congaree, all of that colony, who had made war upon them and sold a number of their tribesmen into slavery. They were told that their kinsmen could not now be recovered, but that the English desired friendship with their tribe, and that the Government would see that there would be no future ground for such complaint. The promise was apparently not kept.

About the year 1700 the first guns were introduced among the Cherokee. Having wiped out old scores with the Tuscarora, the late allies of the English proceeded to discuss their own grievances, which were sufficiently galling. The result was a combination against the whites, embracing all the tribes from Cape Fear to the Chattahoochee, including the Cherokee, who thus for the first time raised their hand against the English.

The war opened with a terrible massacre by the Yamassee in April 1715, followed by assaults along the whole frontier, until for a time it was seriously feared that the colony of South Carolina would be wiped out of existence. In a contest between savagery and civilization, however, the final result was inevitable. The settlers at last rallied their whole force under Governor Craven and administered such a crushing blow to the Yamassee that the remnant abandoned their country and took refuge with the Spaniards in Florida or among the Lower Creeks. The English then made short work with the smaller tribes along the coast, while those in the interior were soon glad to sue for peace.

The Upper Cherokee chiefs more defiant, resolved) to continue the war against the Creeks, with whom the English were then trying to make peace, and demanding large supplies of guns and ammunition, saying that if they made a peace wit the other tribes they would have no means of getting slaves with which to buy ammunition for themselves. At this time they claimed 2,370 warriors, of whom half were believed to have guns. As the strength of the whole nation was much greater, this estimate may have been for the Upper and Middle Cherokee only.

In 1721, in order still more to systematize Indian affairs, Governor Nicholson of South Carolina invited the chiefs of the Cherokee to a conference, at which thirty-seven towns were represented. A treaty was made by which trading methods were regulated, a boundary line between their territory and the English settlements was agree upon. The negotiations were accompanied by a cession of land, the first in the history of the tribe.

In 1715, according to a trade census compiled by Governor Johnson of South Carolina, the tribe had thirty towns, with 4,000 warriors and a total population of 11,210. Adair, a good authority on such matters, estimates, about the year 1735, when the country was better known, that they had “sixty-four towns and villages, populous and full of children,” with more than 6,000 fighting men,6 equivalent on the same basis of computation to between 16,000 and 17,000 souls. From what is known of them in later times, it is probable that this last estimate is very nearly correct.

In 1738 or 1739 the smallpox, brought to Carolina by slave ships, broke out among the Cherokee with such terrible effect that, according to Adair, nearly half the tribe was swept away within a year. The awful mortality was due largely to the act that as it was a new and strange disease to the Indians they had no roper remedies against it, and therefore resorted to the universal Indian anacea for “strong” sickness of almost any kind, viz, cold plunge aths in the running stream, the worst treatment that could possibly be devised. As the pestilence spread unchecked from town to town, despair fell upon the nation. The priests, believing the visitation a penalty for violation of the ancient ordinances, threw away their sacred para hernalia as things which had lost their protecting power. Hundre of the warriors committed suicide on beholding their frightful disfigurement. “Some shot themselves, others out their throats, some stabbed themselves with knives and others with sharp-pointed canes; many threw themselves with sullen madness into the fire and there slowly expired, as if they had been utterly divested of the native power of eeling pain.” ‘ Another authority estimates their loss at a thousand warriors, partly from smallpox and partly from rum brought in by the traders.”

In 1736 Christian Priber, said to be a Jesuit acting in the French interest, had come among the Cherokee, and, b the facility with which he learned the language and adapted himw to the native dress and mode of life, had quickly acquired a leading influence among them. He drew up for their adoption a scheme of government modeled after the European plan, with the capital at Great Tellico, in Tennessee, the principal medicine man as emperor, and himself as the emperor’s secretary. Under this title he corresponded with the South Carolina government until it began to be feared that he would ultimately win over the whole tribe to the French side.

Five years after the inauguration of his work, however, he was seized by some English traders while on his way to Fort Toulouse, and brought as a risoner to Frederica, in Georgia, where he soon afterward died while under confinement. Although his enemies had represented him as a monster, inciting the Indians to the grossest immoralities, he proved to be a gentleman of polished address, extensive learning, and rare courage. Besides Greek, Latin, French, German, Spanish, and fluent English, he spoke also the Cherokee. He claimed to be a Jesuit, acting under orders of his superior, to introduce habits of steady industry, civilized arts, and a regular form of government among the southern tribes. He claimed to be a Jesuit, acting under orders of his superior, to introduce habits of steady industry, civilized arts, and a regular form of government among the southern tribes, with a view to the ultimate founding of an independent Indian state.

Throughout the eighteenth century the Cherokee were engaged in chronic warfare with their Indian neighbors. As these quarrels concerned the whites but little, however momentous they may have been to the principals, we have but few details. The war with the Tuscarora continued until the outbreak of the latter tribe against Carolina in 1711 gave opportunity to the Cherokee to cooperate in striking the blow which drove the Tuscarora from their ancient homes to seek refuge in the North. The Cherokee then turned their attention to the Shawano on the Cumberland, and with the aid of the Chickasaw finally expelled them from that re ion about the year 1715. Inroads upon the Catawba were probably ept up until the latter had become so far reduced by war and disease as to be mere dependent pensioners upon the whites. The former friendship with the Chickasaw was at ast broken through the overbearing conduct of the Cherokee, and a war followed of which there is incidental notice in 1757, and which terminated in a decisive victory for the Chickasaw about 1768. The bitter war with the Iroquois Of the far North continued, in spite of all the efforts of the Colonial governments, until a formal treaty of peace was brought about by the efforts of Sir William Johnson in the same year. The hereditary war with the Creeks for possession of upper Georgia continued, with brief intervals of peace, or even alliance, until the United States finally interfered as mediator between the rival claimants.

By this time the weaker coast tribes had become practically extinct, and the more powerful tribes of the interior were beginning to take the alarm, as they saw the restless borderers pushing every year farther into the Indian country. As early as 1748 Dr. Thomas Walker, with a company of hunters and woodsmen from Virginia, crossed the mountains to the southwest, discoverin and naming the celebrated Cumberland Gap and passing on to t e headwaters of Cumberland River. Two years later he made a second exploration and penetrated to Kentucky River, but on account of the Indian troubles no permanent settlement Was then attempted. This invasion of their territory awakened a natural resentment of the native owners.

In 1755 the Cherokee were officially reported to number 2,590 warriors, as against probably twice that number previous to the great smallpox epidemic sixteen years before. Their neighbors and ancient enemies, the Catawba, had dwindled to 240 men. Although war was not formally declared by England until 1756, hostilities in the seven years’ struggle between France and England, commonly known in America as the “French and Indian War,” began in April 1754.

In accordance with the treaty stipulations Fort Prince George was built in 1756 adjoining the im ortant Cherokee town of Keowee, on the headwaters of the Savanna, and Fort Loudon near the junction of Tellico River with the Little Tennessee, in the center of the Cherokee towns beyond the mountains. By special arrangement with the influential chief, Ata-kullakulla (Ata’-g li’kalt‘i'), Fort Dobbs was also built in the same year about 20 miles west of the present Salisburry, North Carolina.

The Cherokee had agreed to furnish four hundred warriors to operate against the French in the north, but before Fort Loudon had been completed it was very evident that they had repented of their promise, as their great council at Echota ordered the work stopped and the garrison on the way to turn back, plainly telling the officer in charge that they did not want so many white people among them. Ata-kullakulla, hitherto supposed to be one of the stanchest friends of the English, was now one of the most determined in the opposition. It was in evidence also that they were in constant communication with the French. By much tact and argument their objections were at last overcome for a time, and they very unwillingly set about raising the promised force of warriors. Major Andrew Lewis, who superintended the buildin of the fort, became convinced that the Cherokee were really friendly to the French, and that all their professions of friendshi and assistance were “only to put a loss on their knavery.”

The immediate exciting cause of the trouble was an unfortunate expedition undertaken against the hostile Shawano in February, 1756, by Major Andrew Lewis (the same who had built Fort London) with some two hundred Virginia troops assisted by about one hundred Cherokee. After six weeks of frultless tramping through the woods, with the ground covered with snow and the streams so swollen by rains that they lost their provisions and ammunition in crossing, they were obliged to return to the settlements in a starving condition.

The Cherokee now started to return on foot to their own country. Finding some horses running loose on the range, they appropriated them, on the theory that as they had lost their own animals, to say nothing of having risked their lives, in the service of the colonists, it was only a fair exchange. The frontiersmen took another view of the question, however, attacked the returning Cherokee, and killed a number of them, variously stated at from twelve to fort , including several of their prominent men. They also scalped and mutilated the bodies in the savage fashion to which they had become accustomed in the border wars and brought the scalps into the settlements, where they were represented as those of French Indians and sold at the regular price then established by law.

In May of 1759, Governor Lyttleton unexpectedly came forward with a demand for the surrender for execution of every Indian who had killed a white man in the recent skirmishes, among these being the chiefs of Citico and Tellico. At the same time the commander at Fort Loudon, forgetful of the fact that he had but a small garrison in the midst of several thousands of restless savages, made a demand for twenty-four other chiefs whom he suspected of unfriendly action. To compel their surrender orders were given to stop all trading supplies intended for the upper Cherokee. This roused the whole nation.

Oconostota at once laid siege to Fort Prince George, completely cutting off communication at a time when, as it was now winter, no help could be expected from below. In February 1760, after having kept the fort thus closely invested for some weeks, he sent word one day by an Indian woman that he wished to speak to the commander, Lieutenant Coytmore. As the lieutenant stepped out from the stockade to see what was wanted, Oconostota, standing on the opposite side of the river, swung a bridle above his head as a signal to his warriors concealed in the bushes, and the officer was at once shot down. The soldiers immediately broke into the room where the hostages were confined, every one being a chief of prominence in the tribe, and butchered them to the last man.

It was now war to the end. Led by Oconostota, the Cherokee descended upon the frontier settlements of Carolina, while the warriors across the mountains laid close siege to Fort London. In June, 1760, a strong force of over 1,600 men, under Colonel Montgomery, started to reduce the Cherokee towns and relieve the beleaguered garrison. Crossing the Indian frontier, Montgomery quickly drove the enemy from about Fort Prince George and then, rapidly advancing, surprised Little Keowee, killing every man of the defenders, and destroyed in succession every one of the Lower Cherokee towns, burning them to the ground, cutting down the cornfields and orchards, killing and taking more than a hundred of their men, and driving the whole population into the mountains before him. His own loss was very slight.

He then sent messengers to the Middle and Upper towns, summoning them to surrender on penalty of the like fate, but, receiving no reply, he led his men across the divide to the waters of the Little Tennessee and continued down that stream without opposition until he came in the vicinity of Echooe (Itse’yl), a few miles above the sacred town of Nikwasi', the present Franklin, North Carolina. Here the Cherokee had collected their full force to resist his inegress, and the result was a desperate engagement on June 27, 1760, in which Montgomery was compelled to retire to Fort Prince George, after losing nearly one hundred men in killed and wounded. The Indian loss is unknown.

His retreat sealed the fate of Fort Loudon. The garrison, though hard pressed and reduced to the necessity of eating horses and dogs, had been enabled to hold out through the kindness of the Indian women, many of whom, having found sweethearts among the soldiers, brought them supplies of food daily. When threatened by the chiefs the women boldly replied that the soldiers were their husbands and it was their duty to help them, and that if any harm came to themselves for their devotion their English relatives would avenge them.1 The end was only delayed, however, and on August 8, 1760, the garrison of about two hundred men, under Captain Demeré, surrendered to Oconostota on promise that they should be allowed to retire unmolested with their arms and sufficient ammunition for the march, on condition of delivering up all the remaining warlike stores.

The troops marched out and proceeded far enough to camp for the night, while the Indians swarmed into the fort to see what lunder they might find. By accident a discovery was made of ten kegs of powder and a large quantity of ball that had been secretly buried in the fort to revent their falling into the enemy’s hands. It is said that cannon, small arms, and ammunition had been thrown into the river with the same intention. Enraged at this breach of the capitulation the Cherokee attacked the soldiers next morning at daylight, killing Demeré and twenty-nine others at the first fire. The rest were taken and held as prisoners until ransomed some time after.

It was now too late, and the settlements were too much exhausted, for another expedition, so the fall and winter were employed by the English in preparations for an active campaign the next year in force to crush out all resistance. In June, 1761, Colonel Grant with an army of 2,600 men, including a number of Chickasaw and almost every remaining warrior of the Catawba, set out from Fort Prince George. Refusing a request from Ata-kullakulla for a friendly accommodation, he crossed the Gap and advanced rapidly down the Little Tennessee along the same trail taken by the expedition of the previous year. On June 10, when within two miles of Montgomery’s battlefield, he encountered the Cherokee, whom he defeated, although with considerable loss to himself, after a stubborn engagement lasting several hours. Having repulsed the Indians, he proceeded on his way, sending out detachments to the outlying settlements, until in the course of a month he had destroyed every one of the Middle towns, 15 in all, with all their granaries and cornfields, driven the inhabitants into the mountains, and pushed the frontier seventy miles farther to the west.

The Cherokee were now reduced to the greatest extremity. With some of their best towns in ashes, their fields and orchards wasted for two success1ve years, their ammunition nearly exhausted, many of their bravest warriors dead, their people fugitives in the mountains, hiding in caves and living like beasts upon roots or killing their horses for food, with the terrible scourge of smallpox adding to the miseries of starvation, and withal torn by factional differences which had existed from the very beginning of the war — it was impossible for even brave men to resist longer. In September Ata-kullakulla, who had all along done everything in his power to stay the disaffection, came down to Charleston, a treaty of peace was made, and the war was ended.

From an estimated population of at least 5,000 warriors some years before, the Cherokee had now been reduced to about 2,300 men. The tide of emigration now surged across the mountains in spite of every effort to restrain it, and the period between the end of the Cherokee war and the opening of the Revolution was principally notable for a number of treaty cessions by the Indians, each in fruitless endeavor to fix a permanent barrier between themselves and the advancing wave of white settlement.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 18:29:41 ZULU