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Patriot troops enslaved captured Cherokees during the American Revolution

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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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.



    The multi-racial ancestry of many people in Southeast (particularly those at the margins of mainstream society) has been ignored by the academics. These people do not fit the racial theories that the scholars push as to maintain various political agendas. So these people get ignored. Keep up the good work Richard of fully disclosing history.


    Was recently in the Highlands of NC and came back via Bartram and was wondering about the name. And what should appear but these articles. Have enjoyed reading about this area. However, the waste of lives and the destruction was hard to read. This country has done some terrible things to folks.


    I have read many of the pension statements from my ancestors and others from this general area. These men’s statements do not match up with the history we were taught such as they only burnt the town’s and crops and rarely killed the natives. Most of these men went out on multiple raids under the command of Col. Christian, Col. Preston, and Col. Servier to name a few. These men were ruthless and relentless in their pursuit of natives of many tribes from surrounding areas whether it was a planned large scale mission or in pursuit of a raiding party. Plus throw into the militia men that had intermarried for several generations that have mixed feelings over this and didn’t want to fight family against family. So much we don’t know about the past in these mountains I love. Thank you Mr. Richard and all the researchers that help search for Truth.

    • One can only understand the present and plan for the future, if the true past is known.


    Richard, I hate reading about all these terrible deeds that man has done to his fellow man… mostly for money. Now just a few think they own so much and GOD will decide who owns anything in this land. I have noticed some names ending in the letters “I’m” used by the Para-cu-sis people of Northern Georgia and its possible the Biblical word for the old Apalacha Kingdom area is “Paravaim” noted as a land of Gold. There seems to be some connections of the Hebrew culture, word sounds with the Creeks and the Cherokees peoples by at least the 1600-1700 century. It’s likely Gold has been traded from there for some time so there must have been a ancient city for the Large cargo “ships of Tarshish” and the large ships of the Native Maya to do trading with. By the Savannah river perhaps with the people known for trading salt the Yuchi and Chiska in the mountains. The name of the city by the river must have started with the letters “Para” which you have noted in one of your articles.


      correction!! for the Biblical word : “Parvaim” is the correct spelling.


      I don’t know if the example you give is historically correct or not. But I am certain that there was much trans-Atlantic trade before Columbus. This is not well known today because the traders knew to keep their mouths shut as to where they were getting the goods, so not to give away their competitive advantage.

      Columbus on the other hand was a glory hound. He blew up the game because he wanted the acclaim of the crowds and insinuate himself into the ruling class.


        We know that the Nobles / Clergy of Europe could read and most likely read of the Scot-Irish clergy members journey across in the 5th century. There are many connections a long time before the 5th century with Earthworks and stone monuments. As you implied, Sea merchant families were not going to tell anyone where they were importing their goods from and it’s logical the Georgia coast was a hub of trading activity for Gold, Silver, Gems, copper, Green stone, the first Dark beer (Cha-chi) from South America and cocaine from the Americas found in mummies of Egypt. A world wide trade network going back at least to 3300 BC from both side of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is what the evidence indicates.


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