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Lower Town historical geography

Locating Cherokee sites in SC and North Georgia

During the mid-18th century a number of the Cherokee settlements in the Savannah and Chattahoochee river basins relocated, dissolved, or were destroyed in the wake of conflict with the Creek Nation and outbreaks of infectious disease. This turmoil, combined with Cherokee place name conventions, clouds attempts to track movement amongst these Lower Towns.

I have come to know the various historical documents, maps, archaeological reports, and landscape features well enough to become convinced that it would be possible to reconstruct the c. 1720 Lower Town settlement pattern to serve as a benchmark for research in Cherokee historical geography. Such a reconstruction would identify points in Cartesian space in order to help tie communities named in the documentary record to landmarks on the terrain. This post is meant to illustrate the most important of the sources and methods available for the creation of a synchronic Lower Town settlement pattern for the year 1720.

The paths up from Charleston to Keowee and Chauga on George Hunter’s 1730 map.

Establishing control points

Three confirmed (red) and three probable (yellow) Lower Town sites.

The locations of at least three of the early Contact period Lower Towns were never lost.

Tugalo / 9St1 – The meeting place for the first official state visit from the Carolina Colony in 1715.

Estatoe / 9St3 – The most populous Cherokee town on Francis Varnod’s census for the year 1721.

Keowee / 38Oc1 – The northern node of the northern prongs of the path connecting the Lower Towns and Charleston.

The Keowee site, submerged since 1971.

A handful of additional c. 1720 Lower Town sites have been convincingly identified by 20th century researchers. These include:

Chattooga / 38Oc18 – Excavations took place at the site in the early 1990s under the direction of Gerald Schroedl.

Chauga / 38Oc1/38Oc47 – Identifiable through a combination of place name and documentary evidence.

Chota / 9Wh3 – “Chota” is a title (‘fire place’) with the location a good match for the 1715/16 journal’s description of “a Town of peace” visited on January 2nd.

The Sautee Valley was the location of the Lower Town of Chota.

Turning to the documentary record

Having the landmarks above as points of reference eases the task of interpreting the locations named in the earliest English language documentation of the Lower Towns. Four substantive travel journals and one census are known to have been produced between the years of 1715 and 1730.

The census is reproduced in facsimile on p. 62 of Powhatan’s mantle: Indians in the colonial Southeast (ed. Gregory A. Waselkov, Peter H. Wood, and M. Thomas Hatley, [Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1989]) and the journals have all been edited for publication. The early 18th century English orthography used in the journals won’t be a problem for professional and avocational historians, but is likely to be a little opaque to others. The editors lacked he both the background in Cherokee linguistics necessary to make sense of the original authors’ transcriptions of Lower Town names as well as the archaeological and documentary research accumulated over the course of the 20th century. This means that their footnotes should be approached with caution.

1715/16 “Journal of the march of the Carolinians into the Cherokee Mountains, in the Yemassee Indian War. 1715–1716.” In Yearbook of the City of Charleston (1894), edited by Langdon Cheves, 324–52. [Charleston, S.C.], 1895.


1721 “A true and exact account of the number and names of all the towns belonging to the Cherrikee Nation, and the number of men, women and children inhabiting the same taken Anno 1721.” Census by Francis Varnod. London, April 1723. United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.


1725 “Colonel [George] Chicken’s journal to the Cherokees, 1725.” In Travels in the American Colonies, ed. under the auspices of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, by Newton D. Mereness, 97–172. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916.


1727/28 Journal of Colonel John Herbert, Commissioner Indian Affairs for the Province of South Carolina, October 17, 1727, to March 19, 1727/8. Edited by Alexander Samuel Salley, Jr. Columbia: Printed for the Historical Commission of South Carolina by the State Co., 1936.


1730 “Account of the Cherrokee Indians, and of Sir Alexander Cuming’s journey amongst them.” The Historical Register 16 (1731): 1–18.


Historical cartography

The earliest European maps of the Southeast depended as much upon the collation and synthesis of travelers’ and traders’ accounts as they did upon scientific survey. They are nevertheless useful sources of information, especially when used in conjunction with textual documents of the period and contemporary archeological reports.

Two of the maps most relevant to the study of early Lower Town distribution are the Barnwell-Hammerton map of 1721 and George Hunter’s 1730 map.

1721 [Southeastern North America] [manuscript map], by John Barnwell and Paul Hammerton. [Ca. 1:1,150,000.] Collection of Paul Mellon, Yale University Center for British Art, New Haven, Conn.


1730 This represents the Charecke Nation by Col. Herberts Map & my own observations with the path to Charles Town, its course & (distance measured by my watch) the names of ye branches, rivers & creeks, as given them by ye traders along that nation. Certified by me, George Hunter, May 21, 1730 [manuscript map], by George Hunter. [Ca. 1:1,500,000.] Faden collection 6, Geography & Map Reading Room (Madison, LMB01), Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (Reproduced in George Hunter’s map of the Cherokee Country and the path thereto in 1730. Edited by Alexander Samuel Salley, Jr. Bulletins of the Historical Commission of South Carolina 4. Columbia, S.C.: Printed for the Commission by the State Co., 1917.)


Because of the limited inventory of Cherokee place names and the frequency of settlement relocation in the 18th century, toponyms are a potentially deceptive source for this particular research project if used in isolation. Corroborating evidence from other types of sources, however, can lend reliability to them.

Cherokee toponymy in Oconee Co., S.C.

Archaeological reports and site files

A handful of publications exist reporting excavations, salvage work, and problem-oriented field projects at known Lower Town sites. Information can also be gleaned from survey work such as that reported in Robert Wauchope’s Archaeological survey of Northern Georgia (Memoirs of the Society for American Archaeology 21). I also expect that the Georgia and South Carolina site files include useful as yet unreported data related to individual early Contact period Lower Towns.


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