Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Founding Father of the Cherokee Starr Line - Caleb Starr

I think this excerpt from the book The Hidden History of McMinn County by Joe Guy does a wonderful job of introducing Caleb Starr. Joe Guy is a nationally published author, newspaper columnist and historian residing in McMinn County, TN

Caleb Starr’s Tennessee Mountain
“Hidden History”
Joe Guy
 I attended a cemetery dedication recently, that of the old Cooper Cemetery east of Etowah, in the Conasauga Valley alongside Starr Mountain.  And as I listened to the dedication remarks spoken so eloquently by preservationist Marvin Templin, I looked to the mountain where the fog hung heavy and low.  As cattle called in the distant field, and I thought of the man for whom the mountain was named, and of his home that once stood on a nearby rise only a few hundred yards away.

Caleb Starr was born 1758 in Chester County, Pennsylvania, of Quaker ancestry.  At some point in adulthood, Caleb migrated to North Carolina, and about 1775 he came into the Tennessee country, along with future governor Joseph McMinn. Some sources say the two knew each other well.

In 1797, Caleb is listed as a hireling to Ellis Harlan, a fellow Quaker and a well-known trader to the Cherokee.  Both are listed as whites living in the Cherokee lands in “Persons Residing in the Cherokee Country, Not Natives of the Land in 1797” in a letter by Agent Silas Dinsmore to Governor Sevier. It is probable that Starr had worked for Harlan for quite some time, as Harlan had been a trader, and at times a spy, for many years.  Harlan had married the daughter of Nancy Ward, Katherine Kingfisher, and fathered a half-breed girl named Nannie about 1777.

Although he was a bit older than she, Caleb Starr must have taken notice of Nannie while working in her father’s trading business.  Caleb would have seen her often, and he also would have seen much of the Cherokee lands in his travels and visits with the Indians.  It is likely that he first saw the rich lands in the Conasauga Valley while employed with Harlan.  When Nannie Harlan was 17 years old, Caleb took her as his wife in about 1794.Around 1800, the year her father died, Caleb and Nannie moved into the Conasauga Valley underneath the shadow of the Unicoi Mountains and built a cabin on a small rise at the foot of the ridge.  Starr continued to work with and for the Cherokee, while at the same time building up a rather large farm.  On July 11-12, 1810, Caleb is listed on the records of Indian Agent Return J. Meigs as having been compensated for blacksmith work ($10.75) and for building two looms ($16.00) for the Cherokees.  On a receipt dated November 1, 1815, of the United States Government’s Cherokee annuity payment for the years 1813 to 1816, thirty-six thousand dollars was paid to Return J. Meigs, United States Agent to the Cherokee Nation, which was to be dispersed among the Indians. The receipt was signed by Caleb Starr, among other leaders, indicating his position of importance as a member of the Nation. Not long after, he would be involved with both the Treaty of 1816 and the Treaty of 1819.  But it was the treaty of 1817 that secured Caleb Starr in the ownership of his ever-growing plantation.

By the 8th article of the Treaty of 1817, the United States agreed to give a reservation of 640 acres of land, to each and every head of an Indian family, residing on the East side of the Mississippi River. The reservee was to have a life estate for himself, but the Treaty provided that if any of the heads of families for whom reservations might be made, should the owner remove voluntarily from the land reservation, the right of ownership was to revert back to the United States. When the Hiwassee Purchase was made in 1819, the Indians’ reservations had precedence over the subsequent land sales.  Caleb Starr’s reservation alongside the mountain was recorded as section 9 of the fractional township, Range 1 East on the Conasauga Creek, in newly formed McMinn County, Tennessee.  By this time, the Starrs held the 640 acres and worked the farm with around 100 slaves.

Caleb Starr had by this time already established himself and was raising a large family on his beautiful valley farm, so much that those who would settle nearby began to refer to the towering mountain not as Chilhowee, but as “Starr’s Mountain”.For about thirty years, the Starrs lived on their farm.  Fourteen Children were born there: Mary Jane, James, Thomas, Ruth, Ezekiel, Sarah, George, Joseph McMinn, Rachael, Nancy, John, Alexander, Deborah, and Ellis.  Only John and Alexander did not live to adulthood.  Of all the children, James seems to be the most flamboyant and controversial.  It was he who convinced President Andrew Jackson to give 640 acres to certain white settlers moving into the area. James became a member of the Treaty Party, which advocated total tribal removal, and with other members he signed the controversial Treaty of 1835, which would result in the total removal of the Cherokees in 1838. 
Like his sons, Caleb Starr seems to have supported emigration, as did many of the mixed bloods.  The anti-Removal Party, led by John Ross, was supported mostly by full-bloods.  Several years before the Trail of Tears, some of Caleb’s sons, including Ezekiel and James, had already relocated to the lands west of the Mississippi.  After the Removal was complete, members of the Removal Party were hunted down and killed.  James escaped the first round of bloodshed, only to be killed later in 1845.

By the time he sold out of his Conasauga Valley farm and traveled the long trail to the West, Caleb was almost 80 years old.  Like others who supported removal, Caleb may have seen the futility of fighting with the determined policies of Andrew Jackson, or he may have simply believed there was a better life awaiting the Cherokees out West.  He and Nannie died in 1841 and 1843, and both were laid to rest in the Going Snake District, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory (now Adair County, OK).Some sources say that Caleb Starr’s grave lay unmarked, and I am unsure if it remains so today. His original home is also gone, having fallen into  disrepair it was torn down in the mid-20thcentury.  But I do know that rising almost 2000 feet, and following a twenty-mile course over Monroe County, the eastern edge of McMinn County, and into northern Polk County husband of 4th great grand aunt is an everlasting monument to Caleb Starr, a mountain forever named for the man and the life he made in the Conasauga Valley. 
Caleb Starr is the husband of my 4th great grand aunt, Nancy Harlan. His children then become my 1st cousins 5 generations back.

Caleb married Nancy Harlan in 1794. She was the granddaughter of Nanyehi "Nancy" Ward,
Beloved Woman of the Cherokees and my 6th gGrandmother. They had 14 children, 2 of whom died young.

The  Cherokee Starrs and the Trail of Tears

By the early 1830's, the Starrs became convinced that removal of all Cherokees to new lands west of the Mississippi River was the only way to keep the Cherokee Nation from being completely destroyed by the Government of the State of Georgia, aided and abetted by the Federal Government led by President Andrew Jackson.  Even so, most Cherokees were opposed to removal.  In 1828, an anti-removal party came to power in the Cherokee Nation who attempted to preserve their remaining eastern lands.  John Ross was elected principal chief of the Nation. Ross and his followers strongly opposed removal. However, during the 1817-1837 time frame, many Cherokees voluntarily emigrated to the lands west of the Mississippi and became known as the "Old Settlers."

Caleb Starr and his sons supported emigration. Ezekiel Starr and his family traveled to the west in 1834. James Starr became a leading member of the Treaty Party, On 29 December 1835, James Starr and 19 other Cherokee leaders, signed the controversial Treaty of New Echota, which required the Cherokees to move west within two years after U. S. Senate ratification of the Treaty.  The treaty was ratified on 23 May 1836 - thus the removal deadline for the Cherokees was 23 Mayfield 1838.  James Starr and his family removed to the Cherokee portion of Indian Territory in 1837.The majority of the eastern Cherokees, under the leadership of Chief John Ross, fiercely resisted removal and were were forcibly removed to the west in 1838-1839 time frame.  During this removal, they suffered severely on what came to be called the "Trail of Tears."

Upon arrival in the Indian Territory, the differences between the Anti-Treaty or Ross Party and the Pro-Treaty or Ridge Party erupted into violence. On June 22, 1839, three leaders of the Treaty Party - Major Ridge, his son John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot - were assassinated by members of the Ross faction. James Starr and Stand Watie were due to be killed the same day, but they found refuge at Fort Gibson. John Ross was elected principal chief of a new, "unified" Cherokee government in the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory.In the Cherokee election of 1841, Ezekiel Starr was elected to the Cherokee legislature from the Flint District, and his brother, James Starr, was elected to serve from the Goingsnake District. However, the supporters of Chief Ross were still eliminating the supporters of the removal treaty and many murders were being committed by both sides.

Nancy and Caleb moved West prior to 1838. They settled on a farm near Evansville, Arkansas. Nancy died in 1841 and Caleb died in 1843.


  1. What a history. I am saddened by mankind.

  2. Could not agree with you more Teresa

  3. Nancy and Caleb are my stepmother's 4th g-grandparents, through their son James. What an amazing and heartbreaking history.