Virginia’s William Berkeley and the Creation of the Cherokee Indians: Part Three
The ethnic cleansing of the Southeast
In Parts One and Two, we learned that the decades of chaos in England, caused by the confrontations between King Charles I and Parliament, allowed British colonies to essentially govern themselves. New England colonies took further steps toward democracy and economic egalitarianism, which resulted in most of the population being Middle Class. Education and entrepreneurial activities were encouraged by the church congregations that formed the social structure of the region.
Meanwhile Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, France Nouveau and Nieuw Nederland sought to recreate the feudal societies of the Late Medieval Europe in the New World. There the ideal was for a few families to control almost all the land, wealth and political power. Initially, this was achieved by having most of the laboring work done by bonded servants, whose passage to the New World had been paid for by the aristocracy. They were essentially serfs.
France maintained this serfdom by only allowing certain classes to even own land. However, in the British Southern colonies, bond servants quickly headed to the frontier as soon as their bondservant obligations were worked off. This created a chronic labor shortage. This situation hampered Virginia’s economic growth for decades.
Beginning in 1610, Virginia planters began increasingly relying on Native American war captives and later, African bondservants to do the drudgery on tobacco plantations. Between 1661 and 1665, Governor William Berkeley put through a series of bills in the House of Burgesses, which changed the status of indigenous peoples and Africans in bondage, from human servants to sub-human personal property with virtually no civil rights. It was the first time in the history of the English-speaking peoples that slavery had been institutionalized and based on race.
Since the mid-1640s, Berkeley had been purchasing indigenous slaves from tribes living to the west of Tidewater Virginia. He used them on his James River plantations or sold them to other planters. Around 1662, Governor Berkeley signed a treaty with the fierce Rickohockens of southwest Virginia in which the colonial government would furnish them firearms and munitions in return for the delivery of an unlimited number of Native American slaves. In 1663, Berkeley was named one of eight Lord Proprietors of the new Province of Carolina. Within two decades, vast areas of the Southeast would be virtually uninhabited.
Who were the Rickohockens?
Surprisingly little academic research has gone into understanding the Rickohockens, despite their prominence in late 17th century maps and colonial archives. In fact, over the past 20 years there have been strenuous efforts, funded by academic grants from the Eastern Band of Cherokees and Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, to erase their existence entirely . . . or at least to re-label them a small tribe that eventually joined the Cherokees.
The map above speaks for itself. In 1670, the only tribe mentioned in the Virginia and North Carolina Mountains was the Rickohockens. The word, Charakey, would not appear until 1715 and that would be in the northeastern corner of Tennessee.
The principal town and capital of the Rickohockens was Otari, which means “High Place”. It was located near the Peaks of the Otter and Bedford, VA – which is in the highest Virginia mountains, west of Lynchburg. The Rickohockens had several other villages in the region.
Since the middle 1700s, Virginia’s students have been taught that the Rickohockens were the ancestors of the Cherokees. This is what was written in official Commonwealth of Virginia history textbooks, when I lived there in the late 1980s and early 1990s. According to “Virginia history” most of the Rickohockens began moving southward into the Province of Carolina after Charleston was founded in 1671. By this time they had exterminated most of the other tribes in what is now Virginia, western Maryland and West Virginia. By 1684, there were so few Rickohockens in Virginia that they were never mentioned again in the minutes of the House of Burgesses.
Until obtaining firearms, the Rickohockens’ arch enemies were the Tamahiti, who the Algonquians called the Tamahitans or Tomahitans. The Tamahiti lived in the river valleys of southwestern Virginia. They were Itzate-speaking Creeks, agriculturalists and mound builders. Their name is Itza Maya and means “Merchant People.” Decimated by the Rickohocken firearms, the Tamahiti moved back to the Altamaha River Basin in Georgia, which was their homeland. Their name appears on several 18th century maps of Georgia.
The known ethnic history of the Rickohockens does seem to match the traditional description of the Cherokees until their bureaucrats boxed themselves into a corner by claiming to be the master race, who has always lived in a region, whose rivers all have Creek names. A very important piece of linguistic evidence is that the traditional Cherokee name for the Lenape (Delaware) was Grandmother People.
Virginia textbooks taught that the Rickohocken were believed to be a branch of the Lenape Tribe that probably formerly lived in the Northern Virginia or Maryland. Attacks by enemy tribes divided the Rickohockens into three separated bands, which were driven northwestward, southward and westward by the Iroquois to the point where they could no longer maintain communication with the Lenape, and often, not even with each other. Before 1990, students were taught everywhere that the Cherokees originally consisted of three Algonquian bands that wandered across the landscape of the eastern Midwest and western side of the Mid-Atlantic States, before arriving in the Southern Appalachians.
As will be discussed below, linguistics suggest that the Rickohockens originally composed the Long Hair Clan, which was the dominant Cherokee clan, during the Cherokees formative years. Nevertheless, the evidence is overwhelming that the modern Cherokees are the result of many tribes and races assimilating. In 1725, fourteen bands composed the new Cherokee tribe. Many spoke languages that were incomprehensible to other bands. One can assume that at that time there were at least 14 clans, if not more.
Westebo or Westo Indians: The last mention of the word, Rickohocken, strangely occurs on the Savannah River. It was the name of the capital of a cluster of Westo villages, where Augusta, GA is today. They had captured the region from the Pvtopa (Potofa) mentioned by 16th century Spanish and French explorers. Westebo means “Place of the Long Haired People” in the Panoan (Peruvian) language spoken by the Apalache Elite in Georgia and the Cusabo Peoples in southern South Carolina. Weste survives in the Muskogee-Creek language as an adjective meaning, “long, scraggly hair.” After being defeated by the Savano, the surviving Westo settled on the Chattahoochee River and joined the Creek Confederacy.
Etymology of Rickohocken: The People of One Fire’s “Superstar” linguist, Marilyn Rae, identified a probable translation of the word, Rickohocken. It make sense because until New Amsterdam was captured by the British in 1664, the Rickohockens had extensive contacts with Dutch traders, and attacked the Virginia Colony whenever the Netherlands and England were at war. Rik-o-hocken are Late Medieval Duets words and mean, “Wealthy (nation) – on – high (mountains).” The Rickohockens did live high up in the mountains.
Ethnic cleansing in Virginia
In 1654, a village of Rickohocken Indians settled on an island near the High Falls of the James River . . . rather close to one of Berkeley’s plantations. They were attacked by Virginia Militia. The Virginians were defeated.
In 1656, a massive army of Rickohockens marched down the James River Valley from its source near present day Roanoke. They destroyed almost all the yeoman farms and those plantations of families, who were not closely allied to William Berkeley. Berkeley’s properties were not seriously harmed. Just before reaching Jamestown, they supposedly ran out of food and arrows then turned around and went home. Of course, Berkeley, as governor, was living in Jamestown.
In 1657, only one year after their destructive raids on the Lower James River, large bands of Rickohocken warriors were armed with firearms by Berkeley and sent southward to capture slaves for Virginia’s tobacco plantations. The raiders quickly grew wealthy (by Indian standards) from the slave trade.
In 1661, the Shenandoah Valley was densely populated by agricultural mound builders, who had several Arawak or Mesoamerican traits. While Architect for a series of 18th century farm restorations in the Seven Bends of the Shenandoah Valley, I repeatedly discovered polychrome potsherds, stone four-legged metates, stone tortilla or cassava cake grills and sophisticated figurines. The artifacts were especially dense, when we were digging the septic tank field for James Carville/Mary Matalin’s house and in the garden of Jay Monahan/Katie Couric’s house. I could not get Virginia archaeologists interested because they were obsessed at the time with Civil War battlefields and Tidewater region Early Colonial sites.
As most of the readers know, Southeastern Indians typically ground their corn in supersized mortars and pestles, carved from tree trunks. This tradition included the Cherokees. Stone metates and tortilla grills are associated with Mexico and the Caribbean Basin. However, I have seen some of the stone grills at Colonial Period Creek sites. When I was growing up, the favorite way of cooking cornbread among Creek descendants in Georgia was a “Johnny Cake,” which was essentially a corn pancake. This may be a tradition inherited from the Arawaks in Georgia, who joined the Creek Confederacy.
There is evidence that the first place that the Rickohocken raiders went was the densely populated Shenandoah Valley. A History of Shenandoah County, VA by John Walter Wayland mentions that the British explorers, who entered the valley in the late 1600s encountered remnants of a tribe they called the Shanantoa, Senantoa, or Cenuntoa. The Toa suffix is significant because that is the same name as the documented Arawaks, living in Georgia, who were visited by Hernando de Soto.
The early British explorers observed mounds and the ruins of villages throughout the valley. The original German settlers in Shenandoah County stated that there was evidence of dense Indian occupation everywhere. All the creeks were lined with burial mounds and large pyramidal mounds stood along the Shenandoah River until used as forts in the Civil War. In the early 1700s, a few survivors of the valley’s pre-European inhabitants, now living in Pennsylvania, stated that “Indians from the south” had raided their towns and villages, killing or enslaving most of the population.
That the Rickohockens were also allied with the Lenape is suggested by this story in Wayland’s book. Settlers on the Potomac River in Loudon County in the 1730s reported that a Delaware war party returning from South Carolina, “sacrificed” a young Catawba woman upon reaching the Potomac then crossed into their home territory. One member of the party returned the next day to cut off her soles, so her spirit could not haunt them.
Further evidence that Native American slave raiders were deliberately used to depopulate the Northern Neck Estate of the Culpepper Family comes from an article in the history of Loudon County, VA by Ruth Bentley of the Waterford Foundation. Loudon is a suburb of Washington, DC. Early settlers of Jamestown, such as John Smith, made contact with an alliance of Siouan villages in northern Virginia called the Manahoac during the early 1600s. The Manahoac villages were located east of the Shenandoah Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains and upper Piedmont.
By 1669 a colonial census counted only 50 Manahoac men of military age, due to catastrophic attacks by Indian slave raiders. Soon thereafter, the surviving Manahoac moved farther south to join other Siouans in the vicinity of present day Charlottesville. It is documented that they were repeatedly attacked by Rickohockens while living in the Charlottesville area. The Siouan alliance eventually moved southwestward to near Lynchburg, then south again to near the Virginia-North Carolina Line, before disappearing from history around 1753.
The first recorded exploration of the Shenandoah Valley was by German immigrant, Johann Lederer, and several associates in 1670. They went as far west as present day Strasburg, VA, then turned around. His journey came on the heels of a decade of ethnic cleansing by the Rickohockens. Lederer reported that there were NO INDIANS living in the Shenandoah Valley, south of the Tobacco Indian vilage near the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. A few decades later, Xuale (Northern Shawnee) would move into the Winchester, VA area, but they were driven out of West Virginia by the Rickohockens.
Ethnic cleansing in the Carolinas, eastern Tennessee and Northeast Georgia
The ethnic changes between 1670 and 1717 in present day North and South Carolina Piedmont, plus Northeast Georgia are astonishing. Virtually none of the Native villages and towns that were there in 1670, still survived in 1701. The powerful Apalache Kingdom completely disappeared between 1701 and 1715. In 1957, archaeologist Joseph Caldwell found that an enormous Creek town on Tugaloo Island at the head of the Savannah River was burned and sacked sometime between 1700 and 1710.* It was replaced by a small Cherokee village. Yet in 1725, a tribe based in Northeast Tennessee, whose name had not even been mentioned in colonial archives until 1715, claimed this vast depopulated region as its territory . . . even though the Cherokees never occupied any villages in most of it.
* The current claim by Cherokee tribal websites and Cherokee pseudo-historians that Tugaloo was the oldest Cherokee town, founded in 1450 AD has no basis.
Something uncomprehensively catastrophic occurred after the eight Lord Proprietors of Carolina took possession of their realm. Sir William Berkeley and his client Indian tribe, the Rickohockens are the prime suspects.
Carolina colonists called the Rickohockens, Westos. One of the three bands of Rickohockens began attacking the large Hitchiti-speaking towns within the interior of what is now Georgia in 1659, but the other two bands concentrated on Tennessee and the Carolina Piedmont. From transient villages in the Carolina Mountains, they swept down into the Piedmont and Low Country – quickly depopulating the prime agricultural bottomlands. Within a few years, there were no large towns still occupied in the Piedmont, except around Old Fort, Lenoir and Morganton, where there were Uchee villages. They were abandoned in 1763. The Carolina landscape was open to settlement by colonists from Europe.
By the time that the North Carolina Mountains were settled after the American Revolution, there was only one significant Indian tribe in the state . . . the Cherokees. This is why North Carolinians, especially their anthropologists and historians, have a cultural amnesia, which makes them forget that most of their mountain rivers have Creek names.
The following year, many Rickohockens returned to the region along with their families and some female Muskogean slaves. They set up villages along the middle Savannah River, from where they could probe even farther west and sell their slaves directly to the English on the coast. After the Charlestowne Colony was finally settled in 1670, its aristocratic leaders collaborated with the Westos for twenty years in order to obtain slaves for their new rice, indigo and sugar plantations.
It is theorized that one of the primary reasons that Berkeley refused in 1675 to authorize large scale resistance to Indian raids on the Virginia frontier, was his long time business relationship with the three branches of the Rickohockens. By this time Berkeley had become extremely wealthy from the Native American slave trade. He really did not want Englishmen to settle in the region near his Indian trading partners, and thus was indifferent to their suffering.
The Westo raids became increasingly disruptive to the expansion of the colony in the late 1670s. Around 1680, the South Carolina government cut a deal with the Savano Indians (Shawnee) living along the Savannah River. They armed and reinforced the Savanos, while cutting off the supply of munitions to the Westos. The Savannah’s destroyed the Westo villages and killed many of the Westo warriors. The surviving Westos moved to the Chattahoochee River.
Native American slave trade spreads to much of eastern North America
Once the major Muskogean provinces in the Lower South were able to obtain firearms from the British or the French, the Rickohockens raided elsewhere and soon their name disappeared from the maps. However, then the provinces in the Southeast coalesced into mega-tribes and alliances that incessantly staged raids on each other to obtain captives to sell to slave markets in Carolina and Virginia. They also exterminated smaller tribes in order to acquire hunting lands for obtaining deer skins to trade to white merchants for more firearms, munitions, metal cookware and cloth. Between 1660 and 1700, Muskogeans apparently forgot how to weave cloth. This cultural loss could have initially been caused by massive plagues.
It is well documented that the Apalachicola Creeks, Ichisi Creeks and Yamasee Alliance in Southeast Georgia played a major role in the complete destruction of the Spanish mission system in Florida during the Queen Anne’s War. In 1701, a combined Apalachicola and Chickasaw army nearly wiped out an invading army composed of Spanish soldiers and Apalachee militiamen from the missions. In 1704, a combined Apalachicola and Ichisi Creek army invaded Northwest Florida and killed many Florida Apalachee and Spanish soldiers. They returned to South Carolina with over 3,500 Apalachee slaves. The following year, Yamasee raiders destroyed the mission system in Northeast Florida.
Research by Dr. John Worth found that Proto-Cherokee slave raiders from Northeastern Tennessee were the biggest players in the Native American slave trade. They ranged from Lake Erie to Lake Okeechobee Florida and the Mississippi River to the North Carolina Piedmont. This is why the Cherokees now claim to have once occupied all of the Southeast. They never lived in most of the region, but did destroy small tribes within a vast area. After the Yamasee War ended in 1717, the colonies of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina issued special branding irons to each of the 14 bands of Cherokees, so that each band could receive proper payment for slaves sold in slave markets.
Two alliances formed in Northeast Georgia after the devastation of the Rickohocken slave raids. The Elate (Foothill People) was a confederacy of twelve Apalache-Creek, Hitchiti Creek and Uchee villages that initially refused to join a new Creek Confederacy in 1717 and then afterward sought to remain neutral in the 40 year long war between the Creek Confederacy and Cherokee Alliance. They are mistakenly called “Cherokees” by white academicians and Cherokees . . . neither of whom have made any effort to learn the indigenous languages of Georgia. Their land and their political sovereignty were given to the Cherokees in the Treaty of New York in 1794. These people were never voluntarily Cherokees or Muskogee Creeks. Many assimilated with whites or left for points west after their land was given away.
The Bohurons composed a tribe in Northeast Georgia of mixed bloods. Bohuron means “nobles or aristocracy” in Moorish and Jewish Ladino. They were fierce soldiers, skilled horsemen and members of the Creek Confederacy by the mid-1700s. However, they had Jewish, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Moorish, French and English names. They seem to have been the descendants of the 17th century gold miners in North Georgia. They also may have been the descendants of the “white horsemen” who traversed the Georgia Piedmont around 1600. (See Part Two.)
In 1717, the town of Koweta sent invitations to all the Muskogean provinces in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama to meet at Ocmulgee Mounds to form an alliance. Initially, the Chickasaws were a member as they had been one of four tribes to form the original People of One Fire. However, the Chickasaws soon dropped out because of conflicts with the leaders of Koweta. The new Creek Confederacy then signed a peace treaty with the British, which then enabled them to start trading for muskets and munitions again.
The rest of Georgia, would have soon been depopulated by the Native American slave raids, had not the town of Koweta formed a New Creek Confederacy. The individual tribes were badly depleted because of a series of plagues, attacks by the Rickohockens and more recently the Cherokees. Only by obtaining firearms from South Carolina and combining their forces, were the Creeks able to stop the process of extinction.
Cherokee territorial expansion to the south screeched to a halt after the Koweta Creek Confederacy formed. Between 1717 and 1725, the Tennessee boundary line moved south from present day Knoxville to the Hiwassee River, but then it stopped. Although the Cherokees claimed all the land down to the Fall Line, they never conquered it or lived in most of Georgia. In 1776, the British Army estimated that there were 25 Cherokee men of military age in the entire Province of Georgia, which then stretched to the Mississippi River.
In Part Four, the modern Native American tribes of the Southeast take their current form. This process was a direct response to the impact of European colonization, the Native American slave trade and the deerskin trade. In fact, the Cherokee Tribe was literally created by Colonel George Chicken of South Carolina in 1725. Despite what is now stated in a legion of Cherokee history web sites, Wikipedia articles and documentary films, there was no “Cherokee Nation” until that time and no concept within the fourteen participating bands of a common language or cultural tradition.
The following two tabs change content below.
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.
Latest posts by Richard Thornton (see all)
- Southeastern Stone Structure Survey is still continuing - July 24, 2017
- Kansas Indians on the Coosa River of Alabama and Georgia - July 23, 2017
- We Danced to Dedicate our Lives to Creator and Our People - July 21, 2017
- Video: Ice Age forest found under the waters off the Alabama coast - July 20, 2017
- The “America Unearthed” garden . . . five years later - July 19, 2017