Cherokee Renegade Sour Mush and the Last Battle of the American Revolution
The true version of this fascinating story has been so altered by generations of folklore and more recent Cherokee Wannabe embellishments that it barely resembles what is told on state historic markers and in official Georgia history textbooks. The last battle of the American Revolution was fought six weeks after a peace treaty had been signed in Paris. The Pro-American Creeks in Northeast Georgia lost most of their land as a result, even though it was Creek scouts, who guided the Patriot Mounted Rifles to the hostile Cherokee village.
This is an excerpt from “The Native American History of the Etowah River Valley” in www.AccessGenealogy.com . The complete version contains notes and cited references.
Sour Mush was the leader of a small band of mixed blood Cherokees in the Wild Potato Clan. Most in the clan were half- Cherokee or less. His band lived in the Little Tennessee River Valley of Tennessee until around 1777, when the majority of Cherokee leaders sued for peace with the Continental Congress.
Those Cherokees, who wanted to continue war were declared outlaws and fled the Cherokee Nation to settle in NW Georgia or what is now Tennessee. They settled on lands owned by the Upper Creeks, but since the Upper Creeks were also fighting the American Rebels, the renegade Cherokees were given asylum. The Upper Creeks never dreamed that within a decade, most of the Cherokee population would join these refugees.
Sour Mush’s band of about 50 men, women and children established a hamlet on Long Swamp Creek about four miles north of the ruins of a satellite town of Etowah Mounds at the confluence of Long Swamp Creek and the Etowah River. This ancient town was founded around 800 AD and abandoned in the 1600s.
There was never a Cherokee village named Long Swamp Creek. No such village appears on maps or records of the Cherokee Nation, even though a Georgia state historic marker proudly proclaims its existence. It was a myth created by early white settlers, who saw the ruins of the Proto-Creek town and assumed that Cherokees lived there. Even the History of Pickens County, GA (1935) by Luke E. Tate, states this fact. Nevertheless, the website of that county’s historical society tells readers that “Long Swamp Creek was an important Cherokee town dating at least from the early 1700s.”
Near that historical marker is another one. It proclaims the Battle of Taliwa, in which “the Cherokees won all of North Georgia at the close of the 40 year long Creek-Cherokee War.” That battle never occurred. There was no Creek town named Taliwa anywhere. The entire Cherokee Nation was catastrophically defeated by the army of the town of Koweta and sued for peace to end the war. In the peace treaty of December 1754, the Cherokee gave up all lands that they had conquered in Georgia and extreme western North Carolina since 1715 . For the next 10 years, there were no Cherokees in Georgia. The 1785 official map of Georgia shows northwest and north-central Georgia occupied by the Creek Nation.
British Tory raiders bring trouble with them
Col. Thomas Waters commanded Loyalist garrisons at Ninety-Six, SC and Augusta, GA, until he was driven out of Augusta in June of 1781. He was married to a (at most*) 1/2 Cherokee woman named Sarah Hughes, who was a relative of Sour Mush. He and Sarah had a son, named George Morgan Waters in 1777. Sarah was a 1/2 sister of Cherokees*, John Vann and Waw-li Vann (mother of Chief James Vann).
*It is difficult to assess true percentages of Native ancestry for these people in the late 18th century. They had been intermarrying with Europeans and Middle Easterners for over a century. Quite a few Cherokees, who are listed on current BIA records as “Full Bloods” have turned out to be less than 12% Native American – some as little as 2%. Current Vann descendants are showing up with 0% Native American, but with high levels of Jewish, Iberian, Middle Eastern and Scottish mtDNA.
Sarah Hughes had a brother Charles Hughes, who was involved in a complicated clan dispute with Sour Mush. A teen-aged James Vann killed his own uncle, who was Charles Hughes. Sarah Hughes also had 1/2 siblings named David Rowe and Richard Rowe. Affluent Cherokee men typically had multiple wives and concubines.
Waters band of Tories moved to a location next to Sour Mush’s hamlet in 1781, after being driven out of Augusta. It is an exaggeration to call them soldiers. They were really very violent, bushwhackers and thieves, whose tactics actually hurt the British cause in North America.
Upon arriving in the mountains, they immediately began committing atrocities on the frontier, which was about 150 miles to the southeast in east-central Georgia. The bands of white and mestizo raiders generally killed all men, women and children when attacking a farmstead. They attacked on horseback. This was not the style warfare fought by traditional Cherokees.
Colonel Andrew Pickens and Major Elijah Clark led about 400 Georgia & South Carolina Mounted Rifle militiamen, on a raid into the North Georgia Mountains. At that time (1783) they knew of only three significant “Cherokee” villages in Georgia – Tugaloo (Tocale), Nacossee (Nokoshe) and Sour Mush. As will be explained below that was not the case at all. There were 12 villages in the province with their own principal chief. They were NOT part of the Cherokee Nation at that time.
The first two villages Pickens’ Army visited did not contain any white raiders. Long Swamp Creek, located near present day Ball Ground, GA did. The militiamen from South Carolina and Georgia attacked the village of Long Swamp Creek on October 22, 1783.*
*This was the last recorded military action of the American Revolution. The Treaty of Paris was drafted on November 30, 1782 and signed September 3, 1783. It took six weeks for the news of peace to reach North America and another month to reach the interior.
The village quickly surrendered after the first attack, but allowed the Tories to escape the village first. As a peace offering, the Sour Mush, (who was ethnic Cherokee) presented Andrew Pickens a treaty written in English, which gave the Americans the Creek Confederacy-owned lands in northeast Georgia. It did not give away Elati or Cherokee lands. Most Creek men in Northeast Georgia were Patriots (including my gggg-grandfather) and were on the Georgia Coast at that time, fighting the British Rangers.
The Mounted Rifles quickly found where the Tory guerillas were hiding and attacked. It was a one-sided battle. According local folklore, all Tories, who were not killed in battle, were hung on the spot . . . including the wounded. This aspect of the battle was thought to be completely a myth until 1885 when a railroad was being built to open up the enormous marble deposits in this county. The skeletons of several executed Tories were uncovered by a railroad cut near Nelson, GA. However, Thomas Waters and most of his men did escape. Most fled up the Etowah River into eastern Lumpkin County, GA. Colonel Waters eventually showed up in Florida.
Treaty of Salicoa
Folklore and online Cherokee histories state that the treaty was signed with the Cherokee Nation in the “Great Cherokee town of Long Swamp Creek.” That is malarkey. The Elati were a separate people from either the Cherokees or the Muskogee Creeks. They spoke a dialect of Hitchiti-Creek and had 12 villages with Creek, Yuchi and Arawak names.
A few days after the Battle of Long Swamp Creek, Alexander Pickens and Elijah Clarke summoned the Principal Chief and 12 town chiefs of the Elati Tribe to meet at their principal village on Salacoa Creek in present day southeastern Gilmer County, GA on November 3, 1783. Its location is now the small town of Fairmont.
The Elati chiefs signed the formal draft of the treaty. It included an added clause that recognized the northern boundary of Georgia as the southern boundary of the Cherokee Nation. This wording was also included in the wording of the later Treaty of Hopewell. It should have raised some eyebrows. If the chiefs signing the treaty were Cherokees, why did they want a treaty in which Georgia promised to keep the Cherokees out of their territory?
All European maps from 1754 to 1780 also showed the 35th longitude line (GA-NC-TN line) as the southern boundary of the Cherokee Nation. Apparently, the Elati were expecting the State of Georgia to protect them from the increasing number of Cherokees moving down from Tennessee.
Although a legion of Cherokee history texts and web sites call the Treaty of Long Swamp a treaty between the Cherokee Nation and the State of Georgia, neither party was involved and the treaty was not even at Long Swamp Creek – It was about 25 miles away at the Elati capital of Salicoa . This treaty was between a tribe forgotten by history with a militia colonel from South Carolina. The treaty only gave away Creek land in Northeast Georgia that was not owned or occupied by the Elati or South Carolina. In fact, on the official maps, the Elati themselves were living on Upper Creek land.
Colonel Pickens would soon take care of that problem. When Congress declared the treaties of Salicoa and Hopewell Plantation invalid, Pickens told Georgia officials to go ahead and fill the Creek lands with settlers, so the Creeks would be forced to give away the lands anyway. When Creek leaders later reluctantly agreed to sign off on what an accomplished fact, they thought that they were only ceding the land east of the Oconee River. It was depleted of game and not particularly good for corn farming anyway.
Georgia officials sneaked in vague wording into the Creek Treaty, which then (they thought) gave license to sign a separate treaty with the actual Cherokee Nation, while ignoring their treaty with the Elati Tribe. This treaty designated Northwest Georgia as Cherokee hunting lands to be shared with existing Creek and Chickasaw villages. However, Cherokee families flooded into Northwest Georgia in the late 1780s. When the Creeks found out about the secret Cherokee treaty in 1790, they declared war on the State of Georgia. Upper Creeks staged a series of raids into Northeast Georgia, but soon called off hostilities, when they learned that under the new Federal Constitution, they were now be at war with the United States.
The various myths now appearing on Georgia state historic markers about “the Cherokees conquering all of North Georgia” were created by the editor of the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper, Elias Boudinot. They are pure fiction. The State of Georgia hoodwinked the Creeks and Cherokees. It stole the Creeks’ lands without compensation then got a promise from the federal government that in return for Georgia ceding what is now Alabama and Georgia, the Cherokees would be moved out of Georgia to Alabama by the year 1800.
This is why Georgians were so aggressive in pushing the Cherokees out of their state in the 1820s and 1830s. Georgians considered the Cherokees to be non-indigenous squatters. Perhaps this is the reason that later generations in the state put up the legion of state historic markers that told a very different story.
Around 1785, most of the Sour Mash band moved westward into what is now Bartow County, GA. The land was much more fertile there. A niece of Sour Mush, Sallie Hughes, developed a turnpike running along the edge of the Cohutta and Pine Log Mountains, plus a ferry over the Etowah River. She became one of the wealthiest people in the Cherokee Nation.
At the end of the Revolutionary War, Thomas Waters took his son to the Bahamas, and later the Colonel went back to England, but his wife and son returned to Georgia to regain Waters’ the large land holdings. George M. Waters was the 2nd wealthiest Cherokee (90 African slaves) enrolled on the 1835 Census.
The Waters family remained in Georgia when the rest of the tribe was removed to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). George Waters owned a large plantation on the Chattahoochee River in Gwinnett County, which he was able to retain by petitioning for state citizenship. The Waters Family were so light skinned that they were assumed to be pure Caucasian by later generations.
Little is known about the other men, who served under Colonel Waters. Some were probably killed by vigilantes, but apparently most “disappeared from the radar” of angry Patriots by blending in with the Cherokees. They seemed to have settled down with their mixed blood Cherokee wives in present day Lumpkin and Dawson Counties, GA. Several roads near the Etowah and Amicalola Rivers in those counties bear the names of men in Waters’ Band of Tories. Because their children were mostly of European ancestry, it would have soon been very easy for the families to label themselves whites.
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