Cherokee Campaigns Tour

Beginning in May of 1776, Cherokees angered by repeated violations of the treaties establishing the frontier border attacked European settlements from Virginia to South Carolina. They received encouragement from northern tribes, though older Cherokee leaders and British agents counseled restraint (despite American rumors to the contrary). But colonist threats added weight to the belief Americans were already planning an attack. In a series of preemptive strikes fostered in part by Tsiyu Gansi-ni, “Dragging Canoe,” they killed at least 40 people in North Carolina alone.

The overall commander of the western militia, Brig. Gen. Griffith Rutherford, gained permission from the North Carolina Council of Safety to retaliate by destroying Cherokee villages—whether or not they were involved in the attacks. He gathered various county regiments at Quaker Meadows (modern Morganton) and marched to Davidson’s Fort east of today’s Asheville. There he attracted additional soldiers and added supplies before moving west on September 1, in loose coordination with militia armies from the brand-new neighboring states.

This tour follows Rutherford’s campaign of 1776 for much of its route, now called the “Rutherford Trace,” and visits some of the significant Cherokee village sites from it and two other campaigns against that nation. (A fourth in June 1782 essentially followed the same route with the same results, but few details are known.) You can stay closer to the original line of march and even take their entire trip by using the Rutherford Trace Route pages linked from the bottoms of stops 1–3 and 8.

The last stop proves the Cherokee survive and continue to thrive.