Manataka American Indian Council

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Cherokees: the British pulled off one of the great "hat tricks" of all time!

by Richard Thornton


The Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia

Tourists visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains are given “historical information” that couldn’t be further from the actual history of the region. As discussed in article three of this series, Spanish gold miners, probably Sephardic Jews, had occupied the Nacoochee Valley for a century. They were gone by the early 1700s. So who exactly were the Native peoples that replaced the Spanish miners as the owners of the Nacoochee Valley?   The answer will surprise you.


Rickohockens: During the mid-17th century the most feared Native American tribe in the Southeast was the Rickohockens.  Their capital was at Otari in the southwestern Virginia Mountains, but the tribe was divided into three divisions; one in SE Kentucky, one in the southern tip of what is now West Virginia, and the largest concentration in SW Virginia. A map made in 1692 shows the Rickohocken also controlling the mountains of North Carolina.


Terrified by their ferocity in battle, the leaders of Virginia “bought off” the Rickohockens in 1660 by giving them firearms and setting them loose on the agricultural societies of the Lower Southeast to obtain Native American slaves for Virginia plantations. Several prominent English nobles had been awarded ownership of the proposed Colony of Carolina. They wanted the landscape “cleared” of native peoples to make it easier to subdivide and sell.


English-sponsored Native American slave raiders depopulated broad swaths in the Southeast to obtain youth and young women to sell in the coastal slave markets.  Toddlers, elders and adult males were usually killed in these raids.  At least 600,000 Native Americans are believed to have been enslaved during this period.  Probably, an equal number were killed in the raids.


Something very odd happened around 1693.  At the peak of their power and territorial acquisition, the Rickohockens suddenly disappeared from the English colonial records. Instead, they were now called Cherokee; the name formerly assigned to a small cluster of polyglot Indian towns in NW South Carolina, which spoke Muskogean and Siouan dialects - not any dialect similar to modern Cherokee.  All territory that earlier English maps had labeled “Rickohocken,” was now labeled “Cherokee.” From 1693 on, the biggest players in the slave trade were the Cherokees. The English colonies issued branding irons to each of the 14 "Cherokee" bands so they could be correctly compensated for Native slaves delivered. Their population, territory and power swelled as they raided as far as southern Florida, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River to obtain more slaves for Carolina and Caribbean plantations.


Chaloqui: In the spring of 1541 the de Soto Expedition briefly had contact with a apparently primitive tribe that their Muskogean guides called the Chalokees. Virtually all books and history web sites state that the word Chalokee means “foreign speaker” in the Creek Indian language.  It does not!  That word is chiliya.  Chaolokee means “trout-people or bass-people.”  Most references also state that the Chalokee were one and the same as the Cherokee.  They were not!  A 1703 map by the master French cartographer, Guillaume Delisle, showed the Chaloqui living in SE Georgia and the Cherokee located in NW South Carolina, NE Tennessee and SW Virginia. (See attached slide.)


Chorakee:  In 1674, explorer Henry Woodward submitted a report to the Lord Proprietors of Carolina, which mentioned a cluster of Native towns near the sources of the Savannah River, which called themselves, the Chorakee. The word means “splinter group” in the Creek language. A 1676 map of the Province of Carolina denoted numerous towns in that area that were also mentioned in the chronicles of the 1567 Juan Pardo expeditions. Most of these “Chorakee” towns had names that can be translated by a contemporary Creek Indian dictionary. 


First Cherokee occupation of the Nacoochee Valley

Archaeological studies have determined that the Creek Indians continued to occupy all of northern Georgia until at least 1700.  More likely an ethnic change occurred in 1715.  In that year, the Cherokees invited the leaders of all the Creek towns in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee to a diplomatic conference at the Yuchi town of Tugaloo, which was about 24 miles east of the Nacoochee Valley.  All of the Creek leaders were murdered in their sleep.  With its leaders dead, the Creek Confederacy was temporarily paralyzed. 


This is when the Lower Cherokees most likely moved into the Nacoochee Valley. They established three small villages there. However, the Cherokees’ treachery also precipitated a 40 year long war.   They were not able to expand any further into Georgia, because of the Cherokee-Creek War.  The mountains to the west and south of the Nacoochee Valley remained in Koweta-Creek hands until after the French and Indian War.  Virtually all literature labels these mountains as Cherokee occupied during that period.  They were not. The French called this region, the Koweta Mountains.  English maps placed various branches of the Creek Confederacy in the mountains.


Two colonies wage war by proxy

The colonial archives of the Georgia Historical Society in Savannah give a very different description of events in the mid-1700s than what one typically reads in history books, tourist brochures and on state historical markers. Both South Carolina and Georgia claimed the land that is now the northern half of Georgia. (See slide 8.)  Although primarily located in what is now North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, the Cherokees were allies of South Carolina. North Carolinians generally disliked the Cherokees. After the Colony of Georgia was founded in 1732, the Creeks became close allies with its government. They were soon able to obtain sufficient munitions to keep the Cherokees on the defensive.  Each colony encouraged its own “pet Indian tribe” to occupy and defend what is now northern Georgia.


In the archives, one can find numerous letters from South Carolina to Georgia complaining about the steadily declining fortunes of the Cherokees in their four decade long war with the Creeks. Georgia’s officials expressed official concern, but in reality were delighted that their Creek Indian allies were pushing South Carolina’s main allies out of territory claimed by both colonies. In 1754 the British authorities from Charleston, SC were able to arrange a peace treaty between all but one of the Creek’s many towns and the more united Cherokees.


The town of Koweta on the Chattahoochee River (near modern day Carrollton, GA) refused to sign the treaty.  Even though Koweta was an ally of the British, it immediately dispatched a “hit squad” into South Carolina which murdered 21 Cherokee leaders on the streets of Charleston. The assassins then killed several Cherokees they found traveling between the mountains and Charleston. 


In the meantime, the town of Koweta dispatched a highly disciplined army which challenged the entire Cherokee Nation to battle. In quick succession the army of Kowita destroyed every Cherokee army sent its way. The Kowetas then burned all of the Cherokee towns in Georgia and the lower third of western North Carolina.  Since the boundaries of SC, GA and NC were not surveyed at that time, it is clear that the Koweta Creeks were doing “an ethnic cleansing” of the Cherokees in the lands that both Georgia and South Carolina claimed. (See 1755 map in the slides.)


Koweta held the re-conquered territory until 1763, when it traded it back to the British for a vast territory vacated by the French in Alabama.  Over the strenuous objections of the Colony of Georgia, the more politically influential South Carolinians succeeded in persuading the Crown to give the land of the Apalachicola Creeks (allies of France) in northwest Georgia to the Cherokees.  This decision set the stage for the Cherokee Trail of Tears. The Georgians always considered the Cherokees to be unwelcome squatters. The fact that the Cherokees were not indigenous to the state was the main legal argument Georgia’s attorneys used in seeking their removal by the Federal government.


Second Cherokee occupation of the Nacoochee Valley

The Koweta Creeks continued to occupy northeast Georgia, east of the Chattahoochee River.  As this river flowed through the Nacoochee Valley, the Valley became the frontier with the still hostile Creeks.  As a precaution, the British placed remnant Creek tribes from South Carolina inside Cherokee territory. That is why most of the geographical place names in NE Georgia are Creek words. The British also created a 20 mile wide buffer beyond the Chattahoochee to hopefully keep the Koweta Creeks separated from the Cherokees. Only one Cherokee village is shown in the Nacoochee Valley from 1763 until the end of the Revolutionary War.


The late 1700s was probably when the Nacoochee Valley had its largest Cherokee population.  However, even then, the total was probably no more than about 2-300 persons.  After 1793 when the renegade Chickamauga Cherokees of northwest Georgia were decisively defeated, peaceful Cherokees steadily moved into that region. Land cessions made by the Cherokees to pay debts were made in 1816, 1817, 1819. The Nacoochee Valley was included in those cessions.  By 1820 there were probably no more than a 100 Cherokees living in the entire Upper Chattahoochee River Valley of Georgia.


In 1828 gold was re-discovered on Dukes Creek in the Nacoochee Valley.  The State of Georgia immediately sent officials and militia to inform the Cherokees living on gold lands that they had misunderstood past treaties and that the gold-bearing lands were outside the Cherokee Nation’s boundaries.  After 1828, the only Cherokees legally living in the Nacoochee Valley area were Cherokee women, who were married to white men or employees of mining companies.  The Native American occupation of the Nacoochee Valley had ended.