As tribes acquired firearms from Europeans and used them against neighboring tribes, a "weaponry race" began. Tribes accelerated trade to acquire firearms for military purposes. Initially the guns were purchased with furs and skins. The South Carolina Colony, established in 1670, was encouraging the tribes to trade their Native American prisoners of war which were then sold into slavery. In 1705, there were complaints from North Carolina that the South Carolina governor's trade in Native American slaves had so angered the tribes that an Indian war was inevitable.
Several tribes, including the Cherokee, assisted colonists in driving out their mutual enemy, the Tuscarora, in a war that lasted from 1711-1713. However, with the Tuscarora out of the way, the tribes begin to address their grievances with the colonists -- primarily the sale of Native Americans into slavery despite agreements to discontinue this practice.
The result was a war, in 1715, in which the combined tribes in the region threatened to wipe-out the South Carolina Colony. Ultimately, the colonists were able to mass their forces and after achieving several victories the tribes began to sue for peace. Peace was made with the Cherokee who were given a large quantity of guns and ammunition in exchange for their alliance with the colony.
In 1721, a treaty was signed with South Carolina to systematize trade but the most significant condition was the establishment of a fixed boundary between the Cherokee and the colony which was the first land cession made by the Cherokee to the Europeans. The population of the Cherokee Nation was probably 16,000-17,000 including 6,000 warriors. Although allied with the English, the Cherokee began to favor the French who had established Fort Toulouse near present Montgomery AL. The French showed greater respect for the Indians than the British who considered them an inferior race. (It should be noted that the English also considered non-English whites as inferior).
To prevent a Cherokee alliance with the French, Sir Alexander Cuming visited the prominent Cherokee towns and convinced the Cherokee to select an "emperor", Chief Moytoy of Tellico, to represent the tribe in all dealings with the British. In addition, he escorted seven Cherokees to England who met with the King and swore allegiance to the crown.
A treaty was signed obligating the Cherokee to trade only with the British, return all runaway slaves, and to expel all non-English whites from their territory. In return, the Cherokee received a substantial amount of guns, ammunition, and red paint.
Although the seven Cherokee who made the trip were presented the to the king as "chiefs", only one could be considered a prominent Cherokee -- the others being young men who went for the adventure. The chiefs of the tribe declined due to their responsibilities for hunting and defense. However, one of the young men was Attacullakulla, known as "Little Carpenter", who later became a powerful and influential chief.
About 1738, small pox, brought to Carolina by slave ships, broke out among the Cherokee with such terrible effect that nearly half the tribe died from the disease within a year. Native Americans had never been exposed to many European diseases and had no immunity to them. To make matters worse, the traditional Cherokee remedy for serious illnesses of plunging in a cold stream was the worst possible treatment.
James Adair, an English trader who lived among the Cherokee for 40 years, reported the Cherokee were so proud of their physical appearance that when they saw their disfigurement from the disease many warriors committed suicide:
Some shot themselves, others cut their throats, some stabbed themselves with knives and others with sharp-pointed canes; many threw themselves with sullen madness into the fire and there slowly expired, as if they had been utterly divested of the native power of feeling pain.
The small pox epidemic was also devastating to Cherokee religious tradition. Cherokee priests, unable to cure the disease, fell from favor. The priests felt that the tribe was being punished for adopting the white man's ways and discarded their now powerless sacred objects.
The Cherokee were constantly at war with neighboring tribes. In 1715, they drove the Shawnee northward out of the Cumberland River region. They continued their hereditary war with the Creeks (Muscogee). They fought an eleven year war with the Chickasaw until they were ultimately defeated in 1768.
When the Seven Years War ("French and Indian War") began, the Cherokee would have sided with the French except for their dependance on trade with the English. Lieutenant Henry Timberlake, a young Virginian officer who visited the Cherokee a few years later, gave the reasons for their fondness for the French:
I found the nation much attached to the French, who have the prudence, by familiar politeness -- which costs but little and often does a great deal -- and conforming themselves to their ways and temper, to conciliate the inclinations of almost all the Indians they are acquainted with, while the pride of our officers often disgusts them. Nay, they did not scruple to own to me that it was the trade alone that induced them to make peace with us, and not any preference to the French, whom they loved a great deal better.... The English are now so nigh, and encroached daily so far upon them, that they not only felt the bad effects of it in their hunting grounds, which were spoiled, but had all the reason in the world to apprehend being swallowed up by so potent neighbors or driven from the country inhabited by their fathers, in which they were born and bought up, in fine, their native soil, for which all men have a particular tenderness and affection.
A treaty was signed in 1754 reaffirming the Cherokee alliance with the English and, besides the usual stipulation of land cessions, provided for British forts in the Cherokee country. In spite of the treaty, the Cherokee were obviously in contact with the French and perhaps participated with other French-allied tribes in raids against the British colonists.
About 100 Cherokee accompanied a British expedition that was intended to attack the French-allied Shawnee but the campaign was abandoned when their provisions were lost while attempting to cross a swollen river. The Cherokee began home on foot in starving condition, angered at the contempt and neglect they experienced from the British. They "confiscated" some free-roaming horses belonging to Virginia colonists, feeling fully justified considering their service to the ungrateful colonists. The colonists, however, attacked the Cherokee, killing over twenty of them. The Cherokee dead were mutilated and scalped and the scalps redeemed for bounty as provided by Virginia law.
The chiefs of the Nation attempted to negotiate restitution with the colonists but the young warriors were so incensed that they began raiding border settlements. The colonists declared war, cut-off all trade, and demanded that numerous chiefs be surrendered for execution. Thirty-two prominent Cherokee, including the famous war chief Oconostota, went to Fort Prince George, in South Carolina, to attempt to negotiate peace but the British took the whole party prisoner. Chief Attacullakulla, the Little Carpenter, was able to negotiate the release of Oconostota and two others while the remaining twenty-nine chiefs remained captive.
Angered at the tactics of the British, Oconostota laid siege to Fort Prince George. The commander of the fort was called out to speak to Oconostota but when he came out he was shot and killed. The garrison of the fort immediately killed their twenty-nine captives. With war now in full swing, Oconostota's warriors begin raiding the Carolina settlements while other Cherokees laid siege to Fort Loudoun in what is now eastern Tennessee. A force of 1,600 Colonials drove Cherokees back and destroyed numerous towns. The Cherokee, however, massed a large force and in June of 1760 forced the colonists to retire leaving Fort Loudoun under siege.
Fort Loudoun surrendered to Oconostota in August on the condition that they would be allowed safe passage with sufficient arms and ammunition for the march home but delivering all other weapons and ammunition to the Cherokee. When they occupied the fort, the Cherokee discovered that powder, balls (i.e., bullets), and cannon had been buried or thrown in the river. Angered at the former garrison's deception, the Cherokees attacked the soldiers the next morning killing 29 in the first volley and taking the remainder prisoner until they were later ransomed by the colony.
The colonist demanded revenge and, despite attempts for peace by Attacullakulla, sent an 2,600 man force in 1761 which destroyed 15 Cherokee towns and "pushed the frontier seventy miles farther to the west" though incurring heavy losses in the process. Attacullakulla was able to negotiate a treaty with the South Carolina colony in September of 1761.
In November of the same year, a force of Virginians who had descended as far a present Kingsport TN were met by a delegation of Cherokees and a treaty was signed. In addition, Lt. Henry Timberlake volunteered to return with the Cherokee and lived with them for several months. Timberlake later took a delegation of chiefs to England but, since the trip was not authorized by the government, they were practically ignored and returned disgusted.
By the time France and England made peace in 1763, the tribes throughout the region had been devastated by warfare, loss of crops and orchards, and another small pox epidemic. Immigrants began to flood across the mountains. Numerous treaties were signed, each relinquishing more land to the whites, in an attempt to fix a permanent border but all were ignored by the settlers. The most significant treaty was the Henderson Purchase in 1775 which ceded lands north of the Cumberland River and included most of what is now Kentucky. A faction of the tribe, the Chickamaugas, refused to honor the treating and kept up constant raiding of settlements in this region through the turn of century.
Every treaty was essentially forced upon the Cherokee and only signed because they were assured that no further cessions would be demanded. The typical pattern was that settlers would move onto Cherokee land and refuse to leave. In spite of Cherokee raids resulting in numerous deaths, the settlers continued to arrive. Though the colonial governments promised to prevent the intrusions, this was never done. Local militia were raised to protect against Cherokee raids and eventually the Cherokee were forced to cede the land in another treaty.
It is no wonder that the Cherokee, infuriated and frustrated in their dealings with the colonists, chose to side with the British in the Revolutionary War. The British government had continued to trade with the Cherokee. British Indian agents and traders had married into the tribe and were raising families there. The British began to heavily supply arms and ammunition and even offered bounties for scalps of colonists as early as 1775.
While initially successful in striking numerous devastating blows to the frontier settlements, large expeditions of Colonial forces began to destroy Cherokee towns. Reports of the expeditions said that practically every Cherokee man or woman encountered was either killed and scalped or sold into slavery. Over 50 towns were burned and all crops and livestock taken or destroyed. A peace treaty was signed in 1777 which ceded nearly all of South Carolina to the colonists and much of north and eastern Tennessee.
The end of the Revolutionary War brought an end to British aid, however, a new European power was anxious to expand its claims in North American -- the Spanish. With France and England out of the way, Spain began to encourage the Chickamaugas to continue their raids on the colonists. Not much encouragement was needed, however, because settlers were continuing to flood across treaty boundaries onto Cherokee land.
Old Tassel had assumed responsibilities of chief upon the deaths of Attacullakulla in 1780 and Oconostota in 1782. A new era was beginning for the Cherokee. The Cherokee had a new nation to contend with -- the United States. Old Tassel's first order of business was another futile attempt to stop the intrusions onto Cherokee land.