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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an item in the
Tennessee Historical Magazine

Vol. 3 No. 4 (December, 1917), pp250‑256
published by the
Tennessee Historical Society

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. III
Old Fort Loudon.

At the dedication of the monument upon the site of Fort Loudon​a on November 9, 1917, the following address was delivered by John H. DeWitt, president of the Tennessee Historical Society:

One hundred and fifty-seven years ago there was enacted upon this beautiful spot a tragic drama which terminated the first attempt at permanent occupation by white people in Tennessee.

The dramatic background may best be described by showing that here beside these beautiful streams and majestic mountains lived the Overhill Cherokees. One‑half mile above the spot where we stand was the town of Toskegee. About two miles further on the same side was the Indian town of Tomatley, at the mouth of Ball Play Creek. About fifteen miles above was the town of Tennessee. About two miles above Tennessee was Chote. About two miles above Chote was Settacoo. About two miles above Settacoo was Halfway Town. About two miles above Halfway Town was Clalhowey. About five miles above Clalhowey, on both banks of the Little Tennessee, was the town of Tallasee.

Among these mountains, where the chain of the Alleghenies and Blue Ridge meet, the Cherokees, a brave, sturdy tribe of Indians, lived. Southeast of their villages were the headwaters of the Savannah River, and down those of the Little Tennessee was the Cherokee path leading southeastwardly to Charleston and the Atlantic Seaboard. They had two other highways, one down their river and up the Emory, then down the South Fork of the Cumberland into the "Bloody Ground" — the other leading from Chote into Virginia, passing some six miles to the south of Knoxville, crossing the Holston at the islands near Underdown's Ferry, and extending as far as Richmond, Va. These two were called war paths.

Southwesterly among the fastnesses around Lookout Mountain lived the Chickamaugas, and upon the streams and along the villages running from here to the great bend of the Tennessee River there was easy and frequent communication with these Indians. So they lived for more than a century in this condition of seclusion from the white man.

In the year 1748, when Quebec, Montreal, Detroit and Mackinaw were old French cities, the Anglo-Saxon settlements in America were confined to the plains along the Atlantic Seaboard. England claimed all the land running westerly to the Mississippi River and even beyond, but she actually held a thin shore line along the ocean. William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, was Prime Minister of Great Britain. With his sagacious foresight as a master builder of an empire, he realized the immense advantage of taking and holding all the western country for British colonization and owner­ship. At the same time the French under Louis XIV had courted various tribes of Indians into friendship, aided by the missionary propaganda of the Catholic priesthood. The French were building a chain of forts intended ultimately to extend from their St. Lawrence settlements to the mouth of the Mississippi.

It was thus the ambitious rivalry for a new France and new England in America, that brought on the conflict known in Europe as the "seven years' war," and in America as the "French and Indian war." William Pitt conceived the idea that the decisive battle between  p251 the old rivals, England and France, would be fought to the finish beyond the Atlantic waters.

The war of Austrian succession, brought to a close in 1748, had left unsettled the issue between France and England as to disputed boundaries in America. Pitt bent every personal and national effort to seize and hold this interior country, and active hostilities were the inevitable result. The expedition led by George Washington in 1754 into western Pennsylvania really began the great struggle. The chief strategic point for the French was Fort DuQuesne, at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, where Pittsburgh now stands. After its capture by the English in 1758, the defeated and exasperated Frenchmen descended the Ohio, ascended the Tennessee, and began to exercise a pernicious influence among the Cherokee Indians.

The leaders of the Cherokees were the famous chiefs Oconostata, Willinaughwah, Atta-Kulla-Kulla, and other chiefs, some of whom had visited England as friendly allies and been presented to King George. The Cherokees had ever been friendly to the English, and in 1756, Governor Dobbs, of North Carolina, made a treaty offensive and defensive with them and with the Catawbas, who lived in the Carolinas, east of them. It was the aim of the English to hold firmly the favor of these Indians and thwart the machinations of the French emissaries, as the mighty struggle between France and England involved the whole of the country inhabited by them. There was continual fear lest these tribes might be incited by the French to fall upon and destroy the frontier settlements of Carolina. When this treaty was made the chief of each nation required that a fort be erected within their respective countries for the defense of their women and children, in case the warriors should be called away against the French and their Indian allies.

There was another vital reason for the construction of forts. Charleston, S. C., was the military and commercial center for the British and it was to this place that all efforts were made to divert the Indian trade. As Col. W. A. Henderson has said:

"This trade was sought from all regions within the French influences, and it became a consuming desire on the part of the colonists that they should destroy the French forts and erect a line of such of their own, with permanent military occupation. Nothing gave such respect to the Indians as the boom of a cannon, and walls that would resist their bullets and native weapons. . . . England was bled of men and money to carry on this colossal design, beginning at the mouth of the St. Lawrence and extending as far westward as the pathways of commerce wandered. . . . In accordance with this general design it was determined to erect, far back into the wilderness, three forts for the protection of Charleston and its trade, and seduce the Southern Indians from their loyalty to France, which was always their favorite. One of these forts was to be Fort Moore, on the Savannah River, just below and opposite the present city of Augusta, named for the former governor of the Province of South Carolina.

"Far up the headwaters of the Savannah River, on the Cherokee path, on the main branch called Keowee River, almost immediately opposite the Indian town Keowee, was to be a second fort, christened "Prince George," in honor of the grandson of George II, afterward George III. The third was to be far away 'over twenty-four mountains,' in the center of the Overhill Indians, which was to be  p252 called Fort Loudon, after John, Earl of Loudon, at that time commander of the English forces in North America."

Besides this fort for the protection of this immediate section, three other forts were built among the Allegheny Mountains — Long Island fort, on the north bank of the Holston River, by Col. Bird of Virginia; Fort Dobbs, under the shadow of the Alleghenys, by North Carolina; and Fort Chissel, on New River in Virginia, by Virginians.

In 1756 Fort Prince George was built on the land of the Catawbas, near Keowee, by Governor Glen of South Carolina.

In that same year, after laborious preparations and in consequence of donations by Prince George himself and by the colonies of Virginia and South Carolina, Fort Loudon was erected here on the southern bank of the Tennessee River in what is now Monroe County, near the point where the Tellico River runs into the Little Tennessee, more than thirty miles southwest of Knoxville. It was built by Gen. Andrew Lewis, the chief engineer of the British troops, under the direction of the Earl of Loudon. This was the first Anglo-American settlement in Tennessee, and its romantic and melancholy story is an introduction to the history of Tennessee.

The expedition consisted of one hundred regular soldiers of the king and one hundred provincial troops, together with about forty artisans, mechanics and farmers, and they carried some two score horses and a number of hunting dogs. The commander of the expedition was the celebrated James Stuart, who had been foremost in defense of the colonies against Indian raids and negro uprisings; but on account of some differences with the civil authorities he was ranked by Capt. Demere, who, though he had a French name, was a sturdy Scotchman.

On this rocky ledge, jutting upon the river, overlooking these deep waters bending around it, Fort Loudon was erected. The ridge was cleared of heavy timber within the enclosure and as far away as a rifle shot beyond. A deep ditch was dug across the ridge, extending out across the plain and thence to the river, including about two and a half acres of ground. Within the enclosure a well was dug and walled up. The fort was securely built of heavy logs, square in shape, with block houses and bastions connected by palisades, which were trunks of trees imbedded in the earth touching each other, and sharpened at the top, with loopholes at the proper places. It was made so secure that with ample provisions any garrison could endure a long siege by many times their number. Ten cannon and two guns called coehorns, said to have been contributed as the result of a donation out of the private purse of Prince George, were mounted upon the ramparts, or platforms. These cannon were probably brought over the mountains on packhorses, as no wagon road had ever been cut through that wilderness. Here, five hundred miles from Charleston, in a place to which it was very difficult at all times, but in case of war with the Cherokees, utterly impracticable, to convey necessary supplies, the garrison was placed. The Indians invited to the fort artisans by donations of land, which they caused to be signed by their own chief, and in one instance by Governor Dobbs of North Carolina. A thriving settlement grew around the fort with the arrival of traders and hunters. They began to cultivate the land. This was the first cultivation of land in what is now in Tennessee, and the field around this spot is the oldest land in point of cultivation in our State.

Thus they lived and maintained this lone outpost until signs arose  p253 of the terrible tragedy which in August, 1760, terminated this settlement.

From the very beginning circumstances conspired to render the Cherokees hostile to the little garrison and colony.

A baleful influence was Oconostata, the great Indian orator and chief, whose home was at Chestoe, beyond the mountains, who always resisted the advance of the white man. The Overhill chief, "The Cloud," was even a more bitter and malignant foe. The presence of so many whites was the basis of agitation of these chiefs which caused so much dissatisfaction among the Indians. A spirit of deep resentment began to exist. The Indians could not understand how a fort which was built for their protection should rapidly become a means for their oppression and subjugation. Among them were some French emissaries, who began insidiously to disaffect them from their loyalty to the British.

Louis Latinac, a French officer, was living in this town with an Indian wife. Priber, a learned French trader, was there fomenting disaffection. He brought his goods up from New Orleans, in batteaux, to that locality.

Another French emissary was one "Baron Des Johnnes," a French Canadian, who spoke seven of the Indian languages. He was afterwards captured by Colonel Sumpter of South Carolina and sent to England.

While these intriguing agents and hostile chiefs were weaving a net of enmity around the settlement, an unfortunate quarrel between the Virginians and the Cherokees precipitated the aggression which led to tragedy.

Agreeably to the treaty with Governor Dobbs, a body of Cherokees had assisted in the reduction of Fort Duquesne. Returning home through the back parts of Virginia, some of them, who had lost their horses on the expedition, appropriated some horses found running at large, which belonged to the frontier settlers of Virginia. This the Virginians resented by killing twelve or fourteen of the Indians and taking some prisoners. This ungrateful conduct aroused a deadly resentment. Bancroft says: "The wailing of the women for their deceased relatives, at the dawn of each day and at the gray of the evening, provoked the nation to retaliate." The hostile spirit soon spread through all the towns.

It was no wonder that Fort Loudon, this far‑projected spur of civilization, was the first to notice and suffer from the disaffection of the Indians. The soldiers, making incursions into the woods to procure fresh provisions, were attacked by them and some of them were killed. Constant danger threatened the garrison. The settlers were drawn into the fort. Communication with the settlements across the mountains, from which they derived their supplies, was cut off. Parties of the young warriors rushed down upon the frontier settlements and the work of massacre became general along the borders of the Carolinas.

Governor Littleton of South Carolina made preparations to force the Indians into repentance for their desertion. He summoned the militia of the province to assemble at Congaree. He prepared for an extensive expedition to punish the Cherokees. In November, 1758, six chieftains went down to Charleston to reconcile differences, but were treated with little kindness by the governor. He ordered them to the rear of his army under the pretense of safeguard, and then shut them up together in a hut. It seems that the chiefs exercised great forbearance, for they laid their just grievances before the English  p254 and avowed their friendship. They finally agreed that twenty‑two chieftains should be confined as hostage in Fort Prince George until an equal number of those who had slain the inhabitants on the frontiers should be given up in exchange for them, and that the Cherokees should kill or take prisoner every Frenchman that should presume to come into the nation.

But the Cherokees would not ratify this treaty. Hostages were unknown in the forest, where prisoners were slaves. Littleton had violated his word in retaining in prison the ambassadors of peace. It is hardly to be doubted that the Cherokees really longed for peace, but their proud spirit resented bitterly the incarceration of their honored young braves in a British fort. Oconostata resolved to rescue the hostages. Capt. Coytmore, the commandant at Fort Prince George, was lured into ambush and killed. Oconostata then surprised the fort and killed some of its officers. Then the garrison, in their rage, fell upon the hostages and butchered them to a man. Haywood says that this was because the hostages refused to be shackled. In the night the fort was attacked, but without effect. A bottle of poison was found with one of the Indians, probably intended to be dropped into the well.

The butchery of the hostages was force by a general invasion of the frontier and an indiscriminate slaughter of men, women and children. A general Indian war was imminent. The neighboring provinces of Virginia and North Carolina were called on for assistance. Col. Montgomery landed from New York with some regular troops and was joined at Congaree, in South Carolina, by a good force of militia. Their march was spirited and expeditious. They destroyed all the lower Indian towns. Little Keowee, Estatoe, Sugaw Town and every other settlement in the lower nation were reduced to ashes, and many warriors were slain. But the Cherokees met them near the village of Etchoe, at the headwaters of the Little Tennessee, and inflicted such a heavy loss that the force retreated, and Fort Loudon, which it was endeavoring to relieve, was left defenseless, isolated, famishing and in despair.

All this time the garrison of Fort Loudon had been besieged, so that now they were reduced to the dreadful alternative of perishing by hunger or submitting to the mercy of the enraged Cherokees. The 200 miles between it and Fort Prince George were so beset with dangers and so difficult was it to march an army through the barren wilderness, that no further attempt at relief were made. The garrison was near starvation. For a month they lived on the flesh of lean horses and dogs and a small supply of Indian beans, procured stealthily from them by some friendly Cherokee women. Blockaded and beleaguered night and day by the enemy, with starvation in the face, they threatened to leave the fort and die, if necessary, by the hands of the savages. Then Capt. Stuart, resourceful and brave, summoned a council of war. They agreed to ask for the best terms possible and leave the fort. Stuart slipped down to the consecrated city of Chote, where no Indian dared molest him. He obtained terms of capitulation, which were: 'That the garrison of Fort Loudon march out with their arms and drums, each soldier having as much powder and ball as the officer shall think necessary for the march, and all the baggage they choose to carry; that the garrison be permitted to march to Virginia or to Fort Prince George, as the commanding officer shall think proper, unmolested; that a number of Indians be appointed to escort them, and aid them in hunting for provisions during the march; that such soldiers as were lame or disabled by sickness from marching be received into the Indian towns  p255 and kindly used until they recover, and then be allowed to return to Fort Prince George; that the Indians are to provide for the garrison as many horses as they conveniently can for their march, agreeing with the officers and soldiers for payment; that the fort, great guns (cannon), powder, ball and spare arms, be delivered to the Indians without fraud or further delay, on the day appointed for the marching of the troops."

In pursuance of these stipulations, on August 7, 1760, the white people, after throwing their cannon into the river, with their small arms and ammunition, except what was necessary for hunting, broke up the fort and commenced their march into the settlements in South Carolina. That day they marched fifteen miles toward Fort Prince George. At night they encamped near Taligua, an Indian town, where their Indian attendants all suspiciously deserted them. A guard was placed around the camp. At break of day the treachery was revealed. A soldier came running in and told them that he saw a vast number of Indians, armed and painted, creeping toward them. They had hardly time to form to meet the attack before the savages poured in among them a heavy fire, accompanied with hideous yells. The thousands of savages were too many for the two scant companies of half-starved regulars and a motley following of settlers with wives and children.

Captain Demere was among the first to be killed. A curious reference to his death is found in one of Bossu's letters, entitled "Travels in Louisiana," published in 1771.​b In this letter, written in 1760, he says:

"We have just received advice that a party of warriors of the nation of Cherokees, commanded by their chief of war called Wolf, have taken the Fort Loudon, belonging to Great Britain, and that the English governor of it, M. Damery, has been killed by the Indians, who put earth in his mouth, saying, 'You dog, since you are so greedy of earth, be satisfied and gorged with it.' They have done the same to others."

Haywood and Ramsey are in conflict as to the actual loss. Ramsey, quoting from Hewitt's "History of South Carolina," says that Captain Demere, with three other officers and twenty‑six privates, fell at the first fire. Haywood says that all were killed but three men — Jack, Thomas and Stuart — who were saved by Atta-Kulla-Kulla, and six men in the vanguard, who escaped to the white settlements. At any rate Stuart, with his companions, was brought to the fort. Atta-Kulla-Kulla, or the Little Carpenter, who was Stuart's true friend, purchased him from the Indian who took him, giving him his rifle, clothes and all he could command by way of ransom. Taking possession of Demere's house he kept Stuart as one of his family and freely shared with him his provisions until a fair chance offered for rescuing him from the savages, but, according to Hewitt, the poor soldiers were kept long in miserable captivity and finally redeemed by the provinces at great expense.

Oconostata now determined to attack Fort Prince George. He was prompted, it is said, by the fact that he had the twelve cannon of the fort and also by some French officers who appeared on the scene. By accident a discovery was made of ten bags of powder and a large quantity of ball that had been secretly buried in the fort. This discovery almost resulted in the death of Stuart, but his interpreter assured the enraged savages that these stores were concealed without Stuart's knowledge. At Chote a council was held.

Stuart was told that he must accompany the expedition against  p256 Fort Prince George, manage the artillery and write such letters to the commandant as they should dictate to him. They told him further that if the commandant should refuse to surrender they would burn the prisoners one by one before his face. Stuart resolved to make his escape or perish in the attempt. He told Atta-Kulla-Kulla that to bear arms against his countrymen was abhorrent, and invoked his assistance to accomplish his release. The old warrior and friend claimed Stuart as his prisoner, and together they set forth on a pretended hunting expedition. Ten days afterward they arrived at the banks of the Holston River, where they fortunately fell in with a party of 300 men sent out by Colonel Bird for the relief of Fort Loudon. Atta-Kulla-Kulla, loaded with presents and provisions, was then sent back to protect the hapless prisoners till they should be ransomed, and to exert his influence over the Cherokees to restore peace. Stuart lost no time, but sent word to the governor of South Carolina to inform him of the disaster at Fort Loudon and the danger imminent to Fort Prince George. Those prisoners that had survived at Loudon were ransomed and delivered up to the commanding officer at Fort Prince George. The British, victorious in the French and Indian war, received from the French a surrender of all claim to the disputed territory by the treaty of 1763.

The story of old Fort Loudon has naturally been invested with romantic and melancholy interest. It was the first and last instance of a capture and surrender of a fort and massacre of the garrison within the limits of Tennessee. For eight years after this destruction there was no settlement attempted within this territory. But in 1768, when William Bean built his cabin near Boone's Creek, he began the continuous occupation by the white man which developed finally into our great commonwealth. It was, after all, the settlement by a few from Virginia and North Carolina along the Watauga, who thought they were in Virginia, that constituted the foundation of our present civilization. A long line of heroes, statesmen and sturdy citizens has come from the people of those days.

The enmities and rivalries which caused the erection and then the destruction of Fort Loudon have long since disappeared, and today the glorious descendants of those Frenchmen and British are fighting together, shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart, for the sake of democracy, in Belgium and France.

Thayer's Notes:

a Usually, and properly, spelled Loudoun. For further details, see the page at FortWiki; also R. D. W. Connor, History of North Carolina, Vol. I, pp279‑282.

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b For Bossu and the various editions of his Travels, see my note to the "Excerpts on Louisiana" (1768) in the Louisiana Historical Quarterly 1918.

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