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Early Contact with Virginia Colonists

 Native American Nations | Cherokee Nation of Indians                    


Whatever the degree of probability attending these legends, it would seem that the settlers of Virginia had an acquaintance with the Cherokees prior to that of the South Carolina immigrants, who for a number of years after their first occupation confined their explorations to a narrow strip of country in the vicinity of the seacoast, while the Virginians had been gradually extending their settlements far up toward the headwaters of the James River and had early perceived the profits to be derived from the Indian trade.

Sir William Berkeley, governor of Virginia, equipped an expedition, consisting of fourteen Englishmen and an equal number of Virginia Indians, for the exploration of the country to the west of the existing settlements. The party was under the command of Capt. Henry Batt, and in seven days' travel from their point of departure, at Appomattox, they reached the foot of the mountains. The first ridge they crossed is described as not being very high or steep, but the succeeding ones "seemed to touch the clouds," and were so steep that an average day's march did not exceed three miles.

They came upon extensive and fertile valleys, covered with luxuriant grass, and found the forests abounding in all kinds of game, including turkeys, deer, elk, and buffalo. After passing beyond the mountains they entered an extensive level country, through which a stream flowed in a westward course, and after following it for a few days they reached some old fields and recently deserted Indian cabins. Beyond this point their Indian guides refused to proceed, alleging that not far away dwelt a powerful tribe that never suffered strangers who discovered their towns to return alive, and the expedition was therefore compelled to return. According to the historian, Burke, this expedition took place in 1667, while Beverly, not quite so definite, assigns it to the decade between 1666 and 1676.1 It is believed that the powerful nation of Indians alluded to in the narrative of this expedition was the Cherokees, and, if so, it is apparently the first allusion made to them in the history of the colonial settlements.

That the Virginians were the first to be brought in contact with the Cherokees is further evidenced by the fact that in 1690 an Indian trader from that colony, bearing the name of Daugherty, had taken up his residence among them, which is alleged by the historian2 to have been several years before any knowledge of the existence of the Cherokees reached the settlers on Ashley River in South Carolina.

Early Relations With Carolina Colonists

The first formal introduction of the Cherokees to the notice of the people of that colony occurred in the year 1693,3 when twenty Cherokee chiefs visited Charleston, with proposals of friendship, and at the same time solicited the assistance of the governor in their operations against the Esau and Coosaw tribes, who had captured and carried off a number of Cherokees.

The Savannah Indians, it seems, had also been engaged in incursions against them, in the course of which they had captured a number of Cherokees and sold them to the colonial authorities as slaves.

The delegation urgently solicited the governor's protection from the further aggressions of these enemies and the return of their bondaged countrymen. The desired protection was promised them, but as their enslaved brethren had already been shipped to the West Indies and sold into slavery there, it was impossible to return them.

The extreme eastern settlements of the Cherokees at this time were within the limits of the present Chester and Fairfield districts, South Carolina, which lie between the Catawba and Broad Rivers.4

Mention By Various Early Authors

We next find an allusion to the Cherokees in the annals of Louisiana by M. Pericaut, who mentions in his chronicle of the events of the year 1702, that " ten leagues from the mouth of this river [Ohio] another falls into it called Kasquinempas [Tennessee]. It takes its source from the neighborhood of the Carolinas and passes through the village of the Cherokees, a populous nation that number some fifty thousand warriors," another example of the enormous overestimates of aboriginal population to which the earlier travelers and writers were so prone.

Again, in 1708, the same author relates that " about this time two Mobilians who had married in the Alibamon nation, and who lived among them with their families, discovered that that nation was inimical to the Mobilians as well as the French, and had made a league with the Cheraquis, the Abeika, and the Conchaques to wage war against the French and Mobilians and burn their villages around our fort"

On various early maps of North America, and particularly those of De L'Isle, between the years 1700 and 1712, will be found indicated upon the extreme headwaters of the Holston and Clinch Rivers, " Bros villages des Cheraqui." These villages correspond in location with the great nation alluded to in the narrative of Sir William Berkeley's expedition.

Upon the same maps will be found designated the sites of sundry other Cherokee villages, several of which are on the extreme headwaters of the "R. des Chaonanons." This river, although indicated on the map as emptying into the Atlantic Ocean to the west of the Santee, from its relation to the other streams in that vicinity, is believed to be intended for the Broad River, which is a principal northwest branch of the Santee. Other towns will also be found on the banks of the Upper Catawba, and they are, as well, quite numerous along the headwaters of the "R. des Caonilas" or Savannah and of the Little Tennessee.

Mention is again found of the Cherokees in the year 1712, when 218 of them accompanied Colonel Barnwell in his expedition against the hostile Tuscarora and aided in the subjugation of that savage tribe, though along the route of Barnwell's march the settlers were very nearly persuaded that they suffered greater damage to property from the freebooting propensities of their Indian allies than from the open hostilities of their savage enemies.

The old colonial records of South Carolina also contain mention in the following year (1713) of the fact that Peter St. Julien was arraigned on the charge of holding two Cherokee women in slavery.5

In 1715 the Yamasse, a powerful and hitherto friendly tribe, occupying the southwesterly portion of the colony of South Carolina and extending to and beyond the Savannah River, declared open hostilities against the settlers. In the desperate struggle that ensued, we find in full alliance with them the Cherokee, as well as the Creek and Appalachian.

In his historical journal of the establishment of the French in Louisiana, Bernard de la Harpe states that "in January, 1716, some of the Cheraquis Indians, who lived northeast of Mobile, killed M.M. de Ramsay and de Longueil. Some time after, the father of the latter gentleman, the King's lieutenant in Canada, engaged the Iroquois to surprise this tribe. They sacked two of their villages and obliged the rest to retreat towards New England."

Territory Of Cherokees At Period Of English Settlement

At the time of the English settlement of the Carolinas the Cherokees occupied a diversified and well-watered region of country of large extent upon the waters of the Catawba, Broad, Saluda, Keowee, Tugaloo, Savannah, and Coosa Rivers on the east and south, and several of the tributaries of the Tennessee on the north and west. It is impossible at this late day to define with absolute accuracy the original limits of the Cherokee claim. In fact, like all other tribes, they had no definite and concurrent understanding with their surrounding savage neighbors where the possessions of the one left off and those of the other began. The strength of their title to any particular tract of country usually decreased in proportion to the increase of the distance from their villages; and it commonly followed as a result, that a considerable strip of territory between the settlements of two powerful tribes, though claimed by both, was practically considered as neutral ground and the common hunting ground of both.

As has already been stated, the extreme eastern settlements of the Cherokees in South Carolina in 1693 were in the district of country lying between the Catawba and Broad Rivers, and no claim has been found showing the existence at any time of any assertion of territorial right in their behalf to the east of the former stream. But nevertheless, on Bowen's map of 1752 (obviously copied from earlier maps), there is laid down the name of "Keowee Old Town." The location of this town was on Deep River in the vicinity of the present town of Ashborough, N. C. It was a favorite name of the Cherokees among their towns, and affords a strong evidence of at least a temporary residence of a portion of the tribe in that vicinity. A map executed by John Senex in 1721 defines the Indian boundary in this region as folio wing the Catawba, Wateree, and Santee Rivers as far down as the most westerly bend of the latter stream, in the vicinity of the boundary line between Orangeburg and Charleston districts, whence it pursued a southwesterly course to the Edisto River, which it followed to the sea-coast. The southern portion of this boundary was of course a definition of limits between Carolina and the Creeks, or rather of certain tribes that formed component parts of the Creek confederacy. No evidence has been discovered tending to show an extension of Cherokee limits in a southerly direction beyond the point mentioned above on the Edisto River, which, as near as can e ascertained, was at the junction of the North and South Edisto. Following from thence up the South Edisto to its source the boundary pursued a southwesterly course, striking the Savannah River in the vicinity of the mouth of Stevens Creek, and proceeding thence northwardly along the Savannah.

On the borders of Virginia and North Carolina the ancient limits of the Cherokees seem to be also shrouded in more or less doubt and con-fusion. In general terms, however, it may be said that after following the Catawba River to its source in the Blue Ridge the course of those mountains was pursued until their intersection with the continuation of the Great Iron Mountain range, near Floyd Court-House, Va., and thence to the waters of the Kanawha or New River, whence their claim continued down that stream to the Ohio. At a later date they also set up a claim to the country extending from the mouth of the Kanawha down the Ohio to the ridge dividing the waters of the Cumberland from those of the Tennessee at the mouths of those streams, and thence following that ridge to a point northeast of the mouth of Duck River; thence to the mouth of Duck River on the Tennessee, and continuing up with the course of the latter river to Bear Creek; up the latter to a point called Flat Rock, and thence to the Ten Islands in Coosa River, &c.

That portion of the country thus covered, comprising a large part of the present States of West Virginia and Kentucky, was also claimed by the Six Nations by right of former conquest, as well as by the Shawnees and Delaware.

Adair, a trader for forty years among the Cherokees, who traveled extensively through their country about the middle of the eighteenth century, thus specifically outlines the boundaries of their country at that period "The country lies in about 34 degrees north latitude at the distance of 340 computed miles to the northwest of Charlestown, 140 miles west-southwest from the Katahba Nation, and almost 200 miles to the north of the Muskohge or Creek country. They are settled nearly in an east and west course about 140 miles in length from the lower towns, where Fort-Prince-George stands, to the late unfortunate Fort-London. The natives make two divisions of their country, which they term 'Ayrate' and 'Otarre,' the one signifying ' low' and the other mountainous."'


In point of numbers the Cherokee population now considerably exceeds that first enumerated by the early colonial authorities. As early as 1715 the proprietors of the South Carolina Plantation instructed Governor Robert Johnson to cause a census to be taken of all the Indian tribes within that jurisdiction, and from his report it appears that the Cherokee Nation at that time contained thirty towns and an aggregate population of 11,210, of whom 4,000 were warriors. Adair alleges that in 1735, or thereabouts, according to the computation of the traders, their warriors numbered 6,000, but that in 1738 the ravages of the small-pox reduced their population one-half within one year. Indeed, this disaster, coupled with the losses sustained in their conflicts with the whites and with neighboring tribes, had se far wasted their ranks that a half century after the census taken by Governor Johnson they were estimated by the traders to have but 2,300 warriors.6 By the last report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs the total population is estimated to number 22,000.7 It is true that considerable of this increase is attributable to the fact that several other small tribes or bands, within a few years past, have merged their tribal existence in that of the Cherokees. In-dependent of this fact, however, they have maintained a slow but steady increase in numbers for many years, with the exception of the severe losses sustained during the disastrous period of the late southern rebellion.

Old Cherokee Towns

It is perhaps impossible to give a complete list of the old Cherokee towns and their location; but in 1755 the authorities of South Carolina, in remodeling the old and prescribing new regulations for the government of the Indian trade, divided the whole Cherokee country into six hunting districts, viz:

1. Over Hill Towns.-Great Tellico, Chatugee, Tennessee, Chote, Toqua, Sittiquo, and Talassee.
2. Valley Towns: Euforsee, Conastee, Little Telliquo, Cotocanahut, Nayowee, Tomatly, and Chewohe.
3. Middle Towns.-Joree, Watoge, Nuckasee.
4. Keowee Towns.-Keowee, Tricentee, Echoee, Torsee, Cowee, Torsalla, Coweeshee, and Elejoy.
5. Out Towns.-Tucharechee, Kittowa, Conontoroy, Steecoy, Oustanale, and Tuckasegee.
6. Lower Towns.-Tomassee, Oustestee, Cheowie, Estatoie, Tosawa, Keowee, and Oustanalle.

About twenty years later, Bartram8, who traversed the country, gives the names of forty-three Cherokee towns and villages then existing and inhabited as follows:

No. Name Where Situated
1 Echoe On the Tanase east of Jore Mouintains
2 Nucasse
3 Whattoga
4 Cowe
5 TicoIoosa Inland, on the branches of the Tanase
6 Jore
7 Conisca
8 Nowe
9 Tomothle On the Tanase over the Jore Mountains
10 Noewe
11 Tellico
12 Clennuse
13 Ocunnolafte
14 Chewe
15 Quanuse
16 Tellowe
17 Tellico Inland towns on the branches of the Tanase and other waters over the Jore Mountains
18 Chatuga
19 Hiwasse
20 Chewase
21 Nuanba
    Overhill towns on the Tanase or Cherokee River
22 Tallase
23 Chelowe
24 Sette
25 Chote, great
26 Joco
27 Tahasse
28 Tamahle
29 Tuskege
30 - - Big Island
31 Nilaque
32 Niowe
    Lower towns east of the mountains on the Savanna or Keowe River
33 Sinica
34 Keowe
35 Kulsage
36 Tugilo Lower towns east of the mountains on Tugilo River
37 Estotowe
38 Qualatehe Lower towns on Flint River
39 Chote
40 Estotewe, great Towns on the waters of other rivers
41 Allagae
42 Jore
43 Naeoche

Moizon's map of 1771 gives the names of several Lower Cherokee towns not already mentioned. Among these may be enumerated, on the Tugalco River and its branches, Turruraw, Nayowee, Tetohe, Chagee, Tussee, Chicherohe, Echay, and Takwashnaw; on the Keowee, New Keowee, and Quacoretche; and on the Seneca, Acoanee.

In subsequent years, through frequent and long continued conflicts with the ever advancing white settlements and the successive treaties whereby the Cherokees gradually yielded portions of their domain, the location and names of their towns were continually changing until the final removal of the nation west of the Mississippi.9

Expulsion of Shawnees by Cherokees and Chickasaws

In the latter portion of the seventeenth century the Shawnees, or a portion of them, had their villages on the Cumberland, and to some extent, perhaps, on the Tennessee also. They were still occupying that region as late as 1714, when they were visited by M. Charleville, a French trader, bat having about this time incurred the hostility of the Cherokees and Chickasaws they were driven from the country. Many years later in, the adjustment of a territorial dispute between the Cherokees and Chickasaws, each nation claimed the sole honor of driving out the Shawnees, and hence, by right of conquest, the title to the territory formerly inhabited by the latter. The Chickasaws evidently had the best of the controversy, though some concessions were made to the Cherokees in the matter when the United States came to negotiate for the purchase of the controverted territory.

1 Campbell's Virginia, p. 268.
2 Logan's South Carolina, Vol. I, p. 168.
3 Martin's North Carolina, Vol. I, p. 194.
4 Logan's South Carolina, Vol. I, p. 141.
5 Logan's South Carolina, Vol. I, p. 182.
6 Adair's American Indians.
7 Report Commissioner Indian Affairs for 1883, p.272.
8 Bartram's Travels in North America from 1773 to 1778, p. 371.
9. From a distribution roll of Cherokee annuities paid in the year 1799 it appears that there were then 51 Cherokee towns, designated as follows: Oostinawley, Creek Path, Aumoia, Nicojack, Running Water, Ellijay, Cabben, High Tower, Pine Log, High Tower Forks, Tocoah, Coosawaytee, Crowtown, Shoemeck, Aumuchee, Tnlloolab, Willstown, Acohee, Cnclon, Duck-town, Ailigulsha, Highwassee, Tennessee, Lookout Mountain, Noyohee, Tusquittee, Coosa, Nantiyallee, Saukee, Keyukee, Red Bank, Nukeza, Co ens, Telassee, Buffalo Town, Little Tellico, Rabbit Trap, Notley, Turnip Mountain, Sallicoah, Kautika, Tansitu, Watoga, Cowee, Chilthoway, Chestuee, Turkey Town, Toquah, Chota, Big Tellico, and Tusskegee.

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Bureau of Ethnology, Volume 5, Cherokee Nation of Indians, 1883-84

Cherokee Nation of Indians


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