In June 1730, seven Cherokee Chieftains landed at Dover, aboard an English Man-o-war. They had come to meet the King. Hunter S. Jones tells us why.
The Native American Tribes have historically made a global impact due to their nobility of spirit. Few have remained in the modern consciousness like the Cherokee Nation. This may be due to the fact that during early contact with Europeans, many of the tribal leaders recognized that the only way to survive was to change. This adaptability led to two council meetings with the Kings of England.
The first Anglo-Cherokee contact might have been in 1656, when English settlers in the Virginia Colony recorded that six to seven hundred “Mahocks, Nahyssans, and Rechahecrians” had encamped at Bloody Run, now Richmond, Virginia. They were driven off by a combined force of English and the Pamunkey Tribe. A few historians believe that the attacking tribes match with what is now known of the Cherokee at that time.
Then, in 1673, two Englishmen, James Needham and Gabriel Arthur, were sent to Overhill in Cherokee country from Fort Henry, which is now Petersburg, Virginia. The English wanted to build a direct trading connection with the Cherokee to bypass the Occaneechi Indians, a tribe that inhabited the Piedmont Region of what is now North Carolina and Virginia and were serving as middlemen on the Trading Path. The two colonial Virginians eventually made a connection with the Cherokee. By the late 17th century, colonial traders from both Virginia and South Carolina were making regular journeys to Cherokee lands, but by the 1690s, the Cherokee had founded a much stronger and important trade relationship with the colony of South Carolina.
Little written documentation remains to chronicle these experiences in Charles Town, (known today as Charleston. The events of the early colonial trading period have been put in place by historians who have examined the records of laws and lawsuits involving trade with the Cherokee. The mainstays of trade were deerskins in exchange for knives, firearms, and ammunition. In 1705, traders lodged complaints, stating that their business had been lost to the Indian slave trade, which had been overseen by the Lord Proprietor of the colony, James Moore. Moore had sent bounty hunters to “set upon, assault, kill, destroy, and take captive as many Indians as possible.” When the captives were sold, the profiteers divided the proceeds with the governor.
However, the Cherokee continued to work through diplomacy with the “newcomers.” They allied with the British in fighting the Shawnee Tribe (allies of the French) and battled again beside the British in 1712-1713 against the Tuscarora Tribe. The aftermath of these battles saw the beginning of a Cherokee-British alliance that endured for the majority of the 18th century, despite numerous rebellions and uprisings as the Cherokee fought to keep colonial settlers away from their ancestral lands.
In 1721, the Cherokee agreed to sell land between the Saluda, Santee, and Edisto rivers to the first Royal Governor of South Carolina. This exchange served to establish a boundary between the Cherokee territory and the colonists. Since it was the first time the Cherokee had given any land to any European power, it signaled a great step in terms of negotiation and future trading.
A peace was maintained in the years that followed. Sir Alexander Cumming of England was encouraged to visit the Cherokee, reportedly based on a dream his wife had one night. He sailed to America, arriving at Charlestown on December 5th, 1729, and by March 11th, 1730, he began the journey to Cherokee country. (Later, it became evident that his travel was actually based on own moneymaking scheme.)
At Keowee, Cumming met a Scottish trader named Ludovic Grant, who had resided at the Cherokee settlement of Tellico since 1720, had married a Cherokee woman and spoke their language. Cumming and Grant made the journey into the centre of the Nation; a trip of over one hundred and fifty miles. Reports state that he never stopped longer than one night at a single location.
Sir Alexander was told of the ceremonies that made a warrior a chieftain, or ouka. This word translated into English as king. The chieftain was given a cap of red- or yellow-dyed opossum skin, which was interpreted as crown. Sir Alexander asked if he could take a crown to England and present it as a gift to the English King. In an article in the London Daily Journal of October 8, 1730, he made claims to have been made a chief of the tribe. Cumming further claimed that he had been allowed to name Moytoy of Tellico as the Emperor or King of the Clans.
He told the Cherokee he would be returning to England and that if they would like to accompany him, he would take them to meet his King. Seven Cherokees expressed their willingness: Attakullakulla, Oukah-Ulah, Clogoittah, Kallannah, Tahtowe, Kittagusta, and Ounaconoa. They arrived at Charlestown on April 13, 1730, and on June 5th, they landed at Dover, England, on the English man-of-war, Fox. On the 22nd, they were presented to George II. Sir Alexander laid the Cherokee opossum-skin crown that the chieftains had made at his King’s feet, and the Cherokees added four scalps and eagle tail feathers to the tribute.
After four months in England, the Indian chieftains signed a formal treaty with Great Britain. This was known as the Articles of Friendship and Commerce, and it recognised the Cherokee nation as subjects of the crown. The treaty standardised trade between the two nations and made Cherokee land available for British settlement. A British newspaper praised the treaty, in which it was stated, “The signing of these Articles…will strengthen the hands of his Majesty’s subjects… for these people are formidable.”
Reports of the visit were popular in the London press:
Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer, 27 June 1730: On Monday last the Indian King, and the Prince, and five of the chiefs of his Court (all blacks) were introduced to his Majesty at Windsor, the King had a scarlet jacket on, but all the rest were naked, except an apron about their middles, and a horse’s tail hung down behind; their faces, shoulders, &c. were painted and spotted with red, blue, and green, &c. they had bows in their hands, and painted feathers on their heads; a dinner, viz. a leg of mutton, a shoulder, and a loin of mutton was provided at the Mermaid at Windsor for them; the King lies on a table in a blanket; but the Prince, and the chief of his Court, lie on the ground.
London Journal, 15 August 1730: The day before the Indian Chiefs left Windsor, they went to take their leave of the Court, at which time his Majesty was pleased to present them with a purse of one hundred guineas. On Wednesday the Indian King and his retinue, in their return from the Tower, were regaled in an handsome manner by several merchants of this City trading to South Carolina, at the Carolina Coffee House in Birchin-Lane, where a great number of gentlemen resorted to see them, they being on their return home, which it is believed will be in about three weeks’ time; and his Majesty’s ship, the Fox, is now refitting at Deptford in order to receive them. On Thursday the Indian Princes went to Tottenham-Court Fair, and were entertained with the several diversions that place afforded.
Cumming did not spend much time with the Cherokees in England. After the treaty was signed and the Cherokees were sent back to South Carolina, Cumming made appeals to King George II asking to be appointed as overseer of the Cherokee Nation. These appeals were unsuccessful and in 1737, his schemes of defrauding colonists in Charleston were discovered, and he was sent to Fleet Prison.
On October 8th, the Chiefs sailed to South Carolina loaded with gifts from the government. It was reported in the London newspapers that they arrived safely on February 18, 1731.
The unification of the Cherokee Empire and crowning of a single king was ceremonial. Once the chieftains returned to their homeland, the authority remained clan based. However, the voyage to London and the treaty were to play an important role in the Cherokee-British alliance.
The Cherokee and British were allies during the French and Indian War. Unfortunately, relations soured when British soldiers murdered a number of Cherokee warriors, with plans to claim their scalps as those of the French. The Cherokee retaliated by attacking British settlements in North Carolina, taking the same number of male lives in retribution. Future attacks by British armies destroyed dozens of Cherokee towns in what is now Tennessee.
“As to the manners of the Indians, I grant they have been often represented, and yet I have never seen any account to my perfect satisfaction,” wrote Virginian Henry Timberlake, a lieutenant in the British Army in Memoirs, penned in 1765. The book outlines his life among the tribe at the end of the French and Indian War. Timberlake stayed in the Overhill towns of the Little Tennessee River Valley for months. He attended town councils, dances, and feasts, living in the home of Chief Ostenaco. In 1762, Ostenaco and two other Cherokee leaders, Cunneshote and Woyi, asked him to take them to London in order to meet with King George III. “The bloody tommahawke, so long lifted against our brethren the English, must now be buried deep, deep in the ground, never to be raised again,” said Ostenaco. The group set sail for England in May 1762. The Cherokee delegation’s visit to London helped to secure the Proclamation Line of 1763, which forbade white settlers from claiming land west of the Appalachian Mountains.
In 1715, the population of Cherokee was listed by the South Carolina Colony as over ten thousand in thirty villages. As they grew, so did their relationship with their trade partner. They came to know and accept the newcomers, and the assimilation evolved as they came to welcome the cultural changes that the British brought them. They started to dress more European, and even adopted many of their farming and building methods. During the American Revolution, the Cherokee Indians supported the British soldiers and assisted them in battle.
As the United States grew and developed, the Cherokee changed with it. Many had begun moving westward following the Revolutionary War. In 1828, gold was discovered in Georgia on the Cherokee’s land. This prompted the overtaking of their homeland, with the remaining Cherokee forced out. They were made to leave because their lands were needed as America grew, citizens from the east coast were eager to find a new place to homestead, and the gold made the land attractive. This historic removal is now called the Trail of Tears or the Trail Where They Cried. Men, women, and children left their homelands, walking thousands of miles in the custody of Federal Troops to the present day Cherokee Nation in the state of Oklahoma. It began in 1828, and when the last one was completed in 1835, approximately 4,000 Cherokees and their family members had lost their lives on the 116-day journey from the Appalachian Mountains to the western frontier. Once they had arrived in Oklahoma, the tribe members who signed the treaty agreeing to the removal were assassinated by surviving members of the tribe.
Today, the Cherokee maintain a strong sense of pride in their heritage. The largest population of Cherokee Indians live in the state of Oklahoma, with the smaller Eastern Band residing in the hills of the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina.
Deb Cookson Hunter writes as Hunter S. Jones. She is a direct descendent of Joseph A. Cookson, who is listed on the Henderson Roll of 1835. This is a census of Cherokees and their families – mulattos, quadroons and whites – who were removed to Oklahoma under the Treaty of New Echota. It is also called the Trail of Tears Roll. Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, she now lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her Scottish born husband.