Dragging Canoe’s World

By Sherry Teal, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

In addition to assisting visitors to the Heritage Center of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County, I am researching Tsi’yu-gunsini (Dragging Canoe), chief of the Chickamauga Cherokee, as part of my assistantship with the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP). Dragging Canoe (c. 1738-1792) was one of the most influential and politically powerful men in the Southeast from the 1770s into the 1790s. You could not travel in what is now Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, or South Carolina without knowing his name. He and his brothers (The Badger and Little Owl) had a political reach that went from Dragging Canoe’s head city near present-day Chattanooga through Indiana to Michigan, and from Pensacola, Florida, to New Orleans, Louisiana. This enormous area of influence was during an era in which 20 to 40 miles on a horse per day was possible but not necessarily guaranteed due to terrain, weather, and the quality of one’s horse.

NC and SC Map from LOC

Inset of 1777 map, by Henry Mouzon, of the northern Georgia region where Dragging Canoe would have been active. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Dragging Canoe was politically connected to the British, Chickasaw, Choctaw, French, Muscogee, Shawnee, and Spanish nations. Accounts of his speeches have been quoted by U.S. presidents, and his military strategies have been studied by West Point generals. Dragging Canoe operated from his head town, which is inside the borders of present-day Tennessee. The information I have gathered about him could be used to engage Tennesseans, and visitors to Tennessee, in the story of Dragging Canoe and the Chickamauga Cherokee via waysides, historical markers, interpretive exhibits, and even park space. The research I’ve conducted thus far could also be transformed using GIS into a map overlay or a StoryMap (ArcGIS) to make his story interactive online. Lesson plans based upon my research could also be developed.

As a researcher, I want to find more than just old letters and maps and then arrange facts into a timeline. I hope to relate an interpretive story of Dragging Canoe’s life. To do so, I need to understand the environment that shaped Dragging Canoe and the environment he shaped. Primary sources are critical for establishing that understanding. However, there are few rigorously researched books about Dragging Canoe or the Chickamauga Cherokee that refer to these historic documents themselves. Most secondary sources refer back to another secondary source, John P. Brown’s Old Frontiers, which was published in 1938. Since his book was published so long ago, Brown’s primary sources have been scattered throughout collections in the Southeast, the National Archives, and the British National Archives. So, how would these documents be interpreted now? What letters and words did J.P. Brown include and exclude? This is one of the questions that researchers have to consider when examining a person in historical context, since the use and interpretation of primary sources changes over time.

The world of the southeastern United States in the late 1760s through the late 1790s was volatile. Each sovereign American Indian nation in the Southeast had its own independent methods for interacting with Euro-Americans. These approaches were fluid and changed depending upon multiple factors, including internal power shifts, the effects of disease, relationships between France, Britain, and Spain, and the swiftly changing topography of the region due to the creation of roads, forts, and towns. Dragging Canoe has a legendary presence in historical records and in the recorded memories of people who met him.

Topo Map

This map shows the area of Running Creek at the bottom right corner. In 1777, Dragging Canoe and hundreds of other Cherokee who supported resistance established strategic towns along the Tennessee River at places like Chickamauga Creek and Running Water. Others then called these Cherokee “Chickamaugas.” This map inset from an 1895 topographical map gives us an idea of the rugged terrain of the area that Dragging Canoe used to his advantage in defense. Courtesy of the United States Geographical Survey’s historical map collections.

During the 1760s, the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Muscogee still retained a great portion of their original homelands throughout what is now Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of trade paths created by the people of these nations throughout the woodlands, open fields, and marshes of the Southeast. Euro-Americans started to use these byways as well for trade and later for settlement, which each American Indian nation tolerated in different ways. In the 1770s, pressures for attaining land from American Indians west of the Appalachians hit a fever pitch as tensions between Britain, France, and the Colonies mounted. Dragging Canoe was fiercely opposed to the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals on March 17, 1775. This was an illegal land sale between Richard Henderson’s Transylvania Land Company and some of the Cherokee chiefs (including Dragging Canoe’s father) in the area of East Tennessee and Southeast Kentucky. The state of Virginia and the state of North Carolina quickly declared the sale illegal since at the time only governments—not vested individuals—could negotiate land sales with American Indians.

Dragging Canoe quickly put his dissension into physical action. He led a group of other Cherokee supporters to settle in the steep gorges of the lower Tennessee River valley and its complex tributaries and creek systems near present-day Chattanooga. From this strategic location, he planned and executed many campaigns against settlements, retaliated against the burning of Cherokee towns by American militias, and communicated with such American, British, French, and Spanish officials as Alexander Cameron, James Robertson, John Sevier, and Henry Stuart. Dragging Canoe remained true to his course of resistance until his death near Running Water in 1792.

A word about Dragging Canoe’s name: The popular story goes that Cherokee warriors were expected to be able to push their fully loaded war canoes into the water unaided in order to go to war with a party. At a young age, Dragging Canoe was determined to go to war with his kin and was seen “dragging” a canoe toward the water. Thus, the name is honorific. American Indians received names under a variety of circumstances and for a variety of reasons. The process of naming is different across many tribes. A name that may seem puzzling to Euro-American ears may have connotations that are not clearly understood but are deserving of respect. Names often hold meanings for American Indian communities and place individuals specifically in the context of those communities.

See Also:

Some papers that mention Dragging Canoe can be found at the Library of Congress online: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwsplink.html

A great resource link that has many letters between James Robertson and Governor Richard Caswell of North Carolina, with numerous references to Dragging Canoe: http://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/

November is Native American Heritage Month; see http://nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov/ for more information.


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Public Historians, Scholar-Activists, or Both?

By Marquita Reed, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

The term scholar-activist was used with reference to me and my colleagues at last month’s Second Annual Slave Dwelling Project Conference in Charleston, South Carolina. The conference offered me a chance as a public historian and academic scholar to observe the various forms that public history can take and to learn what it means to be a scholar-activist in the public history field.

The Aiken Rhett House in Charleston, S.C.

Behind the Aiken-Rhett House in Charleston, S.C., showing where enslaved people once lived and worked on both sides of the courtyard.

Our panel, “Transitional Spaces, Transitional Times,” examined various ways in which to look at the African American experience. We explored how African Americans carved out their own spaces in the southern landscape. My portion of the presentation focused on the McLemore House located in Franklin, Tennessee. For the panel, we wanted to create a discourse on how the home built by Harvey McLemore in 1880 could be used to tell a bigger story about the neighborhood and the African American experience. After the presentation, one of the audience members referred to us all as scholar-activists and mentioned that the academic history world could use more scholars like us.

After attending other panels at the conference, I noticed that many of the presenters were engaging in a form of scholar-activism. Panels such as “An Observation as Interpretation: How to Engage an Audience Through Digital Media” and “Who Lived This History? Rediscovering Stories of the Enslaved” presented ways in which academic history can reach the public and also uncover histories that remain forgotten or untold. Our panel and the other panels at the conference offered engaging ways in which to combine academic scholarship with various forms of public history so as to enhance local communities–thus the term “scholar-activism.”

Courtyard of the Aiken Rhett House in Charleston, S.C.

Courtyard of the Aiken-Rhett House in Charleston, S.C.

As public historians, we are charged with connecting history and community. To say that public historians share authority and help reveal untold stories is too trite. The various forms of public history, including museums, monuments, and digital history, create a platform for sharing neglected histories. The public historian can do this not only through house museums but also through online outreach via blogs, documentaries, and podcasts. The conference offered me a chance to learn new ways in which to branch out in public history. Public history is fluid and should be used to help connect communities to the past, engage in conversations about the present, and offer learning experiences for the future.

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Late Nights, Early Mornings, and A Lot of Walking: My Journey Through the Ultimate Summer Experience of MESDA

By Torren Gatson, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

Last summer I was given the unique opportunity to attend the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) annual Summer Institute. This month-long course enriched my professional skills and gave me deeper insight into the importance of material culture and cultural and architectural landscapes. The institute focused on the Low Country (South Carolina and Georgia).

The 2015 MESDA summer institute group photo.

The 2015 MESDA Summer Institute group photo.

I was optimistic at the onset of the program. I had heard the numerous rumors and lore associated with the MESDA experience. I was warned that it involved a lot of in-depth primary source research and that I could expect many long nights combing through probate records, wills, and deeds, as well as hours analyzing material culture. These experiences did come to pass, but I also discovered a vast network of sources and a program dedicated to not only promoting the study of material culture, but also encouraging students to grasp the value of using objects for historical research and interpretation.

My journey would not have been complete without the presence of Center for Historic Preservation (CHP) director Dr. Van West, who serves as MESDA’s visiting scholar for the Summer Institute. I had the pleasure of walking through the hot, humid, and at times sticky Charleston and Savannah weather with him. As a member of the CHP, I was fully prepared for a “walking tour” of the city, as Dr. West described it in our briefing. I was confident that some of my fellow colleagues were unaware that a walking tour meant a full day of exercise and sightseeing.

MESDA summer institute participants examining architectural details in Charleston.

MESDA Summer Institute participants examining architectural details in Charleston.

Having the privilege to walk through St. Marys, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; and Savannah, Georgia, while receiving information from distinguished scholars in architecture and Colonial history gave me and my fellow scholars an experience unmatched by our regular coursework.

The end product of each institute is for students to produce original research about an object housed within MESDA’s vast collection. I selected the 1842 Charleston slave badge currently on display in the Charleston Parlor of MESDA’s collection.

An 1842 Slave Badge marked “Mechanic,” currently on display at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.

An 1842 slave badge marked “Mechanic,” currently on display at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.

To complete my research, I was literally given the keys to all of MESDA’s resources, along with access to the library staff. This abundance of support created a space for true scholarship to emerge. As one employee of MESDA told me, “When you guys arrive, we literally drop everything to ensure that your experience is excellent and you have all the resources to succeed…. If that means getting off my computer in the middle of an e-mail so that you can print, then you take precedent.” That institutional support was just one of the many reasons that the summer institute had such a profound effect on both my research abilities and my literary skills. Although the institute lasted only four weeks, the content and direction provided by a variety of visiting scholars will undoubtedly influence my future endeavors in material culture and other fields within public history.

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A Passion for the Past: The Webb School in McKenzie, Tennessee

By Annabeth Hayes, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

This is only my first semester in the Public History M.A. Program at MTSU, and I am already seeing so much overlap between my academic classes and my fieldwork project for the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP). Many of my class readings have demonstrated that personal connection and identity were the foundations of early preservation efforts. This kind of close relationship also provides a meaningful experience for most visitors to historic sites. People want to have a personal connection to the history they come into contact with.

This is very apparent in my current project for the CHP. I’m working on the Webb School project in McKenzie, Tennessee. Webb was an African American school in West Tennessee from the 1920s until 1966. It began as a Rosenwald school, one of hundreds of African American schools in Tennessee funded in part by Julius Rosenwald in the early twentieth century. Originally named the Carroll County Training School, it was later renamed the Webb School in honor of John L. Webb, who made a generous donation to the school. A fire destroyed the original building so funds were raised to buy the former McTyeire College, which had been a school for white students.

Webb High School Graduation, most likely 1951. The motto reads, “Opportunity we must grasp today, for tomorrow it may not come our way.” Photo courtesy of Webb Alumni Association.

Photograph of Webb High School graduation, most likely 1951. The motto reads, “Opportunity we must grasp today, for tomorrow it may not come our way.” Photo courtesy of the Webb Alumni Association.

Today, Webb’s graduates are heavily involved with their former school. Even though the last class graduated in 1966, the alumni still hold a great deal of passion for their alma mater. The Webb Alumni Association bought the former school building in 1972, and today the goal of the CHP’s partnership with the alumni is to install an exhibition in their meeting room within the school. We are researching, writing, and designing panels and displays that will incorporate the various photographs and memorabilia that the alumni have saved over the years. These items include sewing machines from the home economics classes, a piano, a diploma folder, numerous class photos, a score book, and other items.

Professor J. L. Seets was the principal of Webb School from its founding until he retired in 1957. Photo courtesy of Webb Alumni Association.

Professor J. L. Seets was the principal of the Webb School from its founding until he retired in 1957. Photo courtesy of the Webb Alumni Association.

In the 1970s, Webb alumni rallied together to buy their former school building. Now, in 2015, they are working with the CHP to ensure that history is remembered. They have shared many wonderful artifacts and interesting stories. To add to these stories, I have also been doing additional research on the school and its beloved longtime principal, Professor J.L. Seets.

Many of the alumni who are involved in the project actually attended Webb after Professor Seets retired. However, he is still very much a part of their high school memories. He was a well-known figure in the African American community in McKenzie, but he was also highly involved in black education throughout the region. He was a member of various boards, served as president of the West Tennessee Educational Congress, and attended numerous education conferences. Seets was dedicated to education and to his students, and his legacy will be commemorated in the exhibition.

The Webb School’s alumni are excited to share their history with their families and the younger generations. Thanks to their commitment to their past, the alumni are close to achieving that dream.

Webb students and faculty enjoying a meal. Photo Courtesy of Webb Alumni Association.

Webb students and faculty enjoying a meal. Photo Courtesy of the Webb Alumni Association.

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Fertile Ground: Studying Southern Gardens and Connections to African American History at Old Salem

Dr. Susan W. Knowles, Digital Humanities Research Fellow, Center for Historic Preservation

Even with torrential rains for three days straight, the twentieth annual conference on restoring southern gardens and landscapes at Old Salem Museums & Gardens provided a delightful cornucopia of learning and tasting. “Learning from the Past, Planting for the Future” featured scholarly sessions based, in many instances, on historic documents or objects, as well as presentations with practical tips for gardening, using garden produce, and designing landscapes in our region today. One particular strength of this year’s conference was the programming related to African American history and culture.

One of the gardens at Old Salem.

One of the gardens at Old Salem.

Ira Wallace, one of the owners of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, kicked off the conference on Thursday afternoon with a talk on the rich cultural context that can be uncovered through the activity of seed-swapping. Family stories, and invaluable first-person accounts of what grows well where and under what circumstances, are often revealed by seed-savers when conveying seeds. Farmers and gardeners have historically saved seeds for use the following season–and history records that some seeds were exported from the New World to the Old and that other seeds, as well as tubers and bulbs, came into the New World through European, African, and Caribbean auspices. Wallace also gave an overview of the contemporary revival of seed-saving initiated by back-to-the-earthers beginning in about 1975.

A blogger for Mother Earth News and other publications, Wallace makes it her duty to meet the public as often as she can take time away from working on the sixty-acre organic farm she helped found at the Acorn Community in central Virginia. One of the highlights of her year is the Heritage Harvest Festival, which she co-organizes annually at Monticello. Wallace’s book titled The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast (2013) contains many jewels of wisdom that can only be gleaned from someone who has devoted years to hoeing the rows.

Garden at Old Salem planted using diagonal rows, following the plans of Philip Christian Reuter.

A garden at Old Salem planted using diagonal rows, following the plans of Philip Christian Reuter.

Eric Jackson and Ellen McCullough, gardeners who plan, till, plant, and maintain the vegetable, herb, and flower gardens of Old Salem, echoed Wallace on the value of “seeds with stories” as a way to connect people, not only with each other, but also with their own history and heritage. Much of the plant inventory at Old Salem is based upon archival records of seeds and plants in the research collections at MESDA (Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts), which is located just at the edge of the historic district. The gardens Jackson and McCullough oversee interpret the period from 1766 to 1850, by which time modern cultivation methods had started to take hold and commercial seeds had begun to be widely available for purchase. An advertisement from the Old Salem print shop proprietor and “seed seller” John C. Blum, announced that he had seeds available for purchase from the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky.

Reuter garden diagram sign, Old Salem.

Reuter garden design sign, Old Salem.

Fortunately, the rain broke long enough for us to walk through a garden whose layout and plantings are based on a drawing created by Moravian surveyor Philip Christian Reuter in the 1760s. The next morning, Johanna Metzgar Brown, director of collections and curator of Moravian decorative arts at Old Salem, used a Reuter map, as well as early drawings, prints, and paintings by artists and residents of Old Salem, to illustrate the development of land use and industry there.

Friday afternoon’s session was held in the historic St. Philips African Moravian Church, a handsome brick building dating from 1861. We sat in the same pews from which members of the congregation heard Federal chaplain Seth Clark read a proclamation declaring them free persons on May 21, 1865, according to a Civil War Trails marker outside the building.

The church was erected on the same lot as the “Strangers’ Graveyard,” a plot of land set aside at the town’s margins for non-Moravian burials. By 1816, this graveyard, whose earliest burials date from 1775, was also serving Moravians of African descent—not exactly “strangers,” but the cemetery reflects the segregated nature of pre-Civil War society. The graveyard was discontinued for burials in 1859. Historical archaeology during the 1990s uncovered gravestones under the brick church building, some of which can be seen through viewing panels in the floor of an innovative archaeology gallery that has been creatively inserted into an alcove within the church building. Other tombstones can be seen at the interpretive center next door, which is a reconstruction of the original African Moravian Log Church founded in 1823.

St. Philips African Moravian Church, Old Salem.

St. Philips African Moravian Church, Old Salem.

Cheryl Harry, director of African American programming at Old Salem, introduced speaker Michael Twitty, an expert in African foodways and the gardens of enslaved persons. He blogs at Afroculinaria.com. Twitty wove historical threads together, including the fact that the African continent was once home to two thousand indigenous plants, and he also stressed the multiple uses that many food plants afforded subsistence gardeners. And, he positioned African American cuisine as a major source of the core principles of the currently fashionable “slow food” movement. Further underscoring this fascinating blend of cultures, at the session break Harry provided a taste of “Queen Charlotte’s Cake” from a recipe in Malinda Russell’s A Domestic Cook Book Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen (1866). Russell, who was a free woman of color born in Tennessee, may have chosen to include the cake because the wife of Britain’s King George III was rumored to have a trace of African ancestry.

The planned dinner on the grounds at St. Philips Church had to be relocated because, after two days of pelting downpours, the “ground” was saturated. But Twitty’s presentation stayed with us as we sampled the feast prepared by members of the local African American community. We enjoyed delicate cow peas, tender collard greens, and sliced sweet potatoes, whose botanical lineage can be traced to the African continent.

Garden at Old Salem.

One of the gardens at Old Salem.

Saturday’s session included a presentation by garden designer Jane Baber White on the restoration of the Lynchburg, Virginia, garden of Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer. The Anne Spencer House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, after which White recruited the Hillside Garden club, a group of white women, to aid in the garden restoration. These women, most of whom were unfamiliar with Spencer’s writings, came to know her through her garden. Today, the Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum, restored by many hands, including the Garden Conservancy, demonstrates how this creative woman found inspiration and solace in the luxuriant small garden she nurtured while living in a small southern city during the “Jim Crow” era.

The conference drew a wide range of participants–museum curators, archivists, landscape managers at historic sites, historians, educators, and home gardeners–and its lessons were many. Saturday’s Cobblestone Farmers Market featured an array of local growers whose tables, set out on a picturesque cobblestone street at Old Salem, were piled with heirloom fruits and vegetables. Buying and tasting a variety of old-fashioned root vegetables and recognizing that our climate also nurtures ingredients more commonly associated with Asian cuisine, such as Shitake mushrooms, Thai sweet peppers, and fresh baby ginger, reinforced one of the conference’s themes: seeking the widest possible diversity in what we grow and consume in order to honor and preserve our lineage of global edibles.

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A Remarkable Site Along the Trail of Tears in Kentucky: The Crider Tavern Complex

By Amy Kostine, Trail of Tears Project Historian, Center for Historic Preservation

More than seventy places, spanning nine states, have been recognized by the National Park Service as certified sites on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. This number grows on a regular basis as landowners of property with a verified, direct association with the Trail or managers of interpretive facilities located near the Trail partner with the National Park Service’s National Trails Intermountain Region to certify their sites, thus agreeing to help protect, preserve, and interpret Trail resources. One of these certified sites is the Crider Tavern Complex, located on private property off the Old Mexico Road in Fredonia, Kentucky.

Crider Corncrib (left); Crider Tavern (right)

Crider Corncrib (left); Crider Tavern (right).

In 1836, Jacob B. Crider, a native of Pittsylvania, Virginia, purchased 200 acres of land in present-day Caldwell County, Kentucky, and established a homestead, complete with a hand-hewn log tavern (now covered in a brick veneer), corncrib, and likely a number of additional outbuildings. He shared this homestead with his wife, Orpha. Although the two had eleven children together, only four survived to adulthood. Crider’s log tavern and corncrib remain extant today, along with the Crider-Wyatt family cemetery, which was established in 1839 with the burial of Jacob and Orpha’s 4 ½-year-old son, Jasper. Another cemetery, known locally as the Brooks Cemetery and established in 1831, is also located on the property. From 1837 to 1839, twelve detachments totaling approximately 12,000 Cherokee took what is now known as the Northern Route of the Trail of Tears to Indian Territory, passing by the Crider property on their journey. A son of Jacob B. Crider, Jacob Ewing Crider, later recalled that his father sold the government agents supplies for the Cherokee while they were on their journey.

In order to better understand the history of this site and its preservation needs, the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP) partnered with the National Trails Intermountain Region to complete a Historic Structure Report (HSR) for the property, focusing primarily on the hand-hewn log corncrib, which is now housed underneath a modern barn. CHP graduate research assistants Tiffany Momon and Noel Harris, along with CHP director Dr. Carroll Van West and I, were charged with completing the HSR for this historic site. In April 2015, we visited the property in preparation for the report and were joined by president of the Kentucky Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association Alice Murphree, local history buff Donnie Boone, and property owner Linda Bennett.

From left to right: Noel Harris, Dr. Carroll Van West, Alice Murphree, Tiffany Momon, and Donnie Boonie inspect the southeast elevation of the Crider corncrib.

From left to right: Noel Harris, Dr. Carroll Van West, Alice Murphree, Tiffany Momon, and Donnie Boone inspect the southeast elevation of the Crider corncrib.

The unusually large Crider corncrib measures approximately thirty-one feet on each side, contains both square and half-cut corner notches, has a puncheon floor, and rests on a stone pier foundation. Its hand-hewn logs range in size from approximately 10-13” in width and 6-8” in depth. The crib’s only openings appear on its northeast elevation and include a batten door with a “Z” brace and a small opening to the loft. Wooden pegs, instead of nails, hold the door bucks in place. The corncrib’s historic roof was destroyed by a tornado in the 1980s. Recognizing the architectural and historical importance of the building, the owners constructed a metal barn around the corncrib to protect and preserve it. As a result of this effort by the owners, the corncrib remains in good condition today.

Crider-Wyatt Cemetery (left); Brooks Cemetery (right).

Crider-Wyatt Cemetery (left); Brooks Cemetery (right).

The Crider Corncrib HSR is just one of many projects that the CHP is undertaking to help interpret and preserve Trail of Tears resources with partners across the Southeast. The final HSR is available to read on the CHP’s Web site.

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