Sunday, October 27, 2013

Chota, the City of Refuge, The Birthplace of Nanye'hi Beloved Woman of the Cherokee, and the Name of My Dog

Chota . . . the Cherokee town of refuge under a Tennessee lake 

July 12, 2011

By welcoming refugees from throughout eastern North America, Chota grew to become known as the Cherokee “metropolis” in the mid-1700s. Chota’s story is often a forgotten chapter of American history.
KNOXVILLE, TN – ( – In the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee, the Little Tennessee River plunges out of a gorge in the Great Smoky Mountains into beautiful Lake Tellico. Beneath the indigo blue waters of Lake Tellico, 600 years ago, thrived an advanced Native American culture. The lower Little Tennessee River Valley was one of the most densely populated regions north of Mexico at that time. When the Hernando de Soto Expedition as it passed through the valley in 1541, it was under the government of the enormous town of Kusa in what-is-now northwestern Georgia.
Native American town names recorded show that its residents spoke several languages: Koasati, Itsati (Hitchiti-Creek), Yuchi, Mvskoke (Muskogee-Creek) Alabama and Chickasaw. However, the polyglot population seemed to get along well with each other. The Spanish chronicles do not mention any feuds between towns. Perhaps the towns tolerated annual tributes to the capital of Kusa because of the blessings of peace that its large army provided. The Province of Kusa was approximately 400 miles (840 km) long.
In the late 1500s, plagues caused by European pathogens swept through the Southern Highlands. Many of the towns were abandoned. Anthropologists suspect that the region’s population dropped by 90-95% because of this biological holocaust. When French and English explorers visited the upper Tennessee Valley in the late 1600s, only a few of the towns mentioned by the Spanish in 1541 were still occupied. These included Tali, Tanasi and Taskeke. There is a pre-Spanish mound at the Chota archaeologist site. This suggests that Chota may have been one of the towns visited by the Spanish, but had a different name at the time,
Chota, the town of refuge
In 1660 the Virginia House of Burgesses institutionalized human slavery and made vulnerability to enslavement to be based on race. Only Native Americans and Africans could be held in bondage. The economic and legal status of Virginia’s surviving Native Americans soon deteriorated precipitously. Unpaid debts could quickly result in perpetual slavery. Native American slavery spread to the Carolina’s when Charleston was founded in 1674. By 1710, Native American slaves composed 20% of the population of Charleston. The vast majority of Native American slaves were shipped to Caribbean sugar plantations, where they usually died within two years. It has been estimated by anthropologists that at least 600,000 Southeastern Native Americans were enslaved. Probably, almost as many died in slave raids. The Native American slave raiders typically killed all adult males, plus anybody who could not walk hundreds of miles to the coastal slave markets.
In small parties, consisting of unrelated individuals or families, the American Indians of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina escaped actual or potential slavery by fleeing into the mountains. Escaped slaves traveled far enough to be out of range of the hated slave catchers. These travels often put them in the Tennessee Valley. Chota’s population had been decimated by past plagues, so it welcomed new residents. The addition of American Indians of Algonquian, Siouan and Yuchi heritage changed the character of Chota. Many of these newcomers could also speak English, which was an advantage in trade.
Origin of Tennessee’s name: In 1679 an expedition headed by Robert Holder was sent by the Governor of Carolina to open up trade with the Tanasa-ke (Tanasqui in the de Soto chronicles.) They were one of the major ethnic groups on the lower Little Tennessee River, but also had branches in the Piedmont of South Carolina and along the lower Tennessee River in Tennessee. Their capital, Tanasa Olamikko, was probably located on Bussell Island, where the Little Tennessee River joins the Tennessee River. Satellite towns of the main town of Tanasa were often called Tanasi, which means “children of Tanasa.” The word, Tanasi was also used to describe the region where the Tanasa lived.
Holder’s party passed over the Blue Ridge Mountains and then had trade talks with the native peoples of the Little Tennessee River near Chota in a village that was called Tanasi. Holder used Creek Indian guides for the journey because at that time the most of the peoples in the North Carolina Mountains spoke one of the Creek Indian languages. The Muskogee-speaking South Carolina Creek guides called the Tanasa, theTenesaw, and their province Tenesi. When the expedition returned to Charleston, the governor’s mapmaker recorded the name of the region as being Tenesee.
The first somewhat accurate map of the Southern Highlands was published in 1584. It showed the region occupied solely by speakers of the Creek, Yuchi and Shawnee languages. This continued to be the case throughout the 1600s. In the late 1600s, more accurate English and French maps (based on direct contact,) labeled the people of the Little Tennessee River Valley as speaking dialects of Creek Indian languages. These same maps showed the northeastern corner of Tennessee being occupied by Rickohocken Indians, based in SW Virginia. The Rickohockens spoke a language very similar to contemporary Cherokee.
Because Chota contained mixed-blood Indians, who could speak English, it soon became a destination point, then a headquarters of English traders. These English traders often married local women. Their children were usually bi-lingual AND had more immunity to European diseases. The village boomed.
The earliest document that labels the occupants of the Little Tennessee Valley as being “Cheraqui” was a map published in 1718 by the famous French cartographer, Guilliam DeLisle. The first English map to use the word Cherokee was published in 1725. It does not mention Chota.
A 1720 map by Dutch cartographer Hermann Moll showed the occupants of the Tennessee River downstream from the “Cheraqui” to be Koasati, Creek and Yuchi Indian allies of the French. There was even a short-lived French fort on Hiwassee Island. That situation was to change rapidly in the 1720s. Because of British encouragement, the Lower Little River towns selected a “war leader” from the town of Tanasi. His name comes down to us only as “Tanasi Warrior.”
With the help of the British, the new Cherokee Alliance was able to, one by one, capture the Koasati, Creek and Yuchi towns in southeastern Tennessee. Due to the intrigue of the English, Chief Moytoy of the town of Big Tellico was named “First Emperor of the Cherokee Nation.” Also by 1730, the Overhill Cherokees had captured all enemy towns southwestward to the Hiwassee River. However, by 1738 all of the Koasati, Creeks and Yuchi had been swept out of southeastern Tennessee as far as Chattanooga. This was the “high water mark” of Cherokee military expansion.
In 1753 the chief of Chota, Kanagatoga, became the second “Emperor of the Cherokee Nation.” The next year the Overhill Cherokees ended their four decade long war with the Upper Creeks, who were French allies. However, the French & Indian War soon started. The British and French dispatched their “client” Indian tribes against each other. Despite heavily publicized stories of a great Cherokee victory, the real history is that the Cherokees lost a third of their towns in 1754 and 1755 from Creek attacks until the British built Fort Loudon near Chota, and pressured the British-allied Koweta Creeks to stop destroying Cherokee towns.. Relations with the British soured, which eventually resulted with the garrison being massacred. The Overhill Cherokees quickly signed treaties with the British and the Upper Creek allies of the French, to effectively take their people out of this disastrous war.
Chota continued to be the most important Cherokee town for the next three decades. Most of the Cherokee towns were destroyed in the American Revolution and the Cherokee Chickamauga War that followed. Cherokee refugees streamed out of the mountains into the Tennessee Valley. Many settled around Chota. Few, if any, residents of Chota were among the Chickamauga renegades, but the town was burned, nevertheless, by Colonel John Sevier’s Tennessee Volunteers in 1784. Chota was rebuilt in the late 1780s, but never was its former size. By the late 1790s, the bulk of the Cherokee People were moving down into their new lands in northwest Georgia. In 1798, there were only five houses at Chota. It was during this period that the famous Cherokee scholar, Sequoyah, spent part of his youth in a cabin near Chota. That part of Tennessee was sold by the Cherokees in 1819 to the United States government.
Meaning of the name “Chota”
The original name of the village of Chota was Itsati. Chota appears to have originally been a “nickname” for the village. Later, when the town became a mother town, it was known as Echota. Most Cherokee sponsored history web sites either state that origin of the word, Chota is unknown, or else, it is a corruption of Itsati.
Cherokees tend to be unaware of how relatively late, there was such a thing as “Cherokees” in Tennessee, or the preponderance of Creek Indian place names that were incorporated into their language. State sponsored web sites typically give the impression that the Cherokees were in the Tennessee Valley for hundreds of years, and also erroneously state that Tennessee is a Cherokee word.
Itsati is the name that the Hitchiti-speaking Creek Indians call themselves. It is pronounced, It-jsha-tee. In English, Itsati means Itza People – referring the Itza Maya ancestors of that branch of the Creek Indians.
Chota is the Itsati word for “frog.” The site of Chota was a flat island in a wide expanse of marshes. This would certainly be a likely place for frogs to live.
The town name, Echota, displays a grammatical form used by the Itza Maya in Central America and theItza-ti Creeks in the Southeastern United States. “E” front of the word means “important.” The capital of a province would often have an “E” in front of the province’s name. Another example of this grammar is found in the De Soto Chronicles. The capital of the Itsati Province of Chiaha was recorded by the Spanish as beingYchiaha.
An alternative explanation of Echota has been proposed by a Yuchi scholar, David Woktela, who theorizes that it meant “sacred fire tobacco” and would have been written in the English alphabet as Ici-tso-tal.
Getting to the site of Chota
The actual location of Chota is now under Lake Tellico. However, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indianshas constructed a beautiful park and memorial to honor Chota. To reach the memorial from Knoxville, take I-40 West to I-75 South, exit I-75 onto Tennessee State Highway 72 East and follow to Vonore. Turn left on U.S.411 North and follow to Right Turn on Hwy 360 at Traffic Light. Continue on Hwy, 360 to the Sequoyah Birthplace museum and thence onto the Chota Memorial.

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