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Treaty Relations with the United States

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This general history of the Cherokee Nation and the treaty relations that had existed with the colonial authorities from the period of their first official contact with each other is given as preliminary to the consideration of the history and provisions of the first treaty negotiated between commissioners on the part of the United States and the said Cherokee Nation, viz, the treaty concluded at Hopewell, on the Keowee River, November 28, 1785, an abstract of the provisions of which is hereinbefore given.1

The conclusion of this treaty marked the beginning of a new era iu the relations between the whites and Cherokees. The boundaries then fixed were the most favorable it was possible to obtain from the latter without regard to previous purchases and .pretended purchases made by private individuals and others. Although the Indians yielded an extensive territory to the United States,2 yet, on the other hand, the latter conceded to the Cherokees a considerable extent of territory that had already been purchased from them by private individuals or associations, though by methods of more than doubtful legality.
The contentions between the border settlers of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, as well as of the authorities of those States, with the Cherokees and Creeks, concerning boundaries and the constantly recurring mutual depredations and assaults upon each other's lives and property, prompted Congress, though still deriving its powers from the Articles of Confederation, to the active exercise of its treaty-making functions. It was, therefore, determined3 to appoint commissioners who should be empowered under their instructions, subject, of course, to ratification by Congress, to negotiate a treaty with the Cherokees, at which the boundaries of the lands claimed by them should be as accurately ascertained as might be, and the line of division carefully marked between them and the white settlements. This was deemed essential in order that authoritative proclamation might be made of the same, advising and warning settlers against further encroachments upon Indian territory.

Proceedings At Treaty Of Hopewell

The commissioners deputed for the performance of this duty were Benjamin Hawkins, Andrew Pickens, Joseph Martin, and Lachlan McIntosh. They convened the Indians in council at Hopewell, S. C., on the 18th of November, 1785.4 Hopewell is on the Keowee River, 15 miles above the junction of that river with the Tugaloo. The commissioners announced to the Indians the change of sovereignty from Great Britain to Congress that had taken place in the country as a consequence of the successful termination of the Revolution. They further set forth that Congress wanted none of the Indian lands, nor anything -else belonging to them, but that if they had any grievances, to state them freely, and Congress would see justice done them. The Indian chiefs drafted a map showing the limits of country claimed by them, which included the greater portion of Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as portions of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Being re-minded by the commissioners that this claim covered the country purchased by Colonel Henderson, who was now (lead, and whose purchase must therefore not be disputed, they consented to relinquish that portion of it. They also consented that the line as finally agreed upon, from the mouth of Duck River to the dividing ridge between the Cumber-land and Tennessee Rivers; should be continued up that ridge and from thence to the Cumberland in such a manner as to leave all the white settlers in the Cumberland country outside of the Indian limits.

At the time, it was supposed this could be accomplished by running a northeast line from the ridge so as to strike the Cumberland forty miles above Nashville. This portion of the boundary, not having been affected by the treaty of 1791 (as was supposed by the Cherokees), was reiterated in that treaty in a reverse direction. But the language used-whether intentional or accidental rendered it susceptible of a construction more favorable to the whites. This language read, "Thence down the Cumberland River to a point from which a southwest line will strike the ridge which divides the waters of Cumberland from those of Duck River. 40 miles above Nashville." As this line was not actually surveyed and marked until the fall of 17975 and as the settlements in that locality had in the meantime materially advanced, it became necessary, in order to exclude the bulk of the settlers from the Indian country, to take advantage of this technicality. The line was consequently so run (from a point on said dividing ridge 40 miles above Nashville) that it struck the Cumberland River about 1 mile above the mouth of Rock Castle River, a distance of perhaps 175 to 200 miles above Nashville. This line was surveyed by General James Winchester, who, under date of November 9, 1797, in a letter to General Robertson, describes a portion of it as running as follows:

From Walton's road to the Fort Blount road, which it crosses near the two springs at the 32-mile tree; crosses Obey's River about 6 or 7 miles from the mouth; Achmugh about 2 miles above the Salt Lick; the South Fork of Cumberland, or Flute River, 5 or 6 miles from the mouth, and struck Cumberland River about a mile above the mouth of Rock Castle.

He also adds that the total length of the line (from the dividing ridge to Cumberland River above Rock Castle) is 138 11/16 miles.

The Fort Blount here mentioned was on the south side of Cumber-land River, about 6 miles in a direct line, southwest of Gainesboro', and the road led from there to Walton's road, which it joined at or near the present site of Cooksville.6 Walton's or Caney Fork road led from Carthage in an easterly direction, and before the organization of Putnam County formed the boundary line between Overton and White counties, from whence it continued easterly through Anderson's Cross Roads and Montgomery to Wilson's, in Knox County. The "Two Springs," are about 2 or 3 miles northwest of Cooksville.6

There is much difficulty in determining the absolute course of the "Winchester line," from the meager description contained in his letter above quoted. Arrowsmith and Lewis, in their Atlas, published in 1805, lay down the line as pursuing a perfectly straight course from its point of departure on the dividing ridge to its termination on the Cumberland above the mouth of Rock Castle River. Their authority for such a definition of the boundary is not given. If such was the true course of the line, the description given in General Winchester's letter would need some explanation. He must have considered Obey's River as emptying into Wolf River in order to bring his crossing of the former stream reasonably near the distance from its mouth specified by him. He must also have been mistaken in his estimate of the distance at which the line crossed above the mouth of the South Fork of the Cumberland. The line of Arrowsmith and Lewis would cross that stream at least 12 miles in a direct line above its mouth, instead of five or six. It is ascertained from correspondence with the officers of the Historical Society of Tennessee, that the line, after crossing the Fort Blount road at the "Two Springs," continued in a northeasterly direction, crossing Roaring Fork near the mouth of a small creek, and, pursuing the same course, passed to the east of the town of Livingston.

"Nettle Carrier," a Cherokee Indian of some local note, lived on the headwaters of Nettle Carrier's Creek, about four or five miles east of Livingston, and the line passed about half-way between his cabin and the present site of that village.7 Thence it continued to the crossing of Obey's River, and thence to the point of intersection with the Kentucky boundary line, which is ascertained to have been at the northeast corner of Overton County, Tennessee, as originally organized in 1806. From this point the line continued to the crossing of Big South Fork, at the place indicated by General Winchester, and thence on to the Cumberland at the terminal point one mile above the mouth of Rock Castle River. In the interest of clearness a literal following of the line indicated in General Winchester's letter, and also that given by Arrow-smith and Lewis, are shown upon the accompanying map. At the conference preliminary to the signing of the treaty of 1785, the Indians also asserted that within the fork of the French Broad and Holston Rivers were 3,000 white settlers who were there in defiance of their pro-tests. They maintained that they had never ceded that country, and it being a favorite spot with them the settlers must be removed. The commissioners vainly endeavored to secure a cession of the French Broad tract, remarking that the settlers were too numerous to make their removal possible, but could only succeed in securing the insertion of an article in the treaty, providing for the submission of the subject to Congress, the settlers, in the mean time, to remain unmolested.8

Protest of North Carolina and Georgia. Daring the pendency of negotiations, William Blount, of North Carolina, and John King and Thomas Glasscock, of Georgia, presented their commissions as the agents representing the interests of their respective States. They entered formal protests in the names of those States against the validity of the treaty, as containing several stipulations which infringed and violated the legislative rights thereof. The principal of these was the right, as assumed by the commissioners, of assigning to the Indians, territory which had already been appropriated, by act of the legislature in the case of North Carolina, to the discharge of bounty-land claims of the officers and soldiers of that State who had served in the Continental line during the Revolution.9

There were present at this treaty, according to the report of the commissioners, 918 Cherokees, to whom, after the signature and execution thereof, were distributed as presents goods to the value of $1,311n. The meagerness of the supply was occasioned, as the commissioners explained, by their expectancy of only meeting the chiefs and headmen.10

Location of boundaries. In the location of the boundary points between the Cherokees and whites, recited in the fourth article of the treaty, it is proper to remark that:

  • 1. The route of the line along the ridge between Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, and from thence to the Cumberland, at a point 40 miles above Nashville, has already been recited.
  • 2. "The ford where the Kentucky road crosses the river" (Cumberland) is at a point opposite the mouth of Left-Hand Fork, about 12 or 13 miles slightly west of north of Cumberland Gap. From the point "40 miles above Nashville" to this ford, the commissioners adopted, a as they declare, the line of Henderson's Purchase; while from the "Kentucky Ford" to the mountain, 6 miles south of the mouth of Camp Creek on Nolichucky, they followed the boundary prescribed by the treaty of July 20, 1777, with Virginia and North Carolina.11
  • 3. "Campbell's line" was surveyed in 1777-'78 by General William Campbell, as a commissioner for marking the boundary between Virginia and the Cherokees. It extended from the mouth of Big Creek to the high knob on Poor Valley Ridge, 332 poles S. 700 E. of the summit of the main ridge of Cumberland Mountain, a short distance west of Cumberland Gap12 The point at which the treaty line of 1785 struck Campbell's line was at the Kentucky road crossing, about 4 miles south-east of Cumberland Gap.
  • 4. The treaty line followed Campbell's line until it reached a point due north of the mouth of Cloud's Creek. From this point it ran south to the month of that creek, which enters the Holston from the north, 3 miles west of Rogersville.
  • 5. The line from Cloud's Creek pursued a northeasterly direction to Chimney Top Mountain, which it struck at a point about 2 miles to the southward of the Long Island of Holston River.
  • 6. " Camp Creek, near the mouth of Big Limestone, on the Nolichucky" (which is the next point in the boundary line), is a south branch of Nolichucky River in Greene County, Tennessee, between Horse and Cove Creeks, and empties about 6 miles southeast. of Greeneville. It was sometimes called McNamee's Creek.
  • 7. The mountain "six miles to the southward of Camp Creek" was in the Great Smoky or Iron Range, not far from the head of that creek.
  • 8. "Thence south to the North Carolina line, thence to the South Carolina Indian boundary." This line was partially surveyed in the winter of 1791, by Joseph Hardin, under the direction of Governor Blount.13 It ran southeasterly from the mouth of McNamee's or Camp Creek, a distance, as stated by Governor Blount, of 60 miles to Rutherford's War Trace, although the point at which it struck this "Trace," which is given in Governor Blount's correspondence as being 10 or 12 miles west of the Swannanoa .settlement, is only a trifle over 50 miles in a direct line from the mouth of Camp Creek.
    The "Rutherford's War Trace" here spoken of was the route pursued by General Griffith Rutherford, who, in the summer of 1776, marched an army of 2,400 men against the Cherokees. He was re-enforced by Colonels Martin and Armstrong at Cathey's Fort; crossed the Blue Ridge at Swannanae Gap; passed down and over the French Broad at a place yet known as the "War Ford;" continued up the valley of Hominy Creek, leaving Pisgah Mountain to the left and crossing Pigeon River a little below the mouth of East Fork; thence through the mountains to Richland Creek, above the present town of Waynesville; ascended that creek and crossed Tuckaseigee River at an Indian village; continued across Cowee Mountain, and thence to the Middle Cherokee Towns on Tennessee River, to meet General Williamson, from South Carolina, with an army bent on a like mission.13 The boundary between western North Carolina and South Carolina was not definitely established at the date of the survey of Hardin's line and, as shown by an old map on file in the Office of Indian Affairs, the point at which a prolongation of Hardin's line would have struck the South Carolina Indian boundary was supposed to be on or near the 35th degree of north latitnde,2 whereas it was actually more than 20 miles to the north of that parallel and about 10 miles to the north of the present boundary of South Carolina. The definite establishment of this treaty line of 1785 in this quarter, however, became unnecessary by reason of the ratification in February, 1792, of the Cherokee treaty concluded July 2, 1791,14 wherein the Indian boundary line was withdrawn a considerable distance to the west.
  • 9. The line along the "South Carolina Indian boundary" ran in a southwesterly direction from the point of contact with the prolongation of Hardin's line, passing over "Ocunna" Mountain a short distance to the northwestwardly of Oconee Station and striking the Tugaloo River at a point about 1 mile above the mouth of Panther Creek.15
  • 10. The line from Tugaloo River pursued a west of south course to Currahee Mountain, which is the southern terminus of a spur of the Alleghany Mountains, and is situated 4 miles southwest of "Toccoa Falls" and 16 miles northwest of Carnesville, Georgia.
  • 11. From. "Currahee Mountain to the head of the south fork of Oconee River," the line pursued a course south 380 west16 to the source of that stream, now commonly known as the Appallachee River, and was the terminal point of the boundary as defined in this treaty. This line was surveyed in 179817 under the direction of Col. Benj. Hawkins.
    It is also a pertinent fact in connection with the boundaries defined by this treaty (as already stated in connection with Henderson's treaty), that although a literal reading of the description contained in Henderson's "Great Grant" of 1775 would include all the country watered by the tributaries of the Cumberland, the commissioners who negotiated this treaty of Hopewell in 1785 did not consider Henderson's Purchase as extending south of the Cumberland River proper, except in its course from Powell's Mountain to the head of the most southwardly branch of that river. This branch was considered by these commissioners of 1785 as being the Yellow River, whose source was at best but imperfectly known. They specifically state that they accept the boundaries of Henderson's Purchase in this direction,18 and as the boundary defined by them between Powell's Mountain and Yellow River was " Campbell's line," they must have considered that line as being the southern limit of Henderson's Great Grant.

1 United States Statutes at Large, Vol. VII, p. 18
2 See Nos. 10a and 10b on accompanying map of Cherokee cessions. 5By resolution of Congress, March 15, 1785.
3 By resolution of Congress, March 15, 1785
4 Report of Treaty Commissioners, dated Hopewell, December 2,1785. See American State Papers. Indian Affairs, Vol. I, p. 40.
5 American State Papers, Indian Affairs, Vol. I, p.028, and letter of General Winchester to General Robertson, November 9, 1797.
6 Letter of Hon. Jno. M. Lea, of Nashville, Tenn., to the author.
7 Letter of Geo. H. Morgan, of Gaineshorough, Tennessee.
8 Report of Treaty Commissioners. See American State Papers, Indian Affairs, Vol. I, p. 38.
9 American State Papers, Indian Affairs, Vol. I, p. 44.
10 Journal of Treaty Commissioners. See American State Papers, Indian Affairs, Vol. I, p. 43.
11 Report of Treaty Commissioners in American State Papers, Indian Affairs, Vol. I, p. 38.
12 Letter of Return J. Meigs to John M. Lea, Nashville, Tennessee
13 Letter of Governor Blount to State Papers, Indian Affairs, Vol.
14 Ramsey's Annals of Tennessee.
15 Old manuscript map on file in Indian Office, Washington, D. C.
16 United States Statutes at Large, Vol. VII, p.: 39.
17 See resolution of Georgia legislature, June 16,1802. It is however stated by Return J. Meigs, is a letter to the Secretary of War dated December 20, 1811, that this line was run by Colonel Hawkins in 1797.
18 American State Papers, Indian Affairs, Vol. I, p. 38.

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Bureau of Ethnology, Volume 5, Cherokee Nation of Indians, 1883-84

Cherokee Nation of Indians


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