Published on February 8, 2013 by Carol
Henderson and frontiersmen thought the outbreak of the Revolution superseded the judgements of the royal governors. The Transylvania Company began recruiting settlers for the region they had “purchased”.
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As tensions rose, the Loyalist John Stuart, British Superintendent of Indian Affairs, was besieged by a mob at his house in Charleston and had to flee for his life. His first stop was St. Augustine in East Florida. He sent his deputy, Alexander Cameron, and his brother Henry to Mobile to obtain short-term supplies and arms for the Cherokee. Dragging Canoe took a party of 80 warriors to provide security for the packtrain. He met Henry Stuart and Cameron (whom he had adopted as a brother) at Mobile on 1 March 1776. He asked how he could help the British against their rebel subjects, and for help with the illegal settlers. The two men told him to wait for regular troops to arrive before taking any action.
When the two arrived at Chota, Henry Stuart sent out letters to the trespassers of the Washington District (Watauga and Nolichucky), Pendelton District (North-of-Holston), and Carter’s Valley (in modern Hawkins County). He informed the settlers they were illegally on Cherokee land and gave them 40 days to leave. People sympathetic to the Revolution forged a letter to indicate a large force of regular troops, plus Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Muscgoee, was on the march from Pensacola and planning to pick up reinforcements from the Cherokee. The forged letters alarmed the settlers, who began gathering together in closer, fortified groups, building stations (small forts), and otherwise preparing for an attack
Visit from the northern tribes
In May 1776, partly at the behest of Henry Hamilton, the British governor in Detroit, the Shawnee chief Cornstalk led a delegation from the northern tribes (Shawnee, Lenape, Iroquois, Ottawa, others) to the southern tribes (Cherokee, Muscogee, Chickasaw, Choctaw). Cornstalk called for united action against those they called the “Long Knives”, the squatters who settled and remained in Kain-tuck-ee (Ganda-gi), or, as the settlers called it, Transylvania. The northerners met with the Cherokee leaders at Chota. At the close of his speech, Cornstalk offered his war belt, and Dragging Canoe accepted it, along with Abraham (Osiuta) of Chilhowee (Tsulawiyi). Dragging Canoe also accepted belts from the Ottawa and the Iroquois, while Savanukah, the Raven of Chota, accepted the belt from the Lenape. The northern emissaries offered war belts to Stuart and Cameron, but they declined to accept.
The plan was for the Cherokee of the Middle, Out, and Valley Towns of what is now western North Carolina to attack South Carolina. Cameron would lead warriors of the Lower Towns against Georgia. Warriors of the Overhill Towns along the lower Little Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers were to attack Virginia and North Carolina. In the Overhill campaign, Dragging Canoe was to lead a force against the Pendelton District, Abraham one against the Washington District, and Savanukah one against Carter’s Valley. Dragging Canoe led a small war party into Kentucky and returned with four scalps to present to Cornstalk before the northern delegation departed.
Jemima Boone and the Callaway sisters
The Cherokee soon began raiding into Kentucky, often together with the Shawnee. In one of these raids, a war party led by Hanging Maw (Skwala-guta) of Coyatee (Kaietiyi), captured three teenage girls in a canoe on the Kentucky River. The girls were Jemima Boone, daughter of the explorer; and Elizabeth and Frances Callaway, daughters of Richard Callaway. The war party hurried toward the Shawnee towns north of the Ohio River, but were overtaken by Boone and his rescue party after three days. After a brief firefight, the war party retreated and the girls were rescued. They were unharmed and Jemima said they had been treated reasonably well.
The incident was believed to have inspired James Fenimore Cooper’s similar scene in his novel The Last of the Mohicans. Lieutenant-Colonel George Munro, the book’s protagonist Hawkeye (Natty Bumppo), his adopted Mohican elder brother Chingachgook, Chingachgook’s son Uncas, and David Gamut follow and overtake a Huron war party of Magua in order to rescue the sisters, Cora and Alice Munro.
Traders warned the squatters in Upper East Tennessee of the impending Cherokee attacks. They had come from Chota bearing word from Nancy Ward (Agigaue), the Beloved Woman (leader or Elder). The Cherokee offensive proved to be disastrous for the attackers, particularly those going up against the Holston settlements.
Finding Eaton’s Station deserted, Dragging Canoe took his force up the Great Indian Warpath, where he had a small skirmish with 20 militia. Pursuing them and intending to take Fort Lee at Long-Island-on-the-Holston, his force advanced. They encountered a larger force of militia six miles from Fort Lee. It was about half the size of his own but desperate and in a stronger position. During the “Battle of Island Flats,” Dragging Canoe was wounded in his hip by a musket ball, and his brother Little Owl (Uku-usdi) was hit eleven times, but survived. His force withdrew, raiding isolated cabins on the way. After raiding further north into southwestern Virginia, his party returned to the Overhill area with plunder and scalps.
The following week, Dragging Canoe led the attack on Black’s Fort on the Holston (today Abingdon, Virginia). They killed the settler Henry Creswell on July 22, 1776, outside the stockade. More attacks continued the third week of July, with support from the Muscogee and Tories.
Abraham of Chilhowee was unsuccessful in trying to take Fort Caswell on the Watauga, and his warriors suffered heavy casualties. Instead of withdrawing, he put the garrison under siege. After two weeks, he gave it up. Savanukah raided from the outskirts of Carter’s Valley far into Virginia, but those targets contained only small settlements and isolated farmsteads, so he did no real military damage.
Despite his wounds, Dragging Canoe led his warriors to South Carolina to join Alexander Cameron and the Cherokee from the Lower Towns.
The colonials quickly gathered militia who moved against the Cherokee. North Carolina sent General Griffith Rutherford with 2400 militia to scour the Oconaluftee and Tuckasegee river valleys, and the headwaters of the Little Tennessee and Hiwassee. South Carolina sent 1800 men to the Savannah, and Georgia sent 200 to attack Cherokee settlements along the Chattahoochee and Tugaloo rivers. In all, they destroyed more than 50 towns, burned the houses and food stores, destroyed the orchards, slaughtered livestock, and killed hundreds of Cherokee. They sold captives into slavery.
Virginia sent a large force accompanied by North Carolina volunteers, led by William Christian, to the lower Little Tennessee valley. By this time, Dragging Canoe and his warriors had returned to the Overhill Towns. Oconostota supported making peace with the colonists at any price. Dragging Canoe called for the women, children, and old to be sent below the Hiwassee and for the warriors to burn the towns, then ambush the Virginians at the French Broad River. Oconostota, Attakullakulla, and the older chiefs decided against that plan. He sent word to the approaching colonial army offering to exchange Dragging Canoe and Cameron if the Overhill Towns were spared.
Dragging Canoe spoke to the council of the Overhill Towns, denouncing the older leaders as rogues and “Virginians” for their willingness to cede land for an ephemeral safety. He concluded, “As for me, I have my young warriors about me. We will have our lands.” He stalked out of the council. Afterward, he and other militant leaders, including Ostenaco, gathered like-minded Cherokee from the Overhill, Valley, and Hill towns, and migrated to what is now the Chattanooga, Tennessee area. Cameron had already transferred there.
Christian’s Virginia force found Great Island, Citico (Sitiku), Toqua (Dakwayi), Tuskegee (Taskigi), Chilhowee, and Great Tellico virtually deserted. Only the older leaders remained. Christian limited the destruction in the Overhill Towns to the burning of the deserted towns.
The paramount mico Emistigo led the Upper Muscogee in alliance with the British; within a year he had become the strongest native ally of Dragging Canoe and his faction of Cherokee. After 1777, he was assisted by Alexander McGillivray (Hoboi-Hili-Miko), the mixed-blood son of a Coushatta woman and a Scots-Irish American trader. He was mico of the Coushatta, a former colonel in the British Army, and one of John Stuart’s agents. Although the majority of the Lower Muscogee chose to remain neutral, the Loyalist Capt. William McIntosh, another of Stuart’s agents, recruited a sizable unit of Hitchiti warriors to fight on the British side.
The Treaties of 1777
In 1777, the Cherokee in the Hill, Valley, Lower, and Overhill towns signed the Treaty of Dewitt’s Corner with Georgia and South Carolina (Ostenaco was one of the Cherokee signatories) and the Treaty of Fort Henry with Virginia and North Carolina. They promised to stop warring, and the colonies promised in return to protect them from attack. Dragging Canoe raided within 15 miles of Fort Henry during the negotiations. One provision of the latter treaty required that James Robertson and a small garrison be quartered at Chota on the Little Tennessee. Neither treaty halted attacks by frontiersmen from the illegal colonies, nor stopped their encroachment onto Cherokee lands. The peace treaty required the Cherokee to give up their land of the Lower Towns in South Carolina, and most of the area of the Out Towns. This was part of their movement to the south and west.