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How many Cherokees were there in 1720 and where did they live?

How many Cherokees were there in 1720 and where did they live?

In 1720 the Great Cherokee Nation contained over 30,000 people . . . living in a territory that covered seven states and extended all the way to the Mississippi River  . . . including the northern halves of South Carolina and Georgia. 

You seen and heard this statement for 30 years in museum exhibits, television documentaries, Chamber of Commerce brochures, lectures by anthropology professors and in a legion of Cherokee History websites.  With so many people saying the same thing, it must be true. 

A museum director in Northeast Georgia told me on the phone that she was investing a great deal of money into new exhibits and she wanted everything correct.  She read the statement above from an authoritative source.  Let’s see what the colonial archives tell us.

It’s Fact Check Time!


1715 Beresford Map

At the onset of the Yamasee War in 1715, a loose alliance of 14 bands of Native Americans that soon would be called the Charakeys, joined in with most of the other major tribes in the  Southeast to kill white traders living in their midst.  About 90% of the white traders living in tribal territories were killed in the first phase of the war.

Carolina colonial leaders were terrified.  They contacted all surviving traders, soldiers and officials . . . well, anyone who had any knowledge of the situation.  They wanted a count of all the hostile warriors, who were about to attack the Low County plantations, farms, villages and towns.  The result was the John Beresford Map.   It is the first Colonial document to mention a word like Cherokee. 

Bereford’s map showed Cherokees living in two locations in the Southeast.  The majority were in the northeastern corner of Tennessee on the Holston, Nolichucky and French Broad Rivers.  A smaller group were located on the tributaries of the Savannah River, but there were two Creek towns at the beginning of the Savannah, where the Keowee and Tugaloo Rivers came together.  The village of Tugaloo was occupied by Hogeloge Uchees.   There were no Cherokees in Georgia or anywhere in South Carolina other than its extreme northwestern tip.  Most of northern South Carolina was occupied by the Catawba Confederacy or independent tribes such as the Waxaws, Sugarees, Congorees, Soque, Taensaqua (Taino Arawaks) and Waterees.   Over 85% of Tennessee was occupied by Cusatees (Upper Creeks), Coweta Creeks, Hogeloge Uchee and especially,  the Chickasaws.   Although the Cherokees had formerly living in SE Kentucky, southern West Virginia and SW Virginia, they were no longer there . . .  so much for the Cherokee Nation covering seven states.

Upper Cherokees:   700 fighting me in 30 villages (+/-3500 total)     Lower Cherokees:  300 fighting men in 10 villages (+/- 1200 total)

Total Cherokee population in 1715  = 4,700  men, women and children

1721 Barnwell Map

The Cherokees played a major role in the British victory in the Yamasee War.   Beginning in early 1716, there was about a two year period when the Cherokees were sold or given all the munitions that they wanted, whereas most Creeks and Uchees were cut off from British sources.   The Cherokees seized all of Eastern Tennessee down to the Hiwassee River, all of western North Carolina and a narrow strip in the northeast corner of Georgia.  The Upper Creek town of Cusatee was still in present day Stephens County, GA at the head of the Savannah. The Hogeloge Uchees and moved west of the Savannah River.  In addition to capturing the Creek towns on the Little Tennessee River the Cherokees had deserted their towns in Northeastern Tennessee to put more distance between them and the Iroquois.  Until the American Revolution , there were never any Cherokee villages in Georgia, south of Yonah Mountain or west of Brasstown Bald Mountain.  From 1754 to 1785, the southern boundary of the Cherokee Nation was the Georgia-North Carolina Line.

In 1720, Colonel John Barnwell dispatched militia officers and traders to carry out a census of the South Carolina’s new Cherokee allies.  Here are the figures on the Barnwell Map.

Lower and Valley Cherokees in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia:  600 fighting men and +/- 2100 total population in 11 towns.

Middle Cherokees:  2,500 fighting men and +/- 6,500 total population in 30 towns.

Overhill Cherokees:  1,200 fighting men and +/- 3,100 total population in 19 towns.

Total Cherokee population in 1720 = 11,700 men, women and children

No map ever showed Cherokee territory extending westward of eastern Tennessee until Congress created the NAGPRA map in 1991.   In other words Cherokee Territory never got within 245 miles of the Mississippi River




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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    Can’t say I disagree with you in general as to your 1715 location of the Cherokee tribes. What you have not mentioned is the activities of the Cherokee in capturing Creek warriors for slave trading to the Charleston traders for shipment to the Sugar Islands. The period 1715 to 1750 saw a large number of Creeks being sold into slavery and the women and children being Incorporated as slaves into the Cherokee towns. That is how the Cherokees became a very large tribe by 1760 or so. So, in one respect the Cherokees had a heritage of 1, 000 years occupancy of a large area but only if you include the Creek women and children slaves. Not what the Eastern Band of Cherokees would have you believe but the incorporation of Creeks into the Cherokee tribe did result in a blood line that went back 1, 000 years!

  2. Keep in mind, that there is really no “Creek blood line”, but a mixture of people from northern Mexico, eastern Mexico, southern Mexico, Guatemala and several parts of South America. Even today, descendants of different branches of the Creeks in the Southeast have distinctly different DNA profiles. They are more mixed in Oklahoma, but there are still differences. My mother’s family did not look anything like Muskogees,but were descended from moundbuilders.

    There is no doubt about all the major Southeastern tribes losing people to slave raids. However, there could not be a high percentage of Creek slaves among the Cherokees, because we are Haplo Group C – Primitive O+ blood. We do not carry the genetic tendency toward diabetes and alcoholism and have very differently shaped skulls. When archaeologists were relocating Native American burials in Cobb County, GA under a contract with our office, I could instantly tell the difference between Creek and Cherokee skulls. With the hair and skin removed, you wouldn’t even know that they were the same species of hominid.

    Actually, I am descended from a Creek slave. She was freed in 1752 when King George banned Native American slavery. She married a Scotsman and then returned to her home community in South Carolina. Most of the Creek slaves were taken between 1715 and 1720. Once the Creek Confederacy was formed in 1717, Cherokee territorial gains screeched to a halt. There was very little change in boundaries after 1725. Cherokee slave raiders ranged as far as the Great Lakes, southern Florida and the Mississippi River. I think maybe that is how the myth of the Cherokees once occupying most of the Southeast began.

    Maps published as late as 1705, showed Western Carolina to be Shawnee and Creek. Most likely it was those people, who bore the brunt of the slave raids.


    Very interesting. Eventhough it’s clear that the Cherokee are of Middle-Eastern, Caucasian descent the question remains if there were actually other native tribes with a similar name living in the southeast (northern America) prior to the arrival of the Cherokee.

    If there ever were any such native tribes living in or near the southeast, the names “Chiriqui” (Cherique) and “Absarokee” (Apsáalooke) would be the native tribes to do research on.

    Chiriqui are actually native to Panama; Central America while Absarokee; also spelled Absarakee; lived in the Great Lakes region and later migrated westwards to Montana.
    The southeast having so many different native descendants from MesoAmerica, Central America and South America makes it appealing to say that the Chiriqui also migrated to southeast north America, yet there is no proof of that.
    The Absarokee on the other hand did live in the Great Lakes region; Ohio Lake Eerie. It is said that the Ojibwe and Cree forced them westwards.
    Could the Cherokee slave raids also be a reason for the Absarokee to move westwards?

    Are the “Charakeys” in the John Beresford Map – 1715 actually a seperate native tribe?
    In northern Carolina there are Siouan tribes like the Catawba who have been linguistically linked to the so-called Siouan-Catawba language family. Absarokee are a Siouan people and speak a Siouan language.
    Are the Charakeys actually the Absarokee which is also spelled as Absarakee?


    FYI–Diane Edwards Haney forwarded this announcement about a great lecture at the Etowah Indian Mounds Museum on March 9th at 7 pm.
    — It may be of interest to the group that Pat Garrow is addressing the Northwest Georgia Archeological Society on March 9 at 7pm in the Museum at the Etowah Indian Mounds in Cartersville. His subject is the excavation of the Major Ridge home (The Chieftain’s Museum) and the Cave Spring Cabin. Those two structures are related. The Chieftain’s Excavations, which spans about four years, has just been published in a book that is available on Admission is free and all are invited.


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