Nikwasi (Cherokee town)

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The western side of Nikwasi Mound (31Ma2). (32347857503).jpg
Western side of Nikwasi mound showing the access ramp to the right in the photo
LocationModern day Franklin, North Carolina
Coordinates35°11′06″N 83°22′25″W / 35.18499°N 83.37360°W / 35.18499; -83.37360
CulturesSouth Appalachian Mississippian; Cherokee
Events1727 Treaty of Nikwasi
Architectural stylesplatform mound

Nikwasi (also Nequasee, Nucassee) comes from the Cherokee word for "star", Noquisi (No-kwee-shee), and is the site of the Cherokee town which is first found in colonial records in the early 18th century, but is much older. It covered about 100 acres on the floodplain of the Little Tennessee River in what is now Franklin, North Carolina. Today, an associated platform mound is the only extant feature left of the town.


The town was founded sometime before 1544, as it appears on several maps from that time.[2] It is first mentioned in the records of the British colonies in America in 1718. The town was a spiritual, cultural, and ceremonial center for the local Cherokee people,[3] who considered it the "Mother Town."[4] The towns people kept the ever-burning sacred fire of the settlement, which had been kept burning since the beginning of their culture, located there in the fire pit of the meeting hall.[3]

The Varnod census, enumerated in 1721, found a native population of the town to be 142—constituting 53 men, 50 women, and 59 children.[5]

Treaty of 1727[edit]

The town's meeting hall was set upon a central platform mound still prominent in the area today. Nikwasi probably met with a delegation from Charleston, South Carolina there in 1727; Colonel John Herbert took part in a treaty council held in the meeting hall on December 3, 1727.[6] Following the signing of the treaty with South Carolina, a self-appointed royal ambassador, Alexander Cuming, was hosted at the town from April 3 to 4, 1730.[7] During the negotiations with the Cherokee, Cuming met with Uku (or "First Beloved Man") Moytoy (known also as Ama-edohi).[8] Cuming "appointed" Moytoy as "Emperor" of the Cherokee and secured a dubious pledge of allegiance of all the Cherokee peoples to King George II from him.[9] The treaty was generally honored until 1741.[8]

Further dealings with colonials[edit]

During the summer of 1761 the Nikwasi townhouse was used as a field hospital by the members of a punitive expedition against native American allies of France during the French-Indian War. The party, which had razed most of the town in the expedition, was led by James Grant.[10]

The town was once again leveled September 10, 1776 during the Rutherford Light Horse expedition, when the towns people allied with Great Britain early in the American War for Independence.[11] Rutherford burned the town and its farmlands to the ground.[11] After an austere, harsh winter, the town sued for peace the following Spring.[3][11]

The Nikwasi Mound as photographed in June, 1963. The ascension ramp is at the left side of the photo.

The town was emptied in 1819 of its native American inhabitants when the townspeople were forced from their lands into the Qualla Boundary by the government.[11][2]

The mound[edit]

The platform mound is conspicuous to the many drivers who pass by daily on US 441 Business in downtown Franklin.[2] The mound architecture has been well-preserved down to the present day, and the ramp and flat summit continue to be easily differentiated. The 2009 GPR survey revealed that the base of the mound is covered by one to two meters of combined alluvial deposits and manmade fill. As a result of these findings, it is clear that prior to the flooding and fill events the mound enjoyed greater topographic prominence than currently, and was once a more impressive part of the cultural landscape than it is today. The mound appears to date to Mississippian culture with construction estimated at about the year AD 1000.[2][9]

The mound has been owned by the town of Franklin since the 1940s.[12] There is, however, an ongoing initiative to release at least a share of the land title to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) through the "Nikawasi Initiative," a not for profit organization.[12] The mound would then become part of the "Nikwasi-Cowee Corridor," an EBCI proposal covering the Nikwasi mound and the nearby Cowee Mound (a similarly built mound across the river – just north of Franklin).[12]

Archaeological and geophysical investigations[edit]

The mound site takes its name from the Cherokee town which had located on about 100 acres there and entered the historical record in the early 18th century.[12] Based on the southeast orientation of the ramp and the results of a 2009 ground-penetrating radar survey, the summit of the mound is thought to have been the seat of the townhouse in which Cherokee leaders hosted British and American delegations through the years.[13][14][15] A single 5′ x 5′ test shaft dug by University of North Carolina archaeologists in 1963 constitutes the entirety of formal digging known to have been undertaken at Nikwasi. The mound's excellent state of preservation owes much to the fact that it was never opened by the Smithsonian during the later part of the 19th century. Since 1980, the mound has been on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).[12][2]

Preservation efforts[edit]

In 2012, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee regarded the town of Franklin spraying herbicide as "desecration" and principal chief Michell Hicks wanted the site turned over to the Eastern Band, which the town refused to do. The conflict led in 2016 to the formation of Nikwasi Initiative. In 2017 the Eastern Band bought a building next to the mound, later studying whether to use it as a museum. In May 2019, the town of Franklin transferred the mound to the Nikwasi Initiative. The Tribal Council of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee voted in July 2019 to provide $300,000 to the Nikwasi Initiative.<ref>Ellison, Quintin (July 29, 2019). "Cherokee invest in Nikwasi Mound's future, as preservation efforts pick up steam". Asheville Citizen-Times. The Sylva Herald. Retrieved August 8, 2019.</ref|>

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register of Historic Places". Retrieved 2012-04-09.
  2. ^ a b c d e Debunking Origins – Ancient Nikwasi Mound;; accessed April 2019
  3. ^ a b c "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-07-24. Retrieved 2009-01-19.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ Nikwasi; Holly, Nathaniel F.; "Living Memorials to the Past – The Preservation of Nikwasi and the "Disappearance" of North Carolina's Cherokees"; jStore; [from The North Carolina Historical Review; (© 2015)]; accessed April 2019
  5. ^ Varnod, Francis (1723–4). "A true and exact account of the number and names of all the towns belonging to the Cherrikee Nation,[sic] and the number of men, women and children inhabiting the same taken Anno 1721". London: United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Herbert, John (1936). Journal of Colonel John Herbert, Commissioner Indian Affairs for the Province of South Carolina, October 17, 1727, to March 19, 1727/8. Alexander Samuel Salley, Jr. (ed.). Columbia: Printed for the Historical Commission of South Carolina by the State Co. pp. 12–14.
  7. ^ "Account of the Cherokee Indians, and of Sir Alexander Cuming's Journey Amongst Them". The Historical Register. 16: 11–12. 1731.
  8. ^ a b A Cherokee Encyclopedia.; Conley, Robert J.; Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press; (2007); ISBN 978-0826339515; pp.16, 166–169.
  9. ^ a b Nikwasi; North Carolina Markers,; accessed April 2019
  10. ^ French, Christopher (1977). Duane H. King, E. Raymond Evans (eds.). "Journal of an expedition to South Carolina". Journal of Cherokee Studies. 2 (3): 284.
  11. ^ a b c d The Rutherford Trace and the Destruction of Nikwasi; North Carolina DCR government website; accessed April 2019
  12. ^ a b c d e Nikwasi Initiative Wants Deed to Cherokee Mound; article 06 March 2019; Written by Stone, Jessi; "Smokey Mountain News online;" accessed April 2019
  13. ^ Note: A southeast-oriented doorway is the norm for excavated Cherokee townhouses
  14. ^ Rodning, Christopher B. (2015). Center places and Cherokee towns: archaeological perspectives on Native American architecture and landscape in the Southern Appalachians. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: University of Alabama Press. p. 18.
  15. ^ On the 2009 GPR survey, see Steere, Benjamin A. (2015). "Revisiting platform mounds and townhouses in the Cherokee heartland: a collaborative approach". Southeastern Archaeology. 34 (3): 206. doi:10.1179/2168472315Y.0000000001.

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