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.
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