The Cherokee War of 1776
In the early of 1776 a combination was entered into by the Tories and Indians for a general massacre of the Whigs residing along the frontiers from North Carolina to Georgia. The Tories set up peeled poles at their houses, around which white cloth was wrapped. These were called passovers.
On June 20, in accordance with previous arrangements, the Indians commenced the work of death among the Whigs, but the Tories sat under their passovers in safety. To this, however, there was one exception. Capt. James Ford, who resided on the Enoree River at a place called the Canebrake, was killed while sitting under his passover. His wife was also killed and his two daughters taken captives. It is supposed that the Indians were instigated into the commission of these horrible atrocities by the arts of John Stuart and Richard Parris, agents of the British Government, and that this work of savage butchery along the frontiers constituted a part of a grand scheme for the overthrow of the patriots in the Province.
But the simultaneous appearance of a British fleet before Charleston and the outbreak of savage fury upon the frontier was insufficient to dampen the ardor of the Republicans. The dwellers upon the sea coast met and repelled the invaders at Fort Moultrie, and we shall soon see how the hardy backwoods men dealt their blows upon their insidious enemies. But the spectacle is melancholy. The poor untutored Indians, delighting in carnage, listens to the suggestions of the foreign mercenaries and becomes the victim of the cupidity and ambition of a lordly aristocracy. The British, though normally Christian and the representatives of a great and Christian Nation, so far forgot the better principles of humanity as to engage in their service the tomahawk and scalping knife of a barbarous race to retain within the sway of their illegal exaction a brave and generous people. Here the intelligent and conscientious Loyalist in South Carolina ought to have seen his error. He ought now to have been convinced of the fact that the British Government had no proper sympathy for British subjects on this continent. That the Parliament would not be at the trouble to know the wants of the people and would not condescend to recognize their rights; and hence incapable of legislating for their benefit.
From various indications among the Indians in the first part of the spring of 1775 the Whigs along the frontiers felt apprehensions of danger, but had no means of knowing the nature of the conspiracy and the extent of the dark cloud which threw its shadows above the horizon. They, however, consulted for their safety. In the month of May a number of soldiers embodied under Gen. Williamson and a camp formed upon Fair forest Creek in the vicinity of Col. Thomas's. Messengers were sent out to ascertain the intention of the Indians. These messengers were killed. As soon as Williamson was informed of the attack upon the people he marched to their rescue. The Indians were overtaken at the residence of Richard Parris, the present site of Greenville Court House. The Indians fled with their allies, the Tories. A number of prisoners were retaken, and among them the daughters of Capt. Ford. Williamson stopped a few days to recruit. Thence he pursued to the nearest towns on Seneca and Tugalo. Different battles and skirmishes occurred in the environs of these towns. Williamson then halted for a while in Seneca Town, on the river of the same name. From this place a number of his men were permitted to go home to obtain clothing and other supplies. Among these were Joseph McJunkin, who served in this expedition in the company of Capt. Joseph Jolly in the regiment of Col. Thomas. "As soon as we returned," says Major McJunkin, "Williamson took up the line of march with a view of penetrating the Indian country to the middle settlements on the Hiwassee River. The Indians were assailed at the same time by Gen. Rutherford of North Carolina , Col. Christian of Virginia, and Col. Jack of Georgia. After passing through several deserted Indian towns Williamson's command passed a part of the North Carolina army, from whom he learned that their main body had gone to attack the valley towns. Soon after passing them, on Sept. 22, the advance of Williamson's army fell into an ambuscade prepared for the North Carolina army. The Indians were posted on the crest and sides of a mountain in the form of a horseshoe. Williamson's advance defiled through the gorge, which might be called the heel, and were suffered to approach the part which may be called the toe. In an instant in front, in rear, on the right and the left, the warwhoop sounded.
The warwhoop was answered by a shout of defiance, and the rifles of the Indians answered by an aim equally deadly. The whites were pressed into a circle by their foes and hence the battle was called the Ring Fight. As soon as the firing was heard the main army pressed to the rescue. Before their arrival the advance had to contend with fearful odds. It was not only a woodsman's fight from tree to tree, but often from hand to hand. Among these, Major Ross of York District had a hard scuffle with an Indian, in which the nerve of the white man prevailed over the dexterity of the red. On the arrival of the main army the Indians were charged on all sides and driven from their chosen position. A large quantity of parched corn, dressed deerskins and moccasins were left on the ground. Among the slain a number of Creek Indians were discovered. In this action Cols. Thomas Neal of York District, John Thomas of Spartanburg, John Lysle of Newberry and Thomas Sumter participated. The latter, who commanded the regulars, particularly distinguished himself. Major Andrew Pickens also gave manifestations of those qualities which subsequently elevated him in the estimation of his fellow soldiers.
The next day the army proceeded to the valley towns along the Hiwassee. A great quantity of corn and other provisions were here destroyed. Some however, was thrown into the river, floated down and lodged in fish traps and was afterward found and preserved by the Indians. The army spent a few days at these towns, then crossed the Hiwassee and turned up a river then called Lawassee. On this latter stream were some beautiful towns. This river flowed nearly from south to north. After descending this river some distance Williamson's army met that from North Carolina. The two encamped near each other one night. Thence Williamson crossed over the southern waters; that is, the head streams of the Cattahoochee River. Here he passed a beautiful fenced town called Chota. Here intelligence was received that the Indians were encamped in force at a town twenty miles distant at a place called Frog Town. Col. Sumter was ordered to lead a party, of which McJunkin was one, and surprise them.
In obedience to this order the party set out and passed over a fearful precipice through a passage not exceeding fourteen inches in width. With the exception of a few miserable squaws nobody was found in the town. The party returned in the darkness of the night without being able to discover the narrowness of their passage near the precipice, as when they went out. The army returned to the Keowee towns. Here a treaty was concluded with the Indians, in which they ceded their lands east of the Oconee Mountains and bound themselves to live in peace. The territory thus acquired by the whites within South Carolina comprises the Districts of Greenville, Anderson and Pickens. A heavy penalty was exacted from the miserable Indians for their alliance with the British and Tories. In some of the battles connected with this campaign white men were taken disguised as Indians and using the same methods of warfare. They were Loyalists.
Williamson's army was disbanded at Seneca Town with the understanding that the frontiers were to be guarded in regular order. Accordingly, a line of posts was established from North Carolina to Georgia.