Chapters of The Cherokee in North Georgia
In the Beginning
A new Civilization
Rising Tides - Nationalism in the Cherokee Nation
Revolution and Rebellion
Winning and Losing
Today, some argue, we are at the dawn of a new era, one that will change the core of our society. Instances of cultural change on a societal level are rare in the history of the world. Europeans begin such a change in the 1400's, fueled by the ink of Gutenburg's printing press. Yet no society makes a change comparable to the dramatic cultural shift that the Cherokee accomplish in North Georgia from 1794 to 1835.
Great plagues and wars ravage the residents of southern and western Europe starting in the 1300's. From the ashes of fires that burn the bodies of the dead rises a new society, better and stronger for what happened. A society changed immutably by the forces of nature and the nature of man. The epochs of man are delineated by the names given these cultural revolutions-Renaissance, Reformation, Scientific Revolution, and The Enlightenment which culminates in the formation of a new country, the United States.
In America the Cherokee are ravaged by European disease; they are repeatedly swept with smallpox outbreaks. As coastal whites move closer to the inland significant trading with the Cherokee develops. In the first 15 years of the 18th century over a million pelts are shipped from the port of Charleston, South Carolina. The impact on the environment forces the braves to hunt further from home and competition from white hunters depletes these resources. With the encroachments of the whites beginning in 1721(South Carolina), border wars with neighboring Indians, and disease, the Cherokee face a new life. To the Cherokee the world is crumbling.
The world itself is spiritual. Rivers, mountains, sky, and animals are filled with spirits worshipped by these Native Americans. Priests provide a link to the spirit world. Smallpox wipes out half the tribe in 1738-1739 and priests are greatly reduced in number. Called upon to treat the ill, they frequently fall victim to the disease themselves, and their herbal treatment offers no cure for this fatal disease. As death becomes commonplace among Cherokee, customs change. Society is more promiscuous, as in Europe, a natural reaction to ever-present death. A new ceremonial dance reflecting the prevalence of death in the culture is introduced.
With many spiritual symbols of the failure of these priests, and reduced numbers, they lose power. However, strong matrilineal clans are still the core of the society. Each clan has a name (Paint Clan, Deer Clan, Wolf Clan...) and members of each clan populate villages. Intra-clan marriages are forbidden. When married, the man lives with his wife's clan. Anyone may speak at council, which is ruled by the oldest warriors, and in some cases, elder women.
During the French and Indian War (also called the Seven Years War) the Cherokee side with the British. After unprovoked attacks from South Carolina in 1760, they switch sides and engage the settlers in fierce, violent battles on the frontier for nearly two years, signing a peace treaty on British terms late in 1761. Impressed by the British victory, they side with them during the War for American Independence. In 1781 word reaches the Cherokee that the British lose. In 1782 members of the Long Swamp branch(located in present-day Pickens County) sign a treaty with the government ceding about 1600 square miles in eastern Georgia.
Settlers are restricted from Indian Territory prior to the end of the American Revolution by decree of the English king. With the overthrow of the colony's titular head the frontier is thrown open to a vast hoard of frontiersmen blazing the way for farmers and merchants to follow. Unaware the American Government is weaker than the British king, The Treaty of Hopewell is negotiated conceding the government sole power to negotiate with the Cherokee. After a short while the treaty breaks the Cherokee into two distinct groups, the Lower Towns and Upper Towns. The Lower, or River, Towns, known as the Chickamauga, engage in pitched battles off and on over the next 9 years trying to drive white settlers back. The defeat of the Chickamauga in November, 1794, marks the nadir of the Cherokee. From the ashes a new society shall rise.