A Tangled Web of Conflict, Blood, and Peace: Cherokee Attacks on Fort Ninety Six

July 18, 2012 Posted by: VIP / Intern Brooke

Trespassing and encroachment are two actions that can bring about much anger and territoriality. In the mid-18th century South Carolina backcountry, Native American tribes, namely the Cherokee, displayed much anger as colonists moved near and on to Indian lands to create settlements.[i] Backcountry colonization, tension and misunderstanding constructed a web of death, blood revenge, and pacification between settlers and Cherokees. Fear escalated in the years leading up to 1760 when two Cherokee war parties attacked the small backcountry defense, Fort Ninety Six, along the Cherokee Path.

The Cherokee were a hunting people with a warrior instinct, especially among the young men.[ii] Even with this emphasis on violence, colonists’ relations with their Native American neighbors were not always tense. In fact, trade with Indians was very important in the early 18th century, and the Cherokee were dependent on the English to supply them with goods like woolens, guns, and farm implements. South Carolina Governor James Glen negotiated with the Cherokee several times in efforts to establish peaceful relations. On one occasion, Governor Glen met with Cherokee Chiefs Connecorte and Attakullakulla in hopes that they would show loyalty to the British against France and Spain.  In 1753, the Cherokee granted Governor Glen permission to build forts on their land. Three years later, in 1756, William Henry Lyttleton became governor of South Carolina. Lyttleton’s appointment prompted a change in how Cherokee relations were handled, as Glen was adamant about maintaining positive relations while Lyttleton was less concerned. Eventually, colonist and Cherokee relations broke down. Cherokee raids ensued.[iii]

           Mistrust and misunderstanding mounted tensions leading up to the first attack on Fort Ninety Six.  As a Cherokee war party returned from their raid in the Pennsylvania backcountry to aid the British in the French and Indian War, they went through the colony of Virginia.  In the Virginia backcountry these Cherokee raiders took some supplies from a local farm.  The farmer and his neighbors countered by shooting and killing a number of the warriors.  This single event renewed Cherokee resistance against their colonist neighbors, and caused an eruption of raiding parties in the Carolina and Virginia colonies, starting the Anglo-Cherokee War.  In return, the colonies offered a bounty on Cherokee scalps.  This bounty erupted into a scalping frenzy and led to increased raids in the backcountry.   The bloody and sporadic raids resulted in mass killings of both settlers and Native Americans. Settlers, once hearing of the massacre that occurred at Long Cane Creek, rushed for their lives to the small wooden defense of Fort Ninety Six for refuge.[iv]

           The garrison at Fort Ninety Six contained “33 resolute White Men and 12 Stout Negroes, all armed,” according to the South Carolina Gazette.[v]  As the men prepared for the eminent attack, they sent out daily patrols. On February 2, 1760, a patrol captured two young Cherokee warriors.[vi] The following day February 3, forty Cherokees launched an attack on the Ninety Six defenses.[vii] For two hours, the Cherokee fired from the wooded forest with little effect. The Cherokee eventually retreated.  However, as the raiders retreated they burned the town, except for Robert Gouedy’s Barn, to the ground.[viii]

           After a month of reinforcing the Ninety Six garrison, another Cherokee war party rekindled the fire and set out towards the backcountry and the town. On March 3, 1760, an estimated 250 Cherokee warriors attacked Fort Ninety Six, which was infected with a smallpox epidemic at the time. Under constant fire for 36 hours, the fort’s defenses remained intact.  Aided by a hard rain and a relief column under Major Lloyd approaching the fort, the war party retreated again with six deaths. According to the South Carolina Gazette, Major Lloyd’s arrival “…raised the spirit of the Garrison a good deal” even with the knowledge that two of the men were injured.[ix]  Along a twenty-two mile expanse, the warriors killed cattle and burned homes as they retreated from the backcountry fort.[x]

In retribution for the attacks on Fort Ninety Six and the raids in the backcountry, the Provincial Government appealed to British commander Sir Jeffrey Amherst to subdue Cherokee resistance.[xi] Colonel Archibald Montgomery was sent to quell Cherokee opposition. Montgomery burned most of the lower towns.[xii] He was later ambushed by Cherokees along the Little Tennessee River at Tassantee. Although Montgomery commanded the field, he was forced to retreat due to casualties.  Assuming the Cherokee were defeated he withdrew.  However, the Cherokee were not defeated and they captured Fort Loudon in modern day Tennessee.  The capture of this Fort then led to renewed resistance by Lieutenant Colonel James Grant and the Indian Corps.  This armed group forced the Cherokees to negotiate a treaty in December 1761. With this treaty the Cherokee War ended.

Ninety Six was a stopping place for both Colonels Montgomery and Grant en route to the Cherokee villages in their respective campaigns. When Grant decided to use Ninety Six as a resting place, Major William Moultrie of the Provincial Regiment was sent with his men to construct supply sheds and cow pens and to expand the fort around Gouedy’s barn. In light of the Cherokee treaty, Grant said of the stored supplies at Ninety Six which contributed to his successful campaign: “…if I had not made a very large Provision for the Campaign I should not have been able to do it.”[xiii]

           During the American Revolution Cherokees sided with the British. The Patriots, however, pacified them into compulsory neutrality.  After the Revolution, Cherokee Indians had to live with the demands of the new American government.  Even when forced of off their native lands years later for the sake of wealth and gold discovery, the Cherokees never again committed to armed conflict against the American government.[xiv]

            



[i] Robert D. Bass, Ninety Six: The Struggle for the South Carolina Back Country (Orangeburg: Sandlapper Publishing, 1978), 41.

[ii]Jerome A. Greene, Ninety Six: A Historical Narrative (Denver: Denver Service Center, 1978), 2.

[iii] Vicki Rozema, Footsteps of the Cherokees (Winston-Salem: John F. Blair Publisher, 2007), 265-266.

[iv] Robert M. Dunkerly and Eric Williams, Old Ninety Six: A History and Guide (Charleston: History Press, 2006), 14-16.

[v] South Carolina Gazette  as cited in Marvin L. Cann, Ninety Six: A History of the Backcountry 1700-1781. N.D. Unpublished, 10.

[vi] Dunkerly and Williams, 16.

[vii] South Carolina Gazette, March 15, 1760, as cited in Cann, 10.

[viii] Dunkerly and Williams, 16.

[ix] South Carolina Gazette, March 15, 1760, as cited in Dunkerly and Williams, 17.

[x] Dunkerly and Williams, 16-17.

[xi] Duane H. King, “A Powder Horn Commemorating: The Grant Expedition against the Cherokees,” Journal of Cherokee Studies I, no I (1976): 23-40.

[xii] Lower Cherokee towns were located at the headwaters of the Savannah River in Northwest South Carolina and Northeast Georgia. http://www.palmettohistory.org/exhibits/cherokee/2a-CHEROKEEPEOPLE.htm. Accessed 5 July 2012.

[xiii] Grant to Amherst, September 3, 1761, War Office, Amherst Papers, as cited inCann, 15.

[xiv] http://www.cherokee.org/AboutTheNation/History/Facts/24449/Information.aspx. Accessed 5 July 2012.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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