Native American History of Hall County, Georgia
Hall County located in northern Georgia. It is part of the Gainesville, GA Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA.) Its county seat is Gainesville. It is named after Lyman Hall, one of Georgia’s three signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Gainesville was known as the Poultry Capital of the World in the 1950s through the1970s. It was here in the 1930s that Jesse Jewell pioneered the modern vertically integrated poultry industry, making chicken an inexpensive meat, affordable to most families. Until that time, chicken was a food item often reserved for Sunday dinner.
In the late 1950s the Jesse Jewell Company pioneered frozen fried chicken and “TV dinners;” something that is taken for granted by 21st century North Americans. Jewell’s TV jingle, “When you buy chicken, make it a rule, real fine eating with Jesse Jewell!” dominated the new media of television in the 1950s. Since the 1970s clusters of poultry farms, poultry feed plants and chicken processing plants have been established at several locations in the southern half of the United States. The economy of the Gainesville Area has greatly expanded to the point that it is no longer solely dependent on poultry production.
Hall County is bordered on the north by White County and the northeast by Habersham County. Both Dawson and Lumpkin Counties define its northwestern boundaries. Banks County is located to the east, while Jackson County is located to the southeast. Barrow County forms the southern boundary. Gwinnett County adjoins Hall on the southwest side. Forsyth County forms the western boundary, while both Dawson and Lumpkin Counties adjoin Hall on the northwest.
Geology and hydrology
Hall County was located in the Upper Piedmont and Blue Ridge foothills geological regions, which are characterized by underlying rock strata of igneous and metamorphicized igneous rock. The Blue Ridge Foothills can include small mountains, but these mountains do not form continuous ridges. The terrain of the county generally consists of rolling hills and stream valleys, but in some areas can seem semi-mountainous. This is because high mountains once stood at these locations, but have eroded to large hills through the eons. The section of the Chattahoochee River passing through Hall County once had some alluvial flood plains, but these were all covered by Lake Sydney Lanier in the early 1950s. There are few permanent or seasonal wetlands paralleling the streams that flow into the Chattahoochee. However, Hall has far fewer wetlands than counties to the south or east. The top soils are thin over most hills and steep slopes, while much deeper near streams.
Hall County was north of the old Cotton Line, which marked the northern limit of cotton species grown before the Civil War. There were few, if any, cotton plantations. The rolling landscape was not suitable for large plantations. As a result relatively few slaves were owned in Hall; at least as compared to counties in central, west and southern Georgia.
Hall County was drained by the Chattahoochee River. The county’s largest stream is the Chattahoochee River, however, this river’s original channel is now under the waters of Lake Lanier. The river had all the characteristics of a mountain river. Only the smallest of dugout canoes could have passed through the series of rocky shoals and rapids. The Chattahoochee River joins the Flint River in deep southwestern Georgia to form the Apalachicola River, which flows through Florida into the Gulf of Mexico.
The popular explanation of the meaning of Chattahoochee is that it is Creek word meaning, “River with the shining rocks.” This is probably not accurate. Until the late 1700s, there was a large Creek town with several mounds, where Six Flags Over Georgia is now located. In the Itsate (Hitchiti-Creek) language, it was named Cata-hvci (pronounced Chata-hawchee,) which means “Red River.” The river at this town site is often clay red and contains no visible stones. When most of the Creeks were forcibly deported to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma,) they called a principal river through their lands, the Red River.
Hall County contained numerous creeks that generally flow fast and clear. Most creeks are identical in appearance to those immediately to the north in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The major streams include Balus, Belton, Big, Buffington Mill, Bull, Caney Fork, Cedar, Candler, Flat, Dean, Mossy, Slaughterhouse, Squirrel and Split Oak Creeks.
Native American occupation
A major mistake in virtually all histories of Hall County is the statement that Hall was always the home of the Cherokee Indians. These histories go on to state that the land that became Hall County was ceded by the Cherokees at the Treaty of Cherokee Agency in 1817. The later statement is true for the lands west of the Chattahoochee River, but until January 22, 1818 the Creek Nation owned a narrow strip along the eastern side of the Chattahoochee that extended northward to a Creek trading post and militia fort where the City of Clarkesville in Habersham County is now located. Until that time, the southern half of Habersham was Creek, while the northern half was Cherokee.
All French and British maps unto the American Revolution show the region of Georgia between Atlanta and the Blue Ridge Mountains occupied by the Kataapa (Catawba) Indians. The Georgia branch of the Catawba’s eventually joined the Creek Confederacy. They, the Coweta Creeks, along with several South Carolina Creek towns, apparently were the original occupants of the narrow strip of land along the Chattahoochee that the Creeks ceded in 1818.
This strip represents an interesting vestige of history. On many maps it is assumed to be Cherokee land, but was actually created in 1793 to be a buffer between the white settlers moving into the large tract of northeast Georgia land that was ceded by the Creeks, and the Cherokees, who had just been given the Creeks’ land in all of northwest Georgia. At the time of the treaty, the bloody Chickamauga Cherokee War had finally ended. Thousands of neutral and hostile Cherokees had fled into Upper Creek lands of the north Georgia Mountains to escape the wrath of the Tennessee Volunteer Militia. Apparently, the buffer was planned as a reserve for the Friendly Creeks of South Carolina and northeastern Georgia. The region is still dotted with place names associated with small South Carolina Creek tribes such as Enotah (Eno-te) and Tesnatee (Tesna-te.) By 1818 the strip was of little value to the Creek Confederacy because land cessions after 1793 had complete isolated it from the main Creek population centers.
Prior to the Lake Lanier being filled with water, a team of archaeologists from the University of Georgia excavated the Summerour Mounds in Hall County, northeast of Buford Dam. These were some of Georgia’s oldest pyramidal platform mounds. Pottery associated with the Swift Creek and Napier Cultures were found there. Much of the mound construction occurred during the Napier Culture, between 600 AD and 900 AD. There was also a Woodstock Culture occupation of the site that began around 900 AD and lasted for a century. The information gained from the examination of this site has in recent years become valuable for understanding the appearance of large scale corn cultivation and town development in Georgia.
Native American Cultural Periods
Archaeologists believe that humans have lived in Hall County for at least 12,000 years, perhaps much longer. Clovis and Folsom points, associated with Late Ice age big game hunters have been found in the Chattahoochee River Valley. During the Ice Age, herds of giant mammals roamed the river bottom lands. The mastodons, saber tooth tigers, giant sloths and other massive mammals died out about 8,000 years ago. The ethnic identity of the Clovis Culture hunters is not known. They were long presumed to be American Indians, but recent research by anthropologists have revealed many similarities with the big game hunters of Western Europe. An ice cap on the North Atlantic Ocean may have permitted early humans to move back and forth between continents by paddling, while gaining sustenance from hunting sea mammals and fishing.
Archaic Period (8,000 BC – 1000 BC)
After the climate warmed, animals and plants typical of today soon predominated in this region. Humans adapted to the changes and gradually became more sophisticated. They adopted seasonal migratory patterns that maximized access to food resources. Archaic hunters probably moved to locations along major rivers during the winter, where they could eat fish and fresh water mussels, if game was not plentiful. During the remainder of the year, smaller streams would have been desirable camp sites.
Hall County was an ideal location for bands of hunters and gatherers. The county’s network of creeks and wetlands provided a diverse ecological environment for game animals and edible plants. Native Americans learned to set massive brush fires in the late autumn which cleared the landscape of shrubs and created natural pastures for deer and elk. Woodland bison probably also roamed this region until around 1740. The landscape that European settlers encountered in the Piedmont was not natural. It had been altered for thousands of years by Native Americans to create optimum environments for the natural production of food sources.
During the late Archaic Period, several trade routes developed in this region that interconnected the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Appalachian Mountains and Great Lakes. Native Americans began traveling long distances to trade and socialize. There was an important north-south trail that paralleled the Chattahoochee River to its headwaters in the Nacoochee Valley in White County, GA.
Woodland Period (1000 BC – 900 AD)
The Etowah, Chattahoochee and Flint River Valleys were locations of some of the earliest permanent villages in North America. A sedentary lifestyle was made possible by abundant natural food sources such as game, freshwater mussels and chestnuts and the cultivation of gardens. Agriculture came very early here. Initially, the cultivated plants were of indigenous origin and included a native squash, native sweet potato, sunflowers, Jerusalem artichoke, amaranth, sumpweed, and chenopodium.
The early villages were relatively small and dispersed. There was probably much socialization among these villages because of the need to find spouses that were not closely related. Houses were round and built out of saplings, river cane and thatch.
The Woodland Period peoples of the region built some small mounds, but most have disappeared due to natural erosion and agriculture. Apparently, most mounds were primarily for burials, but may have also supported simple structures that were used for rituals or meetings. They were constructed accretionally. This means that the mounds grew in size over the generations by piling soil and detritus from the village over recent burials.
Archaeological evidence in the Chattahoochee and Flint River Valleys suggests that the first Muskogean farmers entered northeast Georgia around 400 BC, after migrating from west-central Mexico. They apparently settled in mountain valleys to the north of Hall County. The Upper Piedmont was was already occupied by ancestors of the Yuchi and Southern Siouans with languages similar to the Catawba. There may have been other ethnic groups whose identities have been concealed by time. Agricultural technology, cultural traditions and DNA probably blended between these peoples. Modern “Creek” Indians may represent a genetic mix of several indigenous ethnic groups.
Muskogean town dwellers (900 AD – 1784 AD)
Muskogeans carried with them advanced cultural traditions from Mexico and the Lower Mississippi Valley. The early Muskogeans eventually formed provinces that were governed by large towns. Prior to arrival of Europeans, there were no Indian “tribes.” The large towns were usually located in the bottomlands on major rivers such as the Chattahoochee. Smaller villages located near creeks. Native Americans continued to live in what is now Hall County, but their populations were concentrated at a town with multiple mounds, where Summerour mounds were located.
Throughout the Southeast, many provinces began to share common artistic symbols and agricultural lifestyles. Societies became more organized politically with elite families, non-agricultural specialists and local leaders. This era is known as the Southern Ceremonial Cult Period, Mississippian Period or Hierarchal Period. The “Mississippian” label came from a conference at Harvard University in 1947 which adopted the inaccurate belief that all advanced Native American culture originated north of the Mason-Dixon Line along the Mississippi River. Villages located in Hall County would have been affected by the cultural influence of regional centers such as Etalwa (Etowah Mounds) on the Etowah River in present day Bartow County, GA and a cluster of towns in the mountains along major rivers.
European exploration period (1540 AD – 1717 AD)
There is evidence that European diseases began affecting coastal populations as early as 1500 AD Native American traders carried the microbes northward from Cuba and then into the lowlands near the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf Coast. Shortly after the Hernando de Soto Expedition passed through Georgia in 1540, waves of European diseases began to decimate the Native American population. De Soto probably passed through or near Macon, GA in March of 1540. The indigenous people of Hall County would have been exposed to deadly pathogens some time thereafter. Anthropologists currently believe that the indigenous population of Georgia dropped about 95% between 1500 and 1700 AD.
The Kingdom of Spain claimed all of the Chattahoochee and Flint River Basins, including Hall County, from 1567 until 1745. This claim was based on the Juan Pardo Expedition and a surveying expedition authorized by Governor Don Benito Ruiz de Salazar Vallecilla of the Province of La Florida around 1647. The surveying and gold prospecting expedition followed the Chattahoochee River to its source at Unicoi Gap. The Governor then established a trading post in the vicinity of the Chattahoochee headwaters. The Spanish explorers and traders definitely passed through the future Hall County on many occasions.
Agricultural advancements: Almost immediately after Spanish missions were established on the coast of Georgia in the late 1500s, the ancestors of the Creeks were growing European fruits and vegetables in addition to their traditional crops. A Spanish expedition in 1600 observed peaches, pears and melons being grown in a village on the Ocmulgee River. By the 1700s, Creeks and their Kataapa allies were also raising European livestock. Chickens and hogs were the first European animals acquired to supplement their turkey flocks and Mexican meat dogs. By the late 1700s, most Georgia Creek men owned horses and had become skilled herders of cattle, horses and hogs.
Creek Confederacy: The Creek Confederacy of “People of One Fire” was a political alliance formed by the remnants of many advanced indigenous provinces in the Lower Southeast. This alliance probably developed during the late 1600s. The member towns represented several ethnic groups, but the Muskogees and Itsati’s (Hitchitis) dominated the alliance. Muskogee was selected as the parliamentary language of the alliance. When British settlers first settled the coast of Georgia, Itsati was spoken by most Georgia Creeks. By 1800, a composite Muskogee language had became the spoken tongue of Creek citizens.
Dispersed farmsteads: 1780 AD – 1838 AD
After the American Revolution, Creek families dispersed across the vast territory now controlled by the Creek Confederacy. There were relatively few in the North Georgia Mountains, which were controlled by the Upper Creeks. Thousands of Cherokee refugees moved into northwestern Georgia during the 1780s and 1790s. The Creeks continued to occupy the east side of the Chattahoochee River northward to Habersham County.
In 1793, the Creek Nation was shocked to learn that the Federal government had given away some of its most sacred territory, the Etowah River Valley down to the middle of what is now Paulding and Cobb Counties to the Cherokees. The Principal Chief of the Muscogee Creek Nation is still called Etalwamikko . . . King of Etowah. The remainder of northwest Georgia was taken from the Upper Creeks as punishment for assisting the British in the Revolution. Of course, the Chickamauga Cherokees had killed over a thousand settlers between 1776 and 1793, but Tennesseans were mad at the Upper Creeks for almost capturing Nashville. It was explained to the Creeks that the land theft was a “clerical mistake,” but they were promised that their other Sacred Lands, the Ocmulgee Bottoms, would be theirs forever.
From 1793 to 1838, what was to become western Hall County was officially part of the Cherokee Nation, but had very few full-blooded Native Americans living there. While the nearby Etowah River Valley had broad, fertile bottomlands for agriculture, suitable tracts for Cherokee farming methods near the Chattahoochee River were relatively small and dispersed. There were some bottomlands along the section of the Chattahoochee near present day Suwannee, GA. Mixed blood families with some Creek or Cherokee ancestry established plantations in this area during the early 1800s. They were not cotton plantations, however.
In 1817 the Cherokee Nation ceded its lands along the Chesnatee River and a wedge along the western side of the Chattahoochee River down to the Shawnee village of Suwannee in what is now Gwinnett County, GA. Most of this wedge became western Hall County.
On January 22, 1818 the Creek Confederacy ceded a corridor along the east side of the Chattahoochee up to Clarkesville, GA. A section of the narrow strip on the eastern side of the Chattahoochee River became eastern Hall County. In 1821, it ceded a much larger tract of land that included present day Fulton and Dekalb Counties. Cherokees and Creeks, who were wives of Caucasian men, or mixed heritage male heads of households, who elected to take state citizenship, remained in the region. Their descendants assimilated with the white majority that soon occupied their former lands. Over the years, the mixed-heritage families continued to intermarry with Caucasians to the point now that there is generally little difference in appearance between families with Native heritage and those without.