Cherokee War (1759-1761)


The conflict that led to war began in Virginia in late 1758, when settlers attacked and killed several Cherokee warriors returning from battles against the French. The Cherokees retaliated in North Carolina in spring 1759, and the conflict spread southward.

(1759–1761). The Cherokee War was partly a local, southeastern phase of the French and Indian War (1754–1763) and partly the result of the Cherokees’ long-held resentments against abuses by English colonists. Prior to 1759 the Cherokees were allied with the English against the French and many served as mercenaries on the Virginia frontier. Around 1755 the Cherokee population was between 7,700 and 9,000, including women and children. They lived in the Piedmont and Appalachian valleys of Virginia and the Carolinas and were divided geographically into lower, middle, and upper towns. Tensions along the western frontier produced isolated incidents of violence between the Cherokees and European settlers. The conflict that led to war began in Virginia in late 1758, when settlers attacked and killed several Cherokee warriors returning from battles against the French. The Cherokees retaliated in North Carolina in spring 1759, and the conflict spread southward.

Militia soldiers at Fort Prince George in South Carolina abused local Cherokee women and sparked reprisals in which South Carolina settlers were killed. In Charleston, Governor William Lyttelton met a Cherokee delegation, led by headmen Oconostota and Osteneco. Lyttelton took the headmen and their companions hostage and carried them along with an expeditionary force of nearly thirteen hundred men up to Fort Prince George. There he negotiated a treaty, signed on December 22, 1759, which provided for Cherokee headmen to be kept hostage until several known Cherokee murderers were surrendered. The treaty did not secure peace. On February 1, 1760, warriors attacked a train of refugees near Long Cane Creek. Two weeks later Oconostota, a signer of the Lyttelton treaty and a former Fort Prince George hostage, set an ambush for Lieutenant Richard Cotymore, commander of the fort. Luring Cotymore from the fort, the Cherokees attacked. Cotymore died, and the garrison executed their remaining hostages in revenge. Governor Lyttelton requested British troops to assist the war effort and then returned to England, leaving the colony in the hands of Lieutenant Governor William Bull, Jr.

Colonel Archibald Montgomery and sixteen hundred British soldiers marched into upcountry South Carolina in April and May 1760 to defeat the Cherokees. Montgomery’s troops burned Estatoe and other lower towns and relieved the garrison at Fort Prince George. Montgomery returned to Charleston convinced that the frontier had been pacified. However, the tribes of the upper towns continued their warfare and laid siege to Fort Loudoun, near the French Broad River, in present-day Tennessee. On August 8, 1760, the besiegers, led by Oconostota, offered the garrison safe passage to Fort Prince George. But once the troops were outside the fort, the Cherokees attacked, killing its commander, Captain Paul Demere, and twenty-three others (the number of hostages killed at Fort Prince George), and they took many captives. Governor Bull took two courses of action. He negotiated to ransom hostages and prepared another expedition.

In May and June 1761 Colonel James Grant, a Scot who had served with Montgomery, led an expedition of more than 2,400 troops to subdue the middle and upper towns. Grant’s troops defeated Cherokee forces and systematically destroyed towns and crops. Fifteen towns and fifteen thousand acres of crops were destroyed, breaking the Cherokees’ power to wage war. By July the Cherokees were defeated, and they negotiated a treaty, which was signed in Charleston on September 23, 1761. By these treaty terms, both Cherokees and colonists agreed to exchange captives. Little Carpenter, a pro-English headman, was named emperor of the Cherokees, and all Frenchmen in Cherokee territory were to be expelled. Finally, a dividing line was established that separated the Cherokees from South Carolina lands. In the division, the lower towns lost much of their hunting lands to Carolina settlers. James Adair, an Indian trader and sympathizer, recorded in his History of the American Indians (1775) that after the war the Cherokee population had been reduced to 2,300 warriors or about 6,900 in number.

Alden, John Richard. John Stuart and the Southern Colonial Frontier: A Study of Indian Relations, War, Trade, and Land Problems in the Southern Wilderness, 1754–1775. 1944. Reprint, New York: Gordian, 1966.

Anderson, William L. “Cherokee War (1759–1761).” In Colonial Wars of North America, 1512–1763, edited by Alan Gallay. New York: Garland, 1996.

Corkran, David H. The Cherokee Frontier: Conflict and Survival, 1740–1762. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962.

Hatley, M. Thomas. The Dividing Paths: Cherokees and South Carolinians through the Era of Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Oliphant, John. Peace and War on the Anglo-Cherokee Frontier, 1756–1763. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Cherokee War (1759-1761)
  • Coverage 1759–1761
  • Author
  • Keywords French and Indian War, conflict, Colonel Archibald Montgomery, Colonel James Grant, History of the American Indians (1775), Little Carpenter
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date July 22, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 20, 2022
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