Cherokee - History and Cultural Relations



Linguistic, archaeological, and mythological evidence suggest that the Cherokee migrated to the southern Appalachian Highlands from the north prior to European contact in 1540. Native groups bordering the Cherokee territory at that time included the Powhatan and Monacan to the northeast, the Tuscarora and Catawba to the east and southeast, the Creek to the south, the Chickasaw and Shawnee to the west, and the now-extinct Mosopelea to the north. Generally speaking, Cherokee relations with all these groups during the early historic period were contentious.

Continuous contact with Europeans dates from the mid-seventeenth century when English traders from Virginia began to move among native groups in the southern Appalachians. Following contact, the Cherokee intermarried extensively with Whites. Peaceful Cherokee-White relations ended when war broke out with South Carolina in 1759. During the American Revolution the Cherokee allied with the British and continued hostilities with Americans until 1794. White encroachments on their territory led a large number of Cherokee to migrate west between 1817 and 1819. In 1821, after many years of effort, Sequoyah, a mixed-blood Cherokee, developed a Cherokee syllabary, which had the Important result of extending literacy throughout the population. In 1835 gold was discovered in the Cherokee territory and White encroachments increased.

In that same year the Treaty of New Echota arranged for the sale of Cherokee lands to the U.S. government and the removal of the Cherokee to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and Kansas. As the treaty was opposed by most Cherokee, the removal had to be carried out by force involving seven thousand federal troops. Over four thousand Cherokee, intermarried Whites, and African-American slaves died en route or as a result of the removal. A band of several hundred Cherokee escaped the roundup and in 1842 were granted permission to remain on land set aside for them in North Carolina. The descendants of these two groups make up the present-day Western (Oklahoma) and Eastern (North Carolina) Cherokee.

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