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More information on The Cherokee Before 1800

For 350 years the Cherokee had called Georgia home, organized as a series of towns loosely identified as Lower Towns and Upper Towns (or Overhill) Cherokee. Interwoven between the towns were the seven clans, providing kinship (family connections) between towns and a strong belief in customs and adherence to traditions. While the clan system worked well when the Cherokee were hunter-gatherers, it failed to provide a national unity that the Cherokee needed to keep its land and fight the encroachment of settlers.

Development of the National Council

Clan rule contributed to upheaval in the Cherokee Nation starting when Hanging Maw laid claim to the chiefdom in 1788 simply because he was chief of the Overhill Towns. Little Turkey was eventually confirmed chief at a general council of chiefs and continued in that position until 1801. Black Fox was then installed as Principle Chief, but a splinter group, the Chickamauga Cherokee, followed a different leader, Doublehead. The Cherokee moved into a period of upheaval upon the death of a chief.

Empowering a National Council

In 1805 the Cherokee National Council created a national police force, the Lighthorse Patrol, under The Ridge. Until this time the Council handled boundary disputes and approved treaties. With the creation of the Patrol, they began the national movement that would coalesce in the 1820's with the establishment of the Cherokee Nation.

One of the first treaties approved by this National Council was the Treaty of Tellico Block House in 1805. This permitted a Federal Road to run from the Chattahoochee River to the Tennessee River. A second road, to Knoxville, was permitted the following year.

Revolt of the Young Chiefs

Also known as the Cherokee Rebellion (1806-1810), the Revolt of the Young Chiefs was led by James Vann, an Upper Towns chief. According to tradition, young chiefs were warriors who had distinguished themselves in battle. Because of their successes they had the right to speak at council but were not members. Only as they got older were they allowed to be members of the council.

The first phase of the rebellion saw the council-approved execution of Doublehead in 1807 because he was selling Cherokee land to the U. S. Government and settlers for personal profit (Cherokee land was held by the tribe in common). The Lower Towns also came up with a plan where some families would be granted land along the Tennessee River, fee simple. Opposition to Doublehead had begun to form even within his own Lower Towns, so to appease the young chiefs the council voted for his execution.

The death of James Vann (probably unrelated to the war) in 1809 changed the leadership of the Young Chiefs faction to Charles Hicks and The Ridge and the struggle evolved from determining the leadership of the Cherokee to the struggle of the Cherokee Nation against the United States. The turning point of this struggle was the discovery of a plan to move the members of the Cherokee Nation from Georgia to Arkansas.

Cherokee agent Return J. Meigs, at the urging of the United States, tried to coerce the Lower Towns into moving west to Arkansas. The Overhill towns would never agree to the move and were angry enough to permit the revolt to continue. In 1809 the council established an "Executive Committee of Thirteen" and some of the older chiefs, including Pathkiller, elected leader of the Nation, aligned themselves with the younger chiefs.

With their power diminished, the Chickamauga Cherokee opted to accept Meigs Arkansas proposal and many of them decided to leave starting in 1810. The Nation emerged from the war later that year with a stronger political structure. Pathkiller accepted the new form of government including the National Council that elected him leader, but did little to support his national role. That duty fell to Charles Hicks, a mixed blood Cherokee who wrote and spoke English.


The arrival of The Profit, Tecumseh, in May, 1811 meant trouble for the Cherokee and the National Council. His words of war again divided a National Council not yet over the Revolt of the Young Chiefs. Thanks to the leadership of the Ridge and others, the Council chose to reject Tecumseh's plea to support an uprising against the encroaching settlers. The Creek also chose not to support Tecumseh's Revolution except for a small faction known as the Red Sticks.

Creek War

During the War of 1812 Andrew Jackson fought and won a struggle against the Red Sticks with the help of the Cherokee. During the war young businessman John Ross served as Andrew Jackson's personal assistant and Ridge was place in command of the Cherokee unit. From this time hence, he would be known as Major Ridge.

During the Battle of Horseshoe Bend the Cherokee crossed the Tallapoosa River and struck the Red Sticks from behind, turning the tide of the battle and winning it for General Jackson. With typical aplomb, when the war was over Jackson demanded land in retribution from both the Cherokee and Creek.

New Leadership

The Creek War established a new group of leaders in the evolving Cherokee Nation. As second-in-command, Hicks deftly moved the Cherokee toward nationalization with the help of Major Ridge and a rising young Cherokee leader, John Ross, leaders of the National Committee and National Council respectively. Following the Treaty of 1819 Ross, Ridge and others decided that no more land would be ceded to the United States.

In 1821 Sequoyah introduced his "Talking Leaves," a Cherokee syllabary. Within 6 months more than 50% of the Cherokee Nation could read (for the state of Georgia the literacy rate was 20% in 1820).

One reason the "Young Chiefs" were gaining power and easily steering the nationalistic movement was that aging Chief Pathkiller was not interested in politics but Second Chief Charles Hicks was, serving as political leader after the Revolt of the Young Chiefs. Hicks was influential in creating the National Council in 1824 and became Principal Chief upon the death of Pathkiller on January_6, 1827.

Unfortunately, Hicks died on January_20, 1827. Following Charles Hicks untimely demise his son William assumed the responsibilities of Principal Chief. That July a special council convened to draw up a Cherokee Constitution and elect a provisional Principal Chief. On July 27, 1827 the new document was completed and presented to the councils for approval. John Ross was elected by the National Council to Principal Chief. In October, 1827 the Cherokee Constitution was approved.

The Cherokee Nation Formed

The first elections under the Cherokee Constitution were held over a two-week period in October, 1828. Each of the 12 Cherokee provinces elected councils and each voter cast a ballot for the men to represent the province in the National Committee. Provincial councils then elected the members of the National Councils. When the National Council was seated their first order of duty was to elect the first Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. John Ross won.

American Indians of Georgia
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