Tuskegee (Cherokee town)

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Coordinates: 35°35′43″N 84°12′08″W / 35.59517°N 84.20227°W / 35.59517; -84.20227

Tuskegee ("Toskegee") and Fort Loudoun, as they appeared on Henry Timberlake's "Draught of the Cherokee Country"

Tuskegee (also spelled Toskegee, Taskigi, and similar variations) was an Overhill Cherokee town located along the Little Tennessee River in what is now Monroe County, Tennessee, United States. The town developed in the late 1750s alongside Fort Loudoun, and was inhabited until the late 1770s, when it was evacuated and probably burned during the Chickamauga Wars. Tuskegee is best known as the birthplace of the Cherokee scholar, Sequoyah.

Now flooded by Tellico Lake, the Tuskegee site was investigated by archaeologists prior to inundation in the 1970s.

History[edit]

While there are several maps and accounts of the Overhill country by early explorers, Tuskegee is not mentioned before 1757, leading historians to suspect the town's development coincided with the construction of Fort Loudoun (1756–1757) by the British colony of South Carolina. A map of the area drawn in either 1756 or early 1757 by John Stuart, an officer in Fort Loudoun's garrison, does not mention Tuskegee, suggesting the town did not exist at the time of the fort's construction. A map by William G. De Brahm, the engineer who designed the fort, mentions a place called "Taskigee old Town" near one of the proposed sites for the fort (the term "old town" often denoted a cleared or previously-inhabited area).[1]

The early correspondence of Fort Loudoun's garrison does not mention Tuskegee, and typically uses Tomotley, a Cherokee town located further upriver to the south, as a reference point. Tuskegee is mentioned in a letter from the fort dated January 11, 1757. The town is frequently mentioned thereafter as having the same location as Fort Loudoun.[1]

Reconstructed Cherokee "winter" house at Fort Loudoun

After the fall of Fort Loudoun and the subsequent signing of a peace treaty, a peace delegation from Virginia led by Henry Timberlake visited the Overhill country in late 1761 and early 1762. A map drawn by Timberlake, entitled "Draught of the Cherokee Country," gives detailed information on several Overhill towns, including Tuskegee. On the map, Tuskegee (spelled "Toskegee") is indicated by seventeen structures (probably houses) scattered across the area just south of Fort Loudoun, including three which stand in a line immediately south of the fort.[1] Tuskegee is one of three towns on Timberlake's map that lacks a townhouse (the other two being Tanasi and Mialoquo). Timberlake noted that Attakullakulla was the head-man of both Tuskegee and Mialoquo, and that Tuskegee was home to 55 fighters.[2]

In response to an attack against the Watauga settlements in the Summer of 1776, an invasion force led by Colonel William Christian arrived in the Little Tennessee Valley in October of that year. Finding the Overhill towns deserted, Christian burned five, including Tuskegee, which had been targeted in particular for its role in the killing of a boy who had been captured by the Cherokee during the Watauga invasion.[1] Tuskegee was not likely reinhabited after this invasion. Subsequent travelers to the area, including those visiting the ruins of Fort Loudoun from the Tellico Blockhouse in the 1790s, make no mention of the town.[1]

The Cherokee scholar Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee syllabary, was born at Tuskegee. He was the son of Nathaniel Gist, a fur trader, and a Cherokee woman named Wurtah.[3]

The Tuskegee site was flooded with the completion of Tellico Dam by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the late 1970s. The adjacent Fort Loudoun site was raised above lake operating levels and the fort was reconstructed. Two Cherokee dwellings, a "summer" house and "winter" house, have been reconstructed just south of the fort to represent Tuskegee. The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, dedicated to the Cherokee scholar, stands along Highway 360, opposite Fort Loudoun State Park.

Archaeological work[edit]

Reconstructed Cherokee "summer" house at Fort Loudoun

The Tennessee Division of Archaeology conducted excavations at the Tuskegee site (40MR4, 40MR24 and 40MR64) in the Summer of 1976 in anticipation of the completion of Tellico Dam. Since TVA used the soil around the Tuskegee site for fill dirt to raise adjacent Fort Loudoun above lake operating levels, archaeologists were able to examine a relatively large area around the site (approximately 2.5 acres). These excavations found evidence of twelve structures from various periods dating back to the Mississppian period and artifacts from as early as the Archaic period (the Tuskegee site lies roughly adjacent to Icehouse Bottom, a key Archaic period site).[1]

Researchers determined that three of the twelve structures discovered during the excavations were Cherokee, and appeared to correspond to the string of three houses just south of Fort Loudoun indicated on Timberlake's map. Two of these structures were rectangular, with one measuring 42.6 feet (13.0 m) by 14.7 feet (4.5 m) and the other 43.9 feet (13.4 m) by 21.3 feet (6.5 m). These appear to have been Cherokee "summer" houses (houses with open walls used during warmer months). The third structure was rectangular in shape, but with rounded corners, and measured just 25.9 feet (7.9 m) by 20.3 feet (6.2 m).[1]

Several refuse pits uncovered by excavators contained Cherokee artifacts. These included several thousand pottery sherds (primarily of the "Overhill Plain" variety), nails, musket balls, tools and jewelry.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Carl Kuttruff, Beverly Bastian, Jenna Tedrick Kuttruff, and Stuart Strumpf, "Fort Loudoun in Tennessee: 1756–1760: History, Archaeology, Replication, Exhibits, and Interpretation," Report of the Tennessee Wars Commission and Tennessee Division of Archaeology, Research Series No. 17 (Waldenhouse Publishers, Inc., 2010), pp. 301-339. Accessed at the Tennessee State Library and Archives website, 6 January 2014.
  2. ^ Henry Timberlake, A Draught of the Cherokee Country, 1765.
  3. ^ Kevin E. Smith, "Sequoyah," Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Retrieved: 6 January 2014.

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