The Cherokee Territorial Claim Circa 1700

The Cherokee Territorial Claim Circa 1700

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By Lamar Marshall, Southeast Heritage Research Director

Around 1700, the Cherokee people were a powerful tribe of Native Americans who were uncontrolled by world powers and politics because of their remote and isolated homeland that lay west of the Appalachian Mountains. The seaboard colonies of the British Empire were 250 miles eastward on the Atlantic coast. The Cherokee enjoyed vast expanses of wilderness where they hunted, farmed, fished and contended with their enemies in martial challenge. Their way of life would change dramatically as the small and seemingly benign settlements of English Colonists encouraged swarms of European immigrants to resettle in the Colonies.

At the same time the white populations were exploding, the Native Americans dwindled in number from diseases introduced from Europe and wars with colonial powers who were contending with each other for control of North America.

The lifestyle of the native tribes evolved differently than that of the Europeans. Their way of life generally was not based on the accumulation of wealth and power although rank and honor were highly esteemed.

When the Americas were discovered by Europe, three principle European countries, armed with their technologies, fought each other to determine who would claim and profit from the land, minerals, forests and native peoples. It took nearly 300 years for England to overpower Spain and France by military force. Soon after, the English colonies rebelled against their king and the Revolutionary War stripped England of her North American victory. The colonies became “states united” but the spirit of conquest was not to end in peace. It turned from the Atlantic seaboard and began its march over the Appalachian Mountains to trample the native peoples whose lands were coveted by governments, profiteers and speculators.  With the handwriting on the wall, the Cherokee and other Eastern tribes knew they were on a collision course with this new United States. The tribes would be forced into ceding millions of acres of lands through treaties that guaranteed new Cherokee boundaries “forever.” Every treaty was violated and eventually the United States evicted the Cherokees from their homeland.

The Cherokee claim was a vast and diverse storehouse of natural resources spanning many ecosystems.

The Native Americans did not think of land as something to be surveyed, subdivided and privately owned.  It belonged to no one except the Creator and the tribes who could defend their territorial claims. Many of the first European settlements were business ventures financed by corporations. Investment, labor, products and overseas exports were the bottom line. Gold, silver, furs, skins, plantation produce, tobacco, timber, pitch, rice, and slaves were a few of the commodities that colonists traded from the Indians. It didn’t take long to add land to the economic interests of Europe.

This vast continent of 9 1/2 million square miles inhabited by Indians whose technologies were primitive by European standards was viewed as an opportunity to fill European coffers. Many aristocratic and wealthy colonists with a little capital became speculators who invested their wealth into the business of transplanting Europeans to North America. England, France and Spain were the major players.

For millennia, a thousand or more tribes of Native America were able to control large expanses of wild lands that afforded all the meat, fish, birds, nuts, and wild plants needed for subsistence and prosperity. By supplementing the natural abundance with a few domestic plants, there was no need to tend herds of cattle or to develop technologies to support an alternative way of life.
Having not been exposed to the “industrial” developments and technologies of the Europeans, they were content to live the simple lifestyle passed down from their ancestors. Materialism and the accumulation of wealth was not a priority. With a relatively small population in ratio to the vast uninhabited lands, they enjoyed true sustainability until the Europeans encouraged and paid them to overkill animal populations for furs, hides and meat.


Cherokee Geography, Ecology and History circa 1700






This project revolves around research of primary historical archives to reconstruct historic Cherokee geography, in particular, that which pertains to travel, ecology and the landscape of the Cherokee territorial claim, circa 1700. Much of the old Cherokee trails network lies buried underneath and alongside the modern transportation system of North Carolina and the surrounding states.  Some remnants can still be walked on public lands managed by the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service.

White traders who resided within the Cherokee Nation since the late 1600’s brought the latest European technologies to the North American indigenous nations. Dependence on commerce and trade was a blessing and a curse for the Cherokees. Weapons enabled them to harvest enough deerskins to upgrade and enjoy an easier lifestyle and to fight their martial enemies. Iron and copper cookware was much more durable than clay. Cloth was light and cooler than deerskin clothes.

But with trade came British regulations and an undercurrent of potential boycott of powder and lead when relations between the Indians and whites broke down. What began as a few trade goods brought over the mountains by pack horse became the impetus to widen the principle trading paths to wagon roads. The alteration of the ancient, narrow mountain trails to accommodate wagons would later be used by British Armies to subjugate the Cherokee Nation for the British Crown. A people who lived free for millennia would have their ancient lines moved again and again until their mountain paradise was devoured by European immigrants and their descendants. The simple widening of a Cherokee trail became the “Trojan Horse” that would lead to catastrophe.

Lamar Marshall