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Important maps of the Southeast from the late 1600s

Important maps of the Southeast from the late 1600s


The maps produced by cartographers in France, Great Britain and Spain in the late 1600s tell a very different story than what our students read in their official state history books and on Wikipedia.  Founding POOF member Michael Jacobs even found a letter written from the European colony of Melilot on January 6, 1660,  but NO contemporary history text even acknowledges Melilot’s existence.  Melilot is on European maps from 1570 until 1705.  The first map to mention the Cherokees was hand drawn by John and Richard Beresford in 1715!   In 1701,  Royal French Cartographer  Guillaume DeLisle labeled western North Carolina, “Pays du Chouenons” (Shawnee Country) but showed several Creek towns on the lower Little Tennessee River and the rugged mountains around Franklin, NC occupied by Cofitachete . . . an Itsate Creek word meaning “Mixed Race People” . . . probably referring to the offspring of Sephardic miners with Native American wives. 

There is an enormous difference between the French and British maps. British maps typically had little detailed information west of the Blue Ridge Escarpment until after the end of the French and Indian War.   French maps tended to be less accurate from the Blue Ridge Escarpment eastward. The French mapmakers typically added rivers that what there in the British colonies or left out rivers.

During the late 1600s, France dispatched exploration and survey parties throughout the interior of Southeastern North America.  These teams usually included a military officer,  marines, surveyors and experienced, multi-lingual traders.  Thus, by 1700 France had fairly accurate maps of most of the Southeast’s rivers, west of the Appalachians and in the case of the Little Tennessee River, extending to its source.

The French paddled up the Little Tennessee River to its source in Northeast Georgia, but had no way of paddling north and east of present day Franklin, NC.  The rest of the North Carolina Mountains, north and east of Franklin remained a Terra Incognita.   The French named the mountains from Fort Mountain eastward the Cohuita (Coweta or Creek) Mountains.   Later, British draftsmen changed the word to Cohutta Mountains.  

The French Broad River in North Carolina is called the French Broad because it was in territory claimed by France.   However, the French surveying party stopped at those Class 5 rapids near Hot Springs, NC and never knew where the French Broad flowed up stream from there.

The similar event happened in North Georgia.  A surveying part paddled up the Coosa to the Coosawattee to the Cartacay River, then stopped at the Cartacay’s source on the west slope of Coosa Bald Mountain.  The French therefore never knew what the interior of the Georgia Mountains looked like.  If they couldn’t canoe there, they didn’t go there.

Even in Virginia, there were very few European settlers in Virginia, west of the Blue Ridge Mountains until the early 1750s.  The two oldest buildings I worked on while practicing architecture in the Shenandoah Valley was a 1740 one room stone cottage built by Protestant monks from the Ephrata Cloister (a Seventh Day Dunker mystical cult) based in Ephrata, PA and a 1746 log cabin near Lebanon Furnace, an early iron smelting operation.  My former farm was surveyed by George Washington in 1754, immediately prior to his mission to Fort Duquense.


1650 – Update of John Smith’s map of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.  Virginians still believed that the Pacific was over the mountains.  Whereas this map praises the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley on the other side of the Blue Ridge Mountains,  John Smith’s original map stated that the valley on the other side of the mountains was densely populated by Indians of an advanced culture.  Now it was almost deserted from slave raids.


1657 – Map of French Louisiana, Spanish Florida and British Virginia by Nicholas Sanson – South Carolina is still called French Florida.


1660 – Map that accompanied Charles de Rochefort’s two chapters on the Kingdom of Apalache in North Georgia.


1669 – Johann Lederer journeyed southward along the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains as far as the Saluda River. His map showed only one tribe in the mountains of Virginia and northwestern North Carolina . . . the Rickohockens.  Uchees inhabited the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but had been depleted by Rickohocken slave raids. Sara was the largest Indian town that he visited adjacent to the Blue Ridge Mountains.


1669 – The map reads, “The Appalachian Mountains ~ The Rickohockens.  Most of the Indian villages were  located about 25 miles east of the Blue Ridge.  Note the larger town near the center named Akenatzy.   That most likely was a settlement founded by Akenazi Jews from eastern Europe.


1684 – Jean Baptiste Franquelin’s map showed the names of many Native towns in the interior, plus a road from St. Augustine to the Nacoochee Valley


Most of the village in Northeast Tennessee had South American names. Chalaka later moved to present day Sylacauga, Alabama. Note that none of these villages are recognizable as having the names of later Cherokee villages.  The village names are Panoan, not Algonquian or Cherokee.


1694 – Robert Morden’s map showed the capital of Apalache to be in the Nacoochee Valley. The Cherokees are not mentioned on his map.



1701 – Guillaume De L’Isle’s map of North America labeled western North Carolina, “Shawnee Country.”  “Les Tionontatecaga” are the Cherokees.


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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.



    Note the location of the town Achusi on some of these. Some maps later had a ” village abandonde” in the same location. Could that be the name of Bottle Creek ?


    Richard T., Very interesting maps. Here is a question on the map of 1684 regarding the name ‘Chalaka’. It seems like there is a letter infront of ‘chalaka’ maybe a letter ‘T’ which would make it ‘Tchalaka’ (Tshalaka); yet what it actually seems to be is the letter ‘I’; in that case it would be ‘Ichalaka’ ( Itza-laka ). Would you be willing to take a look at it and give your opinion?

    • Like so many other Native American place names in the Southeast, Chalaka is an attempt by a European to approximate a indigenous sound that is not found in European languages. The Ch sound among Southeastern indigenous peoples sounds much more like Mesoamerican languages than one would guess. Also, we have the problem that the Indian traders, who wrote down these words, were not terribly well educated. Most were only marginally literate. Chakalaka could be the misinterpretation of Chakolako, which in Muskogee means “Big House.” On the other hand, virtually all the other village names in NE Tennessee were South American words. It is hard to speculate on this.


        Thank you for your reply. It was just an observation of something that looks to be the letter ‘I’ infront of ‘chalaka’. The misspellings and misinterpretations by marginally literate natives and European colonists of certain placenames doesn’t make things any easier. It’s a good thing there are (seemingly) enough people like yourself who know a lot about Mesoamerican- and other native american languages to narrow things down.


    Richard, Wonderful maps and that one of 1669 does have a town for the Akenatzy Jewish in North Carolina. That might explain the Armenian connection with some of the Cherokee words and the written script that was first used by the Cherokees? The 15th Century Ottoman empire was doing business with the Dutch, the Jewish Groups fleeing Spain and those of the Black Sea area. “Sephar-Vaim” was a name of an ancient Amorite city of Syria, later the Jewish people used the term “Sepharad” for Spain…and hence the name Sephardim for the Jewish that had lived in Spain. Some of the Hebrews left Egypt before the Exodus (1313 BC) and moved to Spain and could have been involved as Sea merchants in Trade with the Natives of the South. “Parvaim” is the name of the land that King Solomon sent his ships to bring back the best Gold from. The term “Para” seems to be associated with Apalacha Kingdom (Para-cussis) or Peru. Also the Paracussis used the term Ba-fain-im for the Altamaha river and with the Peruvian words connections with the Tennessee map of 1684 indicates an ancient migration from Para (Peru). A-char-la-ke (1540), Char-la ka (1684) were most likely terms for people living in the Mountains.


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