Origin of the Cherokee - Part 4 of 5

  • Thursday, September 25, 2014
  • Chuck Hamilton



As mentioned previouly, the largest group of Riqueronon, or Erie, survivors of the attacks by the Haudenosaunee (League of the Iroquois) crossed the Allegheny Mountains into Virginia, where they established a town at the forks of the James River of about six hundred warriors.  The sudden appearance in the neighborhood of so many Trans-Allegheny invaders greatly upset the Trans-Atlantic invaders in the English colony of Jamestown. 

Summoning their close allies formerly of the now dissolved Powhatan Confederacy, the English marched against the recent arrivals, known to them as the Rechahecrians, in force.  The resulting encounter, known in colonial records as the Battle of Bloody Run, proved to be a decisive defeat for them and their Pamunkey allies.

The “Rechahechrian” may have been following the footsteps of previous Iroquian refugees from Haudenosaunee aggression.  The Iroquian-speaking Nottoway, Meherrin, and Tuscarora, perhaps descendants of the Laurentians or from recently defeated tribes or both, already had themselves well-established before Edward Bland’s exploration of “New Britain” in 1650.

Although they had just defeated their attackers spectacularly, the Riqueronon/Rechahechrian had no real desire for any more continual conflict, and so moved on further south.  In 1670, James Lederer ran across some of them in the town on Occaneechi Island visiting from west of the mountains to seek a trade agreement with the English.  He calls them Rickohockan.  They did not survive their visit; their hosts killed them for no reason apparent to Lederer, but one would suspect the Occaneechi wanted no rivals.  The map he crafted for the publication of his journal show the Rickohockan clearly inhabiting the Cherokee Country.

The year 1682 saw the earliest map to name the Cherokee, drawn by French cartographer Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin, although for a few decades all did so as if there were three distinct peoples, as mentioned previously, in varying forms of Tchalaka in the west, Katugi in the middle, and Taligui in the east.  According to John R. Swanton of the Smithsonian, this map was based on information dating to at least 1670.

The next contact after Lederer on record between the people who became the Cherokee and the Europeans is the treaty of trade in 1684 with the colony of Carolina signed by five leaders from Toxaway and three from Keowee.  Though the records do not mention the name “Cherokee”, we can be certain that by this time the people later known as Cherokee had coalesced.


Indian slave trade


American history books tends to ignore the fact, but the slave trade of Indians was booming business in Carolina (and later South Carolina), Virginia, Maryland, and Massachusetts in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.  Three times as many Indians slaves were trafficked outbound through the port at Charlestown than were African slaves during the years 1670-1730, the peak of the trade.  Ports of destination included several countries in Europe, the Caribbean, and New England.  The export trade from Jamestown and Baltimore targeted the same markets, while Boston also the same except switching Virginia and Carolina for New England.

While those so enslaved might object, it was not the Trans-Atlantic invaders who condemned them to servitude but their fellow Native Americans.  A few tribes or rather tribal confederacies secured monopolies in trade between the colonies and more inland peoples, each partnering with a different colony as these were all separate and often competing entities both politically and economically (with more stress on the latter).

 The trade monopoly business is largely what provoked the Beaver Wars.  The Haudenosaunee trafficked slaves, but the main reason they took captives was to replace dead members.  Also, control of the supply source of beaver skins played a major role as more and more places were trapped out.  In the South, the corresponding animal product trade was in deerskins, a bit of a problem since deer were also the major source of dietary meat.

 Remember that the opening scene of 1992’s “The Last of the Mohicans” where Hawkeye shoots the elk and then prays to it asking its forgiveness for killing it for food?  That was nothing but late twentieth century New Age Indian fantasy.

 As indicated above, the Haudenosaunee displaced the Mahican to achieve the monopoly with Fort Orange of New Netherlands and later all of New York.  The Susquehanna defeated the Lenape to obtain the monopoly with New Amsterdam and Baltimore.  The Occaneechi were a confederacy that came into existence largely for the purpose of trade monopoly with Virginia.  For Carolina, the Westo monopolized the position of middle-man. 

 Before their destruction as a power by the Haudenosaunee, the Huron served the same function with French Canada.  After the foundation of La Louisiane, the Choctaw and the Chickasaw competed with each other until the Third Natchez War in 1730, at which the Chickasaw began to trade with the English at Charlestown instead.  They even established a colony of their own on the Savannah River where they were known as the Lower Chickasaw that lasted until 1775.

 The Spanish in La Florida had no slave trade of their own.  Instead they subjected the tribes in their domain to the encomienda and repartimiento systems, the latter replacing the former by the end of the sixteenth century.  In the former, local leaders were responsible for providing assessed tribute and labor.  In the latter, tribute labor was usually managed through the missions.

 The favorite targets of slave raiders were the settlement Indians of rival colonies and the mission Indians of Spanish La Florida.  Settlement Indians came in seeking shelter from the local slavers only to find themselves easy prey for the slavers of a rival colonies partners.  For instance, the Occaneechi raided settlement Indians in Carolina but kept their hands off the settlement Indians of Virgnia.  The situation reversed in the case of the Westo.

 Although the Occaneechi did skirt the later Cherokee Country, the party most responsible to the collapse of remnant Mississippian society in the Carolina Piedmont was the Westo, especially with the jump in demand beginning in 1670.  In addition to the mission Indians of the La Florida provinces of Guale and Mocama and the settlement Indians of Virginia, the Westo harvested captives from the Cusseta, the Coweta, Chickasaw visiting for trade with Carolina, the Cherokee newcomers to the region, and even the Chisca, their fellow Yuchi living in La Florida.

 After just a few years, neighbors, European and Native American, looked at these “middlemen” with increasing trepidation.  The Haudenosaunee even appealed to their erstwhile enemies in French Canada for support against the Susquehanna in 1672.  Three years later, 1675, they finally delivered a serious defeat, and the colony of Maryland gave them refuge.

 Merely a year later, the Susquehanna found themselves embroiled in another war, this time with the colony of Maryland, a conflict instigated by the Doeg (a sub-tribe of the Nanticoke).  The conflict helped spark Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia, and the two conflicts became intertwined for a period.  After Bacon and his men had killed sufficient number of their native enemies to quench their bloodlust, they turned on their Occaneechi allies. 

 At the end of the rebellion, the Occaneechi who were left merged with the Tutelo and the Saponi.  The Susquehanna fled north, taking refuge with their erstwhile foes, the Haudenosaunee.

 Around this same time, Carolina took aim at the Spanish settlements on the coastal plain south of the Savannah River.  These were dominated by mission networks among the formerly larger chiefdoms of Guale north of the Altamaha River and Mocama south of it.  Proceeding mainly through the proxies of the Westo and some of the Lower Creek, between 1675 and 1680, they had sent hundreds into Caribbean slavery and sent the rest fleeing.  Some reached the vicinity of San Agustin, others went west and merged with other remnants to become the Yamasee.

 Fear of their growing power on the part of Carolina and resentment over the slave-raiding and trade monopoly on the part of all their neighbors led both parties to attack the Westo beginning in 1680.  The main native antagonists were the Hathewakela Shawnee on the Savannah River, who rendered unto the Westo as they had rendered unto so many others.  By 1682, the Westo were so reduced that they left for the Chattahoochee.  The Shawnee stepped into place as the main trading go-between.  Several tribes picked up the mantle of local slave catcher.

 The Erie’s old foes the Seneca may have played a part also.  Around this same time (1680), they began slave-raiding among the Southern tribes, kicking off a war with the Catawba which lasted until a formal peace treaty in 1759.

 The shattered remnant of the Westo moved to the Ocmulgee River and later merged with the Yuchi on the Chattahoochee.  The Occaneechi merged with other Siouan remnants of Virginia such as the Tutelo and the Saponi which eventually migrated north to the Six Nations.

 Two years after the expulsion of the Westo, the leaders of Keowee and Toxaway made their first journey to the capital at Charlestown to establish a trade agreement.  While not identified as Cherokee at the time, by that year, 1684, they certainly were at least proto-Cherokee.

 Nine years after that, in 1693, some twenty leaders of the Lower Towns on the Savannah, Keowee, and Tugaloo Rivers travelled to Charlestown again, this time seeking direct trade, especially for guns and ammo.  They also sought members of their towns taken by the Catawba, Shawnee, and Congaree for sell in the slave trade, but these unfortunates were already in New England and in the Caribbean.

 A decade later, 1703, several members of the Carolina assembly were complaining the Cherokee were capturing too many of their settlement Indians to sell in Virginia.

 Apparently the other members of the assembly decided the best way to deal with the problem was to trade trafficked humans of the native variety directly with the slavers because South Carolina's slave trade with the Cherokee did not end until 1748.


Coalescence of the Cherokee


In what may be the earliest known written use of the name “Cherokee” (spelled “Cherakees”), Daniel Coxe produced a map 1705 of Greater Carolina, in essence the Southeast, which replaced Tchalaka, Kitugi, and Taligui with that name for all three divisions.  An earlier map in 1701 by French cartographer Guillame de l’Isle had garbled the name as “Tarachis”.

 English colonists began to use the name “Cherokee” (in various spellings) when referring to these Iroquoian-speaking people about this time, although that name did not consistently appear on maps until around 1720.  This demonstrates that the Lower Towns were the point of contact in these early stages with the colonies for the Cherokee and with the Cherokee for the colonies.  Had it been one of the other major divisions, the name would be “Chelokee”.

 William Bartram travelled throughout the Southeast in the mid 1770’s, and became the first to describe the Cherokee as being divided into five geographic divisions: the Lower Towns on the headwaters of the Chattahoochee and Savannah Rivers; the Middle Towns on the upper Little Tennessee, upper French Broad, and  Nantahala Rivers; the Out Towns on the Tuckaseegee and Oconaluftee Rivers; the Valley Towns on the Valley, Cheowa, and upper Hiwassee Rivers; and the Overhill Towns on the lower Little Tennessee, Tellico, and lower Hiwassee Rivers.  His journal documents forty-three towns; there may have been as many as fifty or sixty.

 This distribution changed radically during the Cherokee-American wars of the late eighteenth century as the Cherokee removed themselves progressively more westerly.

 The Moravian missionaries living among the Cherokee over two centuries ago called the Cherokee language a mixed language with an Iroquoian structure and grammar and vocabulary from a variety of sources.  In this they saw no problem because they recognized that the Cherokee were an assimilationist people. 

 The closest dialect to the northern Iroquoian, Mohawk for example, was the Eastern dialect spoken in the Lower Towns which retained the “R” sound which the other two lacked.  The Middle dialect (also called the Kituwa dialect) spoken in the Middle and Out Towns, replaced the “R” with the “L”, but mostly agreed with the Eastern dialect in grammar.  The furthest removed and most mixed dialect was the Western dialect, sharing the “L” with the Eastern dialect but deviating more in structure and vocabulary.

 The Middle dialect is still spoken by members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  The Western dialect is still spoken by some members of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.  The Eastern dialect began a rapid decline once the former Lower Towns were lost early in the Cherokee-American wars and the people no longer lived in a separate geographic area.


You will be assimilated


 Regarding the groups which contributed to the Cherokee melting pot, we know that the migrants from the north included Erie (Riqueronon, probably the largest group), Huron, Chonnonton, and Attiwandaron, and there were possibly others.  If the Moravians are correct, the Shawnee and Powhatan also contributed bloodlines. 

 There can also be little doubt that the newcomers assimilated the remnant groups inhabiting the areas they settled as well as absorbing new refugees.  In the first category, we can be sure the Tamathli on the Little Tennessee River were one, and most likely a band of Tuskegee who took refuge on the same river.  Remnants of the Satapo and Chalahume may have been there when the “Rickohockans” arrived as well.

 While the Cherokee destroyed the Yuchi town at Euchee Old Fields, there were also Yuchi living on Hiwassee Island as well as on Pinelog, Chickamauga, and Conasauga Creeks in Northwest Georgia.  There may have been other tribes west of the Appalachians and probably were. 

 The Middle Towns clearly absorbed the people of the Middle Qualla Phase, represented in the name Katugi, or Kituwa (the contact era “Quetua”), the peoples whose center had formerly been at Cauchi.  They may also have assimilated Siouan-speaking refugees.

 The Iroquoians who settled the uppermost Chatthoochee and the Keowee, Tugaloo, and Chattooga Rivers most likely found those lands vacant, as they were able to preserve their language in a more pure form.

 Among the more notable of the refugees the Cherokee absorbed were a good portion of the surviving Natchez.  Many of these fled to the main body of the Chickasaw centered on Tupelo, Mississippi, but the greater number wanted to get as far from the French and the Choctaw as possible.  These found a home with among the Cherokee at Notchy Creek in the Little Tennessee Valley, at Ahquohee on the north bank of the Hiwassee River above the mouth of Peachtree Creek in Valley Towns area, and at Gulaniyi at the confluence of the Brasstown and Gumlong Creeks in the Hiwassee Basin, also in the Valley Towns area.

 The Iroquoian newcomers seem to have adopted certain aspects of Mississippian society after their arrival, though in light of the polity of the Chonnonton, they may have brought it with them.  According to some sources, the Cherokee were ruled or governed by a chief priest assisted by a secular leader for diplomatic and war matters and a college of lesser priests.  These may be the class James Mooney refers to as the Ani-Kutani.  His informants told him that the Cherokee got fed up with their abuses and killed them all.


Not your DAR grandmother’s cuddly Cherokee


The Cherokee of the eighteenth century were not the peaceful, cuddly, warm and fuzzy civilized version as which they have often been mythologized through emphasis on the story of Nancy Ward.  They liked war.  If you doubt that, read some of the stories James Mooney collected for his book.  They were often brutal, cruel, vicious, and indiscriminate, but that was native warfare.  In their myths and legends, the Cherokee bragged about it.  Captives were often tortured to death for amusement, though captives who showed bravery in the face of horribly painful torment and certain death became legends still revered more than a century later.

 Contemporary colonial writers frequently noted the fondness of the Cherokee for war.  Some even questioned whether they took part in any other endeavor.  It’s not too surprising, therefore, that the Wolf clan, the one for warriors, was by far the largest of their seven (originally fourteen) clans.  A quick look at their activities in the eighteenth century confirms that assessment.

 First, however, look back half a century at their Erie, or Riqueronon, predecessors.  They picked a fight with the Haudenosaunee.  The League wiped out or at least destroyed as an entity the Wenroe in 1638, the Huron in 1648, the Tionontati in 1649, the Chonnonton in 1651, and the

Scahentoarrhonon in 1652.  So the Erie, ruled at the time by a woman, declared war on the Seneca, one of the Haudenosaunee’s constituent tribes, in 1653.  We already know how that turned out, else we would not be reading about the Cherokee now.

 Almost immediately on the heels of the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701, Seneca warriors began coming down the Warriors’ Path from the Ohio Valley to attack the Cherokee and capture live bodies for the slave trade.  No less perturbed than the Catawba, the Cherokee responded with counter-raids in the north.

 The war with the Haudenosaunee lasted until the Treaty of Johnson Hall in 1768, meaning the war stretched across the years 1701-1768.

 According to James Mooney, the year 1708 was when the last town of the Cherokee in the north was burned by the Lenape, though after the “Cherokee” had departed, not with them still inside it.  We can’t know if these people were remnant Erie, some other Iroquoians, or another tribe which ultimately sought refuge with the Cherokee in the south.  The reason for the destruction, however, was the Lenape decided its inhabitants were  too fond of war.

 The same year, 1708, the Cherokee invaded the Mobile Bay area along with the Alabama, Abihka, and Catawba with the intent of destroying the French capital of La Louisiane and Ft. Louis.  For some reason, the four thousand-strong force never made the attempt but contented themselves with destroying the nearby town of the Western Muskogean-speaking Mobile tribe.

 Two years later, the Cherokee began a war against the Chillicothe and the Kispoko bands of Shawnee on the Cumberland River, fellow refugees from the Haudenosaunee armies, largely at the instigation of their Chickasaw so-belligerents.  The Chickasaw began to feel threatened after some of the Hathewakela Shawnee began to relocate there due to the fighting in the Savannah Basin.  That was lasted 1710-1715.

 The Cherokee took an active part in the Tuscarora War of 1711-1715 as allies of North Carolina and South Carolina.  The belligerent southern band of Tuscarora who started the war and their Algonquin-speaking allies faced the militias of both colonies and warriors of the Cherokee, Apalachee, Yamasee, southern band of Tuscarora, and many  others.

 In 1715, the Cherokee joined their Yamasee allies in the First Yamasee War attacking South Carolina and the Catawba, only to switch sides the next year.  A good thing for them, because the Yamasee were heavily defeated by 1717 and evolved into the Yamacraw.

 While in the middle of that conflict, around the time they switched sides, the Cherokee killed an entire delegation of Creek leaders in transit to Charlestown and staying in Tugaloo.  The resulting Cherokee-Creek War lasted 1716-1755, ending at the Battle of Taliwa, which the Cherokee won.

 During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the Cherokee fought alongside the English mostly on the Virginia frontier beginning in about 1755.  In fact, the war with the French prompted the English to negotiate peace between them and the Creek.

 In 1758, the Cherokee walked off the lines, so to speak, and returned home, where they launched their own war against the English, primarily of the colony of Virginia, in 1759.  The Cherokee War lasted three years, with a contingent of Creek under Great Mortar at Coosawattee, the “Old Coosa Place”, as allies.

 Part of the reason the Cherokee left the fighting in Virginia, besides their ill treatment by English officers, was that war had broken out in 1758 between them and the Chickasaw.  This was in large part fallout from the Chickasaw war against the Piqua band of Shawnee who had been invited by the Cherokee to settle where their cousins had been.  This war lasted one year past the Treaty of Johnson Hall between the Cherokee and the Haudenosaunee.

 And speaking of the Six Nations, remember that through all these other “smaller” wars, the Cherokee had been carrying on fighting with the Haudenosaunee the whole time.

 Individual Cherokee warriors took part in Lord Dunore’s War alongside Shawnee, Lenape, and Mingo warriors in 1774.

 The Cherokee-American wars lasted 1776-1794 with constant fighting, and included their part in other conflicts such as the American Revolution in which they also fought as allies of the British, the Oconee War as allies of the Creek, and the Northwest War as charter members of the Western Confederacy.  Their foes were Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, the Overmountain settlements in East Tennessee, the Cumberland settlements in Middle Tennesee, and lastly the United States of America.

Chuck Hamilton



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