History 1540 - 1730


Background Data

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© 1986 by Mary Evelyn Rogers and 1998 by Edward Andrew Rogers. All rights reserved.

A Brief History of The Cherokees: 1540-1906 (With Epilogue to 1985)

Referenced Sources


Author's Family Genealogy


The territory of the mound at Etowah, Georgia, is known to have been inhabited by the Cherokees since 1540. [1]

On May 10, Hernando DeSoto (1496-1543) entered Chelaque probably an Underhill settlement of the Cherokees. Traveling northward, he came to Xualla (probably Qualla). Turning west, he visited Canasauga. On May 30, he visited Guasili, a Cherokee town which is now known as Murphy, N.C. He crossed the Cherokee Nation, (reaching the Mississippi River in 1541.) [2]



Captain Juan Pardo ("Don Pardo") visited the Cherokee Nation. Neither his visit, nor that of DeSoto, made enough of an impression on the Cherokees for them to remember. [3]



It is possible that the "Rechahecrians," against whom the Virginia colonists fought a losing fight, were Cherokee warriors. [4]



The Cherokees had guns. They raided Spanish settlements in Florida. [5]

Abraham Wood, a Virginia trader at Fort Wayne, sent James Needham and Gabriel Arthur to Chota to open trade for peltries beeswax, and bear's oil for export to England. They arrived at Chota on July 15. (Arthur called the Indians "Tomahitans," however, they were located on the Watauga and Nolichucky Rivers, which was Cherokee country.) [6]

The traders' interpreter, Indian John of the Occaneechis Indian band, later killed Needham while Needham was bringing in trade goods, and sent word to Chota to kill Arthur. While some of the Cherokees would have done this, the Chief of Chota prevented Arthur's murder, and Arthur stayed with the Cherokees for almost a year. He accompanied them on raids on Spanish settlements in Florida, enemy Indian settlements on the Atlantic seaboard, and Shawnee towns on the Ohio River. [7]



The Shawnees wounded and captured Arthur in their country They discovered he was a white man, and permitted him to return to Chota when his wound healed. [8]


The Chief of Chota and his warriors escorted Arthur to Virginia, delivering him on June 18 to Abraham Wood. Wood greeted them warmly, but did not attempt to renew trade relations with the Cherokees. [9]


Henry Woodward, a colonist from Charlestown, after making his will, traveled from Charlestown to Virginia over a trail that brought him to "Chorakae" settlements on the head branches of the Savannah River. These settlements at the head of the Savannah River were referred to as "The Lower Towns of the Cherokees." [10]



Alexander Dougherty, an Irish trader from Virginia, was the first white man to marry a Cherokee.

He spent the rest of his life with them. [11]



Some Cherokees went to the South Carolina colony to offer friendship, to ask for protection against the Catawba, Savannah, and Congaree, and to get back some of their people who had been sold into slavery. [12]



Carolina traders William and Joseph Cooper began trading with the Lower Towns of the Cherokee Nation. [13]



The French made their first permanent station at Biloxi Bay in Mississippi.



(There were fewer than 250,000 white colonists in America.)



The Cherokees accused the governor of South Carolina of fomenting war to take prisoners to be sold into slavery. [14]



The Cherokees received guns from Charlestown on condition they would fight Tuscaroras, who had recently murdered 137 colonists. [15]

The trader Eleazar Wiggan (called "Old Rabbit" by the Cherokees) "incited the Cherokees to war against the Euchees," for which his license was temporarily suspended. [16]

The traders Robert Bunning and Cornelius Doherty traded with the Cherokees about the same time as Wiggan. (Haywood accused Doherty with having taught the Cherokees to "steal horses from Virginia, which were the first horses they owned."), [17]



218 Cherokees accompanied colonists under Colonel Barnwell in the subjugation of the Tuscaroras. Serving under Moore's expedition, about 300 Cherokees assisted the English in driving the Tuscaroras to Lake Oneida, N.Y. (where the Tuscaroras became the 6th nation in the Iroquois Confederation.) [18]



The French built Fort Toulouse on the Coosa River, a few miles from present-day Montgomery, Alabama.




Cherokees joined the Chickasaws and drove the Shawnees from Cumberland River valley to beyond the Ohio River. Subsequently, Cherokees and Chickasaws used the Cumberland Valley for fishing, hunting, and grazing. [20]

The Cherokees broke with Charlestown, provoked in part by the fact that the colonists were shipping Cherokee prisoners to the West Indies as slaves. The colonists were deliberately provoking Indian wars to secure the slaves, and were clandestinely issuing arms to both sides. [21]

Subsequently, some 70 Cherokees joined the Yamassees and Catawbas in the "Yamassee Indian War" against Charlestown. (Starr said this group of warring Indians also included the Creeks.) The Indians were defeated. The Yamassees fled to Spanish territory (Florida). [22]

The South Carolina census listed the Cherokee population as 11, 210 (including 4000 warriors), in 30 towns. [23]



In January, the Cherokees killed two Frenchmen (deRamsey and deLongueie, according to Starr). The latter was a member of the "illustrious" deMoyne family that founded Biloxi and New Orleans. Two of his uncles were the first two governors of Louisiana, and his father was Governor of Canada. In reprisal, the Governor of Canada induced the Iroquois to attack and burn two Cherokee towns. [24]

The Cherokees made peace with Charlestown. Charlestown continued to export Cherokees as slaves, but the officials usually denied it to the Cherokees, or, if they had to admit it, would say the exported Cherokees would shortly be returned (This went on the latter part of the 17th Century and most of the 18th Century!) [25]



French influence in America was growing. By 1718, of all the tribes East of the Mississippi, only the Cherokees remained friendly to the English. [26]



Thirty-seven Cherokee Chiefs met with Governor Nicolson, the first royal governor of South Carolina, and clearly defined the boundary line between the Cherokee Nation and the South Carolina colony. THIS WAS THE FIRST LAND CESSION TO THE WHITE MEN. IT CEDED TO ENGLAND THE LAND BETWEEN THE SANTEE, SALUDA, AND EDISTO RIVERS. For the first time, the Cherokees present agreed to elect one person to represent them with South Carolina, and Governor Nicolson appointed a single commissioner. The appointees were: Chief "Wro-Setas-Atow" and Colonel George Chicken. George Chicken strengthened the English influence against France. [27]

(Although the Cherokees were allies of the British, they were also friendly with the French.)

Two Cherokee census records were made. One gave a total population of 10,379 (including 3510 warriors), with 53 towns. The other, by the Board of Trade, gave the total population as 12,000 (including 3800 warriors).

(Hewitt said the Chiefs who met with Governor Nicolson came from 37 different towns. If there were actually 53 towns, the 37 Chiefs represented only 69.8% of the Nation's towns, at best. Since the Cherokees held their land in common, however, no single Cherokee of any rank had the right to cede more than his own individual, proportionate share.)



In his Memorial of January 12, 1756, Ludovick Grant Indian trader from South Carolina, stated: "It is about 30 year's since I went into the Cherokee Country, where I have resided ever Since..." This would make it about 1725 or 1726 when he arrived in the Cherokee Nation. [28]

Grant, a Scot Jacobite who was captured at Preston in 1715, and transported from Liverpool to South Carolina on the Susannah on May 7, 1716, married a full-blood Cherokee of the Long Hair Clan (named Euchioote according to Shirley Hoskins' genealogical information). His only recorded child, Mary Grant, married William Emory, an Englishman. His descendants include: William Fawling, who was sent to warn the American settlers in 1776; Richard Fields of the Texas Cherokees; Tiana Rogers, wife of Sam Houston; John Rogers (Jr.), last Chief of the Old Settlers Cherokees; and William Charles Rogers, last Chief of the Cherokee Nation before Oklahoma Statehood. [29]



Sir Alexander Cuming, a private citizen of England, set sail for America on September 13, and arrived at Charlestown on December 5. (According to James C. Kelly, he was widely regarded as unstable, and knew it!) [30]



On March 11, Sir Alexander Cuming started into Cherokee country from Charlestown, with trader William Cooper as guide. At Keowee, 300 miles from Charlestown, the first important location on the road (called the "trace") from Charlestown to the Cherokee Nation, he encountered Ludovick Grant, the Scot trader "from Tellico." He told Grant he wanted to see the Cherokee country before he returned to England. (He later claimed he had been led by a dream of his wife's into going to America and visiting the Cherokees.) He told Grant and some of the other Traders who were "going down, that he had no Errand but to see the Country and that he would continue there but a few days requesting us to return with him." The traders agreed to do so. They dined at the house of Joseph Baker, a trader of Keowee, and that evening went to the Town House, where all the Indian men and women met every night, if not out hunting. [31]

Cuming went to the Town House wearing his gun, cutlass, and a pair of pistols. After a while, Cuming made a speech to the head men, which he later repeated at every town. He said he was one of the Great King George's Children but was not sent either by the Great King or any of his Governors--that he was no public person and only came for his own private Satisfaction to see their Country, and that he would drink the King's health hoping that all persons would pledge him. Afterwards he said it would be easy to make them all "good Subjects. [32]

Grant also reported a "Circumstance pretty Extraordinary. When one of the traders told Cuming that the Indians never came into the Town House armed, and did not like that any should, he answered "with a Wild look, that his intention was if any of the Indians had refused the King's health to have taken a brand out of the fire that Burns in the middle of the room and have set fire to the house. That he would have guarded the door himself and put to death every one that endeavored to make their Escape that they might all have been consumed to ashes." Grant wrote, "This strange speech which I and the other Traders heard him make, did not give some of them who were to have been Dart of the party a very favourable opinion of him, so they concluded it would be saffer for them to stay and leave him and me to pursue our Journey…" [33]

The next morning, Cuming (and Grant) left Keowee on a trip of over 150 miles into the center of

the Cherokee Nation, during which he "seldom staid above 2 or 3 hours" and "never above a night at any place." Any Cherokee he met and shook hands with, as was their custom, he claimed to have "made a friend of," and wrote down their names. [34]

Sir Alexander was told of the ceremonies used in making a head "beloved man" or Ouka, of which, Grant said, "there are a great many in this nation." He was told that the English translated the word as "King" and called the wig-like cap of red or yellow dyed opossum skin "a crown." Cuming later claimed that when he was at Tellico on his way to Nequassee (now Franklin, N.C.) he had secured a pledge of loyalty to King George from Chief Moytoy of Tellico, and "arranged for Moytoy's election as 'Emperor' of the Cherokees at the council in Nequassee of April 3. Grant's report does not contain any mention of such events. [35]

At Nequassee, Cuming was shown one of the opossum skin caps and told the Indians he would take it to England and give it to "the great King George." [36]

After Cuming gave his set speech, he said that he was soon going over the Great Water and if any of them would go with him to see England he would Carry them. According to Grant, nothing was said of surrendering any lands. According to Kelly, Sir Alexander felt people would doubt his report of the trip unless he took some proof back with him. (Cuming later alleged that Chief Moytoy of Tellico declined because of his wife's illness, but that Moytoy allowed Cuming to select his companions.) [37]

Recollecting in 1755, however, Attacullaculla said that, "(Cuming) said it would have much better effect if some of us would go along with him, but after some questions were asked about England and how far it might be to it, not one of our people would consent to go...At night Mr. Wiggan the interpreter came to the house where I was, and told me that the warrior (Cuming) had a particular favor for me, and that if I would consent to go he would be indifferent whether any other Went; and Mr. Wiggan pressed me very much to accept of his Invitation. I was then a young man but I thought it right to Consider before I spoke, I told him that I understood England was a great way off. That I should be long in going there, I should be detained there a Considerable time, and would be long in returning and I did not know how I should get back. But he assured me that the distance was very much magnifyed and that I might be back at the end of the Summer or at least some time in the Fall. Upon which assurance I agreed to go. Early next morning, One of our people came to me...He told me that neither he nor any other had intended to have gone but since I was to then go That I should not go alone, for that he would accompany me and that he knew of Two or three more that he could persuade to go accordingly they were spoken to and aggreed making in all Six and we Immediately got ready & soon set off..." [38]

Cuming and his party arrived at Charlestown on April 13, one month and two days after he had left there. Another Cherokee had joined them on the way to Charlestown, making seven Cherokees who boarded the man-of-war Fox on May 4. They landed at Dover, England, on June 5. On June 18, the Cherokees saw King George II at the installation of Knights of the Garter at Windsor. They were permitted to stand near the King at dinner. They were described as being "naked, except an Apron about their middles, and a Horse's Tail hung down behind, their Faces, shoulders etc. were painted and spotted with red, blue, and green etc. They had Bows in their Hands, and painted Feathers on their Heads..." [39]

The Cherokees were presented to King George II on June 22. Cuming laid the opossum skin "crown" at the feet of the King and the Cherokees added 4 scalps and 5 eagle tails to the tribute. Starr stated this audience disclosed the real reason for Cuming's activities, because it gave him the opportunity to propose his schemes, among which was one for paying off 80,000,000 of the national debt by settling 3,000,000 Jewish families in the Cherokee mountains to cultivate the land, and one to relieve the American colonies from taxation by establishing numerous banks and a local currency. The government paid no heed to his proposals. [40]

In a letter from South Carolina, dated June 12, and published in the Edinburgh Weekly Journal of September 16, Sir Alexander was accused of having defrauded the settlers out of large sums of money and other property by means of fictitious promissory notes. He did not answer these charges. [41]

The Cherokees were given white men's clothing, and wore them when they sat for a portrait commissioned by the Duke of Montagu. A later engraving of this portrait still exists. [42]

The seven Cherokees signed "Articles of Agreement" (for "Friendship and Commerce"), the night of September 20, at Sir Alexander Cuming's lodgings in Spring Garden, Westminster, in the presence of Governor Robert Johnson and the Secretary of the Board of the Charlestown colony. Attacullaculla's name of "Oucounacou" was entered on the treaty, along with the others. In later years, Attacullaculla said that, as he was the youngest, it would not have been proper for him to have been the Speaker when the Articles were signed, and therefore Oukayuda was appointed. Afterward, in their quarters, the Cherokees demanded an exact translation from their interpreter, Eleazar Wiggan, the "Old Rabbit." Upon hearing that their Speaker had solemnly affirmed the claim of the Great King to the Cherokee land in Carolina, they seriously considered killing both the interpreter and Speaker. They decided, however, that, since they had no authority to cede land, the Articles could not be binding and they would leave it to the elders at home. (This view was also held by the British as evidenced by the purchase of land about 1732 and the 1755 Treaty of Saluda.) Ludovick Grant's 1756 Memorial states no land cession was made. [43]

Attacullaculla didn't like being stared at in England, and always chose to go incognito, but he told his interpreter "They are welcome to look upon me as a strange creature. They see but one, and in return, they give me an opportunity to look upon thousands." [44]

On October 2, the Cherokees set out for Portsmouth, where they boarded the Fox on October 7 for the return trip. [45]

In an article in the London Daily Journal of October 8, Sir Alexander claimed he had been made a chief of the Cherokee Nation, and that he had been allowed to name Moytoy of Tellico as their emperor. [46]



Attacullaculla was named Ookoonaka, the White Owl. (His name has also been spelled Ucounacco, Ukwanequa, Ouconecaw, Oukanaka, etc., and later, in South Carolina records: Chucunnuta, Chucannuta, Chugnonata, Chukenanta, etc.)

He was later given the title of Attacullaculla (Attakullakulla), which Starr translated as "pole or reed slightly stuck in the earth and leaning," or "leaning stick."

Some English newspapers in 1730 referred to him as "Captain Owean Nakan."

The British colonists called him "The Little Carpenter," because of his small stature and the fact that his title "had something to do with wood."

He was probably born between 1700 and 1712, and died about 1777. According to one of his contemporaries, he was born on the Big Island of the French Broad River, and was a "child of the Overhill towns."

He was the youngest of the seven Cherokees who went to England with Cuming. He was probably the junior in rank.

During his career, he invariably strove to maintain the supremacy of the Overhills above the Middle and Lower Cherokee towns. He became one of the most powerful men in his Nation.

Christopher French, who saw him in 1761, thought him "a well looking man, (who) has always a smile in his countenance." Felix Walker, who saw him in (about March) 1775, said he was "a very small man" who scarcely weighed 90 pounds. He also said, "He was marked with two large scars on each cheek; his ears were cut and banded with silver, hanging nearly down to his shoulders, in the notion of Indians a mode of distinction in some tribes." William Bartram, who saw him in May 1775 said he was "a man of remarkable small stature, slender, and delicate frame." John Redd, however, thought he "was of fine personal appearance, very straight, square built, weighed about 145, below the ordinary height."

Felix Walker called him "the Solon of his Day." Bartram found him a "man of superior abilities." Pleasant Henderson thought he "was the most fluent, most graceful and eloquent orator he had ever heard." We cannot, however, feel the impact of his oratory, according to William Tatham, because "the manly and dignified expressions of an Indian orator lose nearly all force and energy in translation." Ludovick Grant warned Governor James Glen that "Your Excellency will, I believe...find him inpudent and unmannerly to a Degree almost above what can be suffered." Raymond Demere also found him "a very impertinent fellow" and "very saucey for his brutish temper and bad Disposition."

Professor Alden thought he was perhaps the only "noble savage" on the Southern frontier, but he was still a man of his times and people. He was present (and presided in 1763) at councils where enemies were tortured and burned, and once told Governor Lyttleton "I love to spill the Blood of Enemies ..." He also, however, secured a pardon for a man who had been condemned in Charlestown, and, when (his brother) Willenawah's war party returned with a single scalp, Attacullaculla secured rich presents for them. He explained to Demere, "tis not expected that everyone that goes shall kill and why should they not be rewarded, as well as he that kills; their Intent is as good, they wear out their Cloaths, and come home naked." He also gave many of his possessions to ransom John Stuart after the "massacre" at Fort Loudoun, and his home was more than once plundered because of his commitment to the British.

He was, apparently, both vain and arrogant, and demanded many presents.