Skip to content Anglo-Cherokee War or First Cherokee War (1758-1761)

The Anglo-Cherokee War (1758–1761) (Cherokee: “War with those in the red coats” or “War with the English”), also known (from the Anglo-European perspective) as the Cherokee War, the Cherokee Uprising, the Cherokee Rebellion, was a conflict between British forces in North America and Cherokee Indians during the French and Indian War. The British and the Cherokee were formally allies at the start of the war, but each party repeatedly suspected the other of betrayal. Tensions between British-American settlers and the Cherokee increased during the 1750s.

i-    Prelude
If James Mooney is correct, the first conflict of the Cherokee with the British occurred in 1654 when a force from Jamestown Settlement supported by a large party of Pamunkey attacked a town of the “Rechaherians” (referred to as the “Rickohakan” by German traveller James Lederer when he passed through in 1670) that had between six and seven hundred warriors, only to be driven off.

After siding with the Province of South Carolina in the Tuscarora War of 1711-1715, the Cherokee turned on their erstwhile British allies in the Yamasee War of 1715-1717 along with the other tribes until switching sides again midway, which ensured the defeat of the latter. They remained staunch allies of the British until the French and Indian War of 1754-1763.

At the outbreak of the war, the Cherokee were staunch allies of the British, taking part in such far-flung campaigns as those against Fort Duquesne (at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) and the Shawnee of the Ohio Country. In 1755, a band of Cherokee 130-strong under Ostenaco (Ustanakwa) of Tomotley (Tamali) took up residence in a fortified town at the mouth of the Ohio River at the behest of their fellow British allies, the Iroquois.

For several years, French agents from Fort Toulouse had been visiting the Overhill Cherokee on the Hiwassee and Tellico Rivers, and made in-roads into those places. The strongest pro-French Cherokee leaders were Mankiller (Utsidihi) of Great Tellico (Talikwa), Old Caesar of Chatuga (Tsatugi), and Raven (Kalanu) of Great Hiwassee (Ayuhwasi). The First “Beloved Man” (Uku) of the nation, Kanagatucko (Kanagatoga, or “Stalking Turkey”, aka ‘Old Hop’), was himself very pro-French, as was the nephew who was succeeded at his death in 1760, Standing Turkey (Kunagadoga).

The former site of the Coosa chiefdom during the 16th century Spanish explorations was reoccupied in 1759 by a Muscogee contingent under Big Mortar (Yayatustanage) in support of the pro-French Cherokee in Great Tellico and Chatuga, and as a step toward his planned alliance of Muscogee, Cherokee, Shawnee, Chickasaw, and Catawba, which would have been the first of its kind in the South. Though such an alliance did not come into being until Dragging Canoe, Big Mortar still rose to be the leading chief of the Muscogee after the French and Indian War.

ii- Early stages
The Anglo-Cherokee War was initiated in 1758 by Moytoy (Amo-adawehi) of Citico in retaliation for mistreatment of Cherokee warriors at the hands of their British and colonial allies. Moytoy’s horse-stealing began the domino effect that ended with the murders of Cherokee hostages at Fort Prince George near Keowee and the massacre of the garrison of Fort Loudoun near Chota.

Those two connected events catapulted the whole nation into war until the actual fighting ended in 1761, with the Cherokee led by Oconostota (Aganstata) of Chota (Itsati), Attakullakulla (Atagulgalu) of Tanasi, Ostenaco of Tomotley, Wauhatchie (Wayatsi) of the Lower Towns, and Round O of the Middle Towns.

During the second year of the French and Indian War, the British had sought Cherokee assistance against the French enemies and their Indian allies.

This came after they had accurate reports that the French were planning to build forts in Cherokee territory as they had already done with Ft. Charleville at the Great Salt Lick (now Nashville, Tennessee, on the middle Cumberland River), Ft. Toulouse, near the present Montgomery, Alabama, Ft. Rosalie at Natchez, Mississippi, Ft. St. Pierre at Yazoo, Mississippi, and Ft. Tombeckbe on the Tombigbee River). After the Cherokee agreed to be their allies, the British hastened to build forts of their own, completing Fort Prince George near Keowee (in South Carolina) among the Lower Towns; in 1756, Fort Loudoun near Chota at the mouth of the Tellico River; and Fort Dobbs in the midst of the Hill and Valley towns west of North Carolina. Once the forts were built, the Cherokee raised 400 warriors to fight in western Virginia under Ostenaco. Oconostota and Attakullakulla led another large group to attack Fort Toulouse, located in present-day Alabama.

In 1758 the Cherokee participated in the taking of Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.) Feeling their effort unappreciated, Kanagatucko, then the leading chief of the Cherokee, ordered his warriors home. Later a contingent of Cherokee warriors (under Moytoy of Citico) accompanied Virginian troops on a campaign against the Shawnee of Ohio Country. During the expedition, the enemy proved elusive. After several weeks, the Tuscarora contingent left, while that of the Cherokee dwindled. The Cherokee and Virginians fell to fighting each other, with the Virginians’ defeating the Cherokee, killing and scalping about 20 of them. Later, the Virginians claimed the scalps as those of Shawnees and collected bounties for them.

iii- War
While some Cherokee leaders still called for peace, others led retaliatory raids on outlying pioneer settlements. The Cherokee finally declared open war against the British in 1759, fighting independently and not as allies of France. A number of Muskogee under Big Mortar moved up to Coosawatie, the original Coosa chiefdom at the time of de Soto. These people had long been French allies in support of the Cherokee pro-French faction at Great Tellico.

The governor of South Carolina, William Henry Lyttelton raised an army of 1,100 men and marched to confront the Lower Towns of the Cherokee, which quickly agreed to peace. Two Cherokee warriors accused of the murder of white settlers were turned over for execution. Twenty-nine chiefs given as hostages were imprisoned at Fort Prince George.

Governor Lyttleton returned to Charleston, but the Cherokee were still angry and continued to attack frontier settlements into 1760. In February of 1760, the Cherokees attacked Fort Prince George in an attempt to rescue their hostages. The fort’s commander was killed. His replacement executed all of the hostages and fended off the attack. The Cherokee also attacked the town of Fort Ninety Six, but it withstood the siege. Lesser posts in the South Carolina backcountry did fall to Cherokee raids.

Governor Lyttleton appealed to Jeffrey Amherst, the British commander in North America, who sent Archibald Montgomerie with an army of 1,200 troops (the Royal Scots and the 77th Regiment of Foot (Montgomerie’s Highlanders)) to South Carolina. Montgomerie’s campaign razed some of the Cherokee Lower Towns, including Keowee. It ended with a defeat at Echoee (Itseyi) Pass when Montgomerie tried to enter the Middle Towns territory. Later in 1760, the Overhill Cherokee defeated the British colonists at Fort Loudoun (Tennessee) and took it over.

In 1761, Montgomerie was replaced by James Grant. He led an army of 2,600 men, the largest force to enter the southern Appalachians to date against the Cherokee. His army moved through the Lower Towns, defeated the Cherokee at Echoee Pass, and proceeded to raze about 15 Middle Towns, burning fields of crops along the way.

iv- Treaties
In November 1761, the Cherokee signed a peace treaty with Virginia and another with South Carolina the following year. Lt. Henry Timberlake, Sgt. Thomas Sumter, an African slave, and the interpreter William Shorey travelled into the Overhills to deliver a copy of the treaty with Virginia to the Cherokee. Timberlake’s diary and map of his journey were published in 1765. His diary contained what historians assessed was an accurate description of Cherokee culture.

Pro-French Standing Turkey was deposed and replaced as First Beloved Man with pro-British Attakullakulla. John Stuart became British Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern District, out of Charlestown, South Carolina, and was the main contact of the Cherokee with the British government. His first deputy, Alexander Cameron, lived among them, first at Keowee, then at Toqua on the Little Tennessee, while his second deputy, John McDonald, set up a hundred miles to the southwest on the west side of Chickamauga River, where it was crossed by the Great Indian Warpath.

During the war, a number of major Cherokee towns were destroyed by the army under British general James Grant and never reoccupied, most notably Kituwa, the inhabitants of which migrated west and took up residence at Great Island Town on the Little Tennessee River among the Overhill Cherokee.

v- Aftermath
In the aftermath of the overall war, Louisiana Territory east of the Mississippi went to the British along with Canada, while Louisiana west of the Mississippi went to Spain; in return, Florida went to Britain, which divided it into East Florida and West Florida.

After the conclusion of the treaties, Henry Timberlake visited London with three Cherokee leaders: Ostenaco, Standing Turkey, and Wood Pigeon (Ata-wayi). The Cherokee visited the Tower of London, met the playwright Oliver Goldsmith, drew massive crowds, and had an audience with King George III. On the way, their interpreter William Shorey died, making communication nearly impossible. Hearing of the Cherokees’ warm welcome in London, South Carolinians viewed their reception as a sign of imperial favouritism at the colonists’ expense, especially in view of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 prohibiting settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains, laying the foundation of one of the major irritants for the colonials leading to the Revolution.