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Chapter 10

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Indian Wars in North Carolina

E. Lawrence Lee

The Carolina Charter
Tercentenary Commission
Raleigh, 1963

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 12
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p72  Chapter XI

The Cherokee War; The Beginning

Many persons hopefully believed the French abandonment of Fort Duquesne meant the end of violence on the southern frontier. They soon found they were wrong. Having lost control of the Ohio Valley the French increased their efforts to win the Tennessee Valley. They hoped to achieve this objective by turning the Cherokee against the English and finally succeeded in convincing the Indians that English planned to conquer them and take their land. The result was the Cherokee War. To the Indians this was a struggle for survival. According to the French, English forts in the Cherokee country would be followed by settlers who would deprive the Indians of ammunition. Rendered helpless, the Cherokee men would then be killed and the women and children enslaved.

At first, few of the tribe seemed alarmed at this warning, but as time passed more and more of them came to realize the danger of the continuing westward movement of the whites. In 1753, when Fort Prince George was built, the settlers still remained to the east of Long Canes Creek and there seemed little reason to fear the fort. But soon thereafter, whites were moving across Long Canes Creek onto Cherokee land. Probably some of the settlers were encouraged by the existence of the fort. Some no doubt chose to regard the Cherokee surrender of sovereignty over their land in 1755 as surrender of title to it. Whatever the reason, however, game became scarce with the occupation of the hunting grounds. The Indians found it more and more difficult to feed their families and to obtain the furs and skins they needed for trade.

 p73  This intrusion of the English, combined with the early war successes of the French, was the cause of the anti-English feeling that was so apparent among the Cherokee in late 1756. The Virginia and South Carolina forts were permitted to be built but the Cherokee, or at least part of them, were also considering an alliance with the French. This feeling was strongest in the Overhills Settlement and especially in the Town of Great Tellico. If the French had been able to provide the Cherokee with trade at the time, they doubtless could have won them over from the English. Representatives of Great Tellico were sent to the French in Louisiana and Canada to offer their support in return for trade, but because of the war Louisiana was practically without trade goods, and the Governor of Canada promised to supply the Cherokee only if they moved their people to the Ohio River. Unwilling to leave their ancestral land and realizing they were still dependent on the English, the Cherokee turned once more to a friendlier relation­ship with them. Resentment and fear of the intrusion onto their land did not end though, and many of the tribe continued to favor the French.

The unrest resulting from the Virginia killings in 1758 provided the French with another opportunity to turn the Cherokee against the English. In spite of Governor Glen's attempt to satisfy the tribe with gifts, many of the young warriors, especially among the Overhills towns, remained in a warlike mood. Easily aroused, they were incited to violence that eventually drew the whole tribe into a disastrous war. The French carried on their intrigue from Fort Toulouse and also from Fort Massac which had been built on the lower Ohio, near the mouth of the Tennessee River, even before Fort Duquesne was abandoned. As agents to work among the  p74 Cherokee, they used friendly Creek Indians led by the Great Mortar.

Soon after the Virginia trouble, Creek warriors appeared among the Cherokee with taunts of cowardice for not seeking revenge against the English. They also brought promises of ammunition from the French at Fort Toulouse. The younger Cherokee became more restless and more difficult to control. In March, 1759, the Great Mortar arrived in the Overhills Settlement and violence soon followed. Late in April, about twenty-five warriors and several headmen of Settico went out from the town on a "hunting" expedition. After their departure, they divided into three separate parties and a few days later the real nature of their mission became known when they killed fifteen helpless settlers on the Catawba and Yadkin Rivers.

At the time, the North Carolina frontier was defenseless and this doubtless explains why it was chosen for the raid. The troops stationed at Fort Dobbs for patrol service had been transferred to Virginia the previous year to aid in the attack on Fort Duquesne. They were not returned and Fort Dobbs had, therefore, been abandoned every since. The fort promised the Catawba Nation had been started but never completed. Under these conditions fear swept across the frontier. Many settlers fled to the Moravians at Bethabara "as though the enemy was at their heels." Others took refuge in Salisbury. Some barricaded themselves in their homes. None ventured out except at the risk of death. Catawba warriors went out after the hostile Cherokee but failed to overtake them. The Settico "hunters" returned home with the scalps of their victims.

To prevent further violence, Governor Dobbs transferred the only two companies of provincials then in service from the coastal forts to the frontier for patrol duty. Major Hugh  p75 Waddell, the commander, was also authorized to call out the militia of Rowan, Anson and Orange Counties, but he did not consider this action necessary. The Lower and Middle Cherokee quickly denied any part in the raid and William Lyttleton, then Governor of South Carolina, calmed the warlike spirit of the Overhills people by demanding the surrender of the guilty tribesmen. The demand was made through Attakullakulla, the best friend among the Cherokee the English had, and to whom he was known as the Little Carpenter because of his talent for building houses. The fact that he could not meet this demand indicated the ineffective control of the Cherokee headmen. The people of Settico did apologize for their wrongdoing and also turned over the scalps of their victims to the commander of Fort Loudon. These were buried out of respect for the dead. Governor Lyttleton stopped all trade with Settico but otherwise seemed willing to let the matter rest for the sake of continued peace.

The French, however, were determined to keep the Cherokee aroused. Near the end of July, just as the crisis over the Catawba-Yadkin killings eased, pro‑French Creeks appeared among the Lower Cherokee who were nearest to the white settlements and who suffered most from the occupation of their hunting grounds. The Creek proposed a joint war against the English and to encourage agreement they brought assurances from the French at Fort Toulouse that plentiful ammunition and other trade goods were then available there for the Cherokee. On the basis of this assurance, the Cherokee agreed to war. The commander of Fort Prince George learned of this secret pact and reported it to Governor Lyttleton. The commander of Fort Loudon also reported secret meetings in the Overhills towns of Great Tellico and Settico, probably held for the same purpose. Wohatchee, a headman of the Lower Cherokee, claiming to  p76 speak for the whole Nation, denied the plot and informed the Governor that the principal grievance of the Cherokee was the movement of whites into their land. If the settlers moved back across Long Canes Creek, he added, the grievance would end. Wohatchee asked Lyttleton to receive representatives of his people in Charles Town to discuss the complaint. Lyttleton agreed to a meeting but he also took certain precautionary steps, ordering the sale of ammunition to all Cherokee stopped.

News that their ammunition supply had been cut off reached the Cherokee in early September, 1759, and it came to them like the sound of doom. This, according to the French warning, was the final step in the English plan of conquest. The reaction of the Indians, as might be expected, centered around Fort Loudon and Fort Prince George. The Overhills people crowded to Fort Loudon and demanded ammunition. When their request was denied, the majority appeared uncertain as to what course to follow. A few were more forceful in their thinking and acted accordingly.

In the beginning, violence was confined to the people of Great Tellico and Settico, the centers of French sympathy. Their anger had been stirred to fury by a messenger just arrived from the French at Fort Toulouse. He reminded them of the death and slavery that the Cherokee could avert only by war against the English. To encourage them to begin the war, the French promised ammunition in return for three English scalps. Within a few days, a soldier at Fort Loudon, the trader at Chillowee and a pack horse man on the trail paid the price demanded. The fort was also cut off from the outside world and no one dared venture outside its walls. There was more French ammunition to be had for more English scalps. As time passed, other Overhills towns turned against the English. Among the Lower  p77 Cherokee conditions were no better. Traders from all over the Nation fled to Fort Prince George for safety and, with angry Indians lurking about, anyone who left the post did so at the risk of his life. The Middle Cherokee were divided in their sympathy between the English and French, and since there was no fort in their Settlement there was less evidence of unrest among them.

In late September, Governor Lyttleton learned of the explosive conduct of the Cherokee and immediately began preparations to march against them. He also sent out calls for help to North Carolina and Virginia. While these preparations were underway a large number of representatives of the Lower Cherokee arrived in Charles Town for the meeting which Wohatchee had arranged. With them were several headmen of the Overhills people who came seeking ammunition. The Indians found the Governor no longer willing to meet with them in Charles Town. Instead, he was determined to march into the heart of the Indian country and restore order by peaceful means if possible, or by force if necessary.

Shortly thereafter, Lyttleton left Charles Town bound for Fort Prince George. With him was an army of more than 1,000 men, later enlarged to approximately 1,500. Also with him were the Cherokee headmen to whom he had pledged safety on their journey to and from Charles Town. However, on the march west he violated this pledge by placing the Indians under guard and imprisoning twenty-four of them upon arrival at Fort Prince George. According to Lyttleton, this was the number of English subjects who had been killed by the Cherokee since they had been given satisfaction for their people killed in Virginia. The prisoners were charged with no crime and their freedom was offered in return for the surrender of a like number of tribesmen responsible for  p78 the killings. The Little Carpenter tried to arrange the exchange but was able to deliver only three. By fleeing or otherwise, the balance of the guilty simply would not permit themselves to be taken. Unwilling to return to Charles Town without some show of success, Lyttleton, in late December, entered into a treaty with several of the Cherokee headmen, including the Little Carpenter. Under the terms of this treaty the twenty‑one headmen still confined were to be held as hostages until the guilty parties were surrendered. The Cherokee pledged continued friendship and the English promised to resume full trade with the tribe.

Assuming that he had restored peaceful relations with the Cherokee Nation, Governor Lyttleton returned to Charles Town early in 1760 and disbanded his army. It was soon clear, though, that the tribe as a whole was not willing to accept the treaty. They neither understood nor accepted the imprisonment of their leaders. To them, the word "hostage" had no meaning. Confinement meant nothing more than slavery and in this case it was the result of the Governor's deceit and dishonor. They attempted to gain the release of the prisoners, first by request and then by force. When they failed they turned on the settlers and dozens were killed. Perhaps the most murderous raid of all was suffered by the people of Long Canes Creek. The situation became even more explosive with the killing of the commander of Fort Prince George. He foolishly allowed himself to be lured out of the fort, supposedly for a conference with an Overhills chief. Once outside the gate he was mortally wounded by concealed Indians. The enraged soldiers inside the fort retaliated by killing the hostages. With the death of the latter, the Cherokee had neither reason nor desire to restrain themselves. The whole Nation united in war against the English.

 p79  Since her military force had been disbanded after Lyttleton's expedition, South Carolina was no longer able to face the Cherokee alone. A renewed call for help went out to North Carolina and Virginia. More important, British regular troops, then concentrated in the north for the campaign against the French in Canada, were requested. While he waited for aid, Lyttleton did what he could to protect the South Carolina frontier, but it was not enough to defend the people against the vengeance of the outraged Indians. At the same time, the horror of Indian warfare once more reached the North Carolina frontier.

The killing of the hostages at Fort Prince George took place in mid‑February, 1760, and at the time the North Carolina frontier was again all but defenseless. The previous autumn, Governor Dobbs had raised a company of militia to join Lyttleton against the Cherokee. The men were from the militia units of the frontier counties of Anson, Rowan and Orange. By law they were not required to serve outside the province and, faced with the prospect of leaving their families exposed to danger, they refused to do so. The law was revised and a new company of volunteers was raised but too late to join the South Carolinians. Because peace were expected to follow Lyttleton's treaty, the men were released except for a small number who remained with Hugh Waddell to garrison Fort Dobbs. These few men were all that stood between the frontier people and the hostile Indians. Even the Catawba Nation could no longer be looked to for protection. The previous year, smallpox had hit the tribe and by the spring of 1760, less than a hundred warriors survived. These, with the balance of their people, lived on Pine Tree Creek in South Carolina and such services as they could give were offered to that colony.

 p80  On the night of February 27th, Fort Dobbs was attacked by a large number of Cherokee who fortunately were driven off without having done much damage. This was the beginning of a time of terror. In the weeks that followed, Indians roamed the countryside, especially the outlying settlements along the Yadkin, Catawba and Broad Rivers. Once more refugees fled to the nearest town. Others gathered in barricaded homes. The only real safety, though, was found by those who deserted the frontier, and within a few weeks at least half the people of Rowan County were said to have gone. Scalping parties came to the borders of Salisbury and Bethabara and from the latter village the smoke of their campfires could be seen as a constant reminder of danger. At night Indian spies crept up to the walls of Bethabara and only the frequent tolling of the church bell saved the town from attack. Several companies of militia were called into service to patrol the frontier. No doubt they prevented greater damage, but they did nothing to end the trouble. That could come only with the defeat of the Cherokee Nation.

Governor Lyttleton was determined to conquer the Cherokee and he devised a plan to accomplish this goal. According to the plan, the British regulars requested were to join with South Carolina troops and attack the Lower Cherokee. At the same time, North Carolina and Virginia troops were to join in an attack on the Overhills people and relieve Fort Loudon. Between the two forces the Cherokee were to be crushed.

Page updated: 4 Jan 15