Cherokee leader, diplomat. Born on the Big Island of the French Broad River, Attakulla Kulla’s birth year is unknown, but biographers place it between 1700 and 1712. Also known as Little Carpenter, he was an influential leader of the Cherokees in the mid-1700s. As a diplomat, he worked to advance the causes of the Overhill Cherokees of eastern Tennessee, especially in the area of trade problems.
In the spring of 1730, Attakulla Kulla was part of a delegation of Cherokees taken to London to cement a recent allegiance to King George II. Although Attakulla Kulla never forgot this trip, his loyalties to his people superseded those to Britain. Around 1750 he visited the Shawnees of Ohio and the Senecas of New York, two nations allied with the French. He returned with stories that the Carolina government was trying to encourage the Catawbas and Creeks to fight the Cherokees. The arrival of northern tribes plus the circulation of these stories prompted the people of the Lower Towns to acts of violence against the white traders among them. The Carolina government responded with a trade embargo against the Cherokees.
As part of the price of restoring trade, the Carolinians required that Attakulla Kulla be turned over. Before he could be captured, however, Attakulla Kulla left for Williamsburg, Virginia, in June 1751, seeking to bypass the Carolina Indian trade and establish relations with Virginia. South Carolina Governor James Glen moved to circumvent such actions and dispatched a letter to Virginia denouncing Attakulla Kulla as a man of no standing among his people. He further warned that Virginia traders would be seized if they entered the Cherokee country that was within the boundaries of South Carolina.
Attakulla Kulla’s mission failed, and in 1753 he made peace with Governor Glen by accepting missions for the colonial government. During his meeting with Glen, Attakulla Kulla justified his past disaffection by noting that the Overhill Cherokees lacked sufficient trade goods and traders. To correct these trade irregularities and eliminate the presence of French Indian allies, Attakulla Kulla requested in 1757 that South Carolina build a chain of forts in the backcountry. The Carolinians responded by constructing Fort Prince George in South Carolina and Fort Loudoun in Tennessee.
In the spring of 1759, officers from Fort Prince George abused several women in the Cherokee village of Keowee, prompting the formation of a war party from the Lower Town Cherokees of western South Carolina that killed twenty-two Carolinians. Governor William Henry Lyttelton responded by placing the Cherokees under a trade embargo so severe that a delegation of chiefs visited Charleston to seek relief. Lyttelton held them as hostages until the Cherokees who had killed the Carolinians turned themselves in for punishment. Attakulla Kulla negotiated a treaty with Lyttelton to allow some chiefs to be released while retaining the others to await exchange. Although more bloodshed followed, one of the Overhill headmen, Old Hopp of Chota, concluded a peace treaty that ended Carolina’s Cherokee War.
During the Revolutionary War, Superintendent of Indian Affairs John Stuart contacted Attakulla Kulla hoping to use the Cherokees against the Carolina rebels. Not long after, patriot forces reached out to the Cherokees and invited a delegation including Attakulla Kulla to Williamsburg. The aging chief declined the request for aid stating, “We cannot fight our Father, King George.” Before the conclusion of the war, Attakulla Kulla died, either in 1780 or 1781.
Hatley, M. Thomas. The Dividing Paths: Cherokees and South Carolinians through the Era of Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Kelly, James C. “Notable Persons in Cherokee History: Attakullakulla.” Journal of Cherokee Studies 3 (winter 1978): 2–34.
Milling, Chapman J. Red Carolinians. 1940. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1969.
Morris, Michael P. The Bringing of Wonder: Trade and the Indians of the Southeast, 1700–1783. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1999.
———. “The High Price of Trade: Anglo-Indian Trade Mistakes and the Fort Loudoun Disaster.” Journal of Cherokee Studies 17 (1997): 3–15.