Virginia’s William Berkeley and the Creation of the Cherokee Indians: Part One
A decade ago, “Bacon’s Rebellion,” an Ezine based in Virginia, asked me to write an article on the 17th century history of Virginia from a Native American perspective. In doing research for the article, I stumbled upon many historical events described in the Virginia Commonwealth Colonial Archives that were completely unknown to most Americans. They have profound implications for understanding the true history of the Lower Southeast after Europeans began arriving in the New World.
Sir William Berkeley (1705-1677) was an ardent Royalist, who radically changed the economy and social landscape of Virginia. He served two terms as Royal Governor (1642-1652) and (1660-1677). He is directly responsible for the institutionalization of slavery in the British colonies. The dates of the beginning and end of the American Civil War correspond exactly to the 200th anniversaries of the first and last slavery laws that Berkeley enacted. He was appointed by King Charles II as one of eight Lord Proprietors of the Province of Carolina. Berkeley was also a key player in the “ethnic cleansing” of the Native American peoples of the Southeast.
Four versions of history in four states
Having grown up in Georgia then lived a decade each in North Carolina and Virginia, I was acutely aware of how different the “spin” on history was in each state when doing research for the Bacon’s Rebellion article. Virginia has some fascinating colonial archives that somehow never made it past its official state history textbooks into mainstream American history publications. As an example, for 250 years Virginia students have been taught that the Cherokees originated in the Southwest Virginia Mountains in the mid-1600s and did not move down into North Carolina until the early 1700s. Colonial maps and archives back up Virginia’s version of history.
The current crop of North Carolina academicians really don’t have a clue what was going on in the western part of their state in the 1600s. A generation ago, they created a mythological story about a Great Cherokee Empire being founded in North Carolina by full-blooded Indians, who arrived in the Tar Heel State during the Ice Age . . . never mind that both rivers on the Cherokee Reservation have Creek names.
When I lived in Asheville, there were texts written by earlier generations of North Carolina scholars on the shelves of the Pack Library, which clearly refuted this malarkey. They described Asheville as a major center of the Shawnee and Spanish-speaking colonists living farther west in the North Carolina Mountains a century before the word, Cherokee, even existed. Those books have been pulled from the library shelves. In 1991, a Chapel Hill history professor even changed the wording of the account of the 1673 Arthur-Needham Expedition from Virginia to Northeast Tennessee to make it appear that the two men visited the Cherokees, when they actually visited a Creek tribe in Tennessee.
Until very recently, Georgia academicians didn’t give a flying flip what happened before 1733, when a ship load of colonists lead by James Oglethorpe landed at Yamacraw Bluff to settle Savannah. Georgia’s first history text was written by William Bacon Stephens, a newly graduated medical doctor from Maine. He arrived in Savannah in 1837, the year before the Cherokee Removal. Along with a hardware store owner from New York, they founded the Georgia Historical Society. Georgia’s population was minuscule until the late 1780s, so from the beginning of the state’s existence there was very little folk knowledge concerning the original Native Americans in the state.
The creation of history and archaeological “facts” by newcomers reinforced the amnesia toward the eons of time before 1733. From the 1880s until almost the present, Georgia’s archaeological programs have been dominated by people, who moved to the state from other areas of the nation. To the present, they all share a common abhorrence toward communicating with Native Americans or even the descendants of the early colonists. So when neighboring states created earlier history for Georgia, no academician in the Peach State objected. That’s how a bogus Fort Caroline got built with federal funds in Jacksonville, FL during the early 1960s.
Florida has developed its own version of Native American history. In many ways, Florida’s understanding of its indigenous heritage is more accurate than in its neighbors to the north. For example, Florida history textbooks tell students that in 1646 Governor Benito Ruíz de Salazar Vallecilla ordered construction of a trading post at the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River in the Nacoochee Valley of Northeast Georgia and constructed a pack mule road to interconnect that post with St. Augustine. Not a single Georgia academician seems to be aware of that fact. It certainly is not mentioned on any Georgia historical markers.
Unfortunately, Florida’s first history was written by a real estate speculator from New York, George Fairbanks. He was speculating in lands near Jacksonville and St. Augustine, thus created the myths of Fort Caroline being in Jacksonville and the Fountain of Youth being in St. Augustine. Florida anthropologists structured their entire understanding of the Native peoples in the northeastern part of the state, using a Jacksonville benchmark for Fort Caroline. All government and academic institutions in that state will bitterly fight any changes to their “myths” because so much investment and academic literature is based on Fort Caroline being in Jacksonville.
The true history of the Cherokees can be traced to events in the Southern Appalachians in the late 1500s and early 1600s, plus on the Virginia frontier in the 1660s and 1670s. They were associated with the cryptic colonization of the Southeast’s interior and institutionalization of human slavery. However, there were also a series of archaeological discoveries during the late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s that identified dramatic events which no state archives or history books can explain.
The cryptic colonization of the Southeast’s interior
During the late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s archaeologists, working in Northwestern Georgia and Eastern Tennessee discovered many town sites that suddenly had been devastated and abandoned somewhere between 1585 and 1600 AD. Some villages were covered with unburied skeletons There were layers of charcoal found at village sites from the Little Tennessee River to near Six Flags Over Georgia. In Northwest Georgia and Northeast South Carolina, archaeologists Joseph Caldwell and Arthur Kelly found the same pattern along the tributaries of the Savannah River. Except in that region, the charcoal was dated to around 1700 AD.
In one village in Northwest Georgia, archaeologists found a macabre scene in which pre-adolescent males and females had been chopped into pieces with steel blades then boiled to make medicine! It was a folk belief in Late Medieval Europe that a medicine made from boiled virgins would cure malaria.
At the time, archaeologists interpreted the sudden abandonment of villages to some European plague. The evidence of violent deaths were attributed to the de Soto Expedition, even though the De Soto Chronicles make no mention of any violence while the conquistadors were in Northwest Georgia. However, it is odd that the abandonment of many towns occurred almost concurrently with the arrival of European miners. Were these Muskogean towns attacked by invaders from the Old World?
The famous 16th century English historian, Richard Hakluyt, hinted that there was more going on in the interior of the Southeast than is taught to American school children. He tells us that some traders from Santa Elena (South Carolina) made secret journeys to North Georgia between 1567 and 1584, but there is no official record of Spanish, French or English colonial activities in the Appalachian Mountains of Georgia until 1646. However from the 1570s onward, French maps labeled the region as containing gold and silver.
In the 1980s, North Carolina geologists obtained radiocarbon dates for sawn mine timbers in ancient mines in the Nantahala Gorge and near Mount Mitchell. They also dated trees growing up through the mouth of an ancient gold mine near Murphy, NC. All three mines were in the heart of what all contemporary maps label “the Heart of the Cherokee Nation.” The radiocarbon dates ranged from 1590 to 1600 AD!
Not to be outdone, Georgia geologists obtained radiocarbon dates for sawn mine timbers for a mine at the base of Fort Mountain in Northwest Georgia. They came back 1600-1615 AD. Two European villages were found 60 miles to the east in the Nacoochee Valley of Georgia by gold miners in the 1820s. The surviving artifacts appear to be mining tools from the late 1500s or 1600s. There was also a Spanish cigar mold in the ruins of cabins along Dukes Creek.
At least as early as 1609, when the Dutch West Indies Trading Company established a base on Manhattan Island, Dutch Sephardic Jews began traveling down the Great Appalachian Valley to establish trade with a string of Indian tribes. A look at the topographic map above clearly shows that the two ends of that valley are now New York City and Atlanta. Although Jamestown was founded in 1607, most Virginians, except William Berkeley and Edward Bland, did not have a clue what lay behind the Blue Ridge Mountains until the 1670s. We will talk about Edward Bland a little later.
New Amsterdam was officially founded in 1610. By this time, the Sephardic Jews, who immigrated to the Netherlands from Spain and Portugal, had become very important to the economy of this new nation. They helped finance the war of independence against Spain, but also became owners and captains of Dutch ships, along with establishing trade with the Ottoman Empire. Muslims would trade with Jewish and Protestant ships, but not Roman Catholic ones. The Ottoman Empire was at war with the Catholic League. In fact, the Ottoman Empire helped finance England’s war with Spain between 1585 and 1603.
That same year of 1610, the Spanish Inquisition suddenly appeared in Cartagena, Colombia. This wealthy city was dominated by Crypto-Jewish families, who had grown wealthy off of gold mining, tobacco exports and the slave trade. Cartagena was one of three cities in the Spanish Empire in which slave markets were permitted. Prior to that time, regional Spanish authorities did not molest them as long as they observed their Jewish practices in private and made hefty bribes to the officials and local churches.
Investigators for the Inquisition showed up without giving advanced warning to local government and church officials. They immediately began arresting Jews even though officially all were Christians. Most of the Jewish community quickly disappeared by ship. Those that didn’t were often burned at the stake, so that the Inquisition could seize their wealth. We know that some Sephardic families soon became owners of pirate and slave trade vessels based in the Bahamas, but the whereabouts of the majority remain an official mystery.
We know that there was a Sephardic colony in the Little Tennessee River Valley by 1615. A memorial to a Sephardic wedding on September 15, 1615 was carved on a boulder overlooking the Smoky Mountains. (Link to article – Sephardic colonists in the Appalachians). Radiocarbon dates suggest that some Europeans had been living in the Appalachians at least 15 years earlier.
After Queen Elizabeth’s death in 1603, the Dutch had quickly changed from being the closest of allies with England to being a bitter commercial rival. Her successor, King James I had ended the war with Spain and reversed many policies that had been favorable to the Dutch. However, the Dutch fleet still dominated trade in Northern Europe. Their ships were increasingly superior and more numerous to those built in England.
The Dutch “game plan” was to develop a ring of trading post villages and Indian allies around the struggling Jamestown Colony, then strangle it. However, the Dutch also had a strategy for making their little nation a superpower . . . tobacco. The Dutch planned to corner the world market on tobacco since Spain had alienated so many other countries, its merchant ships were very limited to where they could dock outside the Spanish Empire.
The same year that New Amsterdam was founded and the Jewish families of Cartagena vanished, John Rolfe illegally purchase tobacco seeds in Trinidad. Once John Rolfe and Pocahontas proved that high quality tobacco could be grown in Virginia, the colony became a major threat to Dutch economic ambitions . . . but potentially the closest location to Europe, where the Dutch could produce tobacco.
We know that Dutch-speaking colonists got as far south as North Georgia. The dormant mud volcano in northeast Metro Atlanta is called Nodaroc. That is a Late Medieval Duits word meaning “Swamp Smoking.” The Rickohocken Indians of Southwestern Virginia, who will be discussed in the next article of this series, apparently also had a Late Medieval Duits name. Their name means “High Kingdom.”
The secret mission of Edward Bland – 1646
Edward Bland was also an ardent supporter of King Charles I from Brigstock, England and crypto-Roman Catholic. The wife of Charles I was Roman Catholic. When the English Civil War broke out in 1641, Bland and his wife moved to Spain, where they established trade-related businesses in several cities in Spain, plus the Canary Islands. After the Royalists were defeated in 1745 and then Charles was turned over to the Parliamentary Forces in 1646, Bland sailed to the New World. As soon as he arrived in Jamestown, Bland went immediately to the office of Governor William Berkeley.
Berkeley was evidently expecting Bland. All others were asked to leave the premises, so they the two could talk in private. After the meeting, Bland left immediately on a mission to the southern tip of the Appalachians. This is in a period, when officially no Englishman had ever ventured that far into the interior of the Southeast and there was no English settlement south of Jamestown. Virginia archives are silent as to the purpose of the dangerous journey. Bland had never even been in the New World before, much less travel for many weeks in the wilderness. After returning to Jamestown, he established a plantation and arranged for his family to journey from Spain.
This mission by Bland is so obscure that even the Encyclopedia Virginia gives credit to another man, Thomas Batts, to be the first to explore the Appalachians. Most references only mention Bland’s second expedition to the Albamarle Valley of Northeastern North Carolina. One North Carolina reference mentions briefly that Bland first traveled to Western North Carolina to visit “great towns of the Cherokee Nation.” By the way . . . all maps show Western North Carolina occupied only by Shawnees and Creeks until 1715.
Bland did not go to North Carolina. He went to the southern tip of the Appalachians in Georgia. The timing is critical. It is the same year that Florida Governor Benito Ruíz de Salazar Vallecilla was constructing a fort and trading post in the Nacoochee Valley . . . at the southern end of the Appalachians. Bland owned trading companies in Spain. There has to be a connection, but what role William Berkeley had in it, we will probably never know.
Seven years later, Bland’s cousin from Brigstock, Richard Brigstock, traveled to North Georgia from his plantation on the island of Barbados. He was also a Royalist. He spent several months among the Apalache People of Northeast Georgia, but eventually decided to move his family to Virginia. Today, both the Blands and the Brigstocks are considered FFV’s . . . First Families of Virginia.
So we have a situation today, where Virginia history tells us the complete story of William Berkeley and Edward Bland, but is disinterested in Bland’s mission to the Georgia Mountains. Florida history tells us about a Spanish fort, trading post and mission being built in the Georgia Mountains, but does not know that Edmond Bland and Richard Brigstock visited the same locale. North Carolina history picks and modifies only those aspects from history that can magnify the importance of THEIR Cherokee Indians. Meanwhile, Georgia academicians don’t have a clue that any of this was going on.
In Part Two, William Berkely personally begins the Native American slave trade and then sponsors slavery laws that will ultimately cause the American Civil War, two centuries later.
Latest posts by Richard Thornton (see all)
- Meanings of river and stream names in Western North Carolina - November 16, 2017
- Human bodies are left on a North Carolina mountainside to decay - November 15, 2017
- Stark climatic boundary between Asheville and Cullowhee, North Carolina set northern limits of Muskogean mound builders - November 14, 2017
- Important maps of the Southeast from the late 1600s - November 13, 2017
- The Lower Cherokees . . . Who were they really? – Part One - November 12, 2017