History of Campbell County, Tennessee
 

Time Line

OVERHILL CHEROKEES, WHO SOLD LAND TO HENDERSON & CO., CAUGHT IN STRUGGLE BETWEEN ENGLISH, FRENCH

By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the LaFollette Press.

Henderson and Company purchased land from the Overhill Cherokees at Sycamore Shoals on March 17, 1775. The Transylvania Land Company, the company name chosen for the transfer of the land, was to populate this land offering practical terms to settlers.

The land commissioners met in July 1777 at Fort Patrick Henry, near Long Island (Kingsport) on the Holston River, to hold a peace treaty with the Overhill Cherokees concerning the legality of the land purchase. This document was dated and signed on June 18, 1777, by Richard Henderson, Thomas Hart, Nathaniel Hart, John Williams, William Johnston, John Luttrell, James Hogg, David Hart, and Leo Hen Bullock, who were all members of the company.

The land was to be laid off in one survey commencing with the following boundaries; beginning at the old Indian town in Powell's Valley, running down Powell's River not less than four miles in width on one or both sides, to the juncture of Powell and Clinch Rivers; then down Clinch River on one or both sides, not less than twelve miles in width, a total allocation of 200,000 acres.

The European's effect upon Cherokee culture did not have much effect until the early 1700s, after the English colonies of Virginia and South Carolina had become well organized. Fur traders from these two colonies began traveling deeper and deeper into the Appalachian frontier to negotiate with the Cherokee for pelts.

Just a few decades later, the English traders appeared as a frequent sight in their villages, where the Cherokee purchased their first muskets. Pack trains loaded with deerskins, along with furs of all varieties, rambled back and forth on the many wilderness trails between the Atlantic coast colonies and the Cherokee towns with ever escalating determination.

France, during this period, began to increase its embrace and authority southward from Canada, and to the north from the Gulf Coast, while the English migrants, who were scattered along the Atlantic seaboard and westward en route for the Appalachians, became uneasy. The desire between these two factions to set up war in the Cherokees' owns back yard had much to be desired.

England and France both recognized the wealth probability of the forests and river valleys, which lay immediately beyond their colonial frontiers. Also, the need to have the Native American as a friend in case that wealth be created. These two great powers slowly became intertwined in their struggle for the gigantic North American interior, thus, the French and Indian War (1756-1763).

The Cherokee were caught in the focal point of France and England, with both parties contesting for the Indian's commitment. In just a few decades the Ani-Yunwiya, as the Cherokee called themselves, became a tribe of secluded mountaineers to players in the theatre of world events.

The French built Fort Toulouse on the Coosa River in Alabama country, near the present day town of Montgomery. These foreigners began pressuring the Cherokee known as the "Overhills." This tribe was a part of the clan living on the Hiwassee, Tellico and the Little Tennessee rivers. (It should be noted that prior to a legitimate resolution in 1819, the river known today as the Little Tennessee was commonly called the "Cherakee River," or, the "Tennassee River.")

The English were somewhat troubled, for the Overhill Cherokee were the most warlike division of their nation. If this great tribe maintained their presence as allies of the English, they would tend to appease the Atlantic coast colonies and the French threat that became visible on the western frontier. If, for instance, the Overhills changed their minds and went over to the French side, the English would no doubt undergo some disastrous consequences. The English viewed this circumstance as divided into three concerns: the future control of North American interior, the fur trade, and certainly a guarantee that Cherokee warriors under French authority would not terrorize England's colonies.

Contents of a letter delivered to James Glen of the colony of South Carolina from Ludovic Grant, an English trader living among the Cherokee, cautioned what would happen should the French gain favor the English regarding the Overhill Cherokees. He wrote pointing out the power and influence that the Overhill towns held within the Cherokee. "If the enemy once gets possession of the Overhill Indians, all others will quickly submit to save their lives."

The English had problems dealing with the Cherokee on a tactful level because their tribal government did not operate reminiscent of the Europeans. Captain Raymond Demere, first commander of Fort Loudon, a stronghold constructed on the Little Tennessee River during the French and Indian War, wrote that:

"The savages are an odd Kind of People; as there is no Law nor Subjection amongst them, they can't be compelled to do anything nor oblige them to embrace any Party except they please. The very lowest of them thinks himself as a great and as high as any of the Rest...but everyone is his own Master."

Problems arose as how to deal with a great nation of people that did not allow their leaders any power over the individuals of that nation. Seemingly, every person was his own master. The English made an effort to merge the Cherokee regime and make it more like their own. Consequently, the English tried to persuade the tribe into choosing a single leader as their ultimate ruler and principal diplomat. The Conjurer of Tugalo, in 1716, was chosen to the position, but his reign eventually ran out. Other "kings" followed, with the same effect, frustrating the English to no end. The Cherokees simply wouldn't participate in the white man's rules.

His own people as the primary headman of the Overhill Indian towns acknowledged the Warrior of Tannassy, during the early 1720s. With opportunities abounding, the English diplomats flattered the great Warrior. These foreign ambassadors presented themselves with an impressive manner and as a good friend of the powerful war chief.

Trade was the Englishman's goal. Their thoughts were that a good relationship with the Chief would influence the whole of the Cherokee Nation to their benefit, and damage any plans that the French might have for enticing the tribe into their circle.

Chota, in the Overhill country on the Little Tennessee River, was a center of civil and religious authority; it was also known as a "Town of Refuge," a place of asylum for the Indian criminals especially murderers.

During the next several years' diplomacy was concentrated upon the Warrior's village, the village of Tannassy, which lay at the western foot of the Appalachians, on a horseshoe bend of the Little Tennessee River. This site has since been inundated by Lake Tellico.

(A portion of this article was taken from the Tellico Times, Author, William Baker.)

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