Patriot troops enslaved captured Cherokees during the American Revolution
The Cherokee villages, who were so hospitable to William Bartram in 1774 and 1776, bore the brunt of Patriot wrath in 1777.
A considerable number of Americans with mixed African ancestry, who trace their roots to the Piedmont regions of the Carolinas or Eastern Tennessee, claim to have substantial Cherokee ancestry. Historians have typically scoffed at these claims, because typically their ancestors were in regions, where there were few plantations. The Cherokees were the major players in the Native American slave trade, not the targets for slave raids. However, a variety of reliable sources, including the actual written commands of Colonel Griffith Rutherford of the North Carolina Militia and Colonel William Christian of the First Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army, clearly gave orders to capture all non-combatant Cherokees to be slaves. Adult Cherokee men were give no quarter and killed on sight. These orders are described in both the North Carolina and Virginia Encyclopedias, plus other trustworthy references.
Recently crowned King George III issued a proclamation in 1752, which banned the slavery of indigenous peoples in the British North American colonies. Owners of Native American slaves were to immediately give them their freedom without compensation. The colonies of Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina immediately passed laws that defined any person, who had as much as 1/64th African heritage as being African. Thus, many Native American slaves were kept in bondage because a distant ancestor was abducted in Africa.
American history books state that the enslavement of indigenous peoples ended in 1752. However, closer examination of the histories of the Carolinas and Virginia reveals that ruffians on their frontiers continued to capture Native American youth and keep them in forced servitude . . . even if they were not registered as slaves with British colonial authorities.
The situation was different in the Province of Georgia. Slavery was not legal there until 1752 and only Africans could be enslaved when the Colonial Assembly institutionalized that evil institution. However, before and after the introduction of slavery, the Creeks greatly outnumbered white colonists. If Creek leaders became aware of a person, with substantial indigenous ancestry being sold into Georgia, they immediately demanded his or her freedom.
The Creeks actively assisted runaway African slaves to escape to Florida until 1763, when Florida became part of the British Empire. Even after then, Creeks in Florida, who became known as Seminoles became close allies of the communities containing former African slaves. In return, these communities adopted the Creek language, clothing and cultural traditions so much that they are now known as Black Seminoles. There was also some intermarriage between the two peoples.
The 1776-1777 Invasion of the Cherokee Country
When the Cherokees were persuaded to assist the British Crown in its war against colonial rebels, their leaders originally planned only to target white families living in the Proclamation Zone, a band of land 100 miles across between present day Murphy, NC and Old Fort, NC where supposedly neither British nor Cherokees would permanently reside. There had been little pressure for the Cherokees living in present day Macon County, NC to relocate westward, but British authorities periodically issued ignored demands for whites to leave the Proclamation Zone.
As stated in a previous POOF article, William Bartram, did not list any Cherokee villages in Georgia and put the northern boundary of the Creek Nation 15 miles south of the NC-GA line in Northeast Georgia. A 1776 map produced by the British Army lists a total of 100 Cherokees living in Georgia, which then stretched to the Mississippi River. Virtually, all contemporary history articles throw in the word, “Georgia,” in a list of states where the Cherokees had always lived. This is due to replication of past poorly researched articles.
Most of the white squatters escaped the wrath of Cherokee war parties in 1776, but families living legally on the frontier were not so fortunate. The young Cherokee warriors continued eastward in search of scalps. Members of pro-British militia units were sent word to put a flag on their houses, but the vast majority of frontiersmen were neutral in 1776 . . . not particularly fond of either the rebelling coastal planters or the British aristocracy. Most Cherokee war parties attacked frontier farmsteads indiscriminately . . . instantly turning the indifferent Southern frontier into a “hornets nest” of Patriot fervor and hatred of the Cherokees.”
Colonel Rutherford raised a force of at least 2,600 militiamen from the North Carolina Piedmont even though most of the Cherokee attacks had been in South Carolina and Southwestern Virginia. The Patriot Militia entered the mountains along the route now taken by Interstate 40. There were a few Shawnee and Creeks living in the vicinity of Asheville, Hendersonville and Brevard, but the Patriot Army couldn’t find them. The first concentration encountered of Cherokee villages and farmsteads was in the vicinity of Franklin, NC. Here all buildings, crops, livestock and stored provisions were either destroyed or seized. Adult Cherokee men of military age were killed on sight. Others were to be captured and sent in to slavery. Because most of the militiamen had never even seen an Indian before, there were some cases of them killing African-American slaves, belonging to frontier traders.
Ironically, the people of Cowee, Nikasee and Echoe in present day Macon County, NC had been especially kind and hospitable to William Bartram in 1774 and 1776. In 1776, they warned him that hostile Cherokees from west of the Proclamation Line were headed their way. He quickly fled southward to the Creek Nation, 20 miles to the south. A year later, these same friendly Cherokees would be subject to the worse wrath of the militiamen from the North Carolina Piedmont. In 1776, Cowee was considered to be the “Capital” of the Middle Cherokees. It was used as a temporary headquarters for the Patriot Army, while militia companies roamed the North Carolina Mountains looking for the Cherokees, who had fled and hidden in remote locations. As the army departed westward, Cowee was burned to the ground.
Colonel Rutherford’s report to Congress describes only a handful of Cherokees being captured and enslaved. However, the reports and post-Revolutionary War accounts of low ranking officers and enlisted men tell a very different story. Rutherford’s army was actually a mob of local militia companies swarming across the North Carolina Mountains with minimal military discipline.
Militia company records describe many more Cherokees being enslaved with no explanation of their fates after the militiamen returned home. Light-skinned, mixed blood Cherokee teenage girls were taken back home as war prizes . . . presumably later to be common law wives. Cherokee youth were taken back to farms in Virginia and the Carolina Piedmont to work in fields along side the couple of African slaves owned by these farmers. Undoubtedly, many of these enslaved Cherokees ended up marrying the Africans they worked with.
The Truth is out there somewhere!
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