The town's proper name, in Cherokee, was Dugiluyi (ᏚᎩᎷᏱ), abbreviated to Dugilu (ᏚᎩᎷ). In English it was spelled variously as Tugaloo, Toogelah, Toogoola, etc. Its meaning in Cherokee is uncertain, but seems to refer to a "place at the forks of a stream".
Tugaloo was one of the Chickamauga Cherokee "Lower Towns", the principal one being Keowee. The terms "Lower Towns" and "Lower Cherokee" were given by the English colonists to refer to the Cherokee who lived on the Keowee River, Tugaloo River, and other headstreams of the Savannah River. The terms correspond in general with the Eastern Dialect of Cherokee, which was originally spoken by what the English called the Lower Cherokee in the region of the Lower Towns.
Gen. James Moore ordered an expedition into the lower Cherokee towns in 1715. The expedition, led by Col. Maurice Moore, left Fort Moore and arrived at Tugaloo on December 29, 1715. The expedition left Tugaloo on New Year's Day, 1716, for Nacoochee, and passed through Toccoa. Indian agent George Chicken was part of the expedition, and described Tugaloo as "the most ancient town in these parts." Col. Chicken convinced the Cherokee leaders to fight against the Savannas, Yuchis, and Apalachees. The Cherokees killed eleven Lower Creek ambassadors at Tugaloo, bringing the Cherokees into conflict with the Lower Creeks. This became known as the Tugaloo Massacre during the Yamasee War in 1716. By 1717, Theophilus Hastings operated a trading center among the Creeks at Tugaloo.
U.S. Special Agent to the Cherokees and Chickasaws, General Joseph Martin, was in the Tugaloo town in 1788, where he wrote a letter to Creek leader Alexander McGillivray. Martin sent McGillivray the resolutions of Congress pertaining to Cherokee affairs and expressed a desire for tensions between the United States and the Creek Nation to end. He begs McGillivray's assistance in recovering his horses that were purportedly stolen by Creeks and asks if McGillivray will allow several hundred families to settle in the Tombigbee area. The letter was intercepted, and when the letter was discovered, the North Carolina General Assembly launched an investigation into Martin's conduct. He was later exonerated when it turned out that he was acting as a spy on Patrick Henry's instructions to ferret out the nature of McGillivray's ties to the Spanish, who were then active in Florida.
The area of Tugaloo and the nearby Estatoe village was the site of an archaeological expedition led by the University of Georgia in 1959.
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