Cherokee War Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The colonies of South Carolina and Virginia waged war against the Cherokee Indians, utterly destroying several Cherokee communities. The war ended in an expansion of South Carolina’s territory at the Cherokees’ expense, and it presaged the Cherokee alliance with the British in the Revolutionary War.

Summary of Event

The Cherokees, a Native American people inhabiting the southern Appalachian highlands, first encountered visitors from the Old World on May 30, 1540, during the wanderings of the Spanish explorer Soto, Hernando de Hernando de Soto. For more than a century after this first meeting, the Cherokees Cherokees had little direct contact with European colonists. During the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century, trade began to develop between the Cherokees and the English colonies of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina;Cherokees South Carolina. This relationship was strengthened during the Yamassee War (1715-1716) Yamasee War (1715-1716), when the Cherokees were allied with the colonists against other Native American peoples. The relationship was enhanced in 1730, when Scottish aristocrat Cuming, Alexander Alexander Cuming visited the Cherokees and took seven of them to England, where they met King George II and signed a trade agreement. One of the seven was the young Attakullakulla, who would turn out to be the strongest advocate for peace with the English colonists. [kw]Cherokee War (Oct. 5, 1759-Nov. 19, 1761) [kw]War, Cherokee (Oct. 5, 1759-Nov. 19, 1761) Cherokee War (1759-1761) American Indian-American conflicts[American Indian American conflicts] American-American Indian conflicts[American American Indian conflicts] Cherokee War (1759-1761) [g]American colonies;Oct. 5, 1759-Nov. 19, 1761: Cherokee War[1590] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Oct. 5, 1759-Nov. 19, 1761: Cherokee War[1590] [c]Colonization;Oct. 5, 1759-Nov. 19, 1761: Cherokee War[1590] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Oct. 5, 1759-Nov. 19, 1761: Cherokee War[1590] Lyttelton, William Henry Oconostota Montgomery, Archibald Grant, James Attakullakulla Bull, William (1710-1791) Amherst, Lord

The 1750’s saw increasing rivalry between France and England, which evolved into the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763)[Seven Years War] Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), a conflict that had already begun to manifest itself in North America as the French and Indian War (1754-1763) French and Indian War (1754-1763). Because of the threat of the French and their Native American allies, the South Carolinians built Fort Prince George near the Cherokee town of Keowee in 1753 and Fort Loudoun near the town of Chota in 1756. These forts were designed to offer protection to the Cherokees in exchange for their aid to the English in the war with the French.

From 1756 to 1759, even as the forts were being built, several violent incidents between Cherokees and colonists led the way to war. The most critical of these occurred when a group of Cherokees making their way home from an abortive battle with the French-allied Shawnee through the backcountry of Virginia were attacked by settlers, who killed twenty-four of them. The settlers defended their action by accusing the Cherokees of stealing their horses and food. The governor of Virginia, Dinwiddie, Robert Robert Dinwiddie, offered gifts and apologies to the relatives of the victims, but many Cherokees demanded retribution. Cherokee warriors killed twenty-four settlers in South Carolina in revenge.

The Cherokee War can be thought of as officially beginning on October 5, 1759, when William Henry Lyttelton, governor of South Carolina, announced his intention to lead an army into Cherokee territory. On October 20, a peace delegation led by Oconostota, the head warrior of the Cherokees, arrived in Charleston, South Carolina Charles Town in an attempt to prevent further hostilities. They were placed under arrest and forced to march with the troops. When Lyttelton arrived at Fort Prince George on December 10, the prisoners were held captive inside the fort. Attakullakulla, the most important negotiator for the Cherokees, arrived on December 17 and managed to secure the release of Oconostota and several other prisoners, but twenty-two remained hostages. Lyttelton refused to release them until twenty-four Cherokees were executed for the killing of the settlers. He was forced to retreat on December 28, when symptoms of smallpox, which had been raging in the town of Keowee, began to appear among his troops.

Cherokee warriors led by Oconostota surrounded the fort as soon as Lyttelton left. On February 16, 1760, the commander of the fort was lured out with the promise of negotiation and shot by concealed warriors. In retaliation, the soldiers at the fort killed the hostages. This ended any possibility of preventing a full-scale war and led to attacks on settlers.

William Bull, lieutenant governor and Lyttleton’s successor, appealed to General Amherst, Lord Jeffrey Amherst, supreme commander of British forces in North America, for help. On April 1, twelve hundred soldiers commanded by Colonel Archibald Montgomery arrived in Charles Town. On June 1, they reached Keowee, which they burned to the ground. Other towns in the area, known to the colonists as the Lower Towns, were also destroyed, along with all the crops being grown there.

During these attacks, Montgomery’s troops killed sixty Cherokees and took forty prisoners, while facing little opposition. Montgomery relieved the garrison at Fort Prince George and marched toward the area known as the Middle Towns. On June 27, near the town of Echoe, Cherokee warriors launched a surprise attack on the British troops, killing twenty of them and wounding seventy. Although the Cherokees withdrew, the British were forced to retreat. A month later, they left South Carolina to rejoin the war against the French in Canada.

Meanwhile, Oconostota’s warriors had surrounded Fort Loudoun. Deprived of the relief given to Fort Prince George, Captain Paul Demere, commander of the fort, surrendered on August 8 rather than face starvation. The surrendering garrison was to turn over all its munitions and be escorted safely out of Cherokee territory. Because Demere attempted to conceal some of the fort’s munitions, he and thirty-two of his soldiers were killed and the rest taken prisoner.

Amherst sent two thousand troops under the command of Colonel James Grant to avenge the loss of the fort. On March 20, 1761, Grant left Charles Town, arriving at Fort Prince George on May 27. There he met with Attakullakulla, but Grant refused the Cherokee’s offer to intercede with the warriors. On June 7, Grant left the fort and headed for the Middle Towns. On June 10, within 2 miles of the place where Montgomery’s troops were attacked, Grant fought a battle with the Cherokees, leaving ten British soldiers killed and fifty wounded. The Cherokees withdrew because of a lack of ammunition. Grant spent the next month destroying fifteen Middle Towns and fifteen hundred acres of crops. Approximately five thousand Cherokees were forced to flee into the forest to survive on whatever food they could find in the wild.

After this devastating attack, Attakullakulla and several other Cherokee leaders met with Grant at Fort Prince George to ask for peace. A treaty was prepared demanding the execution of four Cherokee leaders, the elimination of all relations between the Cherokees and the French, the sovereignty of the British courts over all offenders within Cherokee territory, and the establishment of a line 26 miles east of Keowee as the border of South Carolina. The Cherokees could not accept the demand for executions. Attakullakulla asked to speak to Bull directly. He was allowed to travel to Charles Town and was welcomed by the governor as a loyal friend of the English. The demand for executions was dropped, and the treaty was signed on September 23. A separate treaty was signed with Virginia;Cherokees Virginia on November 19, officially ending the Cherokee War.


Ultimately, the Cherokee War represented one episode in a longer series of wars, battles, and skirmishes between the Cherokees and the Europeans. Conflicts between the Cherokees and the colonists continued until well after the end of the American Revolution (1783), during which the Cherokees were allied with the British. A series of land cessions to the newly independent United States during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries left the Cherokees with only a small portion of their land. In a final attempt to survive as an independent people, the Cherokees adopted the ways of the Americans, even going so far as to set up a government modeled after that of the United States. Despite this effort, the Cherokees were finally forced to leave their native land for Oklahoma during the infamous Trail of Tears removals in the 1830’s.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Corkran, David H. The Cherokee Frontier: Conflict and Survival, 1740-1762. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962. A detailed account of the complex relations between the Cherokees and English colonists during the mid-1700’s.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hatley, Tom. The Dividing Paths: Cherokees and South Carolinians Through the Era of Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Focuses on the multicultural aspects of the Cherokee War, including a discussion of the roles of women and African slaves.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mails, Thomas E. “Transformation of a Culture.” In The Cherokee People: The Story of the Cherokees from Earliest Origins to Contemporary Times. Tulsa, Okla.: Council Oak Books, 1992. Describes the history of relations between Cherokees and Europeans up to the Trail of Tears.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Milling, Chapman J. “The Cherokee War.” In Red Carolinians. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1940. A detailed, carefully documented account of the war. An important reference despite its age.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nelson, Paul David. General James Grant: Scottish Soldier and Royal Governor of East Florida. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993. The only biography of Grant, who became the first royal governor of colonial Florida after he fought in the Cherokee War. Chapter 3, “Fighting in the South, 1761-1763,” describes his participation in the Cherokee War.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Oliphant, John. Peace and War on the Cherokee Frontier, 1756-1763. Baton Rogue: Louisiana State University Press, 2001. Detailed analysis of relations between the Cherokees and the South Carolina colonists, describing the frontier conflicts that eventually led to the Cherokee War.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Woodward, Grace Steele. “’The King, Our Father.’” In The Cherokees. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963. A history of the Cherokee people from the start of the Yamassee War until the end of the Cherokee War.

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