The silence of the streets of Cherokee city of New Echota is broken only by the occasional staccato laughter of children, playing in the now empty capital that serves as a reminder to Georgia of the treachery of the United States government and our own dark history.
At New Echota rested the hopes of the sovereign Cherokee Nation. Here the Cherokee first met in council in 1819 and established a capital in 1825 choosing to fight to remain on their land. They fought not with guns, but with the white man's printed page, laws and courts. At the museum the visitor can glimpse the culture of the Cherokee before they moved west on the "Trail of Tears.
The early 19th century was a new era for the Cherokee. Discarding a traditional clan system of rule, they adopted a government similar to that of the United States. The nation was divided into eight districts, and a legislature established to make laws and approve treaties. Four delegates from each district were elected to the lower house, called the National Council. This body chose the 12 members of the upper house, called the National Committee. In turn, the National Committee selected the top level officers: principal chief, assistant principal chief and treasurer.
Eight Districts of The Cherokee Nation
During the fall of 1819, the Council began holding annual meetings in Newtown, a small community located at the junction of the Coosawattee and Conasauga rivers in present-day Gordon County. On November 12, 1825, the council adopted a resolution making Newtown the Cherokee Nation's capital. They changed the town's name to New Echota in honor of Chota, a beloved town located in present-day Tennessee.
New Echota was a planned community laid out by Cherokee surveyors. By 1830 the town had 50 residents, a main street 60 feet wide, and a two-acre town square. The government buildings, including the Council House, Supreme Court and printing office, dominated the center of town. Private homes, stores, a ferry and a mission station were in the outlying area. The town was quiet most of the year, but council meetings provided the opportunity for great social gatherings. During these meetings, several hundred Cherokees filled the town, arriving by foot, on horseback or in stylish carriages.
The town lived for 10 years. By 1835 the Cherokee were so afraid of the Georgia Guard that they were holding council meetings in Red Clay, Tennessee and elsewhere. Elias Boudinot's brother, Stand Watie, assisted the Georgia Guard in destroying the printing press and type when they found out about a plan by John Ross to move the press to Tennessee. Only a few people remained in town after the attack. Samuel Worcester, sensing the end of the Cherokee Nation in the East, left in 1835. After the death of his wife Harriet Ruggles Gold Boudinot in 1836Elias Boudinot moved west.
In 1838 Fort Wool, a Cherokee Removal Fort, was built in the center of town. The U. S. Army and the Georgia Guard brought the remain Cherokee in the area to the fort, housed them, then took them north to Cherokee Agency on the northern border of the Cherokee Nation, where they headed west on the Trail of Tears. With the Trail of Tears the only capital of the Cherokee Nation was silenced forever.
Once the Cherokee were removed, some buildings on the site continued to be used. Sallie Sawyer, wife of a local settler, ran a school in the home of John Walker Candy, a white printer who worked at the Cherokee Phoenix. The site of this school has not been determined. Other buildings were moved or torn down by the new owners and most of the land within the limits was converted to farmland.
In the early 1900's the United States War Department (now Department of Defense) purchased some of the land that the town occupied. In 1930 Congress approved money for a memorial to Cherokee near the town center. The memorial was completed in 1931, but in 1933 the land was transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service. The Park Service never activated the site and deauthorized it in 1950.
The land was grouped with additional acreage and given to the state. On the parcel was only one original building, the home of Samuel Worcester. It had been used until 1953, but when the renter left it was in a sorry state. By the time an archeological dig and restoration began in 1954, a large hole existed in the roof, it was unpainted and floorboards were rotting.
One of the first arrivals was Vann's Tavern, rescued from the bed of Lake Lanier before it was filled. The tavern dates back to 1805 and was the first building settlers saw as they traveled northwest along the Old Federal Road after crossing the Chattahoochee River. The Courthouse and the office of the Cherokee Phoenix were added when the park opened on May 12,1962.
A small museum was added in 1969, the middle-class farmhouse was moved to the in 1983, the Cherokee Memorial was relocated from the center of the town in 1988 and in 1991 the common farmstead was added. In 1994 the Council House completed the government buildings that existed on the site.
Tour the reconstructed Supreme Court building and the Print Shop where the bilingual newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, was printed. Visit the restored Vann Tavern and see where missionary Samuel Worcester lived.