In the view of both Henderson and of the frontiers people, the revolution negated the judgements of the royal governors, and the Transylvania Company began pouring settlers into the region they had “purchased”. Stuart, meanwhile, was besieged by a mob at his house in Charlestown and had to flee for his life before he could act. His first stop was St. Augustine in East Florida, from where he sent his deputy, Cameron, and his brother Henry to Mobile to obtain short-term supplies with which the Cherokee could survive and fight if necessary.
Dragging Canoe took a party of eighty warriors to provide security for the pack train, and met Henry Stuart and Cameron, his adopted brother, at Mobile on 1 March 1776. He asked how he could help the British against their rebel subjects, and for help with the illegal settlers, and they told him to take no action at the present but to wait for regular troops to arrive.
When they arrived at Chota, Henry sent out letters to the trespassers of Washington District (Watauga and Nolichucky), Pendelton District (North-of-Holston), and Carter’s Valley (along the Doe River) reiterating the fact they were on Indian land illegally and giving them forty days to leave, which those sympathetic to the Revolution then forged to indicate a large force of regular troops plus Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Muscgoee was on the march from Pensacola and planning to pick up reinforcements from the Cherokee. The forgeries alarmed the countryside, and settlers began gathering together in closer settlements than their isolated farmsteads, building stations (small forts), and otherwise preparing for an attack.
i- Visit from the northern tribes
In May 1776, partly at the behest of Henry Hamilton, the British governor in Detroit, the Shawnee chief Cornstalk led a delegation from the northern tribes (Shawnee, Lenape, Iroquois, Ottawa, others) to the southern tribes (Cherokee, Muscogee, Chickasaw, Choctaw), calling for united action against those they called the Long Knives, the squatters who settled and remained in Kain-tuck-ee (Ganda-gi), or, as the settlers called it, Transylvania. The northerners met with the Cherokee leaders at Chota. At the close of his speech, he offered his war belt, and Dragging Canoe accepted it, along with Abraham (Osiuta) of Chilhowee (Tsulawiyi). Dragging Canoe also accepted belts from the Ottawa and the Iroquois, while Savanukah, the Raven of Chota, accepted the belt from the Lenape. The northern emissaries also offered war belts to Stuart and Cameron, but they declined to accept.
The plan was for Middle, Out, and Valley Towns of what is now western North Carolina to attack South Carolina, the Lower Towns of western South Carolina and North Georgia (led by personally by Alexander Cameron) to attack Georgia, and the Overhill Towns along the lower Little Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers to attack Virginia and North Carolina. In the Overhill campaign, Dragging Canoe was to lead a force against the Pendelton District, Abraham another against the Washington District, and Savanukah one against Carter’s Valley.
To demonstrate his determination, Dragging Canoe led a small war party into Kentucky and returned with four scalps to present to Cornstalk before the northern delegation departed.
ii- Jemima Boone and the Calloway sisters
Shortly after the visit from the northern tribes, the Cherokee began small-party raiding into Kentucky, often in conjunction with the Shawnee. In one of these raids a week before the Cherokee attacks on the settlements and colonies, a war party of five, two Shawnee and three Cherokee led by Hanging Maw (Skwala-guta) of Coyatee (Kaietiyi), captured three teenage girls in a canoe on the Kentucky River. The girls were Jemima Boone, daughter of Daniel Boone, and Elizabeth and Frances Callaway, daughters of Richard Callaway. The war party hurried toward the Shawnee towns north of the Ohio River, but were overtaken by Boone and his rescue party after three days. After a brief fire fight, the war party retreated and the girls were rescued, unharmed and having been treated reasonably well, according to Jemima Boone.
Besides the sheer determined courage of the feat itself, the incident is also notable for providing inspiration for the chase scene in James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Last of the Mohicans after the capture of Cora and Alice Munro, in which their father Lieutenant-Colonel George Munro, the book’s protagonist Hawkeye (Natty Bumppo), his adopted Mohican elder brother Chingachgook, Chingachgook’s son Uncas, and David Gamut follow and overtake the Huron war party of Magua in order to rescue the sisters.
iii- The attacks
The squatters in the settlements of what was to become Upper East Tennessee were forewarned of the impending Cherokee attacks by traders who’d come to them from Chota bearing word from the Beloved Woman (female equivalent of Beloved Man, the Cherokee title for a leader) Nancy Ward (Agigaue). Having thus been betrayed, the Cherokee offensive proved to be disastrous for the attackers, particularly those going up against the Holston settlements.
Finding Heaton’s Station deserted, Dragging Canoe’s force advanced up the Great Indian Warpath and had a small skirmish with a body of militia numbering twenty who quickly withdrew. Pursuing them and intending to take Fort Lee at Long-Island-on-the-Holston, his force advanced toward the island. However, his force encountered a larger force of militia six miles from their target, about half the size of his own but desperate, in a stronger position than the small group before. During the ‘Battle of Island Flats’ which followed, Dragging Canoe himself was wounded in his hip by a musket ball and his brother Little Owl (Uku-usdi) incredibly survived after being hit eleven times. His force then withdrew, raiding isolated cabins on the way and returned to the Overhill area with plunder and scalps, after raiding further north into southwestern Virginia.
The following week, Dragging Canoe personally led the attack on Black’s Fort on the Holston (today Abingdon, Virginia). One of the settlers, Henry Creswell, who had just returned from fighting at Long Island Flats, was killed on July 22, 1776, when he and a group of settlers were attacked while they were on a mission outside the stockade. More attacks continued the third week of July, with support from the Muscogee and Tories.
Abraham of Chilhowee was likewise unsuccessful in his attempt to take Fort Caswell on the Watauga, his attack being driven off with heavy casualties. Instead of withdrawing, however, he put the garrison under siege, a tactic which had worked well the previous decade with Fort Loudoun, but gave that up after two weeks. Savanukah raided from the outskirts of Carter’s Valley far into Virginia, but those targets contained only small settlements and isolated farmsteads so he did no real military damage.
After the failed invasion of the Holston, despite his wounds, Dragging Canoe led his warriors to South Carolina to join Alexander Cumming and the Cherokee from the Lower Towns.
iv- Colonial response
Response from the colonials in the aftermath was swift and overwhelming. North Carolina sent 2400 militia to scour the Oconaluftee and Tuckasegee Rivers and the headwaters of the Little Tennessee and Hiwassee, South Carolina sent 1800 men to the Savannah, and Georgia sent 200 to the Chattahoochee and Tugaloo. In all, they destroyed more than fifty towns, burned their houses and food, destroyed their orchards, slaughtered livestock, and killed hundreds, as well as putting survivors on the slave auction block.
In the meantime, Virginia sent a large force accompanied by North Carolina volunteers under William Christian to the lower Little Tennessee valley. By this time, Dragging Canoe and his warriors had returned to the Overhill Towns. Oconostota advocated making peace with the colonists at any price. Dragging Canoe countered by calling for the women, children, and old to be sent below the Hiwassee and for the warriors to burn the towns, then ambush the Virginians at the French Broad River, but Oconostota, Attakullakulla, and the rest of the older chiefs decided against that path, Oconostota sending word to the approaching army offering to exchange Dragging Canoe and Cameron if the Overhill Towns were spared.
In Dragging Canoe’s last appearance at the council of the Overhill Towns, he denounced the older leaders as rogues and “Virginians” for their willingness to cede away land for an ephemeral safety, ending, “As for me, I have my young warriors about me. We will have our lands.” He then stalked out of the council. Afterwards, he and other militant leaders, including Ostenaco, gathered like-minded Cherokee from the Overhill, Valley, and Hill towns, and migrated to what is now the Chattanooga, Tennessee, area, to which Cameron had already transferred.
Christian’s Virginia force found Great Island, Citico (Sitiku), Toqua (Dakwayi), Tuskegee (Taskigi), Chilhowee, and Great Tellico virtually deserted, with only the older leaders who had opposed the younger ones and their war remaining. Christian limited the destruction in the Overhill Towns to the burning of the deserted towns.
v- The Treaties of 1777
The next year, 1777, the Cherokee in the Hill, Valley, Lower, and Overhill towns signed the Treaty of Dewitt’s Corner with Georgia and South Carolina (Ostenaco was one of the Cherokee signatories) and the Treaty of Fort Henry with Virginia and North Carolina promising to stop warring, with those colonies promising in return to protect them from attack. Dragging Canoe responded by raiding within fifteen miles of Fort Henry during the negotiations. One provision of the latter treaty required that James Robertson and a small garrison be quartered at Chota on the Little Tennessee. Neither treaty actually halted attacks by frontiersmen from the illegal colonies, nor stop encroachment onto Cherokee lands. The peace treaty required the Cherokee give up their land of the Lower Towns in South Carolina and most of the area of the Out Towns.