Today, some argue, we are at the dawn of a new era, one that will change the core of our society. Instances of cultural change on a societal level are rare in the history of the world. Europeans began such a change in the 1400's, fueled by the ink of Gutenberg'S printing press. Yet no society makes a change comparable to the dramatic cultural shift that the Cherokee accomplish in North Georgia from 1794 to 1835.
Great plagues and wars ravaged the residents of southern and western Europe starting in the 1300's. From the ashes of fires that burned the bodies of the dead rose a new society, better and stronger for what happened. A society changed immutably by the forces of nature and the nature of man. The epochs of man are delineated by the names given these European cultural revolutions-Renaissance, Scientific Revolution, and The Enlightenment which culminated in the formation of a new country, the United States.
In America the Cherokee are ravaged by European disease; they are repeatedly swept with smallpox outbreaks. As coastal whites moved inland significant trading with the Cherokee developed. In the first 15 years of the 18th century over a million pelts are shipped from the port of Charleston, South Carolina. The impact on the environment forces the braves to hunt further from home and competition from white hunters depletes these resources even further. With the encroachment of the settlers beginning in 1721, border wars with neighboring Indians, and disease, the Cherokee faced a new life. To the Cherokee the world is crumbling.
Their world itself is spiritual. Rivers, mountains, sky, and animals are filled with spirits worshiped by these Native Americans. Shaman (priests) provide a link to the spirit world. Smallpox wipes out half the tribe in 1738-1739 and priests are greatly reduced in number. Called upon to treat the ill, they frequently fall victim to the disease themselves, and their herbal treatment offers no cure for this fatal disease. As death becomes commonplace among Cherokee, customs change. Society is more promiscuous, as in Europe, a natural reaction to ever-present death. A new ceremonial dance reflecting the prevalence of death in the culture is introduced.
With many spiritual symbols of the failure of these priests, and reduced numbers, they lose power. However, strong matrilineal clans are still the core of the society. Each clan has a name (Paint Clan, Deer Clan, Wolf Clan...) and members of each clan populate villages. Intra-clan marriages are forbidden. When married, the man lives with his wife's clan. Anyone may speak at council, which is ruled by the oldest warriors, and in some cases, elder women.
During the French and Indian War (also called the Seven Years War) the Cherokee side with the British. After unprovoked attacks from South Carolina in 1760, they switch sides and engage the settlers in fierce, violent battles on the frontier for nearly two years, signing a peace treaty on British terms late in 1761. Impressed by the British victory, they side with them during the War for American Independence. In 1781 word reaches the Cherokee that the British lose. In 1782 members of the Long Swamp branch(located in present-day Pickens County) sign a treaty with the government ceding about 1600 square miles in eastern Georgia.
Settlers are restricted from Indian Territory prior to the end of the American Revolution by decree of the English king. With the overthrow of the colony's titular head the frontier is thrown open to a vast hoard of frontiersmen blazing the way for farmers and merchants to follow. Unaware the American Government is weaker than the British king, The Treaty of Hopewell is negotiated conceding the government sole power to negotiate with the Cherokee.
The three distinct groups of Cherokee, Lower Towns, Middle Towns, and Upper Towns (Overhill) begin to hand relations with Americans differently. The Lower, or River, Towns, known as the Chickamauga, engaged in pitched battles off and on over the next 9 years trying to drive settlers back while the Middle Towns and Overhill Cherokee, who have significantly less exposure to the settlers are more peaceful. The defeat of the Chickamauga in November, 1794, marked the nadir of the Cherokee. From these ashes a new society shall rise.