History Editor Leslie Barker Thomas Digs Deep into the Cultural Past With This Four Part Series
A Time of Great Change
Georgia’s Cherokee Nation saw many changes over a forty-year period after the Revolutionary War, bringing their once self- sufficient nation of peoples under a central governmental rule. The Nation that once covered eight states was now reduced to 10 million acres that later became the states of Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia.
The first of dozens of treaties after the Revolution ensured “peace and protection” for all time. By the early 1800’s it was apparent that these treaties would not be honored and the chasm split the tribal political factions for all time. In 1802 the American government terminated the Cherokee Nation and its sovereignty as President Washington had set it up.
The Americans pledged that the Cherokees should be held subject to the laws and guardianship of Georgia. The Georgians proceeded to make laws specific to the Cherokees at that point, including those that allowed for no Indian to testify against any white man. It was by design that white men would intermarry to absorb the population of Indians, to take away the Indians’ hunting lands by diminishing the game, towards a goal of making the people dependent on the intruding culture for their food and clothing, to make them need their tools and guns. It was necessary to produce interdependency and teach them individual ownership of their lands separate of the tribe.
By 1808, those known as the Chickamaugan Cherokees, under the guidance of Chief Dragging Canoe in the Northwestern part of the state left for the western lands that became Arkansas Indian Territory.
The Cherokee peoples who remained moved from a hunting tradition to farmers. Prior to this, farming was considered woman’s work. They had already negotiated with the American government through the Holston Treaty of 1792 to assist them to accomplish the transition by sending tradesmen to the Cherokee Territory to teach them agriculture, blacksmithing, to become wheelwrights, and build homes. They asked for spinning wheels and white women to come and teach the women to spin and make cloth to sew clothing. Thus began the influx of white settlers into the Cherokee Nation.
In some cases it created a genealogy nightmare, with the whites having white wives living on the coast and their American Indian wives on the frontier. The Indian wife usually kept her Indian name and cultural ways, as did her children. Governor George Rockingham Gilmer referred to the offspring as being “at least half civilized”. He concluded that they got their intelligence from their white bloodlines.
Most of the Eastern side of the Cherokee Nation remained pure bloods; that is to say that the majority of the Indians living within the east sector of the nation refused to intermarry as readily as those in the sectors closer to Tennessee and Alabama part of the nation. Those who rejected this mixing lived the traditional way of making due with what the land provided and in modest cabins. They chose to raise their own stock animals and their traditional foods of corn, beans and squash. This way of living confused the intruders who thought more was better. They didn’t understand why the Cherokees clustered their home sites together in villages along the rivers instead of garnering all the open lands under one owner. Open lands were considered to be sacred hunting grounds as well as the burial grounds of the ancestors.
Cherokees began raising sheep to use their wool for blankets and wearing apparel. They accepted some of the settlers who came into the area as friends and an exchange of ideas began to flow both ways. Soon they produced enough to supply their own needs and a surplus to trade or sell to the Georgians. These early settlers to the area brought apples, peaches, and other plants along with traditions of sour kraut and pickled beans or beets. It wasn’t unusual for taxes to be paid with Chestnuts or coffee grown locally. The successes the Cherokees enjoyed in business infuriated the Georgia’s government.
Leslie Barker Thomas is a resident of Ellijay and the President of the Gilmer County Historical Society, President, Georgia Chapter Trail of Tears Association and Communication Chair Cartecay UMC.
Gilmer County Historical Society
Historic Tabor House & Civil War Museum
138 Spring Street
Ellijay, Georgia 30540
Open Thurs–Sat 10am to 2pm
“When history is erased, people’s moral values are also erased.” –Ma Jian