Most histories of the French and Indian War make little mention of events in the Southeast during this period. The primary reason is that European armies did not battle each other in the South. The bulk of the bloodshed in the Southeast occurred in battles between colonial militias and Great Britain’s former ally, the Cherokees. In contrast, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia lost over 90% of its population during the French and Indian War, while the British settlements in northern New York temporarily ceased to exist.
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While the European settlers of what was to become the states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida experienced very little bloodshed, the results of the war would radically change the ethnic and political landscape. In 1755 the Colony of Georgia was bounded on three sides by lands claimed by two hostile powers, France and Spain. In 1763 all of that territory came under the British Crown. Southeastern tribes, especially the Creeks, had played the European powers against each other in order to protect their sovereignty. That political strategy would no longer be possible. On the other hand, many new lands became available, which put further distance between the Creeks and British frontiersmen.
The Southern frontier could have become as dangerous for British settlers as the Middle Atlantic and New England colonies had the Creek Confederacy chosen sides. For decades French engineers in Mobile had kept detailed, updated maps of the Georgia and South Carolina colonies in anticipation of an invasion from the west. However, the reality was that by the mid-1700s, a single county in either British colony was capable of producing more militiamen than were available in all of the Province of Louisiana. Furthermore, by 1755 the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks and Cherokees obtained most of their munitions from British traders based at Fort Augusta. The British Navy’s blockade of France made the task of supplying a large, pro-French Native American army in the Southeast almost impossible.
Early French and British political efforts (1754-1755)
When word of battles between French colonial marines and Virginia militia commanded by George Washington reached Charleston and Savannah, the British colonial governments immediately sought to end any hostilities between their Indian allies. The British also tried to persuade them to fight tribes allied with the French. The Creek towns in Georgia refused to take sides. That situation would have quickly devolved into fratricide, which did occur during the Red Stick War in 1813.
Some Cherokee leaders agreed to assist the British against their old enemies the Shawnee in Virginia. In 1755 Ostemako of the Overhills Cherokee town of Tamatli led 130 warriors northward to fight the Shawnees. They then occupied a fortified town at the mouth of the Ohio River. (Ostemako means “fourth leader” in Itsati. Tamatli means ‘Tama People” in Itsati. Despite being now considered Cherokee, their Creek ancestors came from the Tamatli province in southeast Georgia.) The preponderance of Itsati-Creek proper nouns spoken by mid-18th century Cherokees suggests that it was a very different language than spoken by contemporary Cherokees.
French agents from Fort Toulouse continued to regularly visit the Overhills Cherokees along the Upper Tennessee River Basin. They were able to cultivate allies in such leaders as Mankiller of Tallakwa, Old Ceasar of Chatuga and Raven of Great Hiawassee. The First Beloved Men of the Cherokee Alliance during this era, Stalking Turkey and Standing Turkey, were both staunch French allies. Even as some Cherokee bands participated in British military campaigns to the north, the French continued to work on plans with their Cherokee allies to rebuild the French fort and trading post on Hiwassee Island that had stood until the late 1720s or early 1730s.
There were some continued battles between individual divisions of the Creeks, Shawnees and Cherokees during 1754 and 1755, but they were probably motivated by past territorial disputes. The Koweta Creeks refused to sign a peace treaty with the Cherokees. They quickly recaptured all of the land in South Carolina (northern Georgia now) and North Carolina that the Cherokees had taken from them in 1715. Apparently, the Koweta Creek attacks stopped after they had regained their old territory. Both the Koweta Creeks and the Cherokees were British allies.
In 1755 a band of Kusate Creeks (Coushetta ~ Cusetta) in what is now northwest Georgia, but then was claimed by France, attacked Overhills Cherokee villages in the Hiwassee River Basin of what was then North Carolina, but is now Tennessee. This was during a period when many Overhills warriors were in the Ohio country fighting Shawnee. The raids by the Kusate pushed the Cherokees back to the 1725 boundaries of their territory, immediately southwest of the Little Tennessee River. Apparently the Kusa Creeks were also being supported by the French military. An additional purpose of the raids would have been to secure territory around Hiwassee Island, where the French planned to rebuild their fort.
Simultaneously, the Shawnee, who had occupied parts of the Little Tennessee River in North Carolina before the Cherokees, attacked Overhills Cherokee villages in revenge for Cherokee assistance to Virginia and an earlier war in which the Cherokees forced the Shawnee northward into Kentucky.
The Overhills Cherokee leaders requested that the British army construct a fort near the Little Tennessee River to protect them from Creek and Shawnee allies of the French. The fact that in 1755 the Little Tennessee River was considered the frontier of the Overhills Cherokees refutes the widespread stories in many historical references and historical records that “the Cherokees conquered northern Georgia in 1755.” Archival evidence from the period suggests that they actually lost territory during that period.
An official map of the Southern British colonies prepared by army engineers in 1776 clearly shows the western boundary of the Lower Cherokees to be the western edge of the Nacoochee Valley and Brasstown Bald Mountain (now in Georgia.) To this day there are mixed-heritage Kusa Creek families along the stream called Coosa Creek, in western Union County, GA and in adjacent Fannin County. They apparently trace their heritage to Upper Creeks, who never left the region. A General Map of the Southern Colonies by R. Romane (1776) is displayed with this article along with an inset that shows the Cherokee territory in detail.
Fort Loudon (1756-1760)
In the fall of 1756 British Captain Raymond Demere led a command of 200 Redcoats and civilian construction workers from Fort Prince George on the Keowee River to the Little Tennessee River. The army unit was entitled His Majesty’s Independent Company of South Carolina. He was accompanied by German military engineer named William DeBrahm. After building a fort near the village of Taskeke (Tuskegee in English – means Woodpecker People in Muskogee.) A large diamond shaped timber palisade called Fort Loudon was constructed that included barracks, stables, work buildings and a trading post. It was named after the Earl of Loudon, who was at that time commanding British forces in the colonies.
The garrison apparently got along well with the local Cherokees at first. There was considerable trade and some intermarriage with local gals. The French sponsored raids stopped. In 1757 Captain Paul Demere replaced his brother as post commander.
Elsewhere, though, relations between the Cherokees and colonists deteriorated rapidly. Cherokees, who were fighting the Shawnee in, felt unappreciated. The Virginia frontiersmen were generally hostile to the Cherokees because they knew that the word, Cherokee, was a new name for the Rickohockens, who had been driven out of Virginia in the early 1700s.
When a band of hungry Cherokee warriors butchered several cattle on the way home from fighting the Shawnee, they were killed by local vigilantes. Some Overhills and Middle Cherokees were raiding frontier farmsteads to steal horses and cattle.
European frontiersmen reciprocated by raiding the nearest Lower Cherokee town, Chauga. Several Cherokees were killed and scalped. Their scalps were sold to colonial officials as Shawnee scalps. The Lower Cherokees reciprocated by attacking the nearest European farmsteads. Colonial authorities reciprocated by holding 23 Cherokee leaders hostage, even though they had arrived on a peace mission to settle the turmoil. When other Cherokees attacked Fort Prince George to free their leaders, the fort’s commander was killed. The Cherokee hostages were executed. Immediately, the Cherokees went on the war path, but most bands did not formerly sign an alliance with France.
In 1759, the Upper Creek leader, Yayatustanagi, led a band of followers to the site of the old capital of Kusa on the Coosawattee River in what is now northwestern Georgia. He planned to create an alliance of the Upper Creeks, Choctaw, Cherokees, Shawnee, Chickasaw and Catawba to drive out the British. Virtually all contemporary history texts state that he was a chief and his name was Mortar. However, the translation of his name means, “Yelling big warrior.” He was not an elected mikko or chief of the Creeks. The same texts generally imply that the region was unoccupied. However, all French maps until 1763 show several Kusate (Coushetta) villages on the Coosawattee River. Probably, Yaytustanagi led a band of Apiki (Abeika) Creeks, who had not been involved with the 1755 raids on the Cherokees. He would have been a more acceptable ally for the Cherokees, if they changed sides to the French.
When word of the murder of the Cherokee hostages at Fort Prince George reached the Overhills Cherokees in early 1760, they went into a rage. Several Cherokee leaders immediately traveled to New Orleans to negotiate an alliance with the French. Fort Loudon was surrounded by Cherokees. They lacked the artillery to assault the palisades, but would not allow any food to enter. By August the garrison was near starvation. Captain Demere agreed to surrender terms on August 5, which allowed the occupants to march out the gates with small arms and minimal supplies. On the morning of August 7, the garrison’s camp was attacked near the Tellico River. Demere, 20 enlisted men and all but one officer were killed. The surviving soldiers and civilians were held as hostages for several months.
The Cherokees timing of starting a war against South Carolina and Virginia couldn’t have been worst. Quebec had been captured by the British in the fall of 1759. Montreal fell in September of 1760. Several small armies composed of Redcoats and South Carolina militia were defeated, but a much larger army defeated the Cherokees at Echoee Gap on the Little Tennessee River headwaters near the border between Georgia and North Carolina. Soon, almost all the Lower Cherokee villages, and 15 Middle Cherokee villages, had been destroyed. (Echoee means “deer” in Itsati-Creek. Muskogean place names predominate in the Lower Cherokee region.) By late 1761 the Cherokee were starving. They signed a peace treaty with Virginia in November of 1761 and South Carolina in early 1762.
1763 – Results of the French and Indian War
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 officially removed all Native peoples from east of the 84th meridian in North Carolina. This line runs through Murphy and Robbinsville, NC today, and is about 45 miles west of the contemporary reservation of the Eastern Band of the Cherokees. British subjects were forbidden to settle west of a line that was drawn through the Appalachian Mountains. In North Carolina that line ran along the western edge of the plateau where Asheville is now located. Apparently, small bands of Cherokees continued to reside inside the buffer zone between Asheville and Murphy for several more decades.
British maps suggest that the Upper Creeks continued to live in northwest Georgia into the 1770s. In 1776 famed Indian trader and historian, James Adair, moved to what is now northwest Georgia with his Chickasaw wife and mixed heritage sons. Their settlement was located Oothlooga Creek in what is now northern Bartow County. It was a few miles east of the Oostanaula River, which is a Chickasaw word. Oothlooga is an Apalachicola work. They lived about nine miles west of the Natchez village at Pine Log. Adair’s sons later became leaders in the Cherokee Nation. Some descendants still live in the Adairsville, GA area. It is possible that after 1763 northwest Georgia became an “open” region in which mixed heritage families from many tribal backgrounds could live unmolested.
An official British Army map published in 1776 showed the region between the Cumberland River in Tennessee, southward to the Tennessee River in Alabama, to be Upper Creek territory. Prior to 1763 it had been occupied by the Chickasaws. However, surviving place names such as Chattanooga (Red Gorge in Muskogee) Sewanee (Shawnee in Upper Creek) Chickamauga (Sitting Place to Look Out in Chickasaw) and Tullahoma (Red Town in Chickasaw) suggest that the region still contained Shawnee and Chickasaw villages that joined the Creek Confederacy.
A buffer zone was created between the Creeks and Cherokees between the Tugaloo River, southward to the Sawakeehachee (Broad) River. Before the French and Indian War, maps showed this area to be occupied by Hogeloge Yuchi’s, Sawakee Creeks and Apalachees.
The Koweta Creeks gave up the territory they had recapture in 1754 in return for a much larger territory in what is now is Alabama, but was then South Carolina and Georgia. The Kusate (Coushetta) gave up their territories in what is now southeastern Tennessee to the Cherokees, but were assigned large territories in what is now Alabama. Although British maps of the era show the Kusate still living in northwest Georgia after 1763, many villages probably migrated southward to broader floodplains on the Coosa River in Alabama.
The common perception is that the Middle and Lower Cherokees moved down into what is now Georgia after 1763. However, official British maps suggest otherwise. Only two Georgia Cherokee towns were rebuilt after being destroyed by the Koweta Creeks, Nacoochee and Tugaloo. Some other small hamlets appeared in the northeastern tip of Georgia, but it is obvious that most Cherokees took refuge in eastern Tennessee to remove themselves further from irate South Carolina frontiersmen. After 1763 the Cherokees had very little territory left in South Carolina.
Although Alabama is often assumed to have been always occupied by Creek Indians, prior to the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the Alabama and Koasati were the largest Muskogean tribes within the future state’s boundaries. Their villages were clustered around Mobile and Fort Toulouse. Thousands of Alabama, Koasati and Creek allies of the French left Alabama with the French then settled in Louisiana, Texas and northern Mexico.
Creek tribes from South Carolina and Georgia migrated to the now open territories to the west. The Ilape-Pee Dee Creeks of South Carolina became the Hillabee Creeks of Alabama. The Sawakee (Raccoon People) Creeks of southern South Carolina settled around what was to become Auburn, AL. Shawnee and Creek villages from the vicinity of Asheville and Hendersonville, NC relocated in north-central Alabama. Muskogee Creeks moved from central and western Georgia into what is now Alabama.
Various branches of the Creeks also moved into Florida, since it was now an English colony. Apparently, the Apalachicola in northwest Georgia moved to the Pensacola area. Oothlooga town appears near Pensacola in a map drawn by William Bartram in 1776. Several Oconee tribal towns also moved from the Carolinas and northeast Georgia to Florida. The Koweta Creeks maintained some towns in northeastern Georgia, but shifted their population westward.
Part Eight of this series contains a table listing the locations of Muskogean towns in eastern French Louisiana in 1755.